Asked to list issues most important to Hispanic voters Sunday, the co-chairman of Sen. John Kerry’s presidential campaign rattled off the staples of the seven Democratic candidates.
A strong economy that creates good-paying jobs. Better schools. A healthy climate for small businesses.
But former Housing Secretary Henry Cisneros said he was not just packaging the same old message for a critical voting bloc in Arizona’s primary election Tuesday.
"They are not specifically related to Hispanics," Cisneros said as he prepared to walk south Phoenix neighborhoods campaigning for Kerry. "These are American issues. There is no way to campaign directly to Latinos. What you do want to do is offer policies that serve everyone, especially those who are working hard and earning progress for all Americans. What works for the nation as a whole works for the Latino community."
The showcase event for the Democratic presidential campaign in Arizona is a candidates forum today in Phoenix, sponsored by the state League of United Latin American Citizens. Five of the seven Democratic contenders have confirmed they will attend.
Hispanics could be a deciding factor here and nationally when the ultimate nominee goes head-to-head against Republican President Bush in the November general election.
In Arizona, Hispanics make up more than a quarter of the population, though Hispanic turnout in elections generally hovers around 35 percent, well below the state average.
Hispanics are particularly critical for Democrats, since they tend to break heavily in favor of Democrats in general elections. About two-thirds of Hispanics in Arizona are registered Democrats, according to the state party.
But as important as the Hispanic vote is, it also is elusive.
"It’s a huge voting bloc," said Lisa Urias, spokeswoman for the Arizona LULAC. "People say you never know how they are going to vote. I would say that’s true. But that’s only been true because we’ve had so many struggles as a people with not having anyone, either party, really addressing the issues that are of concern to us."
That five presidential candidates are planning to attend today’s event "validates the fact that they are going to pay attention to us as a group. They are interested in having us listen to what they have to say and getting feedback from us. That alone makes a tremendous difference in the Hispanic community."
Confirmed for the event are Kerry, retired Gen. Wesley Clark, former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, Rep. Dennis Kucinich of Ohio and Sen. Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut. Only Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina and Rev. Al Sharpton are not attending.
Arizona is particularly critical as a gauge of the Hispanic vote, which will be important in the general election.
Bush won half the Hispanic vote in Texas in his last gubernatorial election there, and got about a third of the Hispanic vote when he ran for president in 2000. He also has been courting Hispanic voters, most recently with his proposal to change American immigration laws to allow illegal immigrants working in this country to gain temporary legal status.
All of the candidates campaigning in Arizona have specific Hispanic outreach programs. Two of the three candidates running television ads, Kerry and Clark, have made extensive buys on Spanish television. Lieberman does not have ads on Spanish television, but has done ads on Spanish radio.
On Tuesday, Arizona and New Mexico will be the first two states with large Hispanic populations to vote. Success in winning over Hispanics in that election will give candidates an edge heading into California, said Antonio Villaraigosa, a Los Angeles councilman also campaigning for Kerry here. California Democrats vote March 2.
Schedules for the Democratic presidential candidates campaigning in Arizona.
• Wesley Clark, Howard Dean, John Kerry, Joseph Lieberman and Dennis Kucinich will participate in forum on Hispanic and American Indian issues at 6 p.m. sponsored by the Arizona League of United Latin American Citizens at Wyndham Phoenix Hotel, 50 E. Adams St.
• Clark holds a rally at 2:45 p.m. in Tucson with rally at Phoenix campaign headquarters, 525 E. McDowell Road, after the LULAC forum.
• Kerry delivers speech in Tucson at 2 p.m. and attends rally at 8 p.m. at Phoenix College, 1202 W. Thomas Road.
• Kucinich will walk the campuses of Arizona State University in Tempe and South Mountain Community College in Phoenix in the morning and early afternoon.
• Lieberman holds town hall at 12:30 p.m. in Tucson.
Voting in the Feb. 3 Democratic primary
Who’s eligible: Democrats registered to vote by Jan. 5. Early voting: Ballots must be returned by 7 p.m. Tuesday at the Maricopa County Recorder’s Office. Voting on primary day: Polling places open 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday. To find polling place, visit www.recorder.maricopa.gov/pollingplace or call (602) 506-1511. Delegates: Arizona will send 64 delegates to the Democratic national convention. Of those, 36 are apportioned based on voting results within the state’s eight Congressional districts. A candidate must receive at least 15 percent of votes within a district to qualify for a delegate.
Another 12 are apportioned based on statewide voting and the rest divided among elected officials and other state party representatives.