Hispanics turn to Democrats in '08

Hispanics will be more wary in 2008, predicts her sister, Gilda Lopez, 56, a speech pathologist and reliable Democrat. With a crisis in Iraq and questions at home about the GOP's attitudes toward Hispanics, she says, "I cannot understand how a Hispanic person could vote Republican."

The new survey finds fewer who say they will. Only 11% of Hispanics now identify themselves as Republicans, down from 19% in 2005, while the proportion who call themselves Democrats has jumped to 42% from 33%.

Including independents who "lean" to one party or the other, Democrats lead Republicans among Hispanics 58% to 20%.

In a matchup between the candidates who lead in national polls, Hispanics overwhelmingly support Clinton over Republican Rudy Giuliani, 66% to 27%. Hispanics' importance rising

Florida Sen. Mel Martinez, general chairman of the Republican National Committee, says there is time for the eventual GOP nominee to recover among Hispanic voters next year — and that doing so is becoming increasingly critical. Hispanics represented 1 in 8 U.S. residents in 2000 but are projected to be 1 in 4 by 2050.

Martinez, a Cuban émigré, says Republicans can't win the White House with today's level of Hispanic support. "It would be in my view virtually impossible," he says. Patti Solis Doyle, campaign manager for Clinton and the daughter of Mexican immigrants, says the New York senator is determined to reverse the gains Bush made.

"We did see President Bush make some real inroads among Hispanics, and she is very aggressively going after those votes," says Solis Doyle, Clinton's former scheduler and the first Latina to head a major presidential campaign. Her office is decorated with photographs of her husband and two children, a Diego Rivera print and framed copies of three Time magazine covers featuring Clinton.

The campaign has hired a leading Hispanic pollster, a director of Hispanic outreach and a liaison to Spanish-language media. Clinton also has landed some prized endorsements from top Hispanic officeholders, including Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and New Jersey Sen. Robert Menendez.

In part, Clinton's strength among Hispanics reflects the fact that she is the best-known candidate. Many Hispanics also have lingering affection for her husband, who got 62% of the Latino vote in the 1992 presidential election and 72% when he was re-elected in 1996.

"I like Hillary," Margaret Crutchfield, a 61-year-old Mexican-American, says after the San Antonio rally for Obama, whom she says she also likes. Then Crutchfield adds, brightening: "I love Bill Clinton."

New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, the son of a Mexican mother and American father, also sees Hispanic support as "a critical part of his constituency," campaign manager Dave Contarino says.

But Richardson still has to introduce himself. Six in 10 Hispanics polled say they've never heard of the former congressman and Cabinet member, the first Hispanic to seek the Democratic presidential nomination.

Richardson is trying to remedy that. He announced his presidential bid in Spanish as well as English. He has accepted an invitation by the Spanish-language TV network Univision to participate in a candidates' debate in September, though he threatens to withdraw unless he's allowed to speak in Spanish rather than through an interpreter. He has announced key Latino supporters even in New Hampshire, a state that's less than 2% Hispanic.

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