Are Republicans Alienating Hispanic and Muslim Voters?

Islamic center and immigration debate are heating up ahead of elections.

ByABC News
August 17, 2010, 8:31 AM

Aug. 18, 2010 -- The increasing flaps over the proposed Islamic center in New York and immigration raise the question of whether the Republican party is alienating two voter bases that the Bush administration went to great lengths to woo.

Former president George W. Bush heavily courted Muslims in his first campaign, winning 78 percent of the Muslim vote in 2000, according to the Council on American-Islamic Relations. That number dropped off sharply in 2004, following the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, even though the Bush administration tried to appease American Muslims by making a distinction between terrorists and the rest of the Muslim community.

The Bush administration made an even bigger push to attract Hispanics to the party. Bush selected Alberto Gonzales as the first U.S. attorney general of Hispanic heritage, supported amnesty for illegal immigrants, and even spoke Spanish on the campaign trail. This push paid off in the elections. Bush captured 35 percent of the Hispanic vote in 2000 and 44 percent in 2004.

But support for Republicans from both minority groups looks to be uncertain amid the increasing fervor over the cultural center and the immigration issue.

Muslims, who have already turned overwhelmingly to Democrats in recent elections, are likely to turn away further. Republican Muslims say the debate will alienate their constituency if it continues to brew.

"One of the strengths in the United States has been separation of church and state," said Saghir "Saggy" Tahir, a Pakistani-American Republican who has served in the New Hampshire House of Representatives for nearly a decade. " I do believe there will be an adverse effect of dragging the religion into the politics."

Tahir, who is the only Pakistani-American not born in the United States to be elected to a state assembly as a Republican, said it will be difficult for him to build up support for the GOP in his constituency and state if the issue continues to drag on.

"I have talked to a lot of people... They are Republicans but they don't like anybody to come to the religious part of it and that definitely alienates them, and these are those businesses that have helped elect Republicans even though they were Democrats," Tahir told ABC News.

Muhammad Ali Hasan, a film director and commentator who ran twice for office in Colorado on the Republican ticket and founded Muslims for Bush, said attacks by the GOP on the Islamic center are an "assault" on minorities.

"This is not the party of Ronald Reagan or George W. Bush," Hasan, who considers himself a lifelong Republican, told ABC News. "W. Bush condoned that Islam was a religion of peace. Ronald Reagan was someone who supported amnesty (for illegal immigrants). Both men supported opportunities for minorities, for Muslims, for Latinos."