Adios Amigos? Democrats Could Lose Latinos Over Pro-Life

WASHINGTON — A recent New York Times/CBS News poll found that Hispanics view the Democratic Party as better able than the Republican Party to manage the economy, create jobs and improve public schools.

But, the Times reported Aug. 3, Hispanics have embraced positions that have typically been identified with Republicans, such as opposition to abortion and homosexual rights.

Forty-four percent of respondents said abortion should not be legal.

Nearly 73% of the Hispanic population in the United Staes is Catholic.

But the Democratic Party has a reputation as a friend of immigrants and the poor, and has made Latinos a major priority.

“All of the policies that matter most to Latinos — unemployment in the Latino population is higher than the whole population, lacking access to health care — every major indicator has suffered under President Bush,” said Daniella Gibbs, spokeswoman for the Democratic National Committee.

“I think the underlying issue for everyone is: Do I feel safe with my kids at the park? Can I put food on the table? Can I pay for my children's education?” Gibbs said.

On those issues, she said, “We are fighting for the Hispanic community.”

Congressional Democrats have announced an agenda for Latino voters, designed around the issues of education, health care, immigration and employment.

The draft document read: “Democrats know that Hispanic values are American values.”

But those words weren't backed up by dollars from the Democratic National Committee. The Chicago Sun-Times reported that Latino Democrats in

Congress are furious that a $1.5 million outreach plan has been scrapped.

And the Republican Party, especially its leader, President Bush, is unwilling to give up the Latino community without a fight. After all, Bush, who has given speeches in Spanish, garnered 35% of the Latino vote in 2000, up from Bob Dole's meager 21% in the 1996 presidential race.

“The way we win over Hispanics is with the president's record of achievement,” said Sharon Castillo, deputy director of communications for the Republican National Committee.

She noted that Bush has increased Title I funding for schools with low-income students, secured more money for early childhood development and launched the first national prevention campaign for diabetes, which affects Latinos at a higher than average rate.

Latinos are now the largest minority in the United States, surpassing the black population in June. Latinos are also the fastest-growing demographic group, which is why both political parties are vying for their votes.

And the Latino vote will have a major impact in the selection of a Democratic candidate for president in 2004. Arizona and New Mexico, both with heavy Latino populations, have their primaries in early February and Democratic presidential hopefuls have unleashed out-reach programs as well as Web sites in Spanish.

Raul Yzaguirre, the president of the National Council of La Raza, an organization that advocates for Hispanics, urged America's 39 million Latinos to be “better informed, ask tougher questions, make our views known early and band together on common interests.”

“If we do that,” he said, “every politician will feel our power before Election Day. Then when they ask for our vote, they will be responding to us, not posturing before us.”

Hispanics for Life

On the issue of abortion, pro-life activists hope the Latino community will find the Democratic Party outside the mainstream.

“There is a very clear assault on Latinos,” said Astrid Bennett Gutierrez, a spokeswoman for the Los Angeles-based Hispanics for Life. “There are large concentrations of abortion facilities in Latino communities.”

She noted that Los Angeles Pregnancy Services helps women with alternatives to abortions just west of downtown Los Angeles. It is, however, surrounded by seven abortion facilities in a one-mile radius.

“[Pro-life activist] Joe Scheidler said: “There is nothing worse in the United States than that neighborhood,'” Bennett Gutierrez said. “When you walk down the street they hand you discount fliers for abortions.”

So Hispanics for Life has organized marches and handed out literature in an attempt to educate the greater Latino community about the impact abortion has on their community.

“Latinos think Republicans are rich, elitist and racist. They hear it from the media, even hear it from the pulpit,” Bennett Gutierrez said. “I see the surprises in their faces when I tell them that Democrats are in favor of abortion. They are confused.”

But Democrats say their support for legal abortion doesn't hurt them among Latinos.

“It's not an issue they go to the polls over. It's not a deal-breaker,” said Maria Cardona, spokeswoman for the New Democrat Network. “They care about education, support for their family, they care about support for their parents and grandparents.”

Deal Hudson, editor of Crisis magazine and an adviser to the White House on Catholic issues, agreed at least in part with Cardona's assessment.

“That's true — they are not single-issue voters,” he said.

He said it was important to distinguish between people who are culturally Catholic and those who are practicing Catholics. The two groups have very different beliefs and often contrasting voting patterns. Hudson noted this relationship holds true for all American Catholics, not just Latinos.

Catholics who attend Mass on a regular basis are what Hudson calls “social-renewal voters.”

“They vote on a bundle of issues: abortion, education, family and the military,” he said.

Hudson said the stakes for the Latino community are higher than even the importance of the upcoming elections.

“If they are wed to the ethos of the Democratic Party, it will undermine their values,” Hudson said. “In part, it's the African-American reliance