Jun 6, 1988, Robert Reinhold — The New York Times
LOS ANGELES, June 5 — When Gov. Michael S. Dukakis, the son of Greek immigrants, visits the Mexican-American barrios of East Los Angeles, he delights audiences with his flawless Spanish.
Backers of the probable Democratic Presidential nominee here call it his ”secret weapon,” although many in his audiences are not American citizens and cannot vote.
Vice President Bush cannot order breakfast in Spanish, so his campaign has drafted his son Jeb, who is married to a Mexican woman and speaks fluent Spanish, to woo the Hispanic vote. Burgeoning But Unproven
Both the Democrats and the Republicans are gearing up to attract the burgeoning Hispanic vote, which many see as a potential, but as yet unproven, ”swing” bloc in California, Texas, New York and other major states.
The potency of the Hispanic vote is not likely to be tested in Tuesday’s Presidential primary here. With Californians’ feeling that the race in both parties has long been settled, the predictions are for a record low turnout. Only the Rev. Jesse Jackson, who met with Hispanics here this morning, has campaigned heavily here in a final effort to untrack Governor Dukakis of Massachusetts.
But both parties are looking toward November, and the Republicans see much potential in the Hispanic people, who are increasingly middle class and whose conservative family and patriotic values find an echo in Republican rhetoric. In 1984, polls showed that President Reagan ran exceptionally well among this tradionally heavily Democratic electorate, losing to Walter F. Mondale by a narrow 55-to-44 percentage.
But so far Mr. Bush is not doing as well as his boss did four years ago. In a survey released Friday by KMEX, a Spanish-language television station here, and Univision, a Spanish network, Mr. Dukakis beat Mr. Bush by 66 to 23 percent among Hispanic voters in California who are likely to vote in the primary and in November. The poll questioned 700 would-be voters, and the margin of error among the 170 Hispanic was 7.5 percent. About 3 Million Voters
Nationally, about three million voters are considered Hispanic, a catchall category for persons of Mexican, Puerto Rican, Cuban and other Latin American origin. That is only 3.6 percent of all American voters, but Hispanics are considered a potentially key vote because they are concentrated in six major states – New York, New Jersey, Florida, Illinois, Texas and California – that together account for 173 of the 270 electoral votes needed to win in November.
”In close elections that are decided by a few percentage points, incremental shifts in the Latino vote can be a deciding factor,” according to a recent analysis by Harry P. Pachon and Louis DeSipio of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials.
But there are doubts among some political experts.
Here in California, according to Mervin D. Field, director of the California Poll, Hispanics make up 22 percent of the general population, but in 1986 they represented only 8 percent of the voters. Only one in four Hispanic adults voted that year; more than a third were not eligible to register because they were not American citizens.
”They are a big population, but not a swing vote,” Mr. Field said.
Eileen Padberg, regional political director for the Bush campaign, said Hispanic voters would be courted through such efforts as Spanish-language ads, even though there have been none for the primary. ‘Increasingly Conservative
And Mr. Bush has met repeatedly with Mexican-American leaders. ”This Hispanic community is growing and it’s increasingly conservative,” said Steven A. Merksamer, a former campaign director for California Gov. George Deukmejian, a Republican. ”We have to make every efffort to attract them.”
”The majority of Hispanics are conservative,” said Ray Jaurequi, coordinator of the 552-member Republican Hispanic Task Force here. ”Most are Democrats only because their fathers and mothers were. The Hispanic middle class is growing by leaps and bounds.”
The Dukakis camp says the Democrat can overcome the Republican appeal by stressing his own ethnic origins. ”Dukakis as the son of immigrants symbolizes the American dream in a very magical way to Hispanics,” said Alice R. Travis, national political coordinator of the Dukakis campaign. ”His ability to talk directly with them, in Spanish, is also very important.”
Mr. Dukakis, whose California campaign director, Richard Ybarra, is Mexican-American, began radio spots in Spanish only this weekend. They stress such concerns as education, housing, the family and Central America.
Both parties are planning concerted get-out-the vote campaigns. The Democrats have allotted $2 million to register Hispanic and other minority voters, hoping to shake them out of their political torpor. And the Republicans are focusing on the newly affluent professionals and suburban residents.
Leo Estrada, a demographer at the University of California in Los Angeles, said the Democrats must role up a huge margin among Hispanic voters in the Los Angeles area to offset the lead held in the rural andsuburban areas of this state, which are heavily Republican and conservative. And, according to Richard Santillan, a political scientists at California State Polytechnic University at Pomona, who has been watching the Republican efforts, says there is disenchantment with Reagan Administration among Hispanic voters because of what it sees as ”false promises” on Federal appointments. Bad Press for Bush
Moreover, Mr. Bush recently received unfavorable publicity in the Spanish press after a visit to Garfield High School in Los Angeles, home of Jaime Escalante, the teacher who inspired the film ”Stand and Deliver” and who urges students to go to college. According to the news accounts, Mr. Bush implied that Mexican-Americans were needed as laborers and could bypass college, saying ”We need the people who do the hard physical work in our society.”
”It represented a stereotypical view,” said Larry L. Berg, director of the Institute of Politics at the University of Southern California.
Nonetheless, he noted: ”Among Hispanics, I’m seeing some shift away from the Democrats. They’ve taken them for granted. But parties are going to have to pay attention to them.”