July 2, 1999

Conservative group targets Hispanic voters

By Scott Lindlaw
Associated Press Writer

SACRAMENTO - A national conservative group is attempting to recapture Hispanic voters, a growing bloc that increasingly is drifting away from the Republican Party.

The Traditional Values Coalition, which represents 43,000 churches, is building a conservative political network among Hispanics, who constitute 5 percent of the U.S. electorate.

In California, they make up 15 percent of the voting public. But fewer than one in 10 new Hispanic voters has registered Republican in recent years.

That helped set up the GOP for crushing defeats in California last November, when the party lost all statewide races but two. Without a plan of action, conservatives' prospects will dim in other states, too, said Mike Madrid, who was political director for the state Republican Party until last year.

The report comes at a time when nearly a dozen Republican presidential candidates are angling for support in California and other states with heavy Hispanic populations. One of them, Texas Gov. George W. Bush, visits the state this week and plans several appearances targeting Hispanic audiences.

The coalition's chairman, Rev. Lou Sheldon, sees Hispanics as crucial to advancing the group's conservative agenda in statehouses and Washington, D.C. Many Hispanics are conservatives, he said in an interview Monday from New York, where he was meeting with Hispanic Christian leaders.

Some 200 Hispanic church and business leaders will meet Thursday in the Los Angeles suburb of Norwalk to develop a plan of action.

``For us to walk away from these people is sort of saying that the Traditional Values Coalition is going to institutionalize and become sterile,'' Sheldon said.

Madrid co-authored a report that the Anaheim, Calif.-based Traditional Values Coalition is relying on as its blueprint for recovering Hispanic voters. The coalition dubbed the effort ``La Amistad,'' which means ``the friendship'' in Spanish.

The report focuses on California, a state with a large Hispanic population that will be critical in next year's presidential and congressional races.

But the coalition is studying it with an eye to courting Hispanic voters nationwide, Sheldon said.

The report recommends that conservatives work to attract Hispanics through issues, ``separating themselves from elected officials who have been successfully demonized by Democrats.''

It also suggests that La Amistad:

- Conduct news media and advertising campaigns in Spanish and English.

- Undertake a registration program targeting Hispanic conservatives.

- Make special efforts to get conservative Hispanics to the polls on Election Day.

- Mobilize conservative Hispanics to lobby local, state and federal elected officials.

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