October 30, 1998

Hispanics Supporting Davis In Governor's Race, Poll Show

By Scott Lindlaw

SACRAMENTO - Lingering anger in the Hispanic community over the way California Gov. Pete Wilson rode an anti-illegal immigration ballot measure to re-election apparently is being felt in this year's campaign.

Just 12 percent of Hispanics support Republican Attorney General Dan Lungren, while 70 percent favor Democratic Lt. Gov. Gray Davis, according to the survey by the Tomas Rivera Policy Institute at the Claremont Graduate School near Los Angeles. The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.

That's a sharp contrast to another state with a large Hispanic population, Texas, where Republican Gov. George W. Bush, who speaks Spanish, has stressed that immigrants are welcome. In an Oct. 22 Texas Poll, Bush led his Democratic opponent for governor by 58 percent to 25 percent among Hispanic voters.

``Political memories are long-lasting in ethnic communities,'' political scientist and pollster Harry Pachon wrote in a newspaper essay about the California race. ``For the GOP, the hope is that Latinos don't follow the old Irish American saying: 'Don't get mad, get even'.''

Hispanics are becoming an increasingly influential voting bloc in states like California, Texas and Florida. And both national parties are making a concerted effort to woo their votes and to field Hispanic candidates.

Pachon attributes Lungren's poor showing among Hispanics in California to continuing resentment over Wilson's and the GOP's support for Proposition 187, the 1994 measure that sought to cut state services to illegal immigrants. It passed by an overwhelming margin but has been tied up in the courts.

``From the data I've seen, that residual anger is still alive and kicking,'' Pachon said. ``What surprises me is that the memories haven't died.''

Olivia Hierro, 35, is among those who haven't forgotten Proposition 187. ``We can't let that pass,'' Hierro said in an interview recently in a Hispanic neighborhood of San Francisco. ``The ones that have the power to vote, we can't forget that.''

Hispanics constitute nearly 30 percent of California's population, but make up just 12 percent of the state's 14.9 million voters. The numbers are expected to keep getting larger as more Hispanics become citizens.

More than 600,000 Hispanics have registered to vote just since 1994 and, according to Pachon, some were motivated to do so by anger over Proposition 187.

Republicans alienated Hispanics even more when, two years later, they supported a ballot measure to eliminate affirmative action. That same year, congressional Republicans revamped welfare and cut off funds for services to most legal immigrants.

Democrats continue to see their party as the natural home for Hispanics and are working hard to make sure Hispanics don't forget Wilson's embrace of Proposition 187. Davis is airing a Spanish-language television ad showing Lungren and Wilson together.

Early in the campaign, the Lungren campaign set a target of capturing more than 35 percent of the Hispanic vote, and he still believes he can draw that.

Yet Republicans acknowledge there is much work to do if they are to rehabilitate the party's image among Hispanics.

``Obviously, some reparations need to be done to erase the perception that we are somehow attacking this community,'' said Mike Madrid, the state GOP's political director.

This year, the state Republican Party has spent $1 million trying to woo Hispanics, including holding nine outreach meetings throughout the state. Lungren has his own Spanish-language ads.

Whether Hispanics sway the election this year depends a lot on turnout, which is often low among voters who are new to the process and in many cases poor.

Feedback Return to Homepage