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Bush's Hispanic Hurdle

CBS News Correspondent Bill Whitaker interviewed Dr. Fernando Guerra, director of the Study of Los Angeles at Loyola-Marymount University in California. Guerra is a professor in the Department of Chicano Studies and Political Science and author of Latino Politics in California: The Necessary Conditions for Success..

Whitaker: The Bush campaign is claiming they are going to put up a fight in California. They believe the key to that is the Latino vote and they're going to fight for it, they say. What is their chance of winning that vote?

Dr. Guerra: There is no doubt that for them to win in California, the Bush campaign would have to make some inroads in the Latino community. But that in itself shows the degree of difficulty that the Bush campaign is going to have in California… They have to have some type of outreach - even if they don't believe it will deliver votes - symbolically, to continue the message about being compassionate, about being inclusive. There has to be an outreach to the Latino community. Will it be effective? Probably not. The history of the Latino vote here in California shows it becoming increasingly more Democratic ... They are not about to abandon the Democratic Party in favor of a party that has not only been ignoring them, but has been antagonistic to their interests (in California.)

Whitaker: What might be the impact of George P. Bush, Governor Bush's nephew? Bush stresses family values. He says he has Latino members in his own family. How effective might that be?

Dr. Guerra: George P. Bush, Governor Bush's nephew, President Bush's grandson, presents a perfect Latino dilemma, in that we want Latinos to be successful, we want Latinos to be integrated into a variety of different positions, including being the grandson of the president or the nephew of the president. That makes the Latino community proud. And certainly George P. Bush looks Latino. And certainly he appeals just in a visual sense to the Latino community. However, when he starts speaking and starts talking about his experience - being raised in the Governor's mansion in Florida, having been in the White House as the grandson of the President - it's very difficult for most Latinos, especially the new Latino California voters, who have a very heavy immigrant experience, to relate to that experience.

When George P. Bush talks about why he's going to vote for George Bush, it doesn't connect to most Latino voters. Yet at the same time, Latinos will be respectful, sensitive, and even to some extent proud that there's a kid like that talking to them, and they will respect that. But I don't think it's enough to shift the Bush campaign.

Guerra believes Vice-President Al Gore has yet to sew up the Latino vote in California, however. Bush's appeal to Latinos, no matter how successful or unsuccessful, could hurt Gore, says Guerra, because it will force the Democratic candidate to spend mre time and money in the state to assure himself a win.

Dr. Guerra: For the last three or four elections, people have gone out to vote against the Republican nominee. People are not going to go out and vote against George Bush. Latinos are not saying, "Let's go out and make sure George Bush doesn't win." … They're saying we're going to vote for Gore, Bush is an O.K. guy. That's a big step. If the Republican Party is going to rebuild itself here in California, they needed a candidate who neutralizes the antagonism against the Republican statewide candidate. George Bush has done that. And the Republican party in California ought to thank him for it.

Whitaker: Does Bush speaking Spanish to Latino voters work?

Dr. Guerra: What we call "taco politics" … where a candidate comes out and talks in broken Spanish and tries to eat a tamale with the husk still on ... that won't work anymore. And so how do you convey that you are sensitive and about Latino issues without being offensive? George Bush is one of the best. He comes out and speaks in Spanish and it's not broken Spanish. It's perfectly understandable…. He has symbolically said, "I'm sensitive to you. I can actually speak Spanish, and you can tell by my accent it's not something I just learned ten minutes ago."

George Bush has mastered the ability to communicate to the Latino community better than any other national candidate. Now. Will it win him votes in California? It will win him some. It won't win him the majority.

Dr. Guerra says the real proving ground this fall in terms of the Latino vote will not be California or Texas. Illinois, he says, "will be critical." In that battleground state, Latinos make up about eight percent of the vote and are not traditionally tied to either party.