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GOP Targets Hispanic Voters

The Republican National Committee says it plans to spend as much as $10 million on advertising in about 10 states this year to win over Hispanic voters, many of whom are uneasy with the GOP.

But evidence that such a shift may already be occurring came Thursday, the same day as the party's announcement.

A new poll found GOP presidential front-runner George W. Bush would draw at least 40 percent of the Hispanic vote in the November election. That would be almost double what Bob Dole, the Republican nominee in 1996, received from Hispanics here and nationwide.

Party officials said the TV, radio and print ads would begin this spring after a clear GOP presidential nominee emerges. The ads will stress values it believes many Hispanics share with the GOP, such as patriotism, school choice and strengthening the military, said RNC Chairman Jim Nicholson.

"You have to earn the trust of these people," he said. "And you earn that by showing that you're sincere, that your value system is lined up with theirs, and there's opportunity in our party for them, and this party represents things that they feel they want in their lives."

In a prototype TV spot shown to reporters, a Hispanic man surrounded by relatives touts "the freedoms, the opportunities and the responsibilities" of being an American.

"When people ask me why I am a Republican, I tell them it is because my family's values are the values of the Republican Party," the man says.

The RNC, working with state parties and the White House nominee, will develop ads tailored to specific regions, said Frank Guerra, a Texas-based advertising consultant who will produce all of them.

They will promote federal, state and local candidates, Nicholson said.

Nicholson declined to say what the campaign's budget would be. But another top RNC official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said it would range from $7 million to $10 million.

Rep. Henry Bonilla, R-Texas, acknowledged the difficulty of the RNC's challenge.

"There's a little bit of an uneasiness when you have not communicated with a particular group before, and we're trying to just communicate with folks to just try (Republicans); they will receive you with open arms, and they will embrace you," he said.

State likely to be targets for the ads include Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Illinois, New Mexico, New Jersey, New York, Texas and Utah.

The RNC also conducted a poll of 1,000 Hispanics nationwide to gauge their views on a wide array of issues, and that survey will inform the ad campaign, Guerra said. The party declined to release the full survey to the news media, but it said its findings bolstered its belief that it can win more Hispanic votes.

Hispanics are the fastest-growing segment of the population, and they have gravitated heavily to Democrats.

In the last two presidential elections, Hispanics voted ovewhelmingly for President Clinton. In 1996, Mr. Clinton won 72 percent of the Hispanic vote while Dole won 21 percent. In 1992, Mr. Clinton won 61 percent, and George Bush won 25 percent.

Top Republican officials have said in recent days that the GOP must capture at least 40 percent of the Hispanic vote to remain competitive.

A Public Policy Institute of California survey released Thursday suggested George W. Bush could reach that target.

The poll found the Texas governor would draw 40 percent of the Hispanic vote in a general election contest against Vice President Al Gore and 45 percent against Democrat Bill Bradley.

Either Democrat would beat Bush, however. Gore would draw 58 percent against Bush, Bradley 52 percent.

The RNC has made courting the Hispanic vote the centerpiece of its twice-annual meeting here, and Democrats responded aggressively.

State Democratic Party Chairman Art Torres held a news conference in Los Angeles to ridicule the GOP effort.

"They can't move forward on their agenda because they can't give up their core issues, and those are the anti-abortion stance and their pro-gun position," Torres said.

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