Michael Barone, a co-author of the definitive Almanac of American Politics, reports that Polidata's findings tend to confirm the exit polls that showed George W. Bush gaining nine percentage points among Hispanic voters, ending up with some 44%. Several liberal-oriented groups disputed those numbers, but a look at the breakdown of the two dozen districts with Hispanic House members shows that Mr. Bush indeed made strong gains in their districts.
Take Texas, where six of the state's 32 House districts have Hispanic representatives (five Democrats and one Republican) and another 69%-Hispanic district is represented by Anglo Democrat Lloyd Doggett. In the areas that now make up those seven districts, Mr. Bush dramatically increased his vote totals over 2000, winning four of the seven districts and breaking even in their total popular vote. In two of the Democratic Hispanic districts, Mr. Bush won 55% of the vote, setting up the possibility that a Republican could win those seats when they become vacant.
In Florida, Mr. Bush's Hispanic percentages were artificially inflated in 2000 by Cuban-American anger over the Clinton administration's deportation of Elian Gonzalez. But Mr. Bush still did well in the three Miami-area districts represented by Cuban-American Republicans, winning them by an average of 12 percentage points.
But it is in California where Mr. Bush made the most surprising gains among Hispanic voters. Ten of the Golden State's 53 districts are held by Hispanic Democrats, and two others, in the Central Valley, by Portuguese-American Republicans. In the 10 Democratic districts, Al Gore won 65% of the vote in 2000. But in last year's election, Mr. Bush made gains in every district and ended up with about 40% of the overall vote in those 10 districts.
In 2000 Mr. Bush lost what is now the Orange County district held by Democrat Loretta Sanchez by 15% of the vote. In 2004, Mr. Bush outpolled Mr. Kerry in Ms. Sanchez's district. Similarly, Mr. Bush captured the Modesto-based district of Democrat Dennis Cardoza, an area that Al Gore had easily carried. "I fully appreciate the fact that George W. Bush won 49% of my district," says Jim Costa, a Fresno-area freshman Democrat who won only 54% last November against an Anglo Republican.
True, Hispanic voters were attracted to Mr. Bush for reasons that may not easily transfer to other Republicans. "He is seen as simpatico in terms of his strong religious faith, his willingness to speak some Spanish, school choice and a desire to help small business owners prosper," says Martha Montelongo, a talk show host in California. Obviously, calls for Republicans in government to crack down on illegal immigration can create cross-pressures that could endanger GOP support among Hispanics, but those are often exaggerated. Hispanics rank immigration low among their list of priority issues, and last November exit polls show that 47% of Hispanics in Arizona voted for Proposition 200, a measure designed to limit government services to illegal immigrants and prevent them from voting. "The Hispanics who voted for George Bush largely reject identity politics and simply want to be respected, rather than pandered to," says Ms. Montelongo.