LOS ANGELES (AP) â€” The nation's Hispanic voters showed they have become a political force to be reckoned with, turning out for this year's election in record numbers after months of courting by Democrats and Republicans.
The biggest beneficiary, at least in the short term, appeared to be the Democratic party. Hispanics voted about 2-1 in favor of its candidates, while helping Vice President Al Gore secure several key states in his run for president.
But Hispanics also cast enough ballots Tuesday for Gore's opponent, Texas Gov. George W. Bush, to convince political analysts that they can be tapped as a potent force for Republican candidates in the future.
Still, the biggest longtime beneficiary of the surge in Hispanic voting may have been the electorate itself.
``Talk about a night-and-day approach to Latinos, 1996 compared to 2000,'' said Arturo Vargas, executive director of the National Association of Latino Elected Officials. ``What this election does, on a national level, is show Latinos are a permanent element of a winning strategy.''
Hispanics, excluding residents of Puerto Rico, accounted for 31.7 million U.S. residents in March 1999 or 11.7 percent of the general population, according the Census Bureau's most recent estimate.
Running up to the election, both major parties ran ads in Spanish and conducted aggressive voter outreach drives that included using Spanish-speaking relatives of the candidates.
On Wednesday, figures were not available on Hispanic voter turnout. But exit polls showed Hispanics accounting for about 7 percent of the vote, up from about 5 percent in 1996.
Andy Hernandez, senior adviser of the United States Hispanic Leadership Institute in Chicago, attributed the upsurge to get-out-the vote efforts. He also credited the particular attention paid by campaigns to Hispanic communities.
Both parties targeted Hispanics early on, pouring money into ad campaigns, showcasing Hispanic speakers at their conventions, appearing at meetings of Hispanic groups and peppering speeches with Spanish phrases.
George W. Bush, for instance, sometimes referred to himself as ``Doble v,'' Spanish for ``W.''
His nephew, George P. Bush, whose mother is from Mexico, warmed up Spanish-speaking crowds. Karenna Gore Schiff drew on a year spent in Spain to drum up support for her father.
The efforts bore fruit for Gore, analysts said, ensuring his victory in California and New York and helping push him over the top in harder-fought battleground states not typically associated with a Hispanic population, such as Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin.
According to exit polls, Gore won among Hispanics nationwide, 62 percent to 35 percent, and in Bush's home state of Texas, 54 percent to 43 percent.
Gore won among Hispanics in every state except Florida, where Republicans traditionally secure the vote of Cuban-Americans, who account for 4.3 percent of U.S. Hispanics. The candidates nearly split the Hispanic vote in Florida, with Gore at 48 percent and Bush at 49 percent, according to exit polls.
Some analysts said they were expecting a stronger overall showing by Bush because of his campaign's strong push for the Hispanic vote, along with his relative popularity among Hispanics in Texas.
Even so, Bush's showing was far stronger than that of 1996 GOP presidential nominee Bob Dole, who won just 21 percent of the Hispanic vote. The Federal Election Commission reports that 4.9 million out of 18.4 million voting-age Hispanics cast ballots in that race.
Bush's limited successes were attributed to his distancing himself from Republican-backed anti-immigrant initiatives of the past. Most notable among them were efforts in California during the 1990s to deny social services to illegal immigrants and to end most forms of bilingual education in public schools.
``For too long one party was addressing Latino issues, one party was courting the Latino vote,'' said Robert Aguinaga, research coordinator at the William C. Velasquez Institute in San Antonio, Texas. ``What we're seeing now is a Republican strategy, spearheaded by the Bush camp, that hey, maybe we shouldn't concede this community.''
On the Net:
U.S. Census Bureau: http://www.census.gov
Federal Election Commission: http://www.fec.gov
National Association of Latino Elected Officials: http://www.naleo.org