By JONATHAN TILOVE
November 8, 2004
c. Newhouse News Service
WASHINGTON _ In winning a second term, President Bush made great progress with Hispanic voters nationally, and very little with blacks.
But beneath that story lies an intriguing and surprising development: Bush’s new success with Hispanics was concentrated in the overwhelmingly Republican South _ especially in Texas _ where it mattered little. And his far more limited success with black Christian conservatives, especially in Ohio, proved critical to his re-election.
In Ohio, according to exit polls conducted by the National Election Pool,Bush won 16 percent of the black vote, up from 9 percent in 2000.
David Bositis, an analyst of black politics at the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, calculates that if Kerry had won black votes at the same rate as Al Gore, he would have gained 55,000 that instead went to Bush _ a net switch of 110,000.
Kerry was trailing Bush by 136,000 votes in Ohio when he conceded, having concluded that counting the more than 100,000 provisional ballots couldn’t change the outcome. With those additional 110,000 black votes, Bositis said, the identity of the next president might still be in doubt.
Bush scored a similar gain with black voters in the battleground states of Florida, where the 13 percent contributed to his comfortable victory, and in Pennsylvania, where Democrats were able to absorb the 16 percent and still win.
In a year when Democratic organizers in black America adopted the mantra that “every vote counts,” the Bush campaign proved it.
The lessons for both parties are profound.
For Republicans, it demonstrates that even a small success with black voters can pay huge dividends, and that their opening to the black community is through the church door and an appeal to a strong strain of conservative Christian values.
For the Democrats, it is painful evidence that party loyalty and distaste for the president can carry them pretty far among blacks _ but not all the way home to victory.
Bush’s gains were foreshadowed by a Joint Center survey released in October, which found Bush could double his share of the black vote on the strength of growing support among Christian conservatives on issues like gay marriage and the administration’s faith-based initiative. Bush’s gains in Ohio coincided with a ballot intiative banning same-sex marriage that was actively backed by prominent black clergy and supported by 61 percent of black voters.
Angela Woodson, Kerry’s field organizer for the black community in Cleveland and surrounding Cuyahoga County, said she had worried aloud for months that the state constitutional amendment could prove a brilliant Republican stratagem that would cost Kerry. But she said other Democrats, as well as black ministers supporting both the amendment and Kerry, assured her that would not happen.
Woodson now believes that especially in more conservative southern Ohio, the vote on the amendment hurt Kerry. She said the Massachusetts senator’s position _ “I’m not for gay marriage, but … ” _ did not sit well with those for whom the issue mattered.
To University of Maryland political scientist Ronald Walters, the erosion is proof that Kerry and the Democrats did not make their domestic agenda _ on education, health care and the economy _ so vivid to blacks that some would not be distracted by a moral issue less central to their lives.
Walters and others said Kerry also had a less visceral connection with black voters than past Democratic nominees, though he did spend many Sundays in black churches in the closing weeks of the campaign.
Meanwhile, a closer examination of the Hispanic numbers may undermine Bush campaign claims of important strides toward making the party fully competitive among the nation’s fast-growing Latino population.
In 2000, Bush won 35 percent of the Hispanic vote. In 2004, the National Election Pool found he was the choice of 44 percent of Hispanics. The Los Angeles Times exit pool put the figure at 45 percent.
But his success was very uneven. In 2004, Bush swept 64 percent of the Hispanic vote in the South, up 29 points in four years. But that owes much to his 59 percent showing in Texas, where Hispanics make up nearly a quarter of the electorate, and to Republican domination of the region overall.
In Florida, where Republicans have always run well with Hispanics given the large Cuban population, Bush did a bit better this time, according to exit polls and contrary to some expectations.
But in the rest of the country, the story was not so rosy.
Bush did less well with Hispanics in the North and Midwest than last time. And he did only slightly better in the West. Democrats had no strong reason to mobilize their Hispanic base in California, home to the nation’s largest Latino population. In Oregon, Bush won 17 percent.
James Gimpel, a University of Maryland political scientist who has studied the Latino vote and advised Karl Rove, Bush’s chief strategist, said Bush’s success with Latinos this year appeared more a function of who turned out than any transformation of the Hispanic electorate. Hispanics behaved like other voters in response to the war on terrorism, he said. And because they tend to be poorer, they remain a natural Democratic constituency.
“We know Republicans had success in turning out Latinos on their side, but people shouldn’t jump to the conclusion that these Latinos have been converted,” Gimpel said.