Pols spend big to court Hispanic vote

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With pundits predicting the Hispanic vote will be crucial to deciding this year's election, advertising spending toward the demographic is likely to more than triple the $3 million outlay of four years ago. So far, a combined $5.5 million has been laid out by the parties and candidates on Hispanic ads, with a little more than three months remaining until election day.

Democrats, shocked by Republicans' showing in '04-President Bush received 35% of the Hispanic vote four years ago and is aiming for 37% this time-are responding in force.

Part of the increase can be attributed to new electoral vote math. After the 2000 Census increased electoral votes in some western states, several battleground states with substantial Hispanic populations became more important in the race. But it can also be traced to a larger realization.

waking up

"The Democrats have finally woken up to a market that they have taken for granted forever and every Democrat had assumed was in their hip pocket," said Lionel Sosa, a retired San Antonio advertising executive who worked on the Bush campaign in both '00 and `04.

Senator John Kerry's first major buy, a record-setting $1 million purchase of ads in 10 states over three to four weeks, exceeded the $960,000 the Democrats and the Gore campaign spent in all of 2000. The Bush campaign and the Republicans spent $2.3 million four years ago, according to a study by the Hispanic Voter Project at John Hopkins University and the Bush campaign has spent about $1.5 million so far this year.

The heaviest spender on the Democratic side is New Democratic Network, advertising for the first time this year and targeting Hispanics in five battleground states-Arizona, Florida, New Mexico, and West Virginia since March and, as of this month, Colorado. The group isn't targeting all Hispanics, however; it's singling out those that are predominately Spanish-speaking and newly naturalized. Its has spent $3 million to air 12 spots which focus on the party itself and don't mention Sen. Kerry.

changing the rules

"This is a community the Democrats had been reliably able to count on 2 to 1 [prior to 2000] and that the Republicans had begun to be able to change the rules on," said NDN president Simon Rosenberg. He described NDN's effort as "a branding campaign ... for newly arrived citizens that don't know much about the two parties."

The group's latest spots from Elevacion, Washington, feature Hispanics talking about how it's difficult to work for minimum wage, adding that President Bush and the Republicans are against increasing it.

Lorena Chambers, a Virginia ad agency executive who helped develop the group's strategy and is now the Hispanic ad strategist for the Kerry campaign, said the presidential hopeful has been aiming at a similar target. "There is no question that English-dominant Hispanics are the base vote, while Spanish-dominant [speakers] are persuadable."

different focus

The Kerry campaign's Spanish-language advertising from Chambers Lopez & Gait n, Arlington, Va., offers some of the same themes as the campaign's general-market creative, but it focuses differently. The first commercial, "Honor," shows John Kerry in roles as a husband and father, a man of faith and honor.

That may well be effective. "What's most important is the Kerry campaign made a concerted effort to reach Hispanics with creative that's on target," said Manuel Machado, president of the Association of Hispanic Advertising Agencies. I have to think that will resonate with Hispanic voters and give Democrats a better result."

As for President Bush, senior strategist Matthew Dowd said recent polls show the campaign approaching 40% of the Hispanic vote. Mr. Sosa, his wife Kathy and Frank Guerra of Guerra DeBerry Coody, San Antonio, are handling President Bush's Hispanic ads for the campaign's Maverick Media ad team. He said the Bush campaign is using an across-the-board approach, bringing Hispanics the same message as general market ads.

contributing: laurel wentz

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