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  His Task: Sell Hispanics On GOP
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Last EditedRP  Sep 10, 2007 09:57pm
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MediaTV News - Columbia Broadcasting System CBS News
News DateMonday, September 10, 2007 03:55:00 AM UTC0:0
DescriptionFor many in the country's fastest-growing segment of the electorate, Sen. Mel Martinez is the face of the Republican Party.

The Florida senator was handpicked by President Bush to become the first Hispanic chairman of the Republican National Committee, and when Univision announced its plans to sponsor groundbreaking Spanish-language forums for the presidential hopefuls - one for Democrats, the other for Republicans - Martinez was thrilled. The largest Spanish-language U.S. television network and the fifth-largest overall, Univision is MTV, ESPN and CNN rolled into one for millions of Latinos.

The estimated 41 million Latinos are a force in American politics, and in few states will their decisions be felt more than in Florida. The state is home to an estimated 3 million Hispanics, two-thirds of whom are Mexicans, Puerto Ricans, and South Americans, who lean Democratic, and the other third are Cubans, who lean Republican.

In recent elections, anti-Castro Cubans have consistently voted Republican, and they helped deliver Florida to Bush in 2000 and 2004. But Martinez and other GOP leaders worry that Republicans, by skipping events such as the Univision forum, are alienating a crucial voting bloc.

Citing scheduling conflicts among the candidates, Univision postponed the GOP forum, originally scheduled for next Sunday. Earlier this year, the Republican hopefuls snubbed two other high-profile Hispanic conferences - the first held by the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials, the biggest gathering of the Latino political class, in late June, and the second by the National Council of La Raza, the largest Latino civil rights group, in late July. The Democratic candidates showed up for both events.

"The Republican Party is consumed with illegal immigration right now, and Martinez is really in a very tough spot," said Sergio Bendixen, a pollster advising Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.) on Hispanic issues. "He's got to represent the GOP, which is looking at immigration in one direction, and he's got to represent the Hispanic community, which is looking at that issue in another direction."

Added Simon Rosenberg, who has studied the Latino electorate and runs the New Democrat Network, a think tank that helped put together today's Democratic forum: "To be frank, every day Martinez's job is to put lipstick on a pig. It's not a pretty job, but he took it, and now he's got to live with it."
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