WASHINGTON – In a new ad airing Friday, a young Hispanic girl asks, "President Bush, why did you break your promise?", part of an effort by a group of moderate Democrats to court Hispanics and challenge the Republican incumbent.
The New Democrat Network (search) started running two 30-second Spanish-language ads in Albuquerque, N.M., Phoenix, and Las Vegas, kicking off what it says will be a $5 million advertising effort through spring and summer in media markets with high concentrations of Hispanics.
So far, the group says it has a $2.5 million pledge from several donors and is working to raise the rest of the money.
The Bush campaign disputed the ads, saying the president's budget calls for spending 30 percent more on institutions that aid Hispanics than originally planned.
One ad tells Hispanics that "the Democrats have always been our best friend. With them, progress is secured." In the ad, a Hispanic man watches as a rundown school and store morph into renovated buildings. The man holds a Spanish-language newspaper with the headline, "Latinos applaud Democratic agenda."
A second commercial — the one with the young girl — questions Bush's commitment to education. "When he wanted to reach the White House, George Bush promised to be a friend of the Latino community and do what's best for our children," the ad says. "But he has not kept his promises."
Scott Stanzel, a Bush campaign spokesman, said Bush "is investing more money in elementary and secondary education than at any other time in American history." The president's budget, Stanzel said, provides $96 million for Hispanic-serving institutions and another $1 billion increase for Title I (search) funding for poor schools.
Hispanics traditionally have favored the Democratic Party in presidential elections, but support has dropped in recent years. In 1996, 72 percent of Hispanics voted to re-elect President Clinton, versus just 21 percent for Republican Bob Dole. Four years later, Democrat Al Gore won 62 percent of the Hispanic vote compared to 35 percent for Bush.
That prompted NDN to launch a communications effort targeting the Hispanic vote.
"It's up for grabs," said Mike McCurry, an NDN advisory board member and a former Clinton White House press secretary.
Bush also is looking to make inroads into the community and Spanish-language ads are part of his multimillion-dollar initial advertising blitz that started this week.
A report released Friday by the Hispanic Voter Project (search) at Johns Hopkins University found that Democrats John Kerry, Howard Dean and Wesley Clark ran $315,000 worth of ads on Spanish-language TV before the Arizona primary and New Mexico caucuses.