WASHINGTON – Democrats are facing a host of worrisome signs as a result of the 2004 presidential election, but among the most troubling is the party's loss of support among Hispanic voters.
Hispanics are the fastest-growing minority group in the United States, and one Democrats had hoped would become a reliable part of their multi-racial coalition. But President Bush's re-election strategy, which resulted in Hispanic support for the president increasing from 35 percent in 2000 to 44 percent this year, has cast doubt on that strategy.
The increase could be a sign of Hispanic realignment, said Robert de Posada of the Latino Coalition.
"Four years ago, you had a 60 to 70 percent self-identified Democrats. Now that level is dropping to about 45 percent so it's coming entirely from the Democratic column into the independent column, which is dangerous for the Democratic Party," de Posada said.
On election eve, Bush made one last pitch for Hispanics at a stop in New Mexico, which barely went for Al Gore in 2000. Bush ended up winning the state.
Hispanic support for the Democratic presidential nominee has fallen from 72 percent in 1996 to 53 percent this year while the size of the Hispanic vote has increased from 4.9 million then to 7 million today.
John Kerry's campaign expected a stronger showing among Hispanics but largely left the work of cultivating them to outside groups such as the New Democratic Network.
"We do need to do a much better job of communicating our message to the Hispanic community and not taking them for granted," said Maria Cardona of NDN.
Though the Hispanic vote historically has been regarded as a mostly urban vote, many Hispanics have moved into suburban and rural neighborhoods as well. And just as Bush has pursued white, socially conservative voters in the suburbs and rural areas, he has used the same issues, among them abortion and gay marriage, to woo Hispanics as well.
"George Bush was able to make that personal communication with the community and was able to talk to them about issues that they probably would have completely tuned out were it somebody else," Cardona said.
Republicans, however, must still work to make sure that the newfound linkage with Hispanics is not purely a Bush phenomenon but something that can extend to the rest of the GOP as well.
FOX News' Major Garrett contributed to this report.