Voter turnout for Hispanics declined between 1998 and 2002, though overall turnout was up nationally, the Census Bureau (search) reported Wednesday.

About 30 percent of voting-age Hispanics went to the polls for the 2002 midterm election, down from 33 percent, according to a bureau report. That compares with a slight increase — from 45 percent to 46 percent — in the turnout rate for all voting-age citizens.

The difference can be explained by a dip in voter interest in non-presidential election years, said Mariurvey, showed 47.4 percent to 49.1 percent of whites vote, compared with 41.8 percent to 42.3 percent of blacks and just 32.3 percent to 31.2 percent of Asians.

A separate survey released two years ago by the Committee for the Study of the American Electorate (search) estimated turnout in 2002 at about 39 percent of voting-age citizens. That was up from 37.6 percent in 1998, the lowest midterm turnout since 1942. Curtis Gans, director of the independent group, attributed the rise to more competitive races in many states.

Hispanics are the nation's largest minority and the fastest-growing segment of the electorate. Though Hispanics traditionally lean Democratic, Republicans hope to build on their success from 2000 to capture more votes.

In 2000, George W. Bush won 35 percent of the Hispanic vote, an improvement from 1996 when Bob Dole garnered 21 percent. In 1992, George H.W. Bush captured 25 percent of Hispanic votes.

The Bush campaign aims to win at least 40 percent of the Hispanic vote in 2004. Spokeswoman Sharon Castillo pointed to increasing Hispanic homeownership and improving test scores since the last election.

"This is a long-term goal for this president to have a party that is the face of America, not only Latinos, but all minority groups," Castillo said.

Rep. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., the third-ranking House Democrat, said Bush's record on jobs, health care and education fares poorly — especially for Hispanics.

Getting Hispanics registered to vote for Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry has been a mantra uttered by Latino delegates at the Democratic National Convention. Menendez hopes aggressive voter drives can help Kerry win key electoral states with growing Hispanic populations, including Arizona, Florida and Nevada.

Turnout is typically lower in midterm elections. Previous census reports showed that 45 percent of voting-age Hispanic citizens cast ballots in the 2000 presidential election, up from 44 percent in 1996.