GOP Bothered by Hispanic Rating

Republicans, determined to win more Hispanic votes in this fall's election, must first contend with advocacy groups that are not sold on the party's legislative agenda.

The GOP criticized those groups Thursday about a scorecard that rated congressional Democrats far more positively than Republicans.

"This scorecard might as well have gone out on Democratic Party letterhead," said Danny Diaz, a spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee. He said the report did not adequately measure votes on such issues as tax cuts and school accountability.

The scorecard was released Wednesday by the National Hispanic Leadership Agenda, which represents 35 national Hispanic groups, including the National Council of La Raza, the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund.

The report rated lawmakers on votes related to civil rights, education, economic mobility and health.

A positive score was registered for a vote against a House education bill that the report said provided insufficient resources for schools and too little help for students with limited English language skills. Favorably rated were votes for a measure allowing people whose names were not on registration lists to fill out provisional ballots at the polls.

The scorecard favored votes in the Senate against the confirmation of John Ashcroft to be attorney general, for a patients' bill of rights and for legislation to repair and renovate public schools.

"I'm not surprised," said Sharon Castillo, a spokeswoman for the Republican National Committee who specializes in Hispanic outreach. "We're talking about Democrats grading Democrats."

Republican Hispanic outreach efforts have focused on talking directly with voters, recruiting new leaders and, when needed, working around leaders who may be closely allied with the Democratic Party.

President Bush's job approval among Hispanics was at 70 percent in a poll taken in May by Democratic pollster Sergio Bendixen, though Bush got half that level of support in the 2000 election.

Bush has encouraged Republicans to aggressively recruit Hispanics, the nation's fastest growing minority. His popularity has given Republicans hope they can improve their performance among Hispanics in this year's congressional elections.

"The entire country sides with the president on the issue of the war," said Guillermo Meneses, who coordinates the Hispanic outreach efforts of the Democratic Party. But that popularity does not diminish the loyalty Hispanics long have shown Democrats, he said.

Republicans researched the leadership of the groups that compiled the ratings and found that board members' support, both financial and political, was lopsided toward Democrats.

"Organizations that claim to represent Latinos should represent all Latinos," said the RNC's Castillo.

Maria Demeo of MALDEF said her group criticizes both Republicans and Democrats. "Clearly all the groups in the coalition are nonpartisan," she said.