Sen. John Kerry’s pitch for reforming immigration laws appears to have backfired in Arizona as Hispanic voters and registered independents have shifted support away from the presumed Democratic presidential nominee, according to a statewide poll released Thursday.
Overall, the results of the survey conducted by the Behavior Research Center in Phoenix show Bush leads Kerry 48 percent to 36 percent, with 16 percent of the respondents undecided. Those numbers are almost identical to a poll done late last month for KAET-TV (Channel 8), which showed Bush ahead of Kerry 47 percent to 35 percent.
The poor showing for Kerry, D-Mass., in the new survey comes largely because he has lost support among Hispanics, according to Earl de Berge, research director for the center. There was a smaller shift among registered independents, according to the results.
The poll began the day after Kerry pitched his plan to loosen federal immigration laws in a speech to the National Council of La Raza’s annual convention in Phoenix late last month.
Comparing the new re- sults to an April poll, which gave Bush a slight edge, de Berge said voters seem to be moving away from Kerry into the undecided column rather than to Bush’s camp.
"There’s no evidence that this is a Bush phenomenon," de Berge said. "It’s Kerry that’s lost ground. Bush’s numbers moved two points. But there was a real significant shift in Kerry’s votes so I have to assume it’s not the Bush message — it’s something that Kerry did."
The poll comes amid signals from the campaigns that they may be reassessing whether Arizona remains in the category of a "battleground" state. The Associated Press reported this week that Kerry’s national campaign has reduced its ad spending in Arizona, Missouri and throughout the South in the weeks leading up to the Democratic National Convention, which begins July 26 in Boston.
Sue Walitsky, spokeswoman for the Kerry campaign in Arizona, said there has been some shifting of resources from Arizona to other states. But she said that is part of the natural ebb-andflow of the campaign, not a signal that Kerry is writing off Arizona.
Kerry began a Spanish ad blitz in Arizona on Memorial Day and is increasing ad spending on Spanish stations, Walitsky said.
Arizona has long been viewed as a battleground state by both parties. Though Bush won the state in 2000 by about 6 percent, former President Bill Clinton carried the state four years earlier. In 2002, Gov. Janet Napolitano became the first Democrat elected to that post in two decades.
A critical voting group in the election is expected to be Hispanics, who account for about 15 percent of the state’s registered voters, according to the U.S. Hispanic Leadership Institute.
Both Bush and Kerry are targeting Hispanic voters with ads on Spanish television stations. De Berge said analysis of survey results show Bush has been effectively courting Hispanics.
In April, about 31 percent of Hispanic voters favored Bush, compared with about 60 percent for Kerry and 9 percent undecided, de Berge said.
Results from the July poll show Bush is now favored by about 47 percent of Hispanic voters, compared with Kerry’s 42 percent.
Kerry sought to court Hispanic voters with his immigration reform proposal in the La Raza speech, but he didn’t deal with other issues such as education and the economy, just as important to Hispanic voters as any other group, de Berge said.