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THE REPUBLICAN CONVENTION

A New Accent

The party that spoke against bilingualism in '96 now welcomes a flood of U.S. Spanish-language media.

August 03, 2000|DANA CALVO | TIMES STAFF WRITER

PHILADELPHIA — Never before has a Romance language been such a prominent part of a Republican National Convention.

So many U.S. Spanish-language media outlets are chronicling the event--at least 20--that the presidential campaign of Texas Gov. George W. Bush has brought in a bilingual spin doctor to handle the unprecedented number. Convention organizers estimate that fewer than 10 outlets covered the 1996 GOP convention. Just one of the new outlets, the Web site Terra.com, is drawing 4 million hits a day, and the two top Spanish-language television networks are watched by tens of millions of Latinos.

"It's impossible for me to do all the interviews," said Sonia Colin Martinez. A Mexican immigrant, Martinez occupies a brand-new place in Bush's presidential campaign, serving as its bilingual public relations maestro/spokeswoman. The former Spanish-language anchorwoman uses her industry savvy to pitch stories.

Her position reflects more than the Republican Party's expanded outreach to Latinos, who have tended to vote Democratic. It also is a response to increased demand from the ever-growing world of Spanish-language media outlets in the United States.

These are not foreign agencies; they're networks and publications based in Los Angeles, Miami, New York and Puerto Rico. Indeed, Martinez has had to assemble a team of 33 bilingual "press surrogates" to handle all her interview requests.

On one recent afternoon, Martinez spoke on Spanish radio, on "CNN en Espanol" and Univision, the mammoth Spanish-language television network, which has blossomed into the nation's fifth-largest television network.

"Hispanics don't have the political power yet, but in terms of artistic and economic and media power, we are tremendous," said Univision's longtime national news anchor, Jorge Ramos.

Tuesday night, Ramos stood on the convention floor and opened the evening newscast with a story about the "Latino face" the GOP has put on this convention. The second story was an analysis comparing the GOP's and Democrats' policies on immigration.

Like all the majors, the Spanish-language television networks are broadcasting only convention highlights on their regularly scheduled newscasts.

The convention "is in English, and it's best for our audience to see it summarized in Spanish," said Joe Peyronnin, executive vice president of Telemundo News, the nation's second-largest Spanish-language TV network.

Telemundo had an easier job last month covering Mexico's presidential election. There, it could broadcast live interviews and events in Spanish. Still, Telemundo brought more than 15 reporters, producers and videographers here, and convention organizers have stacked the schedule with Latino or Spanish "hooks" designed to lure the Spanish-language media.

There's Hector Barreto, 39, California co-chairman of Bush's campaign, whose Wednesday speech to convention delegates was laced with Spanish. Cuban-born Jon Secada sang his new single, "Stop!" and two Latinos recited the pledge of allegiance on the convention floor.

And the surest sign that Spanish speakers have arrived at a new level of America's political consciousness: the first all-Spanish convention speech, to be delivered tonight by California delegate and state Assemblyman Abel Maldonado (R-Santa Maria).

Because Maldonado's speech is the only address to be delivered in Spanish, "CNN en Espanol" plans to digress from its news update format to broadcast his entire speech live.

Univision will show highlights of the speech on its late evening news and will focus tonight on George P. Bush, the candidate's Latino nephew.

"P," as he is known, also appeals to the Spanish-language Internet sites, which draw a slightly more educated, assimilated group of bilingual Latinos than television does.

"He is exactly what Terra.com represents," said Magdalena Spinelli, 32, senior editor for Terra.com.

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