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Published: Saturday, 6/25/2005

Hispanics' growing clout

THE nation's politicians will have to pay more attention to America's Hispanics, who represent the fastest growing group in the country. According to recent figures, the Hispanic growth rate was 3.6 percent, three times that of the total population, and every new Hispanic voter means an increase in political power.

The U.S. Census Bureau's report about the Hispanic growth rate proves that the country's racial makeup is changing. As of last July, the bureau reported that the Hispanic population was 41.3 million. Compare that to the African-American population: about 38.7 million. Until recently, blacks were the largest racial minority group in America.

After Hispanics, the fastest growing racial groups are Asians, who number 14 million, followed by Pacific islanders, native Americans, Alaska natives, and, finally, the slow-growing whites of European stock.

In some states with large Hispanic populations, Hispanic voters have been a political factor for some time.

Not surprisingly, nearly half the population of Texas is minority - census figures put the Hispanic population there at 7.6 million. Florida also has a large Hispanic population, as does California. In fact, the most recent sign of political clout of the nation's Hispanics is that Los Angeles' Mayor-elect Antonio Villaraigosa will become that city's first Hispanic mayor since the 1800s.

Traditionally, most Hispanic voters have been Democrats. But President Bush's shrewd display of his own fluent Spanish may have helped tip New Mexico into his column last year, and Cuban-Americans were responsible for giving Florida, and the election, to the President in 2000.

Clearly the color of America is changing. It's a force that is reshaping the nation.

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