Simon Rosenberg, president of the New Democrat Network, said Bush's appeal to Hispanics is clear: As a former governor of Texas, the president has a better grasp than his opponent of immigrant issues. Bush's brother Jeb, governor of Florida, speaks Spanish like a native Cuban and appealed directly to Latino voters on the president's behalf. The president's nephew George P. Bush is a rising star in the Republican Party.
"The relationship of the Bush family to Hispanics is something like Bill Clinton's relationship with African Americans," Rosenberg said.
In addition, the president made high-level Hispanic appointments, including that of Alberto R. Gonzales, first as White House counsel and recently as his nominee for attorney general. Bush's first trip abroad after the election was to Chile and Colombia.
"Would any Democratic president have ever thought of that?" Rosenberg asked. "Democrats have a legacy with Hispanics. But Republicans have a modern strategy. Their strategy is changing the rules, and Democrats have to adapt. It is a sea change."
There is one thing about which most pollsters agree. Kerry ran poorly among Hispanics who did not live in campaign battleground states where he worked hard for their votes.
In Florida, where the Kerry-John Edwards campaign joined union volunteers, activist groups and others in turning out the vote, Kerry won 44 percent of the Hispanic vote, according to exit polling done by the New Democrat Network. That is 10 percentage points more than Democratic nominee Al Gore won among that group in 2000.
In non-battleground states, the 54 percent of the Hispanic vote Kerry got was 12 percentage points less than what Gore received four years earlier, according to the NDN poll. It was a wake-up call for Democrats, who are accustomed to 90 percent of the black vote and 75 percent of the Hispanic vote, Zogby said.
"A lot of the Democratic leadership grew up in the civil rights era," Rosenberg said. "They were in this black and white fight that took place in the '60s. That's how they grew up in the political world.
"Now what we're facing is a new conversation, and we have a lot of people who are invested in the old conversation. We have to court both. It cannot be framed as a choice."
Rosenberg said Democrats must roll back what Republicans gained, "or we can become the minority party for the rest of my life."