In sharp contrast to some black leaders who are talking about promoting a black candidate for president next year, U.S. Hispanic leaders have decided to play mainstream Democratic politics in 1984.
Under the banner of Hispanic Force '84, a core of Hispanic elected and appointed officials from all parts of the country has begun devising a presidential election strategy that emphasizes the traditional elements of politics: money, voters and issues.
Hispanic leaders hope to demonstrate their growing political power by raising money and either giving it directly to the Democratic presidential nominee or spending it independently during the general election on behalf of the Democratic ticket.
In addition, Hispanics plan to step up voter registration efforts in more than two dozen states to produce a greater turnout in the 1984 election than ever.
Hispanic leaders also said they hope to impress on Democratic candidates that they are interested in providing advice on issues other than those commonly associated with their community, such as immigration and bilingual education.
About a dozen Hispanic officials met recently in Santa Fe to lay the groundwork for the campaign. A second, larger meeting is scheduled for Phoenix in May.
The group, which includes Mexican Americans, Cubans and Puerto Ricans, has chosen New Mexico's Democratic Gov. Toney Anaya as its chairman. Others who attended the Santa Fe meeting included Miami Mayor Maurice Ferre; Tony Bonilla, president of the League of United Latin American Citizens; Colorado state Sen. Polly Baca Barragan, vice chairman of the Democratic National Committee, and people from California, Texas, Arizona, Illinois and Puerto Rico.
Anaya said he had met with most of the Democratic presidential candidates, and with President Reagan, to explain the interests of Hispanic Force '84. He found the Democratic candidates "almost overly receptive," he said.
That was their reaction, he said, because the Hispanics contend that they are seeking nothing more than genuine access to the presidential campaigns and to a Democratic administration, if Democrats are successful in 1984.
"We're trying to get Hispanics in key positions," Anaya said. "not as spokesmen for Hispanics but in roles that speak across the society. We don't want candidates to have an in-house Mexican just for symbolic reasons."
Some Hispanics privately criticize the approach of some black leaders who have become increasingly vocal about the need for a black presidential candidate and the fact that the Democratic Party has too long taken black voters for granted. They also are wary of being coopted by black leaders seeking support for their own candidate.
"I don't think there's anything to be gained by challenging the system or a particular party," Anaya said. "The system is in place, and you can work within it." Hispanic politicians, like many black leaders, believe that the Democratic Party does not understand their interests. But Hispanics have decided that the most effective way to gain clout is to demonstrate their potential power on behalf of the party. "Hispanics want to make a public statement, and the statement is, 'We're here,' " said one Hispanic politician.
The Hispanics intend to tell Democratic presidential candidates that, in the Southwest at least, they hold the balance of power. In California, Hispanics comprise 19 percent of the population and in Texas more than 21 percent.
Hispanics have fallen short, however, in getting to the polls. Only about 30 percent of Hispanics 18 and older were registered in 1980, according to census figures. Even excluding Hispanics who are not citizens, only 44 percent of eligible Hispanics were registered.
But in about the past five years, an increasing number of Hispanics has registered to vote, thanks in large part to systematic registration drives conducted by the Southwest Voter Registration Education Project in San Antonio.
Between 1976 and 1980, the number of Hispanics registered to vote in California, Texas, Arizona, Colorado and New Mexico increased by 44 percent, according to figures compiled by the project.
"We think there will be a similar rise between 1980 and 1984," said William C. Velasquez, the group's executive director.
Velasquez said organizations patterned after his had formed in the Midwest and in New York, and he predicted that between now and the 1984 elections, at least 250 voter registration campaigns will be conducted in 28 states.
Once registered, Hispanics vote in large numbers, he said. Citing exit polls in Chicago after the February mayoral primary, Velasquez said turnout among registered Hispanics in Chicago was 68 percent. Only about 13 percent of them voted for Harold Washington, the black Democratic nominee. In Florida in 1980, almost 60 percent of eligible Hispanics voted--favoring Reagan over Jimmy Carter by a wide margin.
Anaya said he does not know how much money Hispanic Force '84 can raise for the Democratic nominee, and Hispanic leaders have not decided whether to spend it independently or to give it to the candidate.
In Sante Fe, there was discussion about whether the group should remain nonpartisan, but that was quickly abandoned when it became apparent that nearly all of those involved were Democrats.
Hispanic leaders decided they would go their own ways during the pre-nominating period, in part because several have committed themselves to candidates.
But they believe that the framework offered by Hispanic Force '84 will give all of them a means for unity when the Democrats have chosen a candidate.
If nothing else, Hispanic leaders believe their efforts will spotlight their rapid political maturation.
"We don't have the track record," Anaya said. "But we can say, here's the potential, here's what's happened in other states. And we're willing to do the work. It's a no-lose proposition for any candidate."