Donald Lambro

"Republicans win on national security by 5 points, on terrorism by 20 points and on being better on business," said Joe Garcia, director of NDN's Hispanic Strategy Center.

It is well-known that Bush did better among Hispanic voters overall in 2004, capturing 40 percent of their vote, but what is not well-known is that he captured a whopping 48 percent of this Spanish-dominant Hispanic bloc that makes up half of the Hispanic vote.

Since then, Ken Mehlman, who managed Bush's re-election campaign before being named Republican National Committee chairman, has made Hispanic outreach a major part of the RNC's agenda. His political pitch is on economic, cultural, educational and ownership grounds -- issues that have strong appeal within this group.

Still, the NDN poll findings showed that if the presidential election were held today, Republicans would face a significant drop in voting preference among Hispanics, down to 23 percent, modest growth for Democrats, 59 percent, while 18 percent remained undecided.

Significantly, NDN's analysis of this 18 percent "finds this group very favorable to President Bush and wary of Democrats.

"While unhappy with the direction of the country, this group will not be an easy one for Democrats to make substantial gains with," NDN said.

Looking more deeply into these undecided voters, the poll also found that 48 percent "tend to have a more favorable opinion of Bush," 53 percent have a favorable view of the Republicans and 36 percent have an unfavorable view of the Democrats."

So what does this all mean? Well, if you add the 23 percent who would vote Republican for president today and the 18 percent who heavily lean Republican, and you still have more than 40 percent of this all-important Hispanic bloc in the GOP's column. "That is not chopped liver," Garcia admits, but adds the "higher concentration for the Democrats" in the total Hispanic vote "is still a loss for the Republicans."

Except for one big political variable. "Hispanics are not a single-issue voting bloc. They will vote on other things besides immigration," he points out. "What Democrats have to worry about is the long-term gains Republicans may have made through Bush's continued efforts to appeal to this group. Once you vote one way in two election cycles, you are no longer swing voters."

Garcia's ominous message to Democrats: "These Hispanic voters are not only highly volatile, they are vulnerable to being lost."

Donald Lambro

Donald Lambro is chief political correspondent for The Washington Times.