ATLANTA - On the same day the Republican National Committee launched a series of Spanish-language ads courting Latinos in Georgia and six other states, Georgia's Democratic Party accused the state GOP of trying to intimidate black voters.
An item on the Georgia Republicans' Internet site instructing GOP poll watchers to have a still or video camera with them on Election Day is an attempt to dampen turnout by discouraging blacks from voting, state Democratic Chairman David Worley charged Monday during a news conference on the steps of the Capitol.
Legislation containing a series of election reforms passed by the General Assembly last year included a provision banning poll watchers from taking pictures, a response to Democratic complaints stemming from the 1998 election.
"You would think the Republican Party would have learned their lesson," Mr. Worley said. "But in fact ... they are encouraging their poll watchers to break the law."
But state Republican Chairman Chuck Clay said those instructions are 4 years old, and he has ordered them removed from the Internet site, where they were left inadvertently.
He said GOP leaders originally intended to arm poll watchers with cameras as a reaction to either actual or alleged voter fraud committed by Democrats in some parts of the state, never as a tool to depress black turnout.
"We've never had cameras in polling places sticking in people's faces," Mr. Clay said. "(Democrats) are playing the race card."
Despite complaints from Democrats two years ago that Republicans were engaging in similar practices, Georgia set a record for black voter turnout, helping Attorney General Thurbert Baker and Labor Commissioner Michael Thurmond become the first blacks to win statewide, nonjudicial office.
On Monday, the Rev. Timothy McDonald, a Baptist minister from Atlanta and president of Concerned Black Clergy, said this year's alleged scheme will meet the same fate as past attempts to prevent blacks from voting.
"Jim Crowism is dead. The grandfather clause is dead. The poll tax is dead, and having videotapes and trying to intimidate African-Americans will not work," he said.
Even as Georgia Republicans were defending themselves from allegations of trying to discourage black turnout, the national GOP was moving to increase the Republicans' share of the Hispanic vote.
Spanish-language radio, television and print ads released in Georgia and six other states with significant Hispanic populations tout George W. Bush's education proposals.
Democrats historically have garnered the lion's share of support from Hispanics nationally, largely a reaction to Republican support for strict immigration laws. Still, Georgia Republicans are aiming to win 30,000 new Hispanic votes this year.
Charles Asensio, a Hispanic GOP activist who has campaigned among voters throughout the state, said his party and the Hispanic community are a natural fit.
"We are a very family oriented group of people," said Mr. Asensio, an Atlanta-area business executive. "We are very conservative in our beliefs and values."
But Mr. Worley said the Republican Party hasn't cornered the market on family values.
"Democrats are no less interested in family values than Republicans are," he said. "But what Democrats do is put those values into practice through making policies that help families. Al Gore has certainly made working families the centerpiece of his campaign."
Mr. Clay said the RNC's decision to target Georgia with the ad shows that Hispanics are becoming a "critical block of swing voters" in the state.
"The Bush team ... wants to lay the groundwork for this election and the future to bring in good family oriented conservative voters, whatever their background," he said.
Reach Dave Williams at (404) 589-8424.
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