By Manuel Martínez, Rodrigo París and Antonio Ruiz Camacho
SAN ANTONIO Like Latin lovers, the Democratic presidential candidates court the votes of Texas Latinos, reports Spanish-language Rumbo newspaper.
The state primary on March 4, and another the same day in Ohio will be crucial in deciding the Democratic nominee. Texas has the second most democratic delegates of any state, and 25 percent of voters are Hispanics, so the candidates are putting all their meat on the Texas grill. Barack Obama, after his rash of ten consecutive primary victories, comes with momentum, but meets the challenge of making himself known in the state. Hillary Clinton, not considered the favorite after a recent campaign shakeup, has a long history with Texas voters, especially Latinos.
”The Clinton campaign has always been active in the Latino community, and intends to continue having a strong presence,” said Clinton spokesperson Fabiola Rodríguez-Ciampoli.
According to 2006 figures, 2.3 million Hispanics Texans are registered to vote out of 11.5 million total voters. “It will be a very close election,” said Jason Casellas, of the University of Texas in Austin. The two candidates’ debate Feb. 21 at the school will be a decisive moment, broadcast in English on CNN and later that night in Spanish on Univision.
Latinos have said their most important issue is education, according to Casellas. Though neither candidate has dedicated much time to the subject, he said, he expects to hear more about their proposals before the primary.
Clinton must remind the community of the many local Latinos that her husband appointed during his administration, said Harvey Kronberg, editor of a political blog in Austin, the state capital.
Obama has received endorsements from various Texas Latino legislators: state Rep.’s Trey Martínez Fischer, Rafael Anchía and Pete Gallego, and federal Congressman Charlie González. On the other side, Henry Cisneros, formerly Secretary of Housing and Urban Development under Bill Clinton, Congressman Henry Cuéllar and state Sen. Leticia van de Putte are with Clinton.
Though the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) supports Obama on a national level, on a regional level in Texas it has yet to define its position, said Michael Espinosa, of the union.
For Sonia García, of the Univ. of St. Mary’s, the youth vote and women’s votes will be important. Young people will vote for Obama, she said, mirroring nationwide trends, but the working class and Latina women will probably identify with Clinton.
Adrián Sáenz, Obama’s campaign director in Texas said they have volunteers from diverse areas across the state. The large portion of voters under the age 40 in the state will help their campaign, he said.
In the last week, groups like Obama Dallas and Alamobamas held around 50 events for Obama. The campaign is running radio ads in 10 cities. Obama’s first TV commercial in Spanish emphasizes his work in the community after college and efforts to help families suffering from factory closures.
The Clinton campaign, said spokesperson Fabiola Rodríguez-Ciampoli, benefits from the senator’s decades-long friendships in the state. Clinton registered voters there in the 1970s and her strong support among Latinos will multiply, she said. Clinton’s Spanish-language advertisement emphasizes her respect for Hispanic culture and says knows their issues: health care and the economy.
Neither candidates’ ad mentions immigration or border control. Those issues are obviously important for Latinos, said Sharon Navarro, of the Univ. of Texas in San Antonio. But Latinos are not generally different than most voters, she said, adding the war in Iraq and the economy to their list of concerns.
Translated by Peter Micek