The race to see who will be the next governor of Texas is underway, but some say it’s already over. Election watchers say Texas Attorney General Gregg Abbott - a Republican candidate - is the clear front runner, and is not only gunning to win the election, but to bring Texas Latinos to the Republican Party.
Usually in Texas, when politicians want to make a big splash they do it in Austin the Capital or Houston or Dallas the state’s big media markets – but apparently not anymore. When Texas Governor Rick Perry made the announcement he would not seek re-election, he went to Latino-dominated San Antonio.
When Democratic Texas Senator Wendy Davis made her last stand against the controversial abortion bill, she traveled to the Alamo City.
And when Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott announced he was running for Governo, he did so in San Antonio, and playing up his connection by marriage to the Latino community. Abbott’s wife Cecilia is Hispanic.
“Our marriage has lasted because our relationship has been based on the same foundational principal even though we came from different houses – dos casas – pero – una – fundacion,” Abbott said during his announcement.
So why is so much political traffic coming thru San Antonio? It’s all politics.
Southern Methodist University professor Cal Jillson says, “San Antonio is obviously one of the great cities of Texas, but it is the city with a large Hispanic population. Both sides, Democrat and Republican in Texas, realize the demographic changes taking place, that the Hispanic vote is rising. Republicans know they’ve got to win 40 percent of it if they are going to retain their majority in Texas.”
Jillson teaches political science at SMU. He says the Texas Republican Party is turning up the heat on their effort to attract Hispanic voters, and the national GOP is watching.
“Texas is going to be a model for the Republican party’s success or failure, depending on how they decide to address Hispanics in Texas, and right now they don’t have a positive message,” Jillson says.
Abbott’s first whistle stop after announcing his candidacy was to a Mexican restaurant in the Rio Grande Valley. While there, Abbott made it clear that he wanted Latino support for his campaign, and again played up his wife’s Latina heritage.
“She is the daughter of mi suegra, Maria De La Luz Segura Phalen, and she will be the first Latina first lady in the history of the state of Texas,” Abbott announced.
In his stump speech, Abbott builds a case that Latino voters share fundamental values with the Republican Party.
Texas Governor Rick Perry is also taking the Republican message to the Rio Grande Valley, pointing out that in the decades that the Democrats controlled Texas, the border region was neglected.
Perry was in Valley recently for a ceremonial bill signing that brings to the border a new University of Texas school and a medical school. The school has the potential to reshape the region’s economy.
But will Perry’s push bring about a mass conversion of Latinos on the border into Republican voters? Professor Cal Jillson says it’s unlikely.
“Perry has given the best message he can, but Hispanics listen closely, and it’s not just about jobs, because they know that their pay is lower than Anglo pay. It’s about education and health care as well – and [for Hispanics], Rick Perry hasn’t had much to say there,” Jillson points out.
Texas Democrats agree with Jillson. Texas Democratic Party Chairman Gilberto Hinojosa says Abbott has been against the real issues that matter to Texas Latino voters – issues like immigration reform, funding education, voter I.D. and redistricting. “It’s clear from the positions that Greg Abbott has taken on every issue that important to Latinos that he’s about as anti-Latino as you can be,” Hinojosa says.
“The fact that he believes that [because] he’s married to a Hispanic woman says he supports Hispanic issues doesn’t translate into actually supporting what’s important to Hispanics in Texas,” Hinojosa says.
The election for Texas governor isn’t until November of 2014. And the Republican leadership in Austin and Washington D.C. will be watching closely to see if the Texas political laboratory finds the formula that can deliver Latinos votes to the GOP.