Houston Chronicle

How to woo Texas' Hispanic voters

Helpful hints for clueless Dems
in 2006 statewide races

Copyright 2004 Houston Chronicle
December 5, 2004

A viable and all encompassing Hispanic strategy has to be at the forefront of any campaign game plan if Democrats aspire to win statewide offices in 2006. Democrats can only win if they make serious adjustments and a significant investment in the Hispanic community.

Democrats must begin to acknowledge that this community is growing exponentially in Texas. For years, political scientists have said that the political party that makes the most inroads into the Hispanic community is the party that will dominate the state politically. According to the Willie C. Velasquez Institute, there are over more than 1.5 million unregistered Hispanic citizen adults in Texas. Much to the delight of Republican operatives, the Democrats have been notably derelict in directing resources toward registering Hispanics to vote.

Republicans know that in order to hold onto statewide offices, they have to wage a battle in the Hispanic community. Democrats have not come to terms with the fact that they too need to compete for the vote that in the past has gone solidly into their column. Long gone are the days when Republican statewide candidates (with the exception of the late John Tower) obediently yield this vote to the Democrats.

The Velasquez Institute reports that there are approximately 2.5 million registered Hispanics in Texas and they account for 18percent of the total votes cast. The Hispanic vote in general supports Democratic candidates by more than a 2-to1 margin. Incredibly, in the 1998 and 2002 statewide general elections in which Republicans never incorporated a strategy of getting more Hispanics registered to vote and turning them out to vote. Despite nominating a Hispanic candidate for governor in 2002, Democrats lacked a credible effort to ensure that we maintain the Democratic advantage in this community.

After the 2000 presidential election, Karl Rove decided that President Bush's re-election strategy had to include getting more evangelicals to the polls to provide him with a comfortable margin of victory. It worked. In Texas, the Democrats' equivalent to Bush's evangelical margin will be an enthusiastically nurtured Hispanic community.

Texas Republicans aren't registering Hispanics to vote either. Rather than encourage more Hispanic participation in the electoral process, Republicans choose to dazzle the current Hispanic voter. When President George W. Bush named Al Gonzales as his next attorney general, he sent a powerful message: Hispanics are helping run this country. Democrats can't even honestly say that Hispanics are helping run their own party.

The Republican policy agenda is fundamentally unfriendly toward the Hispanic community. Recognizing this, Republicans resort to symbols for example, high profile appointments to market themselves in a community whose local elected officials are overwhelmingly Democratic.

Republican campaigns are more aggressive in the Hispanic community. They are creative and deceptive in their use of mail and paid media. As GOP operatives gleefully point out, Democrats still run campaigns in the Hispanic community using images of JFK and Cesar Chavez to excite voters. This outdated strategy ignores that a large segment of the new Hispanic voter are immigrants and do not view these two figures with the same reverence held by older Mexican-American voters.

Also outdated is the manner in which Democratic campaign budget resources are allocated. Republicans consider budgeting for Hispanic paid media as a must. They have one budget for English language media and another separate budget for media development targeted specifically toward the Hispanic voter.

Democrats treat Hispanic paid media as secondary to English speaking media. Oftentimes, a Democratic English ad is simply translated into Spanish with no thought to customization for the community. This attitude must change.

Republican Hispanics often make the claim that Democrats take the Hispanic community for granted. This is true. However, it must be said that Hispanic Democratic leaders also take their party for granted. In order for these dramatic changes in campaign strategy to occur, Hispanic Democratic leaders must be more assertive and demand them.

Campos and Emal are Houston-based Democratic consultants. They can be reached, respectively, at www.camposcommunications.com and msemal@houstonrr.com

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