Spanish names to be put to test in Demo races
The rapidly expanding Hispanic population tends to vote for Democrats. And there’s also substantial evidence that Hispanics often vote for Hispanics.
Judith Zaffirini, the longtime Democratic state senator from Laredo, has said that if voters know something about the candidates, they vote based on qualifications and issues. If they don’t, they often vote on ethnicity based on the candidates’ names.
In the March 2 Democratic primary, that idea will be put to the test in a few places – though there are other factors than surnames.
Most of the attention in the governor’s race has gone to the folks who can pay to get it: Former Houston Mayor Bill White and hair-care multimillionaire Farouk Shami. Both have bought a lot of TV ads, and were the only participants in the lone televised debate hosted by Dallas public TV station KERA.
But of the five other candidates who plunked down their $3,750 to run for the Democratic nomination, two are Hispanic: San Antonio physician Alma Ludivina Aguado and Fort Worth teacher Felix Alvarado.
(The other three are Bill Dear, a Mt. Calm private investigator; Clement Glenn of Navasota, an associate professor of education at Prairie View A&M; and Star Locke, a Harlingen homebuilder. All the governor candidates have Web sites.)
Other Democratic races in which the popularity of Hispanic surnames could be tested are:
• Lieutenant governor, between former labor leader Linda Chavez-Thompson, former Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle, and Austin restaurateur Marc Katz.
• Land Commissioner, between former Brownsville state Sen. Hector Uribe, a lawyer and lobbyist, and Bill Burton of Athens, who lists his profession as real estate instructor.
In the lieutenant governor’s race, Chavez-Thompson has the added advantage of support from organized labor. She was elected executive vice-president of the national AFL-CIO in 1995, and is a member of the Democratic National Committee.
For land commissioner, Uribe’s advantage is that after a dozen years in the Texas House and Senate, he knows the issues and is still known around the capitol. And, he’s run statewide before, as the Democratic nominee for a Texas Railroad Commission seat in 1996. He lost, as did all other statewide Democrats that year and every year since, as the Texas Republican Party surged.
In the governor’s race, White is demonstrating that money and a track record can overcome the Hispanic advantage of a last name. White speaks fluent Spanish, and has TV ads in that language in Hispanic media markets. The former Texas Democratic Party chairman from the late 1990s has also sought and won significant endorsements from a number of Hispanic politicos, and is spending several of the days before the Tuesday election campaigning in South Texas.
White’s efforts on behalf of people of all ethnicities, including Hispanics, during his six years as mayor of true ethnic melting pot Houston, show up in his relative popularity with Hispanics.
In a Feb. 19-21 poll of 361 likely Democratic primary voters by Public Policy Polling, White led by 59 percent to 12 percent for Shami, and 5 percent or less for the others. The ethnic cross-tab showed White getting 48 percent of the Hispanic vote, to Alvarado’s 14 percent and 19 percent for Shami.
Often, Hispanic candidates are stronger in runoff elections. That’s because turnout usually drops in most of the state, but can remain high in Hispanic strongholds where local offices are usually decided in the Democratic primary. The local political candidates – usually Hispanics -- do everything they can to get their voters out. That helps Hispanic candidates higher up the ballot.
That’s how schoolteacher Victor Morales, who traveled the state in a white pickup truck in 1996, won the Democratic nomination for the U.S. Senate that year over then-U.S. Rep. John Bryant of Dallas. Morales nosed out Bryant, 51-49 percent -- a margin of 11,333 votes. But he racked up an almost 16,000- vote lead over Bryant – more than his margin of victory -- in Hispanic-heavy Cameron and Hidalgo Counties alone.
The only chances for statewide runoffs involving Hispanics in this year’s Democratic primary are if Alvarez or Aguado get enough to get in a governor runoff – probably with White – or if Chavez-Thompson gets in a runoff – probably with Earle.
No Hispanic-name Test in GOP Judge Race. . . . The newest justice on the Texas Supreme Court, Republican Eva Guzman of Cypress, was appointed to the high court Oct. 8 by Gov. Rick Perry to replace retiring Scott Brister. But 13th Court of Appeals Justice Rose Vela of Corpus Christi had announced in August that she was running. Perry’s appointment of Guzman didn’t scare her off.
It’s no advantage/disadvantage test for Hispanic surnames, since both have them, and are the only GOP candidates for Place 9.
The winner March 2 will face Democrat Blake Bailey of Tyler in November.