CBNNews.com - AUSTIN, Texas - Hispanics are growing faster than any other ethnic group in the country and that is helping make them a major political force. That strength may become apparent as soon as Tuesday when Texans go to the polls.
Let the Courting Begin
Both Sens. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are trying to get 'comfy' with a very important segment of the population deep in the heart of Texas: Latino voters.
Click the play button to watch CBN News' David Brody's report and get Pat Robertson's insights into the interesting turn of events in the state primaries.
At Clinton headquarters here, the phones don't seem to stop. Anywhere from 15-20 calls are received from Hispanic voters each hour. And the stakes are high.
More than 2.5 million Hispanics are expected to head to the polls on March 4 in the Lone Star State - and the outcome could hinge on their vote.
Both Democratic candidates have spent the past couple weeks criss-crossing the state, spreading their message… in Spanish of course.
Clinton has shown strong Hispanic support and needs a big turnout in the worst way.
After a string of 11 losses she trails Obama in the delegate count by about 100 votes.
Latino voters in Texas are passionate about the upcoming election and the role they're going to play. Clinton supporters haven't forgotten what she did here in the 1970s and Obama supporters say it's really about the future and the change that he's going to bring.
Clinton's first political gig was registering Hispanic voters decades ago throughout cities and towns in the southern part of the state.
"I don't forget when somebody works for us. I'm not the kind that turns around because one of mine is running. He would have to be real qualified for me to support her - a Mexican American," said Clinton supporter Valentin Perez, Sr.
"We have over 30 years experience with Hillary Clinton here and the President and she's got a lot of friends in Texas and a lot of people who admire her," former Sen. Gonzolo Barrientos, chair of Tejano Democratics of Texas said.
Even Obama understands that Clinton's roots run deep in the Hispanic community.
"There's no doubt that right now she's doing better within the Latino community and that's just a function of her husband's presidency. She's inheriting good will that came from Bill Clinton. Her name recognition is much, much higher," he said.
But Obama supporters say that once people get to know him, they'll rally around him - people like Ted Kennedy, who is beloved in the Latino community, surprised a lot of people by endorsing Obama.
Kennedy said, "I think if the Latino community has a chance to listen and hear him and to see him and work with him, he will receive their support.
And Rep. TreyMartinez Fischer said "Senator Obama's story is our story. He comes from the son of an immigrant. He worked his way up… and when he made achievements, tremendous success, he turned around and said 'How can I give back to the community that has given to me?' And that is very reminiscent of the Latino story - we work hard and get to a place of success and then turn around and go help him."
But is there enough time?
Down to the Wire
According to The Associated Press, six in 10 Hispanic voters in Texas say they back Clinton. And with less than a week to go, Obama will have to push his message hard.
For many of the Latino voters CBN News spoke with, health care - not illegal immigration -- is the major concern.
"One of our biggest mortality rates is high blood pressure and if there's a President who is willing to stick her neck out there and fight those insurance companies so anybody can get free health care… It's worth a shot," said Tino Vuellarrta, a Clinton supporter.
There's also the war in Iraq.
"Many people are really concerned about the great percentage of people that are in the war and 30 percent of them are Latino," Obama supporter Rosa Santina said.
The attention that Latino voters are getting carries a special meaning for them. It's flattering to a community that has felt overlooked at times.
"As a Mexican American in this country I think that we've been kind of viewed as an enemy in our own country, so he gives us our best chance at faith and reinvigorating hope," said comedian and actor George Lopez.
In a recent interview America Ferrera - the star of the hit show, Ugly Betty - said she looks forward to the day when "I can tell every young Latino girl -- look into her eyes and say there is no limit to what you can do as a woman."
Barrientos said, "There is a pride in saying 'Listen up! This is who we are as Americans - some of us even before the United States came here. We had our own country.'
The Latino pride is there. But as for the results…it's wait and see.
Fischer said, "Nobody owns the Hispanic vote. We are not monolithic....It's wonderful to be a voter in the state of Texas.