Texan Politicos Wrangle to Win Latino Vote

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SAN ANTONIO -- The big political story in Texas this year is not President Barack Obama or his challenger Mitt Romney. It's a population shift that's got both parties moving to claim territory and prepare for the future.

More than ever, Hispanics and other ethnic groups hold the key to power in the Lone Star State that could one day affect the race for the White House.

Signs of Growing Power

The face of Texas at the national conventions this year was noticeably Hispanic. Republicans invited Senate candidate and Tea Party favorite Ted Cruz to speak while Democrats invited San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro to give the keynote address.

One month later another revealing sign: the nation's first Congressional debate in Spanish featuring incumbent Rep. Francisco "Quico" Canseco vs. Democratic state Rep. Pete Gallego. The location-San Antonio's 23rd district is a battleground for both parties.

"This is one of the few districts that will make or break each party," Bexar County Democratic Chairman Manuel Medina said.

Hispanics are the majority population in the district and demographic experts say they soon will be in the state as well. Already, Hispanics make up 38 percent of the state, right behind whites at 45 percent.

Latinos are poised to become the majority population by 2040 if not before. That means both parties in Texas are publicly talking about the need to court this emerging force.

"In Texas we've been here forever," Medina said. "It's now a matter of participating more than ever."

Reaching Full Potential

Like many Democrats, Medina views Latinos as a reliable base, but this voting bloc has its issues. First, many Hispanics cannot cast a ballot and won't be able to for years.

Political analysts like Mark Lopez, associate director of the Pew Hispanic Center, say Latinos won't reach their full political power for several decades.

"Not every Hispanic can vote. In fact, only 42 percent of Hispanics are either 18 or older, an adult and also a U.S. citizen," Lopez said.

Also, many registered Hispanics do not turn out to vote. But in Texas, the race is on to win over this group simply because of its growing numbers and because of what the state now controls: four new U.S. House seats for a total of 36 and four new electoral votes for a total of 38.

Those numbers give the Lone Star State a large say in national politics and they give Texas Latinos some serious leverage.

The 'Super 8'

In San Antonio the future is already here. Hispanics make up 63 percent of the population and their political power is evident on what seems like every campaign sign around town.

San Antonio has a proud Democratic party heritage, starting with the first Mexican-American Congressman Henry B. Gonzalez and continuing today with Mayor Castro. But Republicans here have begun a strategy that the state GOP may want to embrace.

"The majority of people in this town, the city of Saint Anthony, are conservative," 20th District Congressional candidate David Rosa said.

Rosa, a Republican, is the "David" in a David-and-Goliath battle. His opponent is Mayor Castro's twin brother Joaquin. But Rosa points out that many Hispanics are natural conservatives and he believes the GOP can make advances here.

"Do I believe that the Republican party will grow -- yes!" he said. "Because here we are. We're calling ourselves the 'Super 8.'''

CBN News spoke with some of the "Super 8" at a recent gathering of the Alamo Pachyderm Club. The eight Republican Hispanic candidates are all on the ballot in Bexar County and they're historic. The county has never before had more than two Hispanic Republicans on the general election ballot.

"The best way for the GOP to reach out to Hispanics in Bexar County is to do exactly what we're doing," said Michael Berlanga, the Republican candidates for the state Senate seat in District 19.

"That is, search out and identify candidates like myself who are willing to restore the focus on Republican values, while at the same time being open about our heritage," he said.

Shedding Political Tradition?

These candidates argue that many Hispanics are aligned with the GOP-they just don't know it.

"When God is booed at the Democratic National Convention, when they talk about abortion on demand at the Democratic National Convention, those are not Hispanic values, they're not," said Robert Stovall, the Republican candidate for Bexar County Tax Assessor Collector.

But in a city where Democratic roots run deep, will Hispanics begin to shed their political traditions? And will the state GOP commit to courting this up-and-coming group?

Democrats have their doubts.

"While half their leadership says they're reaching out to the Hispanic community, the other half, more of the Tea Party movement half, is trying to close doors," Medina said.

But Texas GOP leadership is beginning to talk the talk. In a recent online interview, Texas GOP Chair Steve Munisteri said "nothing else matters if you can't get a sizable enough share of the Hispanic vote."

And if Rosa's campaign is any indication, many grassroots Texas Republicans are willing and eager to reach a constituency that both sides realize is the make-it-or-break-it voting bloc of the future.

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Heather Sells

Heather Sells

CBN News Reporter

Heather Sells enjoys reporting on a variety of issues for CBN News. Some of her recent stories have focused on religious liberties, technology, AIDS, overseas missions, domestic trafficking, and politics.  Follow Heather on Twitter @SellsHeather and "like" her at Facebook.com/HeatherSellsCBNNews.