Latinos Could Swing Texas Primary Outcome

Latinos Could Swing Texas Primary Outcome
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The outcome of Tuesday’s Texas GOP primary could hinge on the state’s large Latino population, a Democratic Party official said Thursday.

Every presidential election there are 4 million Latino votes on the table in the Lone Star State, representing 40 percent of the electorate, said Texas Democratic Party Chairman Gilberto Hinojosa, who noted that many Hispanic voters have not cast ballots in the past. But that could change this year given the tenor of the Republican race.

“If there is one way that you’re going to get Hispanics to vote in Texas or all across America … [it’s that] you make them mad, you make them scared or you make them proud -- or all three together,” he said in a campaign discussion hosted by RealClearPolitics in Houston.  

And remarks from Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump, who has called illegal Latino immigrants “rapists” and “killers,” may drive this voting bloc to the polls, he said.

Hinojosa added that such negative remarks will hurt the GOP in the general election also, especially in swing states such as Florida and Virginia, which have large Latino populations.

“When you have this kind of rhetoric coming out of the Republican Party, it jeopardizes their opportunity to take the White House,” he said.

(Explaining that his comments would only anger minorities, the Democrat did not address the fact that Trump managed to win the Hispanic vote in Nevada on Tuesday, outperforming Sens. Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, both of whom are of Latino descent.)

Karen Tumulty, a national political correspondent for The Washington Post and a participant in the RCP event, agreed that turnout is crucial in Texas. She said the important figure in Texas politics is 750,000—the number of votes expected to be needed to win the Republican primary.

“Demographics are an opportunity,” Hinojosa said. “They are not destiny.”

The state has long been friendly to the GOP. Democrats have not won a statewide election since 1994, noted Tom Mechler, Texas Republican Party chairman.

“The state is a conservative state, and that’s why the Republicans do so well in the state of Texas. … We are the only conservative party,” he said.

Mechler said his party has focused on engaging minority communities, and he noted that Hispanics’ strong family values and beliefs in opportunity align with GOP positions.

Republican Gov. Greg Abbott won 44 percent of the Hispanic vote in the 2014 gubernatorial election, which Mechler called “living proof that those communities are listening and receiving the Republican message.”

According to the RCP polling average, Cruz -- whom Abbott endorsed this week -- is ahead in his home state with 34 percent support, followed by Trump with 26.8 percent and Rubio with 18.2 percent.

“Ted Cruz will not lose Texas,” Mechler predicted.

But Tumulty asserted that if voter turnout exceeds 1.8 million, Trump’s odds will increase because he has been drawing voters who typically do not show up at the polls.

If Cruz loses in Texas, his campaign is finished, said Jonathan Tilove, chief political writer for the Austin American-Statesman. But even if the freshman senator wins, he needs to do well elsewhere in the country in order to be a viable contender, Tilove added.

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