News Column

Hispanics Seen as Weak Link in Texas Democratic Coalition

September 23, 2002

HOUSTON (EFE) Fledgling hopes for a Hispanic-black political alliance that would help Democratic candidates in Texas in November appear to be flagging due to scant interest from the Latino side.

A recent poll found that Hispanics were less interested than Anglos in the state gubernatorial race, and that their backing for the Democrats' African-American candidate for the U.S. Senate was tepid at best.

The Democratic "dream team" for the Nov. 5 election features seventh-generation Mexican-American Tony Sanchez as the candidate for governor, and a black former mayor of Dallas, Ron Kirk, in the race for the Senate seat being vacated by retiring Republican Phil Gramm.

According to the poll, hopes that this ticket would forge a "black-brown" coalition sweeping both candidates to victory appear to have been exaggerated. The statewide poll, conducted for The Houston Chronicle and local television outlet KHOU-TV, shows that while African-Americans are strongly behind Sanchez, Hispanics are displaying only lukewarm support for Kirk.

Although the poll found that 54 percent of Hispanics were at least somewhat interested in the gubernatorial race, the figures for Anglos and blacks were 76 percent and 59 percent, respectively.

The 2002 election marks the first time that two minority candidates are vying for the state's top posts.

While Kirk's support among African-Americans now stands at 62 percent, and is expected to climb to 90 percent come election day, only 35 percent of Hispanics said they would vote for him. Conversely, blacks appear to be more enthusiastic about Sanchez than do Hispanics, with 69 percent of African-Americans saying they would vote for the Democratic gubernatorial hopeful, compared with 64 percent of Latinos.

Incumbent Republican Gov. Rick Perry is leading Sanchez by 9 percentage points, but the gap between them is expected to continue to narrow as the election approaches.

The poll involved telephone interviews with 879 voters and has a margin of error of 3.3 percent.

One of the two researchers who conducted the survey, Rice University political scientist Bob Stein, told The Houston Chronicle that African-Americans - "a highly disciplined and mobilized group across the state" - would vote a straight Democratic ticket.

Hispanics, however, "are doing ... what black voters did 20 years ago. They either didn't know if they were going to vote or they didn't know who to vote for," Stein said.

Democrats usually garner 75 percent of the Hispanic vote in Texas, but Kirk would have to more than double his current support among Latinos even to match this figure.

Source: Copyright 2002 Efe. All Rights Reserved.

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