Feb. 20 (Bloomberg) — Next to her gold medallion of the Virgin Mary of Guadalupe, Rosa Rosales ofwears a button pin for the woman she considers another patron of Mexican- Americans: .
Thesenator needs to prevail in the March 4 primary in , the second most-populous and delegate-rich state in the nation, to salvage her dwindling chances of becoming the Democratic presidential nominee. Her victory hinges on winning the support of a substantial majority of Hispanics, who are likely to account for about 35 percent of the Democratic primary electorate, Latino polling experts said.
The front-runner,, is campaigning to cut into her base, with some success. To hold him off, Clinton probably needs to replicate her performance in the Feb. 5 primary in , another state with a large Hispanic population, where she carried 71 percent of those voters, according to exit polls.
Clinton, 60, “has to keep her base and expand her base or she loses,” said Lydia Camarillo, vice president of Southwest Voters Registration Education Project, a San Antonio-based nonprofit group. “Hispanics are finally in the driver’s seat.”
Backing Clinton will be plenty of older, female and working- class Hispanics. Her roots in the state date to 1972, when she registered voters in the, a history that is remembered by people such as Rosales, 63, president of Lulac, the largest U.S. Hispanic organization, which is neutral in the race.
South Texas — from San Antonio, the state’s largest Hispanic city, to the Mexican border — is Clinton country. Loyalty to her husband,, and appreciation of her commitment to improving education and health care, run deep.
In addition, said Henry Flores, a political scientist at St. Mary’s University in San Antonio, trust in a strong woman is ingrained in the matriarchal Hispanic community.
With almost two weeks to go before Texas votes, Obama, 46, still has time to make his case. He is trying to chip away at Clinton’s popularity among Hispanics, just as he has cut into her support among white men, blue-collar voters and women.
“Obama is going to be attractive to Latinos,” saidof San Antonio, an Obama backer. “They’re going to say, `this is a new friend who’s younger and by virtue of being new, he may be able to do it, get elected, get things done.”’
A Gallup poll published yesterday showed that Clinton’s once 2-to-1 lead over Obama among Hispanics has evaporated nationally.
The Obama strategy for winningrests on cutting into Clinton’s advantage with Hispanics; winning, as he has all along, most of the black vote, expected to be about a quarter of the turnout, and dividing the white vote.
This makes sweeping the Hispanic vote in Texas even more crucial for Clinton.
“Our target is delivering 70 percent of the Latino vote, and I don’t think I’m going to have any problem,” saidof , who introduced Clinton at a rally last week that drew 12,000 supporters. Still, even a win of that size may not ensure she carries the state.
The central issues for Texas Hispanics are illiteracy and dropout rates, health care, the war in Iraq, where Latinos represent 17.5 percent of front-line forces, and immigration overhaul. The candidates have similar positions, and both voted for a border fence, which is unpopular among Hispanic voters.
Clinton has made repeated visits to Texas, campaigning for Latino politicians, while Obama stumped here just three times before this week.
One of Clinton’s ads, “Nuestra Amiga” (“Our Friend”), portrays her as a motherly figure hugging a Hispanic child, and stresses health and education. In an Obama radio ad, “Obama Me Esta Hablando a Mi” (“He Speaks to Me”), a young man says Obama cares about college costs and, and says he is telling his elders to support Obama.
Both campaigns have sent dozens of staff members to open offices from El Paso to Texarkana. Voting rules here allocate three-quarters of Democratic delegates according to the popular vote, and a quarter from precinct caucuses — giving an edge to a well-organized campaign.
Clinton has four of the state’s six Hispanic congressmen and many influential citizens raising money and working networks for her, including formerMayor Henry Cisneros, who was housing secretary in her husband’s administration. The United Farm Workers and the grandson of its co-founder Cesar Chavez are also organizing for her.
Obama, meanwhile, has won over one Hispanic congressman, many younger state politicians, and the endorsements of Texas’ Mexican-American Democrats and the United Food and Commercial Workers.
His supporters dismiss suggestions Hispanics are reluctant to vote for black candidates, noting that many African-Americans have won office with Latino support.
“I think we’re going to do much, much better” among Latinos, said Gonzalez, 62.
Interest in the race is high. In the first day of early voting yesterday, there were lines in the. In Harris County, which is centered in , 9,233 Democrats turned out, an 11-fold increase from 2004.
To contact the reporter on this story: Indira Lakshmanan in email@example.com .at