October 22, 2002
Will Hispanics vote for Tony Sanchez?

Josh Chafetz has questioned some of my implicit assumptions in the comments on this Matt Yglesias post. I had expressed my skepticism of the recent DMN poll that gave a 10-point lead to John Cornyn over Ron Kirk and a 15-point lead to Rick Perry over Tony Sanchez.

Josh makes the following assertion about Hispanic voters and the likelihood that they will vote as a monolithic bloc:

Or, to look a little closer to home, consider the 2001 Houston mayoral race. There, conservative Hispanic Orlando Sanchez lost by less than 1.5 percent to incumbent Lee Brown. And, as the Houston Chronicle article I just linked to notes, "Sanchez cobbled together the same coalition of conservative whites and Hispanics that put Bob Lanier in office in 1991." Lanier is white -- suggesting that Sanchez wasn't simply attracting the Hispanic vote because he himself is Hispanic.

It's true that the Democratic Party doesn't have a lock on Hispanic voters, in Texas or elsewhere. President Bush is quite popular here with Hispanic voters. It's true that Tony Sanchez has had to fight some early disinterest among Hispanic voters in the race - some 44 percent in a Houston Chronicle poll taken in September had "little interest" in the race.

But it's also true that the Orlando Sanchez example is exactly what Tony Sanchez is hoping for. Here's an excerpt from a Chron story written on November 26, 2001, by Lori Rodriguez, a few days before the runoff between Orlando Sanchez and Lee Brown:

And on Nov. 6 in Houston, Orlando Sanchez , a first-generation immigrant from Cuba and a Republican, drew more than 60 percent of the mainly Mexican-American and historically Democratic Latino electorate in his bid to be the city's first Hispanic mayor.

From the venerably Mexican-American barrios of the east side to the more integrated Latinos in middle-class enclaves, a majority of Hispanic voters shrugged aside partisan ties and political ideology to cast a vote for ethnic pride, for ``La Raza.''

"Some of them considered the politics, saw the last name and said `that's good enough for me,' " says University of Houston political scientist Adolfo Santos.

"Sanchez certainly let everybody know that he's a Republican and conservative."


In the first flex of Hispanic muscle in the early 1970s, Mindiola served as Harris County chairman of La Raza Unida, a political third party forged from the ranks of disgruntled Hispanic Democrats. For decades, he has monitored the community's political maturation via exit polls in key races; the most recent was District I, Houston's first Hispanic -majority council seat.

Of 233 Hispanic voters in the district surveyed on Election Day, 62 percent voted for Sanchez , 25 percent chose Brown and 11 percent went with Councilman Chris Bell, who was eliminated from the runoff. More tellingly, in a city where the mostly Mexican-American Hispanic political establishment energetically opposes Sanchez , 72 percent of Hispanics voting for Sanchez identified themselves as liberal or moderate Democrats.

"District I tells us that party loyalty doesn't mean a damn thing when you get to vote for one of your own," says [Tatcho] Mindiola, [director of the University of Houston's Center for Mexican-American Studies]. "It tells us we don't care what our leadership is doing, we're going to vote for a cousin.

If Hispanic Democrats disregarded party and ideological identity to vote for the potential first Hispanic mayor of Houston, is it hard to imagine the same thing among Hispanic Republicans and the potential first Hispanic Governor of Texas? I don't think so.

Obviously, Tony Sanchez will need a much higher percentage of the Hispanic vote than Orlando Sanchez got. I believe the hope is for 75%. Given that more Hispanics are Democrats to start with, that's a smaller hill for him to climb.

Again, I'm not saying this will happen. I'm saying it's what Tony Sanchez is trying to make happen. If he drives the turnout, he'll reap the reward.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on October 22, 2002 to Election 2002

I think you're right about Sanchez and I don't think he'll lose by 15%. The moderate Hispanics will likely go Sanchez's way the way they went for Bush in 1998. I don't think it will be enough, though.

The big question for me is whether or not those votes will carry over to Kirk. I obviously hope that they won't.


Posted by: R. Alex on October 22, 2002 7:53 PM

Yeah, I wonder about the carryover too. I can envision a scenario where Sanchez wins but Kirk loses. I think it's more likely than the reverse.

Posted by: Charles Kuffner on October 22, 2002 9:09 PM

I think the reverse is more likely, but that's because I think Sanchez will do more poorly among women (where Perry does phenomenally despite his pro-life stance) and middle-class urban whites.

But that's based on anecdotal evidence I know a few people who are likely to vote for Perry and Kirk.

I'm also really interested to see what turnout actually does occur. Inituitively, Sanchez will have the "first Hispanic" chic, but one advantage Orlando had over Tony was that Orlando looked like he could really win. In the 2001 mayor race, I wonder how much better Hispanic turnout was in the primary when it became apparent Sanchez could pull it off? Brown seemed (to me, at least) to be a lock until the results from the general election came in.


Posted by: R. Alex on October 22, 2002 9:42 PM

Maybe it's perception. I didn't take Orlando Sanchez seriously until after the primary, so I had never thought he could win until he forced a runoff. Obviously, I was wrong.

Hard for me to say if Tony has the he-could-win thing going. I really wish I knew more about how early voting was going.

Posted by: Charles Kuffner on October 22, 2002 9:50 PM

I believe by some counts Orlando Sanchez did recieve around three-quarters of the Hispanic vote. I'd wager Tony Sanchez will do about the same, although I'm not sure he'll manage to increase Hispanic turnout substantially. Not while he's doing so poorly in the polls.

Posted by: Owen Courrèges on October 23, 2002 1:08 PM