December 23, 2004
The Harris County Hispanic vote

The Chron reports that President Bush increased his share of the Hispanic vote in Harris County by several percentage points.

In 16 precincts where more than 90 percent of voters are Latino, the GOP share ticked up by as much as nearly 9 percentage points between the 2000 and 2004 presidential elections. Though Democrats held on to at least 60 percent of the Latino votes in the precincts, the erosion of the historically Democratic hold speaks to the Republican grab for the fast-growing Latino vote, said Marc Campos, a Democratic consultant who compiled the analysis.

Campos has worked in Houston's political trenches since the first flex of Hispanic muscle here; he says he believes GOP policies are fundamentally unfriendly to Latinos. But Campos also thinks Bush has honed his Latino appeal while Democrats have taken the group for granted.

"The battlefield now is in the Hispanic community. They know it. We don't know it," he said.

"Give credit to Bush when he became governor of Texas. He was not going to visibly alienate the Hispanic community. He knew he needed them. He spoke Spanish, made key appointments, surrounded himself with Hispanics and didn't embrace the anti-immigrant Pete Wilson agenda," said Campos, referring to the former Republican governor of California.

Annoyingly, the online version of this story does not include the chart of precincts and comparative percentages that the print version has. That's where I come in, and I've got a few numbers to add. My contention all along is that Bush's gains among Hispanic voters have not for the most part trickled down to other Republicans. I did a comparison of Bush in the specified precincts to a variety of other Republicans who were on the ballot countywide. You can see the results in this spreadsheet. The highlights are:

1. The best performance in these precincts actually comes from Tax Assessor Paul Bettencourt, who generally outperformed Bush's 2004 totals. Bettencourt was a high-profile and generally well-regarded incumbent as well as the top vote getter overall in Harris County (607,000 votes and 58.3%, compared to 585,000 and 54.7% for Bush), so this isn't that much of a surprise. Bettencourt's average percentage in the 16 Hispanic precincts was 33.5, compared to 26.0 for Bush 2000 and 31.7 for Bush 2004.

2. The next best performance came from Railroad Commissioner Victor Carillo, the lone Hispanic Republican in a contested race. He averaged 29.1 in these precincts. Close behind him were Sheriff Tommy Thomas (28.6) and DA Chuck Rosenthal (28.5).

3. The remaining candidates, all judicial, did at best marginally better than Bush 2000, with the one candididate who faced a Hispanic Democrat, Court of Criminal Appeals Judge Mike Keasler, doing significantly worse than Bush 2000 (22.1). In descending order: Scott Brister 26.6, Evelyn Keyes 26.1, Bill Burke 25.4, Sharon McCally 25.1.

I don't mean to minimize any of Campos' points. My point is that candidates matter, and other Republicans' success with this demographic varied greatly. Democrats shouldn't minimize what Bush did, but they shouldn't overgeneralize it, either.

In Houston, the first major race to attract newly registered and tuned-in Latino voters was the 2001 mayoral bid by Orlando Sanchez, a Republican and a Cuban immigrant. At grass-roots political gatherings in the barrios, Sanchez spoke in his native Spanish about his dream of becoming the first alcalde Latino (Hispanic mayor) of Houston."

"We knew we couldn't grow his vote by targeting traditional Hispanic Democrats," says GOP consultant Hector Carreņo, who ran Sanchez's Hispanic effort.

"We had to target the new voters. ... These voters had never been targeted by anyone. They were literally an open canvas."

Sanchez lost a runoff by 5,000 votes. But his appeal to Latinos caught Democratic operatives by surprise.

By bringing a little-known council member within striking distance of an incumbent mayor with solid downtown support, the election underscored the profound impact Latinos could have, Carreņo said.

Of course, as we know, Sanchez's support among Hispanics plummeted dramatically from 2001 to 2003. Which is another way to say that candidates matter, I suppose.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on December 23, 2004 to Election 2004 | TrackBack

I always find it disturbing when those who look at voting numbers discount the actual candidates that are running in the race... As if, somehow, Hispanics aren't smart enough to weigh the pluses and minuses of each candidate and will automatically punch "Democrat." I think it patronizes Hispanics.

Posted by: Kimberly on December 23, 2004 3:01 PM