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Hispanic voting in Houston (again)

This article about the ongoing National Conference of Black Mayors gathering in Houston talks about how the growing proportion of Hispanic voters in the state’s population will make it challenging for cities like Houston and Dallas to elect their second black mayors. Interesting enough, but the bit that I want to talk about is this:

In the past three high-profile mayoral runoffs [in Houston] involving black candidates, a majority of Hispanic votes went either to white or Hispanic candidates, according to exit polls and other post-election analysis.

· In 1991, Anglo businessman Bob Lanier got more than 70 percent of the Hispanic vote when he defeated Turner in a runoff.

· In 1997, Anglo businessman Rob Mosbacher got 54 percent of the Hispanic vote in his loss to Brown.

· In 2001, Cuban-American Orlando Sanchez took about 72 percent of the Hispanic vote in his loss to Brown.

Hispanic voters in Houston and in Texas have been a lot like a highly touted minor league baseball player: Lots of potential but no real results yet. Other than (maybe) Sylvia Garcia’s victory in last year’s County Commissioner’s race, I can’t think of an election in Houston/Harris County or in Texas where the Hispanic vote carried a candidate to victory. It’s bound to happen eventually, but it ain’t happened yet. Hispanic turnout is still low compared to blacks and non-Hispanic whites, and Hispanic voting preferences seem to mirror those of whites, making the concept of a “Hispanic voting bloc” more of an artificial construct than a predictable monolith.

The candidate who would seem to benefit the most from any increased Hispanic voting clout is Orlando Sanchez, but I have a few doubts. I’ve wondered before if he will get the same level of Hispanic votes in 2003 that he did in 2001. If he does, he’ll be in a good position, though he’ll still have to build on what he did in 2001 to win. If not, he may actually have trouble making it to the runoff, especially if Boy Wonder Berry succeeds in his attempt to peel away conservatives. I don’t have a feel for it right now, perhaps because Sanchez hasn’t officially announced his cnadidacy yet (his web page appears to be offline right now, presumably because it’s still under construction for this year’s race). Has Sanchez been reaching out to Hispanic voters? Has he worked on voter registration drives? Will he get a boost from party switching City Council member Gabriel Vasquez? Your guess is as good as mine.

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