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Puerto Rico Herald

Southwest Governors' Races Take On An Hispanic Flavor

By Olivia P. Tallet

February 2, 2002
Copyright © 2002
Puerto Rico Herald. All Rights Reserved.

HOUSTON -- Several Hispanic candidates are running for governor in Texas, New Mexico and Arizona, southwestern states with a large Hispanic vote that is being strongly courted by Democrats and Republicans alike.

Two strong Hispanic candidates are vying for the Democratic nomination in the Texas primaries - millionaire Tony Sánchez and former state Attorney General Dan Morales.

According to Antonio González, the president of the William C. Velásquez Institute for political research, neither inspires colorful commentary in what is expected to be a very exciting primary election campaign.

Nonetheless, the candidates will make Texas history by participating in a ground-breaking televised debate in Spanish, a first for the state's gubernatorial race.

Republican incumbent Gov. Rick Perry, who is running unopposed in his party's primary, has taken note: he is currently studying Spanish and occasionally uses Spanish phrases.

Perry is said to be copying the style of the state's previous governor, President George W. Bush, as he courts the Hispanic vote by visiting Hispanic communities and displaying his affinity for the Spanish language and culture.

President Bush has been credited with getting some Hispanics to switch their traditional party affiliation away from the Democrats to the Republicans.

The other southwest gubernatorial Hispanic candidates are also Democrats.

Perhaps the area's most viable Hispanic candidate is New Mexico's Bill Richardson, who served as energy secretary and later U.S. ambassador to the United Nations under former President Bill Clinton.

Richardson, a bilingual whose mother is Mexican, is likely to win the Democratic primary, as well as November's general elections, analysts say.

His high-profile past as a former cabinet member and Congressman guarantee Richardson a top spot in November's election, University of New Mexico Political Science Prof. Chris García said.

Although two-thirds of all Hispanic voters vote Democratic, analysts note that Latinos are not as strongly affiliated with the Democratic Party as they once were.

"Hispanics demand that (candidates) speak to them directly and respond when they see themselves reflected in their messages," Hector de León, the regional director of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO) in Houston. With respect to that line of thinking, Republicans have made strong inroads into a historically Democratic stronghold by directing their messages at Hispanics, who in turn replied at the ballot box.

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