Sanchez' Hispanic support key to success

By PHIL MAGERS   |   March 13, 2002 at 6:40 PM
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DALLAS, March 13 (UPI) -- Texas Democratic gubernatorial nominee Tony Sanchez benefited from a heavy Hispanic turnout and he could attract even more Latino support in his campaign against Republican Gov. Rick Perry, a political analyst said Wednesday.

Sanchez, a millionaire Laredo oilman, banker and rancher, easily defeated former Attorney General Dan Morales by 61 to 33 percent in Tuesday's primary race, surpassing predictions by many political pundits who believed the race would be closer.

Hispanics accounted for 35 percent of the vote in the Democratic race, which was a record for the state, according to Antonio Gonzalez, president of the William C. Velasquez Institute, a nonpartisan Latino public policy and research think tank.

The strong Hispanic turnout helped Sanchez win the Democratic nomination without a runoff and nearly reached levels of Latino turnout in past general elections when more people usually vote.

"It was a good anticipator of the November election," Gonzalez said. "You are talking about nearly 400,000 votes and the record is 475,000 for a governor's race. You are practically at a general election turnout clip in the primary, and that really bodes well for Sanchez' ability to mobilize the Latino vote at even higher levels in the general election."

In the 1990's the Latino turnout in Texas elections was flat, but the emergence of Hispanic candidates has turned that around this election year, he said, and there is no doubt the Perry campaign will take the wealthy Democrat seriously.

The Hispanic population has increased from 25 to 33 percent of the state's 21 million residents in the past decade. About two million of the 6.5 million Latinos living in the state are registered voters and a growing political force.

Morales made "a huge mistake" when he decided against speaking only Spanish during the historic March 1 Spanish-language debate in Dallas and accused Sanchez of trying to divide the state, Gonzalez said.

"It really turned off Hispanics, even Hispanics who speak mostly English," the analyst said. "They saw it as an act of disrespect. There is nothing worse you can do in the Latino culture than to disrespect somebody."

The candidates debated for an hour in English and then were to answer questions in Spanish only in the second session but Morales refused to speak only in Spanish and answered some questions in English.

Morales made a play for the white Democratic vote and it failed to turnout the necessary votes at the polls to force a runoff, Gonzalez said.

Morales' campaign was heavily outspent by Sanchez, who is reportedly worth $600 million. The multimillionaire spent nearly $18 million on the campaign for the nomination compared to Morales' $600,000, according to state reports.

Morales, a former prosecutor, legislator, and two-term attorney general, extended his congratulations to Sanchez when the bitter campaign ended Tuesday night, but he left the door open for still another bid for political office sometime in the future.

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