February 7, 2008 / 1:26 PM / 13 years ago

Clinton and Obama to compete for Texas Hispanic vote

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Hillary Clinton hammered Barack Obama in voting among Hispanic voters on “Super Tuesday” and he needs to spend more time and money courting them if he hopes to close the gap, political analysts say.

People wait in line to enter the Omaha Civic Auditorium to attend a campaign rally of Democratic presidential candidate Senator Barack Obama in Omaha, Nebraska February 7, 2008. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

As expected, Clinton won big majorities of Latino voters in nearly all the 22 states participating in the Democratic presidential nominating contests, with exit polls showing her winning two-thirds of the Latino vote in several states.

That could pose a problem for Obama in the next big contest with Latino voters, on March 4 in Texas.

Clinton has long courted Hispanics, the fastest-growing segment of the electorate, and her superior name recognition combined with Obama’s relatively late entry into national politics gives her a natural advantage.

In California, where a CNN exit poll showed Latinos accounted for 29 percent of Democratic voters, Clinton took 69 percent of their vote compared to 29 percent for Obama.

She won similar majorities in other states with big Hispanic populations like her home state of New York (73 to 26 percent) and neighboring New Jersey (68 to 30), according to the CNN and MSNBC exit polls.

Left unchanged, the Clinton advantage could carry into Texas, the second most populous state after California and where about one-fourth of registered voters are Hispanic.

However, with plenty of money to spend and a less crowded electoral calendar ahead, Obama can focus more attention on the Latinos of Texas than he did in California, if he chooses.

‘A LITTLE MORE TIME’

Obama told reporters on Wednesday that “As Latinos get to know me, we do better.”

In his home state of Illinois, Obama split the Latino vote with Clinton, edging her 50 percent to 49 percent in the CNN and MSNBC polls.

“Obama’s Latino outreach was a little late. He’s going to have a little more time for Texan voters to get to know him. He has a chance to close the gap,” said Vanessa Cardenas, the director for ethnic media at the Center for American Progress.

Andres Jimenez, director of the California Policy Research Center, said Obama gained ground in California in the final days of the campaign but ran out of time.

“Yes he does (have a chance in Texas) because of some of the demographics on the Latinos there,” Jimenez said. “You have a number of similar types of people in Texas who supported Obama in California: community-based organizers, labor, universities, the more progressive wing of the party.”

Others are more skeptical that he can make inroads.

“She has played it skillfully ... I don’t think she has left an opening for him to exploit,” said Tamar Jacoby, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute think tank.

Some experts say Clinton’s standing with Hispanics is so strong that if nominated as the Democrat to run in November’s election she could fare well in Texas, which has chosen a Republican in the last seven straight presidential contests.

Slideshow (8 Images)

“We know that the Latino electorate in Texas is growing and is affecting statewide outcomes,” said Arturo Vargas, executive director of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials.

“Latinos are a key element of any candidate’s winning strategy for the White House, and that’s going to hold true for the Democratic nominee as well as the Republican,” he said.

(Additional reporting by Tim Gaynor and Jeff Mason; Editing by Mark Egan and Eric Walsh)

For more about the U.S. political campaign, visit Reuters "Tales from the Trail: 2008" online at blogs.reuters.com/trail08/

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