Dems Court Each Other's Bases in Texas Primary

New York Sen. Hillary Clinton must win the state of Texas or her presidential campaign is finished, according to political professionals and media commentators.

Like Col. William B. Travis at the Alamo 172 years ago, the Clinton campaign must draw a line in the sand and declare that the advancing army of Illinois Sen. Barack Obama stops in Texas — once and for all.

Just one month ago, Obama was down more than 20 points compared with Clinton's Texas polling numbers. She has received the endorsement of most of the state's leading Democratic politicians and can count on the support of the sizable Hispanic electorate.

But after Obama's 10 consecutive wins in early nominating contests, Clinton's advantage has all but vanished. The latest CNN poll shows Clinton's lead inside the four-point margin of error.

A political science professor at the University of Houston, Richard Murray, says Clinton needs a victory from the state.

"She's absolutely got to do well in the Hispanic parts of the state, from El Paso in the west to San Antonio, down to Brownsville in the valley," Murray says. "That might be as much as 40 percent of the Democratic vote, or as little as 30 percent. So first task, unify that Hispanic vote. Get that 65 percent she got in California, and try to drive turnout up."

Murray says if Clinton cannot achieve the same level of Hispanic support in Texas, it would make it difficult for her to carry the state — particularly because Obama is expected to win the 25 percent of the primary vote that is black.

While Obama was campaigning in Wisconsin before that state's Feb. 19 primary, Clinton was already in El Paso, San Antonio and the Rio Grande Valley to shore up support.

Given the momentum Obama is carrying into Texas, the question becomes how deep he will cut into the Hispanic vote. If he takes 40 percent or more, it could mean trouble for Clinton.

Gonzalo Barrientos, who served for 31 years in the Texas legislature and is now chairman of the Tejano Democrats of Texas, predicts that is not going to happen.

"Some people may talk about the 18-, 20- and 25-year-olds, but in terms of the Tejano, we are loyal and that passes down to our children," he said.

If the outcome of the primary was up to the state's elected officials, Clinton would have Texas locked up. The Clintons have been campaigning for Democrats in the Lone Star State for more than two decades. It is not just whites and Hispanic politicians who are loyal to her. John Wiley Price is a Dallas county commissioner and one of the most influential black leaders in North Texas.

"You can't just abandon your friends. If you can't support your friends, who can you support?" he says.

The problem for Clinton is that while the county commissioner supports her, his black constituents in Dallas are giving him an earful for not hopping on the Obama train. This is one way in which Texas is politically different from California. The black turnout could surpass that group's turnout in California by two or three times.

In this diverse political setting, voter turnout is fair play. While Obama is poaching Clinton's Hispanic voters in Houston, Dallas and San Antonio, Clinton will be doing the same with Obama's black support. Price says that if Clinton can move up from 8 percent to 10 percent of the black vote to 15 percent, it could be just enough.

In recent statewide primaries, roughly 800,000 Democrats have voted in Texas. On March 4, party officials expect turnout to exceed 2 million voters.

Raphael Anchia, 39, says many of the new voters are going to be like him: younger than 40 and fed up with the Bush administration and the political status quo.

"I think the Democratic primary turnout will be a on a scale that we have not seen in modern history," Anchia said.

Anchia is a Dallas state representative and president of the National Association of Latino Elected Officials. He has endorsed Obama and predicts that many young Texans, of all races, will vote with him.

"Like him, I am the son of immigrants — still alive and very present," he says.

Maybe it will be the young vote that decides the Texas primary, or the Hispanic vote or black turnout, or white women in East Texas. In a contest this close, neither candidate can afford to leave the rival's core supporters alone.

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