Wonks, reporters and pundits have spent the past week speculating about the role Texas’ Latinos will play in the March 4 Democratic primary, and while most signs point to strong Hispanic support for Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama’s camp is working hard to close the gap. As The Washington Post proclaimed this week, “Clinton’s Ties to Texas Run Long and Deep.” Yet it’s becoming more and more clear that the Clintons’ past allies won’t necessarily cement Hillary’s future here.
Support among Texas Latinos seems to be splitting along generational lines, and other factors -- such as shifting organized labor support and flashpoints over immigration policy -- may also come into play.
“Bill Clinton is calling in favors, but there’s a lot of second-tier leadership who’s for Obama,” José Angel Gutiérrez tells Unfair Park. He's a longtime activist who teaches political science at the University of Texas at Arlington and supports Obama. “What I see is the political demarcation between the young politicos and the old guard. The younger politicos are on Obama’s side, and most of them are up for re-election. They’re hinging Obama to their campaigns."
Gutierrez is a member of the Mexican American Democrats, which just announced it’s endorsing Obama. And the Obama campaign is working furiously to make the youth support pay off, describing his background as more similar to most Latinos’ and targeting young Hispanics with ad campaigns.
"Obama is talking to me," one of his ads says in Spanish, "about the opportunity to go to college, and about ensuring my parents and grandparents have the health care they need. That's why I'm talking to others -- my parents, my uncles, and my friends."
Juan Garcia, a Harvard Law School classmate of Obama's and a state representative from Corpus Christi, stressed in The Post story that the state’s demographics have changed dramatically since the Clintons first got to know it while working for George McGovern in 1972 -- as in, “The average Hispanic voter in the state is under 40. The average Hispanic is age 26. So those memories and those links and those ties, to a lot of young people who have been voting for only a few years, have been lost on them."
The younger Hispanic generation’s support for Obama is reflected in the endorsements of people like Rafael Anchia, Dallas’ 39-year-old state legislator who’s featured in the current issue of Texas Monthly as the face of the state’s political and demographic future. Then there’s the example of Brownsville state senator Eddie Lucio Jr., a loyal Clinton supporter whose 29-year-old son, newly elected state representative Eddie Lucio III, is a top Obama organizer.
This week, the generational difference between Clinton and Obama supporters collided with shifting labor alliances. Few people are more emblematic of the old Chicano guard than California’s Dolores Huerta, co-founder of the United Farmworkers Union, and the elderly activist spent Tuesday afternoon stumping for Hillary Clinton at Grauwyler Park.
It’s uncertain whether the level of union support that helped Hillary win California’s Hispanic vote by more than two-to-one will do the same for her here. The Service Employees International Union and the United Food and Commercial Workers -- both Latino-heavy -- endorsed Obama last week, largely due to pressure from younger members (according to The Times story, about 40 percent of the food union's members are younger than 30).
Curiously, in all the talk of the Clinton era and its ties to Texas Latinos, there’s been little mention of the dramatic immigration overhaul that Bill Clinton signed into law in 1996. The Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act authorized the automatic deportation of legal immigrants convicted of certain crimes, including misdemeanors, and severely limited judicial review in immigration cases. Since then, longterm residents have been automatically deported after being convicted of crimes such as urinating in public or writing a bad check, and even for crimes committed decades before the retroactive law was signed.
While her husband’s immigration legacy has seldom come up in Clinton’s scramble to beat her rival and young voters may not remember it, many are still bitter, including Gutiérrez. “I don’t want to rerun a Clinton,” he tells Unfair Park. “It wasn’t very Latino-friendly back then.” --Megan Feldman