AUSTIN — Senate candidate Ted Cruz, a Cuban-American, and Mexican-American George P. Bush, nephew and grandson of presidents, are rising Republican stars in Texas, where courts have blocked laws they deem unfair to Latinos.
Party leaders hold up Cruz as an example of their efforts to get Hispanics on the ballot, courting a constituency crucial to their future — and one that opponents say they are driving into the arms of Democrats. Bush, the son of former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, is helping to cultivate such candidates in a state where Latinos make up 38 percent of the population.
Yet steps taken by the Republican-controlled Legislature and Gov. Rick Perry, the party’s most powerful leader in Austin, have been declared unfair to Hispanics and other minorities. Federal courts last month rejected lawmakers’ attempts to redraw electoral districts, saying they were designed to dilute minority voting strength, and blocked a voter-identification law as discriminatory.
“With all the activity, voter ID and redistricting, it’s very hard to conclude anything other than that the Anglo Republican Party in Texas is fighting to hold back the Hispanic tide,” Cal Jillson, who teaches politics at Southern Methodist University, said from Dallas. “Hispanics see these things and wonder: ‘Are they directed at me?’”
Republicans run the Lone Star State, holding all 29 statewide elective offices and controlling legislative majorities. Their dominance may be threatened by a surge of Latinos, who made up 32 percent of the population in 2000, according to U.S. Census Bureau data. Hispanics are forecast to become Texas’s ethnic majority by 2030, state figures show, and Jillson said they vote for Democrats by a 2-to-1 margin.
“It’s a very Republican state,” San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro, D, who presides over the state’s second biggest city, said at a Bloomberg News/Washington Post breakfast Thursday. “It won’t always be.”
Castro gives Republicans eight years or less before their control in Austin crumbles.
Hispanic growth and the shifting policies of the Republican Party will help turn Texas “toward a purple and then a blue state,” Castro said at the breakfast in Charlotte, N.C., where he was a keynote speaker at the Democratic National Convention. The shift has been reflected in the voter-identification law, Perry’s recent attacks on President Obama’s move to let some young illegal immigrants seek temporary legal status and Cruz’s primary win with tea party support.
“These guys have run the table for so long that now they’re about to elect Ted Cruz, someone who is way far out there on the right,” Castro said of Texas Republicans.
In the ruling striking down the state’s voter-identification law, a U.S. court said the statute “imposes strict, unforgiving burdens on the poor, and racial minorities in Texas are disproportionately likely to live in poverty.”
Regarding the Legislature’s redrawn congressional and legislative districts, a three-judge panel ruled that minority voting power would be diluted. State Attorney General Greg Abbott has pledged to appeal both decisions.
Castro said the Republican Party’s lurch toward anti-immigrant policies has put off Hispanics including some who backed George W. Bush in his 2004 re-election drive, when he won about 40 percent of Latino votes in Texas.
The mayor described the former president and Texas governor as “a candidate that was able to reach out” and contrasted him with Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, a former Massachusetts governor.
Romney “just has a great headwind because of the immigration policy,” Castro said. “I mean, talking about self-deportation, you know, it just rubbed the Hispanic community the wrong way.”
There are two Republican wings in Texas: “Social conservatives,” who see Latinos as a threat and support policies such as voter identification, and “economic conservatives,” who count Hispanics as important allies and advocate pragmatic immigration measures, according to Sylvia Manzano, a senior analyst for Latino Decisions. Her political research company is based in Renton, Wash.
“The question is, which one is going to win?” Manzano said from Houston, where she is based. As long as that divide exists among Republicans, “Latinos think: ‘You haven’t made up your minds about us. We’ll get back to you,’” she said.
Texas mirrors challenges confronting Romney’s campaign in an election that may turn on votes in states with large Latino populations, including Florida, Colorado and Nevada. Capturing a majority of Hispanic votes may be the key to winning in such states. Obama led Romney by more than 2-to-1 among Hispanics in recent Latino Decisions national polls.
Republican leaders have acknowledged the challenge created by policies such as Arizona’s “show me your papers” measure directed at people stopped or detained by police. Jeb Bush said last week that such laws pose a risk to Republicans at the ballot box because they alienate Hispanics and Asians.
“The most vociferous anti-immigrant kind of candidates lose,” Bush said at the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla. Immigrants “will become the dominant factor in politics.”
For Steve Munisteri, who leads the Texas Republican Party, inroads into the Latino community are measured by a growing number of Hispanic lawmakers and candidates and an estimated 700 Hispanic delegates at the party’s June convention in Fort Worth.
“If that isn’t a sign of welcome, I don’t know what is,” Munisteri said. “Our message has been clear: We’d like for everyone to participate.”
Consumer-behavior databases are used to identify Hispanics who might be receptive to Republican overtures, Munisteri said. One pitch he said might work:
“We are the party of entrepreneurship, and so many people who are immigrants start small businesses and want to pursue the American dream,” Munisteri said. “Our theme is one of opportunity.”
Cruz is favored to win in November against Democrat Paul Sadler, which would make him the state’s first Latino U.S. senator.
“The political part is being executed very well,” said Manzano of Latino Decisions. “It’s the whole difference with the base of the party that makes Latinos feel unwelcome. The very fact that Latinos are controversial, that in and of itself is not appealing.”
Based on history
Republicans have a shot at winning over Latinos, Manzano said, citing George W. Bush’s 1998 re-election as governor, when he won about 40 percent of Hispanic votes. In 2001, Perry extended the outreach, signing a law to let undocumented-immigrant residents pay lower, in-state tuition rates at public colleges, a move he defended in Republican presidential debates last year.
More recently, Perry has pledged to revive efforts to enact an Arizona-style immigration law in the legislative session that begins in January.
That approach may win with the Republican Party’s shrinking base of non-Hispanic whites, Jillson said.
“Ten years from now, as the Anglo population continues to decline and the Hispanic population continues to increase, Republicans will not be able to win solely on Anglo votes,” Jillson said. “It’s a winning strategy in the short term that longer term is a sure loser.”