Awash in the Mainstream: Latino Politics in the 1996 Elections

By Rodolfo O. de la Garza; Louis DeSipio | Go to book overview

6
Señor Smith Didn't Go to Washington
Latinos and the 1996 Texas Elections

Lisa J. Montoya

For some time, scholars of Latino politics have been asking the question: Does the Latino vote make a difference? That is, if Latinos had not voted, would the outcomes have been any different? At times, the vote has made a difference. In the 1992 Colorado presidential race, Latino votes, for example, made an important contribution to the victory of Bill Clinton ( Hero 1996). It also appears that Latinos contributed to the close wins in the 1996 presidential races in New Mexico and Arizona. But this influence is found only in very close races. A more reasonable test of the influence of the Latino electorate is to ask the question: Did the Latino vote have a role in the way the presidential campaign was run? The answer for Texas is a limited yes.

In this chapter, I explore measures of influence. Because there was the possibility that Latinos could make a difference in the outcome, the campaign focused some of its resources on courting their vote ( Cain 1996). The campaign held rallies before predominantly Latino and black audiences in Brownsville, San Antonio, and Houston. The campaign also included its Texas appearances in its television, radio, and print advertising. Finally, the campaign targeted Latinos in its get-out-the-vote efforts. So Latino votes played a role in the allocation of campaign resources, but the campaign did not speak explicitly to Latinos as an ethnic voting bloc, nor was the Latino vote enough to carry Texas for Clinton. But this was not a strategic loss for President Clinton or Latinos, because Clinton's reelection strategy in 1996 included losing Texas. This maneuver, known as the "Alamo strategy," had two important purposes. First, it tied up Bob Dole's resources in Texas and prevented him from using them in other key states. Second, it played an important but ultimately unsuc-

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