Jackson has trouble attracting Hispanics. Texans applaud him but won't commit
At a presidential campaign breakfast in the heavily Hispanic Rio Grande Valley last week, the Rev. Jesse Jackson concluded a rousing speech focusing on the area's poor farm workers with a request for local officials ``who support us'' to join him at the podium. Although a number of Hispanic elected officials had willingly stood earlier in the breakfast upon their introduction to the crowd, few rushed to join Mr. Jackson at the rostrum.Skip to next paragraph
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The potentially embarrassing moment was salvaged after Jackson expanded his invitation to include several campaign workers, including former New Mexico Gov. Tony Anaya and a group of local longshoremen's union officials.
But the scene demonstrates the difficulties Jackson faces as he seeks to attract Hispanic voters. For many Hispanics here, the Jackson campaign is seen as too narrowly focused on the poor to entice their support.
Jackson campaign officials say Hispanics can empathize with their candidate as he battles claims that the country is not ready to elect a black president. They also say his message of ``empowering the poor'' and providing them their ``fair share'' of the nation's wealth is especially meaningful to Hispanics.
``Many Hispanics in this area of the country can relate to a time when they were told that Hispanics couldn't win,'' says Armando Guti'errez, Jackson's Texas campaign manager. ``In our lifetime we have heard it over and over again.''
Adds Governor Anaya, ``This campaign says, if Jesse Jackson, black, can be elected, then Jos'e Mart'inez, Hispanic, can be elected.'' He also says the Jackson campaign is broad enough to ``keep the Hispanic middle class from being turned off by that appeal to the poor. Many Hispanics remember that they came from there.''
Yet while many Hispanic officials here say they do indeed empathize with Jackson, they add that it does not necessarily mean they will support him. Nor, they add, do they believe empathy will translate into large numbers of Hispanic votes.
``I share [Jackson's] agenda point by point,'' says Tony Zavaleta, a Brownsville, Texas, councilman who attended Jackson's breakfast but did not stand when supporters were called forward. ``Do you want the truth? I want to support a winner. Hispanic elected officials are people who have beaten the odds, and by and large they're going to put their money on a candidate that can win.''
Another valley politician, Juan Hinojosa, a state representative from McAllen, says that ``a lot of Mexican-Americans do empathize with [Jackson's] background and the issues he's pushing. ... But to say from there that Hispanics are going to coalesce behind him, that's incorrect.''
One important problem the Jackson campaign has, according to Mr. Hinojosa, is that it is ``not broad enough.'' Jackson, he says, is liked among farm workers and in the valley's colonias - unincorporated subdivisions with few services that are often the bottom rung of land ownership for immigrating Mexicans - ``but that support does not necessarily translate into votes.''