AUSTIN, TEXAS — * Independent candidate Ross Perot's reentry into the presidential sweepstakes means that a mere plurality of votes, not a majority, is needed to capture a state's electoral votes.
That makes the Hispanic vote an even more critical swing vote in nine states that hold a combined 202 electoral votes - three-quarters of the number needed to win the White House. These include Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Illinois, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, and Texas.
Mr. Perot "is throwing Texas into the uncertain column," says Robert Brischetto, executive director of the Southwest Voter Research Institute in San Antonio.
In an SVRI focus group of Hispanic voters held in Dallas in July, before Perot pulled out of the race, four in 10 had planned to vote for their billionaire neighbor.
If any of that appeal survives statewide, that would hurt Democratic challenger Bill Clinton, who is counting on the Hispanic vote, Mr. Brischetto says. On the other hand, Perot could also hurt incumbent George Bush by drawing off white voters, he adds.
Another factor that could hurt Clinton among Texas Hispanics is the Lena Guerrero fiasco. Ms. Guerrero is running against a white male Republican for the prominent statewide office of member of the Texas Railroad Commission. But her campaign may have been sunk by the revelation that she had lied for years in resumes, press releases, and speeches about being a college graduate and honor society member.
If Guerrero isn't able to motivate Hispanic voters to go to the polls, "there's not going to be as good a ripple-up effect for Clinton," Brischetto says.
Robin Rorapaugh, Texas director of the Clinton campaign, dismisses both the Perot and Guerrero factors. "Perot doesn't really have any appeal to south Texas," she says, asserting that Clinton hopes to get better than 75 percent of the state's Hispanic vote.
As for Guerrero, "she's had a very rough month, but I think she's going to get over it," Ms. Rorapaugh says.
Come November, "If we get 45 percent [of the overall Texas vote], we'll win the election. We're going for a majority, but we'll certainly take a plurality."