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As Latinos tilt Democratic, can Texas stay ‘red’?

The Lone Star State is the last big GOP bastion where Hispanics are a sizable voting bloc.

By Michael B. FarrellStaff writer / November 25, 2008

Voter-registration volunteers: Amara Williams (l.) and Estela Reyes (c.) were among those sworn in as deputy election registrars in El Paso County, Texas, in August. Many took part in a grass-roots drive to boost Latino voter registration.

Victor Calzada/El Paso Times/AP/File

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Houston

When President Bush says so long to Washington on Jan. 20, he’ll return to a much different Lone Star State from the one he left eight years ago.

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Pickup trucks, Big Oil, and barbecue brisket still reign supreme, but this red state that helped deliver the presidency to Mr. Bush twice and his father once, and that catapulted GOP strategist Karl Rove to the national stage, is suddenly spotted with big pockets of blue.

Dallas is controlled by Democrats; Houston is in their hands, too. It’s all largely because of the state’s growing Hispanic population, which overwhelmingly sided with Democrats this year.

“The tide of demography in Texas is moving against the Republicans,” says Cal Jillson, a political scientist at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. “All the major cities are Democratic and are likely to become more so over time.”

The Pew Hispanic Center reports that Latino voters sided with President-elect Obama over Sen. John McCain by a margin of more than 2 to 1, helping Democrats win crucial states such as Florida, Virginia, Nevada, and Colorado. While the overall Hispanic turnout did not rise much – it accounted for 9 percent of the vote this year and 8 percent in 2004 – Latino support for the GOP dropped nine percentage points, according to Pew.

That has left Republicans panicking and Democrats drooling. Duncan Currie writes in last week’s conservative Weekly Standard that Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R) of Florida says the GOP has a “very, very serious problem” because of diminishing Hispanic support.

Political scientists, sociologists, and activists say that concern reflects a keen awareness of what a growing and increasingly political Latino community could mean in big, traditionally red states like Texas: Those voters could tip Democratic in future national contests.

“We are in the process of watching this remarkable shift,” says Stephen Klineberg, a sociologist at Rice University here, referring to the overall demographic transformation of America. “You can be absolutely certain that every election [to come] in Texas will have a larger percentage of Latino voters.”

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