TOPICS > Politics

Generational Lines Reveal a Split in Texas Family’s Vote

February 28, 2008 at 6:30 PM EST
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Sen. Barack Obama is gaining support in Texas -- a state where Sen. Hillary Clinton once had a stronghold -- especially among young, Latino voters. Gewn Ifill reports on the divide between father and son Texas legislators over their choice for the Democratic nomination.
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JIM LEHRER: And speaking of the Texas primary, Gwen Ifill has the story of a Democratic family divided.

GWEN IFILL: How old were you here?

EDDIE LUCIO, JR., Clinton Supporter: There I was about eight, nine, eight — about ten? Eight to ten, somewhere in there.

GWEN IFILL: Eddie Lucio, Jr., and Eddie Lucio III are as close as any father and son.

EDDIE LUCIO, JR.: That was when I was in the House of Representatives. That’s in the Senate.

GWEN IFILL: And that’s after you became a representative?

EDDIE LUCIO III, Obama Supporter: That’s when I became a representative, and I was trying to tell my dad that that’s a good bill.

GWEN IFILL: Were you agreeing here?

EDDIE LUCIO, JR.: He was telling me that that was a good bill, I should vote for it.

GWEN IFILL: The elder Lucio, at 62, is a Texas state senator. The younger, at only 29, a first-term Texas state representative.

EDDIE LUCIO III: We’re not the only senator-representative team from an area that does that. Oftentimes some of our colleagues will go and talk to their counterpart in the Senate.

GWEN IFILL: But you’re the only father-son.

EDDIE LUCIO III: We’re the only father and son, yes.

EDDIE LUCIO, JR.: Yes.

GWEN IFILL: Eddie the elder was one of 10 children and has 103 cousins, but the son who bears his name is the only one who chose politics.

Are you surprised that he decided to follow in your footsteps?

EDDIE LUCIO, JR.: No, I’m not surprised, because Eddie was a natural. He was a natural in a lot of things he did.

GWEN IFILL: Both are Democrats from Brownsville, a south Texas city that hugs the Rio Grande River. Hispanics make up more than 90 percent of the city’s roughly 150,000 residents.

The Lucios agree on a lot, that an anti-immigration border fence that cuts through Brownsville neighborhoods is a bad idea and that the federal government should build a local veterans hospital.

But they do not agree on Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.

Your dad is a Hillary Clinton supporter?

EDDIE LUCIO III: Yes, he is.

GWEN IFILL: What did he say when you told him you were going to support Barack Obama?

EDDIE LUCIO III: To be brutally honest, you know, there was some competitiveness. We started talking about experience, and who’s ready to lead the country, and who can unite the party, who can beat the Republican.

But, you know, my dad and I are each other’s biggest fans. And family always comes first. But my parents always encouraged me to go out and live my own life, to make my own decisions, to bounce back from adversity in my own way.

GWEN IFILL: Little did they know.

EDDIE LUCIO III: Little did they know.

GWEN IFILL: What did you say when he told you he was going to support Senator Obama?

EDDIE LUCIO, JR.: Immediately, I told him to follow his heart. I had all kinds of flashes in my mind take place, the Kennedy years of my hopes and dreams and aspirations, of having someone we could relate to.

Challenging Clinton's stronghold

Eddie Lucio Jr.
Clinton supporter
I represent the most impoverished area of the country right here in south Texas along the Texas-Mexico border. She knows this area. She already knows the issues.

GWEN IFILL: The Lucios' dilemma is a common one in south Texas, where Hillary Clinton was supposed to have a lock on the mostly Latino votes there. They even had a name for it, "Clinton Country."

On Super Tuesday, 63 percent of the Hispanic vote went to Clinton. But in Texas, where one-quarter of eligible voters are Hispanic and about 40 percent of those are under the age of 40, Barack Obama has become a political home-wrecker, splitting husbands and wives, fathers and sons.

TEXAS VOTER: Our families are divided between one candidate and the other, so we really feel that we can't speak much about it. We really can't.

TEXAS VOTER: I'm sorry. Yes, we can't.

TEXAS VOTER: We'll pay for a long time.

GWEN IFILL: Eddie Lucio, Jr., the family patriarch, came to know Bill and Hillary Clinton while he was running for president in 1992. He sees no reason to shift support now.

Why is it that Hillary Clinton would be better for south Texas than Barack Obama?

EDDIE LUCIO, JR.: Very simply because she knows south Texas. She's been here. She's dealt with our issues. She knows our struggles.

She'd be a compassionate president. I think she'd be a president that would really focus quite a bit on domestic issues, because there's a lot to be done in this country.

You know, I represent the most impoverished area of the country right here in south Texas along the Texas-Mexico border. She knows this area. She already knows the issues. That's the difference; that's the basic difference, with me anyway.

Encouraging Latino turnout

Eddie Lucio III
Obama supporter
To me, Barack Obama symbolizes everything this country needs to get back on course, to gain favor here and abroad, to bring people back to participate in the system.

GWEN IFILL: But Eddie III -- his staff calls him "E-3" -- sees the world differently. He was not even old enough to vote in a presidential election until 1996. He decided to support Obama last year on the recommendation of a statehouse colleague who went to law school with the Illinois senator.

EDDIE LUCIO III: I mean, if I was picking who I was loyal to, I'd be going with the Clintons, because I'm familiar with them, I've had a history with them, they know my family.

But I'm basing my support on who I think is best at this time for America. And to me, Barack Obama symbolizes everything this country needs to get back on course, to gain favor here and abroad, to bring people back to participate in the system.

And that's what I'm excited about. And I think that's what a majority of the voters to this point have responded to.

GWEN IFILL: Early voting started in Texas this week, and both father and son rushed right to the polls. If nothing else, a high turnout this year will help them when they seek re-election in the future.

EDDIE LUCIO III: Historically, the Latino community, Hispanic community, the border community, where I am from, has struggled with participating in the electoral process.

GWEN IFILL: At all?

EDDIE LUCIO III: At all. And I've talked to the Democratic chair in Hidalgo County, our neighboring county, the Democratic chair here in Cameron. We're setting records.

EDDIE LUCIO, JR.: If we don't participate, then we don't belong to a list of voters, and we don't count, and we don't exist.

Dividing households

Jerry Martinez
Obama supporter
I said, "Well, I think I'm going to vote for Obama." My daughters keep bringing it up, also. And it actually comes up once a day probably at my house.

GWEN IFILL: But the rules are complicated. There are primaries and caucuses, and delegates are awarded proportionally based on previous voter turnout. Polls show the race tightening every day.

Barack Obama has one big advantage in Texas: He is stronger in the cities, where there has been higher voter turnout.

Hillary Clinton is stronger here in south Texas, among Hispanics, where voter turnout has been lower and fewer delegates have been awarded.

Eddie the elder has concentrated on nailing down the Clintons' base support, older, more traditional Hispanic voters, often making his appeals in Spanish.

But he has also taken his pitch to students at the local state university campus who listened attentively as he made the case for Senator Clinton.

APRIL MARTINEZ, Clinton Supporter: I'm voting for Hillary. I'm voting for her. I think she's great. I'm voting for her for sure.

GWEN IFILL: Eddie the younger, who campaigned with Obama campaign surrogate Caroline Kennedy earlier this week, seldom speaks Spanish, but he says voters are listening in any language.

He persuaded Jerry Martinez to volunteer after he asked for a bumper sticker. His household is divided, too.

JERRY MARTINEZ, Obama Volunteer: It's interesting, because my wife is a Clinton supporter. And she keeps telling me, "I think I'm going to vote for Clinton. I think I'm going to vote for Clinton." I say, "That's fine."

And she'll ask me, "Have you made up your mind?" I said, "Well, I think I'm going to vote for Obama." My daughters keep bringing it up, also. And it actually comes up once a day probably at my house.

Uniting around the party

Eddie Lucio Jr.
Clinton supporter
I'm working as hard as I can to outdo my son, you know, when it comes to getting people to the polls for my candidate. But when it's all said and done, we're going to be with the Democratic nominee.

GWEN IFILL: In the Lucio family, next week's looming primary showdown comes up more than once a day.

OK, I have to ask you both, while you're standing next to each other, this question: What happens if the other candidate wins other than who you're supporting?

EDDIE LUCIO, JR.: We come together immediately. We come together and unite for Senator Obama or Senator Clinton, either one.

I'm working as hard as I can to outdo my son, you know, when it comes to getting people to the polls for my candidate. But when it's all said and done, we're going to be with the Democratic nominee.

EDDIE LUCIO III: Well, when Senator Obama wins this presidential nomination, we're all going to get together now. But in all seriousness, we're so excited. We're setting record numbers in early voting. And we want to keep up that enthusiasm not only through November, but from here on forward.

Participation and excitement about the process is the most beautiful thing coming out of this election cycle.

GWEN IFILL: Beautiful, perhaps, but competitive, too. At least until Tuesday's primary, the Lucios, father and son, have agreed to disagree.