Interviews: Texas Politics: The Myth vs. the Reality

Wayne Slater

Paul Stekler: Why is the 2002 election such a significant race for Texas
Wayne Slater: This is a Republican state, and demographically, there's nothing that anybody could do to win this year. But if you look at what's happened, at the growth of the Hispanic vote in Texas, the Latinos, who are increasing in population, and over time, will vote in greater numbers for future elections, it's only a matter of time before this state becomes much more competitive between Republicans and Democrats. What could do that, frankly, more quicker than later, is a candidate like they have this year, an Hispanic, or even if they fail this year, four years from now, they will have put in motion a machine, a voter turnout effort, what they have done is they have put together a very appealing ticket, on the Democratic side, that can really tap these minority constituencies. You can have an enormous number of Hispanic voters that will grow in the next four years and six years and eight years. So it's only a matter of time before Texas really becomes a very competitive two-party state, not the Republican state that it is right now. What you need in about four years, if the Democrats fail this time, is both the demographic changes, a lot of Hispanics show up to vote, and an enormously appealing person at the top of the ticket. You look for somebody like Henry Cisneros. You do that, the Democrats are back in the driver's seat.

Well, what happens now is, these two campaigns go out. We saw the week before in the Republican campaign a projection of a party that, that wants to appeal largely to White, business-minded and moderate and conservative voters in Texas, and that's the majority of voters in Texas. The Democratic candidates are going to try to project a more moderate image. Both sides have a lot of money. Democrats have a guy who has an enormous amount of money, a banker and oilman running for governor, to be the first Hispanic governor, and so he's spent 20-30 million dollars of his own money and probably will spend 60-70 million dollars of his own money, if he thinks there's a chance. On the Republican side, there's always money. A couple of their candidates have their own money to go with, so it's going to be one of the most expensive races in Texas, in the history of the state, one of the most expensive races in the history of any state, in Texas, when you look up and down the valley. We don't know what's going to happen. The real intrigue about this race is that either side can win. This is a Republican state, but this is an enormously attractive ticket. This is a ticket that could appeal to a diverse group of loyal Democratic voters, so the Democrats could win. Republicans could win. The Democrats could win. That's what makes this a great news story.

Wayne Slater is the Austin bureau chief for the Dallas Morning News. He is also the author of Bush's Brain: How Karl Rove Made George W. Bush.