Wendy Davis may have to work to woo Latinos in governor race

Cal Jillson, political science professor at SMU's Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences, talks about how Latino voters response to Texas Senator Wendy Davis' gubernatorial bid.

By Mercedes Olivera

Some Latinos, especially women, may be cheering Wendy Davis’ run for the governor’s seat.

But many other Hispanics are scratching their heads and wondering who she is.

Nobody would ever confuse Davis as being pro-immigration, an issue that tugs at the heartstrings of most Latinos, during her tenure in the state Senate the past three years.

Also, she isn’t known as someone who has made direct outreach to Latino voters or addressed them directly about the issues important to them while she was on the Fort Worth City Council from 1999 to 2008.

But her supporters say Davis has been on the right side of issues that affect Latinos, especially education and health care, and that story will need to be told if she is to gain greater Latino support statewide.

With Texas’ Latinos projected to be a plurality by 2020 and the majority by about 2036, ignoring this group could prove hazardous to a political candidate’s future.

Latinos, who tend to vote 2-to-1 for Democrats, are becoming an increasingly important voting bloc for both parties. And while many Texas Republicans have learned to play it smart and not overtly do anything to antagonize them further away from their party, Texas Democratic leadership historically has tended to ignore Latino voters or take them for granted.

Davis’ supporters say that hasn’t been her style....

But others, like political analyst Cal Jillson, don’t see Davis energizing enough Latino voters to make a difference.

“Wendy Davis’ campaign will energize the Democratic Party, and may well attract more young Anglos and more Anglo suburban women than recent Democratic campaigns,” said Jillson, political science professor at Southern Methodist University. “But it is hard to see what attraction she will have to hard-pressed Latinos. In running a strong campaign, even if she loses, she may be teeing up a future election for [San Antonio Mayor] Julián Castro, who would have real drawing power among Latino voters.”