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Hispanic Turnout Could be Key in Texas Governor's Race

In President Bush's home state, Texas, Tuesday, voters are deciding whether to stick with the man who inherited the governor's job from Mr. Bush or replace him with a wealthy Hispanic Democrat. The turnout of Hispanic voters could play a key role.

Incumbent Republican Governor Rick Perry has a lot of experience in Texas government. He has served as a state legislator, agriculture commissioner and lieutenant governor. He inherited his current position when President Bush left the Texas Governor's Mansion to become president, two years ago. Mr. Perry's opponent, banker Tony Sanchez, has tried to use that fact for leverage with the voters.

Mr. Sanchez , who made millions of dollars in banking, was recently named one of the wealthiest political figures in the United States by "Forbes" magazine. He is also one of the most prominent Hispanic figures in the nation and, if elected, would be the first Hispanic governor of the Lone Star State.

Governor Rick Perry constantly reminds voters of his strong ties to President Bush, who remains very popular in Texas. Mr. Perry has also used his ads to emphasize his experience in office. "I have cut taxes, vetoed wasteful spending and balanced five state budgets," he says. "If you want experienced leadership, then I want to be your governor."

But public opinion polls show many Texans remain unimpressed by Mr. Perry's brief tenure and he is often criticized for doing little with the job he inherited. In contrast, Mr. Sanchez says he would promote programs to improve education and create more job opportunities for Texans. "If we do these things, we will make a difference and that is what Texans do," he says.

Mr. Sanchez has made a special appeal to his fellow Hispanics, running ads on Spanish radio and television stations and speaking to Hispanic crowds in fluent Spanish. But, in spite of his strength among the state's large Hispanic population and in spite of the nearly $80 million of his own money he has spent on this campaign, Tony Sanchez has remained more than ten points behind in the polls.

Longtime Texas political observer Bill Miller says Mr. Sanchez is likely to win big among traditional Democratic Hispanics, but he has failed to inspire those who remain apathetic about politics. "Being Hispanic, he is going to draw the majority of that vote, there is no question about that. But what he has been unable to do, at least from my perspective, is to inspire the troops," says Mr. Miller. "There is not much enthusiasm at all about his candidacy and none about him personally."

Mr. Miller says, even though Mr. Sanchez outspent Governor Perry about 2 to1 in this race, polls show his advertising campaign did not have the effect he had hoped for. "Money alone does not win races, you have to have a candidate and he has to bring a good game to the table."

Bill Miller says a Sanchez defeat would be disappointing to Democrats, because they saw Governor Perry's generally low approval ratings among voters as an opportunity for an easy win. But Mr. Miller says that, although the governor has failed to establish a dynamic presence in office, his political skills are still formidable. "One thing about Rick Perry is that a lot of people perhaps criticize his tenure as an elected official, but no one criticizes his ability as a candidate," says Mr. Miller. "He has been undefeated in his political career and he is a very tough opponent at election time."

Democratic candidates are running behind in all but one or two major races in Texas this year. Mr. Miller says the one factor in this year's election that has made it hard for Democrats is the presence of George W. Bush in the White House. He says a similar phenomenon occurred when Texas Democrat Lyndon Johnson was president in the 1960's. Since that time Texas has gone from a solid Democratic state to a strong Republican state. Almost all major state political offices are now held by Republicans. If the public opinion polls are correct, that situation will not change in this election.