Texas Redistricting Hits GOP
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Patricia Zengerle
Reuters
March 20, 2012

Texas should be playing a role in Republican politics this year as big as, well, Texas.

The fast-growing state - the most populous by far in the Republican column - has four new seats in the U.S. House of Representatives, a big U.S. Senate race and more than a 10th of the delegates who will choose the party's presidential nominee.

But a racially tinged dispute over redrawing its congressional districts has delayed the Texas primary by almost three months, complicated the U.S. Senate and House contests and altered the race for the White House.

A San Antonio court pushed Texas' primary back to May 29 from March 6 after complaints that a new electoral map drawn by Republicans violated the federal Voting Rights Act by diluting the voting power of blacks and Latinos.

Three of Texas' four new U.S. House seats were created in areas dominated by whites, even though Hispanics and blacks accounted for 90 percent of Texas' population growth since 2000.

The battle sets white Republicans, who have firmly established political control in Texas within the past decade, against rising and strongly Democratic Hispanic and black populations, whose leaders argue that they are being unfairly denied an equal voice in state politics.

The stakes are high both for 2012, when the White House and control of the U.S. Congress are up for grabs, and longer term, when a rapidly growing Hispanic population is expected eventually to disadvantage Republicans and benefit Democrats.

"Republicans can work that racial solidarity thing for a while, but in the end, they've got to do better than 35 percent of the Hispanic vote or their election prospects are not great," said Cal Jillson, a political science professor at Southern Methodist University in Dallas.

States with a history of minority voting rights violations must obtain pre-clearance from either the U.S. Department of Justice or the federal court in Washington, D.C., before they can use new maps. The new voter map in Florida, another fast-growing southern state, has also been subject to legal wrangling this year.

Already a Minority

Non-Hispanic whites already account for a minority of Texas' residents, with 45 percent of the population. The state is 38 percent Latino and 12 percent black, numbers expected to continue to rise.

President Barack Obama lost Texas by 11-percentage points in 2008. He got only 26 percent of the white vote, but was backed by 63 percent of Hispanics and 98 percent of blacks, fueling talk that it will not be long before Republican red Texas turns purple, if not Democratic blue.

"We sort of feel like we have the wind at our backs," said Anthony Gutierrez, deputy executive director of the Texas Democratic Party.

Democrats have won Texas in only three of the last 15 presidential elections. The party has not won a statewide election since 1994, and Republicans cemented their control of the state with huge victories in the 2010 midterms.

But even Republicans acknowledge that changing demographics mean the party must appeal to Hispanics to hold onto power beyond the next few years. Latinos in Texas generally vote Democratic by a 2-to-1 margin, which won't be helped by a redistricting fight seen as a battle to maintain white control.

"It is obviously a high-risk strategy in a state that is increasingly Hispanic," said Michael Li, a Dallas-based election law lawyer who runs the blog "Texas Redistricting." Li is not involved in the redistricting fight.

Super Tuesday Not Super for Romney

The redistricting mess has already affected the 2012 presidential race, notably the hopes of Mitt Romney, who may have done well in the Texas primary if it had taken place on Super Tuesday - March 6 - as originally scheduled.