Grand Opportunity Party

The Republicans and George W. Bush won a record share of the Hispanic vote in November—and that ought to scare the Democrats to death.

The critical battle for the hispanic vote, and all it portends for Texas and for America in the years to come, has its roots in a meeting at the Capitol in the fall of 1998. Karl Rove, the political adviser to then-governor George W. Bush, summoned Lionel Sosa, the head of a San Antonio advertising agency that specialized in marketing to Hispanics, to talk about how Bush’s reelection campaign could generate a big Hispanic turnout. Rove was already thinking ahead to a presidential race in 2000, and he saw an opportunity to prove to Republicans outside Texas that Bush had the ability to win over a traditionally Democratic constituency. The meeting was scheduled for one hour. It lasted three. Bush had three goals. First, he wanted the highest percentage of the Hispanic vote of any Republican candidate in Texas history. Second, he wanted his message to be emotional and bilingual—“ un nuevo día,” “a new day.” Last, he wanted the campaign to be a road map for Republicans, starting with himself, to effectively target Hispanic voters in the future.

Sosa had a wealth of political experience to draw on. Back in 1978, when Texas was still largely a one-party Democratic state, Republican John Tower hired him to create advertisements in English and Spanish for his reelection race for the U.S. Senate. Sosa’s ads played on the cultural conservatism of Hispanics: patriotism, work ethic, and strong family ties. Tower claimed to have won 37 percent of the Hispanic vote (because of the stakes, such estimates have been hotly disputed), which proved to be essential in a race decided by less than a percentage point. In subsequent years, Sosa advised Ronald Reagan and the elder George Bush, saying, in effect, that the secret to winning over Hispanic voters was that


More Texas Monthly

Loading, please wait...