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"Her Panic; Hillary's Alamo"

by Geraldo Rivera | Feb 29, 2008

from my book, 'His Panic'

She is not the first to make a last stand in San Antonio and as dire as her peril, it was worse last time around. In 1836, 189 brave souls perished there after holding off the entire Mexican army for almost two weeks. Given the role the Battle of the Alamo played as one of American history's pivotal moments, it is perhaps ironic that most of the residents of the city more closely resemble the attacking army than the mission's heroic defenders.

Now Hillary is entrenched in the "Alamo City," the state's second largest with 1.3 residents. It has more than doubled in size since 1970; is a whopping 70% Hispanic and the de facto capital of south Texas, a huge area stretching from El Paso across the state to Corpus Christi. It is also an area Senator Clinton must win decisively to have any chance of carrying the Lone Star state in the March 4th primary and remaining in the presidential race.

All six South Texas congressmen are and have been Hispanic for many years. It is an impressive and unprecedented lineup, beginning with fervent Clinton supporter and House Intelligence Committee Chairman Silvestre Reyes' district in the west, Ruben Hinojosa, Henry Cuellar, Ciro Rodriquez, and Charlie Gonzalez in and around San Antonio in the center, and Solomon Ortiz based in Corpus in the east. Other than the usual cohorts of old white guys, there is no similar bundle of a single ethnic group in the nation. Rodriquez was actually born in Coahuila, Mexico, the border province known as Mexico's Front Door, through which most of the commerce with the United States passes, but don't mention that or the NAFTA treaty right now because Hillary also has to win in Ohio on March 4th.

Despite Clinton's recent slippage in statewide polls, and support most often described these days as 'tepid', Congressman Reyes still confidentially predicts she will garner 2/3rds of the Texas Hispanic vote, which is about 36% of Democrats statewide; enough, Reyes believes to offset the surging Obama. Four of Reyes' five colleagues agree. Of the six Latino congressmen only Charlie Gonzalez has endorsed the Illinois senator, confiding that uniquely fierce affection of Obama supporters to the New York Times that, "Hispanic voters, like all voters, not only want someone who speaks to their hearts...but also to live up to the promise to unite the country."

So who will the (pick one, they are essentially synonymous) Hispanics, Latinos, Texicans, Tejanos or Chicanos favor on March 4th? Will Hillary continue to dominate Barack among this suddenly crucial voting bloc? Will she do as well as she did the last 'Super Tuesday', when with overwhelming backing from Hispanics, she carried California; also riding a Spanish wave to victory in Arizona, New Jersey, New York, Florida, New Mexico, Nevada and Massachusetts. In fact, she won in every state with a Hispanic population of over half a million, except relatively yuppified Colorado, which has about 11% Hispanics and Illinois, with 15%, Obama's home state.

As these statistics make clear, before her candidacy faded in the face of 'Obamania,' Hillary has largely been sustained by that disproportionate Hispanic support. In fact, the percentage of a state's Hispanic population has been the strongest predictor of the election's eventual winner, a group she has carried up until now by an overall margin of more than three to two. Why her success with the Latino community? Rather than being mostly anti-Obama or anti-black, although race tension is a reality that eventually must be addressed, the brown vote has been pro-Clinton, according to exit polls. Her early, awesome strength is a byproduct of the enormous good will toward former president Bill Clinton, the first to have two Hispanic cabinet secretaries serving simultaneously, Henry Cisneros and Federico Pena. He is beloved, as is his wife. Hillary was buoyed also by the important endorsement of Los Angeles mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.

But the former first lady's beleaguered campaign may not do as well she needs to do in Texas. Every poll shows her lead either withering or already gone, the race a tie. In the weeks since Super Tuesday, with salsa-charged Ted Kennedy at his side, the remarkable Mr. Obama has even become the more forceful on the issue of the need for immigration reform. He's also enlisted the support of out-of-state Hispanic leaders like Rep. Luis Gutierrez to cut radio spots in Spanish, saying that only Obama can relate to the pressures of being a man of color, and spending more than two million in media to get the word out. Besides all the time, energy and money Obama's using to get to know Texicans, he feels like a winner and Latinos are like everyone else who loves a winner.

If her support among Latinos turns out to be less than overwhelming on March 4th, Senator Clinton might follow in the footsteps of the hapless Mexican general Antonio Lopez de Santa Ana in 1836, and narrowly win the battle in and around San Antonio, but still lose the war for Texas. Remember the Alamo?

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