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Clinton Relies on Reputation, While Sanders Eyes First-Timers in Austin

Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon for KUT News

Today is the last day of early voting in Texas. Democratic presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders are hoping to engage Latino voters ahead of the state’s March 1 primary.

There are some big differences between the campaigns, though.

Earlier this week, dozens of Latino lawmakers in Texas announced they’re endorsing former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. About half a dozen legislators appeared at a rally held in Austin at the Mexican-American Cultural Center downtown. Here’s Austin’s former state Sen. Gonzalo Barrientos.  He’s endorsing Clinton because she’s been active in the Latino community here in Texas for decades.

“In 1972, some of us for the first time met Bill and Hillary Clinton.  They are not from the Northeast or the Northwest,” Barrientos said. “They’re our neighbor from Arkansas. They were over here para nuestra raza.”

Clinton’s extensive network of support is one of her biggest advantages here in Texas. And state Sen. Jose Rodriguez from El Paso points out that network has pretty deep roots in the Latino Community.

“She’s been there, so I think it’s important to focus on that. She has, for over 40 years, been out there with Bill Clinton registering Latino voters in South Texas and other parts of the state. So, we know her,” Rodriguez said.

And the Bernie Sanders campaign knows that, too. Jacob Limon is an organizer for Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders’ campaign here in Austin.

“We’re focused on people that are coming to the political process for the first time,” he says. “It’s very exciting.

Limon says the campaign is looking to fold in folks from who haven’t been involved in politics before.

“We have had very successful barn storm rallies all around the state, where we have had hundreds of people show up and one of the questions I always ask is for them to raise their hand if this is the first time in a political campaign,” Limon says. “And 85, 90 percent…raise their hand that this is their first time.

And you can see the strategies of both campaigns when you look at where they decided to set up shop in Austin. The Clinton campaign has an office in old West Austin, where there’s been a Democratic base for a long time. Sanders’ campaign, however, is camped out in East Austin. Limon says they chose that location not just because it was younger part of the city, but because it is also more diverse.

“All of our offices have very specific Latino engagement programs and we have really made a concerted effort to do that,” he says. “So that’s another natural decision point in locating in East Austin.

Polls show Clinton has a pretty big lead with Hispanic voters in Texas, but Limon says he feels good about Sanders outreach efforts. Either way, Democrats in Texas say they think the primary season has helped the party over all. El Paso Sen. Rodriguez says he believes Republicans are repelling Latino voters.

“What do we hear from those people? Only negative comments, insults, calling each other liars, saying they want to build walls and barriers,” Rodriguez says. “There is no question that the Latino support for Democrats has solidified as a result of the harsh, relentless Republican presidential candidates’ rhetoric against Latinos.”

Early voting ends today, with polls extending hours to 7 p.m. across Travis County. Texas, along with 11 other states, will vote on Super Tuesday primary on March 1.

Ashley Lopez covers politics and health care. Got a tip? Email her at Follow her on Twitter @AshLopezRadio.
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