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Red State Could Make Difference in Democratic Race

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Here's a quick guide to the politics of one of the states that could affect the Democratic presidential nomination. Texas votes one week from today, the same day as Ohio and some other states. The campaign that did not end as expected on Super Tuesday may also not end next Tuesday, but Texas could make a difference.

Our guide is Wayne Slater. He's a veteran political reporter for the Dallas Morning News. He's on the line from Austin.

Good morning, Wayne.

Mr. WAYNE SLATER (Reporter, Dallas Morning News): Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: Well, now, Hillary Clinton did have a big lead in Texas. How about now?

Mr. SLATER: Oh, yeah. It's gone. Basically, Barack Obama has erased that lead. She was way ahead in Texas, much as she was ahead in the rest of the country, even a few weeks ago. But now a couple of - three recent polls show that this is a dead heat.

INSKEEP: Well, now I think one of the reasons that Clinton campaign was saying don't worry about all those primaries we're losing to Barack Obama all across the country, one of the reasons they were saying let's focus on Texas and Ohio is because in Texas, there's a big Hispanic vote and she was doing well among Hispanic voters. Isn't she still doing that?

Mr. SLATER: I think she is. I really don't see an erosion, a major erosion, of support among Hispanics. And she clearly hung her hat on that. You know, in 1972, Bill and Hillary Clinton were young Yale students working on the McGovern campaign. And the Clintons have deep ties in Texas and especially in south Texas.

But if she loses some of this Hispanic vote - and every day that goes on, where Barack Obama is presenting himself in person and in Spanish language commercials in south Texas, it's a problem for her.

INSKEEP: Are there issues in Texas that play differently than they might elsewhere in the country?

Mr. SLATER: I think immigration does. No question about it. Texans are really much more sophisticated, I think - if that's the right word - about looking at immigration, especially the Hispanic population recognizes the importance of securing the border.

But the tone of that debate, as reflected by these Democratic candidates - both of them - really shows that you have to be careful about the way you talk about it. Many people in Texas know and have family members in Mexico, and then we have a long and rich border history.

INSKEEP: Is there also another side to that immigration debate in Texas? There are people who want to clamp down on the border, as well as people who are concerned about people across the border?

Mr. SLATER: There are. We've seen people - the Minutemen in this state and other states - trying to make sure that that's the case. In most cases, though, those Minutemen are not voting in the Democratic primary. So, in this case, right now, at this moment, in this week, the debate about the border is more about sensitivity to the issue.

INSKEEP: Well, now, that's another thing, Wayne Slater. Are we watching Democrats battle in a state that, when it gets to November, is likely to be Republican?

Mr. SLATER: It's going to be Republican. It's funny, you know, Texas for the last generation has been largely ignored, especially in the last 20 years, because it is Republican, because it's been a George Bush state. And what's happened this year is this phenomenon where suddenly we're in play. We have commercials here. People are actually seeing the candidates.

There are thousands and thousands of people, half mile lines, at Obama and Hillary Clinton rallies in places like the plazas in San Antonio, basketball arenas in Dallas, downtown streets in Austin. So it's really different this year.

INSKEEP: Does it make it harder for Hillary Clinton because she did have the support of the Democratic establishment, but there's not as much of it in Texas as some other places?

Mr. SLATER: That's true. And it really is a problem. You really see a measure of that erosion a little bit in south Texas, not much, but especially the excitement in the urban centers of Houston and Dallas, where African-American voters are very excited, and in places like Austin, the home of the University of Texas, where you go to the campus where young people are, and there's Barack Obama - Obama mania is very real.

INSKEEP: Wayne, it's always great to talk with you.

Mr. SLATER: Good to talk with you.

INSKEEP: Wayne Slater is senior political writer for the Dallas Morning News. He was on the line from Austin, Texas. And you heard him on MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.