Biggest District In Texas A Toss-Up Between Two Latinos
October 31, 2012

David Martin Davies
Texas Senator John Cornyn makes phone bank calls on behalf of 23rd District candidate Francisco Canseco.

SAN ANTONIO, Texas -- The 23rd Congressional District of Texas is one of the largest districts in the nation. Running along 800 miles of the U.S.-Mexico border, it is larger geographically than Rhode Island, Connecticut and Delaware combined.

But winning the seat there means much more than adding another party vote in Congress -- it’s a window into the future of politics in Texas.

On Saturday, two days before the early voting polls opened, the campaign headquarters for Republican Congressman Francisco "Quico" Canseco is focused on GOTV, or Get Out The Vote.

There are more than 75 volunteers in this north San Antonio office. Most are wearing matching Canseco for Congress T-shirts, some have been block walking. Others are working the phone bank, delivering a scripted message about Canseco.

In one corner, Senator John Cornyn is also making a couple of calls. Cornyn’s here to give volunteers a pep talk, and to remind them that keeping the 23rd District in Republican hands is a party priority.

Cornyn told them, "This is Ground Zero. The Democrats want this district worse than any other district in the country, than any other one in the country, that’s why it’s so important that you are here.”

And the candidate himself tells the volunteers the Democrats want to win back the 23rd District so badly because he won it two years ago, by just 7,500 votes in the 'Tea Party Tsunami.'

David Martin Davies
The image of Jesus Christ was used in a controversial political mailer targeting 23rd District candidate Pete Gallego.
David Martin Davies
Another mailer invoking religious beliefs that was produced by 23rd District candidate Francisco Canseco's campaign.

“All of us know what the issues are at stake, they have never been greater, not even in the lives of our great-grandparents," Canseco said.

Since that 2010 election, lines for the 23rd District were redrawn, likely making it harder for Democrats to overturn that vote difference. Court battles over the new lines have found the new 23rd District was deliberately gerrymandered to hurt Latinos, and that’s something that Democratic challenger, State Representative Pete Gallego, points out.

“A lot of the Latinos who have a high history of turnout were taken out of the district and replaced with Latinos with a low history of turnout. So it’s clearly a turnout question," Gallego said.

Gallego’s campaign headquarters is very different from Canseco’s. It's located on the opposite side of San Antonio, where the rent is much lower -- just like the incomes of the Latino majority in this neighborhood.

Inside, Gallego holds a press conference. In his soft-spoken manner, he’s blasting Canseco for using Catholic icons in campaign material to attack Gallego for being pro-choice and pro-same sex marriage -- two issues that could cleave the socially conservative Mexican-American majority in the district.

"My fear is this: If this kind of stuff works, then everyone will do it, and once everyone does it, our society would have sunk to a new low," Gallego said.

When asked about the use of sacred images, Canseco is unapologetic.

"You’re going to see us campaigning hard and campaigning well, and I think come Nov. 6 we’re going to have victory," Canseco said.

Someone is going is going to have a Nov. 6 victory, but Henry Flores, a political science professor at St. Mary’s University in San Antonio, said he’s not sure who that will be.

"I think this thing is up for grabs," Flores said of the election.

Flores said the district is very racially polarized and those racial lines play a big part in how people vote -- and who wins elections here.

Even with two Latinos on the ballot, "the Anglo Republicans turn out in higher rates than the Latino Democrats. That’s really why its referred to as a Republican-leaning district," Flores said.

David Martin Davies
Former President Bill Clinton attended a rally in San Antonio on behalf of 23rd Congressional District candidate Pete Gallego.

Another sign that a congressional race is tight is when former President Bill Clinton flies in for a rally.

This is the third time since 2006 that Clinton has come to rally Democrats for this district. On his last visit he couldn't stop that 2010 Canseco victory, but Clinton told the crowd that things in Texas are changing.

"There is no doubt in my mind that if every single person in Texas who was eligible to vote registered and voted, this would be a Democratic state," Clinton said.

The way the 23rd District's demographics look today is how the rest of Texas is going to look in near the future. Texas is already a minority-majority state. But without Latino GOTV, Clinton’s hope of turning Texas into a blue state will fade.

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