Hispanic voters remain the chief target of GOP strategists, at least in Texas. In the wake of Republican Orlando Sanchez’s December 1 runoff loss to Houston’s incumbent black mayor, Lee Brown—Sanchez garnered 48 percent of the vote to Brown’s 52 percent—news media and Republican apparatchiki were busy gushing about the growing electoral weight of “Hispanic” voters and touting the GOP’s vaunted “Hispanic strategy.” Sanchez’s campaign chairman, Jack Rains, could hardly contain himself: Rains claimed that “Orlando” was responsible for the “awakening of the Hispanic community” in Houston and that the “charismatic” Sanchez would remain an “asset” to anyone wanting to “penetrate” the “Hispanic market.” Rains pointed to the city’s changing demographics (whites now make up just 31.5 percent of the population, with “Hispanic” at 37.4 percent and blacks at about 25 percent, in a city of 1.9 million people) as evidence that Sanchez, whom he described as the “undisputed leader” of the city’s “Hispanic movement,” could break the Democratic hold on city hall in 2003.
Sanchez—who was endorsed by President Bush, former President Bush, and Rudy Guliani—did garner about 70 percent of the Hispanic vote, and the number of Hispanics voting in the mayor’s race was higher than in the recent past. Nevertheless, the number of Hispanics casting ballots remained relatively small. According to the University of Houston’s Richard Murray, just over 40,000 of approximately 321,000 votes in the runoff were cast by Hispanics. If Murray is correct, then the Hispanic pro-Sanchez vote represented roughly 28,000 out of about 154,000 votes cast for the former city councilman. Thus, there is room to doubt GOP assertions that Sanchez “awakened”—much less mobilized—Hispanic voters to the degree GOP stalwarts think: The Wall Street Journal, for example, claimed that the Sanchez vote proved that Hispanic voters were “starting to leave” the “liberal hacienda.”
The real story of the 2001 Houston electoral romp, however, contradicts the GOP’s frequent utopian assertions about the nature of racial and ethnic bonds and calls into question its decision to abandon the party’s white voting base, which is probably why the party and its propagandists are ignoring it. Though totals for the white and black voting breakdowns in the election are not yet available, it appears that Brown—an incompetent careerist who faced a serious 1999 reelection scare from two “joke” candidates, one of them a wrestling promoter who listed his name on the ballot as “Outlaw Josey Wales IV” (the pair won a surprising 33 percent of the vote)—pulled this one out by playing the race card.
Having won the endorsement of his old boss, Bill Clinton, the former “drug czar” and police chief (who padded his résumé with stints as chief of police in Atlanta, Houston, and New York City) proceeded to piece together the traditional Democratic voting base of blacks, white liberals (especially Houston’s politically active and affluent “gay community”), and other minorities, including a significant portion of the city’s Hispanics—voters who supposedly belonged lock, stock and barrel to the GOP’s Great Hispanic Hope, Sanchez. The strategy was simple: Sanchez was portrayed by Brown as the “white candidate.”
As the runoff approached, the Brown campaign enlisted the sister of James Byrd, the black Texan dragged to death by white thugs in 1998, to replay the anti-Bush tactics of the 2000 Gore campaign: The sister blasted Sanchez, then a city- council member, for voting against a council resolution backing “hate crimes” legislation. Brown questioned Sanchez’s support for affirmative action, the racial spoils system that has benefited so many “minority contractors” under the two-term mayor’s administration. Moreover, Brown’s tactics included pointing out to Houston’s “Hispanic” (read: “Mexican”) population that Sanchez was a Cuban. Just to play it safe, Brown’s minions dug up statements from Sanchez, who had earlier worked as a probation officer, calling on city authorities to aid the INS in identifying criminal aliens. Thus, Sanchez was painted as “anti-immigrant” and an ethnic Oreo—Hispanic on the outside, white on the inside.
Brown’s nasty campaign served to sway many of Houston’s dwindling number of white voters in favor of Sanchez, and—who knows?—maybe the unimpressive GOP front man could have yet saved his political hash if he really had made opposition to affirmative action, “hate crimes” laws, and the influx of criminal aliens major points in his campaign. (At this point, we just don’t know how many eligible white voters sat this one out.) As it turned out, Sanchez could only bring himself to attack Mayor Brown’s fiscal mismanagement and his gutting of the fire department, totally missing the point as to why whites, who are far more likely to vote than Hispanics (especially for a Republican-backed candidate), were attracted to his candidacy in the first place. As Samuel Francis has so often pointed out, the GOP just doesn’t get it. Sanchez’s strong showing (most analysts expected Brown to win) likely owed more to a partial white mobilization than to an Hispanic “awakening.”
Will the GOP learn anything from the Houston race? Probably not. You can bet your burrito that the Republicans, should they decide to run Sanchez again in two years, will encourage Orlando to do even more to show that he is not opposed to anti-white discrimination, that he loves aliens regardless of their criminal records, that he backs “hate crimes” laws, and that he has no intention of barring “minority contractors” from the fiscal trough. In short, without Lee Brown around to do his work for him, Sanchez may encourage Houston’s remaining whites to do what so many others have already done: leave town.