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Texas A Big Prize For Clinton And Sanders Campaigns

Shelley Kofler
Texas Public Radio

While presidential candidates focus on tomorrow’s New Hampshire primary, their campaigns are also looking ahead to March 1.  That’s when Texas will deliver the largest number of delegates to date in Super Tuesday balloting.

Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders volunteers were working to nail down Texas support this weekend, with messages that pitted the former Secretary of State’s long-time relationships against the Vermont Senator’s anti-establishment appeal.

At a campaign rally on San Antonio’s West Side local Democratic officials and party leaders highlighted Hillary Clinton’s history with Texas

Credit Shelley Kofler / Texas Public Radio
Texas Public Radio
Clinton supporters, former state Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, and Bexar County Democratic Chair Manuel Medina.

  Former state Sen. Leticia Van de Putte recalled how Clinton registered San Antonio’s Latino voters I 1972 as a volunteer with George McGovern’s presidential campaign.

“She was walking our neighborhoods when it wasn’t all that cool to be registering people with the last names of Garcia and Hernandez and Aguilar.  She was doing the work, right?

Phone bank volunteers called voters, while others walked door-to-door. 

Clinton National Political Director Amanda Renteria visited a West Side neighborhood where the candidate registered voters more than 40 years ago.  

She tried to convince a reluctant Fidel Gonzalez to vote and choose Clinton

“We hope you’ll consider voting because we need your voice,” Renteria said.

Former Texas Land Commissioner Garry Mauro is a long-time friend of the Clintons who has organized the Texas presidential campaigns for Hillary and Bill Clinton.

Mauro discounts Sanders’ strong showings in Iowa and New Hampshire saying voters there are mostly Anglo.  He says Sanders doesn’t have Clinton’s deep ties among African-Americans and Hispanics who will be important in Texas’s Democratic primary and in choosing the party’s nominee.

“Bernie has a real uphill battle.  There is no Hispanic community in Vermont.  He has no history with Hispanics.  He has no history with Texas.  We have a lot of people who have been knowing Hillary and helping Hillary for a lot of years, so I think you’re going to see Hillary do well in Texas.”

But fifteen minutes away, in another West Side neighborhood, Sanders volunteers seemed to be connecting with Hispanic Democrats and disenchanted voters on Berry Hill Road.

Credit Shelley Kofler / Texas Public Radio
Texas Public Radio

Raymond Gonzales, 73, wants to make sure Social Security isn’t diminished.

“Keep the social security going instead of try to going to private,” he tells Sanders volunteers.

He nods as they assure him Sanders wants to strengthen Social Security.

“That’s why Bernie’s in there man, he’s in it for us,” volunteer Bryan Naylor assures Gonzales. 

Several doors ways, 80-year old Eddy Elizalde, a Vietnam veteran, tells the volunteers he supports Sanders and believes he has a better chance than Clinton of defeating a Republican like Donald Trump in November.

“I think he’s more honest, down to earth.  He doesn’t sugar-coat anything.   I think she (Clinton) has the problem sugar-coating some things.”

Another neighbor, Ed Morris, takes a break from repairing his van to say he’ll probably vote Republican on Super Tuesday.  But he also likes Sanders.

“I do like Bernie Sanders.  He’s a strong Democrat, and anything has to be better than having the same old Clinton views and Barack Obama views.”

Jacob Limon is the Texas State Director for the Sanders campaign.  He admits Clinton has the backing of most of the state’s elected Democrats.  But he sounds like his candidate when he says the political establishment – including Clinton-isn’t connecting with a lot of voters.

“I think a lot of people stay home because they don’t think the establish politics are going to impact their lives in any meaningful way,” said Limon.  “That’s changing with our campaign.  We’ve been circling the state rallying and training volunteers. We’re bringing a segment of the population that has really not been part of the political process.”

Credit Shelley Kofler / Texas Public Radio
Texas Public Radio
Amanda Renteria, Clinton's National Political Director, campaigned for the candidate in San Antonio last weekend.

Amanda Renteria, with the Clinton campaign, doesn’t think the establishment label is a problem for her candidate.

“It means you have to do some of the stuff.  Being Secretary of State matters.  So there are different ways you could put it.  You could call it qualifications or you could call it, ‘you’ve been part of the establishment.’  One way of another learning what it takes to be president is most important,” Renteria said.

Both campaigns agree that Texas- with more than 200 delegates to the Democratic National Convention - is the big prize on Super Tuesday.  Clinton’s campaign expects to get most of them.  Sanders campaign says the Vermont senator is picking up steam and will capture enough Texas delegates to keep him competitive.

Shelley Kofler is Texas Public Radio’s news director. She joined the San Antonio station in December 2014 and leads a growing staff that produces two weekly programs; a daily talk show, news features, reports and online content. Prior to TPR, Shelley served as the managing editor and news director at KERA in Dallas-Fort Worth, and the Austin bureau chief and legislative reporter for North Texas ABC affiliate WFAA-TV.