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Dems Trot Out Hispanic Celebrities To Boost Campaigns

The driving rain and the absence of a celebrity guest failed to dampen he enthusiasm of nearly 200 volunteers, who spent part of Saturday afternoon chanting "Sí, se puede!" (Yes, we can) inside Barack Obama's Houston campaign headquarters.

The volunteers, who were being trained as precinct captains, strained forward in their folding chairs to listen to George Lopez, the Mexican-American comedian and actor, announce his support for Obama over a cell phone held up to a microphone.

"I'm throwing all my efforts to Senator Obama today," said Lopez, who couldn't make the session because of an aggravated knee. "If we want change, he's the best candidate for change."

Calling on the support of Latino celebrities — Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's camp will feature actress America Ferrera at several Texas rallies today — is the latest sign of how hard the two Democratic presidential candidates are working to court voters for Texas' March 4 primary.

"We've just about seen everything but the kitchen sink, and the kitchen sink is probably on its way," said Marc Campos, a political consultant from Houston. "It's obvious to all of America and all of the world now that (the contest for the Democratic nomination) is coming to Texas, and after Texas there's really not much. And when you come to Texas, everybody's figured out that whoever wins the lion's share of the Latino vote will probably carry the majority of delegates from the state."

Hispanics are expected to account for up to half of voters in Texas' Democratic primary. Houston is home to about 250,000 of those voters, he said.

"They know they're going to make the difference, believe me," Campos said. "They know they're getting the attention and they're going to come out probably in record numbers."

Clinton is counting on her support from Hispanics to help her catch up with Obama, but "whoever inspires them these last two and a half weeks, that's who they'll vote for," Campos said.

At Obama headquarters Saturday afternoon, 22-year-old Marisela Reyes, a second generation Mexican-American, watched her 4-year-old son play among the folding chairs after signing up as a volunteer.

"There's going to be a lot of young voters, and hopefully that's what's going to make the difference," said Reyes, a legal secretary who helps people fill out immigration forms. "Especially, you are going to have a lot of first-generation Hispanics who are voting for the first time," she said. The candidate who "comes to our level and reaches out, that's who's going to get our vote, because it's our parents who could get deported."

Both candidates have said the federal government should solve the illegal immigration problem with more security at the U.S.-Mexico border, penalties against employers of such immigrants, and a chance for undocumented workers to earn legal status.

Millie Contreras, a seventh-grade history teacher, said she showed up to support Obama for her students' sake.

"We'll be changing their lives because they'll be coming up in this world," she said, adding that she's offended to hear pundits speculate that most Latinos will support Clinton.

Across the room, 66-year-old Carolyn Holmes was signing up on a wall calendar to cook dinner for volunteers next week.

"Barbecue ribs and red beans, maybe even gumbo," said Holmes, who switched her support from Clinton to Obama under pressure from her children and grandchildren.
"I realized how much hope and how much inspiration he gave to the young people," she said.

While Obama was in Houston, former President Bill Clinton addressed a group of black American religious leaders in the Dallas area Saturday.

He never mentioned his wife's presidential campaign but spoke of the inequalities that still exist in the world.

He was well-received by the group from the African Methodist Episcopal Church, but some worshippers said his speech wouldn't sway their vote.

Linda Nesmith, a 53-year-old Houston resident, said she's supporting Obama because of his performance in debates, not because of racial solidarity. "That would be like me voting for Hillary Clinton because I'm a woman," Nesmith said.


 

 
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