AUSTIN, Texas — Some prominent supporters of Hillary Clinton have defected just ahead of critical primaries next week in Texas and Ohio, where the New York senator is counting on big victories to end Barack Obama's winning streak.
A top Clinton adviser in Texas downplayed the defections and pointed to a Texas A&M/Latino Decisions poll that found her leading Obama 62-22 among Hispanics, with 15 percent undecided.
Clinton aides also said that she picked up a key endorsement Thursday from a former Obama supporter, El Paso County Commissioner Veronica Escobar, and that she still has far more endorsements from Hispanic leaders than Obama does.
Still, the defections are being watched closely after U.S. Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., a so-called super-delegate to the Democratic National Convention, announced Wednesday that he's switching his support from Clinton to Obama.
Another superdelegate, Texas state Rep. Senfronia Thompson of Houston, a prominent African-American who'd previously favored Clinton, also announced that she's now in Obama's camp.
Obama won the support of Bexar County Tax Assessor/Collector Sylvia Romo, who isn't a superdelegate, but is popular in heavily Hispanic San Antonio, an area where Clinton must do well if she hopes for a big Latino margin to help her carry the state.
"Initially, I identified a lot with Hillary. But I was sort of disappointed, at least here in Texas, with their lack of organization,'' Romo said. "I never once got a call from the Hillary people.''
Former Land Commissioner Garry Mauro, a top Texas Clinton adviser, said Romo's decision was disappointing, but he predicted a Clinton victory.
"If I read the national press coverage and took it seriously, I would think that Hillary was going to be dropping out tomorrow,'' Mauro said. But he said the Texas A&M/Latino Decisions poll, internal Clinton polling, and assessments of where early voting has taken place have given him confidence. "We're winning big in Texas," he said.
Obama's Hispanic allies, some of them former Clintonites, are trying to cut into her support.
In heavily Latino South Texas, which is considered critical to Clinton's hopes, officials were stunned to see Laredo native Federico Pena, who served in Bill Clinton's cabinet, campaigning for Obama in towns along the border. Pena endorsed Obama late last year.
"That's a perfect example, though, of someone who had former ties with the Clintons now beating the bush for Obama,'' said state Sen. Eddie Lucio, D-Brownsville, a Clinton supporter.
Lucio, however, has even seen a split in his own family. While most Latino elected officials in South Texas are sticking with Clinton, his son, freshman state Rep. Eddie Lucio III, is one of Obama's most prominent South Texas supporters.
Not everybody is succumbing to the pressure to take sides. Houston Mayor Bill White, who served in Bill Clinton's Energy Department, has probably felt the pressure more than most.
As a popular mayor in the fourth-largest U.S. city, White would be an important endorsement, and both Clinton and Obama have called him to try to reel him in — to no avail.
"He'll stay in the pond, unhooked,'' said the mayor's spokesman, Frank Michel.
(Root reports for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.)