AUSTIN -- Whenever Linda Chavez-Thompson, Democratic nominee for Texas lieutenant governor, swings into the heavily Hispanic areas along the border, she unfailingly seeks to fire up her audiences with an impassioned plea to get them to the voting booth.
"I go out there to try to get them angry," Chavez-Thompson said. "My message has been, if you're tired of being ignored, go out and vote so you can hold people accountable."
While Chavez-Thompson understandably hopes to draw support behind the Democratic ticket and her own candidacy, her message is also aimed at arousing a powerful constituency that has yet to realize its full political potential: Latinos constitute the state's largest and fastest-growing minority but traditionally turn out in comparatively low numbers on Election Day, say many experts.
With early voting under way for the Nov. 2 election, both major parties -- as well as independent organizations and Latino groups -- are waging an intense effort to reverse that trend with mass mailings, ads, targeted outreach programs and voter drives.
"If we don't do a better job of attracting the Hispanic vote, Texas will not remain a Republican state," said state GOP Chairman Steve Munisteri, a Houston attorney who won the leadership post during the summer with a pledge to strengthen the party's outreach to minorities. "We can't wait until we lose the state before we go talk to Hispanics."
The battle for Latinos is most evident in the multimillion-dollar governor's race between long-serving Republican incumbent Rick Perry and Democratic challenger Bill White, a former three-term mayor from Houston. Hot-button themes such as immigration and voter identification legislation have also spotlighted concerns of Hispanics in this year's elections.
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