It’s been smooth sailing so far for Texas Republican John Cornyn in his bid for a third term in the U.S. Senate.
His wide lead and enormous war chest have given him the luxury of waging a non-traditional campaign that includes an effort to draw minority voters into the Republican fold.
Cornyn has been watching the numbers -- numbers that show a drop in Republican votes for parts of Texas with growing minority populations.
He cites Fort Bend County, near Houston, as an example. In 2002, before his indictment, Republican Congressman Tom DeLay captured 63 percent of the vote. A decade later, in 2012, Mitt Romney, the Republican presidential candidate, received only 53 percent.
Republican Vote Drops As Minority Population Grows
“Texas is changing, and I think if you’re in my line of work and you represent 26 million people you need to make sure you’re connecting with them and listening to them, so that’s why we’re reaching out,” said Cornyn in an interview at the KERA studios.
Cornyn says he’s doing that with a campaign website that includes information in Spanish, Chinese and Vietnamese. His staff has participated in at least 50 minority events since April.
They handed out campaign pamphlets at a Juneteenth celebration in Austin. They spoke at a Hispanic veterans’ parade. They blogged about the Miss Chinatown pageant in Houston, and talked politics with Vietnamese students in Dallas.
Shelley Kofler/KERA: “Are you concerned that if you don’t do this Texas will cease to be a red state?
Sen. Cornyn: “Yes. If we don’t take care of this most basic outreach to other folks and welcome them into the Republican Party and explain to them how our policies and principles really help them in their pursuit of the American dream, then I think we will lose. And if we lost Texas as a red state, we won’t elect another Republican president in my lifetime.”
Democrats Call Outreach "Insincere"
Cornyn’s strategy comes as Democrats try to mobilize a growing Hispanic population and break the Republican’s control of every statewide office.
Democratic consultant Matt Angle says Cornyn’s outreach is just a PR stunt aimed at keeping more moderate, anti-tea party Republicans from deserting the party.
He says the Texas Republican Party’s platform drives minorities away with support for policies like the voter ID law, which requires Texans to show a valid photo when they vote.
Angle says that discriminates against minorities who are less likely to have a driver's license.
Cornyn sees it this way: “One of the most important things about the Texas law is you can get a free photo ID if you ask for one. We need to make sure that people who do have the right to vote, vote. And that people who don’t have an opportunity to dilute the impact of legitimate voters by voting illegitimately.”
Immigration And Guest Worker Program
Cornyn has also taken heat from minority groups for jointly proposing immigration legislation with Rep. Henry Cuellar, a Democrat from Laredo.
The legislation which stalled required speedier court hearings for thousands of Central American children detained at the border. Immigrant advocates said it didn’t allow enough time to prepare cases and would lead to the mass deportation of children back to dangerous situations where their safety would be threatened.
Then there’s the issue of comprehensive immigration reform. Cornyn opposes President Obama’s plan, though he says there should be a way for some undocumented workers who are already here to gain legal status.
“We first have to make sure we are protecting the rights of American citizens and no American citizen should be denied access to a job because a foreign worker is performing that job,” Cornyn said. “But in many areas, agriculture, construction and the like, we don’t have enough of a workforce. So I would support a guest worker program that was adequately structured and enforced.”
Cornyn hopes other Republicans who’ve made harsh, anti-immigrant statements will adopt a more “respectful” tone. He believes minority voters will support his ideas for reforming immigration when they realize the aim is to make communities safer by stopping human trafficking and the drug cartels.
Though his opponents say he’s insincere, he’s pushing ahead with his outreach. His staffers say they’re now working on a Hindi language version to the campaign website.
Cornyn faces three opponents in November: Libertarian Rebecca Paddock, Green Party candidate Emily "Spicybrown" Sanchez and Democrat David Alameel. Alameel will sit down with KERA next week.