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Women of color running, volunteering in Texas elections

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Gloria Garza Gutierrez volunteer for the Democratic Party in Texas. Photo by Jessica Floyd/Medill News Service

By Jessica Floyd, Medill News Service, UPI
SAN ANTONIO

How suburban women will vote is a hot topic for the midterm elections, but Democrats also are actively pursuing another important female voting bloc -- women of color.

The strategy seems to be paying off in Texas, where there is a spike in both black, Latino and Asian-American women candidates and campaign volunteers.

Democratic National Committee spokeswoman Sabrina Singh says the party recognizes women of color as a force that could be a big part of the potential "blue wave."

"One of our initiatives is called 'seat at the table,' which specifically engages black women across the country," Singh said. "One of our other initiatives is '¡Mujeres Mobilized!' [Women Mobilized], which is specifically to engage Latina women across the country."

The DNC's Latina outreach program launched earlier this year in Austin, Texas. Women of color's political participation in Texas offers a snapshot of the impact they could have on the midterm election results.

The challenge facing Democrats in Texas is that although nearly 40 percent of the state's population is Latino, Latino voter turnout nationally tends to trail most demographic groups at 27 percent.

But this election season, Latinos may deliver a higher turnout. The National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials anticipates a 15 percent increase from the last midterm election -- to 7.8 million Latinos. The association's latest report found that among registered Latino voters polled, 72 percent plan on voting Democrat in congressional races.

ccording to the Pew Research Center, black women are among the demographic groups with the highest voter turnout of 64 percent. This election cycle could show the strength of an emerging voter bloc composed of black, Latina and Asian Pacific Island women.

Gina Ortiz Jones, a Filipina challenging GOP Rep. Will Hurd to represent Texas' 23rd district, is an example of how female Texas Democratic candidates are attracting women of color -- as voters and volunteers. Young Latinas have gravitated toward Ortiz Jones's platform -- affordable healthcare, better educational opportunities and lower college costs and government accountability.

Alexis Torres, a 22-year-old graduate student and campaign fellow for Ortiz Jones, says healthcare is an important issue but education affects her more directly.

"It seems like it's only getting more expensive," Torres said. "Student loans are taking years and years to pay off."

Diana Pena, a 21-year-old undergraduate student who also volunteers with the Ortiz Jones campaign, said she could have attended a more prestigious college but opted for the University of Texas San Antonio because the scholarships it offered her were the only way she could afford to go to college.

"It's all about education for me right now," Pena said.

Traditionally, Texas is a red state, which would indicate a tough race for Ortiz Jones. But CNN ranks it as a left-leaning toss-up. In the 2016 presidential election, Hillary Clinton won the district by 3.5 points.

On the state level, Democrats Lupe Valdez, a Latina gubernatorial candidate, and Joi Chevalier are longshots against Republican incumbents Gov. Greg Abbott and comptroller Glenn Hegar, but they are attracting women of color as volunteers and voters because of their focus on healthcare and immigration.

Texas Democratic party volunteer Gloria Garza Gutierrez says affordable, accessible healthcare is her top reason for voting for Democrats, although she also is concerned about the separation of immigrant families.

"My daughter had a baby and all of a sudden after the baby she has $28,000 debt," said Garza Gutierrez.

Nettie Hinton, an African-American civil rights activist in the San Antonio area, calls President Donald Trump's efforts to prevent Central American migrants from seeking asylum in the United States a civil rights violation.

"If you come across the border in Mexico and you're asking for that kind of freedom, you're supposed to be accepted," Hinton said. "There needs to be an organized way to accept all of these people."

According to Diana Perez and Diana Espinoza, two canvassers for the Democratic Party who knock on doors to get people to vote, enthusiasm for the midterms in Texas is high.

Reports show more than 2 million Texans cast in-person ballots and almost 300,000 have cast mail-in ballots during the first five days of the early voting period.

"We got a lot of older people talking about, 'I've never voted,' 60-year-old ladies who had never voted and they're proud to be voting for the first year," Espinoza said. "Some of them just became U.S citizens."

Perez and Espinoza walked the blocks of San Antonio during a downpour recently encouraging residents to vote, even if the lines are long.

"I tell them to just be patient," Perez said. "Just like you can stand in line for Spurs tickets or medals for Fiesta here in San Antonio, wherever you try to be the first one there, then be the first one in line to vote."

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