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Romney's challenge: What Bexar County's primaries could tell America about the anti-Mormon vote

Photo: Photo illustration by Chuck Kerr, License: N/A

Photo illustration by Chuck Kerr

Photo: Steven Gilmore, License: N/A

Steven Gilmore

A new Mormon temple being constructed on Talley Road.

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While Jeffress and Rodriguez predict that followers will unify behind Obama's opponent, whomever that may be, the reality is that many hardcore evangelical Christians in the Bible Belt will remain alienated, and some activist networks will calve off from the base or simply disband. Energized support is critical not only to ensure higher turnout among conservative voters, but to galvanize block-walkers and other grassroots organizers to help sway the crucial swing votes to Romney.

Photo by Michael Barajas

Protestors greeted Romney on his stealth visit to San Antonio last month.

The Bexar Bellwether

In recent decades voters with Catholic affiliation have dominated the swing vote, that holy electoral grail for U.S. politicians. White Catholics tend to vote Republican, and minority Catholics lean Democrat, but in general Catholics sit on the fence more than voters of any other major U.S. religious denomination. And ever since George W. Bush won his 2004 reelection with 44 percent of the Hispanic vote, Latino voters have become viewed by Republicans as potential Democrat defectors, capable of creating sea-change swings. To thicken the plot, there is plenty of overlap between these two voting blocs.

This might help explain why San Antonio seems to have the pulse of the national electorate. Bexar County stands out as both majority Hispanic and Catholic in absolute terms, at 59 percent and 54 percent, respectively. By comparison, Hispanics accounted for 38 percent of Texans and 18 percent of the entire U.S. in the 2010 Census; the Pew Religious Landscape Survey recorded 24 percent of adults self-identifying as Catholics both in Texas and nationwide.

Lloyd Potter, Texas State Demographer and a faculty member of the UTSA Demography Department, notes that Bexar County Hispanics diverge from most other U.S. cities, including Dallas and Houston, that have large Hispanic populations. "Bexar Hispanics have longer, multi-generational roots in the city," Potter said, "a higher household income profile than Hispanics nationally, a tradition of voter-rights activism and organizing, and greater partisan diversity; they tend toward fiscal conservatism while remaining more liberal on social issues."

On the face of it, this would seem to couple well with Mitt Romney's politics, assuming that his right-wing campaign rhetoric will soften on social issues and revisit his moderate policy record in the general election, where the median voter matters.

Hooking in Latino swing support could be the key for Romney to hedge against lackluster evangelical backing from the conservative Republican base. In fact, though, all major polls reveal that Romney faces a steeper uphill battle with Hispanics than with white evangelicals, but not due to his faith. Immigration reform remains the most important political issue for Hispanic voters, with 42 percent naming it as their top priority in a December Latino Decisions poll.

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