Immigration hardliner seeks Latino vote in Texas lt. governor race

State Sen. Dan Patrick’s landslide win over three-term incumbent David Dewhurst in the Republican runoff for Texas lieutenant governor last Tuesday night was no surprise.…

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Immigration hardliner seeks Latino vote in Texas lt. governor race

In this May 27, 2014 file photo, Republican Dan Patrick speaks at his campaign watch party at the Hotel Sorella after incumbent David Dewhurst conceded the Republican primary runoff for Texas lieutenant governor in Houston. (AP Photo/Patric Schneider)

State Sen. Dan Patrick’s landslide win over three-term incumbent David Dewhurst in the Republican runoff for Texas lieutenant governor last Tuesday night was no surprise.

What was surprising, however, was the tone Patrick used during his victory speech when he vowed to make inroads with Latinos.

“Before you can get someone’s vote, you have to respect them enough to go talk with them and explain who you are,” Patrick said Tuesday night after learning he had easily defeated Dewhurst. “It won’t be overnight, but it’s going to start tomorrow morning.”

SEE ALSO: More Latinos projected to vote in this year’s midterm elections

The tone sounded nothing like the “anti-immigrant rhetoric” that voters are used to hearing from Patrick. But it’s one that political analysts say he’ll need to use more often if he expects to defeat his Democratic challenger Leticia Van de Putte, a Latina state senator from San Antonio, in the general election.

According to the Pew Research Center, there are 4.2 million Hispanic eligible voters in Texas and about 26 percent of Texas eligible voters are Hispanic. In 2012, Latinos made up 22 percent of the Texas electorate and overwhelmingly sided with the Democratic Party.

Latinos criticize Patrick’s ‘anti-immigrant rhetoric’

Patrick knows the important role Latinos will play in the November general election.

But making inroads with Latinos won’t be easy for the tea party favorite given the tough stance on immigration he took during the primary and runoff elections. He championed for adding tougher border enforcement, ending in-state tuition for undocumented students and strengthening Texas laws to go after undocumented immigrants.

Dan Patrick is photographed with Joe Arpaio, who's known for his tough stance on immigration.

Dan Patrick is seen here with Joe Arpaio, who’s known for his tough stance on immigration. (Photo credit: Texans for Dan Patrick)

Offensive immigration comments Patrick has made in the past also don’t help him as he works to attract Latino voters.

During an immigration debate in February, San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro criticized Patrick for describing the flow of immigrants coming from Mexico to Texas as an “illegal invasion” and for saying that immigrants bring “third-world diseases” into the United States, such as tuberculosis, malaria, polio and leprosy.

SEE ALSO: Immigrant bashing hits Texas campaign trail

Emmanuel Garcia, communications director for the Texas Democratic Party, told VOXXI that Patrick’s “anti-immigrant rhetoric” helped him win the Republican nomination but it won’t help him now as he faces Latino voters in the general election.

“It was quite clear that Dan Patrick was willing to say anything he needed to win,” Garcia said. “But to now turn around and face the Latino community, who we know votes Democrat and supports Democrat, he now has to give us an explanation for this kind of toxic rhetoric.”

Van de Putte, the Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor of Texas, has also criticized Patrick’s immigration comments. Following Tuesday’s election, she released a statement in which she said “it’s time that politicians like Dan Patrick put their toxic rhetoric to rest.”

Unlike Patrick, Van de Putte supports in-state tuition for undocumented students. She has also talked about the need for an immigration reform that “requires immigrants to pay their taxes, but encourages people to come out of the shadows — a balanced approach.”

Does Patrick have a chance with Latinos?

According to the The Texas Tribute, some Hispanic Republicans are already planning to vote for Van de Putte instead of Patrick in the general election. Hector De Leon, chairman of the Associated Republicans of Texas, isn’t one of them.

He told The Texas Tribune he understands “there will be folks who aren’t going to be very forgiving” about Patrick immigration comments. However, De Leon said he believes Patrick will recover from the criticism because Texas is heavily Republican.

He added that whether Patrick is successful in making inroads with Latino voters will depend on his ability to turn the “good words” he said on Tuesday “into good deeds” over the next six months.

But Garcia had a different opinion. He said Latinos are “smart” and they won’t forget that Patrick has supported “anti-immigrant” and “anti-Latino” policies for years.

“You can’t just tear down the Latino community, attack our families, talk about the border region as a war zone and then expect to have our support just because we’re in the general election right now,” he said. “You just can’t disrespect us on day and then knock on our doors at our home the next day. That’s just not the way things work.”

As a result, Garcia predicted Van De Putte will have a better shot than Patrick at attracting Latino voters in the general election.

SEE ALSO: Two rising stars define the Lone Star State’s upcoming primary election