Likely presidential candidates are beginning to polish their profiles and manage their vulnerabilities.  

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker (R) was given a 2-hour crash course on world geography and global affairs in an attempt to bolster his knowledge of foreign policy. Former Secretary of State Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonGrassley blasts Democrats over unwillingness to probe Clinton GOP lawmakers cite new allegations of political bias in FBI Top intel Dem: Trump Jr. refused to answer questions about Trump Tower discussions with father MORE has been asked to answer about her use of a private server run from her Chappaqua, New York home to conduct affairs of the state. And Sen. Mark Rubio’s (R-Fla.) newly unveiled tax reform is already drawing criticism for its potential to increase the deficit.  

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As these and other would-be candidates begin to prepare their long-range plans, it’s never too early to start thinking about Texas and its 38 electoral votes. 

Some may assume that this overwhelmingly red state with mere pockets of blue will be a lock for any Republican candidate.  

But no so fast there, pardner. Texas is undergoing a massive demographic transformation, one that will have lasting impact for the red, blue, purple, or maroon political landscape.  

And presidential candidates will need Latino votes. 

As of 2015, Latinos account for 40 percent of the state’s population. At 10.6 million, based on US Census Data, “the Texas Latino population is larger than the entire state population in forty-three states.”  

State demographer Lloyd Potter estimates that Latinos could become the majority in Texas as early as 2036.  

Local, state, and national politicians need to understand this Texas population shift, which is also taking place in California and, to a lesser degree, Florida. More than half (55 percent) of the U.S. Hispanic population resides in these three states.   

The popularly held belief that winning the Latino vote is key to national elections has been put to the test. Latinos voted 2-1 for Democratic candidates in the last election. Both parties continue to heavily court U.S. Latinos, with Republicans appearing to make significant inroads in the last election and many citing immigration as a primary Latino concern. 

Also, 78 percent of Latino Texans are American citizens, including those naturalized. Immigrants make up only 30 percent of the Latino population. While immigration is important, it’s not the only issue Latinos face. 

“The State of Latino Texas,” a study to be released later this month and prepared by Latino Decisions for the Center for Mexican American Studies (CMAS) and the new Department of Mexican American and Latina/o Studies (MALS) at the University of Texas at Austin, revealed that economic, education, and health disparities, alongside immigration, disproportionally impact Latinos in Texas. 

Latino voters also care about education, poverty, and health. 

The report has some notable statistics about Texas Latinos including: 

·      50 percent of Texans under the age of 18 are Latino

·      Their median age is 27

·      88 percent are of Mexican national origin

·      The majority of children in grades K-12 public schools are  Latino

·      They account for 46 percent of all public high school graduates

·      12 percent of Latinos 25 and older have college degree of a bachelor’s or higher

·      They experience poverty at a rate of 25 percent

·      Some 59 percent are uninsured

·      They have higher than average rates of HIV, obesity, and diabetes  

MALS Department Chair, Dr. Nicole Guidotti-Hernández stated, “The report revealed what we knew to be true anecdotally, but the actual numbers are far more sobering.”  

She added, “Nothing speaks to policy makers and the importance of what we do like the data we’ve produced.” 

Latinos in Texas and the nation are not a homogenous group. My own family includes a variety of political points of view ranging from Democrats and Republican moderates to Tea Party Members and Libertarians, who do not always vote a straight ticket and sometimes cast a ballot in support of their social rather than economic beliefs.   

Aspiring presidential candidates need to be prepared to do more than mutter a few phrases in Spanish in an attempt to appeal to Latino voters. They would do well to educate themselves about diverse Latino voters. 

The coming election may see the sleeping giant of Latino voters awaken, giving new meaning to the popular phrase, “as Texas goes, so goes the nation.” 

Perez is the director of the Center for Mexican American Studies at the University of Texas at Austin, and a public voices fellow with The OpEd Project. She is the author of There Was a Woman: La Llorona, From Folklore to Popular Culture, and an associate professor in English in the Department of Mexican American and Latina/o Studies at the University of Texas Austin. Follow her on Twitter @Domino_Perez