Generation gap among Dems puts Texas in play

In 1991, Sylvia Garcia joined a number of Hispanic elected officials in Arkansas, where she met a young governor named Bill Clinton, who was considering a White House bid, and his wife, Hillary.

"I remember meeting her then and thinking, 'Gosh, she's so brilliant, she should be running for president,' " Garcia said.

The same year that Garcia helped launch Bill Clinton's campaign for the presidency, Ana Hernandez was in the eighth grade.

Today, Garcia, 55, is a Harris County commissioner in Houston, and Hernandez, 27, is a state House member whose district overlaps the area Garcia represents. Garcia supports Hillary Rodham Clinton's presidential campaign; Hernandez picked Barack Obama for "his ability to engage young people."

The women represent two sides of a generation gap clouding Clinton's hopes for a momentum-changing victory in Texas, the biggest prize of the four presidential contests March 4.

On paper, Texas should be Clinton country. The New York senator and her husband have roots here dating back to Democrat George McGovern's presidential campaign in 1972, when they helped register Hispanic voters in the Rio Grande Valley. The Hispanic vote, which helped deliver California to Clinton on Feb. 5, accounts for as much as one-third of the electorate in Democratic primary elections here.

Texas is also the second-youngest state in the nation in terms of median age, largely because of the state's booming Hispanic population. Of the 3.6 million Hispanics eligible to vote in Texas, according to the Pew Hispanic Center, 31% are between the ages of 18 and 29.

Younger voters are a constituency that appears to be fueling what U.S. Rep. Gene Green of Houston, a Clinton backer, calls "the Obama phenomenon."

Recent polls show the Illinois senator within striking distance of Clinton in Texas, findings not disputed by Clinton loyalists here.

"I'm a Hillary supporter, but I'm just amazed by the support Obama has gotten," said Gordon Quan, a former Houston city councilman and a leader of the Asian community here. "Younger people are gravitating towards Obama. They're infatuated."

Even among women, perceptions of Clinton split along generational lines. "She's cold, and when she's not cold, she's being fake," said Tiffany Van Wagoner, 26, a Houston nurse. Older women, such as Garcia, who have shared some of the same glass-ceiling-shattering experiences as the New York senator tend to see her differently.

Garcia said Clinton reminds her of the piñatas — fanciful papier-mâché figures that enclose clay pots packed with sweets — of her South Texas childhood. "You can beat on her and beat on her, and she doesn't break, but inside she's full of candy. Tiene mucho corazon," the Harris County commissioner said, using Spanish to say Clinton "has a big heart."

Clinton has spent most of her time in the state campaigning in the heavily Hispanic counties that border Mexico, where she worked as a young McGovern volunteer. "The Valley is her base," said Garry Mauro, the chairman of Clinton's Texas campaign.

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