Urging Early Voting, Bentsen Casts Ballot

Times Staff Writer

Seeking to set an example for minority voters, Lloyd Bentsen strolled into the Starr County courthouse here Saturday morning and cast his ballot a week early.

“Don’t wait for Nov. 8,” Bentsen told an overwhelmingly Latino crowd in the town square here. “You don’t know what the weather’s going to be that day. You don’t know how things are going to be on the job. You don’t know how long the waiting line is going to be.

“Get all your friends, get all your neighbors out to vote, and let’s do it early,” he said.


The Spanish Touch

Bentsen switched frequently into smooth Spanish in the speech, urging the crowd to vote the straight Democratic ticket: “Una palanca a ganar.” The phrase referred to an election-booth lever that, in earlier times, enabled a one-tug vote for the party slate.

The appeal for early voters reflects a Democratic determination to boost turnout among minority voters, who have historically voted heavily for the Democrats. Bentsen has made a similar appeal to other minority audiences, urging them to vote absentee because “you never know what’s going to come up on Election Day.”

In Texas, where reforms last year allowed general election voting to begin Oct. 19, it is seen as a particularly attractive prospect. With three weeks instead of a single day to get out the vote in Latino and black communities, the Dukakis-Bentsen campaign hopes to gain an Election Day edge that officials say has not been reflected in published polls.

Already, the new Texas law has proved far more popular than predicted. In Starr County, where 96% of the voters are Latino, 600 out of a possible 16,000 votes have already been cast. In larger cities, such as Austin, the early-ballot turnout already has exceeded expectations, and there is still a week of early voting to go.

Hits GOP Commercials

In speeches to small crowds across South Texas, Bentsen also decried in both Spanish and English the tactics of the Republican Party, which has been running Spanish-language radio commercials in Brownsville, warning that “the election officials will be on guard” against illegal aliens who try to vote.

“They’re not going to scare us away from the polls in South Texas,” Bentsen said in Laredo. “We’re going to turn out and we’re going to vote, aren’t we?”

Saying that the Republicans were trying to “scare ‘em off,” Bentsen said: “They don’t know what the people of South Texas are made of.”

With Vice President George Bush scheduled to vote in Houston, where his legal residence is a rented hotel room, it was a day for Bentsen to mock the candidate who “claims he’s a Texan.”

Bush Target of Quip

“Bush is going to drop his ballot off with the concierge,” quipped Press Secretary Michael McCurry.

The Bentsen campaign on Saturday also released the text of a “televised address to the nation” that he will deliver tonight at 10:55 in a paid political advertisement on the ABC network. In the ad, Bentsen, wearing a V-necked sweater beneath his suit coat, seeks to “set the record straight” by defending the Democratic presidential nominee Michael S. Dukakis against Republican criticism on defense and other issues.

“I wouldn’t be on a ticket with a fella if he didn’t believe that America must be the strongest nation on Earth,” Bentsen says in the commercial.