WASHINGTON – Texas Rep. Henry Bonilla (search) has helped President Bush appeal to Hispanic voters around the nation, but back home, the party helped Bonilla's re-election chances by removing thousands of Hispanics from his district.
Master of ceremonies at the Republican convention on Thursday night, Bonilla is the first and only Hispanic Republican congressman elected from Texas. He was on the Republican team sent to Boston to counter Democrats' claims during their convention.
Bonilla is a symbol of Republican progress in attracting Hispanics. But he also demonstrates challenges the GOP faces in capturing Hispanic votes.
Against a Democratic Hispanic challenger in 2002, he won re-election with 52 percent of the vote, in a district where 55.3 percent of voters had Spanish surnames.
And he captured just 8 percent of the Hispanic vote, said Allan Lichtman, an American University history professor and redistricting expert.
The following year, Republicans redrew Texas' congressional districts and court records show one goal was to help Bonilla. This election, only 44 percent of registered voters in Bonilla's district have Spanish surnames, according to the Texas Legislative Council (search).
"There is huge irony there. The man has the support of fewer than 10 percent of Hispanics in his district. Isn't that the ultimate irony to put him on stage as a representative of Hispanics?" Lichtman said.
Bonilla spoke to Texas convention delegates at a Wednesday breakfast.
"There's a huge myth that exists out there for people of color that your skin color dictates your political ideas, and the darker your skin the more to the left you automatically are. And that is the biggest insult anyone can make," Bonilla said to rousing applause from the room of predominantly white delegates.