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Non-Hispanic whites may be minority in Texas before long

HOUSTON — After a decade of enormous growth, particularly among Hispanics, Texas may soon become, after California, the second big state in which non-Hispanic whites are no longer a majority.

And the demographic shift is raising an obvious, if contentious, question: Will Texas become more like California politically, too?

In the national political calculus, Texas is often a conservative counterweight to California, which is increasingly liberal.

But new census data show that the same demographic trends that have reshaped California, notably the influx of Hispanics, are happening in Texas, and faster than expected. To the surprise of some demographers, Hispanics have already become the largest ethnic or racial group in Texas' two biggest cities, Houston and Dallas.

The political impact could be significant, particularly as both parties are beginning what will probably be a protracted fight over legislative and congressional redistricting. Texas Democrats, in particular, are already planning to make Hispanics a centerpiece of their 2002 election strategy, including possibly running a Hispanic candidate for governor.

"The political ramifications are excellent for the Texas Democratic Party," said Molly Beth Malcolm, chairwoman of the state party. "Very definitely the trend is that Texas is becoming more diverse."

Texas Republicans do not dispute the growth of the Hispanic population, but they are quick to point out the other indisputable demographic trend, namely the dramatic growth in the largely Republican suburbs of Dallas, Austin and Houston.

Currently, Republicans dominate the Texas political landscape, holding all 29 statewide elected offices. Plus, they say, Democrats do not have a monopoly on Hispanic voters.

"The Democrats will claim Hispanics as their own even when the reality is that the growth of Hispanics within the Republican Party is significant," said Susan Weddington, chairwoman of the Texas Republican Party.