By Terry Wade
HOUSTON (Reuters) - Taco trucks in Houston have begun doubling as voter registration sites as Latinos in Texas flex their political muscle before the Nov. 8 presidential election in a state that has long symbolized Mexican immigration to the United States.
Riffing on widely ridiculed comments by Marco Gutierrez, a supporter of Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, that without action on immigration reform, "you're going to have taco trucks on every corner," the non-partisan civic group Mi Familia Mi Voto is driving the effort to reach first-time voters.
"We Latinos have been the group with the most growth in Texas, but this hasn't translated into the political sphere," said Houston coordinator Carlos Zamora. "We want to build political capital."
Although Texas is a Republican stronghold, demographics in the Lone Star State are seen shifting in favor of Democrats with the steady increase in Hispanic voters, who have historically favored the party. In the 2012 election, Latinos nationally voted for Democratic President Barack Obama over Republican Mitt Romney by 71 percent to 27 percent, according to exit polls.
The Pew Research Center estimated this year that 39 percent of Texans were Hispanic and that about 4.8 million Latinos were eligible to vote in the state.
Historically, there has been a voter registration gap. In 2012, about 2.6 million Latinos were registered to vote in Texas, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
In 2012, Romney beat Obama in Texas by about 16 points. In this year's campaign, Trump, whose hardline approach to illegal immigration has alarmed many Hispanics, leads Democrat Hillary Clinton in the state by about 8 points, according to fivethirtyeight.com's average of polls.
Mi Familia Mi Voto did not say how many people it hoped to register in Texas. It said that in the first few days of the campaign, it often had to restock registration brochures at the trucks.
At Tacos Tierra Caliente, one of eight taco trucks participating in the registration drive in Houston, posters urging customers to vote hung next to the menu of meat stuffings painted on the side of the truck advertising barbacoa, lengua and pollo.
At the metal counter where they pay, customers can fill out voter registration cards that require no postage when mailed. The group plans to expand its campaign to other taco trucks across the country's fourth most populous city.
(Reporting by Terry Wade; Editing by Peter Cooney)