Republicans Retain Texas but Lose Latino Support in Election Setback

The result was a disappointment for a party that was seeking to build on its achievement in bringing more Hispanics into the fold over the past few years

Areas along the border have seen a shift towards more conservative candidates and politics since the 2016 election.
By Catarina Saraiva and Shelly Hagan
November 11, 2022 | 10:05 AM

Bloomberg — Texas Republicans’ success in winning over Latinos seemed to stall this election cycle, with the GOP losing two of three US Congressional seats in heavily-Hispanic South Texas and Governor Greg Abbott seeing a drop in support among the fast-growing demographic.

While the party continues to dominate Texas politics -- winning all seven statewide contests by wide margins -- Abbott got just 40% of Latino votes, down from 42% four years ago and compared with two-thirds support among Whites, according to a CNN exit poll. In US Congressional races in the Rio Grande Valley and South Texas, Democrats Vicente Gonzalez and Henry Cuellar won their races handily, with Monica de la Cruz the region’s only Republican victor.

The result was a disappointment for a party that was seeking to build on its achievement in bringing more Hispanics into the fold over the past few years, helped by former President Donald Trump’s popularity and an effort to build a ground game along the Mexican border, an area that for decades had been dominated by Democrats. Non-Hispanic Whites lost their status as the biggest demographic group in Texas for the first time last year, according to Census Bureau data, underscoring how important it is for the GOP to broaden its base.

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But the results also show that even if Democrats were able to maintain robust Latino support, the party has a long way to go to become competitive. Republicans won most of the statewide races by at least 10 percentage points, trouncing hopes that a couple of the contests would be competitive.

“The Latino vote is the future of Texas,” said Mark Jones, a political science professor at Rice University in Houston. “It underscores for Republicans how crucial it is to maintain good support within the Latino community.”

The results in Texas contrasted with Florida, where Hispanics continued on the rightward trend seen in recent years, supporting Governor Ron DeSantis in his re-election effort. The Sunshine State has received an influx of conservative immigrants from countries like Venezuela and Cuba, many of whom see the Democrats as the party of socialism.

In Texas, a state that was once part of Mexico, Latinos now account for 40% of the population, the largest demographic group. The counties that dot the 1,254-mile (2,000-kilometer) border with Mexico are heavily Latino and are often used as a bellwether for sentiment among Hispanic voters across the state.

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That’s where Republicans have concentrated their efforts to win support, and that’s where they came up short. Of the eight Texas counties that are at least 90% Hispanic, Abbott won just one -- Zapata, taking 53% of the vote.

In South Texas, the GOP had hoped to win seats in the 28th District, where the embattled Cuellar faced a former aide to Senator Ted Cruz, and in the 34th, where Republican Mayra Flores had won a special election earlier in the year. Instead, Flores lost by 8 percentage points and Cuellar won his race by 13 percentage points.

Republican de la Cruz raised more than twice as much money as her Democratic opponent in the 15th District, which was redrawn last year to cut out the more left-leaning areas. The Republican also benefited from outside spending by big national groups, while the Democratic candidate lacked support from similar organizations.

“Republican efforts here in the Valley paid off,” said Natasha Altema, a political science professor at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley.

The region has been the focus of intense national attention over the past two years as a record breaking influx of migrants at the border sometimes overwhelmed local resources. Long-time residents were turned off by high-speed chases of cars driven by smugglers, vandalism at remote ranches and the frequent discovery of migrants’ bodies in the shrubby fields that surround the area’s towns.

State and national Republicans dubbed the situation a crisis and sought to whip up a frenzy of anger among immigration opponents who demanded increased border security. Democrats, constrained on the left by a base that staunchly opposes what they view as heartless Trump-era policy, largely avoided the issue and denied there were widespread problems, dispatching Vice President Kamala Harris just once since she was appointed border czar last year.

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“Sometimes it’s unbelievable for me to comprehend why we wouldn’t do that at the federal level,” said Eddie Morales, a Democratic state representative from the border city of Eagle Pass. “Just go to the damn border.”

While that absenteeism, and Congress’s inaction, spurred frustration among locals, the impact at the ballot box was mixed. Abbott picked up votes in Starr County, compared to his performance four years ago, but received less support than Trump did in 2020.

Republicans did get some encouraging news tied to the state’s demographics. Texas has seen a surge in population over the past decade, driven by corporate relocations and a booming tech industry, and Democrats had speculated newcomers from California, New York and Illinois in particular would be left leaning.

But the folks moving to Texas have so far leaned Republican, according to exit poll data. Some 55% of voters not born in Texas supported Abbott, not much different from his 56% support from native Texans.

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For now, the 2022 midterms mostly seemed to back the status quo. Republicans retained their dominance, keeping control of the governor’s mansion as well as both state houses. While they didn’t make huge inroads among Hispanics, they also didn’t seem to suffer from an increase in liberal newcomers to the state.

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“Democrats who said they were going to get closer and pick off one of the statewide races --obviously that was way overstated,” said James Henson, the director of the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas. “But for their part, Republicans who were predicting a takeover in South Texas were also wrong.”

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