Texas Republicans

Republican Monica De La Cruz-Hernandez, running in the next general election for the 15th House congressional district, talks in her office in Alamo, Texas.

McALLEN, Texas — In Republicans’ bid to retake control of Congress, this traditionally Democratic stretch of South Texas has quietly become a top battleground.

After making unexpected gains last November, the GOP is zeroing in on a trio of House seats in the region as key targets heading into next year’s midterm elections. They include the 15th Congressional District, which hasn’t sent a Republican to Washington since its creation in 1903, but where a GOP newcomer came within three points of winning in 2020.

Republican leaders believe the party is on the precipice of a political realignment among Hispanic voters in communities along the US-Mexico border like McAllen. Inroads among Latinos could potentially offset the party’s growing vulnerabilities among voters, particularly in the suburbs. The elections next year will determine whether these shifts are enduring or a more limited response to the turbulent politics of the Trump era, as Democrats hope.

But with Congress having just a six-seat majority in the House, Democrats in Texas say the party has to take the threat seriously.

“I don’t think there’s any question that we need to be concerned about it and we need to put more resources into it,” said Gilberto Hinojosa, the chair of the Texas Democratic Party.

Republicans’ top target in the area is the 15th District. It currently stretches from the border’s Hidalgo County, which is more than 90% Hispanic, to the eastern suburbs of San Antonio. Voters here have never sent a Republican to Washington, which is why national party leaders were so stunned when Monica De La Cruz-Hernandez, a small business owner, came within 10,000 votes of beating Rep. Vicente Gonzalez, a two-term Democrat.

Sitting behind her office desk in Alamo earlier this month wearing cowboy boots and a campaign T-shirt, De La Cruz-Hernandez, who is running again, credited her performance to former President Donald Trump. She said his “colorful personality” had sparked new interest in national politics that changed many Texans’ minds about politics.

“When they paid attention to what was happening on the national stage, I think that the lights started to turn on for people where they saw, you know what? My conservative values no longer align with the Democrat Party,” she said. “The bottom line is that the Hispanic values are pro-God, pro-life and pro-country. And we are conservatives down here.”

Border security, she said, is “number one issue from the north side of the district to the south side of the district,” as border crossings have soared. And Republicans in the state have been laser-focused on the issue, with Trump staging a post-presidential visit to the border last month that drew hundreds of supporters.

Democratic state lawmakers have been focused on blocking a sweeping election overhaul bill and have been camped out in Washington — though some Democrats representing the Rio Grande Valley did not join them.

Nationally, the Pew Research Center estimates that about 38% of Hispanic voters supported Trump in 2020, compared with 28% in 2016. While Trump lost Hidalgo Country by 17 percentage points in 2020, he more than doubled his support from 2016, when he lost by a whopping 40 points, earning just 28% of the vote. And he flipped a handful of other nearby districts, including Zapata County, which Democrat Hillary Clinton had won 66%-33%, and Kenedy, which Clinton carried 53%-45%

Beyond those gains, Republicans point to other data points to support their optimism. Javier Villalobos in June was elected mayor of McAllen, becoming the first Republican to hold the post in decades. Texas’ redistricting process, which is controlled by state Republicans, could produce districts that are even more favorable to GOP candidates as the lines are redrawn to reflect the state’s gain of two congressional seats.

Villalobos, who joined Trump at his border briefing and was hailed as a “superstar” by other officials at the event, said he saw his election as part of a trend driven both by Trump as well as economic changes as more Hispanics have entered the middle class.

“Historically, it’s been Hispanic people are very conservative, but they vote traditionally Democrat. And little by little, even the older people are changing,” he said. “And that’s a beautiful thing. Competition is good.”

It’s unclear whether the gains Republicans made in 2020 will carry over when Trump isn’t on the ballot in 2022. Democrats insist their poor performance last year was a one-off and point to unique circumstances, including the party’s decision to largely forgo in-person campaigning during the pandemic. The McAllen mayor’s race, they also note, was nonpartisan, and turnout was less than 10,000 votes.

Gonzalez, the Democratic incumbent in the 15th District, insists he’s unfazed by the strong showing of De La Cruz-Hernandez. He described last year’s results as “an anomaly” driven by a pandemic that devastated the district, killing thousands of residents, including some of his personal friends, and dissuaded many elderly voters from casting their ballots.

He pointed to concrete gains made under the Biden administration that he will campaign on, including an economic recovery, mass vaccinations and relief dollars that helped keep small businesses open.

(1) comment


""concrete gains made under the Biden administration"" lol lol The economy was going to rebound, Biden deserves "no credit" for that one. Thank President Trump (Warp Speed) for the vaccines. And Relief dollars are a bribe paid to the people, for their vote (at the cost of businesses unable to find employees). The Dems are trying to create parasites that will always support the Hand-Out Queens.

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