With Election Day just over two weeks away, former President Donald Trump is looking to shore up GOP support in South Texas on Saturday as Republicans look to build on their 2020 gains with Latino voters as part of their bid to win control of the House.
Republicans are targeting three congressional seats in the Rio Grande Valley, a culturally conservative but historically Democratic region where GOP candidates have been making party gains with Latino voters in recent years.
If the GOP wins multiple South Texas House seats, it would boost the party’s hopes of winning a majority in that chamber on Nov. 8, while strengthening Republicans in several statewide races.
The GOP’s three Latino candidates have proven to be strong fundraisers who could become part of a new, more diverse generation of Republican leadership.
“I can’t wait to see what these three strong women do next. They’re going to make it really difficult for the Squad when they get to DC,” former South Carolina governor and Trump’s U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley said at a recent campaign rally in McAllen.
The regional outcome could also be a harbinger of other battleground states where Latino voters are a crucial part of the electorate – including Arizona and Nevada, both swing states in presidential elections, as well as other increasingly Democratic parts of Texas.
South Texas Democratic officials said this year’s race will be an important gauge of whether they can halt the slide they saw in 2020.
“We’re literally busting our butts trying to turn it around,” said Sylvia Bruni, the Laredo-based Webb County Democratic chair.
He said Democrats don’t often target voters there – people who have voted for party candidates in the past but also have a history of skipping elections – with door-knocking and phone-banking efforts. Bruni said he hopes the big outreach efforts will turn around his party’s discourse in an area that, before 2020, had been “very quiet” on political outreach and had lower turnout than the Texas average.
“The message is, for the love of God, you absolutely must vote this time,” Bruni said. “That will depend a lot on whether there are more decent and reasonable people. And for the life of me, I couldn’t tell you if there will be or not.’
However, they indicate that the energy is on the side of the Republicans.
GOP candidates upset Democratic rivals in key House races in the third quarter of 2022. Combined, Republicans raised $4.3 million from July to September, compared to $2.4 million for Democratic candidates.
All three raised more than $1 million, a sign of Republican donors’ excitement about the party’s prospects in one of the fastest-moving regions on the political map.
In the 15th District, Republican Monica De La Cruz raised just over $1 million and still had $772,000 in her campaign bank account at the end of the quarter — more than $867,000 and $301,000 raised by Democratic rival Michelle Vallejo.
After redistricting in the 34th District, the seat of a race between incumbents and incumbents, Republican Mayra Flores topped Democratic Rep. Vicente Gonzalez’s $497,000 in the $1.6 million she raised over the past three months, even though both ended the quarter. About $800,000 available.
And longtime Democratic 28th District Rep. Henry Cuellar’s $990,000 in third-quarter fundraising surpassed Republican challenger Cassy Garcia’s $1.7 million, though Cuellar ended the quarter with $836,000 to Garcia’s $384,000.
“Sometimes it’s time and environment. Sometimes it’s the quality of the candidates. Sometimes it’s money. But when you have all of those at the same time, it’s pretty powerful,” said Austin-based Republican strategist Matt Mackowiak. “And that’s what we’re seeing down there.”
In explaining South Texas’ shift toward Republicans in recent years, GOP strategists cite cultural and economic factors.
At the national level, the Supreme Court decision in Roe v. To roll back Wade’s support for national abortion rights appears to have emboldened Democratic voters. But the issue has played out differently in South Texas House races, where Democratic candidates haven’t focused on the issue the way their party rivals have in most other competitive races on the map.
“Among conservative Hispanic Catholics, this issue is cut differently. It can be really positive,” Mackowiak said.
Additionally, oil and natural gas production is a major economic driver in South Texas — an economic reality that undercuts the power of the green energy elements of the big spending initiatives Biden has signed into law.
“These are good, high-paying jobs, and South Texas is finally getting its share,” said Wayne Hamilton, a Texas Republican strategist and former Abbott campaign manager who now works on down-ballot races.
And given that these House districts are on the US-Mexico border, immigration and border security is also a key issue, and Trump’s tough policies appealed to broad swathes of voters.
“People try to make this immigration issue a race issue. It is not. Illegal immigrants are overrunning small towns, and the Hispanics who live in those towns are just as outraged as the whites,” Hamilton said.
“You go to bed at night, and in the morning, people camp in your yard. You can’t leave your shoes outside because they get stolen. You can’t leave your bikes outside because they get stolen,” he said. “This has angered people up and down the border, regardless of their ethnicity.”
Democrats argued that the political changes in South Texas are due in part to the area’s historically low turnout.
“It’s always a bit of a blank slate,” said James Aldrete, a Texas Democratic strategist who is working on the 34th District House race. “Each time it can be a different voter.”
They also point out that in a state that hasn’t elected a Democrat to statewide office since 1994, the party has failed to invest in infrastructure. In addition to O’Rourke’s 2018 Senate campaign and 2022 gubernatorial campaign, Texas Democrats have been starved of cash, and they need to expand. money they have in a state with several massive metropolitan areas.
“You’re looking at a battleground where the state’s democratic infrastructure has been on life support,” Aldret said of the Rio Grande Valley. “It’s a roll of the dice where you can change the dynamic with a little bit of effort.”
Trump is visiting Robstown, a suburb west of Corpus Christi (which lies north of the Rio Grande Valley) and outside two of his three battleground home districts.
Two Texas Republicans who have aligned themselves closely with Trump and are on the ballot this year: Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, facing a rematch against 2018 Democratic nominee Mike Collier, and Attorney General Ken Paxton, who is in a tight race. Democrat Rochelle Garza – both will speak at the rally. Gov. Greg Abbott, facing Democratic challenger Beto O’Rourke, said he will not attend because he will be in Florida on a previously planned fundraising trip.
It’s unclear whether the three Republicans in the House race will appear on Trump’s show Saturday. None were listed in the lecture schedule.
And South Texas Democrats said Trump’s visit, two days before early voting begins, may do more to energize liberal voters than sway moderates to the GOP.
“Trump coming in just highlights the contrast between what we stand for and what they stand for,” said Jared Hockema, the Democratic chairman of Cameron County, home to Brownsville and a major part of the 34th District. “They’re going to block everything and promise to do nothing, and that’s certainly not a solution to the challenge of inflation or the challenges that people face in their daily lives.”
However, the former president’s visit to South Texas underscores the region’s importance in this year’s midterms and beyond.
The 15th District, which stretches south from San Antonio’s eastern suburbs, has long been viewed by both parties as the most competitive House district in Texas. But Democrats there have complained in recent weeks that the national party and its House campaign arms have diverted resources, a sign that De La Cruz is favored next month.
The current incumbent of the 15th District, Gonzalez, is serving in the redrawn 34th District, left vacant when Democratic Rep. Filemon Vela resigned in the spring. Although President Joe Biden won the district that includes McAllen and Brownsville and stretches along the Gulf of Mexico in 2020 by 15 percentage points, Gonzalez faces a tough race against Republican Flores, who won Vela’s old seat in a special election. to replace him.
In the 28th District, which stretches from San Antonio east to Laredo to the south, Cuellar is a political establishment — the most conservative Democrat in the House against a progressive challenger who has now survived two hard-fought primaries.
In July, he cast the only Democratic vote against the Women’s Health Protection Act of 2022, which would have preserved abortion rights nationwide after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. After the decision against Wade.
But Garcia, his GOP opponent, has called Cuellar – who was first elected to the House in 2004 – corrupt after the FBI raided his home, part of an investigation in which Cuellar has denied any wrongdoing.
“He used us to enrich himself. Private jets, DC condoms, and hundreds of thousands of dollars in stipends for family,” says a narrator in a Garcia ad. “Cassy Garcia won’t trade stocks in Congress and she doesn’t want to get rich.”
Bruni, the Webb County Democratic chairman, admitted to phone banking that he encountered left-wing voters who oppose Cuellar.
“When that happens we remind them that the alternative is far, far worse,” he said. “We’re basically saying, this election is more important than 2020, maybe more so.”