Republicans make marginal gains in South Texas as Democratic power wanes

Although more competitive than any previous election cycle, the Rio Grande Valley midterm races re-elected many of its Democratic representatives.

Republican candidates from Texas’ Rio Grande Valley have perpetuated a national narrative that a “red wave” of GOP support will head to the polls on Nov. 8. Blaming rising inflation and increased migrant crossings on President Joe Biden’s policies, their positions were shown in a flurry of attack announcements on local news networks.

But it seems it was just that: a narrative, after the GOP successfully overthrew a single State House seat and a congressional district. Even in the state’s biggest race, Republican Gov. Greg Abbott did not carry any of the four Rio Grande Valley counties.

Mayra Flores, Cassy Garcia and Monica De La Cruz have become the face of the region’s Republican hopefuls, dubbing themselves the “triple threat.” All campaigned as anti-abortion candidates and border wall supporters against the Democratic Party establishment, portraying their opponents as corrupt or too radical for South Texas.

Of the three candidates, only De La Cruz, an Alamo-based insurance agent, was elected. She won in Texas’ 15th congressional district and is the first Republican to be elected to that seat. De La Cruz benefited from a redesigned borough that favored Republicans and would have won former President Donald Trump by 2.8 percentage points. Previously, the district favored President Joe Biden by 1.9 percentage points.

Flores, the incumbent in Texas’ 34th congressional district, lost to three-time congressman Vicente Gonzalez by 8 percentage points. Garcia, a former staffer of Sen. Ted Cruz, lost to nine-term congressman Henry Cuellar by 13 percentage points.

Of the three, Flores was the sole incumbent. She was elected in a special election after then-incumbent Filemon Vela left the seat to work with a Washington, DC lobbying firm. The election of Flores over moderate, pro-life Democrat Dan Sanchez signaled to the GOP a possible turnaround in the electorate in the RGV, after it had already invested heavily in De La Cruz’s race earlier this year.

But Flores’ margin of victory in June was narrow, securing just 50.9% of the vote.

The same is true for the GOP vote increase margins in the Rio Grande Valley this midterm, compared to the 2020 election. According to Secretary of State election data, the region does not has seen only small increases, if not decreases, in GOP turnout from 2020.

Like Abbott, none of the Republican candidates have carried a Rio Grande Valley county in their races.

GOP weighs wins amid losses in South Texas

The GOP’s heavy investment in the region, however, has not been without some gains in traditionally Democratic districts. While turnout may have been limited from 2020 to present, compared to the 2018 midterm elections, all four Rio Grande Valley counties have seen GOP voter turnout increase between 10 and 18 percentage points .

Republicans have had a few victories on the ballot, but not in many high-profile congressional races. Some of those wins came in districts that previously favored Democrats that were redrawn to lean Republicans. As reported by the McAllen Monitor, these redistricting efforts were paramount to the GOP’s successes in the Rio Grande Valley.

Cameron County GOP Chairman and Texas Republican Party State Committee Member Morgan Cisneros Graham was not surprised by the results, given the way the districts were drawn. De La Cruz and Flores’ campaigns also had more national and state investment, compared to local races.

Graham says the “red wave” narrative — a term she says she’s never been a fan of — has been helpful for the national and state GOP to raise funds. But hardly any of these investments have been made in local races.

“When people saw all that money being pumped into our area, it was only being pumped into two federal races,” Graham said.

She continued: “We haven’t seen that (investment) drop at all in those local offices. On top of that, because the focus is at the top of the ticket, it still hurts your ballot. ”

Democrats push back on notion of growing GOP power

In a year when Republicans were supposed to win across the country in a landslide, they could barely pull off that win here — they should probably pack up and get the hell out of our area.

As for local races in the Rio Grande Valley, most of the Democratic incumbents won re-election. Either way, the GOP’s gains in the RGV were for the state’s Democratic party.

In an internal note acquired by the Texas Tribune, the Texas Democratic Party blamed GOP dark money, gerrymandering, Senate Bill 1 voting restrictions, and lack of support from national Democratic organizations for the party “not to do not even bigger gains” during the election.

“Not only did their insidious crunch and pack strategy simply make several seats more Republican, but they also intentionally made ‘safe Democratic’ districts – the ones Republicans knew they could afford to lose – even bluer. “said Jamarr, executive director of the Texas Democratic Party. Brown said in the memo. “These less competitive races mean less money invested and less of an overall Democratic campaign — which, as we’ve seen, leads to lower awareness and participation at all levels.”

But the GOP’s gains in the region aren’t entirely unexpected. The Republican Party’s investment in the area, in the form of heavy campaign contributions, the opening of a “Hispanic Community Center”, and grassroots organizing directly engaged a base that felt ignored by the Democratic Party.

“These Democratic leaders who have been in power in the Valley for a long time, they traditionally haven’t worked very hard to expand the electorate,” Cecilia Ballí, a cultural anthropologist and journalist, told NPR. “So I don’t think it’s just the National Democratic Party that’s taken Latinos for granted: I think the local Democratic establishment has done the same. And so you have disgruntled voters who are willing to try something. different.”

Flores capitalized on that sentiment in his campaign, saying the Democratic Party had abandoned South Texas.

After the election, Texas Democratic Party Chairman Gilberto Hinojosa saw the GOP’s gains in the Rio Grande Valley as a “fluke,” calling De La Cruz’s election a sign the GOP is winning of the pitch “complete bullshit”.

“There was no red wave in South Texas,” Hinojosa said in a statement. “Republicans in Austin and DC should realize that if – even in a year when Republicans were supposed to win across the country in a landslide, they could barely pull off that victory here – they should probably pack their bags and get the hell out of our region.”

Hinojosa’s confidence comes as the Democrats managed to retain most of the Rio Grande Valley seats in the election. Yet in the heavily Latino Rio Grande Valley, Democrats have seen narrow wins — and narrow losses — that some say should give them pause.

It was more of a purple wave and there was progress.

“The thing we’re not going back on is this notion that the Democratic Party automatically has the support of Latino voters because they’re ethnically ‘other’ and because they’re working class,” said Balli.

Local GOP Chairman Morgan Cisneros Graham said the party is now looking to the 2024 primaries, focusing on local, court and school board elections in the Rio Grande Valley. Claiming the metric of what constitutes a “red wave” in Texas politics has never been defined, she says the GOP’s gains have been positive for the party.

“If someone is more fundamental racing oriented, which I tend to be, then the impression would be that there hasn’t been a red wave in the RGV,” Graham said. “But if you’re someone who looks more at hard-hitting, more legislative offices, some would say, well, it was more of a purple wave and there was progress.”

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