TEXAS VIEW: GOP misread the Latino vote in South Texas

THE POINT: But there is a way the right can win a greater share of Hispanic votes.

The Texas GOP expected big wins with Latino voters in the midterm elections. Instead, they lost two out of three key congressional races in South Texas, where they invested heavily. So what happened?

The simple answer is that engaging voters is not an on/off switch. It takes time and hard work, and one election cycle is simply not enough. Making generic assumptions about the Latino vote in Texas didn’t help either.

Republicans got the messaging wrong, said Jason Villalba from the Texas Hispanic Policy Foundation. They thought that Trump populism would appeal to these voters and paid a price for it.

But it is worth highlighting that the Republican Party made its first serious outreach to Hispanic voters in Texas since the election of George W. Bush in the 2000s. Bush ran on a unifying message, in sharp contrast with Gov. Greg Abbott, whom many Latinos still find deeply divisive.

Abbott got 40% of the Latino vote, down from 42% four years ago, according to a CNN poll, despite betting big on this electorate.

Nationwide, Latino voters remained solidly Democratic, with 64% reporting that they voted for a Democratic House candidate, compared with 33% who voted for a Republican, according to the 2022 Midterm Election Voter Poll.

The GOP got their hopes up when Mayra Flores — a Donald Trump supporter — won a special election in June. But the devil is in the details: Flores was always an outlier, and Democrats waited to campaign seriously only for the November election where Rep. Vicente Gonzalez prevailed in the newly redesigned 34th District.

Then, longtime Democratic incumbent Henry Cuellar easily defeated newcomer Cassy Garcia in the 28th District. Cuellar, a centrist politician, told The Texas Tribune that he ran his campaign on two issues that align with Republicans: protecting the oil and gas industry and boosting law enforcement and border security.

Meanwhile, Republican Monica De La Cruz won the 15th Congressional District, beating Michelle Vallejo, a progressive Democrat, in a district redrawn to favor the GOP.

There is a different story playing out here. South Texas voters rejected extremism in favor of more moderate candidates. Cuellar and de la Cruz may play for different teams, but they are closer ideologically than their opponents would have been had they been elected.

This is the biggest lesson for both parties. Hispanic voters are not single-issue voters, and while most reject Trumpism, they are also wary of progressive identity ideology.

It is true that kitchen table issues play a major role, but so do social issues like gun control and immigration.

In the end, the GOP overestimated the rightward shift from the Hispanic electorate in South Texas. “The data never showed that,” Villalba said. “Data showed an opening for Republicans with kitchen table issues. It did not mean Hispanics were becoming Republicans, it meant they were interested in the messaging.”

However, the rightward shift, while narrow, is real, and both parties should pay closer attention to their messaging and their candidates.

South Texas voters showed they are pragmatic, and, therefore, an appeal to the center is the route to victory.

The Dallas Morning News