Texas results suggest Hispanic GOP gains may endure after Trump
WASHINGTON (AP) — Only 46 residents of Starr County, Texas cast ballots in the state’s Republican primary two years ago. But last week, nearly 1,100 Republicans voted in the sparsely populated county that runs along the Mexican border.
A similar increase in Republican turnout unfolded in South Texas, a longtime Democratic stronghold dominated by Latino voters. In five counties bordering the United States and Mexico, nearly 30,000 people voted in the GOP primary, an increase of more than 25% in turnout from 2020.
The Texas primary, which ushered in the 2022 midterm elections, comes as an urgent warning to Democrats clinging to narrow majorities in Congress. The drift of Latino support toward Republicans that surfaced while former President Donald Trump was in office may prove to be a more enduring political trend that could force Democrats to reevaluate how they win elections.
The repercussions are felt far beyond Texas. In South Florida, where Democrats were caught off guard losing two House seats in 2020 that they reversed the previous cycle, some say the party needs to step up operations on the ground that have been largely suspended. during the pandemic. Perhaps more fundamentally, they say, Democrats need to do more to listen to the priorities of Latino voters and make less assumptions about their support.
“It plays into that elitist brand that the Democratic Party is trying so hard to undermine,” said Devon Murphy-Anderson, former chief financial officer for the Florida Democratic Party. “You can’t do that when you point at someone and say, ‘We know what’s best for you, and that’s our candidate. “”
Murphy-Anderson, is co-founder of Mi Vecino, an advocacy group for Florida Democrats that plans to spend at least $2.3 million over the medium term and register a minimum of 30,000 new voters in heavily populated areas. hispanics.
Overall, Latinos still support Democrats by wide margins. Biden carried them in 2020, from 59% to 38%, but that was 17 percentage points lower than Hillary Clinton’s margin in 2016, according to data from the Pew Research Center.
Kellyanne Conway, Trump’s adviser and his 2016 campaign manager, said she presented data on GOP inroads with Hispanic voters at the Republican National Committee retreat last weekend.
“The left just sees them as immigrant voters,” Conway said of Hispanic voters. By contrast, she said, Trump has helped Republicans win over Hispanics on issues such as job creation, education and traditional religious beliefs: “We have connected with them intellectually, economically and spiritually”.
Abel Prado, executive director of the advocacy group Cambio Texas Democrats in the Rio Grande Valley, acknowledged that Republicans have stepped up efforts to recruit candidates who may have contributed to small gains in primary turnout. But “when you look at the raw votes, we always vote them 3 to 1.”
Prado also said Republican efforts could backfire, ultimately energizing local Democrats.
“Hopefully the bad headlines encourage applicants to invest a lot more in the Rio Grande Valley,” he said. “Republicans are throwing money down the valley with no remorse. You don’t see the same from Democrats.
Mayra Flores, who won the Republican nomination for an open seat in Congress from South Texas last week, said former President Donald Trump “played a huge role” in energizing Latinos in part by calling the socialist democrats. Still, she said the party’s gains did not depend on its turnout in the polls – as last week’s turnout showed. She said she was in personal contact with voters.
“They finally see a Republican who looks like them, who has a similar history to them and shares their values,” said Flores, who was born in Mexico and immigrated to the United States at the age of 6, of the voters in his district, which includes the border town of Brownsville. “I think it’s very important.”
Improving Republican primary turnout in the GOP primaries could thwart decades of Democratic suggestions that Texas’ booming Hispanic population would eventually topple America’s largest Republican state. A thriving Hispanic community, after all, helped turn formerly GOP-friendly California into the nation’s largest blue state in the 1990s.
Flores voted for Barack Obama in 2008, but later became a Republican, after becoming more politically engaged and deciding the party better represented the traditional family and religious values of her community. She then worked as a Hispanic organizer for Trump’s 2020 campaign, trying to woo voters who had long voted Democrat more out of habit than political conviction.
“Unfortunately, most people didn’t know who they were voting for,” Flores said of the longtime South Texas Democrats she is now seeking to unseat in her own race.
Flores said the National Republican Campaign Committee pledged financial support despite her being an underdog in the general election. Democratic U.S. Representative Vicente Gonzalez changed districts and is now competing with Flores in November, and garnered more than 23,000 votes for the Democratic nomination, more than double Flores’ total.
Texas gained more residents than any state between 2010 and 2020, with Latinos driving the growth that swelled its population to 29.1 million. Trump won 35% of Hispanic votes nationwide in 2020, about as many as he won in Texas, according to AP VoteCast, a national survey of the electorate.
But VoteCast showed it made inroads with Latino voters in some states, including Florida (45%) and Nevada (42%). Florida also saw its Hispanic and overall population boom according to last year’s census, and Trump won the state twice as Republicans ousted Democratic US Representatives Donna Shalala and Debbie Mucarsel-Powell in Miami in 2020.
Juan-Carlos Planas, an election lawyer and former Republican representative from Florida state who is now a Democrat, said there was time before the state’s Aug. 23 primary for Democrats to catch up.
“Things might look bad today, but you never know what will happen next,” Planas said. “Do I think Democrats need to step up voter registration? Yes absolutely. Democrats need to step up their ground game.
Florida voters register by party, unlike Texas with an open primary. Last year, Florida’s registered Republicans outnumbered Democrats for the first time in modern history, and the GOP’s lead over active registered voters has widened in recent months. Trump has done well with Cuban-American voters in South Florida and significantly narrowed the Democrats’ lead in Miami-Dade County in 2020.
Republican Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, who is up for re-election this fall and is a potential 2024 presidential candidate, has held roundtables in support of last summer’s anti-government protests in communist Cuba. The Biden administration has also approached oil-rich Venezuela and its socialist President Nicolás Maduro after it canceled US oil imports from Russia – potentially alienating exiled Venezuelan-American voters in Florida who fled unrest there.
Dan Smith, a University of Florida political scientist who studies elections, said 2016 voters in heavily Cuban precincts did not strongly support Trump, but that changed in 2020.
“Certainly the Democrats have lost whatever advantage they once had,” Smith said, adding that GOP efforts to brand Democratic candidates as socialists were effective among Cuban and Venezuelan exiles.
Gomez Licon reported from Miami. Associated Press writer Hannah Fingerhut contributed to this report.
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