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Candidates on the border


WORLD Radio - Candidates on the border

Five Congressional districts run along Texas’ border and four are currently held by Democrats

Political signs in Eagle Pass, Texas Photo by Bonnie Pritchett

MARY REICHARD, HOST: It’s Thursday, the 13th of October, 2022.

We’re so glad you’ve joined us for today’s edition of WORLD Radio. Good morning! I’m Mary Reichard.

PAUL BUTLER, HOST: And I’m Paul Butler. First up on The World and Everything in It: changing demographics.

The latest census shows Hispanics in Texas are now the state’s majority population. That demographic has historically voted Democratic. And the Democrat Party hopes that trend continues to help it take control of the Texas legislature and the U.S. Congress.

REICHARD: But, not so fast. Hispanics are flexing their political independence, particularly along the border with Mexico. Five Congressional districts run along it, and four are held by Democrats. Flipping just one of those districts in November could upset the balance of power in Congress.

Here’s WORLD Correspondent Bonnie Pritchett.

BONNIE PRITCHETT, REPORTER: Attorney Eddie Morales works in Eagle Pass, where he was born and raised. The city of about 30 thousand sits on the northern shore of the Rio Grande River where the cultures of Mexico and the United States meet.

MORALES: We have our own language here, which is Tex-Mex, everybody understands it, and you can go from going English to the next word being in Spanish and nobody bats an eye…

Morales also represents South Texas in the State Legislature. And, like his predecessors, he’s a Democrat.

MORALES: I represent the largest district in the state of Texas, I have over 750 border miles that we share with Mexico, I represent nine out of the 14 counties that share a border with Mexico. And my district district, District 74, is actually bigger than 15 US states…

An even bigger U.S. Congressional district consumes Morales’. It’s represented by retired Navy veteran Tony Gonzales, a Republican.

GONZALES: And then my district stretches from San Antonio to El Paso. It's larger than 25 states. It's takes me 10 hours to get from one end to the other; 42% of the southern border and it's a very diverse district, predominantly Hispanic.

With family roots originating in Mexico, Morales and Gonzales represent the mashups of cultures and politics along the Texas border. Both acknowledge that while the majority of Hispanics vote Democratic, their constituents are more conservative than Hispanics in other parts of the country, even parts of Texas.

MORALES: Being the fifth most conservative Democrat after my freshman year voting record, I think ensures again, that I'm playing the the moderate centrist - views that play well, in House District 74. You know, I'm, I'm more liberal personally, but I'm voting my district…

But that might not be enough. For example, U.S. Representative Henry Cuellar has been hawkish on the border. He was the lone House Democrat to vote against the pro-abortion Women’s Health Protection Act of 2022. Still, Cuellar barely survived a primary against a more progressive Democrat.

On November 8 he’ll face Republican new-comer Cassy Garcia.

Tony Gonzales said playing the moderate Democrat in socially conservative districts has its limits.

GONZALES: I think a lot of these members, whether they’re the state, the federal or local, it's getting harder and harder to buck your party. And it's getting harder and harder to take those votes that are in the best interest of your constituency…

Since 2016 the Republican Party has made inroads in South Texas. The 2020 election seemed to indicate the shift among Hispanics wasn’t an outlier.

Redistricting put at least one of the five Congressional districts on Texas’ border in play, according to Mark Jones. He is the chief information and analytics officer for the Texas Hispanic Policy Foundation at Rice University. He says as many as three seats could be competitive.

JONES: Without question, Republicans actually are the likely favorites in the 15th district, both because of the changing political demographics of the area, as well as a redistricting process that made the 15th District more Republican…

In June, Republican Mayra Flores won a special election for an unexpired term in the 34th Congressional district. Democrats have held that seat for 150 years. Flores even garnered the vote of new South Texas resident and first-time Republican voter, Elon Musk.

In November, she will face Democrat and three-term representative Vicente Gonzalez in the 34th District, which was redrawn to favor Democrats.

JONES: There the democratic advantage is even stronger. But Vicente Gonzalez has run a pretty poor campaign. He's going to be criticized just from the outset for essentially district shopping and that he was representing the 15th that he jumped over the 34th. He’s had some miscues…

Jones said in a normal election cycle, Republicans would have little chance of winning the 28th and 34th districts. But the Texas border has been far from normal the past two years. Jones refers to the “RGV”, that’s the Rio Grande Valley, the eastern tip of South Texas.

JONES: I think it's an anti-democratic wave. That's especially high down in South Texas, because it's an area where immigration and border security are paramount. If you live in the RGV, or in South Texas, it's a reality that affects your daily life. The Biden administration's purpose of indifference towards the border because it doesn't want to aid Republicans by providing any essentially amplification of discussions of the border. leads many people on the border feel that the Biden administration has abandoned them.

And guilt by association with the national Democratic Party could be a drag on even popular South Texas Democrats.

JONES: And that's what we're starting to see in South Texas in that many of those South Texas Latinos see too much space between their position on important policies, be it immigration, gun control, the oil and natural gas sector, and where national Democrats are. And so, Republicans can make the case that a vote for Vicente Gonzalez, or Michelle Vallejo or Henry Cuellar is a vote for Nancy Pelosi. And Nancy Pelosi is not at all popular in South Texas.

Reporting for WORLD, I’m Bonnie Pritchett in South Texas.

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.


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