While there were many surprising outcomes in the 2020 election, one of the most notable was former President Donald Trump’s performance in districts along the Texas border with Mexico, where he far exceeded expectations and even nearly won in areas long deemed Democratic strongholds.
Now, House Republicans are aiming to recreate Trump’s unanticipated performance in South Texas and flip those heavily Hispanic and traditionally blue districts to red in the 2022 midterm elections, the Washington Examiner reports.
Specifically, the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) has targeted three Democratic-held Texas border districts — the 15th, 28th, and 34th — as being ripe for flipping, given how 2016 Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton won those seats by an average of 19.3% but President Joe Biden only won them by an average of 3.4%.
“National Democrats assumed Latino voters would just automatically show up to support their candidate. They continue to make these assumptions even with a crisis at the border that impacts these communities,” an unnamed GOP strategist in Texas told the Examiner. “Republicans in Texas have put resources into engaging voters in the (Rio Grande Valley) and all along the Texas border to bring them into the party, and the results show it.”
2020: “Catastrophic for Democrats”
In the immediate aftermath of the 2020 election, the local Rio Grande Guardian shared some of the initial analysis of then-President Trump’s better-than-predicted performance in the region, with one example being Starr County, which Clinton had won with a 60-point margin while Biden only won it by five percentage points, according to a New York Times report.
Around the same time, Cook Political Report elections analyst David Wasserman described Trump’s stunning gains among Hispanic voters, not just in South Texas but across the country, as being “catastrophic for Democrats.”
The Examiner noted that Democrats and media analysts have since developed excuses for what had occurred, suggesting that COVID-19 protocols had stymied “get out the vote” efforts among Democrats and that Trump’s gains were a one-off occurrence, spurred by his loyal supporters that otherwise wouldn’t turn out when he isn’t on the ballot.
While there may be an element of truth to those excuses, only time will tell, and the NRCC isn’t waiting around to find out, but instead has seized the momentum with a blitz of digital and radio advertising in the area to take shots at the Democratic incumbents and drive up support for Republicans.
Dems in trouble in South Texas
The Texas Tribune reported a month ago on the developing plan of the NRCC to directly target the three Democratic districts along the southern border in Texas, one of which was barely held, another of which is held by a moderate targeted for a primary challenge by progressives within his own party, and the third that will be vacant due to a retirement announcement.
The retiree is Rep. Filemon Vela (D-TX) in the 34th District, the moderate is Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-TX) in the 28th District — who barely survived a progressive leftist primary challenge last time — with Rep. Vicente Gonzalez (D-TX) in the 15th District, who the Tribune said only won his re-election by three points in 2020.
It should be noted that the GOP has a number of issues it can use to its advantage in those districts, such as the Biden administration’s mishandling of the border crisis, progressive attacks on law enforcement, unpopular gun control proposals, a job-killing assault on the oil and gas industry and small businesses, proposed tax increases, and other Democratic social policies that don’t play well in the largely rural and generally socially conservative-leaning communities.
Given the rather slim margin of control Democrats currently enjoy in the House, the GOP picking off those three seats in South Texas would go a long way toward the broader goal of retaking the House majority. Whether that will actually happen is anyone’s guess, but for the first time in a long time, these seats are finally in play.