Healthcare, jobs, and the cost of living are the driving forces behind voter turnout in Texas. In the Rio Grande Valley, candidates have had to tread lightly to retain voters typically considered guaranteed party-line voters. The valley sprawls across four counties with a primarily Latino population of more than one million and about 700,000 registered voters.
Poverty rates in the valley are more than double the national average, and the uninsured rate is around three times the national average. People earn between $14,000 to $18,000 per year, far less than the $35,000 made by Americans in other parts of the country.
Keeping voter loyalty is critical if Democrats hope to win a statewide election in Texas for the first time since 1994. Many candidates in the valley run as Democrats. However, Republicans have made significant gains among Latinos in recent years by focusing on a message of prices and jobs.
According to Colin Strother, Democratic strategist, “Democrats, and even some of the Democrats and other parts of Texas like Houston, Dallas, Austin, they think because the majority of south Texas and valley residents are Hispanic, that that means they’re liberals or progressives, and they’re not.”
Strother says people tend to vote blue in the valley because “they [want] to be able to have a say in their local elections,” where candidates tend to run as Democrats. “They are not liberals. They’re not progressives. And that’s the big disconnect in our party. And, you know, the state party — and Texas — has ignored that region for decades.”
Redistricting sets up a rare race
Republican newcomer Mayra Flores won a special election over the summer to fill the seat of former Representative Filemon Vela, who stepped down from an unexpired term representing the state’s 34th district. Now, Flores is facing a fellow incumbent who has been moved out of his seat due to the redrawn lines.
“There are no loyalties here,” said Flores of her district. “Our loyalties in south Texas are with God; it’s with our families, it’s with our communities, not with the political party.” Flores was a novelty to voters during her campaign as a Latina Republican and immigrant born in Mexico.
“I think they were going to be competitive either way because of the shift that you’re seeing in that region,” said Republican strategist Matt Mackowiak. “I think they were going to be competitive either way because of the shift that you’re seeing in that region. But, I do think that Mayra’s victory created belief, you know, to a greater extent than probably people felt before.”
As a result of redistricting, some districts considered safe wins for Democrats are now toss-ups.
“We need Hispanics on both sides,” Flores said, referring to political parties. “We need equal representation. Nothing will pass [Congress] if you don’t have a voice on both sides.”