The Real Challenge for Greg Abbott and Texas GOP Begins Today

By Alex Gonzalez

Abbott - PatrickAfter Dan Patrick’s victory over David Dewhurst for Lt. Governor in Texas, about five people asked me the same question: now what?

For the past years, the Republican Party of Texas (RPT) and Attorney General Greg Abbott have been making public appearances claiming that the GOP needs to reach out to Latino voters to keep the Party leadership in the state. So all eyes will be on Greg Abbott come November.

As the Lt. Gov. race turned into a bareknuckle fight on immigration (“sealing the border with Mexico” and “invasion”), tarnishing the image of the Party with Latinos, Greg Abbott will have an opportunity to ward off this negative image by acting as a Republican leader, as previously done by Gov. Perry and Gov. W. Bush, and veer the Party back to its free trade conservative mantra.

Attorney General Greg Abbott has demonstrated a sincere interest in reaching out to Hispanic voters, while finding a balance between the tea party “hardline” and pragmatic “tone” on immigration. Furthermore, Mr. Abbott has made Education as one of his main campaign priorities, and that is worth noting as Education is an important issue for Latinos and the state of Texas in general.

In the past, Texas Republican governors like George W. Bush, and later Rick Perry, would travel to Mexico to seek building stronger conservative free trade partnerships, and cultural exchanges, between Texas and Mexico to accelerate the integration of Mexican-Americas into GOP. Latinos in Texas can be hopeful that Mr. Abbott will attempt to rekindle this conservative free trade mantra since almost 40% of Texas’ exports go to Mexico and 44% of all NAFTA comes through Texas generating millions of jobs for Texas. He is realistic on what makes up the robust economy in Texas, and that includes trade with countries south of the border. Recently, Mexico stated that they will be opening up its oil and natural gas and shale exploration to foreign firms, and potentially adding thousands of more Jobs for Texans. In addition, his platform, discussing his plan to implement $5 billion to improve roads in Texas and his plan to reform the education system in Texas.

But all these are Republican governing ideas that tea party groups in Texas reject, as it was the case with Proposition 6, which takes $2 billion from the state’s Rainy Day Fund for use in financing water projects around the state. Prop 6 was a bill that Republican legislators in Austin passed even though tea party groups, who see any type of investment in infrastructure and education as a waste, overwhelmingly opposed it. Moreover, Prop 6 was openly supported by Gov. Rick Perry and managed to pass with pass with 75% of the vote last November.

Moreover, “Abbott has claimed that he is aiming to win at least 40 percent of the Hispanic vote,” which is the needed number to keep Republicans in power in Texas. And this important because, Republican voter registration has been stagnant, and Republican voter turnout seems to be shrinking as well. For example, with only the “Non Suspense voters” who are able to vote, it appears that there was no increase of voter registration in 2 years (total non- suspense voters in 2012 was 11,786,980 and in 2014 was 11,789,120 but there has been lower Republican turnout from previous primaries in 2012 and 2010.

Voting age in TexasA 40 % of the Latino vote is the new blood and new voters that the GOP needs to compensate for the decline of a shrinking senior “Anglo” base vote due to demographics. Furthermore, in a state where the balance of power used to depend on 1 million votes to win in gubernatorial and presidential elections, Republicans cannot rely anymore on a shrinking senior vote without replenishing those votes with new Latino voters. Hence, the effort by Abbott to recapture the 40% of Latino vote is not only good strategy but it is also imperative if Republicans want to maintain power in Texas.

Therefore, Abbott has to concentrate in taming the tea party groups that are hostile to an immigration reform, the Latino vote, and investment in infrastructure, as well as funding for education.

But, it will also be the responsibility of Mr. Abbott to steer the direction of Party back to its core free trade and reform-minded conservatism promoting opportunity and economic growth with Mexico in the next four years, just in time, when Latinos are expected to reach voter “maturity” in the next two presidential cycles

Executives within the RPT may be pondering what to do separate the RPT message of inclusion from Dan Patrick’s’ “hot” rhetoric of the “invasion,” message that often is funded by “Beltway interest groups” so they can have leverage over tea party groups in Texas and talk radio hosts to pressure local legislators. And Greg Abbott also must be thinking how many points Dan Patrick will be dragging down his efforts to woo 40% percent of the Latino vote in Texas.

The question in the minds of many Republicans today is how many Latino voters in November will associate Greg Abbott with Dan Patrick, and therefore, vote for Leticia Van De Putte. One can almost sense that a vote for Patrick was actually meant to excite Latino voters to the other side and now Abbott must assure Latinos that he and the GOP are friends to Latinos to garner that 40% in November and for many elections to come.

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Alex Gonzalez  is a political Analyst and Political Director for Latinos Ready To Vote!  He received a Bachelors Degree and a Masters’ Degree, with emphasis in American politics,  from San Francisco State University.
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