Why Democrats Lost So Many South Texas Latinos—the Economy

Party messaging didn’t resonate in socially conservative border communities fearful of Covid-19 shutdowns and the loss of well-paid oil-industry jobs.

by Elizabeth Findell, WSJ

Elizabeth Lazo, a longtime Democrat who voted for President Trump, Rio Grande City, Texas.

For decades, no Democratic presidential candidate had won Starr County with less than a 48-point margin. Local lore is that the last Republican who came close to winning a partisan race was a sheriff’s candidate gunned down in a saloon in 1907.

But final week, 8,224 Starr County residents voted for President Trump in a crimson wave that moved the South Texas county from Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton’s 60-point margin in 2016 to a 5-point win for Joe Biden, the most important swing to Mr. Trump of any county within the U.S. In close by Zapata County, Mrs. Clinton gained by 33 factors in 2016. This 12 months, Mr. Trump took it by 6 factors.

Although Mr. Biden prevailed, the falloff of help in a traditionally loyal however socially conservative area alerts hassle for a Democratic Social gathering in search of to carry collectively a broad voter constituency. Many counties on this stretch of South Texas are greater than 90% Hispanic and historically the state’s bluest—unlike Florida, where there are many more Republican-leaning Latinos. It’s a place that Democrats counted on, and, based on residents right here, didn’t perceive sufficient to see what was coming.

Gilberto Hinojosa, chairman of the Texas Democratic Social gathering and resident of the Rio Grande Valley, stated the group was making an attempt to determine precisely what occurred. What appears probably, he stated, was that Democrats didn’t counter Republican messaging on three points vital to Latino voters: pandemic shutdowns, oil jobs and abortion.

Other than Mexican heritage and Spanish surnames, a lot of the Rio Grande Valley has extra demographic similarities with some Trump strongholds in white rural communities than the nation’s city areas. Many South Texans dwell in communities with lower-income and lower-education charges. In Starr County, simply over half of its 65,600 residents graduated highschool, and the unemployment charge of 18.5% is the very best in Texas. The area is ethnically homogenous, rural in elements, deeply spiritual, intensely patriotic, socially conservative and hurting economically.

“There’s a whole lot of parallels between a neighborhood that’s 96% Hispanic and a neighborhood that’s 96% white,” stated Freddy Guerra, a former mayor of close by Roma. “Racism is just not one thing that individuals cope with in Starr County as a result of everyone’s brown. Local weather change isn’t one thing they really feel. They like bread on the desk.”

Weeks earlier than Election Day, the Lazo household added a line of pocket knives with the face of President Trump to the show case of their mattress retailer a half-mile north of the U.S.-Mexico border. All of them solid votes for Mr. Trump. On the remainder of the poll, they supported Democrats.

Like different small-business house owners, the Lazos have been hit onerous by the Covid-19 recession. Elizabeth Lazo stated she supported Mr. Trump as a result of she believed he would higher assist small companies like their household owned mattress and clothes shops, along with retaining their clients afloat. They frightened Mr. Biden would harm the oil trade.

“For our neighborhood, all the nice work is within the oil strains,” Mrs. Lazo, who doesn’t converse English, stated in Spanish. “There are not any factories right here. No work. The largest factor is Walmart. ” Employees who journey to grease fields across the state make $30 to $40 an hour, excessive pay in a county the place the common per capita annual revenue is simply over $14,000.

This 12 months’s Black Lives Matter protests and calls to scale back police funding didn’t resonate for a lot of. Legislation enforcement supplies a number of the highest-paying native jobs, together with police and sheriff’s departments, Border Patrol and different federal and state companies.

Polling earlier than the election by Latino Selections, a nationwide political opinion analysis agency, confirmed that the dealing with of Covid-19 was a very powerful political situation to Latinos throughout all demographics, and ballot respondents believed Mr. Trump had bungled it. But, Mr. Trump remained widespread in Starr and neighboring counties, which have seen among the country’s highest death rates from the virus. “We’re going to need to do some deep-dive there, however there are some mysteries, for positive,” stated Latino Selections co-founder Gary Segura .

Some voters stated they’d adored President Obama however didn’t know a lot about Mr. Biden. For higher or worse, these voters stated, they felt they knew Mr. Trump. Others stated they appreciated getting a pandemic stimulus examine bearing Mr. Trump’s signature, which confirmed he cared about them.

The president’s border wall growth is deeply unpopular within the area, however some native Trump supporters stated it didn’t matter as a lot as different points as a result of he had only small success adding sections in South Texas. Mrs. Lazo shrugged off Mr. Trump’s often-derogatory feedback about Mexicans and his hard-line border insurance policies. “I’m Hispanic,” she stated, “however I’m American.”

At an grownup day care in downtown Rio Grande Metropolis, the aged and disabled shoppers chanted “Biden!” on a current afternoon as they performed video games of lotería, much like bingo, and waited for the race to be referred to as. Many stated they’d voted Democrat all their lives. The 31-year-old occasions coordinator working the sport, Andrew Balderas, had voted for Mr. Trump.

Mr. Balderas stated his vote for the president was based mostly on economics. Underneath President Obama, he stated, fuel costs “have been like $four and now it’s like $2.”

Throughout city, exterior a tan home the place a dozen Chihuahuas ran about, Pat Saenz, 57, stated he had voted Democratic all his life, identical to three generations of his household earlier than him. “It went down the road, like being Catholic,” his father, Patricio Saenz, 82, stated. However the youthful Mr. Saenz stated he favored that Mr. Trump was a businessman and spoke up for Christianity. So, in 2016, he solid his first vote for a Republican.

After Mr. Trump was elected, Mr. Saenz began Facebook pages spreading pro-Trump messaging to his pals. He helped arrange a Rio Grande Valley “Trump Prepare” of automobiles, and papered a downtown boulevard in Trump indicators. He recruited relations. His aged dad and mom stated they have been persuaded to vote for Mr. Trump when Mr. Saenz confirmed them movies of social justice protests in northern cities turning violent.

His spouse, Elia Saenz, has lengthy labored as a politiquera, the native time period for marketing campaign staff who drive voters to the polls on behalf of native candidates. These drivers maintain sway over many Rio Grande Valley residents, giving steerage on whom to help. Mrs. Saenz stated she had by no means paid a lot consideration to nationwide politics. She voted for Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Obama, however wasn’t acquainted in any respect with Mr. Biden. She determined for vote for Mr. Trump, she stated, after her husband defined that the president opposed abortion and Mr. Biden didn’t.

Throughout three weeks of early voting in Texas, Mrs. Saenz drove some 350 folks to the polls on behalf of college board candidates. Whereas she had them in her automobile, she additionally talked about supporting Mr. Trump. Mr. Saenz is aware of no less than two different Trump-supporting native politiqueras as effectively, he stated, each wives of oil staff.

Different locals stated they noticed help for the Republican Social gathering rising previously 12 months. Mr. Guerra, the previous Roma mayor, began to see pro-Trump posts on his Fb feed. Essentially the most fierce, he stated, have been from the wives and girlfriends of Border Patrol brokers. After the stimulus checks, he began to see memes of Latinos holding out their arms to “Papa Trump” for cash. “If we converse within the language of memes,” he stated, “there have been a whole lot of Trump as this fatherly determine who was going that will help you.”

One publish that went viral in his Fb circle, Mr. Guerra stated, claimed that greater taxes on rich Individuals would drive up grocery costs as a result of the wealthy would elevate the prices of meals.

Eric Seale, 31, a tattooed oil discipline welder, stated he supported Mr. Trump as a result of the president strongly backed gun possession rights. Cornelio Garza, 62, a cowboy boot-wearing live performance promoter who had proudly supported Mr. Obama, stated Mr. Trump was a pal to Latinos for pointing the nation in the precise course. He stated he frightened Kamala Harris wasn’t suited to be president if something have been to occur to Mr. Biden.

Mr. Garza and Pat Saenz argue over that with Elia Saenz, who needs to see a girl as president. They agreed on one factor: that poll counters within the final states to be referred to as have been making an attempt to steal the election from Mr. Trump. The president has made that declare however hasn’t offered proof of widespread fraud.

Native Republicans now see an opportunity to hold the momentum into native races. “I’ve had a whole lot of of us contact me and say we have to reorganize for 2022 and have some native candidates on the ticket,” stated Starr County Republican Chairman Ross Barrera . “We haven’t had a Republican on the poll since 1906.”

Whether or not the shift to the precise in South Texas will final isn’t in any respect clear. However it served as a wake-up name to Democrats, occasion officers stated. Amanda Salas, an area Democratic organizer, bemoaned the dearth of outreach and assets from state and nationwide Democratic teams, which she stated wrote off the area: “What did we anticipate was going to occur?”

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