“They have just forgotten about the brown people on the border,” says Rep. Vicente Gonzalez, and he should know. Thanks to redistricting, the House Democrat currently representing Texas’ 15th congressional district will have to run against newly elected Republican Mayra Flores in November. Gonzalez and the rest of House Democrats in South Texas now realize just how difficult it will be to keep their seats in the coming red wave, helped in no small part by Democratic indifference to the border crisis.
And as Politico reported last night, they’re furious with party leadership about it:
Less than 24 hours after the GOP flipped a congressional district in South Texas, several Latino Democrats cornered their campaign chief on the House floor with a fervent plea: It’s time for the party to make a crucial course correction.
Republicans blew up more than a century of almost uninterrupted Democratic control in that region Tuesday night, earning a special election win in a heavily Latino border district they had rarely even contested since its creation in 2012 — but where the GOP has made rapid gains in the last few years. …
But while the loss of this soon-to-disappear version of Texas’ 34th district is temporary, the trend it represents is growing more and more concerning for Democrats. The resounding win by Flores — a health practitioner and wife of a border patrol agent — marks the first flip of the midterm cycle for Republicans, and it also hands them a unique messenger as the GOP looks to capture more border and majority-Latino districts in November.
Republicans seized on the victory, declaring it a preview of Democratic losses to come in November — particularly in their one-time stronghold in South Texas. Not only did Flores handily defeat the Democrats’ candidate, Dan Sanchez, but she also showed how far the GOP has encroached on formerly blue territory in just a few years. In a handful of counties, Flores ran dozens of points ahead of Trump’s marks in his first bid for office in 2016. She even narrowly carried Cameron County, a longtime base of Democratic support.
Republicans across the state were jubilant: “South Texas has been a Democrat stronghold for over a century. To see South Texas move Republican is a seismic shift,” Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) said in a brief interview after Flores, whom he endorsed, won.
Gonzalez has plenty of reason to worry, too. TX-15 parallels TX-34 in more ways than just geography in the Rio Grande Valley. Its demographics are almost identical — 82% Hispanic, only 13% rural, and part of it also sits on the Mexican border at another border-crisis epicenter in McAllen. Despite never having elected a Republican to this seat in the 102-year history of TX-15, it actually voted more Republican than the national average in 2020’s House elections, and it’s only D+3 in the Cook index.
In other words, Gonzalez was already endangered in this cycle. Allowing Flores to win in the special election without a fight pits him against a charismatic young Latina with momentum already running in her direction after the stunning special-election victory on Tuesday. Small wonder he wanted to meet “one on one” with DCCC chair Sean Patrick Maloney to discuss what happened. (Maloney, of course, has his own problems these days.)
Gonzalez and other Hispanic House members from Texas — and other places, especially along the border — have good reasons to gripe, but those reasons aren’t limited to campaign finance. At least one of them, Henry Cuellar, has been sounding the alarm about the border crisis for the last seventeen months, to no avail. Cuellar warned that Joe Biden’s policies had led to disastrous results in South Texas for its residents, and that the political backlash would be potentially realigning in the RGV and elsewhere in Texas. Democrats rewarded Cuellar for his prophecy by running a progressive open-borders candidate in a primary against him, which Cuellar only barely survived — presumably. Jessica Cisneros wants a recount, which will tie up Cuellar even more for the next few weeks.
Cueller’s TX-28 district parallels Gonzalez’, by the way, which parallels Flores’. TX-28 is also D+5, 79% Hispanic, 17% rural, and also runs up against the border. Wanna bet that Cuellar’s fretting about how Flores will impact his race after having to spend most of his resources in fending off a fellow Democrat?
It’s not just the border crisis either, NRCC chair Tom Emmer argued, but the fact that Democrats aren’t talking about anything other than January 6:
“Our guys were talking about inflation and the economy and crime and the border. What were they talking about? Jan. 6,” said Rep. Tom Emmer (R-Minn.), who runs the House GOP’s campaign arm.
“The border’s a big deal, and they’re not doing anything about it,” the National Republican Congressional Committee chief said. “We are actually more in touch with the voters than our colleagues on the other side of the aisle.”
That’s not entirely fair. Democrats are also talking about “drag queens in every school,” too. Now that’s an issue that preoccupies voters in the RGV and in American households everywhere.
Democrats are turning themselves into the Weird Party, and even in good times that would be a strange choice. But with Joe Biden busily creating crises that he can’t handle and Democrats doing nothing but carrying his water, voters have some damned good reasons to toss Weird Party incumbents out on their ear, or another figurative body part. Republicans are far from perfect, but at least Republicans are talking about issues that matter outside the solons of Academia and progressive drum circles.