Rightward shift in Rio Grande Valley raising alarm bells for Democrats

Journalist: “The Valley is very, very conservative. I mean, these are not centrist Democrats in the Valley.”

By Kristen CabreraMarch 19, 2024 1:26 pm,

In the Rio Grande Valley, many say the political winds are shifting. Others say the winds are as they’ve always been – more moderately Democrat.

Still, after exit polls showed a larger increase in votes for Trump in 2020 and the win of Monica De La Cruz in District 15 – the first Republican to win the seat in decades – it seems all eyes are to remain on the area ahead of the 2024 election.

Luisita Lopez Torregrosa has been following this story. She spoke with Texas Standard on her latest piece for The New Republic which dives into the Valley and both its political history and present tensions. Listen to the interview above or read the transcript below.

This transcript has been edited lightly for clarity:

Texas Standard: The biggest thing we’ve learned, and perhaps it’s a hard and late lesson for the Democratic Party, is that Latinos are not a monolith. Is it fair to say that immigration and border policies are a major issue among Latinos this election cycle?

Luisita Lopez Torregrosa: Yes it is.

What about in the border region there? How is this playing out in the RGV?

Not well. I think very much like many other parts of the of Texas, on the border, they feel that the government hasn’t done enough to protect the border – to keep unauthorized immigrants out. And they would like to have much tougher policies on the border, both for law enforcement and also the border wall.

Well, now, this is a rather provocative title for your piece in The New Republic. It’s a question “Is the Rio Grande Valley just lost now to Democrats?” What evidence would you put out there for that proposition?

Well, the main evidence I have, or heard, was my own conversations with Democrats. There was only one Republican officeholder I interviewed. But the rest were all Democrats.

And to, frankly, my slight surprise, with the exception of Congressman Vicente Gonzalez, the other ones were sounded far more what I would term Republican than Democrat, even to the point of praising Trump.

I mean, I noted that a lot was made, certainly in the national media, about former President Trump getting more votes than some had expected during the 2020 election season. Is it possible he’s going to win the Valley this go around?

Well, I’m not a poll taker. And I did not do a survey. So I would not, you know, begin to say one way or another.

But my impression – and I emphasize that, “impression” – from my conversations that were very much at length, I would not be surprised if the Rio Grande Valley goes Republican in 2024.

Well, what are you hearing from Democratic political officials at higher levels? Are they are they concerned that things are changing?

Yeah, I mean, Democrats are concerned. And that’s why, you know, Joe Biden was there in Cameron County in Brownsville about, what was it, two, three weeks ago? And all the Democrats that I’ve talked to are concerned. Yes, they are concerned.

And some, and I quoted them in the story, some say the Democrats have not done enough and the Republicans are coming into the Valley now with, as has been reported before and again reported by me, a lot of with money and organization. I am listening to this not from Republicans talking about themselves, but from Democrats talking about Republicans.

Well, you mentioned that President Biden’s been down there. What more would Democrats need to do if they want to secure the Valley as a stronghold?

They would almost have to change complete policies, tell you the truth.

The Valley is very, very conservative. I mean, these are not centrist Democrats in the Valley. These are extremely conservative Democrats in the Valley. And many of their views are very similar to what we know about the the Republican Party in Texas, which is, as you know, very conservative.

But how likely is that kind of change to happen?

Well, it’s changed all over Texas. So it’s not unlikely to happen for the Valley, too.

The Valley is one of the few regions in Texas that still votes Democrat. Maybe even the last one, I think. So it would not be surprising at all if it went to the Republican Party in 2024.

That doesn’t mean that the Republican Party will win everything, because they don’t have the candidates. They haven’t built up, as far as I can tell, a strong enough organization to field candidates for positions like state Legislature and the state House. I think that the Democrats will keep holding those positions.

But the the problem is that the Democrats there do not think like the Democrats elsewhere – even in Texas. Even in the cities of Texas which are Democratic.

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