No ‘red wave,’ but are Republican plans in South Texas a wash?

Of the three congressional district races at the center of GOP efforts in the longtime Democratic stronghold, only one saw the party come out on top.

By Kristen CabreraNovember 9, 2022 2:45 pm,

Republicans looking for a “red wave” in South Texas had to water down those hopes a bit as results came in on Election Day.

Of the three congressional district races that gained national attention throughout the election season – District 15, District 28, and District 34 – only District 15 saw the Republican come out on top when Monica De La Cruz defeated Democrat Michelle Vallejo.

Alvaro Corral, assistant professor of political science at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, joined the Texas Standard to discuss the outcomes and the future of GOP inroads into the longtime Democrat stronghold of South Texas. Listen to the story above or read the transcript below.

This transcript has been edited lightly for clarity:

Texas Standard: Let’s begin with the Republican win in District 15. Monica De La Cruz won with 53.3% of the vote; Democrat Michelle Vallejo has conceded. You know, this is an area where moderate candidates do well, but both of these candidates, I think it’s probably fair to say, are considered far from center. Was it surprising to see the results play out the way they did?

Alvaro Corral: Not too too much. I think that, kind of considering all three races together as they were kind of grouped as we were moving forward to election night, I think that Congressional District 15 really was the one that was probably looking the best poised for Republicans. And again, you know, given the gerrymandering process that occurred in the last legislative session, I think the latest vote totals I saw were about 53% for Monica De La Cruz, and it went about that exact margin for Donald Trump. So it’s kind of right on the money.

You anticipated what I was going to ask about the role of redistricting. And clearly you believe that that was key here?

I think so, yeah. It’s the case that, you know, at this point now it’s looking kind of difficult for any Democrat, regardless of their position, to kind of make a move here at the margins. But then again, it’s also the case that, you know, Monica De La Cruz came up just three percentage points shy in 2020 before this race. So there is something going on in terms of a kind of change afoot. So she just kind of got that little boost just over the edge there with the redistricting process.

» TEXAS ELECTION 2022: See election results for statewide and congressional races

Let’s turn to the race for the 34th District: Democrat Vicente González defeated Republican Mayra Flores. But even before the race was called – and this was kind of interesting – Congresswoman Flores acknowledged the red wave didn’t happen and blamed Republicans for not turning out to cast ballots. How do you think low turnout, in fact, cost Republicans when it comes to that red wave? 

Perhaps, although I actually was kind of looking at it from a slightly other direction. My sense is that, you know, by and large, González kind of squeaked by, right? I mean, he got 53 percentage points, and I was doing a little bit of comparison this morning: that’s 10 to 11 percentage points beneath in Cameron County, at least compared to the previous incumbent there, Filemon Vela. And actually Flores in Cameron County, just talking about Cameron County, you know, she attained the same absolute number of votes that the Republican attained in the 2020 presidential election that had higher turnout. So I think all things considered, you know, she did okay. I mean, it’s probably something that she can build on or at least the Republican Party can build on in that district moving forward.

I was going to ask about that, because she did win the special election earlier this year, and some people are saying that she could be important to the GOP – I don’t believe they’re going to give up on trying to make inroads with the Hispanic vote, certainly in South Texas. Is that your take? 

Oh, no, absolutely not. I think that, winning one of the three races that they can build on, it gives them some sort of momentum narrative and, moving forward, just trying to build on that with increased investment is probably the recruitment for candidates.

Well, they didn’t get much hope out of District 28, which encompasses Laredo and parts of San Antonio. Democratic Congressman Henry Cuellar took the win with 56.6% of the vote; Republican Cassy Garcia had 43.4%. What accounts for that larger margin?  

I think it’s really just the incumbency advantage there, right? I mean, I think Henry Cuellar has really tried to increase his kind of moderate, perhaps even conservative, bona fides in the last couple of congressional sessions in terms of his voting record. And, you know, he got a lot of support from the National Democratic Party. We had, you know, the big, big, big names stopping by, especially for around his district, including ex-president Bill Clinton. Clinton’s, of course, very, very big around here in the Rio Grande Valley and South Texas in general. So I think he really got that kind of push and support from the party in the way that perhaps someone like Michelle Vallejo didn’t.

Both parties are trying to spin this as victories from their respective spheres, obviously. But I’m curious, is it your sense that Republicans somehow failed in their push, or is it more that Democrats succeeded in getting their message out and appealing to the vote that permitted them to retain those districts that Republicans were so sure they’d be able to flip?

Well, I think that politics – especially at the local level where we’re talking shifts in county by county, which is how these these these votes accumulate – it’s a much slower process than the Republican Party probably hoped for. I mean, I think they read a lot into a couple of results in the border counties in 2016 and especially 2020 and perhaps maybe got a little bit ahead of themselves. But I think that nonetheless, there are a couple of shifts at the margin where we are seeing Republicans performing a little bit better throughout the region. Obviously not enough to, you know, win races across the board, right? But again, I think that’s indicative of something that can they can choose to build on if they want to invest more.

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