South Texas sunset | WORLD

South Texas sunset | WORLD

PAUL BUTLER, HOST: It’s Thursday the 5th of August, 2021.

Glad to have you along for today’s edition of The World and Everything in It. Good morning, I’m Paul Butler.

MARY REICHARD, HOST: And I’m Mary Reichard.

First up: changing the minds of Democrats.

In the U.S. House of Representatives, Democrats have a
slim, six-vote majority. It wouldn’t take much of a shift in party
loyalty in the upcoming midterm elections to tilt the balance of power
to the Republicans.

BUTLER: Hispanics in South Texas point to the 2020 general election
results as evidence that deep blue areas can flip. But was that part of a
trend or a one-off? WORLD correspondent Bonnie Pritchett reports.

FEMALE REPORTER: In Texas there is
still a Republican governor, a Republican Senate and a Republican House.
The state did not flip for former vice president Joe Biden.

REPORTER, BONNIE PRITCHETT: It came as little surprise that
Donald Trump won Texas in the 2020 Presidential election. He did so
without the support of the consistently blue urban areas and the more
sparsely populated counties lining the state’s southern border.

Photo courtesy of Jennifer Thatcher
Organizers of a Trump Trail rally in Zapata County, TX expected only a few participants. Over 100 vehicles showed up for the rally leading up the Nov. 2020 election.

But what did surprise Republicans—and concern some Democrats—was the margin by which Trump lost in those border districts.

Granted, losing is losing. But conservative
Hispanic voters in the region see decreasing margins of Democrat
victories in some counties as a trend, not a fluke.

that it’s, it’s been going on for years already. That, you
know, the Latin community has become disenchanted with the Democratic

That’s Jennifer Thatcher. She’s among those optimistic
Republicans. The 44-year-old Thatcher was born and raised in Zapata,
Texas. She didn’t pay much attention to politics until she had kids. Now
she chairs the newly established Zapata County Republican Party.

they’ve taken advantage of the fact that we’ve been Democratic for so
many years that they didn’t think that people were going to have a
change of heart.

Hispanics represent 84 percent of the population in South
Texas. Four of the five U.S. congressional districts that span the
Texas-Mexico border consistently elect Democrats—from the presidential
candidate all the way down the ballot. So entrenched is the Democrat
Party in South Texas that some years, elections for local or state
offices don’t include a Republican on the ballot.

That may be changing.

In 2016 Trump lost Zapata County to Hillary Clinton by 33
percent. In 2020 Trump won the county by 3 points. That prompted state
Republican Party officials to establish a county office and appoint
Thatcher as its chairwoman.

County and State Democrat Party representatives did not
respond to multiple interview requests to add their perspective to this

FEMALE REPORTER: While President
Trump flipped five counties in the Rio Grande Valley, researchers say
Biden picked up the Latino vote in urban areas and among youth.

In Hidalgo County, Republican newcomer Monica De La
Cruz-Hernandez ran against two-term Democrat Vicente Gonzalez for the
15th U.S. Congressional District. No Republican has held that seat since
it was established in 19-0-3.

And they still don’t.

De La Cruz-Hernandez lost—but only by three percentage
points. Gonzalez won that seat in 2018 by 21 points. De La
Cruz-Hernandez said she’ll challenge Gonzalez again next year.

All five U.S. Congressional seats along the border are up
for election in the 2022 midterms. Could South Texas be a battleground
for control of the U.S. House?

JONES: The valley is probably not going to be in play.

That’s Mark Jones, a fellow at Rice University’s Baker
Institute and a professor of political science at Rice University. He,
literally, wrote the textbook on Texas politics. He isn’t convinced the
2020 election represented a seismic shift in Latino voting patterns in
South Texas.

Jones refers to “The Valley” and the “R-G-V.” That’s the Rio Grande Valley, the southernmost region of Texas.

JONES: What they have to keep in
mind is that yes, Republicans are doing well in the valley. But to win
all these seats requires winning the majority of the vote. And that’s
what Republicans don’t have either at the state House level, the state
Senate level, the U.S. House level or the county level in any of the
parts of the RGV.

In Brownsville, Moises Molina disagrees. He’s a
bi-vocational pastor. Earlier in his career, he spent four years working
a 23-county swath of South Texas for then Republican gubernatorial
candidate Greg Abbott.

Molina said Hispanics are conservative and once they learn
where the two parties stand on issues like abortion, law enforcement,
gun rights, and border security they tend to vote Republican.

MOISES MOLINA: And so, we have to
be smart about being informed. So, it’s not about letting people know
how they should vote or who they should vote for. It’s about creating
awareness of what the platforms are, for the people running for office.

Jones said most Democrats representing South Texas in state
and federal legislatures are more conservative than their Democratic
colleagues. He suspects gains by Republicans last November were buoyed
by poor Democratic messaging at the national level.

JONES: And then also where the
Democratic Party got itself in a lot of trouble in the 2020 election is
not only was it associated with sort of a coastal Democratic elite
that’s way to the left of the South Texas Democrats. But it also was
pushing several policies that really resonated negatively with South
Texas Latinos.

Joe Biden’s pledge to reduce fossil fuel production didn’t
sit well with South Texans whose livelihood depends on a robust oil
industry. And calls to defund the police grated against South Texas
Latinos, many of whom work for the police, Border Patrol, and
Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Jones believes the 2020 results revealed something other than a partisan shift among South Texas Latinos.

JONES: They’re a very diverse
population, and that if you consider them to be sort of one big monolith
or glob of people, you’re going to make egregious errors in terms of
their partisanship, in terms of their policy preferences, and a host of
other issues.

And that’s the point Molina and Thatcher are making—the 2020 election revealed Hispanic political diversity.

THATCHER: Fifty-two percent of our
population flipped the county. So, you know, we got it, it’s there. And
we keep we keep on trucking no matter what happens. We do have support.
They’re coming out little by little and that’s what makes what makes us

Reporting for WORLD, I’m Bonnie Pritchett.

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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