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Why Democrats are losing their grip on the Hispanic vote

Republicans continue to make inroads in some of the most Latino districts in the country

Eric Garcia
Washington DC
Thursday 16 June 2022 15:38 BST
A customs and border control vehicle at the Rio Grande border crossing. Democrats too often forget that many members of the border patrol police are Latino
A customs and border control vehicle at the Rio Grande border crossing. Democrats too often forget that many members of the border patrol police are Latino (AFP via Getty Images)
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Democrats received a massive shock on Tuesday evening when Republican Mayra Flores won Texas’s 34th district, part of an area in the Rio Grande Valley that Aaron Blake at The Washington Post pointed out the party has held for more than a century. Donald Trump shocked many last year when he either outright flipped or retained many counties in the heavily Latino region which encompasses much of the US-Mexico border — and the 34th district is the second-most Latino district in the country.

The district will no longer exist as it is currently drawn come November, but as Democratic strategist (and proud Longhorn) Laura Chapin tweeted at your reporter: “The fact national Dems didn’t even bother to try is another example of how badly they misread the room. An L is a L when our base needs a morale boost.”

This is especially the case as Republicans seek to flip not just the newly-redrawn 34th district, but also the state’s 15th and 28th.

To unpick what’s happening, I caught up with Abraham Enriquez, founder and president of the conservative Latino group Bienvenido US. Here are some key takeaways that he said helped Flores and might help Republicans win over Latinos.

Outreach to ministers: While people often associate Hispanics with Catholicism, many among them (such as Senator Ted Cruz) are non-Catholic evangelical Christians with political attitudes similar to those held by their non-Hispanic white counterparts.

Enriquez said many of their pastors come from countries where political action is verboten: “And they come into America or they raise a family in America and they follow that mindset. Churches and pastors aren’t allowed to be involved in politics. What our faith assembly has done has really debunked that mindset, and has showed pastors that it is your right.” On top of that, Enriquez told me that the Republican message resonated with many Hispanic pastors after the Covid-19 pandemic required many to close their doors.

Which leads us to the next point…

Covid-19 and the economy: Multiple studies have shown how business and job losses with the Covid-19 pandemic disproportionately hurt Latinos. The loss of jobs in the service industry likely played a role in why Joe Biden won Nevada, but didn’t do as well as Barack Obama there (former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid had to field donations in 2020 to fund the Culinary Union’s political outreach because of shutdowns).

As Enriquez concluded, what resonated with these voters was a message on the economy. On top of that, high inflation numbers seared a negative image with Democrats. “A lot of these businesses had to actually permanently close down,” he said. “You come off a pandemic, you’re starting to get back to the swing of things. And then you reach a 40-year, record-setting high inflation that makes it even worse.”

A lack of action by Democrats: On top of that, Enriquez said that the effects of the economy were exacerbated by a feeling that Democrats were not doing anything, despite having the White House and both houses of Congress. “They have the power to push legislation and laws that can advance Latinos, advance the business community — specifically the small business community — and nothing is being done. So when you have control of DC and the ability to put things out that can help the individual and aren’t doing it, that forces your base and forces voters to look for another option.”

Immigration, but not for the reasons people think: While people on both sides frequently prioritize immigration when doing outreach to Latino voters, Enriquez was quick to note how many Hispanics work for immigration agencies like US Customs and Border Protection and Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which he said have become a target for many Democrats (incidentally, Flores’s husband is a border patrol agent). “So when you have Democrats who are bashing border security, saying ‘defund border patrol’, calling them very bad names – what you’re doing is you’re [talking about] these people’s brothers, their fathers, their mothers, their grandparents… These are the people that are being employed by border patrol.”

Hispanic outreach: While it’s true many Hispanic voters do not speak fluent Spanish (including your reporter), for many in areas like South Texas, Enriquez said voters appreciated the Spanish outreach. “When we started off a conversation in Spanish, we started off a phone call in Spanish and our voter guides were in Spanish — that was well-received in south Texas.”

All of the things Enriquez discussed are heavily compounded by the fact that Republicans seem to be not only flipping Democratic voters, but activating previously unengaged Hispanic voters, as Democratic polling group Equis Research found after 2020. Both parties will soon have to recognize that the road to the majority in Congress will run through places like the Rio Grande Valley.

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