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Hispanic Republicans Have Democrats Seeing Red in Texas

The Wall Street Journal, Opinion

Mayra Flores won a congressional district that went for Hillary Clinton by more than 20 points. By Mike Shields

July 1, 2022 4:26 pm ET

Rep. Mayra Flores (R., Texas) is interviewed outside the U.S. Capitol, June 21.


Harlingen, Texas

The birds were making a tremendous racket. We were trying to shoot a campaign commercial for Mayra Flores outside the cotton gin where her father once worked. The foreman remembered Ms. Flores from when she was a teenager. She’d toiled in the same fields, now filled with birds so noisy our camera crew found it impossible to record. A worker retrieved a pistol from his truck and fired it into the air. The birds flew off and we got the shot.

The episode was emblematic of how out of touch the Democrats are with Texas’ conservative Hispanic community. Guns are a part of life in the Rio Grande Valley, the area Ms. Flores, a 36-year-old Republican, now represents in Congress. So are faith, family, tradition, hard work, accountability and love for America—ideals that are in direct conflict with the politics of grievance Democrats use in their one-size-fits-all outreach to minorities. There were other elements that led to Ms. Flores’s victory in a special election to fill the seat left vacant by the March retirement of Democratic Rep. Filemon Vela. The first is Ms. Flores herself. She’s no career politician; she is a respiratory-care nurse married to a Border Patrol agent. Though born in Mexico, she legally emigrated to the U.S. with her parents when she was 6. She loves her community and grew tired of its treatment as a political football by media and political elites who have no idea what life is actually like near the border.

The second key element is what national Democrats have done to destroy their relationship with these voters. People here aren’t woke. They don’t say “Latinx” or announce their pronouns. They have a strong faith in God and believe in the nuclear family. Many work in the oil and gas industry or in agriculture. In short, they are everything the modern Democratic Party is not. And they pay attention. When Democrats talk about defunding the police or attack the Border Patrol for doing its job, they are actively making Ms. Flores’s community less safe.

Ms. Flores’s victory should alarm Democrats everywhere. The 34th Congressional District currently has the second-largest Hispanic population (84.5%) of any district in America. Barack Obama won the district by 22.1% of the total vote in 2012. Hillary Clinton won it by 21.5% in 2016. But Joe Biden won it by only 4.2% in 2020. Hispanic support for Democrats is slipping, and not only in Texas. South Florida, which traditionally has sent Democrats to Congress, turned red in recent years with the elections of Reps. Carlos Gimenez and María Salazar.

Democrats have long touted demographic changes in border states like Texas and Arizona as a portent of a blue progressive future. They think open borders will help them win elections and openly admit that’s their goal. What I learned in the Rio Grande Valley is that their policies may backfire. Hispanic Americans are patriotic and hardworking. They reject the woke drift of the Democratic Party and are defecting to the GOP.

Earlier this year the House Majority PAC ran a Spanish-language ad against Ms. Flores trying to tie her to Jan. 6—a preposterous connection that fell flat. When asked why Democrats didn’t put more resources into the special election, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said, “I think we made the judgment that it was pretty much a Republican seat.” But until Ms. Flores’s victory, this area had been represented by Democrats in Congress for 100 years.

Ms. Flores must now turn her attention to running for a full term. Her opponent in the fall election will be Democratic Rep. Vincente Gonzalez, who currently represents the neighboring 15th District. In October he announced he would run for re-election in the 34th District after redistricting left him with the impression that it was a safer seat for Democrats. But that was before Ms. Flores’s shocking victory. Mr. Gonzalez has said that national Democrats have “forgotten about the brown people on the border.” But they haven’t forgotten, they just can’t figure out how to appeal to an aspirational community that loves God and country.

Mr. Shields is a founding partner of Convergence Media, a former RNC chief of staff and the former president of the Congressional Leadership Fund.

Main Street (06/07/21): The long-expected migration of Latino voters to the GOP may finally be starting and it’s in part thanks to the Democrats’ leftward lurch. Images: Getty Images Composite: Mark Kelly

Appeared in the July 2, 2022, print edition.

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