Jun 7, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Republican wins in Hispanic Democratic stronghold

Javier Villalobos hugs a supporter while a man in the University of Texas shirt looks on after Villalobos won a mayoral race in McAllen, Texas.

Javier Villalobos after his win. Photo: Courtesy of Villalobos campaign

A Republican has won a mayoral race in a South Texas Hispanic Democratic bastion, sparking celebration from the GOP nationwide and alarm from some Democrats.

Why it matters: Javier Villalobos' victory Saturday in Mexican American-majority McAllen, Texas, comes as some Latino Democrats say their party has been ignoring Mexican Americans in Texas, New Mexico and California as the Republican Party makes dents in areas once solidly blue.

Driving the news: Villalobos, an attorney and former chair of the Hidalgo County GOP, beat Veronica Whitacre by about 200 votes in a nonpartisan race where Democrats have dominated for years.

  • His victory drew praise from former Trump 2020 campaign adviser Steve Cortes, who tweeted, "Amazing news! McAllen, Texas, is a major border town of 140,000 people. 85% Hispanic — and just elected a Republican mayor."
  • Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican, joined conservatives on social media to congratulate Villalobos and say Hispanic voters are opening up to populist, Republican messages.

The bilingual Villalobos ran on improving the economy in a border town where nearly a fourth of residents live in poverty but is one of the safest communities in the nation, FBI crime statistics show.

  • "South Texas is very conservative and Hispanics here have always voted Democratic because of our parents and grandparents out of tradition," Villalobos told Axios.
  • "Hopefully, they are opening up their eyes. Competition is good."

Between the lines: Former president Trump made gains with Hispanics in South Texas by shifting from rhetoric about immigration to fears surrounding the economic impact of COVID-19 shutdowns, according to preliminary findings by research firm Equis that were reviewed by Axios.

  • The same analysis found that Republicans and conservative groups made inroads via YouTube in 2020 with low-information Latino voters often ignored by Democrats.

What they're saying: New Mexico Democratic political consultant Sisto Abeyta said Democrats in recent years have not engaged or invested in some Hispanic areas with low voter turnout that historically have voted blue.

  • "Democrats need to change the narrative and start talking about jobs," Abeyta said. "They need to invest and engage and not take these districts for granted. These voters are up from grabs now."
  • Texas Democratic operative Sawyer Hackett said the McAllen race should "wake up a lot of Democrats" ahead of the 2022 congressional midterms.
  • "The RGV (Rio Grande Valley) went solidly for Bernie (Sanders) during the (2020) Democratic primary, so voters there respond to messages about the economy. They just aren't being engaged."
Go deeper