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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

Updated Sep 15, 2021 - Politics & Policy

California Gov. Newsom survives recall election

Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) defeated a Republican-backed effort to remove him, AP projected on Tuesday night.

Why it matters, via Axios' Margaret Talev: Tuesday's results highlight the limits of Republicans trying to use Trump tactics in a deeply Democratic state.

Judge agrees to consider temporarily blocking Texas abortion ban

Photo: Jordan Vonderhaar via Getty Images

A federal judge will hold a hearing on Oct. 1 to consider temporarily blocking enforcement of Texas' restrictive abortion ban after an emergency request from the Biden administration.

Why it matters: The hearing comes after the Department of Justice filed a lawsuit last week against Texas over the new law, which bans nearly all abortions and awards at least $10,000 to anyone who successfully sues a person that helps a pregnant person access an abortion after six weeks.

Sep 16, 2021 - Politics & Policy

The debt ceiling stare down

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Congress is fast approaching its deadline to raise the debt ceiling or risk defaulting on the nation's debt, and, as of now, there's no serious plan to stave off what many members are calling the worst-case scenario.

Why it matters: The U.S. has never defaulted on its debt. If Congress doesn't take "extraordinary measures" to finance the government, it would "likely cause irreparable damage to the U.S. economy and global financial markets," Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen warned last week.