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Texas Primary Underscores Hispanic Shift Towards the GOP

Democrats continued to struggle in the Lone Star state with Hispanics voting in growing numbers for Republicans. That shift could hurt Beto O’Rourke’s chances of unseating incumbent Gov. Greg Abbott.

As primary Election Day polls open Tuesday, Texans are seeing low turnout across the state as voters cast ballots in the first election under new voting restrictions.
Editor's note: Governing’s new politics newsletter brings results and coverage of important trends twice a month. This issue looks at Texas, which kicked off this year’s primary season on Tuesday, with a few glances at news from other states.

Increasingly Republican Hispanics: One bright spot for Republicans in 2020 was their performance with Hispanic voters. A majority still voted for Democrats, but the party made inroads, notably in Florida. It’s always been a mistake to assume that a group with a total of 60 million people from varied backgrounds would vote as a bloc and more conservative Hispanics are responding to GOP messages on issues such as inflation, abortion and, yes, illegal immigration.

The party’s inroads are continuing in the Rio Grande Valley, a section of south Texas that is largely Hispanic and has historically voted overwhelmingly Democratic. That’s starting to change. Donald Trump won just 19 percent of the vote in Starr County in 2016, but he took 47 percent there in 2020 – one of the biggest swings of any county in the country and paralleled in neighboring counties.

On Tuesday, there were competitive GOP primaries in the Rio Grande Valley up to the congressional level, which is truly a novelty. In Starr County, three out of four ballots were cast in Democratic contests – but that was down from 98 percent four years ago. It looks like there will be a Latina Republican competing in all three area congressional seats, pending results of a runoff in one district. Sensing which way the wind is blowing, local officials are starting to switch over to the Republican Party. “It took me a while to realize that my thoughts are more Republican,” said Corina Arredondo, a justice of the peace in Terrell County, who is still a Democrat – for now.

State Attorney General Ken Paxton didn’t do quite as well, but still looks like a safe bet. Paxton was re-elected four years ago, despite an indictment for securities fraud. That case is still pending and Paxton faces numerous ethics complaints and an FBI investigation into charges he abused his office to help a contributor. All of that was enough to draw serious intraparty opposition from Congressman Louie Gohmert, former state Supreme Court Justice Eva Guzman and Land Commissioner George P. Bush, who is the son of former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush. On Tuesday, Abbott refused to say whether he’d voted for Paxton.
Texas Democratic gubernatorial candidate Beto O'Rourke.
(Brandon Bell/Getty Images/TNS)
Paxton’s Teflon: Beto O’Rourke fared poorly in the Rio Grande Valley during his 2018 primary run for the U.S. Senate. He again performed worse among the border counties than statewide in Tuesday’s Democratic primary for governor. Losing support there makes it just that much more difficult for the former rising star to pose any real threat to incumbent Republican Greg Abbott.

Seeking his third term, Abbott dispensed with two challengers in the GOP primary, former state Sen. Don Huffines and Allen West, a former state GOP chair and Florida congressman. They complained that Abbott wasn’t conservative enough, but Abbott shored up his right flank by opposing vaccine mandates and investigating parents of transgender children. Unlike many more complacent incumbents, Abbott took the challenge seriously, spending $15 million over the past two months alone. In the end, Abbott took two-thirds of the primary vote.
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton.
(Drew Angerer/Getty Images/TNS).
But Paxton — who filed a lawsuit in 2020 challenging the presidential vote in four other states — enjoyed Trump’s backing. In the closing days of the campaign, both Paxton and Bush launched strong attacks against Guzman, which may have helped keep her out of the May runoff. In Texas, if no candidate gets a majority of the primary vote, the contest goes to a runoff. Paxton took 43 percent, while Bush came in second with 23 percent.

It was the desired outcome for both men. Bush proceeds to the next round, but he was Paxton’s preferred opponent. The runoff will see low turnout and the electorate will be made up of diehard Republican voters who see Bush as the scion of the party’s unlamented old school establishment wing. Even if the FBI brings charges against Paxton before the runoff, Paxton will just cite that as proof he’s under attack from President Biden and Washington liberals, says Mark P. Jones, a political scientist at Rice University.

“I don’t see any way that Paxton loses in a runoff to George P. Bush,” Jones says. “Bush is sufficiently unpopular among the Republican Party base that it’s going to be next to impossible for him to beat Paxton in a runoff, particularly with Paxton having the ace in the hole of the Trump endorsement in his pocket.”

Texas Gets More Red: The Texas GOP asked primary voters to weigh in on a series of policy questions, including abortion, elimination of the property tax, blocking transgender medical care, voter fraud and vaccine mandates. You can guess how they voted.

Legislative leaders saw their preferred candidates prevail in nearly every race, including state Rep. Ryan Guillen, whom House Speaker Dade Phelan supported after he switched from the Democratic side last November. Four of the five candidates Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick endorsed in open state Senate races won their primaries, with the fifth well ahead leading into the runoff. Patrick doesn’t so much run as rule that chamber, which is likely to become still more conservative. “The people of Texas have spoken with one conservative voice,” Patrick said on Tuesday.

Trump Favors Secession: Trump endorsed no fewer than 20 Texas Republicans heading into the primary. He also recently expressed support for a proposal for Buckhead – a wealthy enclave within Atlanta – to break off and become a separate city. “The good people of Buckhead don’t want to be a part of defunding the police and the high crime that’s plaguing their communities,” the former president said last week in a statement.

But Trump devoted most of his statement to lambasting Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp and other Republicans he called RINOs (the derisive term for “Republican in name only”). The thing is, state officials get to decide whether the cityhood question can move forward and Trump’s insulting intervention may backfire. “Former President Donald Trump’s attempt to revive the Buckhead cityhood measure by insulting powerful Georgia Republicans has only stiffened opposition to passing the initiative this year, according to senior state officials,” the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports.
Phyllis Schlafly, anti-feminist political activist who led opposition to ERA, dies at 92
Phyllis Schlafly.
(Alan Hagman/Los Angeles Times/TNS)
Schlafly’s Legacy: Older readers will remember the name Phyllis Schlafly, a conservative activist who fought ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment back in the 1970s. She was played by Oscar-winning actress Cate Blanchett in the miniseries “Mrs. America” last year.

I remember interviewing Schlafly at the 2006 Republican National Convention, when she worked first to block and then weaken a platform plank regarding women serving in combat roles. She shook her head in disbelief that any Republican could support such a thing.

Schlafly died in 2016. Her children immediately began fighting for control over Eagle Forum, the group she’d founded. There have been multiple lawsuits, including one over legal bills between her daughter and one of her sons. On Tuesday, the Missouri Supreme Court agreed to hear that case.


Alan Greenblatt is the editor of Governing. He can be found on Twitter at @AlanGreenblatt.
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