In D.C., most attention in off-year elections (those in years not divisible by two) focuses on Virginia, where state-wide offices are decided the year after the national presidential election. With respect to immigration, however, local off-year elections in Texas over the weekend have been much more telling.
Texas is an interesting place, and one that, considering its unique opinion of itself, is often overlooked. It is home to four of America’s 10 largest cities (Houston, San Antonio, Dallas, and Austin), and Fort Worth just misses the list at number 12. Three of the last 11 presidents have hailed from the Lone Star State.
Virginia likely gets outsized attention because of its proximity to Washington, D.C. News organizations have major bureaus there, and almost 20 percent of Virginians work for the government — meaning that they care more about national elections than most.
That said, the largest city in the Old Dominion is Virginia Beach (number 44), and the “Mother of Presidents” hasn’t put any of her children in the White House since Woodrow Wilson — who was much more famous pre-election for being president of Princeton and governor of New Jersey.
Texas, on the other hand, has been ground-zero for the Biden administration’s disastrous immigration policies. Illegal migrants may be a theoretical issue in Washington, but they are a fact of life in a state where Border Patrol agents have apprehended almost 160,000 of them in the Rio Grande Valley sector (RGV) alone so far in FY 2021.
There were two elections in Texas on Saturday, one that can be reasonably be viewed as a referendum on Biden’s border policies and on Hispanic support for his Democratic Party going forward.
First, and speaking of Fort Worth, its mayoral election is facially nonpartisan, but outgoing Mayor Betsy Price is a Republican, and of the two candidates who were vying to replace her, one — Deborah Peoples — is the outgoing chairwoman of the local Tarrant County Democratic Party. Peoples lost by six points to 37-year-old Mattie Parker — Price’s top aide — in a high-turnout election.
Parker had declined GOP endorsements, but Tarrant County Republicans worked the hustings for her and Texas Governor Greg Abbott (R) — who vociferously opposes Biden’s immigration stance — endorsed her anyway.
This election matters for a number of reasons. In 2020, Biden beat Donald Trump in Tarrant County by the narrowest of margins (0.22 percent), but a victory is a victory. And Fort Worth is just over a third Hispanic (33.7 percent; whites make up 40.7 percent of the residents, Blacks another 19.2 percent).
Then, there was the election in McAllen, Texas, in the RGV. Javier Villalobos defeated Mayor Pro-Tem Veronica Vela Whitacre in the June 5 runoff there for mayor, with 51.1 percent of the vote in an election where 9,282 were cast.
That race was also nonpartisan, but Villalobos had been the chairman of the local Hidalgo County Republican Party and Biden won the 2020 general election in the county by a more than 17 percentage point margin. According to the Census Bureau, Hidalgo County’s population as a whole is 92.5 percent “Hispanic or Latino”, as are just fewer than 85 percent of McAllen’s residents.
I have never been a big fan of such distinctions, but especially eschew them in Texas, where “Tejanos” — Texans of Mexican descent — played a big role in the fight for independence from Mexico in 1836 (Lorenzo de Zavala, the first vice president of the resulting Republic of Texas, had served in the Mexican senate and been governor of the State of Mexico).
I know a number of their descendants, and they identify much more strongly as “Texans” than “Hispanics”. But in this age of factionalism, these victories in municipalities with large Hispanic populations are still notable, not least because of two recent analyses of Hispanic voting trends.
On May 28, RealClear Politics (RCP) highlighted a presentation by Sens. Rick Scott (R) and Marco Rubio (R), in which the two Floridians argued that Hispanics were key to future Republican victories — if the GOP reached out to them. The Fort Worth and McAllen elections show that they may be on to something.
In their presentation, Scott and Rubio offered polling that showed that Hispanics (in particular) eschewed socialism, were concerned that the nation was in a state of decline, worried about their children’s futures, and thought public schools were failing.
In other words, they shared many of the same concerns with their fellow Americans. Here is a key and salient takeaway from the RCP article:
Other issues are at the forefront of voters’ minds, Rubio and Scott said, pointing to polling that showed 72% of Hispanics agreed that “we need to control the border” and “stop the surge of illegal immigration.” Nearly half of those voters, according to NRSC numbers, said the border crisis made them “less likely to support Democrats” in the midterms.
The surge, Rubio said, has already turned many Hispanic voters off to the Biden administration. “They think it's completely induced and created by this administration, by its attitude and by its behavior and the words they put out even before they took public policy measures,” he insisted. And according to Scott, “what Biden has done is killing the chance to get immigration reform.”
Those points dovetail with ones made in March by data scientist David Shor, a veteran of the 2012 reelection campaign of then-President Barack Obama. Speaking to New York magazine, Shor asserted that “Hispanic voters are more liberal on immigration than white voters”, but argued that “the extent to which Hispanic voters have liberal views on immigration is exaggerated”.
He noted that most Hispanics do not support decriminalizing illegal entry, for example, and that support among that demographic for amnesty is lukewarm. But here’s Shor’s key point:
In test after test that we’ve done with Hispanic voters, talking about immigration commonly sparks backlash: Asking voters whether they lean toward Biden and Trump, and then emphasizing the Democratic position on immigration, often caused Biden’s share of support among Latino respondents to decline. Meanwhile, Democratic messaging about investing in schools and jobs tended to move Latino voters away from Trump.
If you read the whole New York article (it’s not short), you will realize that Shor is a hard-core partisan, and more frank about his positions than most politicos (he calls for the addition of Puerto Rico and D.C. as states, and a ban on partisan redistricting, to shore up Democratic majorities, for example).
But he has argued elsewhere for Democrats to “not talk too much about” the issue of immigration, which he termed “probably the least popular part of the Democratic policy agenda”.
Those points are in line with ones that my colleague Todd Bensman made in November about Hispanic voters in border counties like Hidalgo:
Left largely unreported in the national press is that hundreds of thousands of Latino voters in rural Texas — the sons and daughters of early legal migration — ... felt repulsed by the 2019 mass-migration crisis during which nearly one million illegal Central Americans swamped the border as Democratic voices encouraged it, litigated efforts to staunch the tide, and promised open gates under a Biden administration.
Note that Villalobos did not exactly parrot Donald Trump’s talking points on immigration. For example, he contended that a “border wall” was no longer an issue under the Biden administration, and neither he nor Vela Whitacre expressed an opinion on such barriers.
That contrasted with the position of outgoing McAllen Mayor Jim Darling, who “criticized former President Trump’s border wall plans”, asserting that “a wall is not really I think an effective way to protect our border”.
While Villalobos did not think that there was a role for McAllen in immigration, he did reframe the issue instead as one of “public safety” and “control”:
We don’t want them to get hurt, and we definitely don’t want them to hurt any of our residents. If you don’t have control, you’re going to have violence, you will have burglaries, you will have thefts, you will have other things that I don’t even want to talk about.
Republicans are celebrating Villalobos’s victory, though they should temper their jubilation about both the McAllen and the Fort Worth results to some degree. Again, both were nonpartisan races, and neither was won in a landslide. But both reflect that the fact that a Democratic platform of open borders and lax immigration enforcement will not guarantee the Party of Jackson Hispanic support.