“The Democrats have a really, really big Latino problem.”It was theMorning after Mexico’s Republican Mayra Flores won the June special election for a congressional seat in Texas’s Rio Grande Valley, and longtime conservative strategist and co-founder of theLincoln Project Mike Madrid was furious by theDemocrats seem inattention to one another the nation’s fastest-growing demographics. “The incompetence and the disregard, it’s infuriating,”Madrid was forced to leave the studio during an emergency taping of The Latino Vote podcast. “This district that just flipped has been in Democratic control since 1870,”Before he noted it, he said theThe second-highest concentrations of Latinos in the United States “any congressional district in the entire country, okay?”It was a loss of a district such as that. “a five-alarm fire for the Democrats heading into the November elections.”
Flores is a MAGAAn acolyte once suggesting theJanuary 6, 2001 attack “caused by infiltrators”She has often referenced QAnon in her Twitter account. Her election represented the culmination of a years-long trend: Despite Donald Trump’s endlessly hostile rhetoric toward Mexican immigrants — from labeling them “rapists” in his 2016 campaign kickoff to reportedly calling for them to be shot on sight in 2019 — he made major gains across South Texas in the 2020 election, cutting theJoe Biden won the election by a margin of the state’s border counties to 17 percentage points, half of theHillary Clinton’s 2016 margin of 33 points was 33 “When you take voters for granted like national Democrats have done in South Texas for 40 years, there are consequences to pay,” Congressman Filemón Vela told the Texas Tribune at theHis retirement came two years later. the door for Flores’s ascension.
Trump’s surprising performance in South Texas had major down-ballot implications, including helping Republican Tony Gonzales win the massive congressional district that covers most of Texas’s border with Mexico, from theFrom El Paso to Del Rio. Gonzales credited his success to me in August when I spoke to Gonzales theHe also created a profile, which is different from the profiles of other big-city Latino politicians such as theCastro brothers. “It helped that I was Hispanic in a Hispanic district, and I’m Catholic in a district that has conservative views. I’m a 20-year military veteran,” Gonzales said. “The No. 1 thing is just showing up and being genuine. I didn’t show up two weeks before the election speaking broken Spanish and run some ads on Telemundo and call it a day. I showed up early and I showed up often. I put 70,000 miles on my pickup truck.”
Both parties prepare for the future. theRepublicans believe they can continue to make inroads in November’s midterm elections theIt is a large part of Mexican American communities that line. theSouthern border. Democrats want to reconnect to a voting bloc that could prove decisive in securing control of Congress. theMost competitive House Races in theCountries are being held in the Southwest. As co-chair the RNC’s new Hispanic Leadership Trust, Gonzales has been campaigning alongside both Flores and Juan Ciscomani, a former aide to Arizona governor Doug Ducey who is running for thedistrict that includes the state’s southeastern corner. At theAt the same time, one the region’s most vulnerable Republican incumbents, New Mexico’s Yvette Herrell, faces a difficult fight against Gabriel Vasquez, a former city councilor in theLas Cruces, a college town, offers a unique path. theHispanic politics in the future theSouthern border “Coming from a working-class, immigrant family, I think that resonates with folks,” Vasquez says. “We thrive in relationship and community building.”
As I traveled across the country theThis summer, there are two competing visions for the region the borderland’s future were coming into focus — visions that map more neatly on to theThere is more to the polarized landscape in national politics that Democrats would like to admit. theMany Latino voters in the region consider themselves to be safe votes. Progressives are promising better access to water, education and health care for rural communities that are poor. theParty itself becomes ever more urbane and liberal on criminal justice and green energy issues. On theOther is an ascendant brand MAGAConservatism that is hostile to new immigrants, but channels theMexican Americans share a deep patriotic spirit. theIf not, the same resentments theSkin color is a matter of personal preference. theDisillusioned white working class voters the Rust Belt and other economically depressed regions where Trump’s movement first gained purchase. As Laura Gómez, a law professor at theUniversity of California, Los Angeles. She said it when I visited her Albuquerque home. “From the Trump years on, the nation has gone through tremendous changes. Politically, ideologically. Why wouldn’t we expect that Latinos have also been changing?”
There are many of theCurrent political culture theBorderlands is deeply rooted in theTransformational changes in theThe region that started in the1990s theNAFTA’s passage was a landmark. theThere are hundreds of billions worth of goods that can be freely moved between them. theUnited States and Mexico. theThe September 11th attacks brought about unprecedented tightening in the economy. the border for everyday people. Over $1 trillion was spent theDepartment of Homeland Security, 2002-2003 theagency was founded in 2020, when its workforce grew to 240,000. Although theLocal economies that extend across the globe the2,050 miles theFrom agriculture in California to oil & gas in New Mexico, to logistics in Texas to agricultural in California, border might shade theThere are theAll levels of federal and military law enforcement are available.
Despite theMassive cash injection theGenerational poverty has been a reality of human life for the past 30 years. the borderlands. A low number of South Texans had health insurance, which translated into a COVID death rates twice as high. theRest of thethirteen5,000 New Mexicans still live in rural communities without electricity, running water, or paved roads. For the region’s entrenched Mexican American communities, where “the border crossed us”Federal jobs are still quite common, but it is not a universal truth. the best gig available. Today, more that half of all gigs are available. BorderHispanic patrol officers work with me; they were Hispanic when I crossed. theBridge of the Americas into El Paso in June, theAgents for manning theport of agency were talking to each other in the same Spanish accent I’d just heard on the streets of Juárez.
Graphic by Marcus Peabody
While national observers fixated on Mayra Flores’s extremist statements, voters in South Texas found plenty to connect with in her life story. Flores was raised in Tamaulipas. theUnited States as a kid and spent her summers picking cotton in the United States. the Texas panhandle. Her upward mobility was a sign of her success. theImmigrants embrace the bootstrapping mentality. Her marriage is one of theMore than 3,000 BorderStationed patrol agents in theRio Grande Valley expressed her commitment theAgency that is considered a gateway to theMany families with poor incomes are in the middle class. As one advertisement that ran on Flores’s behalf a few weeks before theSpecial election: “She’s one of us.”
Although the district was originally considered Democratic territory by Republicans, it was flooded by Republicans. theFlores beats her Democratic opponent 16 to 1 by racing with money. Mario Muñoz chairs theKleberg County Democratic Party, most well-known as theHome of theKing Ranch, 825,000 acres theThe largest cattle operation in theUnited States. Although outreach to a rural county like Kleberg would seem to be less of a priority than motivating voters in populous Brownsville, Muñoz says that during theSpecial election. Busloads of Republican activists arrived from North Texas to support the cause. “to bust doors open, meet with people, spread the message on their terms.” The rush to boost Flores’s candidacy didn’t come out of nowhere. “They’ve been making headway,” Muñoz says. “The Republican party, at the state and federal level, has been inserting and funding headquarters in regions like ours.”
Despite the shock of Flores’s victory, national Democrats were quick to dismiss theIt was an aberration. It was not only an aberration. theOdd timing the election lead to miniscule turnout — fewer than 29,000 people voted in a district with a population of over 711,000 — but decennial redistricting means that Texas’s 34th district will be markedly different in November, with more of theRio Grande Valley’s urbanization was forced into it to create space. theHill country in the vicinity of San Antonio to support conservative incumbents elsewhere.
Vicente Gonzalez, Congressman currently representing the district next door to the34, but is moving into it to challenge Flores in the fall, believes theRecord of theThe Biden administration should be sufficient to win back voters who have lost touch with them. theIn recent years, party. “We want to have profound conversations about what we’ve accomplished,”He pointed to the $68 million included in last year’s infrastructure bill to deepen thePort of Brownsville is a project that, once complete, will enable theFacility to accommodate larger ships than any other in the area theGulf of Mexico
Flores is now considered an underdog by most independent prognosticators. But that doesn’t mean her victory this summer was pointless. Gonzalez seemed almost confused when I spoke to her in July. theGOP made such an investment in one district that it appeared destined to be its control for a very short time. “I asked one of my Republican colleagues I’m close with, ‘Why would y’all do that? If the district changes from a D+4 to a D+16?’ And he didn’t bat an eye, he said, ‘Because we get to own the message of a Latina Republican for six months.’”
While theAlthough TX-34 competition may not be determinative but more symbolic, there are many other districts that could compete. theIn November, the border could be either way. Arizona is the best example of this sense. theRepublican who is running for office the region that stretches from Tucson’s east side to theJuan Ciscomani is Juan’s southern border. Ciscomani has no track record as an elected official and is running a campaign that centers around his personality. theHis parents have been granted asylum theUnited States and prominently includes images of his six children and wife. Ann Kirkpatrick is a Democrat who has represented theSince 2013, area theCombination of her retirement and theRestructuring of theDistrict to trade theRepublicans have a great opportunity to pick up land in Bisbee, a rural Graham and Greenlee county arty enclave.
Although Flores and Ciscomani have been equally explicit in invoking their humble upbringings in their campaigns, Ciscomani’s spin on theTheme is less tailored to suggest “he’s one of us”More than “he’s an immigrant who made good” — a reasonable distinction, given that Arizona’s sixth district is only 17 percent Hispanic compared to theTX-34: 85 percent Hispanic His daughter Zoe introduced him to the world at theCiscomani reflect on the August primary victory celebration. “Now the story of this kid from an immigrant family, who grew up in East Tucson, graduated from Rincon High School, Pima Community College, and then the U of A, also includes to be the Republican nominee for the Sixth Congressional District in the state of Arizona. The American Dream is alive.”(Both Flores staff and Ciscomani personnel declined to allow candidates to interview.
The contrast between Ciscomani’s resume and that of his Democratic challenger is stark. Kirsten Engel, an environmental lawyer professor at theUniversity of Arizona. She was inspired by the University of Arizona’s first run for office in 2016. the lack of state resources devoted to her daughter’s elementary school in Tucson. She continued to serve in both theArizona house and theSenate where education and water security are her main concerns.
Engel’s appeal, which is a natural fit in an overgrown college town like Tucson, is less obvious somewhere like Sierra Vista, a city of 45,000 where nearly every resident is connected to either theFort Huachuca Army garrison is adjacent theLocal offices the BorderPatrol, DHS or DEA.
Mark Rodriguez, who joined theCity Council member last year. He was raised in San Antonio, and lived there for almost two decades. theArmy before landing in Sierra Vista, 2014 and deciding that they would stay, partly because theBeautiful landscape surrounds theCity, including theThe dramatic Huachuca Mountains are breathtaking the torrential thunderstorms of this year’s August monsoon had painted a vibrant shade of green. Rodriguez says Rodriguez discovered an unexpected dimension to the monsoon. theAddressing job theUnique public-safety issues that can arise when you live less than 12 miles away the border. “Right now, the cartels are recruiting teenagers on Snapchat,”He says. “They’re offering them $2,000 for each person they give a ride to.”
You can find it both here and in the more rural parts of the country. theEngel claims her background in environmental law made it possible for her to bridge district theThere is a gap between theLarge city the borderlands. “Just last Friday we were at the farm bureau dinner here in Cochise County,”Engel said this when I met him in Sierra Vista. A pepper farmer shared his anxiety there. theDropping water table on his property. A microcosm of the regional aridification being driven by theClimate crisis “People are actually losing their homes and businesses,” Engel says. “There’s nothing less valuable in the desert than a farm without water. Our lack of management, its ruining lives, its ruining families. This is real; it’s going on right now.”
Engel was present at Elisabeth Tyndall’s coffee hour shortly before our conversation. theChair theCochise County Democratic Party. The party office is located across Fry Boulevard in a Spanish tile-roofed strip center. the local Republican headquarters, where a handwritten sign was advertising a screening of Dinesh D’Souza’s election conspiracy movie, 2000 Mules. Engel started by sharing theResults from a poll that she had commissioned, which showed that she was leading Ciscomani by 2 points. The news was received with applause. the 20 volunteers in attendance. She said that this edge seemed to be rooted in. theOverturning Roe v. Wade was possible because around 60% of district voters believe that abortion should be legal. Engel quickly turned to the opposition. “Here in Arizona, the Republican Party has nominated the most extreme slate of characters imaginable, from Kari Lake to Blake Masters to Mark Finchem.”At theFinchem, self-professedly a member of the Advisory Board of theOath Keepers is running for Secretary of State. theThe crowd burst into laughter and disdain, causing a mixture of confusion and laughter.
Engel was unable to do anything for her opponent. “has not disavowed this slate at all.”Problem posed by theCiscomani’s cipherlike nature was highlighted when a eager canvasser raised his hand. “We need to know how to come at your opponent,”She said. “He’s very smooth.” The volunteer’s question went unanswered, but I posed it again when I spoke to Engel afterward. Engel was honest in her critique of Ciscomani, even though she declined to speak about it. theThe current conservative playbook “I think the Republicans are adopting a strategy where they have to be careful about making sure the candidates they are presenting really have a track record in representing the community that they’re going to serve, they’re not just checking off some boxes in terms of diversity.” Her point is well taken, even if I couldn’t help but note how it echoed theDemocrats often resort to attacks in order to recruit minority candidates and officials. This includes Vice-President Kamala Hariri, Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, and even Kamala Harris.
Although some Republicans might be more interested in identity politics than building long-lasting partnerships with borderland communities and people, Democrats underestimate this. theConservatism’s regional appeal is a danger to their own health. Will Hurd was president from 2015 to 2021. theFor congressman theTony Gonzales represents this vast border region. “In 2020, the number of Latinos voting for Republicans was not a surprise,”He asserts. Citing theA high percentage of people live in this area theLaw enforcement officers from borderlands are also available. theOil and natural gas production is concentrated in theHurd believes that Permian Basin is the bridge between West Texas and eastern New Mexico. theMany were motivated by the progressive acceptance of criminal-justice reforms and green energy. theTrump is open to all regions “What was happening in 2020 was these initiatives within the Democratic party were impacting the livelihoods of people that lived along the border, that was the significant difference.”
These issues will be back at the forefront of this election cycle. theFore of the race for New Mexico’s second district, where theRepublican incumbent theYvette Herrell is a former realtor and is currently fighting for reelection. New Mexico redistricting was not controlled by Arizona or Texas. Instead, Democrats passed an ambitious map that benefited progressives from all three states. the state’s congressional districts by inserting theSouth Valley of Albuquerque has been made into a rural community that was previously composed 80 percent Hispanic. theThe southern two-thirds the state. To meet theThe challenge of campaigning theHerrell, South Valley, has stressed the importance of addressing the neighborhood’s alarmingly high crime rate. To encourage her, theRNC opened recently “Hispanic Community Center” next door to a paletería on Central Avenue, Albuquerque’s main artery. “It doesn’t matter what race, what culture, whatever you celebrate,”Herrell stated that she was at the facility’s grand opening. “Let’s just remind each other that we should identify as Americans first” — a sly adaptation of Trump’s “America First”Credo in a multi-cultural context. (Herrell’s campaign declined an interview request.)
Herrell’s challenger in theGabriel Vasquez, a former Las Cruces City Councilman, is the race the state’s second-largest city. Vasquez, like Juan Ciscomani is an immigrant of the first generation and was quick to invoke theWhen I spoke with him in July, American Dream was what he said to me. Vasquez, however, seems less interested in casting himself as a shining star and more about how his story can help him connect to voters throughout southern New Mexico. “When I go talk to folks in Chaparral, or Sunland Park, or the South Valley, I share the same message of where I came from, how I got here, of the values that I’ll bring to Congress.” Vasquez’s greatest challenge will be making inroads in theThe southeast corner of theState, where theThe oil and gas sector has seen an explosion in recent years. His outreach to theThe region is the center of it theLow-wage Workers who are the majority of the population theHobbs was the boomtown. theThe population increased by nearly 20% the last decade as the state’s annual production of crude oil more than quadrupled.
Eduviges Hernandez, an organizer theHobbs chapter the statewide advocacy group Somos Un Pueblo Unido. She states: the city’s fast-growing Hispanic community is in dire need of basic health-care services, from doctors to a rehabilitation clinic. “Right now, when people need those things, they have to travel to Lubbock, Texas” — over 100 miles away. Education is another area of concern. Somos coordinates most of its voter outreach around a ballot issue that would allocate $150,000,000 to day cares and preschools across New Mexico. I asked her about the congressional race, Hernández said, “Yvette Herrell, she doesn’t want to talk to us. We’re going to support Gabriel Vasquez because he’s one of our people. He wants to meet with us, to see what the plan for the community is going to be.”
Rather than engage local organizers such as Hernandez, Herrell’s campaign has focused on a pitched rhetorical battle with theBoth are controlled by Democrats the state and federal governments, largely centered on Albuquerque’s surging violent crime (as theAccording to AP: the city’s homicide rate in 2021 ended up “shattering” thePrevious record was 46 percent Herrell called on theDepartment of Justice to be dissolved the consent decree — a slate of court-ordered reforms that includes specific training programs for uniform officers and community-engagement measures — it has had in place with theAlbuquerque Police Department Since 2014 thedepartment was killing people eight times faster than the national average the NYPD. It’s an issue that resonates throughout theState: According to a September poll theThe Albuquerque Journal discovered that 82% of New Mexico’s likely voters view violence as a serious concern. This is significantly higher than those who worry about education. the economy. “Our state’s largest city is worse-off following the enactment of this decree,”Herrell wrote a letter to Attorney General Merrick Galrland. “It is long past time that Albuquerque and our police department be allowed to govern themselves.”
However enticing law-and-order appeals may seem, it’s unclear how much ground Republicans can gain if they, like their counterparts elsewhere, remain trapped in an echo chamber of election denial. In June, officials in New Mexico’s Otero County — including Couy Griffin, the co-founder of a group called Cowboys for Trump — made national headlines when they refused to certify theResults of a local primary election, because they were conducted using Dominion voting machines. Two days later, I drove to theJohn Block, a conservative activist who was just defeated, will meet the county seat of Alamogordo the region’s incumbent representative in thestate house with 46 votes, but now it was agreed that there was cause to be skeptical the results. “If we have to do a hand count of the ballots, then I’m all for it,”Block spoke. “I do think their concerns about those machines are warranted, because there is wide reporting about how they can connect to the internet.”
Block and I talked on theA patio in a coffee shop theFoothills of theThe Sacramento Mountains offer a magnificent view of theHolloman Air Force Base was nearby. theWhite Sands Missile Range glitters, the1945 was the year that the first nuclear weapon was successfully tested. Alamogordo has less than 32,000 residents but it is an important testing ground. the state’s Republican Party — Yvette Herrell once held thePlace in theBlock will likely assume control of the state house in November. Block has been a resident of Alamogordo since a number of years. theOne of the old Hispaño families of northern New Mexico that claims Spanish colonial linage; both his grandfather and cousin once held elected office as Democrats. Block said that he left the party. theAfterparty theAffordable Care Act was approved and Donald Trump was so taken with it that he even showed up to sign it. the “Stop the Steal”Although he decided to rally on January 6, he was wise enough not to. theCapitol itself.
“I think the Democrat Party has been very good at messaging themselves as being open-minded,”Block says. “That’s why I ran. We need to be better at messaging, at packaging what we have to sell to these voters … Hispanics go to church, they’re faithful people. And then immigration, they see there’s a problem with people flooding into this country and when they get here there’s no real job prospects for them because they don’t have the skills to be successful.”Block believes that Block is right. “Hispanics are very conservative people. It just takes talking about the issues to push them in the right direction.”
Latinos have the perception that they are a large group. “natural conservatives”It dates back to Ronald Reagan who once said the San Antonio advertising executive Lionel Sosa, “Hispanics are already Republican, they just don’t know it.”George W. Bush arrived theHe was closest to convincing his predecessor, winning over 40 percent theHispanic votes in 2004 election saw him win New Mexico by fewer that 6,000 votes.
“If we’re talking about Catholicism, why is it that we don’t assume that all white Catholics are conservative?” ask Laura Gómez, theUCLA professor whose latest book, Inventing Latinos traces how theIt was thought that the extensive Latin American diaspora was a unique demographic. “There’s a great diversity among Catholics, and that exists among Mexican American Catholics, too.” To her point, both Vicente Gonzalez and Gabriel Vasquez identify as Catholic. “I’m a Democrat and I’m a Catholic and I also have an American flag in front of my home,” Gonzalez says. “The idea that we’ve allowed the Republican Party to own God and the Bible and patriotism is, I think, is just ridiculous.”
Hispanics respond well to patriotic appeals the border because many Mexican Americans feel compelled to distance themselves from undocumented immigrants — which is to say, those who didn’t immigrate the “right” way. This is especially true for those who want to work in law enforcement and serve in the military. the military. “You’re going to want to differentiate yourself from that group”This is the undocumented, Gómez says. “Especially if you did immigrate or your parents immigrated.”
There are certain signs that Republicans are more interested than ever in stoking. theStory of Mexican Americans who are more interested in conservatism than they were in addressing the problem theIniquities the borderlands, it’s impossible to deny that theCrosscurrents theRegion are exposed theThe same bitter divisions exist across countries theUnited States. The process of converting this schism to a permanent component of their electoral alliance may be as simple for Republicans as canning. theDiscriminatory rhetoric is what characterizes theTrump years and elevating other candidates, such as Tony Gonzales who couple “America first”Appeal to traditional grassroots politicking.
First, match up and then sustain theThe level of support George W. Bush enjoyed with Hispanics was enough to allow conservatives to take control of Washington. Each candidate must abandon the party in order to win. theThese are not the most current ideas about what Hispanics and Mexican Americans want or need. theCommunities they wish to represent at a granular scale. As Vicente Gonzalez put it: “You talk to a white American in West Texas, a white American in Austin, a white American in New York City, in Miami, in Los Angeles — you’re going to have five different stories. My Mexican American friends from L.A. and I are different. Even though we enjoy each other’s company and a common culture, our American experience has been very different. We’re as diverse as everyone else.”
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