Posted on November 13, 2018

Latinos Could Turn Texas Blue in 2020 If Enthusiasm Holds, Some Say

Obed Manuel and Dianne Solis, Dallas News, November 11, 2018

The blue wave lapped at the shores of Texas this year — and it was powered by Latino voters.

Though Republicans held on against the current in statewide races, Latinos helped send El Paso’s Veronica Escobar and Houston’s Sylvia Garcia of Houston to Washington, D.C. They’ll be the state’s first two Latinas in Congress.

Democrats won 12 Texas House seats, including five in Dallas, and unseated two North Texas Republican state senators.

And the surge of Latino voters across the state almost made the difference in the nationally watched Senate race between Beto O’Rourke and Ted Cruz.

That has Latino voter mobilization groups and political experts confident that enthusiasm around the 2018 race, paired with natural population growth, is likely to make Texas a truly competitive state by 2020 and maybe even a shade of blue.

Bernard Fraga, an assistant political science professor at Indiana University, said the Texas population is already that of a purple state and the only reason it isn’t a swing state is that many residents don’t vote. {snip}

Fraga analyzed early voter turnout in some of Texas’ largest, most diverse counties and found that Latino turnout matched that of the 2016 presidential election, when turnout is generally higher.

“What we’re seeing is that it can be done as long as Democrats employ a strategy for reaching Latinos who aren’t registered and don’t usually vote,” Fraga said. {snip}

In Dallas County, where about 40 percent of the population is Hispanic, 300,000 more people voted in this election than in 2014. The heavier turnout helped lift several Latinos to political victories.

{snip} overall turnout surged in Texas from 2014 to 2018 in heavily Latino counties, especially those along the border:

  • Dallas County — 86 percent increase
  • Hidalgo — 105 percent increase
  • Cameron County — 115 percent increase
  • El Paso County, O’Rourke’s home county — 168 percent increase

National Latino voter turnout has been on the rise steadily, according to the Pew Research Center. About 12.7 million Latinos voted in 2016; 11.2 million voted in 2014; and 9.7 million voted in 2008.


Though younger Latinos tend to favor progressive candidates, many older Latinos tend to vote in line with traditional, sometimes Catholic values.

Election polling by Latino Decisions in Texas found that about 70 percent of Latinos supported Democratic candidates. And a national Associated Press exit poll found that nearly 70 percent of Latinos reported voting Democratic.

Statewide, Associated Press exit polls showed that 69 percent of Latinos reported voting for O’Rourke compared to 30 percent for Cruz. Similarly, 63 percent of Latinos reported voting for Lupe Valdez for governor over incumbent Gov. Greg Abbott, who got 35 percent.


Historically, Latino politicos who head to Congress have come from both parties. Nearly six decades ago, the first Latino to the U.S. House of Representatives was a Democrat, Henry B. Gonzalez of San Antonio, in 1961. The first Latina to head to Congress was a Republican, Florida’s Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen in 1989.

The first Latino to reach the U.S. Senate was a Republican, Octaviano Ambrosio Larrazola in 1928 from New Mexico. The Mexico-born lawyer had also run before as a Democrat.

And O’Rourke, of course, is not Latino, despite his use of his Spanish nickname “Beto” rather than his birth name, Robert. Cruz, whose birth name is Rafael and nickname is Ted, is the son of a Cuban immigrant.


Nancy Richer, the Dallas County GOP’s Hispanic engagement director, said she was happy to see many new Latino voters make their voices heard at the polls, though she feels Republicans may have fumbled the conversation around immigration, leading many Latinos to support Democrats.


A survey released last month by Jolt Initiative, a Texas Latino issues think tank, found that younger Latinos in Texas prioritize health care for all, immigration reform and social justice issues above most issues. Almost a third openly identify as Democrats, though most are independent.


Matt Barreto, the co-founder and pollster at Latino Decisions, said a big part of Texas Latinos voting for Democrats was the voter courtship employed by O’Rourke, who paid many visits to the border community to the southeast of his own border hometown of El Paso.


A road map to a blue Texas


But over the next 10 years, 2 million Latinos will turn 18 in Texas and about 95 percent of them will be eligible to vote.

This natural growth, said Jolt director Tzintzun, is what makes her feel optimistic about Latinos making more of an impact in future elections.


The four-organization effort — which includes Jolt Texas, Texas Freedom Network, Move Texas and Youth Rise — aims to register 300,000 new, mostly Latino and black voters between 18 to 25 by 2020. This demographic largely tends to favor Democratic, liberal candidates, Tzintzun said

Despite Cruz’s victory, Tzintzun said, this election served as a road map to getting Latinos to the polls and turning Texas purple or maybe even blue.