Texas is becoming increasingly Latino – and some think the Republican party in the state is not engaging this growing demographic. ( Photo: Jewel Samad//AFP/Getty Images))

Texan Latinos changing the state from red to blue

Texan Latinos got fired up and went to the polls — but not for Republicans, and not for Latino Republican Tea Party candidate Ted Cruz.  While Cruz won the Senate seat, he only won 35 percent of the state’s Hispanic vote.

“Texas Latino voters demonstrated strong support for President Obama, where he won 70 percent of the Latino vote,” said political scientist Sylvia Manzano. This is quite a change from 2004, when Texas Hispanics pretty much divided their vote with 50 percent for John Kerry and 49 percent for George Bush.  In Texas’ 23rd congressional district, Republican congressman Francisco “Quico” Canseco lost his seat to Democrat Pete Gallego.

Frank Sharry, of the progressive immigrants rights organization America’s Voice Education Fund, pointed to immigration as one of the issues which cost Texas Republicans a significant part of the Latino vote.  “The GOP’s lurch to the right on immigration destroyed their chances of re-taking the White House and the Senate,” Sharry says.  While Texas is still considered a conservative “red” state, Sharry says the 2012 election produced a mandate for immigration reform, “and the Congressional delegation from Texas should take notice.”

As Manzano points out, an impreMedia/Latino Decisions poll found 59 percent of Texan Latinos said they were more enthusiastic about voting for President Obama after he granted deferred action to DREAMers, and 55 percent of Texan Latinos said Mitt Romney’s “self-deportation” comments made them less enthusiastic about voting for him.
“I think Texas will become purple in the next 6 to 10 years,” says Stella Rouse, assistant professor of politics and government at the University of Maryland. “I think Texan Republicans have to evolve, but I foresee a battle within the Republican party in the next few years,” Rouse adds.

Texan Republican Joshua Treviño, who writes for Texas Monthly, agrees.  “I agree there are two camps in Texas,” he says; one like George W. Bush, Kay Bailey Hutchinson and Governor Rick Perry, who said in the Republican primaries that those who want to deny in-state tuition to undocumented students “had no heart” (Treviño says that pro-immigrant comment “wiped Perry out” from the Republican presidential running ), and a more recent type of Texan Republican intent on eliminating in-state tuition for immigrants and who advocates for Arizona-type immigration laws.

“You’ve got a Hispanic population in Texas that has deep roots, and many are Catholic, gun owners and pro-life — in other words, they check the Republican boxes,” says Treviño. “But it doesn’t matter if your name is Jeff Garza and you are a sixth generation Texan; if you think Republicans don’t want Hispanics around, you are not going to vote for them,” he says.

Rouse says Texan Republicans have to re-think their message — as well as their policies.  “Latinos always poll high on education,” she says, saying this is an issue where Republican policies in states like Texas “should be about how a family can rise from the lower class to the middle class through a message of opportunity, not just about tax breaks for the rich.”

“Texas is the cockpit in which the conservative future either is redesigned, so we win 40 percent of the Latino vote, or everything completely implodes and falls apart,” Treviño says.  He adds if some Texan Republicans are intent on passing legislation perceived as anti-Hispanic, “Barack Obama winning over 70 percent of the Latino vote will be the new normal.”

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