Texas Republicans are facing what could be one of the most serious challenges from Democrats in recent history – and Hispanic voters could be part of that challenge.
Hispanic voters typically don’t vote in high numbers, but political analysts have been predicting that the young and growing Hispanic population in Texas could help Democrats in the near future. There’s also worry among some Republicans that immigration crackdowns and anti-Hispanic rhetoric from President Donald Trump could be fueling a backlash among those voters.
Hispanics are expected to be the biggest population group in Texas by 2022.
For some Republicans, though, the warning is overblown. Artemio Muniz, the chairman of the Federation of Hispanic Republicans, says he’s concerned because he's hearing more Republicans say the party doesn’t need to reach out to Hispanics.
“They’ll base their perspective on Trump’s victory,” he says.
Muniz says the 2016 election showed Republicans they can still win in a state like Texas even as party leaders present a hard line on immigration issues. That may have worked in 2016, he says, but eventually it will hurt the party.
Muniz argues the position a party takes on immigration is its message to Hispanic voters.
“You cannot have outreach without immigration," he says. "Immigration is outreach."
In particular, Muniz says, Republicans should be presenting an immigration policy for people who are already living in the U.S. without documentation.
“I think at the heart of the Hispanic community ... voters want to know what are you going to do with those people who are here, who are hard-working and are illegal," he says, "because a lot of people are connected to them."
But there are Republicans who say the party should focus on issues other than immigration and identity politics when talking to Hispanic voters.
“People don’t ask about that,” says Adryana Aldeen, an adviser to the Republican Party of Texas. “People want to know what can they do to keep most of their money in their pockets – and that is what we are answering.”
Aldeen says economic issues – especially issues like tax cuts – are more important to Hispanic voters in the state.
“The rhetoric sometimes coming out of the mouths of some people who pretend to represent the Republican Party … sometimes turns people off,” she says. “But most of them, they understand that the President Trump administration has been able to help them get more jobs and have more money inside of their pockets.”
Albert Morales with Latino Decisions, a national Latino political opinion research firm, says unless Democrats have a stronger message that promises big changes to the lives of Hispanic voters, these economic messages could continue to work for Republicans.
“Without a counter message from Democrats, it’s hard to disagree,” he says.
Overall though, the Hispanic vote is hard to predict because there hasn't been statewide polling of Hispanic voters – and that group largely doesn’t vote.
Furthermore, Morales says, not all Hispanic voters in Texas care about the same things.
“For example, most would agree that Texas is also the heart of the Latino Bible Belt,” he says. “There are a lot of very conservative voters who have their ideals set on social issues and they remain one-issue voters.”
Morales says there is an opening for Democrats in Texas that he hasn’t seen in a while and that's why the Senate race in Texas is closer than anyone expected. Republicans should be at least a little nervous, he says.
And, Muniz says, while the Hispanic vote might not pose a problem for the party this year, it will eventually.
“When you look at the numbers, and you look at the data, and you look at the trends, I think you realize that there is really something serious going on in terms of our short-term future,” he says. “And that’s where I think we need to wake up.”