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To Win Back Latino Voters They Lost In 2020, Democrats Will Have To Address The Distinctiveness Of South Texas

Webb County Republican voters in the fall of 2020.
Maria Mendez/TPR
Webb County Republican voters in the fall of 2020.

"In the three-hour drive between Laredo and San Antonio ... Mexican-American culture, Latino culture, changes in those miles."

From Texas Standard:

South Texas has been a Democratic stronghold for decades. But that seemed to change in 2020 when many traditionally Democratic voters favored former President Donald Trump instead. Until Trump, a Republican presidential candidate hadn't been as popular in the region in about a century.

Jack Herrera explored the implications of that shift, and the possible reasons for it, in a recent article for Texas Monthly.

Herrera told Texas Standard that Trump's ability to turn traditionally Democratic voters was "pretty unprecedented."

"No other region in the country, no other collection of counties, fled as far to the right – I should say, as far in favor of Trump in 2020 – as South Texas did," Herrera said.

He cites the prominence of the oil and gas industry, some voters' frustration with COVID-19 shutdowns and well-organized Republican campaigns as likely reasons for the shift.

But he also says the reasons could be cultural. He says it's important to remember that the so-called Latino vote is not monolithic. And Latino voters in South Texas are more culturally conservative than Latinos elsewhere in the state.

"There are degrees of difference and deep culture, deep cultural heritages that are distinct," Herrera said. "In the three-hour drive between Laredo and San Antonio, the world changes, and Mexican-American culture, Latino culture, changes in those miles."

Now the question is how Democrats plan to win those voters back. He says South Texas is a priority for Democrats running in 2022 primary races. Candidates will likely have publicity aimed specifically at South Texas Latinos. But it's still unclear whether those candidates will try to sell themselves as more moderate Democrats, or even try to position themselves as conservative.

"The soul searching in the Democratic Party will be answered in that primary election," Herrera said.

Until then, it's anyone's guess. After all, Democratic Socialist presidential candidate Bernie Sanders won the 2020 primary there "comfortably," he said.

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Caroline Covington is Texas Standard's digital producer/reporter. She joined the team full time after finishing her master's in journalism at the UT J-School. She specializes in mental health reporting, and has a growing interest in data visualization. Before Texas Standard, Caroline was a freelancer for public radio, digital news outlets and podcasts, and produced a podcast pilot for Audible. Prior to journalism, she wrote and edited for marketing teams in the pharmaceutical and cosmetics industries. She has a bachelor's in biology from UC Santa Barbara and a master's in French Studies from NYU.
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