Democrats were caught off guard by Donald Trump’s numbers in South Texas in 2020. The Hispanic Republican women who live there were not.
Many of them have played a leading role in urging their neighbors in majority-Hispanic South Texas to question their traditional loyalty to the Democratic Party.
Hispanic women now serve as party chairs in the state’s four southernmost border counties, spanning a distance from Brownsville almost to Laredo — places where Trump made some of his biggest inroads with Latino voters.
A half-dozen of them are running for Congress across the state’s four House districts that border Mexico, including Monica De La Cruz, the GOP front-runner in one of Texas’ most competitive seats in the Rio Grande Valley.
It’s some of the clearest evidence that Trump’s 2020 performance there may not have been an anomaly, but rather a sign of significant Republican inroads among Texas Hispanics — perhaps not enough to threaten the Democratic advantage among those voters, but enough to send ripples of fear through a party that is experiencing erosion among Hispanics across the country.
“For so long, people here just never had Republicans knocking on their doors and calling them the way we did in 2020. The majority of us are women that did it then and are doing it now because we feel it’s our responsibility to keep the American Dream alive,” said Mayra Flores, a leading candidate for the GOP nomination in a South Texas-based congressional seat.
For Flores, the road to becoming a Republican was similar to the path traveled by many Hispanic women in South Texas. She grew up seeing most of her immigrant family vote Democrat and felt that it was standard for Hispanics to only vote for Democrats. Then, she says, came an inflection point where she began to question her loyalty to the party.
A family member asked if she knew what both parties stood for, and after looking into it, Flores felt that her religious, anti-abortion and pro-border security views were more conservative than she’d ever thought and more in line with the GOP. Five years ago, she got involved in her local GOP and now a majority of her family votes Republican, too.
She wasn’t surprised at all to see Republicans gain ground in 2020 along the Texas-Mexico border, even as Democrats and Republicans outside the region expressed shock at results in places such as Zapata County — where Trump became the first GOP presidential nominee since 1920 to carry the county.
Neighboring Starr County saw the most dramatic shift of any county in the state when thousands more Republicans turned out to vote than in prior elections. While President Joe Biden ultimately won the county with 52 percent of the vote to Trump’s 47 percent, that paled in comparison to Hillary Clinton’s 2016 performance, when she garnered 79 percent to Trump’s 19 percent.
Claudia Alcazar, chairwoman of the Starr County Republican Party, switched parties about two years ago after being a Democrat her entire adult life. She said it hasn’t been an easy transition in communities like hers that remain majority Democratic, pointing to the strain it has caused in her own family.
Alcazar, 54, said her decision to become a Republican came after discussing politics with a high school friend running for mayor.
“We went down the list of all my beliefs and at the end I was like, ‘Oh my God, I am a Republican. I just didn’t know it.’ I was so used to being told and seeing myself as a Democrat,” she said. “It’s like being used to drinking Coca Cola and then one day you taste Dr. Pepper and you’re like, ‘wow, I really like this one.’ I truly shocked myself.”
After a pause, she said, “And some of my family members. They’re not happy with me.”
Like Alcazar, Hispanic GOP women in the Rio Grande Valley don’t have one specific reason for why they ultimately switched parties, according to interviews with several Hispanic GOP women officials across South Texas and GOP operatives.
They want more border security or are staunchly against abortions. They feel their husbands, family members, neighbors and friends that are Border Patrol agents or are in law enforcement are being unfairly villainized by Democrats. They worry Democrats are hostile to the oil and gas industry, which provides many good-paying jobs in the state. They worry the left is forgetting family values and the value of work.