While Democrats have scored notable successes in majority white states like Oklahoma, Missouri and NY State, in majority-white districts with many college graduates, there is one notable set of places where they have surprisingly struggled to make gains-Hispanic-majority districts. In these places, unlike the suburbs often talked about as deciding the majority, the actual battle for the House could be decided. If so, Democrats might be in trouble.
Democrats are sure they will benefit from the immigration debate roiling the country. But, if they do, it will be because of suburban women as much as angry Hispanics turning out at the polls. If anything, the early returns are a sobering reminder GOP candidates are being able to hold onto their individual brands even as their party becomes more nationalistic and nativist.
There may be no better example of this dynamic at play then in the state of Texas. Representative Will Hurd, a Republican narrowly elected in 2014, represents a district that is 70 percent Hispanic and a seat Clinton carried by four points. Hurd, has been a frequent critic of Trump, criticizing Trump’s stance on a border wall and his handling of the family border issue. But, as Democrats remind voters, his party affiliation helps keep Trump in power.
Early on, only Congressional Republicans thought he could win. But, he actually has a shot to hold the seat due to his unique stances. Democrats have a star recruit in Gina Ortiz Jones, but to date there is no indication she has the upper hand in the contest. This contrasts with other battlegrounds in TX in affluent, white districts such as John Culberson’s Houston based seat and Pete Session’s Dallas based seat where the voters being fought over are conservative leaning fiscally but socially moving left. It is debatable where either of these seats are more competitive than Hurd’s, but Hurd holding his own in the current environment is impressive.
Another sign, sticking with Texas, is the recently concluded special election for former Rep. Blake Farenthold’s South Texas district. The reliably red district is actually majority-Hispanic, yet GOP candidates on the ballot tallied 60 percent of the vote, barely less than Trump’s 61 percent. The winner was a GOP white male who avoided a run-off, even as the border crisis raged only miles way.
Similarly, these results mirror the results of the Texas primaries in March, where competitive Democratic primaries saw increased turnout from 2014 but much, much less than GOP turnout. The Democrats hope to defeat Ted Cruz and their “rockstar” fundraiser, Beto O”Rourke, actually underperformed in many border towns with large Hispanic populations. For example, he carried 87 percent of the vote in Travis County (Austin) but fell short of a majority in many counties near the border against a no-name challenger.
If it was only Texas, Democrats might be able to write Texas off due to its conservative roots. But, the same dynamic is at play in Florida and California. In California, Democrats have a legitimate shot at several GOP held seats including retiring Rep. Ed Royce’s. But, the seat is surprisingly competitive. Despite being plurality Hispanic and whites barely constituting a majority, a DCCC survey found GOP candidate Young Kim leading Democrat Gil Cisneros by two points. If Hispanics were breaking down the door to vote it would be manifest in the survey results.
The same can be seen in the majority-Hispanic district of Republican Rep. David Valadao, who defied Democrats in his mostly Hispanic district and won 63 percent of the primary vote in 2014. This year, he tumbled to … 62.8 percent, the smallest falloff of any incumbent Republican. Accordingly, there’s less talk about flipping this seat, which backed Hillary Clinton for president in 2016. In every other competitive district short of CA-49, Republicans outpolled Democrats in their primaries and unless Democrats increase turnout in November their gains could be minimal.
Florida is perhaps even more surprising than California. In a shocker, Governor Rick Scott is competitive against three-term Senator Bill Nelson because of his popularity with Hispanics. Two new polls show Scott outpolling the President among the voting bloc by big margins. One survey, by CBS News, shows Nelson leading among Hispanics by a single point, 37-36. The other survey from NBC/Marist finds Nelson leading 52-42 but when compared to Trump’s approval rating among Hispanics Scott’s standing stands out.
Looking at differing Hispanic groups, particularly Puerto Ricans, a Democratic leaning group, Scott sports a 55 percent approval rating in a Florida International University Survey compared to Nelson’s 57 percent. Many of these voters sit in the crucial I-4 Corridor and often swing elections. Democrats were optimistic in the wake of Hurricane Maria these voters would give them an advantage in the midterms but Scott has been welcoming of the newcomers, has traveled to the island often and is aggressively airing ads, just as Marco Rubio did two years ago, in Spanish making his case to this group directly. Nelson has just started.
Down South, a historically down-ballot GOP region due to Cuban-Americans anti-communist tendencies, one Republican is showing his resiliency. Rep. Carlos Curbelo, in a recent Democratic survey, sports a 42-27 favorability score, and surprisingly 48 percent of voters approve of Trump. If the survey is true, Democrats may have already lost one of their expected best pick-ups in November. By contrast, Clinton carried the district by 16 points.
Democrats have banked a lot on immigration driving their victories in November. But, instead of turning Hispanics against the GOP it seems all it has done is accelerate the exodus of college educated white women from the GOP. White men have not moved. Indeed, it seems if anything the largest movement towards Democrats and the thing giving them hope to take the majority in November is the gender gap. But, if so, these new representatives would be unlikely to want to upset the established economic order and push to move the country far to the left, in contrast to a socialist upsetting an established Democratic leader in NY-14.
The results are an uncomfortable reminder of the staying power of the GOP to Democrats and also dismaying to Republicans who championed the RNC’s 2013 autopsy report claiming the party needed to moderate on immigration. Trump won despite embracing a hard-line position and managed to garner more Hispanic votes than Romney before him. If anything, it seems Hispanics are behaving more like the average American voter, balancing competing issues and policies and perhaps prioritizing the growing economy, over a single issue like immigration, in choosing Congressional candidates.