Hispanic Democrats in Congress are warning that a lack of investment in outreach to Hispanic voters will cost the party more seats after Republicans flipped a Texas border district in a special election Tuesday.
Republican activist Mayra Flores defeated Democrat Dan Sanchez in a district that was open after Democrat Filemon Vela resigned from Congress in March.
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has assured lawmakers they’ll reclaim the seat in November when candidates run in a reconfigured district that’s more Democratic. But Texas lawmakers such as Rep. Sylvia Garcia (D) say without major investment in resources, money, and ground game, the party will lose similar seats in the region.
“Texas has just been forgotten by the Democratic Party for a very long time,” Garcia said. “If we expect to keep those seats, we better work out and own that ground, or else we are going to lose them.”
Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-Texas) said Republicans have done “a good bit of work” along Texas’ southern border during the last several years. He said the loss should serve as “a reminder for state and national Democrats that we have to invest in the south of Texas the way we invest in the suburbs of Ohio and Pennsylvania.”
The DCCC is planning to put more muscle into the district in November’s general election, said spokeswoman Monica Robinson. Democrats will be backing Rep. Vicente Gonzalez, who is moving from the 15th to the reconfigured 34th.
Rep. Veronica Escobar (D-Texas) said she’d paid about half of her required dues to the DCCC to assist the party in keeping the House, including contributing to the most vulnerable Democrats known as “Frontliners.” Escobar said she’ll now “hang on” to the other half of her dues to spend in her own district.
“Especially in Texas, and especially in communities of color, it’s very important that we make investments,” she said. “We need a long-term strategy of investment not just in Frontline seats, but in areas where we have seen an erosion of support for the Democratic Party.”
Meeting with Maloney
Escobar said she and other Texas Latinos are scheduled to meet with DCCC Chair Sean Patrick Maloney (N.Y.) next week to better understand the party’s strategy.
“It needs to be responsive to the different districts because each Latino district is so different,” she said, noting her district in El Paso has key differences from districts farther south along the border.
Maloney, in a statement, said Flores shouldn’t get too comfortable in Washington. President Joe Biden would’ve carried the new 34th by 16 percentage points, which may be why Democrats didn’t invest as much as Republicans in the race.
“She’ll barely have enough time to set up her desk before South Texans send her packing again,” Maloney said. “It’s all eyes on November now as we gear up to send Vicente Gonzalez back to Congress this fall.”
Several Hispanic lawmakers said they didn’t necessarily see the outcome of Tuesday’s special election as a rejection of the Democratic Party by Hispanic voters. The issue is a lack of engagement, said Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), noting that Republicans vastly outspent Democrats in Tuesday’s race.
“I don’t think we can make any sort of broader kind of tea leaf assessment about anything, about ideology, about party, about anything, if we’re not down there on the ground,” she said.
Rep. Nanette Barragán (D-Calif.), vice chair of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, said Democrats need to better translate their legislative wins, including turning the acronyms and jargon of Washington into Spanish that reflects the dialects of various communities.
“We have to be able to speak in the language of our communities. That’s where we fall short,” she said. “And we don’t have a lot of time to correct that.”
Mia McCarthy also contributed to this story.
To contact the reporter on this story: Emily Wilkins in Washington at firstname.lastname@example.org