How Republicans in the Rio Grande Valley Are Using Confidence to Attract Latino Voters

Republican outposts are popping up there, among the lush oak and palm groves of the Rio Grande Valley, a mostly Hispanic area along the US-Mexico border that has voted solidly Democratic.

Hidalgo County GOP headquarters was busy on a mid-September day when CBS News knocked on its doors in McAllen, Texas. The foyer was filled with candidate signs and stickers from a slate of Republican candidates. Inside, Hidalgo County GOP President Adrienne Pea-Garza was running a phone bank for GOP candidates — something she says was unheard of a few election cycles ago.

The slate of Republican candidates at the Hidalgo County GOP headquarters in McAllen, Texas.

CBS News

“Family, faith and freedom. I mean, that’s the message that’s working for us,” Pea-Garza said in an interview aired on the CBS News special streaming “CBS Reports: El Podar.”

A similar slogan worked for newly elected Representative Myra Flores, who in June became the first Mexican-born woman to be sworn in in Congress. Her campaign, with the help of the GOP, spent more than a million dollars.

“God, Family, Country” Floors is front and center on the campaign signs that dot the home’s highways and front lawns.

The 36-year-old, who is married to a US Border Patrol agent, won Texas’ 34th congressional district special election to fill the seat of Democratic Rep. Philemon Vela.

“The Republican Party is investing in the Hispanic community because they understand that the Hispanic community is the future of this country,” Flores told CBS News in Washington, DC, “It is time for us to talk about our faith and Let no one be ashamed. Let us believe in God and fight for strong family values.”

This is a message Luis Cabrera, pastor of the City Church of Harlingen, preaches from the pulpit on Sundays. Cabrera, who identifies as a Republican, calls himself Flores’ spiritual advisor.

The Evangelical Church of Pastor Luis Cabrera sits on an access road off a busy highway. A new type of MAGA flag hangs from the rafters—it reads “Make America Godly Again.”

CBS News

His evangelical church sits on an access road off a busy highway. A drum kit, along with guitar and other instruments, sit on stage for the musicians who play and pray. A new type of MAGA flag hangs from the rafters—it reads “Make America Godly Again.”

Cabrera says that Flores contacted her and said she liked the message and wanted to use it for her campaign.

“I’m like, are you serious, Myra? Like, [those are] fight words. Not everyone will agree,” Cabrera recalled. But Cabrera says Flores insisted.

Cabrera says Hispanic Republican candidates in the Rio Grande Valley who speak openly about their faith are getting sympathetic ears. The issue Cabrera highlighted was gay marriage, which he says shows a huge difference between Democrats and Republicans.

“To them their god is simply obsolete. You know why? Because of our traditional values ​​of marriage between a man and a woman. They don’t believe in that. They believe in same-sex marriage, which is their right. But as a Christian, that affects us. I don’t want my son and daughter to be told that it’s okay to be gay. No, it’s not okay to be gay. It’s against the word of God. And so, It speaks there,” Cabrera explained.

A recent CBS News poll of registered voters shows that nearly half, 49%, of registered voters believe LGBTQ people will have less rights and freedoms if Republicans win control of Congress in the fall.

While preaching from the pulpit may be taboo in some churches, Cabrera states that his church is not a 501(c)3, non-profit, so he has no problem talking about his politics to his flock. Not there.

“We have the power to make choices and we have the power to set people on fire. That’s awesome. It’s the greatest weapon we have, but we don’t use it. Why not?” Cabrera asked.

Flores supporter Selina Tafola talks openly about her political views and her beliefs. Tafola says he was made a Democrat, but after President Trump’s election, he decided not to keep quiet about being a Republican in the Rio Grande Valley.

“You know, God first. Your loyalty is not to any political party, your loyalty is to God. And that’s why you should vote red, because it aligns with our values,” she said.

Discussions about border security surround the area. Government data shows that in this fiscal year, border patrols made more than 400,000 arrests in the Rio Grande Valley, a record for the region.

Hidalgo County Democratic Chair Richard Gonzales said key Democratic Party issues such as abortion, gun control and the environment are not as important to some as the economy, crime and immigration – a major focus for Republicans.

“The biggest misconception is that we are (a) cartel-run, open-borders, poor, crime-ridden city, crime-ridden community. That’s not true at all,” Gonzales said. “National [GOP] The message was basically, hey, the valley is just an open border area. It is full of illegal immigrants. They are taking your job… taking your money.”

But as the campaign season draws to a close, what will be decisive in the outcome of the mid-term elections?

Mark Kaswan, a professor of political science at the University of Texas, Rio Grande Valley, says the Rio Grande Valley is worth seeing, although he doesn’t expect a red wave. There’s a better-than-even chance that Democrats will win the Flores seat back, Kaswan predicted, though he said his victory gave hope to Rio Grande Valley Republicans.

“They have opened that door,” Kaswan said. “They see an opportunity to make a profit.”

Republicans are maintaining their lead in the House, although their margins for securing a majority are shrinking, According to the CBS News Battleground Tracker, Republicans and Democrats alike are concerned that they will have fewer rights and freedoms than they currently do if the opposing party wins, CBS News polls show.

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