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Texas Republicans hope to send their first Latina to Congress

Two Latina Democrats from the state took their seats in Congress in January 2019. A newly redrawn district could elect the first GOP Hispanic female in November.
Monica De La Cruz Hernandez
Republican Monica De La Cruz, in her office in Alamo, Texas, on July 8, is running in the general election for the 15th Congressional District seat.Eric Gay / AP file

SAN ANTONIO — Texas made state history when it elected its first Latinas, both Democrats, to Congress in the 2018 midterm elections.

In November, there’s a chance for the state to hit another milestone — electing its first Republican Latina to the U.S. House.

Monica De La Cruz, endorsed by former President Donald Trump, has been tagged as Republicans’ best chance to win a congressional seat anchored in the overwhelmingly Latino border region of Texas.

Republicans hope momentum is on De La Cruz's side given the Republican tilt of the newly redrawn Texas 15th Congressional District, where she is running, as well as recent gains in Latino voter support for Trump in the heavily Latino areas of South Texas.

De La Cruz, 47, an insurance agent, won the eight-way Republican primary with 56.54 percent of the vote to become the GOP nominee for the open seat.

It is the second time she has run for the seat. She lost her bid to unseat incumbent Democrat Vicente Gonzalez in 2020.

“I think in 2020 we did not have the financial means to spread our message, but we did have hundreds of volunteers knocking on doors and doing the grassroots activities to help us be successful,” De La Cruz said. “The difference in 2022 is we get to marry our hundreds of volunteers with the financial means to be able to spread our message."

The Justice Department is challenging Texas' redrawn districts as discriminatory, but that’s not likely to be resolved before November.

Democrats must await a May runoff between Ruben Ramirez, an attorney and Army veteran, and Michelle Vallejo, a businesswoman and activist, to decide who will take on De La Cruz in November.

De La Cruz, who was raised by a single mother who worked as a secretary for the state's human services agency, said she grew up a Democrat, supporting the dominant party in the Rio Grande Valley and parts of South Texas.

A 2006-20 voting history provided by Democrats shows she voted in Democratic primaries four separate years and in at least two Republican primaries. Texans don't register by party, but the primaries they vote in are usually recorded.

De La Cruz became a Republican because of what she said was the "vilification" of law enforcement and immigration and border agents, she said.

She is campaigning on an anti-socialism platform, defining socialism as government overreach, including telling businesses what they can and can't do about Covid vaccines and government handouts that "pay for things for people," rather than create equal opportunity.

De La Cruz shut down her insurance agency during the pandemic, which hurt her workers, who depend on sales. De La Cruz, who said she is fully vaccinated and boosted against Covid, thinks vaccinations should be a personal choice.

She will have to overcome some controversy about her marriage and allegations her husband has made in court documents about how she has treated her stepdaughter.

Despite the increased GOP showing, Democrats had a higher turnout this year in the 15th District, casting 32,519 votes to Republicans' 29,715, according to results from the state secretary of state

Previous elections show that Latina Republicans outperform white male or female GOP colleagues in general elections, particularly when voters know little about the candidates, said Mark P. Jones, a political science fellow at Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy.

“The lower the information about the race, the more voters are going to rely on cues like ethnicity and gender,” Jones said, citing Latinas' performances in Texas judicial races. “The difficulty is getting through the Texas primary.”

De La Cruz’s primary didn't include a strong white conservative Republican candidate, and Trump’s endorsement helped push her through with Texas’ staunchly conservative primary voters, Jones said. 

De La Cruz may be considered the party’s best chance, but other GOP Latinas are contending to make congressional history. Should any win their general election, they would follow Democratic Reps. Veronica Escobar of El Paso and Sylvia Garcia of Houston, who were the first Texas Latinas elected to Congress.

Republican Mayra Flores, a naturalized citizen originally from Mexico, won her primary and faces Gonzalez in the 34th District. Gonzalez chose not to run for re-election in the 15th and jumped to the 34th after state legislators drew his home out of his original district.

Carmen Maria Montiel is the GOP nominee in the 18th District, and Irene Armendariz Jackson is the nominee in the 16th, where Escobar is the incumbent. Both Montiel and Armendariz face uphill battles in solidly Democratic districts with strong incumbent women of color.

Another GOP Latina, Cassy Garcia, is in a runoff with Sandra Whitten in the 28th District. The winner will face the victor in the Democrats' runoff between Rep. Henry Cuellar, who is dealing with an FBI investigation, and attorney Jessica Cisneros.

Jenny Garcia Sharon is the Republican nominee in District 37, a solidly Democratic district where Rep. Lloyd Doggett of Austin is running.

Laura Barberena, a Democratic political consultant, said GOP Latinas will have to go beyond gender and ethnicity to win in November.

“Republicans are doing this because they know what makes a good story,” Barberena said. “Let’s talk about Latinos and Latinas running in the congressional seat so we can forget about the fact that when we have another storm, our state is not winterized."

Women are helped by providing a safe work environment, making schools safe from gun violence and instituting policies that protect women’s health, even in the termination of pregnancies, Barberena said.

While Republican voting in the primaries didn't hit the levels in the 2020 presidential election year, Republicans' turnout increased over their 2018 performance in some Texas counties along the border where Republicans are trying to gain ground.

Meanwhile, Democratic turnout dropped in those counties. But more Democrats voted than Republicans in several of the counties, The Dallas Morning News reported.

Republican turnout increased from very low bases in some counties, Jones said. For example, in Starr County in the Rio Grande Valley, 14 Republicans voted in the governor's race in 2018, compared to 1,089 this year.

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