Republicans flip key Texas border city in Democratic stronghold that was hard hit by border crisis

News & Politics

For the first time in a long time, the major border city of McAllen, Texas, will have a Republican mayor.

Republicans managed to flip McAllen’s mayorship in a run-off election on Saturday, continuing forward GOP momentum in an area of Texas that has been a longtime stronghold for Democrats.

What are the details?

Javier Villalobos, a McAllen city commissioner, will succeed Democrat Jim Darling as mayor of McAllen after defeating fellow city commissioner Veronica Vela Whitacre in the run-off election.

Villalobos reportedly won by just 206 votes.

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“It was a tight one, so I congratulate my opponent,” Villalobos said, according to the Progress Times. “It was a very well run campaign. But we’re very glad and fortunate that we prevailed.”

The result indicates that Republican momentum in southern Texas has not slowed. In the 2020 election, former President Donald Trump made significant inroads with voters along the U.S.-Mexico border, which indicated that south Texas voters are souring on Democratic policies and Democratic politicians who assume their support.

Even more significant, McAllen is about 85% Hispanic, and Hidalgo County, in which McAllen is located, has historically voted for Democratic candidates by significant margins in presidential elections.

In fact, Hillary Clinton defeated Donald Trump by more than 40% in 2016, while Barack Obama topped Mitt Romney by more than 40% in 2012 and John McCain by nearly 40% in 2008. Hidalgo County voters even voted for John Kerry in 2004 and Al Gore in 2000 over George W. Bush, despite Bush having served as governor of Texas. The last time a Republican won Hidalgo County was in 1972.

Meanwhile, Trump lost to Joe Biden by less than 20%, the smallest margin in the county since 2004, signaling a shift in voter sentiment at the border.

What is driving the shift?

Political experts observe that a significant political realignment is happening at the U.S.-Mexico border as demonstrated by presidential election results in 2020.

Along the Texas-Mexico border, “Trump won 14 of the 28 counties that Clinton had nearly swept in 2016 while winning by an average of 33 percentage points. This year those same counties went for Biden by an average of just 17 points,” the Texas Tribune reported.

Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas), who represents a congressional district that borders Mexico, said south Texas residents, despite traditionally supporting Democrats, are very similar to the demographic of Americans who supported Trump.

“Aside from Hispanic heritage, most of the Rio Grande Valley and South Texas have similar demographics to Trump’s strongholds in rural communities across the country,” Cuellar told the Texas Tribune. “It’s homogenous, deeply religious, pensively patriotic, socially conservative, and it’s hurting economically.”

Rep. Vicente Gonzalez (D-Texas), who represents the congressional district that includes McAllen, agreed.

“Hispanics, especially Mexican Americans, they like this machismo, bravado, lucha libre-style politics — it’s like all-star wrestling, Trump style,” Gonzalez said. “It fits perfectly with the South Texas, Tejano person.”

The ongoing migrant crisis may also explain why a Republican will now lead McAllen.

Outgoing Democratic mayor Darling told USA Today that McAllen received the “brunt” of the migrant influx, considering its geographic location and its infrastructure network that allows migrants to travel further inland.

Rep. Filemon Vela (D-Texas), who has since announced she will not seek re-election in 2022, also sounded the alarm for Democrats and their standing in South Texas.

“Democrats have a big problem in Texas,” Vela said in January. “For the first time in generations, or maybe ever, we lost … South Texas counties with significant Hispanic populations. And we are going to have to … wrap our arms around exactly why that happened. It may be a difficult issue to reconcile.”

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