Hispanic voters tipped races in battleground states, Latino groups say

EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) – Hispanic voters played a key role in contested races in the 2022 midterm elections, a coalition of Latino rights groups said.

And while Republicans had a chance to capitalize on concerns over the economy, they blew it by embracing the Trump-era immigration discourse and misjudging their nuanced views on abortion, group leaders said quoting exit polling of Latino voters.

“There are three key takeaways. Hispanics affirmed their critical role in shaping the country’s political landscape as voters and as candidates in some cases. Hispanic voters were the tipping point in battleground states,” Clarissa Martinez de Castro, vice president of the Latino Vote Initiative for the nonprofit UnidosUS, said in a recent Zoom call.

The group is part of the coalition that commissioned a BSP Research poll including border states like Texas and Arizona, and the battleground states of Nevada, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. Latino voters expressed support for Democrats by 63 percent to 73 percent in those states, according to BSP.

Graphic courtesy BSP Research

The other two political takeaways are that the GOP message “remains out of step” with Latinos and that more first-time Hispanic voters than ever participated in a mid-term election and that many of them are young, Martinez and other advocates said.

“One in four Latinos have a family member who is an immigrant from Mexico, Central or South America. All have heard stories and the history of those who made the journey to the United States,” said Sergio Gonzalez, executive director of The Immigration Hub. “When Republicans talk about immigration with loaded racial language, Latinos hear that loud and clear. (The GOP) failed to capture more Latinos because of that loaded language on immigration that they know is aimed at them.”

The poll found that immigration enforcement/border security was not a top 5 concern among Hispanic voters going into the election. The Republicans also made a blanket assumption about Latinos’ views on abortion that turned out to be erroneous, the groups said.

“Latinos are strongly grounded in family in faith […] but they don’t try to impose their will on others,” Martinez said. The poll found that 76 percent of Hispanic voters who identify themselves as Catholics do not support outright bans on abortion.

A voter casts his ballot on a scanner machine. (News Nation photo)

Non-MAGA Republicans made some inroads with Latinos. Incumbent U.S. Rep. Tony Gonzales, R-Texas, easily won reelection in a West Texas District that includes heavily Democratic El Paso County.

But Latinos turned their back again on some Republicans who embraced Trump’s Make America Great Again aggressive rhetoric, group leaders said.

“MAGA is toxic with Latino voters; they’re disgusted with MAGA politicians and the attacks on our community,” said Hector Sanchez Barba, executive director of Mi Familia Vota. “The Latino community is again saying no to extremism, divisiveness, toxicity and attacks on labor, immigration and reproductive rights.”

Voters, however, elected GOP candidate Monica de la Cruz, an anti-abortion and immigration hardliner, in the South Texas-based 15th Congressional District, which was redrawn to favor Republicans.

‘Red wave’ fails to materialize

Republicans were one seat short of a slim majority in the House of Representatives as of early Tuesday afternoon. NBC News estimated a probable 220-2015 margin for the Republicans over the Democrats. The Democrats since last week were assured of at least a tie in the Senate, with Vice President Kamala Harris representing the tie-breaking vote on any close issue.

That’s far from the Republican “red wave” some pre-election polls predicted.

“The expectation was based upon two factors. The first has to do with polling. The trend we have seen in the last intermediate elections is that whoever holds the White House generally cannot keep” a majority, said Gaspare Genna, chair of the Department of Political Science at the University of Texas at El Paso.

That did not happen due to shifting demographics and a wave of young people who turned out to vote and tend to vote Democratic, he said. They also generally don’t favor abortion bans and that is figured in the voting.

Other Republican missteps included blaming the COVID-19 federal stimulus packages for inflation and focusing on unauthorized migration and border security as a key issue for the general voting public. “That was basically non-starters for them. Blaming Biden for inflation and vowing to somehow cure inflation (after winning the House and Senate) did not equate to reality,” Genna said.

In West Texas, neither party rocked the boat. “Incumbents have an advantage; it doesn’t matter what office we talk about unless there is a major scandal, and even then,” he said. Name recognition and redistricting that made Gonzales’ district a little bit more conservative and U.S. Rep. Veronica Escobar’s compact Democratic district solidified the “built-in advantages” of their incumbency, he added.

In the end, the fact remains that Republicans failed to win both houses of Congress, but the Democrats appear to have lost control of one of the chambers. That equates to gridlock, said Tony Payan, director of Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy Center for the U.S. and Mexico, and professor at the Autonomous University of Ciudad Juarez.

Such gridlock means the immigration reform the BSP poll found Hispanics overwhelmingly favor, will remain stuck save a breakthrough compromise, Payan said.