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In the Rio Grande Valley, Texas Republicans make inroads with lifelong Democrats
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In a lot of ways, Denise Sandoval is your typical Rio Grande Valley voter. She was born in Monterrey, Mexico and came to Texas as a child. She voted for Donald Trump in 2020 and calls herself a conservative, but she’s reluctant to call herself a Republican.
“I’m not for one side or the other. I’m like, my own idea, right? I’m like, ‘OK, this is what should happen,’” Sandoval said.
Both parties are trying to win over voters like Sandoval.
She’s a widow. Now, a single mother of three kids: six, nine, and 11 years old. She’s against abortion but thinks the state should legalize marijuana for the tax revenue. She owns a small ice cream business in town and said economically, the local Republican party is lacking.
“Our mayor in McAllen. OK, so he’s Republican, but at the end of the day, down here, there is no support for entrepreneurs,” she said. “How can we better the local economy by supporting the local producers when they’re supporting the big box?”
Sandoval said she tends to avoid talking politics with her friends because voting Republican in the Rio Grande Valley remains a bit taboo. Historically, this has been a Democratic stronghold.
An unbroken line of Democrats represented Texas’s Rio Grande Valley in Congress since the Reconstruction. Until June, anyway, when Mayra Flores became the first Mexican-born woman to represent the district – and the first Republican since just after the Civil War. Granted, it was a special election with low voter turnout, but Republicans proclaimed it a sign of a changing political landscape in South Texas.
That might be the case, according to Mi-son Kim, who studies political parties and public opinion at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley. At least it appears to be among her students.
“They told me that they think that the Democratic Party just took our region for granted,” Kim said. “And so students mention that they think the Democratic Party now is paying the cost for neglecting the voters here in this region.”
The cost to Democrats is losing voters like Fernando Mendoza. He lives in McAllen as a self-employed musician who also works in construction. He said he and his dad always voted Democrat no matter who the candidate was. There was really no discussion, even if the D-candidate was a fair-haired dog.
“I was a ‘yellow dog Democrat’ for many years because I did follow my father, I followed his lead,” Mendoza said.
But now, he calls himself a Republican for the very reason Mi-son Kim’s students cited.
“We’ve woken up,” he said. “And we see that, you know, we have been neglected and we have been taken for granted.”
He recognizes that the state’s Democratic Party is trying to win him back with more outreach, events, and advertising. But for him at least, he said, it’s a little too late for that.
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