In the lead-up to the 2022 election, Gov. Greg Abbott led a push by Republicans to ride issues such as border insecurity and inflation to gain a foothold in the Rio Grande Valley after a better-than-expected performance by the GOP in the 2020 election. Republicans sought to win all three congressional races in the region, and Abbott stated he wanted to win the Hispanic vote statewide. That ultimately did not bear out.
Texas Democratic Chair Gilberto Hinojosa celebrated the GOP’s underwhelming results, saying, “There was no red wave in South Texas. There wasn’t even a red ripple.”
When considered against a backdrop of such big proclamations as a Republican sweep in South Texas, this statement might appear true, but the truth is Republicans finally won some key victories in the region and overall received their best performance in the region. Celebrating his victory in McAllen, Abbott proclaimed, “We planted our flag in South Texas, and we showed America that South Texas is now electing Republicans to office in our great state.”
Breaking down the GOP’s performance in South Texas, let’s first take a look at their wins.
Republican Monica De La Cruz won her race for Congressional District 15, defeating Democrat Michelle Vajello by 53 percent to 44 percent. De La Cruz makes history as the first Republican and first Latina to represent the district based in McAllen. She narrowly lost the district in 2020 before deciding to try again. Democrats, lamenting their historic loss, pointed to the fact that the district is more Republican than it was in 2020 after redistricting and that Hidalgo County still voted blue. While this is true, De La Cruz still received a larger percentage of the vote in Hidalgo County than in 2020, when she won only 38 percent of the vote. This year, she won about 43 percent in the county.
In state House races, Republicans won two RGV seats. State Rep. Ryan Guillen (R–Rio Grande City) won his race for re-election by a massive margin of over than 40 points. Guillen, a former Democrat, made headlines last year when he switched parties and became a Republican. He also won Starr County with over 70 percent. Joining him in the House will be State Rep.-elect Janie Lopez (R), a school board member from San Benito who won her race for the open seat in House District 37 left by outgoing State Rep. Alex Dominguez (D–Brownsville). She defeated her Democrat opponent 52 percent to 48 percent. Lopez is the first Republican to represent the district comprising Cameron and Willacy counties. While her victory was made easier by redistricting, she still won in a district President Biden would have won by 2 points.
Lastly, former State Rep. Aaron Peña (R) won his race for justice on the 13th Court of Appeals. Peña flipped his seat and, as a result, the Edinburg-based appellate court will now be split between three Republicans and three Democrats. Peña won 52 percent to 48 percent. The court hears appeals from both criminal and civil cases in 20 counties, including Hidalgo, Cameron, and Willacy.
After these wins, the rest of the results are a story of losses and a few near-wins, including a razor-thin loss (of around 500 votes) by Adam Hinojosa (R) to Morgan LaMantia (D) for state Senate. But taking a holistic view of the data, the Republican Party received its best performance in South Texas.
Gov. Greg Abbott won two counties in South Texas: Kenedy and Zapata counties. Kenedy has slowly become more Republican over the decade, while Zapata is newly red. Just North of Starr County, Zapata County has now voted Republican for two elections in a row. After losing the county in 2018 by 20 points, Abbott won Zapata by 6 points. In the Rio Grande Valley, all four counties went blue, but Gov. Abbott met or exceeded his 2018 margins in all four.
The biggest swings toward Abbott in the RGV occurred in Cameron and Starr counties. In Starr County, Abbott received 40 percent of the vote. In 2018, he received only 31 percent in Starr County. While his margin is below former President Trump’s, who almost won Starr County outright in 2020 at 47 percent, it is still a marked improvement over his performance in 2018. Meanwhile, in Cameron County—home to Brownsville, Harlingen, and South Padre Island—Abbott received 44 percent of the vote, which is the same share he received in 2018 and 2 points higher than Trump in 2020.
The other big race in Cameron County was for Congressional District 34. Rep. Mayra Flores (R–Los Indios) lost her re-election to Rep. Vicente Gonzalez (D–McAllen) by 8 points. However, in Cameron County, Flores only lost by 4 points, receiving 46 percent of the vote. In 2020, the Republican candidate received only 35 percent of the vote in Cameron County, for an 11 point swing. Overall, in a district that was redrawn to be more Democrat and President Biden would have won by 15 points, Rep. Gonzalez only won by 8 points.
Elsewhere in the RGV, Gov. Abbott received 40 percent of the vote in Hidalgo County and 43 percent in Willacy County. In Hidalgo County, this margin for Abbott is higher from his 36 percent in 2018 and meets Trump’s 40 percent in 2020. In Willacy County, Abbott’s margin is slightly lower than his 45 percent received in 2018 and Trump’s 44 percent received in 2020.
In sum, the data demonstrates Republican improvement in South Texas. This improvement is short of the lofty goals the party set , but the indication is that in South Texas, specifically in the Rio Grande Valley, the Republican Party has staying power and is here to compete and win.
After a surge in GOP support in the 2020 general election, Republicans won their first races in the region and met or exceeded their overall performances county to county. The data suggests the GOP has new thresholds and that while the region is still blue, it is no longer the Democrat stronghold it used to be.
To that end, Republicans have indicated they are in South Texas for the long fight. Rep. Mayra Flores indicated she intends to run again in 2024, and Gov. Abbott proclaimed in his McAllen celebratory speech, “We planted our flag in South Texas.”