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The once-blue border county where Republicans are winning over Latino voters

Republicans are looking to Hidalgo County along the Mexican border in South Texas to prove their gains among Latino voters aren’t a mirage.

The Rio Grande Valley county that includes the city of McAllen is ground zero for clashes over cultural issues and big campaign spending. The GOP is looking to cement its inroads into what was a deep blue stronghold while Democrats want to shore up one of their few reliable pockets of votes in the Lone Star State.

The GOP appears to be on offense in Hidalgo. While Hillary Clinton bested former President Donald Trump by a nearly 40-point margin in 2016, that gap fell by more than half, to 17 points, in President Joe Biden’s 2020 win over Trump. Another warning light for Democrats came last year when Javier Villalobos became the first Republican in nearly 25 years to be elected as McAllen’s mayor.

Latinos, who make up 93 percent of the population in Hidalgo, are increasingly voting according to their socially conservative beliefs, according to local GOP and Democratic leaders. Republicans in Hidalgo are appealing to Latino voters with a message that is anti-abortion, pro-church, pro-work and pro-family. They’re also criticizing Democrats’ handling of the border and immigration issues. The Republican National Committee has even opened a Hispanic community center in the county that hosts activities such as movies and religious services.

The midterms will also be a test of Texas’ new congressional map, drawn by the GOP-controlled Legislature to shore up Republican dominance in the state.

Republican Monica De La Cruz, endorsed by Trump, will face off against Democrat Michelle Vallejo for the open seat in Texas’ newly redrawn 15th Congressional District, which includes much of Hidalgo. In 2020, under old district maps that favored Democrats in the 15th, incumbent Democrat Vicente Gonzalez narrowly bested De La Cruz by roughly 6,500 votes. The new district lines could give De La Cruz the edge she needs to claim the seat for Republicans.

POLITICO rates the race “lean GOP.”

Gonzalez is now running in Texas’ 34th Congressional District, the new Democratic safe haven in South Texas. Republican Mayra Flores flipped that seat red in a June special election to replace U.S. Rep. Filemon Vela who resigned for a job in the private sector. But Gonzalez and Flores will face off in the fall under the new, more Democrat-friendly map, which includes a larger section of Hidalgo County.

— Olivia Evans

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