Against the Grain

Democrats Underperforming With Hispanic Voters

Despite the president’s hard-line immigration policies, Republican candidates are running competitively in many Hispanic-heavy states and congressional districts.

Rep. Will Hurd of Texas
AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite
July 4, 2018, 6 p.m.

Democrats counting on President Trump’s hard-line immigration policies to spark energized Hispanic turnout and a wave against GOP candidates in this year’s midterms will be surprised to see what’s transpiring. Even during the heat of the family-separation crisis, Democrats are underperforming in heavily Hispanic constituencies, from GOP-held border battlegrounds in Texas to diversifying districts in Southern California to the nation’s most populous Senate battleground in Florida.

If immigration affects the battle for Congress, it will be because of the anti-Trump backlash among suburban women as much as any increased mobilization in the Hispanic communities. The early returns are a sobering reminder for Democrats that, even as the Republican Party is becoming a more nativist institution, GOP candidates are still holding their own in diverse battlegrounds by distinguishing themselves from Trump.

Rep. Will Hurd of Texas once looked like one of the most vulnerable House Republicans, representing a border district where Hispanics make up 70 percent of the population—a seat Hillary Clinton carried by 4 points in 2016. Hurd has long been an independent GOP voice, emerging as a critic of Trump’s border-wall proposals and a supporter of a path to citizenship for Dreamers. But, as Democrats frequently bring up, he’s also a congressman whose partisan affiliation will help keep Republicans in charge of the House.

He’s in surprisingly good shape as he vies for a third term against Democrat Gina Ortiz Jones. Despite holding one of the 25 GOP seats that Clinton carried, he’s not on the list of The Cook Political Report’s most endangered 31 members. His Texas colleagues John Culberson and Pete Sessions, representing suburban Houston and Dallas districts where Republicans traditionally dominate, are in deeper trouble. It’s a crystal-clear sign that the anti-Trump anger is concentrated within whiter, affluent suburban communities, not the Hispanic battlegrounds with the most at stake.

There are also plenty of other clues suggesting Hispanic voters won’t be rushing to the polls this November. In a special election to fill the vacant seat of former Rep. Blake Farenthold of Texas last Saturday, there were few signs of a Democratic wave. The reliably Republican district is majority-Hispanic, yet GOP candidates on the ballot tallied the same 60 percent vote share that Trump did in 2016. There were no signs of increased Hispanic engagement—even with the border crisis raging not far away.

Those results mirror the results from the March Texas primaries, in which the Democrats’ Senate nominee Beto O’Rourke, a progressive favorite, badly underperformed in many border towns with large Hispanic populations. O’Rourke carried 87 percent of the vote in millennial-friendly Travis County (Austin), but fell well short of a majority in most counties along the border.

Move to the West Coast, and the results look similar. One of the Democrats’ must-win targets in California, the seat of retiring Rep. Ed Royce, is looking surprisingly competitive. Even though this is a plurality-Hispanic district that Clinton comfortably carried, a recent poll commissioned by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee found Republican Young Kim leading Democrat Gil Cisneros by 2 points (45-43 percent). It’s another sign that Hispanics may not be turning out to vote at a level commensurate to their representation.

Florida is offering an even bigger shock to the Democrats’ system, given its perennial battleground status. In the state’s marquee race pitting Gov. Rick Scott against Sen. Bill Nelson, the governor’s standing with Hispanic voters is keeping him competitive despite the difficult political environment for Republicans. Two recently released polls show Scott, a longtime Trump ally, tallying noticeably higher popularity scores than the president in Florida. One poll, conducted by CBS News, shows Nelson leading by only 1 point among Hispanics (37-36 percent) while an NBC/Marist survey showed Nelson with a 10-point lead (52-42 percent) among the demographic. Either outcome shows Scott significantly outperforming Trump, who lost the Hispanic vote in Florida by a whopping 27 points in 2016 (and still carried the state).

Digging deeper, a Florida International University survey of Puerto Ricans in Florida—typically a Democratic-leaning demographic—found that 55 percent held a positive view of Scott, with 57 percent holding a positive view of Nelson. Democrats had been optimistic that a wave of these new voters in the wake of Hurricane Maria would give them an advantage for the midterms. But Scott’s frequent travel to the island and his campaign’s aggressive Spanish-language television advertising has kept them in play.

Down in South Florida, one of the few Republicans to represent a majority-Hispanic district is also showing his resilience. In a recent Democratic survey conducted in his district, Rep. Carlos Curbelo sported a solid 42-27 favorability score, with 48 percent of voters approving of Trump’s job performance. Clinton won this district by 16 points, so if anything, these results suggest Trump has gained ground with the district’s substantial Cuban-American community since becoming president.

Even in the New York City district where Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez engineered her stunning primary upset against Rep. Joseph Crowley, returns show that the biggest swing away from the congressman took place in the gentrifying precincts filled with young white voters. Ocasio-Cortez’s compelling biography clearly captured the imagination of the district’s Hispanic population, but it energized the progressive millennials even more.

If immigration is a winning issue for Democrats in the midterms, it’s because they’re winning over suburban white women, not because they’re mobilizing Hispanic voters against Republicans. Indeed, even as Democrats underperform in these pivotal races, the historic gender gap is what’s propelling them to a possible House majority.

These results also are an uncomfortable reminder to Republicans who championed the Republican National Committee’s infamous 2013 autopsy report claiming the party needed to moderate its position on immigration to win back Hispanic voters. Trump won the 2016 presidential campaign despite embracing hard-line immigration policies and deploying racially inflammatory rhetoric. Meanwhile, these results show that a critical mass of Hispanic voters are willing to prioritize other issues—like the growing economy—in choosing congressional candidates.

What We're Following See More »
AVOIDS SHUTDOWN WITH A FEW HOURS TO SPARE
Trump Signs Border Deal
1 weeks ago
THE LATEST

"President Trump signed a sweeping spending bill Friday afternoon, averting another partial government shutdown. The action came after Trump had declared a national emergency in a move designed to circumvent Congress and build additional barriers at the southern border, where he said the United States faces 'an invasion of our country.'"

Source:
REDIRECTS $8 BILLION
Trump Declares National Emergency
1 weeks ago
THE DETAILS

"President Donald Trump on Friday declared a state of emergency on the southern border and immediately direct $8 billion to construct or repair as many as 234 miles of a border barrier. The move — which is sure to invite vigorous legal challenges from activists and government officials — comes after Trump failed to get the $5.7 billion he was seeking from lawmakers. Instead, Trump agreed to sign a deal that included just $1.375 for border security."

Source:
COULD SOW DIVISION AMONG REPUBLICANS
House Will Condemn Emergency Declaration
1 weeks ago
THE DETAILS

"House Democrats are gearing up to pass a joint resolution disapproving of President Trump’s emergency declaration to build his U.S.-Mexico border wall, a move that will force Senate Republicans to vote on a contentious issue that divides their party. House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) said Thursday evening in an interview with The Washington Post that the House would take up the resolution in the coming days or weeks. The measure is expected to easily clear the Democratic-led House, and because it would be privileged, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) would be forced to put the resolution to a vote that he could lose."

Source:
MILITARY CONSTRUCTION, DRUG FORFEITURE FUND
Where Will the Emergency Money Come From?
1 weeks ago
THE DETAILS

"ABC News has learned the president plans to announce on Friday his intention to spend about $8 billion on the border wall with a mix of spending from Congressional appropriations approved Thursday night, executive action and an emergency declaration. A senior White House official familiar with the plan told ABC News that $1.375 billion would come from the spending bill Congress passed Thursday; $600 million would come from the Treasury Department's drug forfeiture fund; $2.5 billion would come from the Pentagon's drug interdiction program; and through an emergency declaration: $3.5 billion from the Pentagon's military construction budget."

Source:
TRUMP SAYS HE WILL SIGN
House Passes Funding Deal
1 weeks ago
THE DETAILS

"The House passed a massive border and budget bill that would avert a shutdown and keep the government funded through the end of September. The Senate passed the measure earlier Thursday. The bill provides $1.375 billion for fences, far short of the $5.7 billion President Trump had demanded to fund steel walls. But the president says he will sign the legislation, and instead seek to fund his border wall by declaring a national emergency."

Source:
×
×

Welcome to National Journal!

You are currently accessing National Journal from IP access. Please login to access this feature. If you have any questions, please contact your Dedicated Advisor.

Login