McALLEN, Texas (Border Report) — The three Democratic congressmen from South Texas, as expected, all held onto their congressional border seats on Tuesday, but the numbers voting for their Republican opponents were surprisingly strong in a state that remained red for President Donald Trump.
On Tuesday, U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar won his ninth term to represent the 28th Texas congressional district, which spans from Laredo to Mission and part of San Antonio, by 57% to 39% of votes cast for his Republican opponent Sandra Whitten, the wife of a Border Patrol agent who was making her first bid for elected office, according to early returns by the Texas Secretary of State’s office.
Numbers from Webb County, which includes Cuellar’s hometown of Laredo, were just starting to come in Wednesday afternoon, and Cuellar said in a phone call with Border Report earlier Wednesday that he expects to see a boost in his numbers when those come in. But he also expressed concern that overall Democrats did not gain in Texas, as had been hoped. And he said more Hispanic voters in the state need to be courted in the future.
“The Democrats, and the leadership like the DNC (Democratic National Committee) cannot take Hispanics for granted. We got to spend time and we got to spend money and certainly that’s what we’re seeing,” Cuellar said. “The message that Trump had resonated with Hispanics and we saw that.”
U.S. Rep. Vicente Gonzalez secured his third term for Texas’ 15th Congressional District, which includes McAllen and ranchlands to the north, defeating Republican Monica De La Cruz Hernandez by fewer than 7,000 votes: 115,005 to 108,466 votes, or 50.5% to 47.6%, according to early returns by the Texas Secretary of State’s office. De La Cruz Hernandez won conservative Guadalupe County by almost double the votes that Gonzalez received: 39,756 to 20,202. She also won the small counties of Karnes, Live Oak, and Wilson. But Gonzalez handedly won the populated Hidalgo County, which includes McAllen, 86,661 to 56,297, according to early returns.
“I want to thank South and Central Texans for giving me the honor to serve them for a third term in Congress. I’m proud of the work we’ve done to bring millions of dollars in critical COVID-19 relief to our communities to help small businesses stay open and keep people working; to bring mobile VA health clinics to rural counties across South Texas; and to open the doors of education and skills training to more young people across our state,” Gonzalez said in a statement Wednesday.
U.S. Rep. Filemon Vela easily reclaimed his seat, 55% to 42%, defeating Republican Rey Gonzalez, who in 2018 also lost to him in a bid for the 34th Texas congressional district, which includes much of Cameron County on the Gulf Coast, and parts of Hidalgo County. In Cameron County, Vela won 68,501 votes to 39,798, according to early returns. But he lost in the less populated and more conservative counties of Jim Wells, Bee, DeWitt, Goliad, Gonzales, Kenedy, and San Patricio, according to early returns from the state.
Voting in South Texas became a matter of health and safety for many in this region that has been one of the hardest hit by COVID-19 in the entire state, and nation. Hidalgo County has had 36,277 coronavirus cases and 1,967 deaths, including six on Election Day, county officials reported.
“Texas and the Rio Grande Valley came out to vote in record numbers, even as the pandemic and deep systemic inequalities steal away our loved ones. We voted to decide our future and build our power to win the services and care we need to thrive,” Juanita Valdez-Cox, executive director of the nonprofit La Unión del Pueblo Entero (LUPE) said. “Even in the middle of the biggest economic crisis since the Great Depression, voters have done our job and turned out in record numbers. And now our election officials are doing theirs, as they have in every previous election.”
Hidalgo County became one of only three counties in the state to suffer late poll openings, thus resulting in election officials extending balloting by one extra hour on Tuesday night, until 8 p.m.
Leading up to Tuesday’s election, there had been rumors that Texas would turn blue. But none of that materialized, despite the historic number of votes cast.
With the presidency still undecided on Wednesday, one thing was for certain: Trump won the Lone Star State 52.3% to 46.2 for Democratic former Vice President Joe Biden, according to early returns from the Texas Secretary of State. Voter turnout was 65.4%, up dramatically from a turnout rate of 42.6% in 2016.
And in the state Legislature, Republicans appear to have prevailed in maintaining control of the Texas House.
“We didn’t win the seats that we were hoping in Texas and we’re losing some other seats in some other places,” Cuellar said.
Cuellar marveled at how voters cast their ballots in some South Texas counties, like rural Zapata County on the border with Mexico, where Cuellar won and so did Trump.
“It was pretty amazing,” Cuellar said.
“Clearly, last night’s election was a phenomena at the top of the ticket that impacted campaigns down ballot across Texas and throughout the country,” Gonzalez said.
Gonzalez’ opponent, De La Cruz Hernandez, professed on social media pride for what she considered a well-run campaign that gave Gonzalez a run.
“We truly put our heart, blood, sweat and tears into this,” she said on social media. “My love for this district is unwavering and I will continue to support her in anyway possible. Although we know the numbers and respect the outcome, we experienced massive election corruption and voter integrity. It was disturbing and sickening to see what is happening in Hidalgo County. I will fight against this corruption because our district deserves better. God bless you and God bless America!”
Moving forward, Cuellar said he is going to continue to work across the aisles. “I’m going to be myself. I’ve always been bipartisan, I won’t be pulled to the left,” he said.
As vice chairman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Homeland Security, Cuellar has long been criticized as being “too conservative” for his region. But Tuesday’s results have showed the Hispanic-majority border region tilting much more red than pundits had expected.
In the primary we saw folks going to the left and in the November election we’re hearing people say ‘go to the right.'”U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Texas
“In the primary, we saw folks going to the left and in the November election we’re hearing people say ‘go to the right,'” he said. “I’m a Democrat but I legislate as an American and I think everybody should do that. We don’t go to represent a party but to represent our district.”
Sandra Sanchez can be reached at Ssanchez@borderreport.com.