The Rio Grande Valley, at the southern tip of Texas, was once a dirt-poor region of few hopes where voting was aggressively regimented. But in recent years, that has all changed thanks to economic growth, free trade and neighboring Mexican maquiladora factories working for big corporations.
Now, the once-impoverished Valley can be worth $1 million to a presidential campaign. Just ask Hillary Clinton.
Clinton raised $965,401 last year in Hidalgo County, including Brownsville and McAllen, according to Federal Election Commission data. No other candidate even came close. The nearest runner-up, Democrat John Edwards, gathered in $183,525 in Hidalgo County.
For much of her cash, Clinton can thank one man — Alonzo Cantu, the second-generation head of a construction company in McAllen. Her campaign ranks Cantu as a HillRaiser — a bundler who brought in $100,000 or more. The local paper in McAllen, The Monitor, credited him with delivering $800,000 when Clinton came in for an event last March. Bill Clinton hit up McAllen to ask for money in November. And in fact, Cantu has raised money for Hillary Clinton since she started running for the Senate in 1999, back when Bill Clinton was still president.
Donor lists suggest that Cantu uses the classic approach of bundlers: Go after people you know, and ask for as much as you can.
For example, Cantu Construction and Development built the Doctor's Hospital at Renaissance in nearby Edinburg; Cantu himself owns a stake in it and he's on its board of managers. Hillary Clinton's presidential donor list for the Valley — nearly 700 people in all — is rich with doctors and others associated with the hospital. Many of them wrote checks for the legal maximum of $2,300.
Curiously, the Edwards campaign also listed Cantu as a bundler, although it never said how much he raised. It's extremely unusual to see someone soliciting donors simultaneously for competing candidates, but that's what the campaigns said Cantu did. He hosted Edwards on a swing through the Valley in September. Nobody would say if fundraising was involved, but over the following two weeks, the Edwards campaign logged $146,650 in Valley money.
Cantu usually isn't eager to talk about his political activities, and he didn't respond to an interview request from us.
But in December, he told a reporter for The Monitor in McAllen that his main concern is better infrastructure — with federal support — for the Rio Grande Valley.
"We want our fair share," he said.