Republicans court Latino voters in South Texas Latino voters are sought-after swing voters, and Democrats and Republicans are spending a lot to win them over. In states such as Texas, Latino voters could change the outcome of midterm elections.

In Texas, Democrats and Republicans are trying to win over Latino swing voters

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SACHA PFEIFFER, HOST:

As Republicans try to regain control of Congress, they're hoping to improve their numbers among Latino voters in this year's elections, particularly in Texas. But it's not clear if the party's outreach is creating a significant enough edge for Republicans when it comes to the Latino vote. NPR's Ashley Lopez reports.

(SOUNDBITE OF DOORBELL RINGING)

ASHLEY LOPEZ, BYLINE: It's a sunny afternoon, and members of LIBRE Initiative Action are knocking on doors in a quiet suburban neighborhood in Mission, Texas, which sits right on the U.S.-Mexico border. They're getting the word out about Monica De La Cruz, a Republican congressional candidate running for a newly competitive congressional seat in South Texas against Democrat Michelle Vallejo. One person they talked to was a man named Fidel Villasenor.

GERARDO VILLARREAL: (Speaking Spanish).

LOPEZ: One of the canvassers, Gerardo Villarreal, asks Villasenor if he's voting for the Republican candidate in the upcoming election.

VILLARREAL: (Speaking Spanish).

FIDEL VILLASENOR: (Speaking Spanish).

VILLARREAL: (Speaking Spanish).

LOPEZ: Villasenor said he doesn't know yet. But Jorge Martinez, an adviser and spokesperson for LIBRE Initiative Action, steps in and asks if there's an issue he really cares about that could maybe motivate him to vote.

JORGE MARTINEZ: (Speaking Spanish).

VILLASENOR: (Speaking Spanish).

MARTINEZ: (Speaking Spanish).

VILLASENOR: (Speaking Spanish).

LOPEZ: At the end there, Villasenor says inflation is his big issue. Martinez tells him about the Republican candidate's stance on government spending and inflation and then leaves him with a leaflet. Martinez later says most Latinos he's talked to in this area are most concerned about the economy and rising prices.

MARTINEZ: That's what's hurting families, and we're feeling - everyone's feeling it. Whether you're going to the grocery store or - anything that you consume, prices are high right now.

LOPEZ: Republicans and conservative groups in Texas are hoping the economy is an issue that will boost their numbers among Latino voters. In 2020, Donald Trump did better than expected here. But nationwide and even here in Texas, Democrats still have an edge with Latino voters. In fact, South Texas has long been a Democratic stronghold. Democrats opened a national field office in the area earlier this year and have been running radio ads in an effort to hold on to their support in South Texas. But research shows Latinos have pretty soft ties to political parties.

JENS MANUEL KROGSTAD: And one point that really illustrates this is the fact that roughly 1 in 10 Latino voters who identified as either a Democrat or a Republican held political views that more closely aligned with the opposing party.

LOPEZ: Jens Manuel Krogstad with the Pew Research Center says this is why Latino voters are more like swing voters compared to the rest of the country, which is pretty polarized.

KROGSTAD: Latinos don't always neatly fit into the nation's two-party system, and the survey showed that Latinos in some ways are charting their own course.

LOPEZ: In fact, he says, surveys he's looked at show many Latinos don't see much of a difference between the two parties. But the reason why Latinos are so different is mostly because neither party has sustained any meaningful outreach to these communities.

(SOUNDBITE OF DOGS BARKING)

LOPEZ: Back in South Texas, there are some community groups, namely a nonpartisan group called LUPE, that has been plugging away for years at getting these voters engaged. On this day, Joaquin Garcia and his team are letting folks know that an election is coming up. Romero Vega was among a small number of people Garcia talked to that day.

JOAQUIN GARCIA: (Speaking Spanish).

ROMERO VEGA: (Speaking Spanish).

GARCIA: (Speaking Spanish).

LOPEZ: Garcia asked Vega if he has time for a few questions. The first is whether he's prepared to vote this fall.

GARCIA: (Speaking Spanish).

VEGA: (Speaking Spanish).

GARCIA: (Speaking Spanish).

VEGA: (Speaking Spanish).

LOPEZ: Vega says that he has no idea what's going on or who's running, so Garcia leaves him with some basic information about how to vote. Later, Garcia says he's actually a little surprised, considering all the ads and attention in South Texas lately, that a lot of people in the area don't even know an election is coming up.

GARCIA: We don't know why that is. I mean, they keep, you know, repeating it on TV and on the radio stations. But, I mean, a lot of these people, you know, have two or three jobs. They're not paying attention to elections. Their thing is getting money to sustain their families, so sometimes they don't see politics as a priority for their needs.

LOPEZ: And this is not a small obstacle for Republicans in Texas, says Brandon Rottinghaus with the University of Houston.

BRANDON ROTTINGHAUS: That's the biggest challenge that Republicans face in terms of trying to get a vote stabilized and get them to motivate towards the Republican candidates.

LOPEZ: Besides competitive races in South Texas, Republicans are hoping Latinos will, particularly in rural areas, help reelect Republicans in statewide offices this year. That includes Governor Greg Abbott as he faces a challenge from Democrat Beto O'Rourke. Ashley Lopez, NPR News, McAllen, Texas.

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