Democrats win in Rio Grande Valley but Republicans have hope in South Texas The Rio Grande Valley has long been a Democratic stronghold in Texas. Republicans invested heavily there but didn't see major gains. Still, marginal progress has Democrats worried.

Republicans make marginal gains in South Texas as Democratic power wanes

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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Despite pouring more resources into South Texas than ever before, the GOP still came up short during the 2022 midterms. But Democratic control in the area may be waning. Texas Public Radio's Gaige Davila looks at how the Rio Grande Valley voted and where they may go from here.

GAIGE DAVILA, BYLINE: Democrats have had control in the Rio Grande Valley for generations. After the most competitive midterm election the area has seen, that hold on power continues at least for two more years. But while Democrats breathe a sigh of relief, their voters aren't feeling the enthusiasm they once did.

BELLA CORDOVA: I didn't have, like, the sense of hope that I did in the previous election. It was more just like, OK, I know what I'm going to vote for. And I know what my plan of action is. And I'm going to do it. But I don't expect much to come from it.

DAVILA: At least for now, though, some of those disaffected Democratic voters are still showing up for the party. That was Bella Cordova. She's voted for Democrats since she was 18 but was apathetic during this year's midterms. She voted anyway, even if she thought the GOP might win several local races.

CORDOVA: So I wasn't holding my breath on election night, waiting for results to come through. I saw it at 8:30. And I was like, oh, OK. Well...

DAVILA: Even though Democrats staved off a Republican surge in the region compared to the 2018 midterms, all four Rio Grande Valley counties saw GOP turnout increase between 10 and 18 points. This helped Monica De La Cruz get elected for the 15th Congressional District, the first Republican to do so. Cameron County GOP Chair Morgan Cisneros Graham says the gains were positive for the party.

MORGAN CISNEROS GRAHAM: If somebody is more oriented toward foundational races, which I tend to be, then the impression would be there was no red wave in the RGV. But if you're somebody who looks more at the impactful, more legislative-type offices, some would argue, well, it was more of a purple wave. And there was progress.

DAVILA: Texas' Democratic Party is quick to downplay any Republican advantage. The state party attributes the GOP's gains to the redistricting prior to this year's elections. But growing anti-establishment attitudes against Democrats may be at play, too. That's according to cultural anthropologist and journalist Cecilia Balli.

CECILIA BALLI: Those Democratic leaders that were in power, that have been in power in the Valley for a long time, they haven't traditionally worked very hard to expand the electorate because they retain power by keeping the electorate small and being able to just turn out X number of voters in order to win an election. And so you have some disaffected voters who are willing to try something different.

DAVILA: Still, congressional GOP candidates didn't pick up a single RGV County, even Congresswoman-elect Monica De La Cruz, who saw more support but didn't win overall here. But Republicans' marginal gains in a traditional Democratic stronghold should show the party that Latinos are not a monolith, Balli says.

BALLI: The thing we're not going to go back to is this notion that the Democratic Party automatically has Latino voters' support because they are ethnically other and because they are working class.

DAVILA: Democrats have to pay attention to Latino voters here, Cordova says. She worries that since Democrats have won most of the races, they won't pay attention to the region now that the election is over.

CORDOVA: So I don't really have a lot of hope that they'll do more. And I'm not particularly proud of the area that we're in just because I feel like there's so much more that can be done. And they just keep missing the mark.

DAVILA: A mark that Republicans are hoping they keep missing, opening up opportunities for them here and future elections.

For NPR News, I'm Gaige Davila in Port Isabel, Texas.

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