Republicans win mayoral race in majority-Hispanic McAllen, Texas

(AP Photo/Chuck Burton, File)

The former chair of the Hidalgo (Texas) County Republican Party was elected as Mayor of McAllen, Texas on Saturday. This may not seem like any big deal but it is, in fact, a potentially game-changing victory. Hidalgo County is at the southern tip of Texas, a heavily Democratic area.

Javier Villalobos won in a narrow victory. The city elections were held in May. Villalobos and Veronica Whitacre earned the most votes and were in a runoff election. Villalobos won 51.11 percent of the vote, 4744 votes to Whitacre’s 4538 votes. This race is being looked upon as a canary in a coal mine for Texas Democrats and Democrats at the national level. Villalobos’ victory was not expected. Is this a response to Biden’s border crisis and the desire of Hidalgo County residents to live in a safe, secure community?

Mayoral elections in Texas are nonpartisan but, let’s be honest, voters know for which party’s candidate they are voting. Villalobos’ political identity was well-known, as the former head of the county Republican Party. Governor Abbott appointed him to the Prepaid Higher Education Tuition Board in 2018. He is currently a McAllen City Commissioner.

McAllen is a majority-Hispanic border city. Joe Biden won by 17% there in 2020. Both Republicans and Democrats understand that this victory is a big flip for Republicans. Governor Abbott noted the Republican victory.

On his campaign’s Facebook page, Villalobos thanked the voters.

“Let me start by thanking the voters, my team, my family [and] everyone who helped run this campaign. Thank you McAllen for trusting [and] believing in me. I promise to not let you down.”

Other Republicans celebrated his victory, even outside of Texas.

“Holy cow… Republicans just flipped the mayorship of McAllen, Texas. This was not expected and shows Hispanics in South Texas may have shifted with the GOP even post Trump,” author Ryan Girdusky wrote on Twitter.

“BIG win for Republicans tonight in a border community. Biden’s border crisis has real world ramifications for communities across the country, especially in cities like McAllen,” RNC spokesman Nathan Brand said on Twitter.

This victory shows the inroads the Republican Party has made in Democrat-heavy southern Texas. Trump expanded the Hispanic vote in Texas and that is continuing to pay off now. In 2020, Trump was the first Republican presidential candidate to win Zapata County in 100 years. More than 94% of Zapata County is Hispanic or Latino. Other counties a little further north experienced increased voter turn-out and helped produce another losing night for Texas Democrats. Trump’s voters in 2020 were largely women and people of color. Middle-class working people turned to Trump in 2020, not Lunch Bucket Joe.

This tweet tells the story.

At the time, it was noted by Texas Republicans that Biden’s victory was not nearly what past Democrat presidential candidates secured. Democrats haven’t noticeably changed how they campaign or their choice of candidates to run against Republicans. Villalobos was smart enough to realize the opening in Hidalgo County and went for it. His reward was a victory, though it was a close race. It is impossible to not think that the Biden border crisis played a role in this campaign. Texas Hispanic voters are not cookie-cutter Democrat voters. They normally align with traditional Republican values, especially on cultural issues, yet the Democrats have had their vote for many years on the Texas border. Villalobos ran on a platform of fiscal responsibility and curbing taxes.

“You know, this past election — you know, having a good dose of competition is important, and people are realizing, generally, the Hispanic community is very conservative. But unfortunately, for whatever reason, historically they voted Democrat. But things are changing little by little, they’re changing in different areas. It’s finally hitting the south.

“I think it’s very important, we got to keep on having a good dose of competition, competition makes things better. So…a few months later, everybody knows I was a former Hidalgo County Republican chairman, the people chose to elect me — I think something that’s very important. Things are changing, and we’re very happy.”

Villalobos also told Fox News that the illegal immigration crisis is something the federal government needs to deal with, and he said he would welcome a visit by Vice President Kamala Harris, who is now in Guatemala to discuss the root causes of the mass exodus from Central America.

“Look, we get a lot of visitors…and any time you have a federal official visiting, that’s important. But what’s more important — look let’s deal with the issue. I think we know what the root cause is — let’s take care of it.

“Unfortunately, we have to take care of it in Washington…and yes, we always welcome any federal official, any state official to come visit us here at the border to see some of the issues we have.”

Villalobos noted that McAllen isn’t as affected as some other areas by illegal migration. He explained that migrants pass through the city, largely choosing to continue on further north. A big concern in McAllen has been the closing of international bridges and the potential for the spread of the coronavirus. The economic damage to the area has been felt and Villalobos wants the federal government to step up and do its job in securing the border.

There was another Republican victory in a mayoral race on Saturday in Texas. Mattie Parker, a 37-year-old won another mayoral run-off race. This one was in Fort Worth. Democrats were really hoping to turn the mayor’s race into a Democrat victory. National Democrat money flowed in and high profile Democrats in the state like Beto and Julian Castro endorsed her opponent. She is the city’s youngest mayor. She ran against a black Democrat woman, Deborah Peoples. Parker won with 47,040 votes (54%) to Peoples’ 40,936 votes (46%).

Abbott endorsed Parker in the race, as did former Mayor Price, and the police and fire associations in the city.

Fort Worth is one of the fastest-growing cities in the country. Its population has grown to just less than one million, making it the 12th largest city in the country. A big city in Texas with a Republican mayor is an exception, not the rule. Parker is a former aide to the current mayor. Peoples is the former chair of the Tarrant County Democrat Party.

Parker’s victory gives hope that those new residents moving into Texas may not be solid Democrat voters bringing bad policy support from blue states, as other major cities in the state have experienced. If Democrats want to keep up with Republican momentum, they’ll have to change the playbook. Right now, Republicans are offering what voters want.