Does Runoff Prove that Republicans Support Hispanics?

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Photo by Jen Reel
Members of the HRT from L to R: George Antuna, George P. Bush, Juan Hernandez, Juan Roberto Hernandez

Texas Republican political consultant Juan Hernandez is calling the July 31st runoff a “great moment for the Hispanic Republicans of Texas.”

Hispanic Republicans of Texas, founded by George P. Bush, business man George Antuna and Hernandez poured considerable time and money into several Hispanic Republican candidates in the runoff election. It seems to have paid off with wins by Ted Cruz, and state House candidates J.M. Lozano and Jason Villalba.

“This proves that Hispanics have a future in Republican politics,” Hernandez says.

For years it’s been an accepted wisdom that Hispanic surnames don’t win in Republican primaries in Texas. In 2010, incumbent Railroad Commissioner Victor Carrillo famously lost the Republican primary to an unknown candidate named David Porter. Afterward, Carrillo said his Hispanic surname had been a “serious setback.”

Hernandez sees the wins last night as a sign that the times are changing for the Republican Party in Texas. And it could be that younger Republicans really don’t care what a candidate’s surname is.

Take Cruz for instance. His win in the closely fought, expensive race for the U.S. Senate against Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst was a shocker for some. But according to an analysis piece today by political consultant Jason Stanford there’s a generation gap when it comes to Republicans supporting Hispanic candidates especially in a run off in which voters are better informed and hyper partisan.

Stanford writes, “Polling showed that Dewhurst did have a solid base among elderly Republicans. Voters above 75 years of age were ‘solidly with Dew’ while Republicans ‘55 and younger are absolutely and outrageously with Cruz,’ said Perkins. ‘There was clearly a generational gap.’”

But Trey Newton, director of HRT,  says he doesn’t think it’s so much a generational division as it is a case for better informed, energized Republican voters who turn out for runoff elections. “Yesterday proves that Republicans vote for the best candidate regardless of the surname,” he says.

Newton pointed to Jason Villalba’s win in the runoff for House district 114 in north Dallas. “The voters there are mostly Anglo and older, yet they supported Villalba,” he says.

Since 2010, HRT has been working to recruit Hispanics to run in Republican races. Last year, I wrote a feature about HRT and one of its principal founders Juan Hernandez and their efforts to recruit, advise and raise funds for Hispanic candidates.

It was HRT that convinced J.M Lozano to switch from a Democrat to Republican last year. They also recruited Jason Villalba to run for State Rep. In 2010, the group also met with Ted Cruz. “George P. Bush goes way back with Ted Cruz,” Newton says. “We connected him with our network of contributors.”

Newton says the hard work is paying off. “J.M. Lozano won in a rural, largely Hispanic district while Villalba won in a mostly Anglo district,” he says. “It doesn’t matter where you are Republican values are Hispanic values.”

Melissa del Bosque joined The Texas Observer staff in 2008. She specializes in reporting on immigration and the U.S.-Mexico border. Her work has been published in national and international publications including TIME magazine and the Mexico City-based Nexos magazine. She has a master’s in public health from Texas A&M University and a master’s in journalism from the University of Texas at Austin.