BROWNSVILLE — As City Commissioner Ricardo Longoria Jr. introduced Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, to a crowd at Linear Park Saturday morning, the announcement was met with thunderous applause.
“You’re in Democrat country now,” Longoria said, turning to that party’s frontrunner in the gubernatorial primary, which will be held Tuesday.
But three days ahead of the Texas primaries, it was clear that the Republican Party’s presumptive candidate, Attorney General Greg Abbott, has not yet given up on the Rio Grande Valley, which has historically been a Democratic stronghold.
Both candidates were in Brownsville to take part in the city’s Charro Days festivities, which highlight the importance of Mexican culture along the border, with both camps suggesting their ability to win the Hispanic vote will assure them victory in the fall.
Each rode in the week-long festival’s Grand International Parade and met with supporters at Sombrero Fest.
Davis and Abbott chose the same word — crucial — to describe the importance of Latino voters this November, which explains why both have spent considerable time in South Texas since they announced their candidacies last year.
“I know it’s more than talking,” Abbott said, noting that he’s been in the region eight times since he announced his intent to run for governor last July. “You have to show up.”
And Abbott claims that his visits are having an effect on his chances in the Valley, citing polls showing his approval rating among Hispanic voters has doubled since he began his campaign.
“Representatives in the past may have not devoted much time in the Rio Grande Valley, but I clearly have,” he said.
Both he and Davis claimed that the values their respective parties hold dearest sync up with those of Hispanics, with Abbott saying that while others in the GOP have recently begun to seek the Latino vote, he has been at it for decades.
“It’s nothing new to me,” he said, noting the ethnic background of his wife, Cecilia, who has Mexican-American ancestry.
Abbott said his election would not only mean Texas would have its first Hispanic first lady, but it’s first Catholic governor.
He said the values of South Texas residents, which are fiercely family-oriented, are the same that he stands for.
But Davis suggested there is a reason that Latinos tend to vote Democrat and said she intends to solidify that relationship through highlighting in her campaign the ways Abbott and other Republicans have been “antagonistic” toward the sects of policy that people in the Valley value most.
“They vote Democrat because the people they elect to serve are fighting for them,” she said, noting Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr.’s emphasis on school nutrition and other South Texas-led initiatives to end predatory payday lending. “These are things that Democrats are fighting for.”
Davis said that not only were Republicans not putting those issues first in their agendas, but that cutting money from public education and women’s healthcare was evidence that the GOP was pushing against initiatives that help people enhance their quality of life.
“These are hostile to the values and the needs of people in South Texas, and I hope that this community and others will understand their voices at the ballot box are needed,” she said.
Davis’ criticism of Abbott and the GOP’s agenda mirrored the backlash from left-leaning media over remarks the attorney general made in early February suggesting that corruption in South Texas had cast the region in a light similar to that reserved for third-world countries.
Davis didn’t dredge up Abbott’s words but continued to suggest that he and the Republican party were “hostile” toward the border region.
“While (Republicans have) come here and asked for their vote, these same individuals, like Greg Abbott — in his official capacity, has been actively working to suppress their vote at the ballot box through redistricting, through photo ID requirements — they are hostile to this community being able to engage, being able to express their desires at the ballot box,” she said.
Abbott, in his first visit to Brownsville since the controversy, said his words were taken out of context.
“What I have done as attorney general is to prosecute public corruption,” he said. “The people of the Rio Grande Valley agree with me that public corruption is intolerable.”
Still, while Davis and Abbott exchange ideas as to whose policies are more Latino-friendly, some Hispanics, like Sen. Leticia Van De Putte, D-San Antonio, expressed concern over having an entire culture equated to a political token as November nears and the pro-Latino rhetoric intensifies.
A candidate for lieutenant governor and a staunch Davis supporter, she said, “We don’t want people to use us as political pawns.”