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The mostly red state of Texas has only 1 competitive congressional district this year

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

The mostly red state of Texas has just one competitive congressional district this year, and both Republicans and Democrats have targeted that part of South Texas. NPR congressional correspondent Claudia Grisales has this report.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Order for Tibs (ph).

CLAUDIA GRISALES, BYLINE: At a McAllen, Texas, coffee shop, Democrat Michelle Vallejo is hammering a key message in a race to win back the state's 15th congressional district.

MICHELLE VALLEJO: Pay attention to South Texas because we are going to be a pivotal race not just for the state but for our entire country.

GRISALES: This is a comeback bid for Vallejo, a local small business owner. Democrats lost this traditionally blue district in the last election cycle after state redistricting, but they're betting they can win it back this year. Both the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and the party's campaign arm for the Congressional Hispanic Caucus are among the groups upping their investments to support Vallejo.

VALLEJO: We have a lot of work to do here, but I know that with all of the support of our community and supporters outside of our region, we could get this done.

GRISALES: A lot of work is facing both Democrats and Republicans in the fight for the state's 15th congressional district, which runs north from the McAllen border region to the outskirts of San Antonio. Texas Republican Monica De La Cruz, who flipped the seat in 2022, says Democrats' path to a majority will not go through her district. Here's De La Cruz on Capitol Hill.

MONICA DE LA CRUZ: We've got boots on the ground from my campaign both putting up a campaign office both in the south of the district and in the north of the district.

GRISALES: Republican successes across Texas have come by way of some pockets of Latino voters, fueled by their more conservative positions on issues like the U.S.-Mexico border. And that's especially top of mind here. Experts say the region is well-known for its Tejano voters who are right of center politically, culturally and socially. Alvaro Corral, politics professor at the University of Texas in the Rio Grande Valley, says that has created a key opportunity for the GOP.

ALVARO CORRAL: The Republicans have built a sort of more solid base of support among Latinos in the state slowly, gradually, incrementally.

GRISALES: And with this year's election, former President Trump is expected to pull in Republican voters. That adds to GOP advantages across the state. Texas' 15th was previously a Democratic stronghold, but with new lines drawn in 2021, it flipped from a President Biden district to one that now favors Trump.

BRANDON ROTTINGHAUS: The gerrymandering issue definitely hems in the Democrats.

GRISALES: That's Brandon Rottinghaus, politics professor at the University of Houston.

ROTTINGHAUS: The structure makes it hard for Democrats to be able to overcome some of those built-in advantages that Republicans have.

GRISALES: Back on Capitol Hill, Representative De La Cruz is taking on a bigger role within her party, including some very public opportunities to highlight her district. Earlier this year, the former insurance agent turned lawmaker gave the Spanish-language rebuttal to Biden's State of the Union address. She recently told NPR she thinks her efforts are paying off.

DE LA CRUZ: Think that it is the policies that are moving us forward and moving the bluest part of the district to red.

GRISALES: If De La Cruz pulls off another win against Vallejo in this year's fight, it could help Republicans hold onto the U.S. House and signal more opportunities for the GOP to expand their reach in what was once a Democratic stronghold.

Claudia Grisales, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF SZYMON'S "ANHALT") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Claudia Grisales is a congressional reporter assigned to NPR's Washington Desk.