How the battle for abortion rights changed South Texas politics

LAREDO, Texas — Like most of her neighbors in Laredo’s crowded Laredo community, Angelica Garza has voted Democratic for most of her adult life. Her longtime MP, Henry Cuellar, with his moderate views and opposition to abortion, made it an easy choice, she said.

But as the upcoming Democratic candidates in her South Texas region lean more liberally than ever, Ms. Garza, a devout Catholic, voted for Donald Trump in 2016, largely because his anti-abortion views.

In choosing Mr. Trump that year and again in 2020, Ms. Garza joined a parade of Latino voters who are changing the political structure of South Texas. In the Laredo region, where approx nine out of 10 residents are CatholicMany registered voters appear to be motivated in large part by the abortion issue.

Ms Garza, 75, said: “I am ready to vote for any candidate pro-life.

With the crucial primaries just a week away, Ms. Garza is poised to turn her back on Democrats. Pointing to the wall covered with folk angel figurines at the art shop she owns in Laredo, she explains why: “They’re kids, angels and I don’t think anyone Everyone has the right to end their life. We have to support life”.

Voters like Garza are worrying Democratic leaders, who once tightened and influenced the Texas-Mexico border that has loosened in recent election cycles. Republicans have claimed significant victories across South Texas, toppling Zapata County, south of Laredo on the banks of the Rio Grande, and a state district in San Antonio. They also make a lot of profit in the Rio Grande Valley, where the border counties are gave a lot of votes for Mr. Trump in 2020 that they helped negate the impact of white voters in urban and suburban areas of the state who voted for Joe Biden.

Much of it is at stake in Laredo, the most populous city in the 28th Congressional District, where Latinos are the majority, and stretches from the eastern tip of San Antonio and includes a western portion of the Rio Grande Valley. Since the county was drawn nearly three decades ago, the seat has been held by Democrats. Mr. Cuellar has represented the county since 2005. His moderate and sometimes conservative views – he was the only Democrat in Congress to vote against a US House of Representatives bill that would repeal the order. The state’s near-total abortion ban, which went into effect last September, has often endeared him to social conservatives and Republicans.

But now he finds himself locked in a tight fight against a much more liberal candidate backed by the party’s progressive wing that includes Senator Bernie Sanders and Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Mr. Cuellar, who was raided by the FBI last month as part of an investigation that neither he nor the government disclosed, beat his opponent, Jessica Cisneros, by four points. percentage points in 2020.

If he loses the March 1 primaries to Cisneros, a 28-year-old immigration attorney who advocates abortion rights, the path to overthrowing the House could very well run through South Texas, as Republicans already have vowed to use all his might. The campaign focuses on other religious and conservative values.

Across Laredo, a city that has one of the busiest seaports in North America and where Catholic Masses are embedded in everyday life, there are many anti-abortion messages. The problem of polarization seems to have been settled steadily in this part of the state, as evidenced by the sermons at 34 Catholic parishes, the graphic billboards at the intersections and the fact that the abortion clinic the last in the area closed almost 20 years ago.

“My priest doesn’t tell people how to vote, but he reminds us to vote with our Catholic conscience,” said Betty Flores, mayor of the city from 1998 to 2006, mayor of the city from 1998 to 2006. Miss Flores, a longtime friend of the Bush family, also identified as a Democrat — an “Old Blue Dog” Democrat, she said, referring to her moderate views. While seeing herself in the anti-abortion column, she said she doesn’t believe in enacting policies governing the female body.

Even Sylvia Bruni, the Democratic Party leader in Webb County, which includes Laredo, said she’s reconciled with the duality of anti-abortion views and the Democrats’ broader mandate to seek to expand women’s health care, including termination of pregnancy.

Bruni, a Catholic, said: “I speak for myself, but as an anti-abortion person as myself, I don’t think I have the right to tell others what to do.”

Mr. Cuellar has held the chair since 2005 largely because of his moderate views. In the vote last September against The Women’s Health Protection ActThe measure sought to protect the right to abortion, he cited his Catholic upbringing.

The measure, passed, appeared will be destroyed in the Senate. But Mr Cuellar’s vote was a symbolic nod to his socially conservative electorate, whose members drove daily past banners featuring unborn babies. that reads “God says ‘All life matters'” or about the Virgin Mary praying for people who are considering abortion.

With Texas law banning most abortions after about six weeks of gestation, and the Supreme Court may be about to uphold Mississippi law that ban most abortions after 15 weeksEddie Lucio Jr., a state senator often compared to Cuellar for his moderate views, said many South Texas voters will do whatever it takes to preserve those gains.

“There is no such thing as a Catholic who has the right to have an abortion,” said Lucio. “There was a silent crowd that didn’t say anything. But when they go to the polls, they go to vote for the anti-abortion candidate.”

Outside of Laredo, Texans remain deeply divided on the issue. According to a recent poll of Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas at Austin, about 46% of 1,200 respondents believe that current abortion laws should be stricter or stay the same; 43% say they should be less strict.

On a recent afternoon at St. Vincent de Paul of Laredo, Jose Brizuela, 73, a retired businessman, said he always votes for Democrats, including Mr. Cuellar, because their agenda is to offer aid to the people. poor. But if the next Democratic candidate supports abortion rights, he said, “I’m ready to vote Republican.”

With Mr. Cuellar’s seat in jeopardy, Republicans were getting ready to take on their first real test of the region in decades. If news of the Cuellar investigation keeps many of his supporters at home, Republican leaders say Cisneros’ progressive values, especially on the issue of abortion, could is too far a bridge to the larger faith-based electorate. In the preliminary round, seven Republicans are vying for the nomination.

“There used to be a mentality of, ‘Oh, we just vote this way,’” said Luis De La Garza, Republican Chairman of Webb County. “We’re showing them that it’s possible to vote for something they really believe in. I think voters are starting to see that we have the same religious and family values.”

And in fact, Republicans have won much in District 28. In November 2020, the GOP took over. 39 percent votes, up from 31% in 2016.

Also in 2020, the Democratic presidential ticket received 487 fewer votes than four years earlier. By contrast, the Republican presidential ticket received nearly 13,000 more votes in 2020 than it did in 2016, according to data compiled by Democrats.

Last November, Republicans overthrew a district that was once a solid Democrat in San Antonio by 286 votes in a special election flow. Voters also flocked to Republicans in Hidalgo and Zapata Counties, both traditional Democratic strongholds along the Rio Grande. In 2020, Joe Biden won Hidalgo County, McAllen’s hometown, by 17 percentage points, a closer victory when compared to Hillary Clinton’s 40-point victory four years earlier. And in nearby Zapata CountyMr. Trump won five points.

The state, while growing more diverse and progressive, did not translate into more votes for Democrats. In Webb County, only half of voters are registered to vote in 2020.

Still, progressive Democrats are working overtime to energize young voters who are going for the first time – both to defeat Mr. Cuellar in the primaries and run for office. Republican member in November. During a recent visit to San Antonio to campaign for Ms. Cisneros, progressive congresswoman Ocasio-Cortez from New York called District 28 a “battlefield.”

Over the past few months, Democrats have ramped up outreach efforts and have added more than 2,300 voters, Ms. Bruni said.

“We are solid Democrats, but we are more conservative than the traditional liberals,” said Sergio Mora, the former chairman of the Democratic Party. “We are more socially conservative. We may lose our seats. ”

Sarah Smith, 40, is among those voters who see the district turning red based solely on the abortion issue. Ms. Smith, who supports smaller government – she calls herself a 19th-century liberal – and has both Mexican and British ancestry, said she supported Democratic priorities such as reform. prison but added that upholding the abortion ban was her priority.

“Perhaps it is time for this area to become Republican,” she said. “Whatever it takes to save a life.”

Susan C. Beachy contributed research. How the battle for abortion rights changed South Texas politics

Fry Electronics Team

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