Texas has never sent a Latina to Congress, but that’s about to change, with at least two Latina candidates likely headed to Washington, D.C. after November. They’re part of a wave of new faces flooding the Texas midterm elections in what could be a historic year for the state come November.
The first midterm primaries of 2018 kicked off in the Lone Star State on Tuesday, with major implications for general elections in the fall. Initial early voting numbers showed staggering turnout levels from Democrats in particular, with 465,245 Democratic early votes cast this year compared to 420,329 for Republicans — a 50 percent increase in early voting overall.
Republicans quickly made up the difference on voting day. Texas historically has among the lowest rates of voter turnout in the country, a trend analysts say is driven by a number of factors, including harsh voting restrictions and widespread apathy. Those trends typically hurt progressives far more than conservative candidates, something Tuesday didn’t change: While Democratic votes exceeded 1 million, doubling 2014 numbers, Republican votes still numbered around 1.5 million.
But that doesn’t mean progressive momentum isn’t roaring in the state. Among the candidates emerging victorious after Tuesday are Democrats Sylvia Garcia, a current Houston state senator, and former El Paso Judge Veronica Escobar, both of whom are seen as all but guaranteed to win their congressional races in the fall.
“I wanted people to feel like they are a part of something positive and wonderful and I hope they did,” Escobar said on Tuesday night. “Tonight’s results have filled me with humility and gratitude.”
“This is not my victory,” Garcia told a crowd of supporters on Tuesday night. “This is all of our victory.”
Texas, a state with one of the country’s biggest Latinx populations, has never sent a Latinx woman to Congress. If they win, Garcia and Escobar will change that.
Progressive candidates more broadly are helping drive a spike of interest among Texas voters. A record number of LGBTQ candidates are seeking office, largely in response to both national and state-wide policies targeting the community. That’s true of other communities as well: An unprecedented number of Latinx candidates are running in areas like Harris County, which is 40 percent Latinx. The county is also home to Houston, the most racially and ethnically diverse city in the country — which has no Latinx representatives in Congress and which has never elected a Latinx mayor.
Activists have long pointed to gerrymandering as the reason for such discrepancies and the U.S. Supreme Court is currently considering a racial gerrymandering case out of Texas.
“If proportionality is the key, then Texas should overwhelmingly have Latinos further along than we have,” attorney Luis Vera, representing the League of Latin American Citizens, argued last July.
Tuesday’s primaries won’t change that reality, but they could be a taste of things to come. And while policies stemming from the Trump administration are arguably galvanizing turnout, progressive Texans argue a range of factors are in play. Last summer, activists around the state rallied to protest a special session of the Texas State Legislature, uniting on issues ranging from abortion access to immigration to queer and transgender rights. Advocates say that momentum has continued into the primaries.
“We know that in Texas, we can’t just pinpoint this blue wave that’s going on to just what’s happening in D.C.,” Delma Catalina Limones, Statewide Press Secretary for the Texas Democratic Party, told ThinkProgress. “We can’t just link that to one thing.”
Progressive momentum is translating into votes, but for her part Garcia downplayed the historic nature of her campaign.
“Well, I don’t really ever think about those things. I never really wanted to be the first [Latinx Texas woman in Congress]. I wanted to be the best,” Garcia told the Texas Tribune’s Abby Livingston. She is likely to be among the first class of Texas freshman women elected for a full congressional term in 22 years.
Her likely companion, Escobar, also showed interest in the effort being more of a joint venture.
“How’s Sylvia [Garcia] doing?” she asked a Tribune reporter on Tuesday night, after speaking about her own victory.
Candidates like Garcia and Escobar are relatively secure going into November, but another long-shot contender may also generate headlines in the months to come. Former Dallas County sheriff Lupe Valdez — the state’s first openly gay and Latina sheriff — is headed into a runoff against Democrat Andrew White, the son of former Texas Governor Mark White (D). If she wins, she will face Gov. Greg Abbott (R) in the fall.