In the weeks leading up to Election Day in Texas, big money has resurfaced, new signs of swing voters and bold predictions of unrest that will turn heads across the U.S.

But this time it’s coming from Republicans.

“We’re going to paint the Rio Grande Valley red,” the GOP governor said. Greg Abbottstarting a rally in the Texas border town of Harlingen.

How Democrats After launching another October blitz in pursuit of flipping America’s biggest red state, Republicans are making their own move: On Nov. 8, after years of writing off the overwhelmingly Democratic-controlled region, they begin fighting for the largely Hispanic southern border.

The challenge – like outsider Democrat Beth O’Rourke’s campaign to oust Abbott – is a tall order. But it’s yet another way Republicans are putting the Texas border on the map, given that they’ve already refocused their 2022 midterm sprint to portray the 1,200-mile border as fraught with escalating danger and unrest as record numbers of migrants enter from Mexico .

Border Democrats say the drastic movement of migrants by bus and plane across the country will backfire on voters, but also admit they can no longer hold office.

Still, the rare sight of a contentious race on the Texas border has widened fissures in an important Democratic stronghold two years after former President Donald TrumpSignificant gains among Hispanic voters during the 2020 election have left both parties unexpectedly in contention.

“This is the first time we’ve had this many competitive races where Democrats have said, ‘What are we going to do?'” said Republican Carlos Kaskas, a former border Democrat who switched parties and later served as Abbott’s first campaign secretary. of the state.

He doesn’t see Republicans carrying the election in the Rio Grande Valley, home to about 1.5 million people. But, he says, “I think this area has often been taken for granted. Two things are born in the valley: a Catholic and a Democrat. Everything is changing.”

Democrats still have an advantage in South Texas — decades in office, a culture of voting for Democrats and more moderate candidates who are less vulnerable to GOP attacks from the left and more criticism of President Joe Biden as his approval ratings remain low and inflation remains high.

But the victory of GOP Rep. Maya Flores in a special election this year, becoming Texas’ first Latina in the U.S. House of Representatives, reflected a shift in attitude. Congressman Vicente Gonzalez, a Democrat from South Texas, has redistricted to a more favorable area and hopes to clear it for a full term in November.

Democrats have rejected dramatic moves by Abbott and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, two potential 2024 presidential contenders, to send migrants to places like Washington, New York and Martha’s Vineyard. But Republicans counter that more liberal voters in big cities far from the border are ignoring issues that mostly affect working-class South Texans.

Running for the most competitive seat in the Texas House of Representatives, which stretches from east of San Antonio to border towns including McAllen, Republican Monica de la Cruz blamed “an elite class that just doesn’t get it because illegal immigration is virtually non-existent.” affects their lives.”

“Wall Street bankers don’t have to worry about a poor migrant from Central America cutting into their wages,” de la Cruz told reporters recently.

Former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley is set to campaign with Flores and de la Cruz on the border Monday — an unusual show of national GOP political strength for South Texas.

These efforts to control the political narrative coincide with the Republican Party’s opening of 38 community centers for minorities across the country, including in McAllen and the other border city of Laredo, as well as in Spanish-speaking Houston and San Antonio.

Some offer services such as tutoring for US citizens and tax advice. They’ve also hosted movie nights, potluck dinners and business roundtables, as well as courses on topics like cryptocurrency. Some have been open for more than a year.

The GOP says it has spent millions on Spanish-language outreach across the country, including more than 30 ad buys in Spanish-language media, including digital, television, radio and print. It also has a record 32 Hispanic Republican nominees on the House ballot across the country, though many of them are outsiders.

Democrats, for their part, opened a national field office in McAllan in April and have three staffers working on a congressional race, the party’s first such investment in recent memory.

Richard Gonzalez, chairman of the Hidalgo County Democratic Party, which includes McAllen, said party officials have been holding weekly Zoom calls with O’Rourke’s campaign to coordinate efforts to increase turnout, especially among inactive voters. He said the achievements of Trump and the Republicans in 2020 were real but “very candidate-specific” and unlikely to “translate into future races.”

O’Rourke, who has run unsuccessfully for the Senate and the presidency in the past, also heads the nonprofit Powered By People. In 2020, he organized phone banking that had volunteers contact voters in Webb County, including Laredo, where fewer than 40% of eligible voters cast ballots in the 2018 senatorial race, hoping to boost Biden’s turnout.

The group has registered thousands of Webb County voters, and as a result, turnout has risen to 50% of eligible voters in the 2020 election. But Trump dramatically increased his support in Webb County, with nearly 26,000 votes, roughly double his 2016 total, and about 38% overall support there, up from about 23% in 2016.

“People want to say that the Democrats are done here, that the Republicans are taking over. That’s not true,” Gonzalez said. “It woke up the Democrats here and made us realize, ‘Hey, we can’t take this for granted anymore.’

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Weissert reported from Washington.

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