Mexican American Mismatch in the TX-23

Opposition to the DREAM Act, pushing for the privatization of Social Security, raising the cost of Medicare for seniors, and refusing to vote for a raise in pay for active duty service members are not the positions one would expect to see from a Member of Congress representing a district in which almost 7 out of ten voters are Mexican American, that encompasses some of the poorest counties in the country, and that is home to a high number of veterans.  Yet that is exactly the situation in the Texas 23rd Congressional District, where Congressman Francisco Canseco, a one-term Tea Party conservative, is facing a challenge by Democrat Pete Gallego, a progressive driven by a desire to continue his work to increase investment in public schools, support Texas vets, and reform the criminal justice system.


This race offers a glimpse at the struggle within the Latino community as these two successful Mexican American men battle it out for a seat in the US House of Representatives, sometimes even in Spanish! But the struggle isn’t over whether Latinos want leaders who believe in literally building walls along the US-Mexico border or who don’t believe in retirement vs. those who want to invest in our schools where more than half of school children are People of Color. Mexican Americans, at least those who call the TX-23 their home, are overwhelmingly in favor of a progressive political agenda and believe that government can play a positive role in their lives and in the well-being of their neighborhoods and cities. This struggle is over whether the 202,500+ registered voters in the TX-23 who are Mexican American will show up and vote when it counts.

You may wonder why “Tea Partino” Canseco is even in this seat. How on Earth did he win in this district when his positions are so diametrically opposed to the needs and interests of the district’s residents and voters? The first guess might be that the district underwent radical transformation under the tumultuous redistricting process and that it just became so overwhelmingly Latino majority. But that would be wrong, because the district was even more heavily Latino before redistricting. The answer is all about turnout, and the composition of those who residents who showed up to vote in 2010.

The 2010 incumbent, Ciro Rodriguez (D), lost to Canseco by only 7,505 votes. Canseco only garnered 74,853 votes and Ciro drew 67,348 votes. Now, we know that just two years earlier, Mexican Americans in the Texas statewide voted for Obama at a rate of 63%. There is no plausible reason to think that Mexican Americans in the TX-23 differ in any meaningful way from the rest of the state with respect to support for Obama (except that they have greater proximity to Torres Taco Haven and Fred’s Fish Fry than most voters in Texas). And similarly, there is no plausible reason to think that Mexican Americans who support Obama would support a Tea Partino Latino (Quico) over a known-entity Latino (Ciro). So, we can assume that if 66% of the voters in the TX-23 (the Mexican Americans) voted for Ciro Rodriguez at a rate of 63% and Whites voted for Quico at a rate of 74%, and there were about 151,500 people who voted in 2010, then Ciro should have received 100,000 votes and Quico should have received 50,000 votes. In that scenario, Ciro would have handed Quico a massive defeat, with a margin of victory of 50,000 votes (33 points). But that didn’t happen.

The only plausible explanation for why Ciro didn’t win is that Latinos didn’t show up to vote at rates that were proportionate to their share of the electorate in the TX-23. And that’s an understatement. That’s really, really sad. But the good news is that there is a clear fix for this problem: increase turnout! With over 202,555 Mexican Americans registered to vote in 2012 in the TX-23, we have more than enough potential voters poised to make up that 7,505 vote margin that went to Quico in 2010. In fact, it would have taken just 5% of these non-voting Mexican Americans casting votes in 2010 to send Ciro back to Washington. In other words, had just a 5% of those registered non-voters been voters, we’d be talking about holding the TX-23 today instead of trying to win it back. I’m not saying that Gallego’s path to victory is easy. He is battling very strong inertia in South Texas when it comes to civic engagement. But I am saying that the path is clear as day, and that what is required of him is no Herculean outcome. Turnout, turnout, and turnout are what the TX-23 race is all about in 2012.

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