GOP hopes of huge Latino gains realized in Florida but less evident around the country so far

Republicans had hoped to make big enough gains among Latino voters in 2022, extending their inroads from two years ago, that would fundamentally realign the political landscape in several battleground states — and the presidential map — in their favor.

But although Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis delivered on those hopes, winning heavily Latino counties that no Republican candidate for governor or president had won in a generation, other Republicans could not keep up with his pace.

Even with many races still to be called, exit polls and results in some key House races showed the party improving on the margins, but not making the leap among Latino voters GOP strategists had sought. The outcomes of House races still unfolding in California and New York, as well as Senate and governor’s races in Arizona and Nevada, will play a key role in determining the significance of this year’s smaller shifts toward the GOP.

Democrats won two of three South Texas congressional races, all in the Rio Grande Valley, that were widely seen as a gauge of whether the GOP could build on former President Donald Trump’s 2020 gains in a historically Democratic area.

Rep. Henry Cuellar, the most conservative Democrat in the House, posted a double-digit victory in the 28th District, which stretches from San Antonio to his hometown of Laredo. And in the 34th District, in the state’s southeastern tip — another border district that includes McAllen, Harlingen and Brownsville — Democratic Rep. Vicente Gonzalez, who was running in a new district, delivered a clear victory over Republican Rep. Mayra Flores, who won a special election this year under the old district lines.

“The RED WAVE did not happen. Republicans and Independents stayed home,” Flores tweeted in the early Wednesday morning hours.

The only GOP victory in the region came from Monica De La Cruz, who won in the neighboring 15th District, which was drawn in last year’s redistricting process to be a GOP-leaning but competitive seat.

Democrats saw their victories in the region, after a deluge of Republican spending on the three races, as a sign the party had held off the GOP in the largely Hispanic Rio Grande Valley after 2020.

“Even with these large investments, we showed the Republican party that South Texas is not their home,” Gonzalez said at his victory party, the Texas Tribune reported.

Latinos are not a monolith, and South Texas — like Florida — isn’t a perfect window into the broader Latino population. Voters there are typically more culturally conservative — a reality that explains Cuellar’s survival despite two hard-fought primaries against a progressive challenger and a tough general election while under the cloud of an FBI investigation. (In April, Cuellar’s lawyer said federal authorities told him that his client was not a target of the investigation.)

Nationwide, Democrats won Latino voters — 60% to the GOP’s 39% — according to exit polls conducted for CNN and other news networks by Edison Research. That’s a slight improvement for Republicans over 2020.

Democrats’ strongest performance was among younger Latinos and women, while Republicans did better with men and older voters.

The exit polls showed Democrats dominating among the 75% of Latino voters who said abortion should be legal, winning that group by 58 percentage points. The party also avoided massive blame for an economy that 69% of Latinos said is fair or poor, winning those voters by 12 percentage points.

But the most important question about long-term trends about Latino voters is whether a marginal shift in the GOP’s favor this year will be significant enough to change the political landscapes of presidential swing states such as Arizona and Nevada, which, like Texas, have big Latino populations, largely of Mexican descent.

That question can’t be answered yet: Both states are still counting votes in hard-fought races for governor and the Senate.

The biggest reason for Republicans to celebrate — and perhaps one of the most important outcomes of this year’s midterm elections — might be DeSantis, widely viewed as a potential 2024 presidential contender, delivering such a dominant victory in Florida that Democrats were openly suggesting that the state is now effectively off the list of presidential battlegrounds.

The most eye-popping outcome in his blowout victory over Democrat Charlie Crist — and one that demonstrated the breadth of DeSantis’ appeal in the eyes of Sunshine State voters — came in Miami-Dade County, which is heavily Hispanic, particularly of Cuban heritage, and historically a huge source of Democratic votes.

Republicans had made gains there in recent years: Hillary Clinton defeated Trump there by 29 percentage points in 2016. DeSantis did slightly better in the 2018 governor’s race, losing the county by 21 points. Trump made inroads there in 2020, losing by just 8 points. But a GOP candidate for governor hadn’t actually won Miami-Dade County since Jeb Bush in 2002.

The political reality is straightforward: Democrats have no realistic path to victory in statewide races in Florida without big wins in Miami-Dade County. That reality makes the county’s outcome an exclamation point on a dominant GOP performance in the state.

There were other important signs in Florida, too: Another traditional Democratic stronghold won by DeSantis was Osceola County, a majority Latino county south of Orlando with a heavily Puerto Rican population.

The-CNN-Wire
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