Packed into the Christian Chapel Temple of Faith on a rainy Sunday evening this month were plenty of the minority voters Texas Republicans say have kept their party in power even as the state’s demographics shift in favor of Democrats.
“[When] you say, ‘I’m fiscally conservative,’ people look at you kinda strange, like how can that be?“ said Deborah Smith, a leader of the multiethnic Dallas Area Interfaith, who is black. “Just because you care about people [doesn’t] mean you just want to print money and blow it up.”
Texas Republicans have long credited their focus on pocketbook issues for their unusually high political support among minority voters — particularly the Hispanic community that’s expected to overtake whites as the state’s largest population group in 2022.
Yet headed into an election where minority voters are increasingly at odds with the policies of President Donald Trump, Texas Republicans who’ve long maintained good relationships with those voters are often not showing up.
“The same night I was out with 2,000 Indians, now, are those people of color?” said Dallas Rep. Pete Sessions, R-Texas, who said he skipped the interfaith forum to attend a previously-scheduled event with Indian-American constituents instead.
“As you know this is a 70 percent white district... the numbers are we have to hit are with seniors, and with families, and those married with children,” he told the Star-Telegram at an interview in his campaign office. “Richardson and Highland Park are going to produce a good number of votes for us and those are a good mix of families and seniors.”
Sessions received more than 48 percent of the Hispanic vote in his last tough race against a Democrat, a 2004 contest against former Rep. Martin Frost, D-Texas.
This year he faces a well-funded challenge from Democrat Colin Allred, and has received big help from a super PAC designed to support candidates who back Trump’s agenda in Washington. He’s campaigned alongside Vice President Mike Pence in his district, and received several tweets of support directly from Trump.
At the Christian Chapel Temple, leaders of the nonpartisan faith-based organization asked candidates for promises to find a solution for recipients of the DACA program Trump has repeatedly sought to end.
The group also made a push for the parish ID cards it’s started issuing to people without driver’s licenses. They can present the cards if they are stopped by law enforcement as part of the anti-sanctuary cities policies Trump has championed.
“We are basically talking about the issues that affect the very poor in our community,” said Smith, who has supported Republican candidates in the past. “If we were responsible with our money, we could take care of the poor in our country.”
None of the five Republicans invited to the event attended, leaving Allred and four other Democrats seeking local offices to woo a crowd of roughly 2000 unopposed.
Sessions said his party needed to lean into its own solutions for the immigration system, and vowed to come back to the effort next year.
“We’re the ones that had the vote, we’re the ones that had two prime ways [to keep DACA recipients in the country],” he said. “I have spoken directly about the immigration bill... We’re going to come back and finish it off next year.”
At a League of United Latin American Citizens breakfast the same weekend in Fort Worth, Democratic candidates also enjoyed an uncontested discussion with Hispanic voters where GOP opponents were invited but did not attend.
Though the monthly gathering has in the past featured GOP guests, including state Sen. Konni Burton and District Attorney Sharen Wilson, that day’s conversation focused heavily on recent Republican-led voter fraud arrests, which the group’s organizers called a scam designed to depress minority voters.
“We make a point to invite both Republicans and Democrats,” said LULAC President Domingo Garcia, who spoke at the event. “Some of the candidates don’t care about the Latino vote.”