[Editor’s note: As mentioned, we’re going to feature some posts from our talented interns–including the author of this one–on BurkaBlog this summer. –EG]
“Conocer a tus suegros–nunca es fácil.” Attorney General Greg Abbott’s first statewide television ad for the general election opens with a close-up of his sister-in-law, Rosie Phalen, discussing a challenge that countless Texas voters have faced: meeting the in-laws.
Nerve-wracking, no doubt. But Abbott apparently made a good impression; he has been married to his wife Cecilia for more than thirty years. And in retrospect, meeting the in-laws might have been easy compared to the assignment Abbott has set for himself this year—winning over Hispanic voters as the Republican gubernatorial nominee. He has made that a concerted effort to do so since launching his campaign last year, and the new ad is part of that effort; it is completely in Spanish, and premiered on Univision on Tuesday, during the World Cup match between Brazil and Mexico.
The goal makes sense. Although Hispanic voters in Texas generally favor Democrats, they have, historically, been more receptive to Republican candidates than Hispanic voters nationwide. And this year’s Democratic gubernatorial candidate, state senator Wendy Davis, was surprisingly weak in south Texas during the primaries, in March; she lost a number of counties in the Rio Grande Valley to a little-known opponent.
The problem for Abbott is that his outreach comes at a moment when a number of Texas Democrats are accusing Republicans of alienating Hispanic voters with overheated rhetoric on immigration and border security. Both subjects were fiercely discussed during this year’s Republican primaries, and earlier this month, delegates to the Republican Party convention approved significant changes to the immigration plank of the platform. The new version calls for an end to sanctuary cities and in-state tuition for undocumented immigrants, and no longer endorses any kind of guest worker program. Even some Republicans are worried that their party may be going too far. Jason Villalba, a Republican state representative from Dallas, registered his concern in an open letter published last week. “Divisive rhetoric and nativist domestic policy might excite the 5.5%,” he wrote, “but the remaining 95% of us understand that we have to do something thoughtful and pragmatic about this complex issue.”
Abbott himself has not used such hardline language, and he has quietly pushed back against more divisive attitudes by pointing out that if he is elected his wife, Cecilia, will be the first Latina first lady of Texas. But he has also seemed reluctant to chime in on the contentious policy debates about immigration and border security. His website’s “Issues” section includes no mention of either. At some point, though, he may have to confront them. In a new poll from the University of Texas/Texas Tribune, respondents named immigration and border security as the most important issues facing the state–and with more and more attention being paid to the recent spike in migration from Central American to the Rio Grande Valley, that is unlikely to change.