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Republicans have historically embraced small-town Texas. Now, Democrats are catching up

Mitch Borden
/
Marfa Public Radio

About 3 million people live in rural parts of the state, and this year they’ve gotten more visits from Democratic candidates.

A park in Snyder, Texas, was abuzz on a recent fall day. Kids were playing in a little league game, and a disc golf tournament was underway in the town about an hour and a half southeast of Lubbock, population 11,000.

Jeremy Levitt watched the activities unfold while he discussed his priorities heading into the November election.

“Freedom,” Levitt said. “That’s basically it. Democrats want to take it, Republicans want to give it.”

Republicans have long courted voters like Levitt and the other 3 million people who live in rural parts of the state. But Democrats are starting to catch up. This year, Democratic candidates including gubernatorial hopeful Beto O’Rourke have visited towns like Snyder, attempting to court the so-called rural vote.

Whether their efforts to convince Republican strongholds like Snyder to vote blue remains to be seen. Despite an active local Democratic party, about 85% of voters in Snyder cast a ballot for Donald Trump in the 2020 election.

 A sign in Snyder, Texas supporting Governor Greg Abbott's reelection.
Sarah Self-Walbrick
/
Texas Tech Public Media
A sign in Snyder, Texas supporting Governor Greg Abbott's reelection.

Levitt said he was voting for incumbent Republican Gov. Greg Abbott because of his stance on issues like immigration and the economy.

“I don’t want Texas to turn blue at all,” Levitt said. “We’re red for a reason.”

Tom and Jane Gibbins moved to Snyder over the summer. They said they’re voting red again this year because they’re unhappy with the way Democrats have controlled the nation.

“I want to take care of America, and it’s really fallen down this last time,” Jane Gibbins said. “Big time.”

The couple agreed that immigration and crime were their top concerns.

Drew Landry, a political scientist at South Plains College, said that’s why Republicans are focusing on those issues.

“If you want to put a stop to those things, you have to vote for us,” is the message Republicans are sending, Landry said. “And so they're going into Snyder, they're going into Big Spring, and they're making that particular case.”

During a recent campaign stop in Fredericksburg, a city of about 11,000 people in central Texas, O’Rourke avoided disparaging the Abbott supporters who were heckling him outside.

“Lest we be annoyed or judge these Abbott people….let’s have a little bit of sympathy,” he told his crowd of supporters. “Their candidate never shows up to talk to them.”

 Voters gathered in Fredericksburg for a campaign stop by Democratic gubernatorial hopeful Beto O'Rourke back in August.
Joey Palacios
/
Texas Public Radio
Voters gathered in Fredericksburg for a campaign stop by Democratic gubernatorial hopeful Beto O'Rourke back in August.

Almost 80 percent of the voters in Gillespie County, where Fredericksburg is located, voted for Trump in the 2020 election.

Scott Braddock is a political analyst and editor of the Quorum Report. He said O’Rourke has taken the GOP to task in rural areas over several issues, including school vouchers

“And so even in places where folks might not be willing to even consider voting for a Democrat, it means that the governor, the lieutenant governor and others have to have some answer on that issue to make people in rural Texas feel at ease about it,” Braddock said.

Democratic congressional candidate John Lira is running against Republican Tony Gonzales in Congressional District 23, which stretches from just outside San Antonio and along the border all the way to just east of El Paso. Uvalde lies smack day in the middle of TX-23.

“We started knocking on doors,” Lira said. “We started engaging in a community that has not been engaged with for so long. And I think the work we do there could turn Uvalde blue for a generation.”

Lira said in rural areas like Uvalde where residents, especially Hispanics, are not voting, there’s only one thing he can do.

“You have to show up to their county,” he said. “You've got to have to be present for them. You know, I have a district that is perfectly split between red and blue counties. And I have to go to the reddest of red to extend a handshake and to extend honest conversations to those communities.”

Copyright 2022 KERA. To see more, visit KERA.

Sarah Self-Walbrick | Texas Tech Public Media
Jerry Clayton | Texas Public Radio