AUSTIN — Donald Trump talked tough about building a wall along the Mexican border, but the Republican still won more than one-third of the Latino vote in Texas.
That’s about the same percentage as supported a less-inflammatory GOP candidate, Mitt Romney, four years ago.
That strong Hispanic support for Trump and the GOP represents a “real problem for Democrats,” said Brandon Rottinghaus, a political science professor at the University of Houston.
And it shows how Democrats who’ve long hoped that a growing Hispanic population would turn Texas blue could be waiting a while.
“It’s a pretty big number, given the tone and rhetoric he used,” Rottinghaus said.
The Hispanic and Latino vote for Trump, which was estimated by exit polling, is weaker than the 44 percent who helped elect Republican Gov. Greg Abbott in 2014. But it’s a reminder of the political diversity of more than 10 million people, living in a state of more than 27 million.
For Martha Visney, who moved to the U.S. from Mexico and became a citizen after marrying an American in the ‘70s, Democrat Hillary Clinton’s stance on abortion turned her off.
“We need a woman in the White House — just not her,” said Visney, who has never voted for a Democrat.
The San Angelo Republican said she supports Trump’s plan for a border wall.
“It cost my husband a lot of money for me to come to this country legally,” she said. “If you want to come to this country, you have to abide by the United States of America law.”
Ofreal Galindo, 25, a Presidio metal-shop teacher, said abortion was a key issue.
“I’m basically on the side of the Republican Party because I’m pro-life,” Galindo said. “As the government sits right now, a 9 month-old baby doesn’t have any rights.”
Lionel Sosa, a longtime branding and media consultant in San Antonio, said he was surprised that Trump won as many votes among Texas Hispanic as he did, given the Republican’s rhetoric about Mexicans being murderers and rapists.
“I thought he would get 20 percent to 22 percent,” Sosa said. “I thought Latinos were going to send him a huge message.”
But Tuesday’s returns show that many Latinos are just as disaffected as other Americans, he said, noting that party affiliation is not a strong predictor of their vote. When George W. Bush ran for governor the second time, he got 49 percent of the Latino vote.
“If a Republican does everything right, he’ll get half of the Latino vote,” he said.
Ivan Gonzalez is one Texas Republican who didn’t vote for Trump.
“I didn’t believe him from the start,” said Gonzalez, 21, a Texas A&M student. “He changed his position all the time.”
But he didn’t vote for Clinton, either. Instead, he chose independent Evan McMullin.
Dalia Sanchez, the tax assessor and collector in San Patricio County, voted for Trump because of his business experience, and in spite of his rhetoric.
“I don’t like the way that he talks, but I respect the man for what he’s done,” she said. “He will run this country like a business.”
Sanchez feared the prospect of Clinton appointing justices who support abortion rights to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Rottinghaus said Clinton missed opportunities to gain the support of Texas Latinos. He surveyed 500 Latinos, ages 18 to 34, before the election.
“We found that for 79 percent, no party or political organization contacted them to register to vote,” he said. “Virtually none of them were contacted by a political organization. That’s a future issue.”
Harlingen immigration attorney Jodi Goodwin said the Trump victory is prompting calls from clients who want to know what to expect for Hispanics under a new administration. Goodwin said her clients heard his tough talk on immigration “loud and clear.”
“There is a lot of fear,” she said. “People are afraid there’ll be raids.”
John Austin covers the Texas Statehouse for CNHI’s newspapers and websites. Reach him at email@example.com.