Hispanic Democrats in Congress are faulting the national party for not adequately courting Hispanic voters, which they say is partly to blame for Republican Rep. Mayra Flores flipping a blue South Texas seat this month.
They said the Democratic Party doesn’t pay attention to Hispanic voters until the closing months of an election year.
“We need to invest,” said Rep. Jesús Garcia, Illinois Democrat. “The party has disinvested historically.”
He added that it was a “mistake” that the party didn’t compete for Ms. Flores’ special election seat, though he said that’s likely to change for the general election in November.
Rep. Jimmy Gomez, California Democrat, echoed Mr. Garcia’s sentiments. Mr. Gomez said that the party needs to hire organizers from Hispanic communities to go into areas and connect with voters face-to-face.
“The Latino community may become more swing in the future if Democrats don’t step up,” he said.
The concerns underscore the escalating battle between Democrats and Republicans over Hispanic voters.
Ms. Flores defeated Democrat Dan Sanchez in a special election to fill the remainder of retired Rep. Filemon Vela Jr.’s seat. Ms. Flores is the first Mexican-born woman to serve in Congress, after capturing a seat for the Republicans that had been occupied by Democrats for more than a century.
While Ms. Flores will only get to serve until January unless she wins again in November, Republicans painted her special election victory as another step toward a more diverse GOP and deeper ties to Hispanic Americans across the country.
“You may just be learning of Mayra Flores today, but you’ll be talking about her for years to come because she just made history and it’s only just the start,” said House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, California Republican.
Rep. Carlos Gimenez, a Florida Republican who was born in Cuba, said Hispanic Americans are increasingly realizing that they share the conservative values of the GOP.
“There’s no doubt that the party is making strong inroads with Hispanics,” he said. “The polls show it and with Mayra’s victory … it’s just an affirmation of everything we’ve been doing, everything we’ve been saying, and Hispanics are moving more and more to the Republican Party.”
Republicans have intensified efforts to court Hispanic voters in what is expected to be a bullish midterm year for the GOP.
The Republican National Committee has opened up cultural community centers in inner-city neighborhoods in several swing states to introduce the party’s message to Hispanic voters.
In May, House Republicans unveiled a political action committee dubbed Hispanic Leadership Trust that would enhance their resources towards expanding their Hispanic base. The PAC is expected to compete with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus’s BOLD Pac, which seeks to protect the incumbents in the group, who are all Democrats.
Despite the GOP’s efforts, Democrats still have a strong hold on Hispanic voters and some members have dismissed Ms. Flores’s victory as a one-time fluke.
Rep. Raul Ruiz, California Democrat who chairs the CHC, said he was confident in the party’s ability to hold onto its Hispanic base.
Earlier this year, Mr. Ruiz warned the party not to take Hispanic voters for granted and take its outreach efforts seriously.
“We’re going to continue to elect Latinos, Latinas,” Mr. Ruiz said. “There are by far more who vote Democratic because we care about making sure that we have jobs with dignity, fair wages, and have the ability to protect the environment.”