In a Solid Blue County, a Local Judge Flips to Republican and Rails Against Abortion and the Migrant ‘Invasion’

"Midterm pundits’ eyes are on the Rio Grande Valley. But in the Big Bend region Presidio County Judge Cinderela Guevara is making a political bet that her name recognition and tough stance on immigration and abortion can make her turncoat move to run as a Republican successful in November."

In a Solid Blue County, a Local Judge Flips to Republican and Rails Against Abortion and the Migrant ‘Invasion’
Presidio County Judge Cinderela Guevara offers thanks to Gov. Greg Abbott for his work on border issues.

While midterm pundits’ eyes are on the more populous Rio Grande Valley—where Republicans are focusing on gains in the reliably blue South Texas—one West Texas County also will be an interesting case of how the current debates over abortion and immigration will play out in Texas at the polls.

We’ve seen a crowd of headlines questioning whether Republicans will gain a stronger foothold in South Texas—with the spotlight being on U.S. Rep. Mayra Flores, who won a special election to become the first Republican to win a congressional seat in far South Texas in modern history. She’s also the first woman who is Mexican-born to serve in the House, and she’s solid MAGA.

But head west to the Big Bend region to find an oddity of a solid blue blotch—Presidio County—in a sea of red counties, and it’s there where an interesting election may shed some light on the impact of Republican efforts to claim Democratic territory. Presidio County Judge Cinderela Guevara is making a political bet that her name recognition and tough stance on immigration and abortion can make her turncoat move to run as a Republican successful in November. Previously a lifelong Democrat, Guevara filed in the Republican Primary at the last minute—a move that surprised locals keen on noting, “You have to be a Democrat to win here.”

Voting statistics show the odds are stacked against Guevara. Heck, in 2016, the Presidio County Republican Party chair had to do a last-minute scramble to provide a polling place for the party’s primary. Primary turnout typically runs about 800 voters for Democrats versus 80 for Republicans. In 2020, Biden won the county by 33.5 points, and Democratic gubernatorial candidate Lupe Valdez won 49.1 points over Gov. Abbott.

2020 Presidential Race: The Big Bend runs blue. 
2018 Governor's Race: Presidio county went for Democrat Valdez by 49.1. (The other blue county to the north--Culberson--went for Valdez by 12.9 points.)

Guevara, who has been extremely chummy with Abbott of late and got his endorsement last week, may also be prepping for higher office by garnering red supporters in surrounding counties. But videos of her showering Abbott with praise have enraged many constituents who question her motives for not displaying the same positions so strongly in previous years.

Guevara recently spearheaded the county emergency declaration of disaster for the border, which makes sense because the county can get state money for law enforcement. But she also successfully took it a step further to join 32 other Texas Counties declaring the migrant influx an “invasion.” And she has stated publicly that as a Catholic, she can’t stay with a party that approves of abortion.

Guevara also found a friend in #ProjectRedTX, a political action committee formed to support South Texas and border Republicans. Candidates in Presidio County traditionally don’t spend much money on general election campaigns, but Guevara at least got a boost with $1,262.47 from the PAC for signs. How much Guevera and other candidates are taking in may never be known since candidates there rarely file legally-required campaign finance reports without any ramifications.

The Presidio County Democratic Party has fought back with a mailer criticizing Guevara for her alignment with conservative agendas—a move they note she made just after the January 6 insurrection.

Presidio County Democratic Mailer

So, the question is just how many Democrats—particularly more conservative Hispanics—in the county might be swayed to Guevara when they keep hearing the messaging from conservatives about the border “invasion” and the need to protect the “sanctity of life.”

A recent UT Poll showed that immigration is the top issue Hispanics are considering for the November election. Is that concern over the objection to dehumanizing migrants as much of the Republican rhetoric does? Or is it falling into the frame of how hard-working Americans shouldn’t tolerate an “open border?” Then again, most also have relatives in Mexico and are accustomed to crisscrossing the border, so they naturally empathize with migrants. Abortion is the third most important issue, barely behind “gun violence.” Presidio County Hispanics are predominantly Catholic, and thus, are usually solidly against abortion.

One problem with assessing this race along the lines of immigration and abortion is that Guevara has strong name recognition. She is running for her third term as county judge after she was first elected to justice of the peace in 1992 and has forged a lot of allies over 30 years. She also was the first woman (and Hispanic) elected to JP and county judge. (Guevara is nationally known for pronouncing Justice Scalia dead by phone and not ordering an autopsy.) Her Democratic opponent is Jose Portillo, Jr., who also has significant name recognition but mainly only in the city of Presidio on the border.

A significant number of votes for Guevara with so few county Republicans may indicate a shift from Democrats to conservative views on abortion and immigration. But most likely, we would also have to see a shift toward Abbott and other Republican statewide candidates as well to bolster the idea that such a change is happening.

One thing is certain. Republicans have nothing to lose by offering modest support in Democratic counties, while Democrats don’t seem to have any sense of urgency in addressing the attacks. Notice the tone of two top-party people in a New York Times story on the issue:

The chairman of the Texas Democratic Party, Gilberto Hinojosa, acknowledges that Republicans are making a “huge effort” at all levels. “We’re seeing Republicans field candidates in almost every single office in South Texas,” he says, lamenting that there is no way to compete with the G.O.P.’s dark-money machine. But while worried about the congressional contests, he professes no anxiety about the lower-level ones: “I don’t see them having an impact on the local candidates.”
“We’re not going to win all these races. They know that,” says Mr. [Dave] Carney [, a longtime Republican campaign strategist]….More significant, Republicans are playing the long game. “We need these candidates to keep running, to stay engaged in the community and run next time,” says Mr. Carney, stressing the importance of building the infrastructure so future candidates aren’t “starting from scratch.” And every local Republican who gets elected helps create a different dynamic among Hispanic voters here, chipping away at the longstanding taboo against voting for the G.O.P.

Rob D'Amico is an investigative journalist living in a ghost town somewhere between Marfa and Mexico. He's written for The Austin Chronicle, was comms director for the (Texas) American Federation of Teachers, and most recently, produced/hosted "Witnessed: Borderlands, a multipart podcast. "The tall-but-true tale of a charismatic outlaw, an iconic small-town sheriff, and the record-setting drug bust that ensnared them both. Set in the rugged Texas borderlands, Rob transports listeners back to U.S. side of the border for the opening salvo of the War on Drugs … where so much dirty money was swirling across the Rio Grande that even the most incorruptible citizens would be tempted."