Texas’ first Latina First Lady steals the thunder

The Texas gubernatorial election Tuesday was expected in some circles to be a celebration of women, and it was – just not the woman some…
Texas’ first Latina First Lady steals the thunder

Texas Governor-elect Greg Abbott celebrates with his wife Cecilia (L) and daughter Aubrey (R) during his victory party on November 4, 2014 in Austin, Texas. Abbott defeated Democratic challenger Texas State Sen. Wendy Davis. (Photo by Erich Schlegel/Getty Images)

The Texas gubernatorial election Tuesday was expected in some circles to be a celebration of women, and it was – just not the woman some thought it would be.

With Republican Greg Abbott winning the gubernatorial election in a landslide, it was his Hispanic wife Cecilia Abbott who stole the thunder, becoming Texas’ first Latina First Lady in the Lone Star State where once the Anglo-Mexican hostilities were such as to make that seem impossible.

But, as it turns out, Cecilia Abbott may have even been responsible for helping carve out the overwhelming triumph for her husband over Democrat Wendy Davis, the state senator and political darling who became an overnight sensation for her  marathon filibuster opposing abortion legislation.

Welcome, then, to Texas’ new darling, Cecilia Abbott, who became almost as much of a face of her husband’s campaign as Greg’s – and for good reason.

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The granddaughter of immigrants from Mexico, Cecilia was raised in San Antonio by parents who were both educators and ardent Roman Catholics. When she married Abbott, he converted to Catholicism – and in his gubernatorial campaign Cecilia’s mother often told voters that she “became his madrina — his godmother — when he joined our Church.”

“I love having Greg Abbott as my son-in-law,” Abbott’s mother-in-law even said in one campaign ad. “Texas will love having him as governor.”

Now, in helping Greg whip a Democratic favorite in a Republican state some considered politically vulnerable now and in the future, Cecilia Abbott has played a major role in the GOP’s powerful rejection of the most optimistic and heavily funded challenge from Democrats in decades.

Not only did Wendy Davis suffer a convincing defeat that may kill off prospects for a statewide elected office in the future, but so did Democrat lieutenant gubernatorial candidate Leticia Van de Putte, a Latina who campaigned with Davis and carried Hispanic Democratic hopes with her.

It now raises questions about Democrats’ hopes of carrying the state in 2016 and whether they can capitalize on the demographic changes making Texas increasingly Latino and presumably Democratic.

No Democrat has won statewide office since 1994, and that will continue at least for two more years.

Even harsher for Democrats is that yet another Bush did win statewide office and could be laying the groundwork for higher office himself.

George P. Bush, the son of former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Latino through his Mexican mother, won election as Texas land commissioner.

“I could not be prouder of George. He ran a great campaign, built his own first-rate team, united abroad and winning coalition and presented a clear vision for the future of Texas,” Jeb Bush said in a statement. “He’s going to be an incredible Texas Land Commissioner!”

It makes Bush the second Latino Republican elected to statewide office in Texas in the last two years. Ted Cruz was elected to the U.S. Senate in 2012.

Meanwhile, Abbott’s victory appears to have been built on surprising support among traditionally Democratic Latino voters, having apparently run a statistical dead heat with Davis among Hispanics according to the latest University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll.

Abbott’s aggressive campaign to woo the Latino vote — “Nosotros con Abbott” — included numerous visits with Cecilia to the mostly Hispanic Rio Grande Valley as well as establishing a record GOP field operation there and setting a goal of winning Cameron County and breaking 45 percent in Hidalgo County, both Democratic strongholds in predominately Latino South Texas.

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Carlos Cascos, a Cameron County judge and a Republican, says Abbott campaigned hard in South Texas and carries photos that he likes to show off of a campaign pachanga where Abbott appeared and stayed late.

“Ninety percent of the people there were Democrats,” says Cascos, “but they see themselves as independents, and Abbott reached out to them.”

If he succeeded in getting those kinds of Latinos to switch voting patterns, Abbott may have broken George W. Bush’s record of winning 40 to 45 percent of the Latino vote in Texas during his gubernatorial and presidential campaigns.

But Abbott’s campaign also identified more than one million Latino voters who might have been receptive to a social, economic conservative message, and he hammered home to those Roman Catholic Hispanics the very issue that brought Wendy Davis to national prominence – abortion.

And that issue, so personal and emotional for many Latinos, may have been the final nail on her political coffin, as South Texas Democratic donor and strategist Alonzo Cantu feared in the closing days of the campaign.

“There’s a perception that Wendy Davis is pro-abortion, and that’s hard to overcome with us Latinos,” said Cantu. “It’s been hard for her to get away from that.”