A very interesting dynamic was present in the race for San Antonio mayor last weekend that bears watching for both parties.
Ivy Taylor, who was appointed San Antonio mayor when Julian Castro left to run HUD last year, won a full term on Saturday, defeating a long-time Democrat, former state senator Leticia Van de Putte. Taylor is the first black to get elected mayor.
San Antonio is a Democratic city, Texas’s second largest, and is majority Hispanic. The city is represented in Congress by Republican* Rep. Will Hurd, a former CIA agent and a conservative who opposes amnesty and favors increased border security.
Taylor is a Democrat. But the catch is that she is a social conservative, opposing abortion and gay marriage. She also tried to appeal to conservatives by promising a less activist government. This led to a large turnout of Republicans that keyed her victory.
Taylor’s strength, meanwhile, was expected to come from a Republican-leaning coalition of voters looking to move the city further away from the era of her predecessor, Julián Castro, a period marked by an activist city government and bright national spotlight.
Van de Putte’s campaign worked hard to undermine that coalition. The candidate zeroed in on a report that Taylor and her husband were unwilling to pursue charges after a shooting at his bail bonds business, hoping to spook law-and-order voters backing Taylor. Van de Putte trotted out endorsements from elected officials representing Taylor’s native East Side, looking to cut into Taylor’s most oft-cited base of Democratic support. And at one point, a mailer surfaced that cut straight to the chase, calling Van de Putte the most conservative candidate in the race.
But none of it was enough to counteract Taylor’s crossover appeal, anchored in the chorus that Van de Putte was a career politician simply on the hunt for her next job. Both women had initially denied interest in the race, but it was Van de Putte who did so while campaigning for lieutenant governor, just two years after running for re-election to the Senate — a sequence Taylor’s campaign was happy to point out.
“She didn’t know what she wanted to be when she grew up,” Robinson said.
What does this mean for the “Turn Texas Blue” project that Democrats have been touting recently? Texas is not Maryland or Massachusetts. Even Democrats will vote conservative when the right message is pushed. And Republicans hoping to run a statewide campaign, should take note of Taylor’s telling themes of social conservatism, anti-careerism, and prudent government. Getting voters to go beyond labels to vote for the ideas being promoted by an attractive candidate gives the lie to the notion that Republicans can’t attract minority voters.
* A previous version of this article identified Rep. Hurd as a Democrat.