POLITICS

Greg Abbott defeats Democrat Wendy Davis to win Texas gubernatorial race

Texas Attorney General and Republican candidate for governor Greg Abbott speaks  during a campaign stop Monday, Nov. 3, 2014, in Austin, Texas. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

Texas Attorney General and Republican candidate for governor Greg Abbott speaks during a campaign stop Monday, Nov. 3, 2014, in Austin, Texas. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

Republican Greg Abbott defeated Democratic state lawmaker Wendy Davis in the race for Texas governor. Davis became nationally known literally overnight for her more than 12-hour filibuster in pink sneakers to temporarily stall new abortion restrictions. But she was unable to compete with her popular and well-funded Republican opponent.

Demographers predict Hispanics will make up a plurality of Texas residents as soon as 2020. Their voting strength, however, hasn't kept pace with their rapid growth: in 2012 in Texas, turnout among voting-age Hispanics was 39 percent, compared to 61 percent for whites, according to U.S. Census Bureau estimates. In the last governor's election, only a quarter of the valley's Hispanic voters cast ballots.

Abbott faced a tough sell beyond the demographics.

Divisive Republican measures he's backed have been viewed as hostile toward Hispanics and particularly felt on the southern Texas border. One in three people here live at or below the federal poverty level, as longtime Republican Gov. Rick Perry refuses Medicaid expansion.

Abbott also has supported the deployment of 1,000 National Guard troops along the border to block illegal immigration, which Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto called "reprehensible." He's also fighting in court to uphold a new state law that forced the closure of the only abortion clinic in 300 miles. Even the roaring Texas economy, for which Republicans take credit, is far tougher to see along the border, where a nearly 10 percent unemployment rate is nearly double the state average.

Abbott did have some help though, as the Republican National Committee dumped $50,000 a month into Texas to recruit Hispanic voters, who went for President Barack Obama more than 2-to-1 two years ago. Charles and David Koch, the billionaire industrialists who also are significant donors to Abbott, help underwrite the Libre Initiative that offers Spanish-speakers classes to learn English -- while preaching to them the sensibilities of limited government.

Former U.S. ambassador to Mexico Tony Garza, a Bush appointee whose political career began as a Republican in Brownsville, said he sees an opening for Republicans because Democrats traditionally have taken their voters for granted.

"Not only is he (Abbott) in sync with the conservative nature of the state, by spending a lot of time in the valley ... he's forcing the Democratic nominee to defend what should be a base," Garza said.

Based on reporting by The Associated Press.

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