It is one of the most conservative counties in one of the most conservative states in the Union. In the past two decades in Montgomery County, Texas, Democrats have not won one single elected office in local or legislative races. Republican candidates easily trump Democrats 2-to-1 in state and national races.
But now that the county’s demographics are changing as more and more Latinos move to the area, Democrats say they see an opportunity to turn Montgomery County blue. Republicans are also seeing a chance to tap into the growing population to make sure the area remains a conservative stronghold.
“I think we’ve made significant progress in the last year in introducing ourselves to the Hispanic community,” Wally Wilkerson, chairman of the Montgomery County Republican Party, told Fox News Latino. “We’ve been involved with Hispanic voters by doing tutoring and citizenship classes, going to Cinco de Mayo celebration and handing out Spanish-language versions of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence. We’re doing all we can possibly do to make the Hispanic community to feel comfortable.”
In 2000, 13 percent of Montgomery’s population was Hispanic, according to Census figures. The population nearly doubled 14 years later, with the Hispanic population now at 20 percent and growing.
Historically, Hispanics tend to be Democrats because of the party’s stance on immigration and social issues.
“I think the Democratic Party is more appealing than the Republican Party to Hispanics,” said Bruce Barnes, the Montgomery County Democratic Party chairman. “It’s because they believe in our values.”
But the GOP is try to capitalize on what is perhaps the party’s most attractive stance to Latinos – its opposition to abortion, Cal Jillson, a professor at Southern Methodist University, told the Houston Chronicle.
"When you're in a very conservative hotbed that is upscale Anglo, Hispanics don't tend to feel the warmth," Jillson said.
This could partly be the reason why Latinos in Texas show up to vote in much lower numbers than other demographic groups. A 2010 study by the Annette Strauss Institute for Civic Life at the University of Texas-Austin and the National Conference of Citizenship reported that 48.3 percent of white Texans voted in 2010, while only 23.1 percent of Latinos reported voting that year.
"They cast far fewer votes than their presence in the population would suggest," Jillson added. "That's why both Democrats and Republicans think mobilization of Hispanic votes is possible and might bear fruit for them."
To counter the Democratic Latino shift, the Republican Party has stepped up its own outreach to the community.
“They’ve heard a lot of propaganda about the Republican Party,” Wilkerson said. “But we’re intent on reaching out to the Hispanic community and confident that we have the same values as we have.”
The battle for the Latino vote in Montgomery County is seen as a microcosm of what is going on at the state level in Texas. Gubernatorial candidates, the Republican Greg Abbott and the Democrat Wendy Davis, have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on advertisements on Spanish-language channels along with making concerted efforts on campaign stops and through social media to reach out to Latino voters.
Demographers predict Hispanics will make up a plurality of Texas residents as soon as 2020.