In the contested race for the Democratic nomination for Texas Senate, state Sen. Roland Gutierrez (D-TX) believes his Black challenger—Rep. Colin Allred (D-TX)—can’t win a general election for one reason he can’t control: He’s not Hispanic.
At a campaign event in Houston on Jan. 19, Gutierrez was recorded talking with an attendee about his candidacy and why he believes he’s best-suited to defeat Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) come the November election.
Currently, Gutierrez is stuck in a heated primary battle with Allred, who has the backing of much of the national Democratic establishment. But, because Allred isn’t Hispanic, Gutierrez believes he can’t win against Cruz.
“I’m telling you, it’s not Allred. I mean, it’s gonna be a Hispanic candidate, a strong Hispanic candidate,” Gutierrez told an attendee at the event, according to a recording of the conversation obtained by The Daily Beast. “Listen, Rochelle Garza outperformed Beto [O’Rourke] by 3 points. I outperformed Beto by 3 points.”
Gutierrez added that he loved O’Rourke and wasn’t being disrespectful. “I’m just trying to tell you that work, hard work, hard work ethic, and yeah, some identity politics,” he said.
Gutierrez continued that the main reason Cruz has won so many times is because of his last name.
“They’ll go vote for the president and he steals a vote, he steals a percentage point because his last name is Cruz,” Gutierrez said.
It’s true that Texas has a sizable Hispanic population. According to census data, 40.2 percent of the state’s population is Hispanic or Latino. But there are also plenty of statewide politicians who have won in Texas without being Hispanic.
In response to questions about the recording, Gutierrez’s campaign didn’t deny the recording or the sentiment.
“Latinos are the biggest ethnic group in Texas, Roland can energize the base and speak to a broad range of voters,” Sam Robles, Gutierrez’s campaign manger, said in a statement. “Roland Gutierrez has a better chance of taking down Ted Cruz, because Latino ticket splitters, particularly rural men, are interested in a candidate like Roland. Research shows strong Latino candidates routinely outperform the top of the ticket. It’s time Texans have an opportunity to vote for a candidate that looks like them, talks like them, and has lived their life.”
In an internal memo provided to The Daily Beast, the Gutierrez campaign even doubled down on Gutierrez’s logic, noting that “recent elections in Texas make a clear case for Hispanic candidates as serving to mobilize Hispanic voters.”
Despite Gutierrez’s claim that it has to be a Hispanic candidate to take on Cruz, BOLDPAC—the political arm of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus—has not endorsed Gutierrez’s campaign and has instead stayed out of the race.
Gutierrez, a San Antonio native, joined the Texas state house in 2008 and then ran for state Senate in 2020. His district encompasses Uvalde, Texas, and he has become a vocal critic in the state legislature of Texas’ response to the 2022 Uvalde school shooting and has called for stricter restrictions on guns.
He is now trying to win the nod to take on Cruz in the general election. But beating Allred is no easy feat. Allred—a former NFL linebacker for the Tennessee Titans who became a civil rights lawyer before taking down longtime Rep. Pete Sessions (R-TX) in a north Dallas district in 2018—has the inside track for the Democratic nomination.
According to an Emerson College Poll released on Jan. 18, 29 percent of Democratic Primary voters plan to support Allred, while only 7 percent currently support Gutierrez. Still, 37 percent remain undecided. And the same poll shows a hypothetical matchup between Cruz and Allred in a dead heat—with 42 percent supporting Cruz and 40 percent supporting Allred. (In that matchup, 8 percent currently go for someone else and 11 percent are undecided.)
A hypothetical matchup between Cruz and Gutierrez is about the same—41 percent support Cruz, and 40 percent support Gutierrez. Once again, 8 percent go for someone else and 11 percent are undecided.
In their own internal polling conducted by Z to A Research, Gutierrez trails Cruz by only 5 points—47 percent Cruz and 42 percent Gutierrez. But, after reading short biographies about the candidates, the margin shifts 6 points in Gutierrez’s direction. In that polling, with those bios, Gutierrez leads Cruz 47 percent to 46 percent.
In the audio, Gutierrez also hit Allred on his support for border security measures and said the Texas Representative is trying to placate Republicans as a way to get votes in a general election.
“A long time ago, he read a poll. That poll told him, well we need to have a moderate Democrat. Come on. Republicans aren’t going to vote for us,” Gutierrez said. “They’re just not. So I’m sure that’s what it is. But you’d have to ask him quite frankly. He has done some things and said some things that are antithetical to winning in a primary, quite frankly.”
While border security is not a center point of Gutierrez’s campaign, his allies have touted his career as an immigration lawyer as a point to how he knows “why this system is broken and how to get it fixed.”