Though LaMantia secured the endorsement of a host of Rio Grande Valley representatives in addition to Lucio and vastly outspent her opponents thanks to generous loans from members of her family, the March 1 primary for Senate District (SD) 27 proved to be quite competitive.
LaMantia led the field of South Texas Democrats with 34 percent of the vote, trailed by Stapleton-Barrera with 33 percent and Rep. Alex Dominguez (D-Brownsville) with 25 percent. A fourth candidate, Salomon Torres, received the other 8 percent.
Now that the Democratic nomination for the seat is headed toward the May 24 runoff, LaMantia and Stapleton-Barrera are busy campaigning for a firm majority of the votes.
Rhetoric on the campaign trail is decisively different from the Democratic runoff for the seat two years ago.
Then, there was never a chance that both candidates would participate in a Planned Parenthood-sponsored forum, as the pro-choice advocacy group was whole-heartedly backing Stapleton-Barrera’s challenge against Lucio.
Though a Democrat, Lucio is well known for crossing the party lines to support Republicans with pro-life legislation, and abortion became the central issue in his 2020 reelection bid.
“They were really using this abortion issue against me,” said Stapleton-Barrera at the recent Planned Parenthood event. “They were door-knocking and telling people that ‘Sara’s this real extremist on these issues’ and sending out mailers. It was a lot of scare tactics.”
But the attacks cut both ways in 2020.
Then, Planned Parenthood Texas Votes frequently resorted to calling the incumbent “Sucio Lucio,” a term that Lucio’s son, former Democratic representative Eddie Lucio III, decried as a “derogatory and racial slur” that means “dirty Mexican.”
Echoes of the harsh mudslinging can be heard in the campaign this year, as abortion has once again become a central issue.
Since Lucio endorsed LaMantia, pro-choice advocates have been quick to inspect her views on the matter.
But LaMantia has been equally quick to distance herself from the senator’s views.
“I do not agree with Senator Lucio’s position on LGBTQ+ rights or on SB 8 [the Texas Heartbeat Act],” said LaMantia during the Planned Parenthood livestream.
“I made that very clear when we met with him,” said LaMantia. “There are other things that he and I agree with in regards to business, job creation, infrastructure, public education, and those areas of what SD 27 needs most of.”
LaMantia said her ability to agree with him in those other areas is something that lawmakers need to be able to do since they work with others who have different views.
“However, we draw the lines where it’s necessary,” said LaMantia. “When it comes to SB 8, and when it comes to LGBTQ+ issues, that is a line I draw in the sand. That is a line that we can’t cross, because we have to fight for those rights.”
Unlike in the last election cycle, Planned Parenthood Texas Votes has not yet endorsed any candidate in SD 27.
Without the diverging views on abortion, policy differences between the two Democratic candidates are more difficult to see.
In the Cameron County forum, the pair were asked what their top priorities would be if elected to the legislature.
LaMantia responded by saying that some of her top priorities would be increasing teacher pay and expanding Medicaid.
Stapleton-Barrera also said that she wanted to see policies like that in the state, but said, “I am a firm, firm believer that we will have zero change until we clean up our government.”
“I think we could all agree that we have felt that some of our leaders and some of our elected officials — not all of them, but some of them — have betrayed us,” said Stapleton-Barrera. “And some of them have gotten very, very rich off of their positions and left us stranded.”
When Stapleton-Barrera asked those in the room to raise their hands if they have seen instances of corruption in South Texas, other candidates at the table raised their hands while LaMantia smiled and nodded.
At the Cameron County forum, the candidates were also asked how they would address “gentrification” in Brownsville amid the growing population and rising property taxes.
“These are a lot of local issues,” said LaMantia. “So there’s not much we can do as a state senator because this becomes part of your local officials.”
She added, though, that senators should support programs that help provide funding for affordable housing.
“As your state senator, there is absolutely something you can do,” countered Stapleton-Barrera. “Even if it’s a local issue or a federal issue, we can yell and holler, and we can make some noise, because that’s how real change is made.”
Whoever receives more votes in the May 24 runoff election for the South Texas district will face the Republican nominee, Adam Hinojosa, in November.
The district, the most competitive Senate seat under the new map adopted in the fall, stretches from the Rio Grande Valley along the coast to include a few counties north of Corpus Christi.
In the 2020 presidential election, Biden carried the seat with 52.8 percent of the vote while Trump received 47 percent.
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Daniel Friend is a reporter for The Texan. He participated in a Great Books program at Azusa Pacific University and graduated in 2019 with a degree in Political Science. He has studied C.S. Lewis’s science fiction trilogy and in his spare time you might find him writing his own novel partly inspired by the series.