But on Saturday night, Villalobos did just that, narrowly defeating his opponent Veronica Whitacre and while doing so painted a bright red illustration of a colossal political shift occurring on Texas’ border.
Villalobos, the District 1 city commissioner, emerged victorious Saturday night by 206 votes over his colleague, District 6 City Commissioner and Mayor Pro-Tem Whitacre.
“Three years ago, we went into a little journey in a run for commissioner, and we were the underdogs,” Villalobos told supporters Saturday night once the result became clear. “And we pulled it off.”
“Three years later we decided to run for mayor because I thought McAllen wanted someone with the knowledge and experience to lead and take it to a higher level — and guess what, they did.”
The runoff campaign itself was fairly low-budget with Villalobos spending $23,000 to Whitacre’s $36,000, according to the latest campaign finance reports from the City of McAllen.
Villalobos received the endorsement of outgoing Democratic mayor, Jim Darling. Local races in Texas are nominally nonpartisan, meaning party affiliation is not listed on the ballot, but candidates often still affiliate themselves with political parties.
Governor Greg Abbott weighed in on the victory, congratulating Villalobos, “Javier is a proven leader who cares deeply about the McAllen Community.”
“I congratulate him on his election as Mayor of McAllen and look forward to working alongside him to ensure an even more prosperous future for the people of the Rio Grande Valley.”
Villalobos’ messaging focused significantly on good government and experience, but also advocated renovating infrastructure and avoiding tax increases. He also campaigned against “unnecessary bonds and spending.”
Whitacre’s platform consisted of advocating urban development, mitigating the economic blow caused by coronavirus and government-mandating shutdowns, revising archaic city code, financing continued arts and culture development, supporting “progressive animal welfare,” and establishing “environmental sustainability.”
Villalobos’ victory is part of a larger trend, a shift along Texas’ border from once deep blue strongholds toward purple swing-site status.
The 2020 election featured a stark shift within the counties across the southern border. According to The Texan’s Texas Partisan Index our South Texas counties — Jim Hogg, Kenedy, Maverick, and Starr — all shifted red in the 2020 presidential vote by over 20 percent. While President Trump lost Hidalgo County, where McAllen lies, it shifted nearly 13 percent toward the Republican in the 2020 race compared with 2016.
Most of the 38 other Texas counties that swung toward Trump, who ran on a platform of cracking down on illegal immigration, were located on the border.
And it wasn’t just Donald Trump’s race that featured the shift — statewide Republicans across the board received similar support swings.
The election in McAllen occurred amid an illegal immigration disaster that includes record-breaking numbers of unlawful entries into the U.S., escalating occurrences of fentanyl overdoses in Texas and heated controversy over Abbott’s and the federal government’s response.
Villalobos’ victory is a microcosm of a macro-level political shift transpiring in Texas, magnified on its southern boundary. The Rio Grande Valley was already a hot political topic, and the Republican’s win ensures that discussion will continue.
Hayden Sparks contributed to this report.
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Brad Johnson is a senior reporter for The Texan and an Ohio native who graduated from the University of Cincinnati in 2017. He is an avid sports fan who most enjoys watching his favorite teams continue their title drought throughout his cognizant lifetime. In his free time, you may find Brad quoting Monty Python productions and trying to calculate the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow.