More stories

  • in

    Wesley Hunt’s Advice for the Republican Party: Update Your Look

    CIBOLO, Texas — A Black conservative and a rising star in the Republican Party, Wesley Hunt is almost certain to be elected to Congress this fall in a majority-white district in and around Houston.The district is new, one of two added in Texas after the 2020 census, and was drawn in large part for Mr. Hunt, an example of Republican lawmakers crafting safe seats out of Texas’ diversifying suburbs rather than going after incumbent Democrats.That safety has enabled Mr. Hunt, a regular on Fox News supported by top Republicans like Representative Kevin McCarthy of California, to focus his attention on something bigger than his own election: his conviction that the Republican Party needs more conservatives who look like him if it is going to survive.“Diversity in the Republican Party is not the best,” Mr. Hunt, 40, said in an interview. “If you don’t have people like me, and women, step up and say, actually, it’s OK to be a person of color and to be a Republican, then we’re going to lose the next generation.”Mr. Hunt has been traveling far beyond his Texas district, raising money and giving support to conservative Black and Hispanic candidates, and talking frankly about the need for Republican officeholders to better reflect the nation’s changing demographics. He is part of a growing Republican effort to diversify its roster of candidates and undercut Democrats among voters they have long counted on.The district Mr. Hunt is running in is an example of Republican lawmakers crafting safe seats out of Texas’ diversifying suburbs rather than going after incumbent Democrats.Christian K. Lee for The New York TimesOn a recent evening, Mr. Hunt showed up more than two hours west of Houston at a political event for a young Hispanic woman, Cassy Garcia, in the town of Cibolo, a Republican area in the fast-changing farmlands outside San Antonio. Ms. Garcia is running in a longstanding Democratic district held by Representative Henry Cuellar that runs from around San Antonio down to the border with Mexico.“He was very interested in our race,” said Ms. Garcia, a former aide to Senator Ted Cruz. “It means everything that Wesley is invested.”Mr. Hunt introduced himself to the mostly white audience and went over his background — West Point graduate, Apache helicopter pilot, staunch conservative — speaking loudly to the small crowd under a corrugated metal roof as if projecting into a room far larger than the cinder block bar he found himself in.The stop at Ms. Garcia’s event in Cibolo was part of Mr. Hunt’s effort to support a diverse slate of upstart Republican candidates like John James in Michigan, Jeremy Hunt in Georgia and Jennifer-Ruth Green in Indiana. Each of those candidates, like Ms. Garcia, faces a considerably more difficult race this fall than Wesley Hunt does.After the Pennsylvania and North Carolina PrimariesMay 17 was the biggest day so far in the 2022 midterm cycle. Here’s what we’ve learned.Trump’s Limits: The MAGA movement is dominating Republican primaries, but Donald J. Trump’s control over it may be slipping.‘Stop the Steal’ Endures: G.O.P. candidates who aggressively cast doubt on the 2020 election have fared best, while Democratic voters are pushing for change. Here are more takeaways.Trump Endorsements: Most of the candidates backed by the former president have prevailed. However, there are some noteworthy losses.Up Next: Closely watched races in Georgia and Alabama on May 24 will offer a clearer picture of Mr. Trump’s influence.“He believes in helping to change the face of the G.O.P.,” Tim Edson, a political consultant on Ms. Green’s campaign, said of Mr. Hunt. “I also think he recognizes that by helping others, it can help him hit the ground running and be effective in Congress.”In remarks endorsing Cassy Garcia, a Republican candidate in another Texas district, Mr. Hunt praised her support of abortion restrictions, border fortifications and gun rights.Christian K. Lee for The New York TimesIf Mr. Hunt wins, as expected, he would be the third Black Republican in the House, joining Representatives Byron Donalds in Florida and Burgess Owens in Utah, who also represent majority white districts. Even as Republicans have made recent inroads, particularly with Hispanic voters in Florida and Texas, Democrats still outperform them in minority communities.Unusual among not-yet-elected candidates, Mr. Hunt has already created a political action committee to make donations to others, which he named Hellfire PAC in a nod to his focus on helping those who are military veterans. Mr. Hunt has also been able to cultivate a roster of donors, raising nearly $4 million so far for his own run.He is running in an area along Interstate-10 known as the energy corridor because of its high concentration of oil and gas businesses, executives and employees. To the extent that Mr. Hunt has firm policy goals, they revolve around questions of domestic energy production. In the interview, he said he hoped to be viewed as the “energy congressman.”This is Mr. Hunt’s second try for Congress, having narrowly lost a bid to unseat Representative Lizzie Fletcher, a Democrat representing parts of western Houston and Harris County.But rather than creating a more favorable rematch against Ms. Fletcher, a relatively moderate incumbent, during the redistricting process last year, Republican mapmakers redrew her district to make it safer, and created a new one — Texas’ 38th Congressional District — that would be a virtual lock for Republicans for the foreseeable future. The district would have overwhelmingly re-elected former President Donald J. Trump. (Mr. Hunt’s Democratic opponent will be chosen in Tuesday’s runoff election.)Mr. Hunt and Ms. Garcia after speaking with community members in Cibolo. He has talked frankly about the need for Republican officeholders to better reflect the nation’s changing demographics.Christian K. Lee for The New York Times“Instead of getting two seats that should be majority-minority districts, which should be majority Hispanic districts, they drew that seat to make it easier for Wes Hunt to be a member of Congress,” said Odus Evbagharu, the head of the Harris County Democratic Party.He added that the fact that Mr. Hunt is Black could be seen as an asset, particularly when it comes to attracting suburban white Republican voters.“It helps combat the notion that the Republican Party is racist: Hey, look, we have a white district, but we’re running a Black man in it,” said Mr. Evbagharu, who is Black.Mr. Hunt said nothing had been given to him, pointing to his dominant performance in the Republican primary in March — in which he bested a field of 10 candidates without a runoff.But he does not avoid the topic of race. Among the campaign advertisements from his first run is a spot highlighting his family’s history of enslavement.“What I never want to do is ignore the clearly checkered past that we’ve had in this country,” he said in the interview at a corner table at Avalon Diner, a preferred breakfast spot for Houston power brokers. “I want to talk about the hope that we have that a descendant of a slave is now going to be a congressman in a predominantly white, Republican district. In Texas. That’s pretty cool.”Mr. Hunt, who went to West Point, wears a bracelet to memorialize a deceased friend from the military.Christian K. Lee for The New York TimesMr. Hunt is used to standing out in white spaces, starting at the elite private school he attended in Houston, more than an hour’s drive from his childhood home in a predominantly white northern suburb.Understand the 2022 Midterm ElectionsCard 1 of 6Why are these midterms so important? More