IRVING — In the southeastern part of this Dallas suburb, the signs of an increasingly diverse population are unmistakable.
Off a major boulevard, there is a “Latino Tire Shop” with several Latin American flags painted on its roof. “Hablamos Español” — or “we speak Spanish” — markers are lined up at the entrances of countless restaurants. The Irving Vietnamese Baptist Church sits at the edge of a nearby neighborhood, with a Spanish Roman Catholic church and a nondenominational church just a few blocks away. And the masthead for a branch of Jefferson Dental Clinics includes a large Spanish-language sign on its storefront that reads, “A friend of the Hispanic family.”
“In recent years, I’ve noticed there’s more of us,” said Francisco Rodriguez, the owner of a 74-year-old shoe repair shop in the city’s old square that he bought 10 years ago. “I think our people are gaining on the American population here.”
Hispanics make up 41 percent of Irving’s population — up from 31 percent in 2000 and 16 percent in 1990, when the white population topped 71 percent, according to figures from 2010, the latest available. White residents make up 31 percent of Irving, Asians 14 percent and blacks 12 percent.
The changing demographics have turned Irving into a battleground in the November election in a state race that could foreshadow future face-offs in a changing state. Sensing an opportunity to put a state House seat in the “win” column, Democrats are courting Hispanic residents; Republicans, who have held the seat since 2001, are also making a push among new residents.
The race for House District 105, which is mostly in Irving, pits Susan Motley, a Democrat and disability rights attorney, against Rodney Anderson, the former state representative who beat a longtime incumbent, Linda Harper-Brown, in the Republican primary.
Motley said changing demographics showed that the district needed a leader who could “appreciate this diversity rather than react negatively from fear or misunderstanding.” She is getting help from the Democratic organizing group Battleground Texas, which is working to register voters and get them to the polls in November.
“Truthfully, I have felt for a long time that this district has what it needs if people turn out to vote,” Motley said about Democrats’ chances in House District 105.
Anderson said he has been successful in winning over minorities, pointing to his one term representing a neighboring district that had a majority-minority population.
“The same message I have today of individual liberty and creating an economic environment resonated well then and continues to resonate now,” he said.
His campaign is getting assistance from the state Republican Party, which has sent out mailers for Anderson and is targeting new residents to the area, many of them minorities, with a “welcome packet” emblazoned with a letter from the former first lady Barbara Bush.
While Hispanic residents have gotten much of the attention, both parties are also reaching out to the city’s black and Asian populations. The percentage of Asians in the district outnumbers the overall percentage in the state by more than threefold, with most of that population living north of the city in an area that as of this month is home to a memorial to Mohandas Gandhi.
In the areas where this neighborhood intersects with the Las Colinas area — a high-scale planned community where mostly Anglos reside — corners of large intersections are lined with a half-dozen Republican campaign signs in between strip malls.
Democrats have made some gains here in previous elections as lawmakers have redrawn the district to include less of northern Irving. In 2008, Harper-Brown won re-election by a margin of 19 votes — the narrowest margin of any incumbent in the state that year. Democrats pointed to that as an indicator that they were breaking the GOP’s tight hold on the district. But Harper-Brown maintained her seat for two more elections.
But local leaders say both Democratic efforts to attract new voters and Republicans’ intentions to enlarge their share of minority voters could be hampered by the city’s traditionally low voter turnout, which is in line with Texas’ dismal turnout in general.
“I don’t know that you have seen anything that would dramatically engage a larger voting population,” said Irving Mayor Beth Van Duyne, who has endorsed Anderson. “I would love to know a solution. It does not fall on a cultural line. It’s in general.”