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Winning the Latino vote: Hispanics now outnumber whites in Texas and could be key in November

As both Greg Abbott and Beto O'Rourke prepare for their one and only debate in Rio Grande Valley, both sides are spending millions on TV ads aimed at Hispanic voters

MCALLEN, Texas — Gov. Greg Abbott and Beto O'Rourke will meet face to face Friday night for the first time this election for their one and only gubernatorial debate in Edinburg, TX in the Rio Grande Valley.

There's a lot on the line for the candidates. 

Both campaigns are trying to win over Texas Hispanic voters. 

"We hold a lot of political power if our people will come out and vote," said Susanna Jimenez, an O'Rourke supporter. 

The campaigns know Hispanics are key to victory. It's why Beto O'Rourke is hosting Latino voter rallies in Houston's historic Hispanic neighborhoods and answering questions in Spanish. 

It's why Governor Abbott is spending record amounts of money, roughly $5 million on Spanish-language ads. 

O'Rourke is spending $3 million for Spanish-media ad buys of his own. 

"You cannot win an election without support from the Latino vote," said Jeronimo Cortina, a political scientist at the University of Houston. 

RELATED: Here's how Texas voters feel about abortion, Abbott's border policies

Cortina says the Latino vote is more important than ever. For the first time, Census estimates the Latino population has outgrown the white non-Latino population in Texas. 

More than 1 million new voters have registered in Texas. A growing number of them are young and Hispanic, but there's no guarantee they'll vote democratic. 

"We don't know how they behave. We don't know how they vote," said Cortina. 

How they end up voting could be decisive. 

"Either party, if they don't know how to message to this Hispanic population, it's going to be on the losing ends of elections," said Orlando Sanchez, founder of Texas Latino Conservatives

Sanchez founded the group aimed at increasing Hispanic voter turnout among Republicans. 

"I think democrats have made a huge mistake," said Sanchez. "They assume Hispanics are monolithic. That we're all the same. We're not. We are as diverse as America. 

"Does that include how they vote?" Sanchez was asked. 

"It includes how they vote and we're seeing that," he responded.

RELATED: Who's winning, who's not? Texas poll reveals voter favorites heading into November election

Latino voters have shown they can vote for either party. And the GOP has made major inroads in Texas border communities. 

This summer Republican Mayra Flores became the first Mexican-born Congresswoman in U.S. history, winning a district no Republican had won in 150 years. 

"That's a watershed moment in American politics," said Sanchez. 

And it's setting the stage for perhaps the biggest battle for Hispanic voters that Texas has seen in decades. 

"In this election, they'll be the ultimate swing group," said Sanchez. "They'll become the biggest factor in November elections beginning now and into the future."

In the KHOU/Texas Hispanic Policy Foundation poll released Sunday Abbott was winning about 39% of Hispanic voters. Experts say that is likely good enough to win the state. 

Beto O'Rourke will need to beef up those numbers among Hispanics in these closing weeks and Friday's debate could be his last big chance to do that. 

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