KINGSVILLE -- When he gets older, Carlos Lozano may very well boast that even as a newborn he had a prominent role in his father's up-and-coming political career.
Or Carlos may choose to distance himself from what could be a strategic, and career derailing, mistake. In state Rep. J.M. Lozano's latest ad, Lozano tells his infant son why he is running for office: "A man named Barack Obama is ruining our country."
It is the latest and boldest effort by Lozano, a freshman Republican from Kingsville who was a Democrat just two months ago, to boost his conservative credentials in South Texas' redrawn House District 43.
The district includes counties where the incumbent is not well known. Name identification, however, is just one of Lozano's hurdles: His two primary challengers -- Bill T. Wilson II, an architect, and former Mayor William Vaden of Ingleside -- see his recent switch as low-hanging fruit.
"I think it has everything to do with the makeup of his district and not anywhere near to do with his principles," Wilson said. "If I were to have a 12-step process for recovering Democratic representatives, Step 1 wouldn't be running as a Republican. That would be Step 12."
Lozano said his decision was based on his support for conservative initiatives, like oil and gas exploration and tort reform.
He cites the party switch by Rep. Todd Hunter, R-Corpus Christi, who served four terms in the 1990s as a Democrat, and the decades-old switch by Gov. Rick Perry as proof that the move can be successful.
"This is a part of the state where people have realized that the Democratic Party has moved too far to the left from the party that they started in," he said.
Lozano has had to fend off accusations that he is nothing more than an opportunist. He said he had expected the insults but added that he thinks Democrats' attacks are ignorant.
"I didn't have a primary as a Democrat, and the district has historically voted 52 percent for Hispanic Democrats," he said. "I jumped into a competitive primary clearly not because it was convenient but on principle."
Lozano is doing well financially -- he raised $84,000 through April, compared with Wilson's $43,000 and Vaden's $10,000, which he lent himself. Lozano said he picked up an additional $125,000 in May.
He also has Perry's endorsement. But Vaden said that was just a political byproduct of the state's minority growth.
"They welcomed him with open arms, but to me the governor was pandering because he was Hispanic," he said.
But for now, questions of opportunism continue to dog the incumbent in a district where Hispanics, despite the Republican Party's inroads with them, are still largely loyal to Democrats.
"I think he's a wonderful fellow," Vaden said of Lozano. "But I don't understand how you go to bed on a Sunday as a Democrat and wake up on a Monday as a Republican."
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This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at http://www.texastribune.org/texas-politics/2012-elections/lozano-trying-prove-he-belongs-gop/.