Redistricting threw this race for a loop. Gonzalez, who’s represented the 15th Congressional District since 2017, jumped ship off the newly drawn version to run in the new 34th.
The current 34th was represented by Filemon Vela (D-TX-34) until he abruptly resigned in March to become a lobbyist. That triggered a special election which Flores won in June. Since then, both Flores and Gonzalez have been running as incumbents for a seat with boundaries that do not mirror the ones they currently represent.
Clear as mud.
The new 34th District ranges from Kleberg County down to Cameron and includes a portion of Eastern Hidalgo County.
It’s rated D-63% by The Texan’s Texas Partisan Index — an analysis of precinct by precinct results from statewide elections the past two cycles — meaning the district favors Democrats based on past results. But Republicans have their eye on gaining more ground in South Texas and are pouring in the resources to accomplish it.
Three of the five counties in the district are among the top 20 in the country that swung toward Republicans from 2016 to 2020. Willacy moved by 25 points, Hidalgo by 23, and Cameron by 19.
It’s an uphill battle for Flores, but the prevailing winds are moving in her favor. Cook Political Report rates the race as a toss-up.
The question is whether they’re strong enough to push her across the finish line in an upset fashion. That said, it’s clear Gonzalez is not comfortable in the race.
Earlier this month, he held a press conference staged at a table with an empty chair beside him — to represent Flores’ debate absence. Hounding after debates is not typically something the candidate in a position of strength does.
Gonzalez also accused Republicans of “stealing” Flores’ victory, an accusation not of ballot fraud but of spending far more money in the race than did the Democrats.
It’s been a chippy race.
Gonzalez’s campaign pushed out an ad on social media featuring a doctored image of Flores with cartoon-like eyebrows drawn over an actual photo of the congresswoman holding an AR-15 pistol. He’s also described Flores as a “right-wing radical Trump Republican” and criticized the congresswoman for voting against the compromise gun reform bill spearheaded by Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX).
In mid-October, Gonzalez took aim at Flores, saying, “We need everyone’s help, and that’s the way we’re going to push back against these outside resources coming in here [and] picking a handpicked candidate that can’t think for herself, can’t speak for herself, can’t act for herself.”
In turn, Flores has criticized Gonzalez and his party for the state of the southern border, part of which is a stone’s throw away from the district. Flores, who is married to a border patrol agent, said in an ad, “[Every day, border patrol sees] a humanitarian crisis created by politicians who silence border patrol, blame them, and take away their funding” — matching Gonzalez up to President Joe Biden and Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
During Fiscal Year 2022, U.S. Border Patrol encountered 1.5 million illegal aliens, an all-time record.
The other point of focus for Flores’ messaging has been the economy and inflation driving up prices across the board.
During her brief time in the House, Flores has maintained a fairly conservative posture. She voted against the gun bill and a separate “assault weapons” ban, criticized the Biden administration’s suspension of the “Remain in Mexico” policy, called out the reduction in staffing at the Cameron County Sheriff’s Office, and condemned the president’s dip into the nation’s Strategic Petroleum Reserve.
Recently, Flores was denied membership in the Congressional Hispanic Caucus — a body in which Gonzalez is a member. “As the first Mexican-born Congresswoman to serve in the U.S. House of Representatives, I thought joining the Congressional Hispanic Caucus would be a constructive way to build bridges and work in a bipartisan manner on behalf of our constituents,” she told Townhall at the time. “I was wrong. This denial once again proves a bias towards conservative Latinas that don’t fit their narrative or ideology.”
The race is one of numerous across the country both sides are watching in the battle to control the U.S. House.
Gonzalez received the endorsement of his former colleague, Vela, in the race, while Flores received a shout-out from former president Donald Trump at his Robstown rally last week. The race is one of three garnering national attention in Texas; the other two are also in South Texas, in Districts 15 and 28.
So much national attention is flowing in that not only did Trump make a visit to the area, but recent Democratic defector Tulsi Gabbard joined Flores for a rally last week.
Flores and Gonzalez are on par with each other in fundraising for the race, which is also seeing large amounts of outside spending pour in from both sides.
Early voting is already underway and it will continue through November 2. Election Day is on November 8.
In this race more than many others across the state, the final push in this home stretch will determine whether Republicans’ bet on the border carries them across the finish line, or if Democrats can retake the congressional seat they’ve held for a long time — that is, until Mayra Flores came around.
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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.