Flores’ victory represents a major upset for the historically Democratic seat.
A Republican has not won the seat since the district was drawn in the last redistricting cycle 10 years ago. In fact, over the past forty years, a Republican has only won the seat once, in 2010.
Flores squeaked past the 50 percent mark just after 9 p.m. on Tuesday night. At the time, runner-up Dan Sanchez, a Democrat, had just over 43 percent of the vote.
Flores enjoyed a clear advantage over Sanchez in the election day vote count. Among early voters only, the gap between the two candidates was fewer than 300 votes. Election day voters preferred Flores to Sanchez by well over a thousand votes.
The special election pitted candidates from both parties in a four-way race on the same ballot. However, party leaders largely rallied behind Flores and Sanchez.
Flores, a respiratory care practitioner, had already won the Republican primary in March before the incumbent Filemon Vela (D-TX-34) announced his retirement. Flores enjoyed the endorsements of Governor Greg Abbott and Texas GOP Chairman Matt Rinaldi.
On the Democratic side, Rep. Vicente Gonzalez (D-TX-15), who currently represents a neighboring congressional district in South Texas, won the Democratic nomination on March 1. However, Vela’s abrupt resignation announcement meant that Gonzalez would have had to leave his current seat to run for the 34th district instead of waiting for a regular transition in November.
Gonzalez decided not to leave his current seat, endorsing Sanchez in his stead.
Sanchez also nabbed Vela’s endorsement among other prominent Democrats, such as attorney general candidate Rochelle Garza.
Bolstered by ongoing political trends in South Texas, timing gave Republicans an advantage.
The voting population included in District 34 under the current map leans 54 percent Democratic based on data from the past two general elections. But the voting population of the newly adopted district map leans 63 percent Democratic.
In other words, if Vela had not retired and triggered a special election, his replacement would have been decided in November by a more Democratic voting population than what the district currently includes.
Flores may face a greater challenge in November when the regular election takes place under the new map with a more Democratic voting population.
Texas’ 34th Congressional District spans a swath of South Texas and the Gulf Coast region, reaching south to Cameron County at the border.
Flores has said she prioritizes border security and pro-life legislation.
Abbott framed Flores’ victory as a foothold for Republicans in a historically Democratic area of the state.
“Congress just got more Republican. Texas just got more red. The future is looking bright red in Texas,” Abbott wrote on social media.
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