Battleground 2020Elections 2020FederalTexas’ 23rd Congressional District: An Historical and Political Overview of a Competitive Seat

With Rep. Will Hurd retiring, one of the most competitive districts in the nation will have an open seat for the first time since it was created.
November 11, 2019
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With a Cook Partisan Voting Index (PVI) rating of R+1, Texas’ 23rd Congressional District is the most competitive district in the state. In 2016, Hillary Clinton won the presidential vote in the district by a 3.5 percent margin. 

In 2012, Mitt Romney won with a 2.6 percent margin.

The next two most competitive districts in Texas include the 32nd Congressional District near Dallas, currently held by freshman Rep. Collin Allred (D) with a PVI rating of R+5, and the 15th Congressional District, held by Rep. Vicente Gonzalez (D) with a PVI rating of D+7.

Rep. Will Hurd (R), who currently represents the 23rd Congressional District, announced his retirement earlier this year.

The sprawling, largely rural district incorporates Big Bend National Park and one-third of the U.S.-Mexico border. It is currently the only border district in the United States represented by a Republican.

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While Hurd has held the district for the past three terms, he has kept the seat with a series of extremely narrow wins.

In his most recent election against challenger Gina Ortiz Jones, he won by less than 1,000 votes.

Jones is now running for the seat again and is the clear frontrunner in the race, having raised over $1.8 million.

Since Hurd’s announcement, though, several Republicans have entered the race. The winner of that primary will likely go on to face Jones in one of the most closely-watched congressional elections in 2020.

District History

Running from El Paso to San Antonio across West Texas and along the Texas-Mexico border, the district has had a contentious history.

After the district was created in 1967, it was held by Democrats for the next several decades.

Abraham Kazen Jr. served in office until 1985, when another Democrat, Albert Bustamante, defeated him in a primary election.

Bustamante then served until 1992 when he lost in the general election to Henry Bonilla, a Republican news producer.

Although the redistricting after the 1990 census to carve out a new neighboring district was intended to support Bustamante, a large, conservative portion of the San Antonio suburbs was left in the district.

With Bonilla’s name recognition — and that of his wife who was a television anchor — he was able to win the election by a wide margin with 59 percent of the vote compared to Bustamante’s 38 percent.

Comparatively, in the 1992 presidential election, the district voted 42 percent for Bill Clinton, 41 percent for George H. W. Bush, and 17 percent for independent Ross Perot.

Bonilla continued serving in the district until he encountered some trouble in 2006.

After the 2000 census, the redistricting of TX-23 by the Republican state legislature added in some conservative areas and removed a significant portion of the Latino population originally in the district.

Consequently, the redistricting case went to the Supreme Court in League of United Latin American Citizens v. Perry (2006), wherein the Court found Texas had violated the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

The district was redrawn to be majority-Latino and a “blanket primary” was held in November with multiple Democratic candidates on the ballot.

Despite pouring over $2 million into his campaign, Bonilla failed to secure over 50 percent of the vote and lost in the runoff to Ciro Rodriguez by an 8-point margin.

Rodriguez, who had previously served in Texas’ 28th Congressional District, held office in TX-23 for two terms.

In 2010, Republican Francisco Canseco defeated Rodriguez with 49 percent to the incumbent’s 44 percent.

During the following election cycle in 2012, Rodriguez sought to reclaim his seat, but lost to Pete Gallego, who went on to defeat Canseco.

The close race between Canseco and Gallego — and their starkly contrasting views on issues including abortion, gay marriage, and Social Security — gained the attention of voters in the district and the nation when the two had the first televised debate in Spanish in Texas.

Ultimately, Gallego walked away with 50.3 percent of the vote compared to Canseco’s 45.6 percent.

Canseco attempted to take back his seat in the 2014 election, but lost in the primary to Will Hurd, who in turn went on to win against Gallego in the general election — with a margin of 2 percent. 

Gallego and Hurd faced off again in 2016, but Hurd kept the seat with a margin of 1.3 percent.

In the 2018 election against Gina Ortiz Jones, Hurd held on by 0.5 percent. 

The 2020 Race

With the seat for Texas’ 23rd Congressional District open for the first time since it was created, the 2020 race is bound to attract national attention again with millions of dollars poured into the campaigns of the eventual Democratic and Republican nominees.

As noted earlier, Jones is the clear frontrunner in the race with nearly $2 million raised so far. In the last race, she raised and spent over $6 million.

Nonetheless, several other Democratic candidates who have filed to run, including Rosey Abuabara, Jaime Escuder, Efrain Valdez, Liz Wahl, and Brandyn Waterman.

Of the Republican candidates, Tony Gonzales is currently in the lead in terms of fundraising with $87,000 in total individual contributions reported at the end of the Federal Ethics Commission quarter in September.

Gonzales has also been endorsed by Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-TX-2) and former Congressman Pete Sessions.

Raul Reyes has also garnered some support, reporting an individual contributions total of $63,000.

Other Republicans to file include Alma Arredondo-Lynch, Darwin Boedeker, Cecil Burton Jones, Sharon Breckenridge Thomas, Alia Ureste, and Ben Van Winkle.

Regardless of who wins the primary elections on March 3, 2020 and the probable runoff elections on May 26, 2020, the race for the open seat in the largest congressional district along the U.S.-Mexico border is bound to be contentious.

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Daniel Friend

Daniel Friend

Daniel Friend is a reporter for The Texan. While recently finishing his degree in Political Science from Azusa Pacific University, he also interned in the U.S. Senate and co-authored a book on C. S. Lewis’s science fiction trilogy. In his spare time, he might be reading up on Dostoevsky or attempting to write a novel.