Republicans overthrow US House seat in South Texas, historically a Democratic stronghold

Republican Mayra Flores won a special election for an open congressional seat in South Texas on Tuesday, marking a major breakthrough for Republicans eager to make further inroads in the historically blue region.

She beat Dan Sanchez, the leading Democrat, in the closely watched race and will be the first Mexican-born congresswoman. She will only be able to serve until January, but the Republicans announced her victory as a boost in their new South Texas offensive.

With all precincts reporting Tuesday night, Flores had 50.98% of the vote and Sanchez 43.33%. There were two other lesser-known candidates — Democrat Rene Coronado and Republican Juana “Janie” Cantu-Cabrera — in the race.


Sanchez is a Harlingen attorney and former Cameron County commissioner, while Flores, a respiratory therapist, is the Republican nominee for the November seat.

Speaking shortly after 9:30 p.m., Flores declared victory and said his campaign was “not taking anyone for granted”.

“For over 100 years we have been taken for granted,” she said on her election night in San Benito. “I’ll show you what the real representation looks like. I will represent everyone.

Sanchez conceded in a statement that singled out National Democrats for not doing enough to defend the seat. They had argued that the race was not worth the investment.

“Based on the results, we failed tonight despite millions of dollars spent outside the interests of the state and the entire Republican machine,” he said. “Too many factors were against us, including little to no support from the Democratic National Party and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.”

The special election was called to end the term of former U.S. Representative Filemon Vela, D-Brownsville, who resigned in March to work for lobbying firm Akin Gump.

The special election was unique in that it was held under the previous lines of the 34th District, which President Joe Biden won by just 4 percentage points. But the redistricting has made the district more Democrat-friendly in November, when the Democratic nominee is the U.S. Representative. Vicente GonzalezD-McAllen.

[Republicans flood South Texas special election as national Democrats keep distance]

Republicans are eager to overturn the seat in their new South Texas offensive after Biden underperformed in the predominantly Hispanic region in the 2020 election. Flores and his allies have spent more than $1 million in TV ads in the special election, while National Democrats largely stayed away, arguing it was not worth holding on to a seat that will be available again in November – and under new, more favorable borders .

The dynamic has placed Democrats in an unusual position of underdog in a region of the state they have long dominated. Largely spent by Flores, Sanchez repeatedly compared the special election to a David vs. Goliath fight, with himself playing David.

Despite their downplaying the stakes, the National Democrats ended up spending quite a bit on the race once early voting began. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee helped fund a $100,000 digital ad buy with Sanchez’s campaign, and House Majority PAC — the top Democratic super PAC in house races — launched a TV ad buy of $115,000 against Flores.

Flores has campaigned fiercely over her history as the wife of a US Border Patrol agent and as a Mexican immigrant whose parents brought her to the United States as a child. She mostly ignored Sanchez but struck a sharp tone against Washington, DC, Democrats in general. In one of her TV ads, she said the Rio Grande Valley was “under attack” on the border and promised not to let “compadrismo” – cronyism – “in Washington ruin our communities”.

Sanchez also showcased his background, beginning with his upbringing on his family farm and later his long career in public service. He also campaigned as a moderate, calling himself a “conservative Democrat” and a “pro-life” Catholic.

Sanchez and his allies have not ignored Flores, describing her as an extremist sidekick to former President Donald Trump due to past social media activity that cast doubt on the 2020 election results and included hashtags for the QAnon conspiracy movement.

Flores had the support of top Republicans in Texas, including the governor. Greg Abbott and the US Senator. Ted Cruz, while Sanchez’s biggest supporters among elected officials were Gonzalez and Vela. Both Flores and Sanchez have been endorsed by their respective presidents and vice presidents.

But Flores had virtually every advantage throughout the special election, especially when it came to fundraising. On the only major campaign financial report from the special election, she reported $752,000 in contributions, compared to $46,000 for Sanchez.

On Tuesday night, Flores notably won Cameron County, the district’s most populous county and a longtime Democratic stronghold along the Mexican border. She beat Sanchez there by about a percentage point after Biden carried County by 13 points in 2020.

National GOP groups were jubilant over Flores’ victory on Tuesday night, especially as they strive to regain a majority in the House in November. The chairman of the Republican National Committee of Congress, U.S. Representative Tom Emmer of Minnesota, said in a statement that the race was a “referendum on the reckless policies of the Democrats that created a border crisis, led to record inflation and sent the gasoline prices”. soaring.

But Texas Democratic Party Leader Gilberto Hinojosa downplayed Flores’ victory in a statement, saying the GOP “could barely squeak a victory” given all of its financial advantages. Echoing National Democrats, he said he was confident Flores would only hold the seat for a few months.

“In January 2023, that seat will rightfully go back to the Democrats,” Hinojosa said.

Correction: A previous version of this story misspelled the name of a Democratic candidate. He’s Dan Sanchez, not Dan Sacnchez.


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This article originally appeared in The Texas Grandstand at https://www.texastribune.org/2022/06/14/texas-special-election-tx-34-mayra-flores-dan-sanchez/.

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