GOP Hopes to Hammer Biden Crises in South Texas Special Election

One of the bright spots for Republicans in the 2020 election was giving House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s majority a buzzcut. Despite expectations that the Democrats would further pad their caucus, then-President Donald Trump’s stronger-than-expected performance helped flip several red and purple districts that Republicans had lost in 2018. But Pelosi may soon have to deal with an even smaller caucus than before.

Texas’s 34th District, a heavily Latino district, sits on the border with Mexico. Normally safely Democratic, it split nearly evenly between Joe Biden and Donald Trump in 2020; the former took 51.5 percent, the latter 47.5 percent. Rep. Filemon Vela, the Democrat who was representing the district, announced he would not seek reelection in 2022 and resigned from Congress early to take a lobbying job. The result is a special election on Tuesday that gives Republicans a chance to prove Trump’s inroads with Hispanics were not a fluke. With President Biden’s approval ratings sagging amid inflation and the border crisis, the GOP may be in a position to capitalize.

Republicans have backed Mayra Flores in both the special election on Tuesday and the general election in November. Flores immigrated to the United States from Mexico at the age of 6 with her parents. A respiratory care practitioner by trade, she has also been involved with local GOP outreach and is running on protecting oil and gas jobs and increasing border security, while criticizing the Biden administration for rising crime and inflation.

The peculiarities of the race make it even more difficult for Democrats to hold. The Democratic candidate in the regular election in November, Vincente Gonzalez, is unable to run in the special election. This is because he is already a member of Congress in a neighboring district. As a result, the Democrats have had to recruit a new candidate who will only serve until the new Congress begins in January. The candidate, attorney and former Cameron County commissioner Dan Sanchez, has been badly outspent by Flores, who has raised over seven times more money than him. 

National Democratic groups are also reluctant to spend money on the special election because they are confident that the district will flip back to them in November. Redistricting made the district much more blue going into the regular November elections; the new district would have gone for Biden by a margin of 57 percent to 42 percent, although that is still a massive improvement from Hillary Clinton’s 66 percent to 30 percent victory in 2016 there. Such large shifts should be a warning to Democrats, however; if Flores wins, dislodging her in November might not be as easy as they hope.

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