Mayra Flores win drives GOP optimism about Hispanic voters
Republicans are holding up Mayra Flores’s win in the special election for Texas’ 34th Congressional District Tuesday as the latest sign Hispanic voters are shifting toward the GOP and hoping her win is the first of many this year for Republicans running in heavily-Latino districts.
But the race also showed Republicans may need to make large investments to capture such seats, and the unusual nature of a low-turnout special election using district lines that will change in just a few months makes it difficult to say if the contest was a bellwether.
“Flores’ victory in the TX-34 Special Election is proof that Republicans have a winning message with Hispanic voters and that no Democrat is safe in the current political environment,” National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) Executive Director John Billings said in a post-election memo.
Her win marks a major shift for the district, which was solidly blue for years and is 84 percent Hispanic. President Biden won the district by 4.2 points in 2020, and Hillary Clinton won it by 21.5 percent in 2016. Rep. Filemon Vela (D), who resigned from his seat in March to join a lobbying firm, has represented the district since it was created in 2010.
Election results as of Wednesday morning showed Flores more than seven points over her closest Democratic competitor, Dan Sanchez, and avoiding a runoff with 51 percent of the vote.
Rep. Tony Gonzales (R-Texas), who represents another South Texas district, helped launch a PAC last month called the Hispanic Leadership Trust aimed at growing the number of Hispanic Republicans in the House GOP. He said economic issues like inflation, which Flores focused on in her campaign, resonate with the Mexican-American demographic.
“Nothing happens by chance. You don’t get here alone,” Gonzales said. “Having good candidates is more than half of it, but you’ve got to have a good team around it.”
“Getting in the mailbox, getting on digital – all those things cost resources and manpower,” Gonzales said. “We were able to help with that in a big way.”
But being the right candidate at the right time in the right district may also have been key to her win. Flores, who came to the U.S. with her parents at six years old, is the first Mexican-born woman to be elected to Congress. She is also married to a Border Patrol agent.
And the special election had extremely low turnout, making it hard to point to it as an indication of a larger trend.
Just shy of 29,000 people voted in the Tuesday election, compared to around 201,000 and 143,000 in the 2020 and 2018 general elections, respectively.
“The Hispanic vote is not monolithic,” said Rodolfo Rosales, Texas State Director at LULAC, the oldest Hispanic and Latino civil rights group in the U.S. “One election is not going to dictate whether or not we’re moving towards the Republican Party or moving against it.”
But Rosales acknowledged that Republicans and former President Trump also made significant gains in South Texas in the 2020 election.
Those gains and Flores’s win, he argued, are the result of Republicans pouring resources into South Texas that Democrats don’t match.
“As long as one party continues to dominate in terms of financing and continues finance campaigns down here, that’s the party that Latinos are going to start moving towards, because they see them, even though the policies may contradict their daily lives,” Rosales said.
Flores had spent almost a million dollars on her campaign as of May 25, while Sanchez had spent just $42,000. Flores got $1 million in television and digital advertising, and the NRCC and Texas Republican Party spent $1.1 million on paid voter contact efforts. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), by contrast, spent $100,000 on a digital ad buy.
Democrats opted not to match Republicans’ spending in the race for the seat while expecting to easily win it back in November, when Texas’s 34th District will have new lines reflecting a more Democratic-leaning voter base. Flores will face Rep. Vicente Gonzalez (D), who is moving from the neighboring 15th District to run in the 34th but opted not to leave his current seat to compete in the special election. If she loses, Flores will be in Congress for just about six months.
“The only thing the NRCC proved last night is that they can barely get their MAGA Republican candidates across the finish line when they outspend the Democrat 20 to 1 and if only 7% of the electorate turns out to vote,” said Monica Robinson, a spokesperson for the DCCC. “This seat is a rental for Republicans and we look forward to welcoming Vicente Gonzalez back to Congress this fall.”
Republicans brush off that criticism and maintain that the race reflects a milestone.
“The way the Democrats have analyzed losing the special election in Texas 34 is a loser’s approach,” Tony Gonzales said, adding Republicans making long-term investments.
“We’re looking at not just winning for this cycle. We’re looking at the next 50 years,” he said.
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