U.S. Rep. Will Hurd, R-Helotes, is getting his first major Democratic challenger for re-election in Texas' swing 23rd Congressional District. 

Gina Ortiz Jones, a former Air Force intelligence officer, is entering the race Wednesday, wading into a potentially crowded primary field for a shot at Hurd, who is widely viewed as the most vulnerable Republican member of Congress from Texas. 

Jones said she was inspired to come home to San Antonio and run for Congress after witnessing up close the opening months of Donald Trump's presidency as a director in the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, which operates from within the Executive Office of the President. 

"These policies were directly threatening the opportunities" I had growing up, said Jones, a first-generation American. "To me, it was quite clear that I needed to serve my country and my community in a different way." 

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A graduate of John Jay High School in San Antonio, Jones attended Boston University on a ROTC scholarship and served in the Air Force from 2003-2006, deploying to Iraq. After a stint in the private sector, she went to work for the Pentagon's Defense Intelligence Agency in 2008, ultimately becoming a special adviser to the deputy director. In November, she moved to the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, where she worked until June. 

CD-23 stretches from San Antonio to El Paso and is the most competitive in the state, a regular target of both national Democrats and Republicans. When Hurd, a former CIA officer, won re-election last year, it was the first time an incumbent held on to the seat for a second term in eight years. 

Although Jones is the first major Democrat to launch a challenge against Hurd for 2018, at least three others are considering a run. They include Judy Canales, a former Obama and Clinton appointee; Jay Hulings, a federal prosecutor from San Antonio; and former U.S. Rep. Pete Gallego, the Alpine Democrat who represented the district from 2013-2015 and unsuccessfully challenged Hurd last year.  

"I don't know the man, but I know his voting record, and I know his voting record would affect families like mine growing up," Jones said of Hurd, welcoming the potentially crowded primary field as a way to shine more light on Hurd's record. "I think the fact you can take a selfie with somebody one day and vote against their interests the next day needs more attention."

Hurd's campaign dismissed the Democratic opposition.  

"Will Hurd is focused on building upon his record of being the most effective member of Congress since 2014," Hurd campaign manager Justin Hollis said in a statement responding to Jones' candidacy. "He delivers for the district while the Democratic challengers only deliver tired talking points."

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In the interview, Jones was particularly critical of Hurd for waiting until moments before the vote earlier this year to announce his opposition to the House bill to repeal Obamacare, which narrowly passed out of the chamber. "When I don't know what that is until the last minute, that is concerning," she said, noting that one of the top concerns people in the district share with her is the uncertainty surrounding health care. 

In a statement at the time, Hurd said he could not support the House GOP's American Health Care Act because it did not "address the concerns of many of my constituents, including adequate protections for those with pre-existing conditions and the challenges faced by rural healthcare providers."

Read related Tribune coverage:

  • Hurd narrowly won a second term in what turned out to be the most expensive House race in Texas history. Democrats have put Hurd’s seat in their top five targets in 2018. [Full story]

  • During Hurd's re-election bid last year against Democrat Pete Gallego, both men accused the other of unethical behavior. [Full story]

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