President Donald Trump on Friday endorsed Tony Gonzales in the Republican primary runoff to replace retiring U.S. Rep. Will Hurd, R-Helotes, three days after U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz shook up the race by backing Gonzales' opponent, Raul Reyes.
"[Gonzales] will be a GREAT Congressman for Texas!" Trump tweeted. "A Navy veteran, he is Strong on the Economy, Life and the Second Amendment. We need him to defeat the Radical Left in November. Tony has my Complete and Total Endorsement!"
Gonzales welcomed Trump's endorsement, thanking him on Twitter. "Let's win in November!" Gonzales said.
Trump's backing is a dramatic intervention. Cruz endorsed Reyes on Tuesday — and launched a TV ad buy for him through his leadership PAC.
Reyes and Gonzales, a former Navy cryptologist, are competing to take on Gina Ortiz Jones, the Democratic nominee for the seat, in one of the top pickup opportunities for Democrats nationwide. Jones is running again after nearly unseating Hurd in 2018.
Gonzales has the backing of Hurd as well as national GOP leaders. He has been endorsed by the top two Republicans in the House, Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and Minority Whip Steve Scalise, and Tom Emmer, the chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, has publicly promoted Gonzales.
But until Friday, Gonzales did not have the most powerful GOP endorsement of all: the president's. Gonzales had expressed hope for Trump's support in the primary, and on Monday, he teased that he would have "HUGE news to share later this week."
A day later, Cruz stepped in, saying the 23rd District "deserves strong conservative representation." His leadership PAC, the Jobs, Freedom, and Security PAC, launched a six-figure cable buy for Reyes at the same time, airing a 30-second spot with Cruz speaking to the camera.
"President Trump needs more congressmen like Col. Reyes, leaders who won’t surrender our border, our sovereignty, our way of life," Cruz says in the ad.
Reyes has been campaigning as the purest Trump supporter in the runoff, pointing out that Gonzales is supported by Hurd, who has had occasional disagreements with the president. Last week, though, a Trump campaign adviser criticized Reyes for a mailer featuring the president's image superimposed alongside Reyes, calling it misleading and noting Trump had not endorsed in the runoff at that point.
While the Trump endorsement gives Gonzales a big boost in the primary runoff, it is likely less helpful for the general election. Trump lost the perennial battleground district by 4 percentage points in 2016, while Hurd carried it by 1.
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee responded to the endorsement by noting that Trump could be a liability in the general election.
"This last-minute endorsement arrives too late to prevent the Republican contest’s turn into a bitter, vindictive and expensive mess, but just in time for Gonzales to own President Trump’s losing record of raising health care costs in the general election," DCCC spokesman Avery Jaffe said in a statement. "With this toxic endorsement in a pro-Clinton and pro-Biden district, Tony Gonzales is now the overwhelming favorite to win on July 14 and lose on November 3. Congratulations, Tony!"