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National Republicans scored a big recruitment win last week when former U.S. Rep. Mayra Flores, R-Los Indios, announced her long-awaited comeback bid.
But Democrats are exuding confidence out of the gate, calling Republicans delusional for thinking Flores stands a chance of defeating U.S. Rep. Vicente Gonzalez, D-McAllen, this time around.
“If Flores, running from the position of an incumbent, couldn’t hold onto this seat in what was supposed to be a Red Wave election for Republicans, there’s no way she’ll be successful in a presidential election year against Gonzalez,” says a new memo from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, touting him as a “popular incumbent.”
The memo marks the latest salvo in a yearlong political battle that saw both parties rise and fall in the 34th Congressional District. Flores initially captured the seat in a June 2022 special election, handing the GOP a breakthrough victory as they were aggressively targeting South Texas. But redistricting made the seat more favorable for Democrats, and Gonzalez defeated Flores by a comfortable margin in November.
It was a cathartic win for Democrats, who weathered months of headlines that suggested a confident GOP was on the march in predominantly Hispanic South Texas. The NRCC targeted three seats in South Texas but flipped only one, the neighboring 15th Congressional District.
Now, Democrats are not shying away from saying what they really think. The DCCC memo, titled the “NRCC’s Electoral Delusion in TX-34,” cited two main factors: the district fundamentally favoring Democrats and Flores’ vulnerabilities being on “full display.”
Gonzalez beat Flores by 9 percentage points in a midterm election that even Flores acknowledged fell short of a “red wave.” The district hypothetically would have gone to President Joe Biden by 16 percentage points if the current district lines had been in place in 2020.
As for Flores’ vulnerabilities, the memo offered five bullet points that centered on her short congressional tenure. For example, she voted against the bipartisan gun law that U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, helped negotiate; she argued it did not include enough school safety funding. The memo also cites her vote against a bill to codify birth-control access after the overturning of Roe v. Wade; she said the bill would have created “a back door to abortion.”
Republicans have a lot riding on Flores this time. They went public with their recruitment efforts days before she announced, releasing internal polling that showed her tied with Gonzalez. And within hours of her announcement, she landed endorsements from all of House GOP leadership: Speaker Kevin McCarthy, Majority Leader Steve Scalise, Majority Whip Tom Emmer and GOP Conference Chair Elise Stefanik.
The National Republican Congressional Committee responded to Democrats’ confidence by reviving a slew of attacks Gonzalez faced in the 2022 election.
“Vicente Gonzalez is a sexist, racist, anti-law enforcement and anti-border lawyer who defended drug smugglers,” NRCC spokesperson Delanie Bomar said in a statement, calling Flores a “proven fighter for the American Dream” by contrast.
“As the district continues to trend toward Republicans, Flores’ message continues to resonate with Texans,” Bomar said.
The 2022 experience looms large for both sides.
Matt Barreto, a Democratic pollster who surveyed South Texas in 2022 for the DCCC, said he never saw “any evidence of a conservative policy shift” among Latinos in the region. He said they may have looked like they were “up for grabs” as some are newer voters whose partisan preferences are still crystallizing. But they ultimately came home to Democrats by and large, he said.
“I never had any moment where I went to the DCCC and said, ‘We’re losing Latinos,’” Barreto said. “We just have to keep making our case.”
Barreto predicted Democrats would do at least a couple percentage points better across South Texas next year. “But it requires that outreach,” he added.
Even Republicans in Texas are not united on Flores’ chances. Carlos Cascos, the former Texas secretary of state and Cameron County judge, is still considering entering the primary. In a tweet Thursday, he questioned Flores’ ability to win the general election.
“I have yet to speak to anyone that believes so…wishfull thinking,” he said. “But wishful thinking doesn’t win elections.”
Mauro Garza, a self-funding businessman, has been running in the GOP primary since February. After word got out the NRCC was recruiting Flores, he said in a statement he has “only just started to fight” in his campaign.
Gonzalez disclosed Friday that he raised a quarter-million dollars in the second quarter and ended the period with $721,000 cash on hand. Flores announced her comeback bid after the second quarter, so she will not have to file her first fundraising report until mid-October.
Disclosure: Texas Secretary of State has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune's journalism. Find a complete list of them here.
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