A deep-blue House district in South Texas turned bright red following a special election Tuesday — suggesting November’s midterms could be even more successful for Republicans than previously thought.
Mexico-born GOPer Mayra Flores stormed to victory with 51% of the vote in the four-person race to succeed outgoing Democratic Rep. Filemon Vela. Democrat Dan Sanchez, Vela’s pick to follow him in Congress, came in second with just 43.3% of the vote.
The outcome in a district where 85% of the residents are Latino — and which Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton won by more than 20 percentage points in the 2012 and 2016 presidential elections, respectively — sent shockwaves through the political landscape.
“This is sort of how I felt seeing some of the shifts in Appalachia in 2010, or blue collar areas in 2016,” RealClearPolitics senior elections analyst Sean Trende tweeted as the results rolled in Tuesday night. “Except this I genuinely didn’t think I’d see for another 20 years or so. Just astonishing.”
Signs of a rightward shift in the district appeared in the 2020 election, when President Biden only defeated Donald Trump by four percentage points, and Flores paid tribute to the 45th president in her victory speech.
“We cannot accept the increase [in the price] of gas, of food, of medication, we cannot accept that. And we have to state the facts, that under President Trump, we did not have this mess in this country,” she told a cheering crowd.
Flores, who is married to a Border Patrol agent, ran heavily on border security and was strongly backed by the Republican National Committee — spending more than $1 million on TV ads introducing herself to voters, according to the Texas Tribune. As a result, she became the first Republican to represent any part of the Rio Grande Valley since 1870.
“Congratulations to Mayra Flores, the next Congresswoman for TX-34! Mayra is leading the charge for Republicans who are working to flip South Texas red,” RNC chair Ronna McDaniel said in a statement. “She is a fierce conservative who will make the RGV proud, and we will continue working to reelect her in November.”
Flores also earned the support of her most famous new constituent, Tesla CEO Elon Musk, who owns a home in in Boca Chica — part of the district that snakes up the Gulf coast between Brownsville and Corpus Christi before turning inward into rural South Texas.
“I woke up this morning still feeling surreal from everything that’s happened over the last 24 hours,” Flores tweeted Wednesday. “Earning Elon Musk’s vote was just the icing on the cake and I can’t wait to work with his team! The American Dream is worth fighting for.”
Flores won’t have long to serve in Congress. As she finishes the remainder of Vela’s term, she will have to run to keep her seat against Rep. Vicente Gonzalez. The redrawn 34th District will be more friendly to Democrats, who cited the low-turnout nature of Tuesday’s special election and the money behind Flores to downplay her victory.
“Based on the results, we came up short tonight despite being outspent by millions of dollars from out of state interests and the entire Republican machine,” Sanchez said in his concession statement. “Too many factors were against us, including little to no support from the National Democratic Party and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.”
But with Republicans on the attack in this midterm season, Tuesday’s victory is a sign of what’s possible for them on Nov. 8.
“The new ‘reality’ is much more Biden +4 than Clinton +21 or even Vela +13 (which happened in 2020),” elections analyst Kyle Kondik tweeted Tuesday night. “Some caveats … tiny turnout, R candidate much better funded. But to me those are things that only explain so much these days.”