Republican Mayra Flores flipped a Democratic House district in South Texas on Tuesday, a major special election victory building on GOP gains among Latino voters in the region in the 2020 election.
Flores, a respiratory care practitioner, had 51 percent of the vote to Democrat Dan Sanchez’s 43 percent when Sanchez conceded the race in a district where 85 percent of residents are Latino. Flores won the seat outright by taking a majority of the vote, without needing a runoff.
The seat was open after former Democratic Rep. Filemon Vela resigned to work for a lobbying group in March. Flores will be the first Mexican-born congresswoman and the first Republican to represent the Rio Grande Valley area since Reconstruction. However, she will only hold the seat until January.
Democrats mostly stayed out of the special election until late, while national Republicans leaned in to push for Flores. Then-President Donald Trump cut the Democratic advantage in Texas’ 34th District to single-digits in 2020, part of major GOP gains in the heavily Latino region. Previous Republican presidential candidates had lost the district by double digits to the likes of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.
Now, Flores is part of a larger movement of GOP Latinas from south Texas vying for congressional seats, including Monica De La Cruz and Cassy Garcia. Republicans gained ground near the border in 2020, with Trump carrying half of those counties for the first time in a century.
With heavy Republican support, Flores far outraised her fellow special election candidates, plastering the airwaves with TV and digital advertisements in the month leading up to the primary. Many ads focused on her marriage to a Border Patrol agent and her achievement of “the American Dream,” while others criticized President Joe Biden for not controlling the border.
However, these gains won’t put Flores or the other women on a straight path to the Capitol. Despite strong gains from Republicans, Democrats still have a solid hold on the region, and she will face a difficult race in November against well-funded Democratic Rep. Vicente Gonzalez of McAllen.