Along the Texas border, the Republican wave was a drizzle
Democratic candidates in South Texas surfed the red wave to shore and secured almost all seats in the electoral battle that brewed along the border districts.
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In what were long feared to be sweeping victories for Mayra Flores and Cassy García, two of the GOP’s far-right Republican rising stars, both had net negative outcomes as voting results displayed wide margins in their races on the evening of Nov. 8.
Flores and García were hoping to flip the 34th and 28th congressional districts along the border and unseat their Democratic incumbents – Reps. Vincente González and Henry Cuellar, secured marked victories for Republicans in South Texas.
For the GOP, the loss was costly. Party operatives invested millions of dollars and substantial resources in building up the Trump-endorsed candidates to tear down the few remaining Texas Democratic strongholds.
Ted Cruz, the Republican U.S. Senator who resides perpetually in Trump’s good graces, frequently leveraged his national standing and deep campaign coffers to platform the up-and-comers in hopes of extending the GOP grip over South Texas.
In interviews, Cruz beamed at the quality candidates the GOP had offered South Texas, all conservative women, which he hoped would fly in the face of the bespoke woke agenda designed by the GOP and attributed to the Democratic party to ascribe extremist measures of politics.
And the battle was as intense as it was bitter.
Texas’ 28th: García v. Cuellar, the tale of an unwavering incumbent
Cuellar, though often at odds with his Democratic counterparts, won his bid in a landslide, double-digit victory. The final vote tally held Cuellar at 56.6% of the vote, whereas García only nabbed 43.4% in all.
Starting with the primaries – Cuellar snared a tight victory with a 300-vote difference against his opponent, Jessica Cisneros – following an FBI raid of his home and office that cast a long shadow over his campaign.
The 10-term congressman reckoned with the most politically challenging campaign he’d
operated in a while. He was a moderate who challenged the Biden administration on key policy issues, including abortion and border security.
Cuellar is pro-life, a detail that haunted him in the primaries.
“No matter what you hear, there’s no question about where Rep. Henry Cuellar stands when it comes to reproductive freedom. His record speaks for itself,” said Ryan Stitzlein, Senior National Political Director of NARAL, a national pro-choice advocacy organization, in a statement in May.
The moderate candidate’s voting record indeed leaned conservative on issues like Title X, having voted in favor of a gag rule that slashed the family planning program in half, impacting as many as 17 clinics across the States.
And in July, Cuellar voted against the Women’s Health Protection Act of 2022, which sought to protect abortion at the Federal level. The bill perished in the Senate, having reached no vote.
Cisneros was propped as a pro-choice champion, but ultimately, was unable to garner the necessary support to carry her through the primary elections.
Part of what gave Cuellar an advantage was his seniority and experience in Congress, coupled with his bipartisan view of controversial issues. On immigration, Cuellar has been routinely critical of the Biden administration, particularly around border security.
In September of 2021, Cuellar responded to a comment by Vice President Kamala Harris about border security and said that if "you call that ‘secure,’ I don’t know what ‘secure’ is."
But he wasn’t necessarily popular among the GOP. A blitz of TV ads blasted Cuellar for the FBI raid but to no avail – Cuellar’s attorney has consistently maintained the rep. is not a target of the investigation, in a statement to the Texas Tribune.
After the raid, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat staunchly disliked by Republicans, endorsed him in March.
“I support my incumbents,” Pelosi said during an unrelated news conference in Austin. “I support every one of them, from right to left. That is what I do.”
Standing firmly by Cuellar might have served his image among his constituents well – Cuellar took Election Day votes by storm and achieved victory by a comfortable margin.
García conceded the race publicly on Twitter.
“I want to thank my family, my team, and everyone who believed in me. I gave it my all, but unfortunately, we came up short tonight. I congratulate [Henry Cuellar] on his win.”
A competition littered with attacks on character continued in the hours that followed the election results. Cuellar, in a now-deleted post on Twitter, said that following her loss, García will now “have plenty of free time to audition for Narcos in the near future!”
García did not directly respond to Cuellar’s comments, but shared a post that read: “Cuellar still has an FBI investigation over his head.”
Texas’ 34th: Gonzalez v. Flores, not, in fact, the House of Flowers
González was a 15th-district incumbent who sought reelection in a neighboring district due to redistricting. He vied for a seat in a district that contained a more Democratic electorate, leaving Vallejo, now defeated, to do the work.
What González didn’t account for upon transitioning his congressional district was Mayra Flores, a rising Republican darling favored by the upper Senate echelon.
“My job was easy,” Sen. Cruz told The New Republic. “I essentially had to get out of the way and let them shine.”
Flores, a naturalized American citizen from Burgos Tamaulipas, Mexico, made history when she became the first Mexican-born U.S. House member during special elections held in January in a term that quickly came to an end in November.
What Flores banked on was convincing Democratic voters that the party was changing and no longer aligned with traditional values, often adopting rhetoric routinely delivered by Trump.
And for Republicans, TX-34 was a diamond jewel. Among the three intensely-competed districts, the 34th district became a goalpost for both parties.
For Democrats, that hyper-focus came at the expense of stunting newcomer Michelle Vallejo’s campaign, who lost her race to Mónica De La Cruz in the 15th district.
Weeks before midterms closed in on voting day, ad reservations for Vallejo were ultimately pulled, in addition to an absent endorsement from the DNCC.
But those resources paid dividends for González, who triumphed despite highly-fueled campaign ads picturing González as a distanced Washington ghoul, detached from the realities and necessities of everyday Texans.
“They spent over $7 million against us, spewing lies and hate and disinformation,” said Gonzalez, D-McAllen, at his election night party. “Even with these large investments, we showed the Republican party that South Texas is not their home.”
González came out victorious in a 52.7 - 44.3 percent margin.
On Twitter, the now lame duck Flores blamed voters for low turnout.
“The RED WAVE did not happen. Republicans and Independents stayed home. DO NOT COMPLAIN ABOUT THE RESULTS IF YOU DID NOT DO YOUR PART!”