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Newly-elected Rep. Mayra Flores speaking at the announcement of the formation of the Hispanic Leadership Trust at the Republican National Committee in May 2022. Photo: Bill Clark CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images.
Newly-elected Rep. Mayra Flores speaking at the announcement of the formation of the Hispanic Leadership Trust at the Republican National Committee in May 2022. Photo: Bill Clark CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images.

Mayra Flores’ special election win shows the potential power of Latino Republicans in South Texas

Flores flipped the seat that belonged to outgoing Latino Democratic Rep. Filemón Vela Jr., who announced his resignation in 2022. She will run again in November

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Democrats in Washington argued that it wasn’t worth defending a seat that they would have a second crack at later this year, but it doesn’t remove the fact that they were beat pretty handily in the special election to fill the seat Texas’ 34th Congressional District.

That post was previously held by Latino Democratic Rep. Filemón Vela Jr., who resigned earlier in 2022 to take a lobbying post, but now it will be Republican Mayra Flores who assumes the role for at least the rest of the year.

In victory, Flores repeated the talking point that served as the center of her campaign — that Democrats took Hispanic votes in the district for granted.

“For over 100 years, we have been taken for granted,” Flores was quoted as saying by the Texas Tribune. “I will show you what real representation looks like. I will represent all people.”

Flores’ campaign benefited from some major investment by the Republican political machine, which is pushing hard to flip the longtime Democratic seats in South Texas. Her campaign poured millions of dollars into TV ads, while Democratic challenger Dan Sanchez was left largely with scraps by his party, and often described the battle as “David vs. Goliath” on the campaign trail.

In defeat, Sanchez pointed the blame directly at his party.

“Too many factors were against us, including little to no support from the National Democratic Party and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee,” he said.

The special election was also unusual because it ran using maps drawn from the 2010 census. After the redistricting process following the 2020 census, the district now encompasses part of the former 15th Congressional District, represented by Latino Democratic Rep. Vicente Gonzalez Jr. He cruised to victory in the Democratic primary in the 34th Congressional District on March 1, and he will face Flores (now the incumbent) in the general election on Nov. 8.

Democrats are confident that Gonzalez will prevail, but Flores’ story, message and backing could be a potent combination.

She was born in Burgos Tamaulipas, Mexico, and is the daughter of Mexican migrant workers. Later in life, after moving to Texas with her parents and living most of her life in the Rio Grande Valley, Flores graduated high school, went to college, and got a degree to become a respiratory care practitioner. 

In addition to the message of a Hispanic community “taken for granted” by the Democratic Party, her campaign also pushed hard on the issue of the border, highlighting her marriage to a border patrol agent.

Sanchez, her opponent in the special election, also decried her support of former President Donald Trump, and the doubt her past social media posts cast on the 2020 election (where little amounts of fraud have ever been found through multiple recounts).

Still, Flores’ victory, though potentially short-lived, should be a warning to Democrats in South Texas that some Hispanic voters in the area are more fluid than in previous election cycles, and at least agree partly with her message of being “forgotten.”

She’s also not the only Republican Latina candidate vying for office in South Texas that could give the Democrats more than enough to handle.

In Texas’ 28th Congressional District, where Democratic incumbent Rep. Henry Cuellar and progressive challenger Jessica Cisneros are in a recount, Republican challenger Cassy Garcia patiently awaits the outcome. Garcia is a former deputy state director for Senator Ted Cruz, and was appointed by former President Donald Trump as Commissioner of the White House Hispanic Prosperity Initiative. Cuellar held a razor-thin lead over Cisneros at the end of a runoff election held on May 24.

A recount is also happening on the Democratic side in Texas’ 15th Congressional District, formerly held by Gonzalez. There, challenger Ruben Ramirez requested the recount after falling short of Michelle Vallejo by just 30 votes. Awaiting either is Republican candidate Monica De La Cruz, who fell to Gonzalez in the 2020 general election by a little more than 6,000 votes. At the time, it was an extremely close margin and potential sign of things to come. In other words, 2022 could be De La Cruz’s year, but that will be decided in November.

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