This week’s win by conservative activist Mayra Flores in an open Rio Grande Valley House district is the latest sign that traditionally Democratic territory in South Texas is turning red.
The trend has been clear for several election cycles, and Flores’s win in the special election gives House Republicans fresh hopes of flipping other seats in the border region that have been reliably Democratic for decades.
On Tuesday, Flores won an all-party primary to replace former Democratic Rep. Filemon Vela, who resigned earlier this year for a job at a Washington, D.C., law and lobbying firm. The historically blue 34th Congressional District, stretching from the U.S.-Mexico border at Brownsville, Texas, north for hundreds of miles, will be held by Flores for the final six months of this congressional term.
Flores is seeking a full term in November to represent what starting in January will be a new version of the 34th Congressional District. Flores will face a fellow House member, Democratic Rep. Vicente Gonzalez, in a district where voter registration still favors his party by a wide margin.
But the fact that Flores is headed to Washington reflects the changing nature of the border region. Republican operatives said they hope the shift in the district is both a sign of things to come in November and in South Texas, where the party is seeking to make inroads with Latino voters.
In a statement celebrating Flores’s victory, Congressional Leadership Fund President Dan Conston said, “Electing the first Republican Latina from Texas is a historic moment and it’s only appropriate that it happened in the Rio Grande Valley where voters are fast jettisoning Democrats and their out of touch agenda.”
The PAC, aligned with House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, spent large sums to back Flores and chip away at Democrats’ current House majority, which they are attempting to flip in November.
Although the district is historically blue, President Joe Biden underperformed there in 2020, and Republicans spent heavily to campaign in the district to capitalize on what they saw as momentum with voters there.
While the lines of the new district in November will be friendlier to Democrats, Republicans see Tuesday’s results as a reason for optimism that Flores can hold the seat. She will be the first Mexican-born woman to go to Congress as a Republican. She also will be the first Republican to represent the Rio Grande Valley in Congress since the post-Civil War Reconstruction era.
The victory for a Republican in the wider region might be the most significant since Rep. Blake Farenthold defeated Democratic Rep. Solomon Ortiz in 2010.
Republicans are eyeing what they see as another opportunity to flip a blue seat in the region: In the state’s 28th Congressional District, Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-TX) appears to have defeated liberal challenger Jessica Cisneros, although she is seeking a recount in a tight race separated by less than 200 votes. Should he emerge from the tough primary victorious, Cuellar will go on to face a competitive race against Republican Cassy Garcia.