Do we talk about the caveats first, or simply enjoy the moment?
Enjoy the moment, I say.
Mayra Flores avoided a runoff and flipped Texas’ 34th congressional district in a special election last night. She becomes the first Latina House Republican from Texas, and perhaps the vanguard of a coming red tidal wave in the midterms:
Republicans have hailed Mayra Flores after she flipped a House district in Texas in a special election on Tuesday.
Flores beat her nearest Democratic challenger, former Cameron County commissioner Dan Sanchez, by 51 percent to 43 percent, edging past the 50 percent threshold needed to avoid a runoff.
Flores’ victory in the 34th district, which was left vacant by Filemon Vela’s resignation in March, makes her the first Latina Republican from Texas in Congress.
The victory will pile pressure onto the Democrats, who are trying to hold onto their slim majority in the midterms. The GOP will also be hoping Flores’ victory will boost the congressional campaigns of other Latina candidates in southern Texas, such as Janie Lopez, Monica De La Cruz and Cassy Garcia.
Let’s enjoy the moment a little more still. Flores will also be the first Republican to win in TX-34, although its history is rather short. Filemon Vela had been the only person to hold the seat since it was created a decade earlier. It’s a primarily urban-suburban district in the Rio Grande Valley (RGV) — only 16% of it is rural — and Flores won it outright by running on immigration enforcement. The district is rated D+5 in the Cook index, and most promising of all for the GOP, 85% of its voters are Hispanic.
Marco Rubio enjoyed that particular moment this morning:
The reason why Hispanic voters are turning on democrats isn’t complicated,they don’t want to pay $5 for gas,have violent criminals ruling the streets or our schools trying to turn their son into a daughter
— Marco Rubio (@marcorubio) June 15, 2022
I’d guess that all of those contributed to Flores’ win, but immigration and Joe Biden’s border crisis were the issues that clinched the deal for her. The RGV has been under siege in the border crisis, and Hispanic Americans who live there are sick of it. Flores’ husband is a Border Patrol agent, a point she raised in campaign ads, so it’s a personal issue to her and that must have resonated with the voters in the special election as well.
Perhaps people don’t appreciate the intensity of this issue in the RGV, but the flip of the seat — even temporarily — should wake people up, especially Democrats. Vela used to win this district easily before Biden took office; his worst showing was in 2020 when he beat three-time challenger Rey Gonzalez 55/42. Biden himself won this district 51-47 in the same election, but Hillary Clinton had won it 59-37 in 2016. The educational and cultural issues may have grown more acute in the last year or so, but the border crisis is a four-alarm fire in the RGV. This is exactly why Henry Cuellar tried to warn Democrats from the start of Biden’s presidency about the border crisis … and Democrats repaid him by trying to primary him out of office with a radical progressive.
How’s that strategy looking today?
All right, now let’s get to the caveats, at least in terms of this being a bellwether. Special elections have very unique and (usually) non-predictive turnout models. TX-34 is a D+5 district, so it’s never been entirely out of reach for Republicans. Flores won in part by running a smart campaign but also by building a financial and media-buy edge over her opponent. Flores will have to run again in less than five months to keep the seat, and she may have trouble getting a lock on the same resources when the GOP is fighting for 435 seats and not just one.
And … that’s about it. Let’s get back to enjoying the moment again, and enjoying the Democrats’ dawning realization of the scope of the red wave that’s coming.