De La Cruz does it: Republican wins redrawn District 15


McALLEN — For the first time in more than a century, Congressional District 15 appears to have not only been won by its first Republican candidate, but by its first woman.

As of presstime, Monica De La Cruz led Democrat opponent Michelle Vallejo by about 11,000 votes.

De La Cruz, speaking to supporters a little before 11 p.m. at the Radisson Hotel McAllen Airport, was jubilant. She stuck to her most prominent campaign issues in her speech — the border and the economy — and invoked Hispanic cultural icons like Selena, Celia Cruz and Juan Seguin before being joined onstage by a group of mariachis.

Monica de la Cruz declares victory in the race for the Texas District 15 seat in the U.S. House of Representatives during a watch party at the Radisson Hotel in McAllen on Tuesday, Nov. 08, 2022. (Dina Arévalo | [email protected])

She said her win is a victory for all of South Texas, singling out farmers, ranchers, Border Patrol agents, oil field workers and, especially, women and mothers.

Y para nosotros,” she said. “It is a victory for all small businesses and families that work harder than ever to find themselves struggling in an economy that leaves too many Americans behind.”

De La Cruz complimented Vallejo and struck a conciliatory tone.

“I want all of your supporters to know that they can count on me to fight for all of South Texas,” she said.

That tone extended to issues as well. De La Cruz mentioned expanding healthcare opportunities in her district.

“It won’t be easy,” she said. “No, it won’t be easy and change will not happen overnight. But I am ready to roll up my sleeves and work with both parties, because I want to secure the promise of America for the next generation.”

Surrounded by her parents and children, Monica De La Cruz, right, pauses to enjoy congratulatory cheers from her supporters as she declared victory of the District 15 race at the Radisson Hotel in McAllen on Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2022. (Dina Arévalo | [email protected])

The race between De La Cruz and Vallejo was often tight as results came in throughout the night.

At an election watch party in downtown McAllen, Vallejo conceded, thanking supporters for all their work and remarking on the national attention they were able to draw to the race.

“I know it could be hard to accept in our hearts sometimes that we are not necessarily seeing the numbers we want to see,” Vallejo said, “but I truly, truly feel it like a calling to keep fighting.”

About a quarter of a mile away, before De La Cruz was confident enough to declare her own victory, Gov. Greg Abbott told a crowd that he was sure of it.

The governor was at Quinta Mazatlán, celebrating his own victory. Occasionally supporters shuffled between the sites, trying to gauge the right time to see a candidate speak.

“To be clear about this, we planted our flag in South Texas, and we showed America that South Texas is now electing Republicans to office in our great state,” Abbott told supporters.

This election marks the second time De La Cruz has run for the District 15 seat.

In 2020, she ran against current U.S. Rep. Vicente Gonzalez, D-McAllen, and came within three percentage points of unseating him. Since then, Texas Republicans redrew the district boundaries as part of a process that’s done after every U.S. Census. That heavily impacted District 15, which became more favorable to Republicans.

Monica de la Cruz, center, celebrates her election victory in the race for the Texas District 15 seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. (Dina Arévalo | [email protected])

Faced with De La Cruz’s pending victory, Texas Democratic Party Chair Gilberto Hinojosa issued a statement rebuking any attempts from Republicans to paint her win as a sign they were making inroads with Hispanics.

“Tonight, Texas Republicans will tell you that picking up TX-15 shows that they’re gaining ground with Hispanics in South Texas,” Hinojosa began. “Let me be clear: that’s complete bull——. The facts of the matter remain that Texas Republicans literally redrew TX-15 to be less Hispanic and more white – and they redrew it to become a district that was statistically guaranteed to go Republican.”

Hinojosa also weighed in on the heavy spending across the region.

“The reality is: the only way they can win a district in a predominately Hispanic region is by drawing the Hispanics out of the district, and couldn’t even pull it off without spending tens of millions of dollars,” Hinojosa said.

A half-dozen or so Republican candidates for state and local offices joined De La Cruz at her party. None of them were ahead as of presstime. Fellow high-profile South Texas Republican congressional candidates Mayra Flores and Cassy Garcia also seemed set to come up short.

Adrienne Peña Garza, the Hidalgo County GOP Chair, said she thought De La Cruz winning — even while other Republicans in South Texas came up short — was creditable to her attractiveness as a candidate.

“She worked the hardest,” Peña-Garza said. “She was just so gritty, never gave up, didn’t take no for an answer. And so that personality, that tenacity — I think a lot of women came out and voted for her as well. It’s a testament to her tenacity.”

Monica de la Cruz, center, celebrates her election victory in the race for the Texas District 15 seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. (Dina Arévalo | [email protected])

Despite the disappointing results for Vallejo’s camp, she asked voters not to give up and prepare for a bigger challenge ahead.

“We all know that this district has gotten gerrymandered in an effort to disenfranchise our vote, disenfranchise our power, disenfranchise the Latino community,” she said, “and going into 2024, we know the power is in our hands and that’s why we’re having these experiences here.”

Vallejo was recruited to run for the open seat by LUPE Votes, a sibling organization of La Union Del Pueblo Entero that engages in political advocacy.

To earn the Democratic nomination, she made it past a field of six candidates in the Democratic Primary election in March and then faced off against Ruben Ramirez in a runoff election. She defeated Ramirez in the runoff by just over 30 votes.

Throughout the campaign, she heavily focused on abortion rights, holding a town hall on the issue with Rochelle Garza, the Democratic candidate for Texas attorney general.

She also advocated for expansion of health care access through Medicare for All, lowering cost of prescription drugs, increasing wages and the creation of union jobs.

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