HARLINGEN — Under a national spotlight, Democratic U.S. Rep. Vicente Gonzalez claimed victory over incumbent Republican U.S. Rep. Mayra Flores in a highly contested race for District 34’s congressional seat Tuesday night, sending a message to the Republican Party — “South Texas cannot be bought,” Gonzalez said.
As of 10:45 p.m, Gonzalez had won 52,237 votes, or 53 percent, while Flores drew 42,967 votes, or 43 percent, with independent Chris Royal drawing 2,907.
“Clearly, this was a hard message we sent to Washington — South Texas cannot be bought,” Gonzalez said at his watch party at Mi Pueblito Restaurant in Brownsville. “The people here are smarter than that.”
During the campaign, the Republican Party and its aligned political action committees spent $7 million pushing their candidates cross the Rio Grande Valley, Gonzalez said.
“That’s something we’ve never seen in the Rio Grande Valley,” he said.
Across the Valley, Hidalgo County, for years his home base, pulled the vote, Gonzalez said.
“We won really, really strong in Hidalgo,” he said.
Flores could not be reached for comment.
Across the country, the race embodied the Republican push into the Valley’s traditional Democratic stronghold.
In June, Flores, a San Benito respiratory care practitioner for a home-health agency, won a June special election after Democratic U.S. Rep. Filemon Vela resigned the post amid a Republican redistricting drive.
Gonzalez, a McAllen attorney who has held District 15’s congressional seat since 2017, had switched to run in the race, citing changes to his home bases’ boundaries last year.
On Jan. 1, his term as District 34’s congressman would begin while his District 15 tenure expires.
During his campaign, Gonzalez touted a platform in which he vowed to work to draw higher-paying jobs, calling for a living wage while supporting boosting Texas-Mexico border trade.
On campaign stumps, he called for an expansion of Social Security and Medicare, improvement of the Affordable Care Act and lower prescription drug prices while pushing for a Valley veterans hospital and working to boost veterans’ mental health funding.
A member of the Committees on Financial Services and Foreign Affairs, Gonzalez also serves on the Select Committee on Economic Disparity and Fairness in Growth.
Last year, Gonzalez announced he would run in the race for District 34’s congressional seat amid Republican Monica De La Cruz-Hernandez’s push to claim his District 15 seat.
In 2020, Gonzalez narrowly defeated her by 6,588 votes, or 50.5 percent of the vote.
In her campaign, Flores carried the banner “God, family, country,” symbolizing the Republicans’ push into the traditionally Democratic Valley, where the GOP has made inroads among Mexican-Americans in the last few years.
Portraying herself as a symbol of the American dream, she became the first Mexican-born woman to win a congressional seat and the first Republican in more than 150 years to represent District 34, now stretching from Brownsville and Harlingen into Hidalgo County to the brushlands south of Corpus Christi.
Meanwhile, her platform focused on “fortifying our legal immigration system, securing our borders, lowering the costs of healthcare, lowering taxes, promoting small businesses and less government,” her website has stated. “She is pro-life, pro-second amendment and pro-law enforcement.”
Born in Burgos, Mexico, about 150 miles south of Reynosa, she was 6 years old when she left home, with her father helping come to the United States.
At 13, she was working with her parents in the Texas Panhandle’s cotton fields.
By 2004, she had graduated from San Benito High School.
Across Cameron County, the election drew the second-highest voter turnout for a mid-term contest behind 2018’s record.
After District 34 was created as a result of the 2010 Census’s population increases, Vela won its first election in 2012.
Now, the district covers 11 counties, including parts of Hidalgo, Cameron and Willacy.