Democrats on defense to keep US House seats on Texas border

Nov 8, 2022, 4:30 AM | Updated: 8:53 am
FILE - Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo, talks to a member of the media during a campaign event in San ...

FILE - Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo, talks to a member of the media during a campaign event in San Antonio, Texas, May 4, 2022. (AP Photo/Eric Gay, File)

(AP Photo/Eric Gay, File)

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — A trio of U.S. House races in South Texas carried high stakes Tuesday as Republicans, who for decades rarely bothered to compete along the U.S.-Mexico border, made the heavily Hispanic region a priority in their pursuit of retaking control of Congress.

The unusually competitive atmosphere in South Texas, including for Democratic U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, underlined the shifting political winds in an important stronghold for Democrats — and the ramifications beyond this election.

For Republicans, victories by any of three Latina candidates running for House seats in the region — Rep. Mayra Flores, Monica De La Cruz and Cassy Garcia — would deepen inroads the GOP is making nationally with Hispanic voters and demoralize Democrats in a place that has long been their turf.

In a sign of Republican optimism, Gov. Greg Abbott was hosting his Election Night party in the border city of McAllen, reflecting the GOP’s eagerness to show conservatives are expanding their territory.

The GOP unleashed an aggressive play for South Texas after counties up and down the border swung toward former Presidential Donald Trump in 2020, stunning Democrats who viewed the region safe and creating a new battleground overnight. Millions of dollars have since poured into the region and all three GOP House candidates outraised their Democratic opponents this summer.

Underscoring the intensity of the races heading into Tuesday, former president Bill Clinton swung through South Texas on Monday to campaign for Democrats. Big-name Republicans have also swooped into the region, including House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy over the weekend.

The most widely seen competitive race was in the 15th Congressional District, where De La Cruz and Democrat Michelle Vallejo were competing to represent one of the two new U.S. House districts that Texas was awarded last year following the release of new census figures.

Neither candidate was running to the middle. De La Cruz has defended abortion restrictions, promised tougher border security measures and drew praise from Trump during a recent rally in Texas. Vallejo has courted liberal voters in a progressive campaign that has called for a $15 an hour minimum wage and challenged conventional wisdom that Democrats along the border are more moderate.

Win or lose, Republicans have already made history in South Texas this year.

Flores became the first Republican Latina elected to a House seat in Texas when she won a special election in July to fill the remaining term of Democrat Filemon Vela, who retired early from the 34th Congressional District. She was running against Democrat Rep. Vicente Gonzalez in a rare race between two sitting members of Congress: Gonzalez switched districts after the one he currently represents was made more competitive under new voting maps.

Cuellar, who survived a close scare in his Democratic primary this year, is facing Garcia, a former aide to Republican Sen. Ted Cruz and a former staffer in the Trump administration. Cuellar has been among his party’s loudest critics of President Joe Biden, particularly over the administration’s response to a record number of migrant crossings on the border.

____

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              FILE - Cassy Garcia, Republican candidate for Congress in Texas' 28th Congressional District, smiles on stage at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Dallas, Aug. 5, 2022. (AP Photo/LM Otero, File)
            
              FILE - Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo, talks to a member of the media during a campaign event in San Antonio, Texas, May 4, 2022. (AP Photo/Eric Gay, File)
            FILE- Republican Monica De La Cruz-Hernandez, running in the next general election for the 15th House congressional district, talks in her office in Alamo, Texas, July 8, 2021. (AP Photo/Eric Gay, File) FILE- Michelle Vallejo, the Democratic candidate in Texas' 15th Congressional District, speaks with members of the media in McAllen, Texas, Oct. 13, 2022. (Joel Martinez/The Monitor via AP, file) FILE - Rep. Mayra Flores, R-Texas, speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Dallas, Aug. 5, 2022. (AP Photo/LM Otero, File) FILE - Rep. Vicente Gonzalez, D-Texas, speaks about the recent changes to the U.S. Postal Service during a press conference in front of the U.S Post Office in McAllen, Texas, Aug. 19, 2020. (Joel Martinez/The Monitor via AP, File)

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Democrats on defense to keep US House seats on Texas border