With 33-vote lead, Michelle Vallejo declares victory in South Texas congressional runoff

Michelle Vallejo, a candidate for Congressional District 15, after a Futuro RGV candidate forum in McAllen on Jan. 11, 2022. (Verónica Cárdenas For The Texas Tribune, Verónica Cárdenas For The Texas Tribune)

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Michelle Vallejo declared victory Wednesday in the Democratic primary runoff for the national battleground 15th Congressional District in South Texas.

Her declaration came eight days after election night, when she emerged with a 23-vote margin over opponent Ruben Ramirez. Her margin grew to 33 votes as the largest counties in the district began to report their final unofficial results Wednesday.

But Ramirez was not ready to concede. His campaign said in a statement that "it is essential that every voter has their say before a final call is made." The statement suggested the campaign still saw a path to victory.

“South Texas politics has a long tradition of upset victories,” the statement said.

Counties have until the end of day on Thursday to report their final numbers to the state, and even then, candidates can still request recounts. Since election night, counties have been counting mail-in ballots that were postmarked in the 11th-hour, military and overseas ballots that were due Tuesday and provisional ballots.

It was one of two key Democratic runoffs in South Texas that were unsettled coming out of election night. The other is the runoff for the 28th Congressional District, where the moderate nine-term U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo, faced progressive challenger Jessica Cisneros. He led by 177 votes after election night, but as most counties reported their final unofficial results Wednesday, his margin widened to at least 192 votes.

Cuellar, who was facing a tougher reelection after his home was raided in January by the FBI, already declared victory on election night, while Cisneros had said the 177-vote margin made the race too close to call. Coming out of election night in the 15th District, both Vallejo and Ramirez had agreed the race was too close to call.

But by Wednesday, three counties that make up all but a sliver of the electorate in the district — Hidalgo, Guadalupe and Jim Wells — had disclosed final unofficial results that expanded Vallejo’s lead to 33 votes.

Candidates can request recounts if their margin is less than 10% of the number of votes their opponent received. Ramirez and Cisneros are currently well within that range.

If Vallejo’s winning margin holds, it is a victory for progressives. She had campaigned on issues including the single-payer health care system known as “Medicare for All.”

“Now more than ever, we need a voice from South Texas who will act boldly from South Texas,” Vallejo said in her declaration of victory, referencing the Uvalde shooting that occurred the same day as the runoff last week. “I come from a big family of farm workers, immigrants, and entrepreneurs and I know what it takes to roll up my sleeves and fight for what’s right.”

The Republican nominee for the open seat in the 15th District is Monica De La Cruz, who ran a surprisingly close race in 2020 when the incumbent was Democratic Rep. Vicente Gonzalez of McAllen. She won her primary in March. National Republicans see the 15th District as their best pickup opportunity this fall in Texas they push to make fresh inroads in South Texas.


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