National Republicans say they will spend big to oust Rep. Vicente Gonzalez from his South Texas seat in 2024

U.S. Rep. Vicente Gonzalez, D-McAllen, at his 2022 election night watch party in Brownsville. (Michael Gonzalez For The Texas Tribune, Michael Gonzalez For The Texas Tribune)

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WASHINGTON — U.S. House Republicans want Vicente Gonzalez gone — again.

The Republican conference’s campaign arm announced Monday it is adding the South Texas Democrat to its main target list in the 2024 congressional elections, singling him out as a top priority for next year in a sign that they believe his district is still flippable. His inclusion on the list means they intend to pour serious outside cash into a yet-unknown Republican challenger, ending the days when Democrats could run in the region without having to put up much of a fight.

“Republicans are in the majority and on offense. We will grow our House majority by building strong campaigns around talented recruits in these districts who can communicate the dangers of Democrats’ extreme agenda,” said National Republican Congressional Committee Chair Richard Hudson in a statement. “These House Democrats should be shaking in their boots.”

Gonzalez ran in the 34th congressional district last year after redistricting moved his home out of the McAllen-based 15th district, which he previously represented. Both the 34th and 15th districts were among the most competitive races in the state, with influxes of outside cash from both parties flowing into the campaigns. Gonzalez ran against incumbent Republican Rep. Mayra Flores, who had won the seat the summer before in a special election after Rep. Filemon Vela retired early from Congress to become a lobbyist.

Flores’ victory in the special election came with a massive surge in cash from out of the district, giving Republicans their first-ever seat in the Rio Grande Valley. But national Democrats opted not to match the spending spree and essentially abandoned the district, leaving their candidate Dan Sanchez vastly underfunded. Local Democrats were furious that giving the seat away to the Republicans would create a substantially greater challenge for Gonzalez in the general election, but national Democratic operatives contended it would be more advantageous to keep their powder dry to have more to spend in November.

Gonzalez’s victory was not a knockout. In a district that was drawn to be more Democratic and would have voted for President Joe Biden with a margin of over 15 percentage points, Gonzalez won by roughly 8 percentage points.

His campaign in the 34th district ended up being his most expensive and, he admitted at the time, his most challenging. Both campaigns spent over $3 million in the race, and Republicans blasted Gonzalez for a number of verbal gaffes. Gonzalez told Newsweek that he “didn’t come here through chain migration, I didn’t come through asylum or amnesty or whatever” in a bid to distinguish himself from Flores, who was the first Mexican-born woman ever elected to Congress.

Flores also had her share of difficulties, including allegations of sexual assault against her district director. She denied knowledge of the alleged assault.

In a statement to The Texas Tribune, Gonzalez credited his election last November to his ability to bring federal dollars back to the district over the six years he's been in office. Flores held her seat for only about seven months, coinciding with a slow legislative period when most members of Congress were focused on campaigning.

“In 2022, South Texas voters sent a message: they want someone who delivers," Gonzalez said in his statement. "Since coming to congress, I’ve brought over $6 billion to South Texas for VFWs and community centers, drainage and roads, and Title 1 funding for our students. And I intend to keep putting the needs of South Texans first.”

The national party’s investments in Gonzalez’s race also left less money for other candidates, whom the party did not deem viable or established enough to receive steady, robust support. National Democrats essentially let the tap run dry on Michelle Vallejo, a progressive, young Democrat who ran to replace Gonzalez in his old district next door, much to the ire of progressives in the state. President Donald Trump-endorsed Republican Monica De La Cruz ended up winning that race, becoming the first of her party to represent the 15th congressional district.

Flores has since joined the Texas Public Policy Foundation as a senior fellow. In a statement to The Texas Tribune, Flores said she was glad to hear about the NRCC's decision.

"Our region has seen historic shifts towards the Republican Party as more and more Hispanics realize that our conservative policies are all about God, Family, and the American Dream. I am confident this trend will continue and that this district will turn Red soon." When asked if she would run again in the district, Flores said she hasn't yet decided.

Republicans assert their messages of strict border enforcement, abortion restrictions and support for the local oil and gas sector will resonate with culturally conservative Latino voters in the region. South Texas Democrats have historically been among the most moderate in their caucus.

Border security is also top of the list among Republican priorities and attack points against the Biden administration, and the party is eager to have more Texas border Republicans to put at the forefront of their messaging on the issue. Texas contains more of the southern border than any other state.

Disclosure: The Texas Public Policy Foundation has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune's journalism. Find a complete list of them here.

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