National Democrats back Michelle Vallejo for 15th congressional district

Democratic congressional candidate Michelle Vallejo for TX-15 speaks at a rally with former President Bill Clinton in Edinburg on Nov. 7, 2022. (Michael Gonzalez For The Texas Tribune, Michael Gonzalez For The Texas Tribune)

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WASHINGTON — U.S. House Democrats are rallying around Michelle Vallejo in her bid to unseat Republican Rep. Monica De La Cruz in the 15th congressional district this year.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee announced Monday it will add Vallejo to the first cohort of its “Red to Blue” program, which selects promising candidates to support who are challenging Republican incumbents. Vallejo unsuccessfully ran for the seat in 2022.

“I am immensely proud to have been added to the DCCC’s first round of their coveted ‘Red to Blue' program,” Vallejo said in a statement. “South Texas deserves a champion that will fight for them every single day in Congress to lower costs for families, expand access to affordable and quality health care, protect Social Security and Medicare and defend reproductive freedom.”

The DCCC decision is a shift from last cycle, when national Democratic groups opted to prioritize protecting incumbents in the neighboring 34th and 28th districts. That left little support for Vallejo, to the deep chagrin of local Democrats.

One other Democrat has filed his candidacy — John Villarreal Rigney, a Pharr attorney. He finished third place in the 2022 Democratic primary in the district, which runs from Seguin to McAllen.

The 15th district is the most competitive in the state. After Rep. Vicente Gonzalez handedly won in the 34th district and Rep. Henry Cuellar dominated in the 28th district last year, Democrats are more at ease spending their money on a challenger. The DCCC announced last April that it would invest heavily in the 15th district, and Vallejo announced she would run again a month later. The organization now sees the 15th district as one of its best chances to flip a seat.

The Red to Blue program offers training, staffing and strategy advice to the party’s most viable challengers. Vallejo raised over $2.3 million last cycle, and has already amassed three times as much cash on hand this cycle than at the same point in 2022.

Still, it was no match for the sustained support Republicans gave De La Cruz, who raised over $4.6 million last cycle. Her victory was touted as a model for recruiting GOP support in Latino communities.

De La Cruz has a lot of factors going in her favor. After redistricting, the 15th district includes more rural, conservative areas north of the Rio Grande Valley than prior to the 2022 cycle. The district voted for President Joe Biden in 2020 under old district lines but would have voted for former President Donald Trump by 2.8 points within the new boundaries.

Even within Hidalgo County, the Democratic stronghold that contains the population anchor of McAllen, De La Cruz shrunk her loss considerably relative to her unsuccessful 2020 run against Gonzalez.

“South Texans already rejected Michelle Vallejo because she is a socialist extremist who does not share South Texas values. Congresswoman De La Cruz is a commonsense leader who is fighting to restore the American Dream, secure the border, and protect seniors’ benefits — that’s why she will win again in November,” National Republican Congressional Committee spokesperson Delanie Bomar said in a statement.

Democrats are highlighting Vallejo’s local roots and advocacy for abortion access. Vallejo runs a flea market in Alton with her father and has been vocal in criticizing Senate Bill 8, which banned abortion after six weeks of pregnancy. After the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in 2022, Texas banned abortion altogether through a trigger law, making no exceptions for rape.

“From knowing firsthand how important affordable, quality health care is to understanding the hurdles and hardships small businesses in South Texas face, Michelle is deeply rooted in local issues,” said Rep. Suzan DelBene, D-Washington, who chairs the DCCC, in a statement. “Voters relate to her story and trust her to fight for them — a sharp contrast to MAGA extremist Monica De La Cruz.”

De La Cruz has celebrated legislation limiting abortion and listed abortion restriction as a key tenet in her 2022 campaign. She told The Daily Beast that it remains a major priority in her 2024 election.

Vallejo is a progressive and ran as such in 2022. Her 2024 platform focuses on kitchen-table issues including expanding Medicare, supporting South Texas’ oil and gas industry while investing in renewables and tying the minimum wage to inflation.

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