Gov. Greg Abbott endorses U.S. Rep. Tony Gonzales amid primary runoff attacks that he’s a RINO

U.S. Rep. Tony Gonzales, R-San Antonio, gives an interview in his office at Rayburn House Office Building in Washington, D.C. on April 28, 2023. Gonzales is a member of the House Appropriations Committees. (Eric Lee For The Texas Tribune, Eric Lee For The Texas Tribune)

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Gov. Greg Abbott on Wednesday endorsed beleaguered Republican U.S. Rep. Tony Gonzales in his primary runoff, which could help the congressman fend off attacks from the right that he is insufficiently conservative.

Abbott praised Gonzales, who is seeking a third term, for fighting for border security measures in Congress.

“He represents more than two-thirds of the Texas-Mexico border and knows the dangerous consequences that President Joe Biden’s reckless open border policies have on our state—and our nation,” Abbott said in a statement. “I know Tony will continue the fight in our nation's capital to designate Mexican drug cartels as terrorists, re-instate the Remain in Mexico policies, and deport people who illegally enter our country.”

Gonzales, 43, faces Brandon Herrera in the May primary runoff election for District 23, a massive expanse of rural West Texas from El Paso to the outskirts of San Antonio.

[Gun rights YouTuber Brandon Herrera gains momentum in race against U.S. Rep. Tony Gonzales]

Herrera, a 28-year-old gun rights YouTuber, prevented Gonzales from securing the majority of votes needed to win the primary outright in March by securing 25% of ballots in the four-way race. With more than 3 million subscribers on his YouTube channel, Herrera has made a name for himself by selling reassembled military grade weapons and reminding voters than Gonzales was the only Texas House Republican to vote in favor of gun safety legislation that passed in the wake of the Uvalde elementary school shooting (Uvalde is within the district).

Gonzales is one of the most centrist members of the Republican party, a dangerous place for any incumbent to be in a primary, where voters tend to be more partisan than those in general elections. The executive committee of the Texas Republican Party issued a rare censure of Gonzales last year over his vote on the gun bill and a second vote cast codifying same-sex marriage protections. Gonzales was also the lone member of his party to vote against the House rules package in January put forth by then-Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s leadership team, which rankled his Republican colleagues.

Over his three years in Washington, Gonzales has rarely shied away from criticizing other Republicans if he feels they deserve it. Just this week, he derided far-right members of the party as “scumbags” and “klansmen” for voting against foreign aid packages to U.S. allies. So far at least three members of the U.S. House Freedom Caucus have backed Herrera, and U.S. Rep. Chip Roy, R-Austin, Freedom Caucus policy chair, has been increasingly critical of Gonzales while stopping short of endorsing in the race.

Polling released in February by the Hobby School of Public Affairs at the University of Houston ahead found that Abbott’s endorsement was the second-most-influential in Texas state House races after that of former President Donald Trump, with 64% of respondents stating they’d be more likely to back a candidate supported by the governor.

Abbott’s commendation of Gonzales’s work on border security also makes strategic sense: it is consistently the most important issue cited by Republican primary voters.

The key endorsement comes a day after U.S. House Speaker Mike Johnson, another powerful ally, was in San Antonio for a fundraiser supporting Gonzales.

Disclosure: University of Houston 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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