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The first redistribution maps released this week raise new questions about Texas Republicans’ hopes of overthrowing seats in South Texas.
After President Joe Biden underperformed last year, national and state Republicans embarked on the 2022 election cycle determined to show they can make inroads in the predominantly Hispanic region. Speaking Thursday in Austin, Governor Greg Abbott predicted “a very red future for communities bordering the state of Texas.”
While the proposed maps contain good news for Republicans targeting South Texas, they also introduced a number of uncertainties.
Chief among them is whether U.S. Representative Vicente Gonzalez D-McAllen will stick with a bid for re-election in the 15th District, which he currently represents, or move to the neighboring 34th District, where the US Representative Filemon Vela, D-Brownsville, is retiring. According to the map proposed by Congress, the 15th District of Gonzalez would become more competitive for Republicans, while the 34th Open District would become safer for Democrats.
Gonzalez told the Texas Tribune this week that all options are on the table when it comes to his political future. And in a statement first released by Politico on Friday, Gonzalez said he would “very seriously” consider running in the new 34th arrondissement if those are the final limits. Gonzalez is said to have Vela’s backing, Vela confirmed to the Tribune after first telling Politico.
All maps released this week are initial drafts and subject to change, either before they reach Abbott’s office – or afterwards, as they face an almost guaranteed barrage of legal challenges. But they have already sparked an explosion of speculation among political insiders.
If Gonzalez changes his race, he will meet a Democratic primary in the 34th District who already includes at least one prominent candidate for Rochelle Garza, a former staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas. Besides Gonzalez, another potential Democratic candidate for District 34 is State Representative Alex Dominguez of Brownsville.
Dominguez is “seriously” considering an application for a higher position, including for the 34th arrondissement, according to a spokesperson, Logan Davidson. Davidson said Dominguez is currently focused on redistributing his seat in the State House, but has already hired a team of consultants to help him with anything he might do next.
Gonzalez has been the subject of further national GOP control since he had a surprisingly close race last year, winning his re-election by just 3 percentage points while Biden won the district less than that. Gonzalez’s 2020 Republican challenger Monica De La Cruz-Hernandez is running again with the backing of the House’s top Republican, California Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy.
The current 15th district is one of three in South Texas that the Republican National Congressional Committee said in February it would target this cycle. The other two were the 34th District and the 28th District, currently held by US Representative Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo.
While Biden won each of those districts by 4 points or less, the card proposal only makes the 15th district more competitive for the GOP, at least based on the margins of the last presidential election. The new 15th district would go from one Biden won by 2 points to one where Trump would have won by 3. Meanwhile, the 34th open district would transform from one Biden wore by 4 points to one where he played with a margin. almost four times that. And Cuellar’s 28th district would go from one where Biden also had a 4-point margin of victory to one where he would have had a 7-point margin.
When asked on Friday whether the NRCC still sees the three districts as competitive, a spokesperson did not exactly respond.
“Every Democrat is vulnerable because of their past of utter and utter incompetence which has created a border crisis, skyrocketed the cost of goods and made communities less secure,” spokesman Torunn Sinclair said in a statement.
Best-known Republican candidate for Vela’s seat, Mayra Flores, has no plans to change her race – but is not happy with the proposed bluer district. She traveled to Austin Thursday to testify against the map proposal, telling GOP lawmakers it appears they are “sending the message not to really care about conservative Hispanics in South Texas.”
“We’ve been working really hard in District 34, so I don’t understand why the Republican committee… is pushing us back,” Flores told the Senate redistribution committee. She added that she did not want candidates from both parties to be given the seat and implored lawmakers to revise the proposed district.
GOP committee chair Senator Joan Huffman of Houston praised Flores for her candid testimony, but did not indicate whether a review would take place.
State legislative races
The maps on offer also brought new storylines to the South Texas states’ legislative contests. Some Republicans have openly speculated that the redistribution could force lawmakers in southern Texas Democratic states to change parties, with Land Commissioner George P. Bush saying last month that he “suspected[s] during the redistribution you will see a lot of announcements from conservative democrats coming from our side.
There was no immediate sign of this after the first cards were released this week.
The Senate map features a less blue 27th district for Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr. of Brownsville, a moderate Democrat favored by far-right Senate Speaker Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick. But Lucio, who survived a brutal primary challenge from his left last year, shows no signs of backing down to fight for another term in his current party.
Lucio announced in June that he would seek re-election in his current district, and spokesperson Ruben O’Bell confirmed on Friday that was still the plan, with Lucio running in the Democratic primary in Senate District 27 next year.
Biden’s underperformance in South Texas also rippled through State House Districts, giving Republicans in Austin new pickup opportunities. The Associated Republicans of Texas, the deep-pocketed group aligned with the House GOP leadership, announced in June that it would target six districts in South Texas.
However, only one of those districts has moved significantly in the direction of the GOP according to the proposed map released on Thursday. The district, represented by State Representative Ryan Guillen, D-Rio Grande City, would see a stark shift in favor of Republicans, moving from a district Trump already carried by 13 points to one he allegedly routed by 25.
Guillen’s office did not respond to requests for comment on his 2022 plans.
One of the targeted South Texas Districts – that of State Representative Eddie Morales Jr., D-Eagle Pass – actually turns bluer under the proposed map, but remains competitive. It would go from a district that Trump won by 8 points to one that Biden would have won by 1.
Morales intends to run for office in his current district regardless of the redistribution, according to his office.
“ART remains confident in our strategy and efforts to win seats in 2022,” Group Vice President Aaron De Leon said in a statement.
There is a newly opened seat in South Texas after State Representative Eddie Lucio III D-Brownsville – the state senator’s son – announced Friday morning that he would not be running again. However, this siege looks like a tough climb for Republicans. Biden won by 15 points, and the proposed card gives the neighborhood the same margin as Biden.
Eddie Lucio III said in a statement Friday morning that he hoped to “start this next chapter of my life with a focus on family, friends and business.” His spokesman, Sergio Cavazos, later clarified that the outgoing state representative would not participate in any of the South Texas political music chairs, saying he “did not plan to run for any other elected office. this cycle “.
Abby Livingston contributed reporting.
Disclosure: Politico has financially supported The Texas Tribune, a non-profit, non-partisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial support plays no role in the journalism of the Tribune. Find a full list of them here.