‘Red Wave’ Makes Modest Splash in South Texas

In deep South Texas, where Republicans have spent two years foretelling a red tsunami, Tuesday night’s results brought something less imposing. A weak wave? A robust ripple? We’ll leave it to the oceanographers to decide.

Out of three key congressional races, the GOP notched one victory—in the district where they concentrated their gerrymandering energies back in 2021, creating a seat that Trump would have carried by 3 points the year prior. On Tuesday, second-time GOP hopeful Monica De La Cruz defeated Democrat Michelle Vallejo by 9 points in the race to represent the McAllen-based Congressional District 15. De La Cruz kept a laserlike focus on border security in her campaign and significantly outraised her opponent. Vallejo, a progressive who was backed by U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders, was given short shrift by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee in the election’s final days. Far South Texas has long been one-party Democratic territory: De La Cruz will now likely be the second Republican to represent Texas’ Rio Grande Valley since Reconstruction.

“If there was ever any doubt, let it be known tonight—from the land of Juan Seguín, Selena Quintanilla, and the World Series champions Houston Astros—that El Sueño Americano is alive and well in South Texas,” said De La Cruz in a victory statement. “I will fight for all South Texans—be they black, white, Latino, or Asian; Republicans or Democrats; gay or straight.”

“The RED WAVE did not happen. Republicans and Independents stayed home.”

In the neighboring 34th Congressional District, rooted in Brownsville, Congress member Vicente Gonzalez—who abandoned the 15th after the GOP’s gerrymander—comfortably bested Republican Congress member Mayra Flores, who is serving out the brief term she won in a June special election. Flores had raised $4 million through late October. And over in the Laredo-based 28th district, incumbent Democrat Henry Cuellar cruised to a 13-point victory over GOP challenger and ex-Ted Cruz staffer Cassy Garcia. Both seats were reaches for the GOP—Biden would have won both in 2020—but Republicans nevertheless poured in money and energy as part of their South Texas offensive meant to capitalize on gains made by Trump in the region.

“The RED WAVE did not happen. Republicans and Independents stayed home. DO NOT COMPLAIN ABOUT THE RESULTS IF YOU DID NOT DO YOUR PART!” wrote Flores in a bitter Tuesday night tweet, while Cuellar’s campaign account posted a stream of gloating (and well-aged) GIFs.

Further down-ballot, Democrat Morgan LaMantia appears to have barely won her race for the Brownsville-based state Senate District 27, formerly held by conservative Democrat Eddie Lucio Jr. Nearby, Republicans have picked up state House District 37, which had no incumbent and had been redrawn to be a toss-up seat. The GOP poured far more money into HD-37 than the Democrats and will now send Janie Lopez, a San Benito School Board member, to Austin. “SEAT FLIPPED!” crowed the radically anti-abortion group Texas Right to Life.

In his unsuccessful gubernatorial bid Tuesday, Democrat Beto O’Rourke carried Hidalgo County (McAllen) by 18 points, Cameron County (Brownsville) by 10, and Webb County (Laredo) by 24. In all three cases, those margins are very similar to Biden’s in 2020, but much worse than O’Rourke’s in 2018. Turnout in all three was down from both prior elections. 

Over in 14,000-person Zapata County—the focus of national attention after swinging for Trump in 2020—results stayed red at the top of the ballot Tuesday. Abbott won Zapata by 7 points—though Dems won the other statewide races and Cuellar carried the county by a whopping 47 points.

Democrats certainly have cause for concern in far South Texas. The days of O’Rourke’s resounding wins there and of near-frictionless one-party control feel quite distant now. But on election day, Republicans largely plucked the region’s low-hanging fruit and little else. Time will tell whether the GOP continues investing in the region with efforts like community centers and whether Dems will ever truly prioritize a place they typically take for granted. 

For now, though, we can take a breath knowing the possible red tsunami was but a small surge. Or, a baby breaker. Or … dammit, someone call the oceanographer.

 

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