(CN) — Texas Republican Mayra Flores flipped a House seat Tuesday in a special election, making history as the nation’s first Mexico-born congresswoman.
Flores, 36, barely cleared the 50% threshold needed to avoid a runoff over her closest challenger, Democratic attorney Dan Sanchez, in the election for the 34th Congressional District.
The seat opened when Democrat Filemon Vela resigned on March 31 to accept a job offer from the lobbying and law firm Akin Gump.
Flores received 14,780 votes to Sanchez’s 12,560, giving her 50.98% of the total, according to unofficial results from the Texas secretary of state.
Flores’ parents emigrated to the United States from Mexico with her when she was a child. She touted her Christian values and marriage to a Border Patrol agent in campaign ads and was the favorite to win. She reported more $1.1 million in contributions, while Sanchez raised just $146,000.
Typical of special elections, the low turnout was expected in the district, whose population of 719,00 is 85% Hispanic and has a median household income of $42,000, according to U.S. Census data.
The district’s largest city, with 189,000 residents, is Brownsville, at the southern tip of Texas. One of the area’s largest employers is Elon Musk’s SpaceX, which launches rockets at its spaceport 25 miles east of downtown Brownsville along the Gulf of Mexico.
Flores said she is eager to work with Musk, whose primary residence is a small home near the SpaceX site, in a tweet early Wednesday.
“I woke up this morning still feeling surreal from everything that’s happened over the last 24 hours. Earning Elon Musk’s vote was just the icing on the cake and I can’t wait to work with his team! The American Dream is worth fighting for,” she wrote.
Flores’ term will end in January. She also won the Republican primary for the 34th District and will face U.S. Representative Vicente Gonzalez, a McAllen Democrat, in the November general election. Gonzalez currently represents Texas' 15th Congressional District.
But she is considered a long shot to retain the seat, despite national Republicans targeting the area as prime for flipping seats given voters’ traditional strong support for Democratic candidates has waned over the last decade.
While President Joe Biden won the current 34th District by just 4 percentage points in 2020, the newly drawn map that will be used for this year’s general election is much more favorable to Democrats. Within the new boundaries, Biden defeated former President Donald Trump by 15.5 points.
Texas Democratic Party Chairman Gilberto Hinojosa is confident Gonzalez will defeat Flores in November.
“Despite flooding South Texas with over three million dollars in far-right dark money – in a special election called by [Texas Governor Greg Abbott] at a time specifically chosen to give Republicans an overwhelming advantage – Republicans could barely squeak out a win in CD-34. … In January 2023, this seat will rightfully return to Democratic hands,” he said in a statement.
Though majority Democrat, South Texas Hispanics are anything but a monolith. Many regularly attend church and are against abortion.
While some do not endorse the construction of walls at the border to deter immigrants from entering the country without papers, others see walls as aiding Border Patrol agents.
The Border Patrol is part of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the nation’s largest federal law enforcement agency, and the numerous South Texans with relatives who are Border Patrol agents tend to support its efforts to secure the border.
Like Governor Abbott, a fellow Republican, Flores blames the Biden administration for the record-high numbers of immigrant apprehensions at the Southwest border in recent months.
“The liberal policies from Washington are tearing our community apart. As the wife of a Border Patrol agent, I pray for his safety now more than ever,” she said in a campaign ad.
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