For the next seven months, a slice of South Texas will be represented in Washington by Mayra Flores, a Mexican-born Republican woman from the Rio Grande Valley — a longtime Democratic region where Flores’ special election win on Tuesday marked several firsts.
Flores sailed to victory in Texas’ 34th District, where former Democratic Rep. Filemon Vela resigned from his seat in March to work for a lobbying firm. In one of the most Latino districts in the country, and one where Democrats have routinely won by comfortable margins for years, Flores garnered 51 percent of the vote, winning the special election without a runoff. The district lines are shifting for the next election in November 2022, but she will hold this seat until January.
Flores immigrated from Tamaulipas, Mexico when she was six years old and grew up in the Rio Grande Valley region. In addition to working as a respiratory care practitioner, Flores served as the Hidalgo County GOP Hispanic Outreach chair to increase and maintain Republican support among Latinos in the area — which has been ramping up in recent years.
Before Flores won her district Tuesday, President Joe Biden carried it by 4 points over Donald Trump in 2020 — a huge shift from the previous presidential elections under these district lines, when Trump in 2016 and Mitt Romney in 2012 were blown out by 20-plus points each.
While Flores grew up seeing most of her immigrant family vote blue, she eventually realized her views on religion, abortion and border security were more in line with the Republican Party. She got involved with her local party five years ago, she told POLITICO.
“For so long, people here just never had Republicans knocking on their doors and calling them the way we did in 2020. The majority of us are women that did it then and are doing it now because we feel it’s our responsibility to keep the American Dream alive,” Flores said in February.
Flores is part of a larger movement of GOP Latinas from South Texas who are building on the party’s recent gains and vying for congressional seats this year, including Monica De La Cruz and Cassy Garcia, who won nominations for two other potential swing districts in the Rio Grande Valley earlier this year.
Flores’ special election became a rallying point for local Republicans eager to make more gains later in 2022. Flores had far outraised her fellow special election candidates, plastering the airwaves with TV and digital advertisements in the month leading up to Tuesday’s vote. Many ads focused on her marriage to a Border Patrol agent and her achievement of “the American Dream.” Others criticized Biden for not controlling the border.
The RNC had also put down a tangible footprint in the area, opening up four engagement centers in heavily Hispanic regions in Texas to connect with community members.
“It’s unprecedented what we’re seeing because prior to 2020 we didn’t have this kind of support at all,” Flores said in February. “I can only imagine how much more we’re going to be able to do with their support.”
While Republicans have made gains in Flores’ region, Democrats still have support there. And in November, Flores will face current Democratic Rep. Vicente Gonzalez of McAllen, in a district drawn to be much more Democratic.
But for now, state Republican leaders including Gov. Greg Abbott and state House Speaker Dade Phelan, who both supported Flores’ campaign, tweeted celebratory remarks at flipping the seat.
“Congresswoman-Elect Mayra Flores and the people of Texas have a message for Joe Biden,” Flores tweeted on Tuesday. “The RED Tsunami is here!”