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South Texas is returning to the polls on Tuesday for a special election to replace a Democratic House member who resigned earlier this year, setting up a surprisingly expensive race to fill out the remaining months of his term.
Former Democratic Rep. Filemon Vela’s decision to leave office at the end of March to take a job at a lobbying firm created a scramble for control of the current 34th Congressional District. The seat, which ranges from east of San Antonio down to Brownsville, largely along the Gulf Coast before reaching the US-Mexico border, has been vacant for more than two months and will effectively disappear in the fall, when a redrawn district more friendly to the Democratic nominee, Rep. Vicente Gonzalez, who currently represents the 15th Congressional District, comes up for grabs again.
Gonzalez will not be on the ballot this time around. Instead, Democrat Dan Sanchez, the former Cameron County commissioner, is vying for a brief stay on Capitol Hill. His competition — and Gonzalez’s in November — is Republican Mayra Flores. Despite the seemingly low stakes, Republicans have spent big on the race in a bid to cut into the Democratic majority, make a show of strength in the region and provide Flores with some momentum heading into the general election.
Further complicating matters, Flores and Sanchez are not the only two running in the special election. Democrat Rene Coronado and Republican Juana Cantu-Cabrera are also on the ballot, meaning the contest could go to a runoff if none of the candidates win a majority of the votes.
President Biden won the district as it is currently drawn by less than 5 percentage points. After redistricting goes into effect, though, Democrats will face a more advantageous electorate. Given that, national Democrats have mostly steered clear of the special election. Flores has overwhelmingly outraised Sanchez and had, according to a finance report from the end of May, outspent him by a more than 20-to-1 margin.
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the party’s House election arm, only dipped into the race earlier this month, when it spent $100,000 on digital ads in the region.
“A Democrat will represent TX-34 in January. If Republicans spend money on a seat that is out of their reach in November, great,” DCCC spokesperson Monica Robinson told CNN, calling Flores “a far-right, MAGA extremist who is completely out of touch with South Texans, so the DCCC is focused on winning seats in November and we are committed to ensuring Hispanic voters get the representation they deserve when Vicente Gonzalez is elected to a full term this fall.”
Though the party remains confident of its position in the fall, Gonzalez has expressed some concern over Tuesday’s contest, telling Politico earlier this month that it would “be a tragedy” if the seat — in the increasingly competitive border region — turns red. Gonzalez did not return a request for comment from CNN.
Despite the flood of cash backing Flores, Sanchez campaign manager Collin Steele, who previously held the same position for Gonzalez, says Sanchez’s history in the district will ultimately be more valuable than GOP spending on the race.
Read the full report here.