Can Mayra Flores win back the congressional seat she lost in November?

Mayra Flores became the first Mexican-born woman elected to Congress when she won a special election for District 34 last year.

By Sean SaldanaJuly 12, 2023 3:36 pm,

Former U.S. Congresswoman Mayra Flores appeared on “Fox & Friends” on Tuesday to launch her campaign for South Texas’ 34th Congressional District.

Flores won the seat in a special election last summer, becoming the first Mexican-born woman to serve in Congress, but lost it just a few months later in the midterms. Her initial win and her status as a Republican Latina in South Texas has brought her national attention, but will she be able to win the seat back?

Mark Jones, a political science professor and fellow at the Baker Institute for Public Policy at Rice University, joined the Texas Standard to talk about Flores’ candidacy.

This transcript has been edited lightly for clarity:

Texas Standard: Flores’ special election win last summer was a big part of the “red wave” narrative going into the midterms last fall, which never really materialized. How did Mayra Flores’ eventual loss affect that narrative, as you saw?

Mark Jones: Well, from the glass-half-full perspective, she outperformed the average Republican in the 34th District, losing by only 8 1/2 points, whereas the normal Republican loses in that district by 14 points. However, she still lost and is a long shot going into the 2024 election cycle.

Mayra Flores campaigned heavily last summer on this idea that Hispanic voters in South Texas have become disillusioned with the Democratic Party. Is this the sort of messaging that we are going to be seeing more of in this upcoming election cycle? Or was there something unique about her style or mode of campaigning? 

No, what she’s going to try to point out is that while South Texas Democrats and South Texas Latinos tend to be relatively centrist, the National Democratic Party is moving increasingly to the left, creating an opportunity for more moderate Republicans to fill in the gap, such as Monica De La Cruz in the neighboring 15th District, which runs from McAllen up to the San Antonio suburbs – and she was victorious last cycle.

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I have to ask about one of Flores’s big campaign talking points last year: the Biden administration’s handling of the border. Is that a winning issue for Republicans in South Texas?

It’s a winning issue if the focus is on the chaos created by large convoys of migrants and the problems faced by Border Patrol agents, and a Democratic narrative that is increasingly negative towards law enforcement given the high concentration of law enforcement in the area.

If, however, it starts to turn into something that’s seen as racist or anti-immigrant or anti-Latino, then it starts to hurt Republicans. Now, clearly, Flores, being born in neighboring Tamaulipas, is somewhat insulated from attacks that she’s anti-Latino or anti-immigrant. But that’s where Republicans tend to get into trouble on that narrative and rhetoric: when it goes from being about securing the border and having order and respecting the rule of law to being seen as racist or anti-immigrant.

I want to ask about something in particular that has to do with District 34 itself. There have been some political analysts, including those at FiveThirtyEight, who said that this is difficult for Flores because it was specifically redrawn to favor Democrats. If Flores has already lost that seat, what are the odds that she’s going to be able to win against a Democratic incumbent, given that dynamic?

Well, they’re low. As they mentioned, the redistricting, they strengthened District 15 and made it more Republican, but in doing so, made District 34 more Democrat. I think there are three reasons why Republicans are supporting her and from the national level: First, they want to have a top-tier candidate in place in case there’s a red wave, so that extra vote that she adds, boosting the Republican vote by 5% or 6% could carry over the top if there’s a wave.

The second is, it’s chess. There are about 70 competitive districts out of 435 across the country. If Republicans spend money on Flores, they’re going to just force Democrats to spend money backing Vicente Gonzalez.

And point number three is that the Republican Party has traditionally had a problem with diversity. And by supporting and backing the Flores candidacy, they show that they not only talk the talk, but they walk the walk, putting their money behind a strong Latina candidate in District 34.

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