In all likelihood you have no idea who Mayra Flores is. It’s understandable. Few people outside of South Texas politics have heard of her. I confess that I hadn’t until this week. Last Tuesday, she defeated the Democrat candidate 51-43% in a special election to fill the remaining six months of the vacancy created by the resignation of the Democrat incumbent, Filemon Vela, Jr. It was an historic win. She will have to defend the seat in November as part of the general election.
So, one might say, what’s the big deal. It’s only a short-term victory, and the Dems could very well win back the seat in November as due to redistricting the redrawn district will be “bluer” than the current one. However, I contend that the victory is VERY significant. Read on, and I will explain why.
But, first , a little background about Mayra Flores. Flores was born in 1985 in Mexico. Her parents were poor migrant farmworkers. The family emigrated to America when Mayra was six. Mayra became a citizen in 1999 at the age of 14. Like most Hispanics, the Flores’ habitually voted Democrat, but they believed in conservative values, which they imparted to their daughter. Mayra graduated from South Texas College in 2019. She worked for a bit in the healthcare industry, but her real passion was politics. She took a job in the office of the Hidalgo County Republican Party where she was responsible for outreach to the Hispanic community. She is married to a US Border Patrol agent, and they have four children. She is very much tied into the Hispanic Community in her district.
Like many Hispanics she became disillusioned with the Dem Party. She felt the Dem politicians were taking Hispanics for granted and were not doing enough to help them. So, when Vela resigned his seat she quickly filed to run in the special election. She focused her campaign on the issues that most concern Hispanics – family, border security/immigration, inflation and the economy.
The congressional district in question encompasses the area south and east of San Antonio down to the Mexican border. Historically, it has been heavily Democrat (as has most of the region). For example, both Obama and Hillary Clinton had won the district by double digits. But, Biden only carried it by 4 points in 2020. This had shocked local politicians. The district, along with other ones in Texas, Arizona and California that are heavily Hispanic, is on the GOP’s list of vulnerable seats it hopes to “flip” in November.
According to the Texas Tribune the victory established Flores as the first Mexican-born woman to serve in Congress. Furthermore, she accomplished this feat as a Republican in a perennially heavily Democrat district. This will likely have a significant impact on the political landscape not only of South Texas, but also the entire State of Texas and perhaps the country as a whole. It signals loudly and clearly that Dems can no longer take the support of Hispanics for granted.
According to Politico GOP politicians feel the Dems misread the electorate badly. According to a GOP- ordered poll conducted by Meeting Street Insights last month the most important issues for voters in the district were border security, immigration and inflation. GOP Rep Tom Emmer, who is the head of the GOP House campaign effort told the Politico reporter “our [candidates] were talking about inflation and the economy and crime and the border. [They were talking about] January 6.”
Flores’ victory is widely seen by many political observers as a portent of what could happen in November. GOPers are “giddy” over the prospects, particularly with respect to Hispanic voters. On the other hand, the very next day members of the Democrat Congressional Campaign Committee were besieged by Dem reps who now realize the extent of their vulnerability. For example, Rep Vincente Gonzalez, who will face Flores in November, lamented “they [the Dem Party] ha[s] just forgotten about the brown people on the border. … They are taking Latinos in South Texas for granted.” Other Dem Reps, such as Sylvia Garcia, Veronica Escobar, Henry Cuellar and Joaquin Castro, who also represent heavily Hispanic districts, expressed grave concern and demanded a meeting to discuss strategy. Cuellar hit the nail on the head saying “the DCCC needs to sit down and look at South Texas seriously. …. You can’t take Hispanics for granted [anymore], which they always do.” Escobar fumed “there is no logical reason why we should be losing any of these seats.” Garcia predicted the meeting will be a “hard talk.” Reading between the lines, I would characterize those reps as “scared sh**less.”
The Dems are “putting on a brave face.” They are spinning Flores’ victory as largely symbolic. Most of them believe Gonzalez will win back the seat in November. For instance DCCC head Sean Patrick Maloney denotes that Flores’ district is being redrawn into an even “bluer” district, and she will probably lose it in November. “The Republicans spent millions of dollars to win a seat that’s going away. We’re going to win [it] when it matters.” He may be right. Maybe Flores’ win is the “wakeup call the Dems need. Time will tell. Personally, I don’t think so. I think many of them, particularly those up for re-election, are close to panic. Ultimately, some may squeak by based on the demographic make-up of their district; others will likely lose.
Meanwhile, the GOPers are calling it a portent of the general election in November. Senator Ted Cruz characterized it as a “seismic shift.” Others have denoted that it is the continuation of a trend that began with Donald Trump’s election in 2016.
In my view, Flores’ win provides real evidence that voters are dissatisfied with Biden and the Dem Party. I see it as a continuation and reaffirmation of the various polls we have seen over the last several months. Polls may be subjective, theoretical and open to interpretation and “spin,” but an actual election is a real, irrefutable result. Dems would be advised not to dismiss Flores’ victory as a “fluke” or as a product of Dem overconfidence or the GOP “pulling out all the stops.” Rather they should view it as a legitimate warning shot, a portent. They ignore it at their own risk.