By BETHANY BLANKLEY
THE CENTER SQUARE CONTRIBUTOR
(The Center Squarer) – Voters will head to the polls on Tuesday in a special election for Texas’ new 34th congressional district in the Rio Grande Valley, where illegal immigration is front and center.
Longtime Rio Grande Valley Democratic Rep. Filemon Vela Jr., resigned earlier this year, leaving the 34th district seat open.
The special election will decide who represents the district for the remainder of Vela’s term, which ends in January. November’s regular election will determine who serves the district beginning in January for the next two years.
Early voting, which began May 31, ends Friday.
In a race where two Republicans and two Democrats are running, Mayra Flores, the favored Republican candidate, is hoping to win outright, avoid a runoff election and be the incumbent to beat in November.
Ms. Flores, the current GOP nominee for the seat in the November general election, is the Hidalgo County GOP Hispanic Outreach Chair and wife of a U.S. Border Patrol agent. Juana “Janie” Cantu-Cabrera, a nurse whom Ms. Flores beat in the March primary, is also running in the special election.
Democrats Dan Sanchez, a Harlingen attorney, and Rene Coronado, a city civil service director from Harlingen, are running for the seat.
Ms. Flores has outraised Mr. Sanchez by 16 to 1.
Republicans have poured money into Ms. Flores’ race, including $1 million recently for television ads that describe what the candidate calls the chaos created by the Biden administration’s open border policies. Mr. Sanchez’s campaign and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee spent $100,000 on digital ad buys starting this past Saturday, his campaign said.
Mr. Sanchez is hoping to win in the historically Democratic district. At a recent campaign rally in Harlingen, he said, “We’re gonna win this June 14 without a runoff. We’re gonna show those Republicans that money doesn’t buy elections in South Texas.”
Mr. Sanchez has also attempted to distance himself from far-left Democrats who’ve ran in other races and lost, describing himself as a “conservative Democrat” and “pro-life Catholic.”
In District 28, far-left Democratic candidate Jessica Cisneros lost to incumbent Rep. Henry Cuellar of Laredo, the only pro-life Democrat in the Texas congressional delegation. Ms. Cisneros aggressively criticized Rep. Cuellar for being pro-life, being committed to border security and supporting oil and gas jobs. She lost. While she’s demanded a recount, it isn’t expected to change the outcome.
District 34 consists of all or parts of Bee, Cameron, DeWitt, Goliad, Gonzales, Hidalgo, Jim Wells, Kenedy, Kleberg, San Patricio, and Willacy counties. Cameron County is the southernmost county located at the tip of Texas in the Rio Grande Valley, where illegal immigration has surged since President Joe Biden took office. Both sides of the border are controlled by the Gulf Cartel, which facilitates the transport of illegal immigrants and a steady flow of illicit drugs, border agents say.
All counties in the 34th district remain under one of Gov. Greg Abbott’s disaster declarations, either related to the coronavirus, illegal immigration, or because they are in a potential disaster zone. Because of these circumstances, district residents “need to have full and effective representation in Congress as soon as possible,” the governor said in a proclamation setting the date for the special election.
Due to redistricting, the 34th District was previously the 15th District represented by incumbent Rep. Vicente Gonzalez. While he isn’t running in the special election and endorsed Mr. Sanchez, Mr. Gonzalez is running for the seat and for reelection in November.
If no one wins 50% of the vote June 14, a runoff election would likely be held in August, the governor’s proclamation states.
Some of the most competitive races this November are at the southern border, Congressional Districts 15, 28 and 34, which Republicans are hoping to flip red.