Apr 2, 2024 - News

How the Uvalde shooting is influencing a Texas border district race

Photo illustration of Tony Gonzales and Brandon Herrera.

Photo illustration: Axios Visuals. Photos: San Antonio Express-News/Hearst Newspapers, Anna Moneymaker via Getty Images

The GOP primary runoff to represent a Texas border district — which includes Uvalde — has evolved into a fight over gun and immigration politics.

Why it matters: The TX-23 race between incumbent Republican U.S. Rep. Tony Gonzales and Brandon Herrera, a pro-gun rights social media influencer, is a microcosm of the conservative pressures dominating Texas GOP politics today.

  • "I think this is the story of Texas politics in a lot of ways," Joshua Blank, research director of the Texas Politics Project, tells Axios.

Flashback: Following the 2022 mass shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Gonzales bucked his party to support a bipartisan gun safety bill that would have tightened background checks for people under age 21, among other measures.

Yes, but: The Texas Republican Party voted to censure him in response.

  • In turn, Gonzales attracted several primary challengers this year.
  • He received about 45% of the March primary vote, short of the 50% threshold required to avoid a runoff.

The other side: Herrera, who secured about 25% of the primary vote, is a self-described social media personality and "Second Amendment activist."

What they're saying: By voting to support bipartisan gun regulation, Gonzales "created the opening for a primary challenger and the fuel for a runoff election," Blank says.

  • "That is all the warning gun rights advocates need to keep other elected officials in line."

The big picture: Primary voters tend to be more set in their ideological views, and care intensely about one or two issues, Blank says. Their participation gives them a disproportionate say in the election's outcome and influence over policy agendas.

  • "The power of Republican primaries to dictate policy in the state is hard to understate," Blank says of the runoff.

Plus: Recent Republican-led redistricting has made the district more conservative, the Texas Tribune reported.

Reality check: While gun politics are prominent in the runoff, border security remains the top issue for Republicans this year, Blank says.

  • That's especially true in the 23rd District, which covers hundreds of miles of the Texas-Mexico border, from the outskirts of San Antonio to outside of El Paso.

Between the lines: Trump has remained silent on the race so far, after endorsing Gonzales in a 2020 primary runoff.

Campaigns for Gonzales and Herrera did not respond to Axios' interview requests.

  • Herrera has criticized Gonzales' stance on immigration, and he campaigned in San Antonio with Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz, a prominent Trump ally.
  • Gonzales, meanwhile, has doubled down on the border, appearing on Fox News multiple times since the March primary to criticize the Biden administration's immigration policies.

What's next: The winner of the May 28 runoff will face Democrat Santos Limon in November.


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