Republican Tony Gonzales, a former Navy cryptologist and professor at the University of Maryland, has claimed victory in a tight race to fill the vacancy left by Rep. Will Hurd in Texas’s 23rd Congressional District, dashing Democrats’ hopes of picking up the seat.
The San Antonio native had received an endorsement from President Donald Trump and was part of the National Republican Campaign Committee’s “Young Guns” program, which aims to recruit and support candidates in battleground districts.
His opponent, Gina Ortiz Jones, a former Air Force intelligence officer, had similar backing from the national Democratic party. She was among the first round of congressional candidates added to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s “Red to Blue” program, which aims to support Democratic candidates trying to flip GOP-held districts and gives them an edge in fundraising. She had also snagged endorsements from former President Barack Obama and former Vice President Joe Biden.
Gonzales had sought to make the race about defending Texans from the influence of coastal liberals and defending conservative values, including his anti-abortion stance. At one point, he even ran an ad falsely claiming that Ortiz Jones lived in Washington, DC.
“When I talk about the American dream, when I talk about fighting for the American dream — I am the American dream,” Gonzales told the Texas Tribune in October. “So this district represents me, represents my values, and I represent them and their values.”
The 23rd District, which is vast and stretches from San Antonio to the US-Mexico border, has been competitive in recent elections. Ortiz Jones previously ran for the seat in 2018, narrowly losing to Hurd, who has often spoken out against Trump’s rhetoric and is retiring this year. But it was also one of five districts represented by Republicans in Congress that backed Hillary Clinton in 2016, and it went to former Democratic Congress member Beto O’Rourke in his ultimately failed 2018 bid for the Senate.
Much like other Democrats, Ortiz Jones made preserving the Affordable Care Act amid the pandemic a pillar of her campaign. She sought to contrast herself with Gonzales, who has called the health care law “broken” and supported Republican efforts to repeal and replace it while saying he would preserve protections for preexisting conditions. He told the Texas Tribune that he can empathize because he has a preexisting condition: He sustained brain trauma and kidney failure due to a botched intubation during a routine procedure.
“In the most uninsured state in the country, Texas’s 23rd Congressional District is one of the most medically underserved parts of the state. And I think it’s so critical that we protect and expand the ACA and ensure that we have a public option so that, you know, people will have access to quality affordable health care, even if they’ve lost their job,” Jones told Texas Public Radio during an October 25 candidate forum.
Democrats made a late-stage play for Texas, with the Biden campaign, the national party, and outside donors sinking millions into the state in the final weeks of the campaign. But Ortiz Jones’s loss suggests that those efforts aren’t paying dividends down the ballot.