Texas' Tony Gonzales tries to fight YouTube personality in 'anything can happen' runoff election

The Republican Party of Texas gathered in San Antonio this weekend for its annual convention, but the GOP Representative Tony Gonzaleswho represents and lives in part of San Antonio, was ambivalent about participating.

That's not entirely surprising: One of the speakers was Rep. Matt Gaetz, who endorsed Gonzales' opponent, Brandon Herrera, in Tuesday's Republican Party primary in the 23rd District. The Republican Party of Texas condemned Gonzales last year for voting in favor gun control legislation supported by the Biden White Houseintroduced in the wake of the 2022 Uvalde school shooting killing 19 students and two teachers. Uvalde is also located in the 23rd arrondissement.

Gonzales had four Republican opponents in the March primary, which stretched 800 miles from San Antonio along the U.S.-Mexico border to El Paso. Gonzales failed to secure 50% of the vote, forcing him into a runoff with Herrera, the second-highest vote-getter. The winner of the second round will face Democrat Santos Limon in November.

Herrera won just 24% of the vote in the March primary, but the runoff gave Gonzales a headache. Because the election takes place so long after the primaries and there are no major elections, turnout is likely to be low.

'If these were high-turnout elections, [Gonzales] That would be a lock,” said Mark Jones, a professor of political science at Rice University. In low-turnout elections, “anything can happen,” he said, because the most fervent voters are the ones who go to the polls. Jones said: The candidate must “mobilize a handful of the most die-hard supporters” to win.

That could pose a challenge for Gonzales, who has positioned himself as the pragmatic choice, compared to Herrera, a 28-year-old YouTube celebrity known as “The AK Guy,” who has consistently attacked Gonzales for his vote on gun legislation .

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Brandon Herrera, Tony Gonzales

“What we're seeing in Congressional District 23 is the story we're seeing everywhere in Texas politics,” said Joshua Blank of the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas, Austin, “and that is that an incumbent, usually a Republican lawmaker , a position that is not 100% in line with the most conservative voters in their district.”

This “creates the conditions for a primary challenger to try to dethrone that member,” Blank said. He suggested the vote in Uvalde had exactly this effect: “You can't separate what's going on there from the fact that a YouTube personality with extreme gun rights is now running against him.”

Since the March primary, Gonzales has received support from Republican Party figures, including House Speaker Mike Johnson, Texas Governor Greg Abbott and Lt. Governor Dan Patrick. In addition to Gaetz, Herrera is supported by other members of the House Freedom Caucus.

In response to these expressions of support, Gonzales said on CNN in March that he serves “with some real assholes” and told CBS News in a recent interview that these lawmakers and his opponent are not “serious people.”

“There is a bigger battle happening outside of this race, and what will the future of the Republican Party look like?” Gonzales said. “Will it be conservatives like me who govern, or will it be these bomb-throwers who want to come here and burn the place down?”

Herrera's far-right campaign and alliance with Gaetz and the Freedom Caucus appear to align him with former President Donald Trump, but Trump has not endorsed the race and has said little about it. However, on his YouTube radio show, Herrera has joked about Trump's son Barron Trump and said Trump couldn't win the general election.

Gonzales has tried to position himself as a “MAGA” candidate, and he has supported Trump's presidential campaign.

Given his support from establishment Republicans, Gonzales has significantly outpaced Herrera in the race. Gonzales has raised $3.4 million through May 8, compared to $367,000 for Herrera during the same period.

Gonzales has attacked Herrera for only moving to the district in recent years, while Herrera has taken aim at Gonzales' 2022 vote for the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, which included a provision for the gun purchase loophole. This is the first time since the 1990s that any form of gun control legislation has been passed by Congress. Gonzales was one of fourteen Republicans who voted in favor of the bill.

In a recent interview with CBS News, Gonzales defended his vote, saying he “worked very hard” to ensure the legislation “protected the Constitution, but also fixed some of the problems.”

“What it has done is increase background checks for minors, and I think that's a positive thing,” Gonzales said.

Gonzales shared: “Face the NationOn Sunday, he said he “knew” when he voted for the 2022 bill that it would hurt him politically, but insisted he was “not afraid of that vote.”

Although the district includes much of the U.S.-Mexico border area, immigration has not been as controversial an issue as gun control. Professor Jon Taylor, a political science professor at the University of Texas at San Antonio, noted that Gonzales had once tried to position himself as more pragmatic on the border but has since moved further to the right, much closer to Herrera on the issue.

Gonzales was first elected in 2020 after Republican Rep. Will Hurd decided not to run for re-election. In 2018, Hurd defeated Democrat Gina Ortiz Jones by just 1,000 votes. The 23rd District was once considered the “only swing district in Texas,” Blank says, but redistricting after the 2020 election made it significantly redder, allowing an extremist candidate like Herrera to win more votes.

If Herrera wins the primary, Blank says it is an “open question whether Herrera is an electable candidate in the general election — even in a district that favors Republicans.”

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