ANALYSIS — While it’s wise not to overreact to special election outcomes, don’t dismiss Republican Mayra Flores’ special election victory in Texas' 34th District.
There are some reasons to qualify Tuesday’s outcome, including the fact that Republicans outspent Democrats by a sizable margin, and the seat is going to be different (and more Democratic) in the November election because of redistricting.
But that doesn’t tell the whole story.
On the most basic level, Flores flipped a seat previously held by a Democrat (Rep. Filemon Vela) that Joe Biden won in 2020. (He did it by 4 points.) Her victory changes the math for Republicans trying to win back the House. Now, the GOP needs a net gain of four seats, instead of a net gain of five seats, for a majority in November.
Flores’ victory also pulls a seat that Democrats were supposed to win without too much difficulty onto the list of competitive races. The newly drawn 34th District was rated Solid Democratic before the special election (in part because Biden would have won it by 16 points) but is now rated Likely Democratic. Flores has an uphill climb against Democratic Rep. Vicente Gonzalez — who will run in the 34th rather than the 15th, which he currently represents — but she’ll enjoy some momentum and advantages of incumbency, including fundraising and gaining significant national attention after her special election victory.
The special election result should not be a complete surprise. Inside Elections had Tuesday’s race rated as a Toss-up, and the potential fallout was foreseeable.
“A win by Republicans here — even if the seat flips back in a few months — would be a thunderclap across the United States,” wrote Jacob Rubashkin in the May 6 issue of Inside Elections. He noted it would be “a sure sign that the gains Republicans made among Hispanic voters in 2020 are more durable and less Trump-specific than Democrats had hoped.”
“And even if she is only in Congress for a short time, Flores is primed to be a breakout GOP star at a time when the party is working to move past its white and male image,” Rubashkin continued. “It may not matter to the cold math of majority-making, but Democrats need to reset the increasingly dire narrative heading into the fall. A Flores win would have the opposite effect.”
Even if someone wants to diminish Flores’ victory, it’s just another piece of evidence that we’re headed for a typical midterm election in which the president’s party is punished by voters.
Nathan L. Gonzales is an elections analyst with CQ Roll Call.