Texas GOP Set to Flip Historically Democrat Seat 3 Weeks After Uvalde

The Republican Party is hoping to flip a relatively safe South Texas seat from the Democrats on Tuesday in a state where the political divide over gun control in the United States has been highlighted in the wake of the Uvalde mass school shooting.

Texas' 34th Congressional District is currently vacant due to the resignation of Democratic Congressman Filemon Vela, with Tuesday's special election being held to determine who will take over the seat for the remainder of the term.

Currently, the leading candidate is Mayra Flores, who is massively outspending her nearest rivals and has the endorsement of Texas Governor Gregg Abbott.

An RH Elections/Poll Project USA poll released on the eve of the vote found that Flores is the favorite to win Tuesday's election, leading her nearest Democrat challenger, former Cameron County Commissioner Dan Sanchez, by 43 percent to 34 percent, with 13 percent still undecided.

Mayra Flores
Republican Mayra Flores, seen above, is hoping to flip a South Texas House seat in Tuesday's special election. The seat is historically Democratic. Facebook/Mayra Flores For Congress

A previous internal survey by the Ragnar Research Partners for Flores and the National Republican Congressional Committee also revealed the Republican to be the leading candidate by 24 percent to Sanchez's 19 percent, with 41 more percent stating they were undecided.

The potential for the GOP to take over the seat, albeit for potentially just a few months, could add further pressure on the Democrats as they attempt to hold onto their slim majority in the midterms.

The election also has the potential to highlight wider issues in the state of Texas following the mass shooting at Robb Elementary School which left 19 children and two adults dead on May 24.

Abbott, who praised Flores for her "strong conservative values" in his endorsement, was criticized by his gubernatorial challenger Beto O'Rourke for his apparent lack of action to prevent such tragedies from occurring.

The governor has frequently dismissed all calls for gun reform in the U.S. and signed a number of bills in the wake of previous mass shootings in Santa Fe and El Paso that loosened gun laws in the state.

In the wake of the Uvalde tragedy, Flores also did not back calls for gun control, tweeting on the day of the shooting that "every school should have armed guards and metal detectors" in order to prevent such attacks.

In comparison, Sanchez called for a series of changes to gun laws, such as raising the minimum age a person can purchase a firearm to 21 and increasing background checks.

Despite the relatively low-stake election, it could be significant for the remaining Texas elections, especially for Abbott and O'Rourke, if a pro-Gun Republican is able to flip a congressional seat just weeks after the Uvalde school shooting.

However, it does not seem that the Democrats are too concerned about losing the seat in the special election, appearing to believe the vote that matters will occur in November's midterms.

Even if Flores does win the vacated 34th seat as expected, the district with a D+5 political lean will essentially disappear under a newly redrawn map which will end up massively favoring the Democrats come November.

According to FiveThirtyEight, the new boundaries that Flores could end up challenging will have a partisan lean of D+17 in the midterms.

Representative Vicente Gonzalez, who currently represents the 15th Congressional District, will be the Democratic nominee in November after winning the primary for the redrawn district with more than 64 percent of the vote.

However, Gonzalez is not opting to run in the special election and appears willing to allow Flores to hold the seat for just a few months. In November, Flores will also be facing a tougher test against Gonzalez, who has won his previous three midterm elections.

"A Democrat will represent TX-34 in January," Monica Robinson, a spokesperson for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, told The Texas Tribune. "If Republicans spend money on a seat that is out of their reach in November, great."

Newsweek reached out to Flores for comment.