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Republican Gonzales edges out gun rights celebrity in Texas run-off

Published 05/28/2024, 06:04 AM
Updated 05/29/2024, 01:45 AM
© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Co-Chairmen U.S. Representative Tony Gonzales (R-TX) and Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL) lead a news conference with members of the House Hispanic Conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S. February 1, 2023.  REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst/File Phot

By David Morgan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -Republican U.S. Representative Tony Gonzales barely survived a far-right primary challenge on Tuesday from a YouTube gun rights celebrity backed by hardline conservatives who oppose Gonzales over the U.S.-Mexico border, gun safety and same-sex marriage.

Gonzales defeated Brandon Herrera by a mere 407 votes in a run-off for Texas's 23rd congressional district seat, according to the Associated Press. That gave the incumbent a 50.7% to 49.3% edge over Herrera, with more than 95% of votes counted, a margin small enough to meet the state requirement for a recount.

"The future of America remains as bright as ever. Thank you #TX23 for continuing to place your faith in me," Gonzales said on social media.

Herrera, known as "The AK Guy" because of his enthusiasm for assault rifles, had no immediate comment on the outcome.

Unless the results change through a recount, Gonzales will face Democrat Santos Limon in the Nov. 5 election for a House of Representatives seat seen as solidly Republican by independent political analysts.

Gonzales was forced into the run-off after failing to win outright in the state's March primary elections.

House Republican hardliners, including Representative Matt Gaetz and House Freedom Caucus Chairman Bob Good, backed Herrera in hopes of punishing Gonzales and adding to their ultraconservative faction in Congress.

With a district that runs from San Antonio to El Paso, Gonzales had angered conservatives at home and in Washington by supporting bipartisan gun safety legislation after a 2022 school shooting in his district that left 22 people, including 19 students, dead at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas.

He also drew hardline criticism for backing legislation recognizing same-sex and interracial marriages and for supporting U.S. aid to Ukraine.

Republicans hold a narrow 217-213 majority in the House, allowing even small numbers of party hardliners to cause headaches for Speaker Mike Johnson. Control of both chambers of Congress, as well as the White House, will be up for grabs in November's election.

Gonzales, a two-term congressman, positioned himself as a pragmatic Republican intent on building bridges. He proved to be a successful fundraiser, collecting nearly $4.5 million for his reelection campaign. He had more than $900,000 in cash on hand as of May 8, according to Federal Election Commission records.

Herrera, who has a 3.4 million-viewer YouTube channel, has referred to Gonzales as "Turncoat Tony." He raised just under $1.4 million for his campaign and had $147,000 in cash on hand as of May 8.

Gonzales showed no sign of being intimidated by his opponent, his backers or a 2023 censure by the Republican Party of Texas.

"It's my absolute honor to be in Congress. But I serve with some real scumbags," Gonzales told CNN last month.

In another Texas run-off, Republican Jay Furman won the party nomination to face Democratic U.S. Representative Henry Cuellar in the November general election.

Furman, a military veteran, led fellow Republican and Texas rancher Lazaro Garza by 65.3% to 34.7%, with more than 95% of the vote counted.

© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Co-Chairmen U.S. Representative Tony Gonzales (R-TX) and Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL) lead a news conference with members of the House Hispanic Conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S. February 1, 2023.  REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst/File Photo

Cuellar and his wife were indicted on federal charges accusing them of accepting bribes meant to benefit an Azerbaijani state-owned energy company and a bank based in Mexico. They have denied wrongdoing.

Cuellar ran unopposed in the Democratic primary, and the district had not been considered a top target for Republicans. But the court case could play a role in the November election.

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