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Tony Gonzales
Rep. Tony Gonzales speaks at a news conference on the steps of the Capitol. Andrew Harnik/AP

Uvalde Congressman Ekes Out Victory in Gun-Obsessed Texas Primary

Rep. Tony Gonzales survived a brutal GOP primary — barely.

In one of the costliest primaries in the country, in Texas’ largest and perhaps most competitive congressional district, Rep. Tony Gonzales just barely fended off YouTuber and guns rights activist Brandon Herrera in the GOP runoff Tuesday.

As the early votes rolled in, it looked like Gonzales might cruise to an easy victory. But as the Election Day ballots were tallied, it became clear this race would be incredibly tight. With 95% of the vote in, Herrera was winning the Election Day ballots by more than 10 points, 56% to 44%. But Gonzales’ early vote totals staved off the upset victory.

While Gonzales claimed victory around 10 p.m. Central, the race tightened as the night went on. With almost all the votes counted — and about a 400-vote difference between Gonzales and Herrera — the Associated Press called the race for Gonzales just after midnight in Texas. The election appeared close enough, however, that Herrera could call for a recount.

It was the first primary since Gonzales broke with his party on the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act less than a month after the 2022 school shooting in Uvalde, where Gonzales is the local congressman.

That vote led to the Texas GOP eventually censuring Gonzales and opened him up to multiple challengers in the March 5 primary. In that contest, Gonzales received 45% of the vote, just short of the 50% he needed to avoid a runoff. Herrera, who finished in second place, got 25% during the primary.

But Herrera picked up a large share of the vote during the runoff, tightening the gap to about a single percentage point — or about 500 votes.

Throughout the entire election, however, Gonzales remained resolute that he would eventually win.

“Part of what I wanted to highlight is there’s 29 counties in the district. We won all 29 counties in the primary, and I expect to win all 29 counties in the runoff,” Gonzales told reporters in April, a prediction that was far from accurate.

Still, Gonzales always predicted that the race could be tight.

“Runoffs are tough,” he said. “I know that because I won a runoff to get into Congress.”

The runoff was, in fact, tough — and not just because the election was tight. Herrera received a number of endorsements, both from some of Gonzales’ GOP colleagues in Congress — like Matt Gaetz of Florida, Chip Roy of Texas and Freedom Caucus Chairman Bob Good of Virginia — and influential figures on the far right like Steve Bannon and Allen West.

Herrera also got help from mailers sent by the Texas GOP, which the state party sent out because of Gonzales’ censure in 2023.

But Gonzales took his own shots. In the last week of April, Gonzales was asked about Gaetz’s and Good’s endorsement of Herrera on CNN. Gonzales told the host that he worked with some “real scumbags.”

That comment only complicated Gonzales’ problems, with other members of the House Freedom Caucus consequently coming out for Herrera.

But two days later, Speaker Mike Johnson attended a fundraiser for Gonzales. Less than 24 hours later, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott endorsed Gonzales, saying in a statement that Gonzales “represents more than two-thirds of the Texas-Mexico border and knows the dangerous consequences that President Joe Biden’s reckless open border policies have on our state — and our nation.”

Gonzales also got the endorsement of the entire House GOP leadership team, as well as Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick. While former President Donald Trump didn’t endorse in the race, close Trump ally — and fellow Texas Republican — Rep. Ronny Jackson told Politico that Herrera “cannot win the general election.”

“It’s a pretty clear choice,” Jackson said, endorsing Gonzales. “It should be for most people.”

One constant theme throughout the runoff was Gonzales’ insistence that Herrera wasn’t really from Texas, highlighting Herrera’s North Carolina roots.

“Showing up matters in this district in particular,” Gonzales told reporters on an April 30 press call. “This district, in many cases, is like Iowa, New Hampshire, but they want to see you in their living room. They want to text you and call you and say, ‘Hey, why did you do this, that or the other? We haven’t seen you in a few weeks, what’s going on?’ And so when Brandon Herrera shows up for the first time, three weeks before the election, it’s very clear the only reason he is there is for votes, and people can see through that.”

In the end, voters seemed to agree — just barely. Despite Gonzales’ somewhat unpopular vote for the most ambitious gun control bill to become law in the last three decades, and despite the Texas GOP’s efforts to shame him over the vote, he narrowly won. It was far from a decisive victory, however.

Gonzales and his allies spent millions to fend off Herrera. In the end, it was money well spent for them. Without that money, it’s almost certain Herrera would have won — and Herrera seemed to know it.

When former GOP Rep. Adam Kinzinger of Illinois took a shot at Herrera on X Tuesday night — “You lost,” Kinzinger wrote — Herrera had a simple reply.

“If that’s true, you and your left leaning losers just spent $10 million to come within a couple hundred votes of a YouTuber,” Herrera wrote. “Congrats.”

Ryan Hernández is a NOTUS reporter and an Allbritton Journalism Institute fellow.