The Establishment Ekes Out a Win in TX-23

Tony Gonzales for Congress

The GOP Establishment won a victory on Tuesday night, but at an incredibly high cost. Incumbent Rep. Tony Gonzales squeaked by his primary challenger Brandon "The AK Guy" Herrera, capturing just 50.7% of the vote in the Republican primary for Texas's 23rd Congressional District. 


With all precincts reporting, fewer than 500 votes separate the two candidates; Gonzales with 15,023 and Herrera with 14,616. It's hard to call that a mandate for Gonzales and his support for the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act on the part of the voters in TX-23, especially given the disparity in outside spending to support the incumbent and attack Herrera. 

House GOP leaders had mobilized to defend Gonzales from Brandon Herrera, a pro-gun activist known as “The AK Guy.” He had support from Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) and House Freedom Caucus Chair Bob Good (R-Va.). To secure Gonzales’ victory, several establishment-allied super PACs pumped more than $4 million onto TV. Some of those spots boosted Gonzales, while others attacked Herrera for his history of incendiary comments he made online as a social media influencer. He drew harsh criticism for past videos mocking the Holocaust, Barron Trump and the suicide of veterans.

Herrera spent $1.3 million on TV ads compared to Gonzales’ $1.9 million, according to the media tracking firm AdImpact.

The "outside spending" included more than $1.4 million from the Hispanic Leadership Alliance; a single-candidate super PAC dedicated to re-electing Gonzales that doled out almost $1 million to attack Herrera for those "incendiary" comments he made during podcasts and YouTube videos. 


Gonzales had the support of Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, House Speaker Mike Johnson, a bevy of outside PACs, and even Uvalde native Matthew McConaughey, who recorded a robocall in support of the incumbent. I don't think that alone would have translated into a win on Tuesday, however. The barrage of attack ads against Herrera painting him as a "neo-Nazi" who mocked veteran suicides undoubtedly did some damage, but even with the full might of the party hierarchy behind the incumbent Herrera still came remarkably close to pulling off an upset. 

Herrera hasn't made any additional comments on social media since then, including formally conceding the race to Gonzales. The results are close enough that Herrera could call for a recount, so we'll be watching for that possibility. 

Even if Herrera doesn't challenge the official returns, Gonzales still faces an uphill fight to unify the fractured Republican base after waging a scorched earth campaign in the runoff. 


On TV, Gonzales called far-right members of his conference “scumbags” and suggested that they were klansmen. His comments pushed even more House Republicans to take the rare step of endorsing the opponent of a sitting member.

Gonzales had already made himself vulnerable by repeatedly angering his own base. He voted to codify same-sex marriage and joined with Democrats to pass a bipartisan gun control bill following a deadly shooting at an elementary school in his district. In the March primary, he received only 45 percent of the vote and was forced into the runoff, a dangerous spot for an incumbent.

His district spans from the outskirts of El Paso to San Antonio and includes more than 800 miles of the U.S.-Mexico border. A battleground in the past, the district became more GOP friendly in redistricting. But Gonzales’ allies warned that Herrera’s nomination could make the seat competitive in the general election. Former President Donald Trump won the district by 7 points under the current lines.

Gonzales may actually have made TX-23 more competitive for Democrats this fall thanks to his scurrilous smears against Herrera. Now he has to convince almost half of those who voted in the runoff election to turn out and support him in November, instead of staying home in disgust or (less likely, in my opinion) casting a protest vote in favor of the Democrat.  


Herrera ran a remarkable campaign, and regardless of whether he pursues a recount he and his supporters in TX-23 should be proud of their efforts. He went toe-to-toe with the party establishment, and damn near pulled off an upset for the ages. He also showed the power of Second Amendment supporters in the GOP, which will hopefully lead to more 2A-centric candidates running for public office at all levels of government going forward. 

We'll have more on the tangle for TX-23 later today, including any comments from Herrera or his campaign. 400+ votes would be a lot of ground to make up in a recount, and it would require his campaign to pony up a significant amount of cash to pay for a new count, but for now that option is still on the table. 

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