Texas Congressman Wins Runoff, Bolstering G.O.P. Effort to Hold House


Representative Tony Gonzales, the Texas Republican who represents a large swath of the southern border, on Tuesday narrowly turned back a right-wing primary challenger who called himself the “AK Guy,” in a victory that could bolster his party’s efforts to hold the House.

Mr. Gonzales, 43, a military veteran in his second term in the House who calls himself a “governing conservative,” defeated Brandon Herrera, 28, a YouTube star who campaigned on gun rights, in a runoff election. Mr. Gonzales was the top vote-getter in the Republican primary in May but failed to reach the 50 percent threshold, prompting the runoff with his top challenger.

He barely survived the runoff election, and was clinging to a slim margin as The Associated Press declared him the victor early Wednesday morning.

The race divided House Republicans in a vivid display of the rifts that have plagued the party during a tumultuous Congress. Representative Bob Good of Virginia, who leads the House Freedom Caucus, and the prominent right-wing Representatives Chip Roy of Texas and Matt Gaetz of Florida endorsed Mr. Herrera. But G.O.P. leaders rallied around Mr. Gonzales, and Speaker Mike Johnson held a major fund-raiser for him in the district in April.

He also underwent something of a transformation during the race, from being an opponent of his party’s hard-line immigration stances to one of the chief proponents of House Republicans’ strict border enforcement bill.

A defining issue in the race was Mr. Gonzales’s support of a bipartisan bill to address gun violence called the Safer Communities Act, which fell short of the sweeping gun control measures Democrats have long sought but enhanced background checks and incentivized states to enact so-called red flag laws, among other measures.

Mr. Gonzales cited the deadliest school shooting in Texas history, which occurred in his district at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, as a contributing factor behind his support of the bill. Even so, the Republican Party of Texas voted to censure Mr. Gonzales after the vote.

Mr. Herrera argued that Mr. Gonzales had turned his back on Texas conservatives, and said he would work to repeal gun restrictions if elected.

Mr. Herrera wrote on social media that a vote for him would “slap the Uniparty establishment in the face. Let’s send the message to DC that if they vote against the people, they will lose their jobs.”

The seat was once in a hotly contested swing district, where a moderate Republican voice would likely be needed to win in a general election. But redistricting after the 2020 election made it more favorable terrain for Republicans. Even so, supporters of Mr. Gonzales warned that a Herrera victory could put the district back in play for a general election, in which House Republicans who hold a bare majority are grasping to keep control.

With right-wing Republicans backing his opponent, Mr. Gonzales went after them personally in an interview on CNN in April, deepening the tensions.

“It’s my absolute honor to be in Congress, but I serve with some real scumbags,” Mr. Gonzales said. He brought up allegations against Mr. Gaetz that resulted in an F.B.I. investigation but no charges.

“Look, Matt Gaetz — he paid minors to have sex with him at drug parties,” he said.

Mr. Gonzales also insinuated that Mr. Good was a racist.

“Bob Good endorsed my opponent, a known neo-Nazi,” Mr. Gonzales said. “These people used to walk around with white hoods at night; now they are walking around with white hoods in the daytime.”

He also took aim at Mr. Herrera in a memorable attack ad, styled after a famous salsa commercial, accusing him of mocking both former President Donald J. Trump and veteran suicide. Mr. Gonzales’s ad noted that Mr. Herrera hails from North Carolina.

“You deserve a Texas conservative,” Mr. Gonzales said in the ad.

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