Texas Rep. Tony Gonzales will survive challenge from right in GOP primary runoff, CNN projects

Texas Rep. Tony Gonzales will win his Republican primary runoff, CNN projects, overcoming a challenge from his right from gun rights advocate and social media personality Brandon Herrera.

Tuesday’s race in Texas’ 23rd Congressional District, which stretches along the US-Mexico border from El Paso to the San Antonio suburbs, had been among the most expensive and bitter GOP primaries so far in 2024, drawing more than $8 million in television advertising spending.

Gonzales was the only member of Texas’ congressional delegation forced into a runoff after he failed to take a majority of the vote during the first round in March.

First elected in 2020 in what was then a battleground district, Gonzales was censured by the Texas Republican Party last year for a “lack of fidelity to Republican principles and priorities.” The party took issue with several House votes cast by the congressman, including for bipartisan gun safety legislation and the Respect for Marriage Act, which protected same-sex and interracial marriage.

A key division between Gonzales and Herrera came over gun policy. The district includes Uvalde, which experienced one of the worst school shootings in US history two years ago that left 19 children and two teachers dead. Gonzales’ vote for the gun safety bill in the aftermath of the tragedy became a centerpiece of Herrera’s campaign, which had the backing of several House Republicans, including Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz and Freedom Caucus Chairman Bob Good.

The runoff offered a vivid window into the GOP’s intraparty divisions, with hard-right members growing increasingly willing to derail their party’s agenda if there is a whiff of compromise with Democrats.

In an interview with CNN last week, Gonzales said the primary runoff’s result would send a clear message to Republicans amid a particularly discordant stretch that has seen their speaker ousted, parts of their agenda stalled and relations roiled across the conference.

“Are we going to be the party that governs and gets things done in a conservative manner?” Gonzales said. “Or are we going to be the party that has jesters that come up here and say wild and crazy outrageous things and just try to burn the place down?”

Gonzales will next face Democrat Santos Limon, who won his party’s nomination outright in March. The 23rd District is not on Democrats’ target list this fall – Trump would have carried it under its current lines by 7 points in 2020.

Texas House speaker survives

Meanwhile, Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan, the Republican who led last year’s failed effort to impeach and remove from office scandal-plagued state Attorney General Ken Paxton, will win the primary runoff for his legislative seat, CNN projects.

Phelan led David Covey, a former local county GOP chairman, by 366 votes as of Wednesday morning, with nearly all votes counted. Covey, who had the backing of Paxton and former President Donald Trump, has conceded the race for the Beaumont-area district.

A host of influential hard-right figures in the Texas GOP came out against Phelan in the primary. The speaker finished second to Covey in the first round of voting in March, though neither took the majority needed to avoid the runoff.

Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan arrives for a news conference in Houston on March 26, 2024. - Suzanne Cordeiro/AFP/Getty Images
Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan arrives for a news conference in Houston on March 26, 2024. - Suzanne Cordeiro/AFP/Getty Images

Paxton and Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who runs the more conservative state Senate, cast Phelan as a speaker selected by Democrats — because all members of the House are allowed to vote on who oversees the chamber.

“As lieutenant governor, I do not want to run the House, but I want a conservative Republican to be speaker who will run the House,” Patrick said at the biennial Texas GOP convention earlier this month, The Texas Tribune reported.

Phelan was the top target in Paxton’s revenge tour against state House Republicans who voted to impeach him last year. The speaker was among eight state House Republicans who were forced into runoffs — a list that includes both Paxton targets and those criticized by Gov. Greg Abbott for voting against school vouchers.

Among the targets was state Rep. Justin Holland, who is projected to lose the primary runoff for his Dallas-area district to Katrina Pierson, Trump’s national spokesperson during his 2016 presidential campaign.

CNN’s David Wright, Manu Raju and Shania Shelton contributed to this report.

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