McALLEN, Texas (Border Report) — Two women are vying to make political history in the hotly contested race for the 15th Congressional District on the South Texas border.
One of them will be the first Hispanic woman to ever represent this part of Texas’ Rio Grande Valley in Congress. And the Republicans could make history twice by flipping this seat, which has been Democratic for over 150 years.
Monica De La Cruz, who narrowly lost in 2020, once again is the Republican nominee. She’ll face Democrat Michelle Vallejo, a small business owner who is hoping to keep the newly drawn district blue.
“It’s a coveted district that has a majority Hispanic population,” Natasha Altema McNeely, an associate political science professor at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, told Border Report on Tuesday. “And Republicans would really like to win to show that, ‘Look, this racial and ethnic minority group, which has historically been affiliated and supported by the Democratic party is actually moving its alliance to the right.'”
In 2020, De La Cruz lost to U.S. Rep. Vicente Gonzalez by just 6,558 votes and she has led a nonstop campaign to turn the seat Republican since.
“There were many in this community that said, ‘Monica never, ever will there be a Republican elected to Congress in South Texas,’ and that couldn’t be further from the truth because we now have Congresswoman Mayra Flores,” De La Cruz told a packed audience of women on Oct. 6 during a woman’s prayer breakfast that was co-sponsored by the Republican National Committee.
Border Report reached out to De La Cruz’s campaign staff for an interview for this story but requests were not answered.
She has said she wants tougher border security and more resources for law enforcement and is opposed to abortion. She is backed by the National Border Patrol Council and former President Donald Trump.
Vallejo, a progressive Democrat, has the backing of New York Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Sen. Bernie Sanders, who came to McAllen on Sunday to rally support for her.
About 400 people attended the event, after which Vallejo thanked Sanders, tweeting, “Thank you Sen. @BernieSanders for believing in our grassroots movement down here in South Texas.”
In an interview at her campaign headquarters on Tuesday afternoon, Vallejo told Border Report she’s running a clean, above-board campaign and she criticized her opponent for what she calls “ridiculous attack ads.”
“We are excited. We are motivated. We are fired up because since polls opened we have gone non-stop in connecting with all the community members. We’ve been talking with everyone every step of the way of this campaign. And now’s the time to choose. Now’s the time for people to make their voices heard and their voice count in this extremely competitive race in this extremely critical election,” Vallejo said.
In addition to Ocasio-Cortez and Sanders, I-Vermont, Vallejo also has the endorsements and backing of Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Massachusetts; U.S. Rep. Veronica Escobar, D-Texas; the Congressional Hispanic Caucus; and the United Farm Workers of America.
She said she isn’t worried about appearing too liberal or turning off voters by having Sanders and Ocasio-Cortez in her camp because she says her campaign is “solution” oriented and designed to improve the lives and economy of South Texans.
“Folks who are Independent voters, Libertarian voters, even Republicans we are able to connect with them, to find common ground with them and to keep pushing because we truly are fighting for the families of South Texas and we’re really excited to keep going until the very last second until the polls close on Nov. 8,” Vallejo said.
Early voting has already begun, but so far turnout has been low.
The Texas Secretary of State reports only 15% of eligible voters in Hidalgo County have cast votes as of Tuesday; that’s 65,000 of the 417,000 registered voters.
“A big factor that does affect the outcomes of these races and any election, of course, is the level of turnout so who actually comes out to vote matters,” McNeely said.
She said data shows many voters like to cast ballots on the actual Election Day, which is on Nov. 8, this year so she said don’t start ringing alarm bells just yet.
De La Cruz has out-raised Vallejo by two-to-one. She has taken in over $4.3 million. Vallejo has raised just over $2 million, according to data from the Federal Election Commission.
Vallejo says a lot of her funds and resources were spent on a primary recount that didn’t declare her the Democratic nominee until June. She won by just 35 votes.
And that type of split within the Democratic party is what Republicans are hoping will give them the edge in this newly redrawn district.
The district was redrawn by the Republican-led Texas Legislature. Had Trump run in this district as it is now drawn, he would have won in 2020.
Gonzalez is now running in District 34, where his McAllen home is now located.
The National Republican Congressional Committee and the Congressional Leadership Fund, have already aired several ads against Vallejo. One NRCC commercial warns she is a “different kind of Democrat,” and another calls her a “pure radical.”
Vallejo’s camp doesn’t appear to have the financial backing from big organizations, like the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which tells Border Report they never intended to back television advertising in the District 15 race. The DCCC says it has, however, sunk money into digital and radio ads in English and Spanish, and helped to open and staff Vallejo’s district headquarters in McAllen.
Ads for De La Cruz say Vallejo wants to “defund the police.” That’s what De La Cruz told Border Report during a border wall tour on Aug. 30 in Hidalgo, Texas.
“My opponent sides with extreme left policies that include open borders, including defunding the police. She’s part of organizations currently that are moving to defund the police. I don’t believe that my opponent will support our district, won’t support our borders and won’t support our law enforcement agents,” De La Cruz said.
Vallejo says she wants safer pathways for citizenship for migrants; more investments in ports of entry, and an end to Operation Lone Star — the border security initiative begun by Republican Gov. Greg Abbott, who has endorsed De La Cruz.
“Across the board, we have experienced broken policies and solutions that do not deliver what we need here in the border region,” Vallejo said.
Vallejo says she opposes the Trump-era Migrant Protection Protocols program, also known as the “Remain in Mexico” program, that forced thousands of asylum-seekers to wait south of the Rio Grande. And she doesn’t want border technology that militarizes the border and intrudes on locals’ privacy.
“I don’t believe that hyper technology that would impede on our privacy is a solution but I do think there’s many opportunities here to make investments and keep viable jobs and have a more safe and secure border region,” Vallejo said.
She said campaign ads that portray the border as a “dangerous” place do a disservice to this region and its people.
“People are seeing these ads, they recognize not only do they not reflect our home in an honest and respectful way but they are blatant lies,” Vallejo said.
When asked if she would strike back her answer was: “People have reached out to our campaign, reached out to me to see what we can do to fight back but we’re not getting distracted.”
Sandra Sanchez can be reached at Ssanchez@borderreport.com