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Runoff elections in Texas could have national implications

SCOTT DETROW, HOST:

On Tuesday, the largely red state of Texas will decide the winners of congressional runoff races that have national implications. Several seats are in play that could determine who will control Congress. There is no shortage of bitter divisions on display from both parties in these closing days ahead of the election. To talk about all of it, we've got Texan and NPR congressional correspondent Claudia Grisales on the line. Hey, Claudia.

CLAUDIA GRISALES, BYLINE: Hey, Scott.

DETROW: As you know, on first glance, I don't think a lot of people think, Texas - battleground state.

GRISALES: Right.

DETROW: What's going on here this year? Why is Texas so important?

GRISALES: Well, it can be very predictable politically and trend red, but there are pockets of surprises. And there are several races that could be particularly important for control of Congress. And as a reminder, both chambers are working off very tight margins, and control is up for grabs this election. So that illustrates how every vote counts in what's expected to be a lot of closely decided races this year.

DETROW: OK. Let's start with the main race that you're going to be zooming in on when the polls close on Tuesday. Tell us about it.

GRISALES: Right. So one of the state's largest districts is facing a Republican runoff along the Texas border. This is featuring moderate Republican Congressman Tony Gonzales. And it's a reminder of some of the GOP infighting we've seen more of today. This district stretches from Eagle Pass, which is a big staging area for Republicans who are fighting over border messaging right now, and it goes all the way to San Antonio. Gonzales, for his part, he's a two-term member, and he's facing this really difficult reelection campaign as he was censured by the Texas GOP party after a series of votes, including one to support some limits on gun access after the mass shooting in his district at Robb Elementary in Uvalde.

DETROW: Interesting.

GRISALES: Yeah. So he's facing off with a YouTube personality, firearm retailer, Brandon Herrera, who is seen to be more closely aligned to the Texas GOP by some. And he's even drawn support from one of Gonzales' own Republican colleagues. This is Florida's Matt Gaetz, who has been out there twice in Gonzales' district to campaign for his challenger, and so this all has some experts wondering. This momentum by Herrera could maybe signal a potential for an upset here.

DETROW: Before we move on to the next race, I have to say that the sentence - YouTube personality firearm retailer - is such an encapsulation of the current political moment.

GRISALES: Right. It's so true.

DETROW: And yet, this is not the only runoff race that has drawn big attention along the border. Just next door to Gonzales' race, you have a district represented by Democratic Congressman Henry Cuellar, who was facing an easy reelection - is not facing an easy reelection anymore. Catch us up to speed.

GRISALES: Right. Now Cuellar and his wife are facing a long list of federal criminal indictments, and that has dramatically shifted the dynamics of the race. He did not have a challenger in his own Democratic primary, but there were two Republicans already fighting to face off with him in the general election. So now he faces this uphill battle because while he's fighting a criminal case, which includes charges of bribery and money laundering, he's also trying to campaign. And as a reminder, this criminal probe has collected guilty pleas from at least three connected individuals. So we expect Republicans will seize on all this as a potential opportunity to flip this district and keep control of the U.S. House.

DETROW: Interesting how many people across the country are currently running for election while facing criminal charges.

GRISALES: Right. Right.

DETROW: OK, so that's the two big races you're really focused on, but there - it's a big state. There's a lot of things on the ballot.

GRISALES: Right.

DETROW: What else are you paying attention to?

GRISALES: Well, there's one House district along the Texas border that Democrats are making a top priority. They want to flip it to gain back control of the House. That candidate in that race is Republican Congresswoman Monica De La Cruz. That's the incumbent. She's facing off against a Democrat, small business owner Michelle Vallejo. And Vallejo is getting a lot of financial support from national Democrats to try and up their chances to flip this. And then finally, we're expecting quite the battle between Texas Senator Ted Cruz, who's facing a new Democratic challenger this year, Congressman Colin Allred, who will face an uphill battle. So we'll see how that shakes out.

DETROW: That's NPR's Claudia Grisales. Claudia, always good to talk to you.

GRISALES: Thank you much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Scott Detrow is a White House correspondent for NPR and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast.
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