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Published on May 28, 2024
Firearm Debate Ignites GOP Runoff, Incumbent Tony Gonzales Challenged by AK Guy Brandon Herrera in Key Texas RaceSource: Wikipedia/Brandon Herrera, Tony Gonzales

In the heated Republican runoff for U.S. House District 23, incumbent Tony Gonzales and his challenger, gun enthusiast YouTube star Brandon Herrera, are locking horns in what some say could be a close call. According to KENS 5, Gonzales, who has been at odds with the Texas GOP over his stance on gun control, is fighting to secure a third term against Herrera, dubbed as "The AK Guy" for his popular firearms-focused YouTube channel.

This district race has become emblematic of broader national divides within the Republican Party. Gonzales, a Navy veteran and centrist Republican, was the lone Texas House Republican to cast a vote favoring gun safety legislation, a move that prompted his censure by Texas GOP and may now cost him with the district's conservative base. Conversely, Herrera, who has no formal political experience, is appealing to voters with a far-right platform that prioritizes a robust defense of the Second Amendment, as he stated in a statement obtained by KENS 5.

Despite the internal party rift, high-profile endorsements have lined up for Gonzales, including Governor Greg Abbott and House Speaker Mike Johnson, signaling the establishment's support. In an contrast, Herrera has received backing from Congressman Matt Gaetz and members of the House Freedom Caucus, noted by CBS News, pointing to an insurgent campaign fueled by a wing of the party known for its confrontational politics.

The runoff, set against the backdrop of low voter turnout projections, presents an unpredictable scenario. "In a low-turnout election, anything can happen," Rice University political science professor Mark Jones told CBS News, emphasizing the influence of the most passionate voters. As per campaign finance reports, Gonzales has significantly outraised Herrera, pulling in $3.4 million to Herrera's $367,000 by May 8, hinting at a resource advantage for the incumbent.

An undercurrent of the race is the reverberation of the Uvalde school shooting within the district. Gonzales, in interviews including one with "Face the Nation", has defended his gun legislation vote, saying he "knew it at the time" that it would have political repercussions. Herrera has seized on this vote to attack Gonzales, illustrating the stark choice facing Republican voters as they determine the direction of their party. The winner of this primary will take on Democrat Santos Limon come November, according to both KENS 5 and CBS News.