US House Republican Gonzales faces showdown with hardline challenger

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By David Morgan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Republican U.S. Representative Tony Gonzales will try to fend off a far-right challenge on Tuesday from a gun rights YouTube celebrity backed by hardline conservatives who have clashed with Gonzales over the U.S.-Mexico border, gun safety and same-sex marriage.

In a matchup that could add to the ranks of hardline Republicans in the House of Representatives next year, Gonzales is facing a primary run-off against Brandon Herrera, known as “The AK Guy” due to his enthusiasm for assault rifles, after failing to score an outright win during the state’s March primary election.

The winner will face Democrat Santos Limon in the Nov. 5 election for a congressional seat seen as solidly Republican by independent political analysts.

Republicans hold a narrow 217-213 majority in the House, allowing even small numbers of party hardliners to cause headaches for Speaker Mike Johnson. Control of both chambers of Congress, as well as the White House, will be up for grabs in November’s election.

Gonzales, a two-term congressman, has positioned himself as a pragmatic Republican intent on building bridges. He has also proved to be a successful fundraiser, collecting nearly $4.5 million for his reelection campaign. He had more than $900,000 in cash on hand as of May 8, according to Federal Election Commission records.

But his voting record has angered at least half a dozen hardline conservatives in Congress who are backing Herrera.

Herrera has a 3.4 million-viewer YouTube channel and refers to Gonzales as “Turncoat Tony.” He has raised just under $1.4 million for his campaign and had $147,000 in cash on hand as of May 8.

Gonzales, a 20-year U.S. Navy veteran, has shown no sign of being intimidated by his opponent, his backers or a 2023 censure by the Republican Party of Texas.

“It’s my absolute honor to be in Congress. But I serve with some real scumbags,” Gonzales told CNN last month. He went on to refer specifically to Republican hardliners Matt Gaetz and House Freedom Caucus Chairman Bob Good, who have both backed his opponent.

Gaetz replied with a tweet describing Gonzales’ comments as “lies” and saying that “unhinged outbursts” by a politician can precede defeat. Good’s campaign also dismissed Gonzales’ concerns.

Gonzales, whose district runs from San Antonio to El Paso, angered conservatives at home and in Washington by supporting bipartisan gun safety legislation after the 2022 school shooting in his district that left 22 people, including 19 students, dead at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas.

He has also drawn hardline criticism for backing legislation recognizing same-sex and interracial marriages and for supporting U.S. aid to Ukraine.

In another Tuesday primary runoff, Republicans Lazaro Garza, a rancher, and Jay Furman, a military veteran, are competing to take on Democratic congressman Henry Cuellar.

Cuellar and his wife were indicted on federal charges accusing them of accepting bribes meant to benefit an Azerbaijani state-owned energy company and a bank based in Mexico. They have denied wrongdoing.

Cuellar ran unopposed in the Democratic primary, and the district had not been considered a top target for Republicans. But the court case could play a role in the November election.

(Reporting by David Morgan; Editing by Scott Malone and Bill Berkrot)

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