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Rep. Tony Gonzales narrowly defeats gun YouTuber in GOP primary runoff

Republican Congressman Tony Gonzales.
Tom Williams
Republican Congressman Tony Gonzales.

SAN ANTONIO — Republican Congressman Tony Gonzales defeated a primary challenge from gun YouTuber Brandon Herrera in Tuesday’s runoff election.

The incumbent's March primary opponents forced him into a runoff with Herrera after Gonzales failed to earn support from a majority of voters.

By 10:30 p.m. Tuesday, Gonzales had 51.06% of the vote to Herrera's 48.94% — a difference of just over 500 votes.

The Texas 23rd Congressional District, which Gonzales represents, stretches from just east of El Paso to western Bexar County. It includes large swaths of the border and the town of Uvalde, where the 2022 Robb Elementary School shooting took place.

Gonzales’ primary challengers went after him for his vote in support of gun control measures in Congress in the aftermath of the school shooting that left 19 children and two teachers dead.

The runoff election occurred just days after the Uvalde community marked two years since the shooting.

Gonzales’ gun control vote, along with several other votes on issues like support for gay and interracial marriage, led the Texas GOP to censure Gonzales in 2023.

Herrera, who had never held political office before, has 3.4 million subscribers on YouTube, where he primarily uses and promotes firearms and is known as “The AK Guy.”

Tuesday's GOP primary runoff election for the 23rd District between Congressman Tony Gonzales and right-wing social media influencer Brandon Herrera is one example of a party at war with itself.

Many of his videos are controversial, including one from 2022 where he uses a gun associated with Nazi Germany, goose-steps to a popular Nazi marching song, and refers to the gun as “the original ghetto blaster” and “Hitler’s street sweeper.”

Later in the video, he says he’s “not really a big fan of fascism” and explains that his comments throughout the video are “really f— up jokes.”

Florida Republican congressman and fierce Trump loyalist Matt Gaetz campaigned to support Herrera’s primary challenge to Gonzales.

Gonzales outraised Herrera by four-to-one, receiving more than $4 million from supporters.

Though Gonzales' gun control vote broke with much of his party, he has said he mostly votes with his party, and has been a loud voice against abortion in Texas. That includes opposition to the City of San Antonio’s $500,000 Reproductive Justice Fund that a majority of the city council have said should be used to support out-of-state travel for abortion access.

Voters elected Gonzales to the Texas 23rd District’s seat in 2020 after moderate Republican Will Hurd resigned.

Gonzales will face Democratic nominee Santos Limon in the general election in November.

The Texas 23rd District is considered a fairly safe Republican congressional district.

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He got his start in journalism as a contributing writer at The Paisano, the independent student newspaper at the University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA), eventually becoming a news editor. In 2020, he was a digital news intern for Texas Public Radio, which included reporting multiple stories for air and the site and designing and managing data visualizations to track COVID-19 trends across the county. After his internship ended, he began freelancing with TPR and was a member of the New York Times Student Journalism Institute, where published a feature on how a family’s loss of a loved one to police violence changed them. Josh Peck is the Technology & Entrepreneurship Reporter for Texas Public Radio.