Gina Ortiz Jones speaks with supporters at her post-election gathering at Luther's as early-vote totals come in Credit: Scott Ball / Rivard Report

Gina Ortiz Jones far outpaced four rivals in the Democratic primary for the Congressional District 23 seat, but with 41 percent will face former teacher Rick Treviño in a May 22 runoff.

District 23, which spans from San Antonio to El Paso and includes hundreds of miles of the U.S.-Mexico border, is a swing district that has been represented by Republican Will Hurd since 2015.

“I’m excited. Obviously I would be honored to represent this district,” Ortiz Jones said at her post-election gathering at Luther’s Café Tuesday night.

As of Wednesday morning, Ortiz Jones had maintained 41 percent of the total Democratic votes cast – more than double her closest competitors, Treviño and Judy Canales, whose percentages remained nearly even throughout the count.

As the final numbers rolled in, Treviño narrowly nudged out Canales, bringing in 17.48 percent of the vote to her 16.99.

“I will use this opportunity to really let people be very critical of the Democratic party,” Treviño told the Rivard Report in a phone interview Wednesday morning. “We are a party of peace and the working class, and not of war and Corporate America.”

Treviño said that slates are clean going into the runoff election.

“If I work hard and I am able to organize, I will be able to beat Gina,” whom he referred to as “just another [Washington], D.C.-chosen candidate with powerful friends who picked her even before speaking to the people who live in the district.”

It is unclear whether Canales will call for a vote recount, but Treviño said he “wouldn’t doubt” that she may request one. A mere 216 votes gave Treviño the edge over Canales.

“In terms of fundraising, and in terms of media attention, it is really incredible that [Canales and I] pulled it out, and that we got this close,” Treviño said.

Canales did not respond to the Rivard Report‘s requests for comment.

Ortiz Jones said on Wednesday that she plans to manage her runoff campaign the same way she did for Tuesday’s primary. “We are going to continue talking with voters, talking about the issues that matter most to voters, and making the case as to why I would fight for their interests,” Ortiz Jones said.

She said that what sets her apart from Treviño is their “very different personal and professional experiences” that have shaped how they approach the race.

A former Air Force intelligence officer and graduate of John Jay High School in San Antonio, Ortiz Jones was raised by a single mother who came to the United States from the Philippines. She earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in economics from Boston University which she attended on a four-year Air Force ROTC scholarship.

As a candidate, Ortiz Jones received support from Emily’s List, a political action committee that promotes pro-choice Democratic women, and VoteVets, an organization that helps veterans run for office – two populations that Ortiz Jones actively campaigned to represent.

She also received endorsements from former Texas State Sens. Wendy Davis and Leticia Van De Putte.

Ortiz Jones is openly gay, and if elected would be the first openly gay congresswoman of color from Texas.

Hurd is the first black Republican from Texas to be elected to Congress. He comfortably defeated his challenger, Dr. Alma Arredondo-Lynch, a dentist from Uvalde, who received 20 percent of votes to his 80 percent.

“This is very much a race that comes down to the candidate,” Ortiz Jones said. “Do you get the people – and I certainly do just given the life that I’ve lived and my life in public service. But also, are you going to have the moral courage to go to the mat on the issues that they care about.”

Treviño, a former U.S. history teacher at Sam Houston High School on the Eastside, ran for San Antonio’s City Council District 6 in 2017 and narrowly missed a runoff. His congressional campaign focused on the importance of free public university tuition, a living wage, and a push for a single-payer healthcare system. He had the backing of Our Revolution, the group aligned with former Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders. The most left-leaning of the candidates, Treviño’s campaign brought in $19,623.

“Money can’t facilitate passion,” Treviño said. “[Ortiz Jones] took $200,000 in advertising from people who don’t live in the district,” he said, referring to his challenger’s donors. “I’m a teacher. That takes me six years of work to make. The most powerful people in the world who do not care about our district are backing up candidates.”

Of the five Democrats seeking the nomination, Jay Hulings and Ortiz Jones initially were seen as the leading candidates due to their fundraising and endorsements, with Ortiz Jones bringing in just under $600,000, and Hulings bringing in just $100,000 less.

Hulings, a former federal prosecutor from San Antonio, polled not quite 15 percent despite being second only to Ortiz Jones in fundraising.

Hulings has not previously sought elective office and has lived in the district for only seven years – the last four in San Antonio. A Harvard Law School graduate, Hulings was joined on the campaign trail by former classmate U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro, who first offered Hulings’ name to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee in early 2017.

Canales, a former Bill Clinton and Barack Obama appointee from Eagle Pass, was the first woman and first Latina to be appointed Texas State executive director for the United States Department of Agriculture Farm Service Agency. During a campaign debate in San Antonio on Feb. 27 co-hosted by the Texas Tribune and the Rivard Report, Canales repeatedly emphasized her strong San Antonio and border city ties.

Canales sees herself primed to specialize in both rural and urban development after a long history of federal employment. Her campaign raised just under $33,000, which included $9,046 in loans and contributions from the candidate – the largest of the Democratic candidate contributions.

Angela “Angie” Villescaz, who has not participated actively in the campaign, raised $2,535, which includes $2,000 from the candidate herself. She received about 8.5 percent of the vote, the least of the five Democratic candidates.

Roseanna Garza

Roseanna Garza

Roseanna Garza reports on health and bioscience for the Rivard Report.