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MAGA Firebrand is trying to boot a moderate Republican congressman in the Texas primaries

Republican Rep. Tony Gonzales of Texas is fighting to avoid defeat in a hotly contested Republican primary Tuesday, with a challenger attacking him for gaining bipartisan votes including helping pass a new gun law after the Uvalde school shooting in 2022.

Voters are heading to the polls in Texas’ 23rd Congressional District, a vast U.S.-Mexico border area stretching from the suburbs of San Antonio to El Paso, to choose between Gonzales and conservative internet personality Brandon Herrera.

Gonzales received 45% of the vote in the March primary and Herrera only 25%, but the two advanced to a one-on-one runoff under Texas law because no one received majority support. And observers say the race has tightened considerably since then, with Gonzales in real danger of losing. He would be the first House member to lose a primary in 2024, outside of a race that pits two incumbents against each other following court-ordered redistricting in their state.

According to AdImpact, the primary runoff generated more than $5 million in ad spending, with groups like the Republican Jewish Coalition Victory Fund, the American Action Network (a nonprofit affiliated with the House GOP leadership) and the Hispanic Leadership Alliance collectively spend millions to defend Gonzales. .

Sam Markstein, the RJC’s communications director, told NBC News that the group considers Gonzales a “workhorse” in Congress and called Herrera “crazy.”

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Herrera’s campaign has spent just over $700,000 on ads in the district since the primary, touting himself as a “gun rights advocate” and an ally of former President Donald Trump. He also attacked Gonzales for “[putting] American last.”

Herrera’s staunch support for gun rights raises an issue that Gonzales has been fighting politically since 2022, when he joined 13 other Republican House members in voting with Democrats to pass the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, a bill that would ban background checks expanded gun buyers under 21 and makes it a federal crime to traffic illegal firearms in the U.S.

The bill passed the House just weeks after a deadly mass shooting killed 21 students and teachers at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, located in the Gonzales neighborhood.

The Republican Party of Texas cited Gonzalesvoted in favor of that bill as one of the reasons it chose to censure the incumbent councilor last year.

Despite the political backlash, Gonzales told CBS’ Face the Nation on Sunday that “you can’t be afraid to do what you think is right.” You’ll never get it perfect, but you have to fight for the things that matter to us. Protecting our children from being murdered by crazy people should be important to all of us.”

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“I’m not afraid of that mood. I am not afraid of this runoff,” Gonzales added, minutes after telling moderator Margaret Brennan: “I am in the middle of a runoff and politically fighting for my life.”

Gonzales’ allies put Herrera on air with clips from his online videos, including one in which he mocked suicides among veterans, saying, “I often think about putting a gun in my mouth.” So I’m actually an honorary veteran.”

It’s an argument that pro-Gonzales groups hope will be particularly salient in this district, where Joint Base San Antonio and Fort Bliss are located.

Gonzales’ allies have also labeled Herrera a carpetbagger and say he only recently moved to Texas from North Carolina.

Gonzales’ campaign did not respond to multiple requests for comment, while Herrera’s campaign declined to comment for this article.

Gonzales isn’t the only one receiving outside support in the race. Prominent right-wing members of Congress have stepped in to support their colleague, with Herrera drawing support from Republican Reps. Matt Gaetz of Florida and Bob Good of Virginia. Good also chairs the House Freedom Caucus. Good faces his own biggest challenge in June, with the RJC also spending money against him after a recent “no” vote on aid to Israel.

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RJC officials linked Herrera to the current “chaos” in Congress. “A very slim one [GOP] The majority, as you know, would become even more compromised and even more difficult if someone were added who would go there just to cause chaos,” Markstein said.

“We don’t need chaos in the House of Representatives,” Markstein added, “We need strong leadership and effective leadership.”

Gonzales, meanwhile, touts the support of Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, House Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., and even actor Matthew McConaughey, who recorded robocalls for Gonzales.

Gonzales’ fight for another term is most prominent in a handful of primaries for congressional seats in Texas. Abbott has also endorsed state Rep. Craig Goldman in his Republican primary race against business owner John O’Shea in Texas’ 12th District, an open seat currently represented by retiring Rep. Kay Granger.

And in Texas’ 28th District, retired Navy officer Jay Furman and rancher Lazaro Garza are headed to a runoff for the chance to face Democratic Rep. Henry Cuellar in November.

In May, Cuellar and his wife were indicted on federal bribery and money laundering charges. The congressman has denied any wrongdoing.

This article was originally published on NBCNews.com

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