Republican Pete Flores won a special election runoff Tuesday to represent state Senate District 19. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

In an upset victory, Republican Pete Flores won a special election runoff Tuesday to represent state Senate District 19, flipping the historically Democratic district to the GOP and defeating Pete Gallego, a former congressman and state representative.

“Every mile, every minute has all been worth it,” Flores said. “We campaigned in all 17 counties, and because we’re representing all 17, we need know the folks of all 17 counties.”

District 19 is vast, covering all or parts of 17 counties from Bexar County to the Mexican border and the Big Bend country.

Flores said he was “very humbled” by his victory Tuesday. He will be the first Republican Hispanic senator in the Texas Legislature.

“It’s been three years of hard work, not only for me but for a lot of people who believed,” he said. “This is the power of when you don’t have money and people ignore you, but if you believe, you can make things happen.”

Flores, a former game warden and resident of Pleasanton in Atascosa County, will complete the term of former Sen. Carlos Uresti, who resigned in June after being convicted of 11 felonies, including multiple counts of fraud. Uresti was sentenced to 12 years in jail, and is set for another trial in October on unrelated bribery charges.

Flores secured 53 percent of the vote Tuesday night while Gallego had 47 percent. The two were the top finishers among eight candidates July 31, but neither secured enough votes to win outright, forcing a runoff.

Lt. Gov Dan Patrick made an appearance at Flores’ victory party, exuberant about the night’s win and what it meant for the future of the Texas Legislature.

“We’re going to hold the Senate,” Patrick said. “We’ll pick up seats in the House. This means Republicans are engaged. Some of these people who voted, these are people who didn’t even vote in the first election.”

Patrick dismissed the idea of a “blue wave” in November’s midterm elections.

“If I’m a Democrat tonight, I’m really worried,” he said.”This just took the air out of their hot air balloon.”

Gallego offered his congratulations to Flores about 9 p.m. Tuesday night. He thanked his supporters at an election party at Taqueria Mexico in South San Antonio.

“I was raised to be gracious in victory and gracious in defeat,” Gallego said. “I want to thank and congratulate Mr. Flores on his victory and his election to the state Senate, and I will urge him to make sure to take good care of the people of Senate District 19.”

He urged party attendees to show up in November for Democratic candidates running in midterm elections.

Democrat Pete Gallego speaks to supporters Tuesday night as election results indicated he was trailing Republican Pete Flores in their state Senate District 19 special election runoff. Credit: Jackie Wang / San Antonio Report

“Every single one of those candidates is going to need us,” he said. “And we have to be there for them.”

In June, Gov. Greg Abbott called for a special election to fill Uresti’s seat after the senator resigned. Uresti had previously asked the governor to hold off until Election Day, to save money.

Flores, who unsuccessfully challenged Uresti in 2016, credited his victory to his grassroots campaigning. According to Flores, before the runoff, his campaign had less than $49,000 and Gallego outspent him. With the full support of the Republican party behind him, Flores said he believed he could win.

“[Before,] what we didn’t have in money, we had in human capital,” Flores said. “Now we had both human capital, and money, and support from the political apparatus.”

Not only did Flores win endorsements from key Republican figures such as Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Sens. Ted Cruz and John Cornyn, he raised $20,200 in the last few days of the campaign and nearly $25,000 in the form of campaign advertising from the Associated Republicans of Texas Fund.

Gallego had outraised Flores by more than $100,000 as of Monday, pulling in $91,000 in last-minute donations.

In July’s election, Flores won more than 34 percent of the vote while Gallego had nearly 29 percent. State Rep. Roland Gutierrez (D-San Antonio) came in third with more than 24 percent of the vote, but not enough to make the runoff.

Jackie Wang covered local government for the San Antonio Report.