SAN ANTONIO – For years, the 23rd congressional district has been called Texas’ only true “swing” district. No party has ever really carried an advantage with voters here.
“It’s one of the most interesting districts in the country. It’s one of three districts that Hillary Clinton carried in Texas. But, in the same year, Will Hurd, a Republican, won it. It’s always two points up or down,” said Texas Democratic strategist Mustafa Tameez.
Congressman Will Hurd is now locked in a tight race with Democratic challenger Gina Ortiz Jones. While he's confident about the race, he said he understands the district's challenges.
“Twenty-nine counties, two time zones, 820 miles of the border. It takes 10-and-a-half hours to drive across it from one side of the district to the other at 80 miles per hour,” Hurd said.
Reaching voters is difficult in this rural district that’s only slightly smaller than the state of Georgia. But Hurd said is counting on his reputation to get him re-elected.
“I love this district because it’s the only 50/50 district in Texas, and it’s an opportunity for me to take conservative values to parts of the state that aren't used to seeing Republicans,” said Hurd.
The district, which spans one-third of the country’s border with Mexico, is more than 70 percent Latino, and experts say it may be one reason why it’s hard to pin down. The Hispanics in this region, experts say, are not a monolithic voting bloc.
“Being Latino doesn’t mean it’s a Democratic-driven population. There are a significant number of Latinos that are Republican, that are fiscally and socially conservative,” said Lloyd Potter, a Texas demographer and professor of demography at the University of Texas at San Antonio.
“Nonetheless, I think there are interesting dynamics here because essentially you have less polarization occurring in this district in terms of the candidates that are running,” added Potter.
Immigration is a key issue.
“People along the border say we should be able to secure the border. But, people here at the border also know that every mile of border is different from every other mile, so you can’t have a one-size-fits-all solution,” said Hurd.
Hurd has called out the president on his comments about Russia during the Helsinki summit and made headlines for joining Democratic Congressman and Senate candidate Beto O’Rourke on a bipartisan road trip from Texas to D.C. last year.
Still, Ortiz Jones has criticized the two-term congressman’s image as a “moderate” Republican.
"We need someone who’s going to step up and fight for us and do what they say in the district, and we don’t have that right now,” said Ortiz Jones.
Though immigration is a priority, Tameez believes health care will be a pressing topic for voters this midterm election.
“Immigration is a big issue, but the thing people really care about is health care because most of these districts are rural. There’s not a lot of rural hospitals that serve the constituents of the 23rd district, and that’s going to be the No. 1 issue,” said Tameez.