During the day, the SSGT Willie de Leon Civic Center in Uvalde, Texas, served as a polling place for voters casting ballots in Texas’ primary runoff election.
At night, parents filed into the building to learn if their children were still alive.
The massacre of 19 children and two adults at Uvalde’s Robb Elementary School on Tuesday turned Election Day in Texas and a handful of Southern states into a familiar ritual of sorrow, outrage and partisan bickering. Candidates took time from monitoring turnout to issue statements of condolence on Twitter. Later in the night, they were pressed anew about their positions on gun control.
In Texas, statewide Republicans like Sen. Ted Cruz and Attorney General Ken Paxton wasted no time reaffirming their commitment to Second Amendment rights and opposition to new restrictions on gun ownership.
Paxton called for more armed police officers — sometimes called school resource officers — to be in schools and for funding for a program to train other school employees to be armed.
“You’ve got to have a police officer there or other people trained to react in moments of crisis like this,” Paxton said on Fox News. “There’s no doubt if someone there had been armed, if several people had been armed and trained, there would have been the potential to eliminate some of the loss that we had yesterday. That in the end is the goal.”
Paxton, who was endorsed by Donald Trump, beat state Land Commissioner George P. Bush in a runoff for the attorney general nomination, earning about 68 percent of the vote to Bush’s 32 percent.
Cruz, who was not on the ballot Tuesday, echoed Paxton’s call for more arms in schools to prevent these tragedies.
“We know from past experience that the most effective tool for keeping kids safe is armed law enforcement on the campus,” Cruz said on MSNBC from a hallway on Capitol Hill.
“Inevitably, when there’s a murder of this kind, you see politicians try to politicize it. You see Democrats and a lot of folks in the media whose immediate solution is to try to restrict the constitutional rights of law-abiding citizens. That doesn’t work,” Cruz added.
Cruz also tweeted out a sympathetic message, calling to lift up the victims and their families in prayer. But colleagues in Congress reacted with fury to his policy solution of needing more guns on school grounds.
“Fuck you @tedcruz you care about a fetus but you will let our children get slaughtered. Just get your ass to Cancun. You are useless,” tweeted Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-Ariz.).
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) also called out Cruz for being listed as a guest speaker at a National Rifle Association conference in Houston, Texas later this week. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican who is up for reelection in November, is also an invited speaker.
In nearby Georgia, GOP Senate candidate Herschel Walker delayed his victory speech — he won decisively early in the night — to yield the airwaves to President Joe Biden, who addressed the nation at about 8:45 p.m. Eastern Time.
Walker started his own speech with a silent moment of prayer for the people in Texas and gave the following written statement on the shooting: “Julie [Blanchard, his wife] and I are heartbroken over the tragedy in Uvalde, Texas. We are lifting up the victims and their families in prayer.”
When asked if he would support new gun laws by a reporter after his event, Walker said, “What I like to do is see it and everything and stuff.”
Walker is facing off against Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.) in a race critical to the fight for Senate control.
The Robb Elementary School shooting was just a couple of hours outside of San Antonio and the boundaries of Texas’ 28th District, where two runoff elections were also taking place for the Democratic and Republican nominations.
“I am heartbroken over the mass shooting at Robb Elementary School. 15 families, the South Texas community and the entire nation are in mourning,” Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas) tweeted. “Let us pray for peace. Let us come together for our neighbors that need support. And let us remember the bright lives we lost today.”
Cuellar remains locked in a neck-and-neck race for the Democratic nomination there with progressive challenger Jessica Cisneros.
“This is a devastating tragedy. How many more mass shootings do children have to experience before we say enough?” Cisneros tweeted. “Sending my condolences to the children and families in Uvalde who are experiencing this unthinkable tragedy.”
Their race is too close to call as of Wednesday morning, with the two separated by fewer than 200 votes.
Most candidates on Tuesday made public statements on the shooting and some mentioned the tragedy in their victory speeches.
Democratic Rep. Lucy McBath, who has experienced the horror of gun violence firsthand, went further: She threw out her planned speech to shift focus onto the school shooting in Texas from an event in a suburb outside of Atlanta.
McBath spoke about how the murder of her son, Jordan Davis, by a gunman in 2012 inspired her to run for Congress in the first place.
“From Uvalde to Sandy Hook, from Charleston to Buffalo,” McBath said, “the violence that took my son is being replayed with casual callousness and despicable frequency.”
McBath, first elected in 2018, is vice chair of the Gun Violence Prevention Task Force in Congress and a co-sponsor of several pieces of gun safety legislation.
“We are here because this isn’t just a policy agenda. This isn’t just numbers and a budget or text on a page. This is about the challenges that we’ve faced,” McBath said in her speech. “This is about real people with real challenges. And the work we do in Washington, it’s not hypothetical.”