A Democratic candidate for El Paso County sheriff was photographed by his wife wearing a T-shirt that said “Let’s go Brandon,” a message based on a vulgarity that has become a rallying cry for some Republicans and conservatives opposed to President Joe Biden.

Bobby Flores, who is seeking the Democratic nomination for sheriff after recently retiring from the department after 33 years, said his wife Rocio bought the shirt for him while they were at a North Texas concert in August 2022 by country musician Aaron Lewis. He then wore it to another North Texas concert in March, and she posted photos of him wearing the shirt on her Facebook page.

Rocio Flores, wife of Democratic sheriff candidate Bobby Flores, posted these pictures on her Facebook page.

“She had absolutely no idea what ‘Let’s Go Brandon’ meant. However, I did,” Flores said.

He said the T-shirt doesn’t reflect his political beliefs. “I acknowledge that wearing that shirt was not one of my best decisions, but at the end of the day, we should be judged on our Democratic voting record and on our experience, and no other candidate for sheriff matches mine.” 

“Let’s go Brandon” is an expression adopted in 2021 by Biden opponents as a stand-in for “f— Joe Biden.” 

It originated in October 2021 when an NBC sports announcer was interviewing Brandon Brown after he won a NASCAR race. The crowd was chanting the anti-Biden vulgarity during the interview. The reporter suggested the crowd was chanting “Let’s go Brandon,” and that phrase has since been used repeatedly by Republicans and other conservatives.

Bobby Flores

El Paso County Democratic Party Chairman Michael Apodaca said he and members of the party’s executive committee can’t endorse or oppose candidates in the primary. But he said Flores’ decision to wear the anti-Biden shirt is concerning.

“This screenshot raises numerous questions, such as, ‘Will he stand up to Greg Abbott on his horrible and unethical border security decisions? Will he protect El Pasoans against hate speech?’ We should ask him and all of our candidates seeking the nomination. Our numerous clubs and organizations will have candidate forums so the public can ask this before voting,” Apodaca said.  

The shirt worn by Flores was produced by Lewis, a musician who founded the alternative metal band Staind and later became a solo country artist. Lewis frequently expresses views popular among elements of the extreme right, including opposing COVID-19 vaccines and speaking sympathetically about Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Flores said he is a “huge fan of Staind and Aaron Lewis.”

At concerts, Lewis has led “f— Joe Biden” chants. Flores said Lewis didn’t lead that chant at the concert he and his wife attended in August 2022, though YouTube video of the concert shows a disorganized attempt to start the chant late in the show. 

The video shows Lewis wearing a T-shirt that said “FUJOE Sniffing since 72.” He also performed a song called “If I Was a Liberal” in which he mocks liberals and denounces “Beto f—ing O’Rourke,” the El Paso Democrat who was then challenging Republican Gov. Greg Abbott.

Flores is among four people so far seeking the Democratic nomination for sheriff. No Republican has ever been elected to the office.

Incumbent Richard Wiles isn’t seeking re-election after serving 16 years on the job. The other Democratic candidates so far in the March 2024 primary are Ryan Urrutia, a commander in the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office; Constable Oscar Ugarte; and former El Paso police officer Raul Mendiola.

Ugarte and Mendiola criticized Flores for wearing the T-shirt.

“I can’t imagine any Democrat who would embrace that vulgar, hateful rallying cry of the far right intended to denigrate President Biden, and it is especially alarming coming from someone seeking the Democratic nomination for the county’s top elected law enforcement position,” Ugarte said.

Mendiola said he was sad to see a Democratic candidate “denigrating the duly elected president of the United States. It’s disappointing that a Democratic candidate seeking a position for El Paso County sheriff would do such a disrespectful action.”

Urrutia didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Flores said, “My solid Democratic voting record speaks for itself.” He has received campaign contributions from prominent Democrats such as former U.S. Rep. Silvestre Reyes and County Commissioner Carlos Leon.

County voting records collected by El Paso Matters dating to 2004 show that Flores, 52,
voted in the 2004 general election but did not vote again until the 2016 general election, according to the records. He voted in Democratic primaries in 2018 and 2020, but not in 2022.

Flores initially claimed the election records are inaccurate and that they were confusing him with another person with a similar name. “I have always supported Democrats and will continue to support Democrats locally and nationally,” he said.

El Paso County Elections Administrator Lisa Wise checked Flores’ voting record after El Paso Matters shared his allegation, and said her office “did not find any evidence of the vote history to be erroneous.”

Flores backed off that claim after being presented with details of his voting record.

“I was very politically active while I was on the board of the Sheriff’s Association and then not so much afterward. This explains my gap in voting. I was definitely active in the ’90s and early 2000s while on the board and then it appears I wasn’t as active as I probably could’ve been,” he said.

1:30 p.m. Aug. 17: This story has been updated to include a comment from El Paso County Democratic Party Chairman Michael Apodaca.

10:55 a.m. Aug. 17: This story has been updated to include a comment from sheriff candidate Raul Mendiola.

Robert Moore is the founder and CEO of El Paso Matters. He has been a journalist in the Texas Borderlands since 1986.