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GOP House candidate Monica De La Cruz will be allowed to return to her Texas home in April amid legal fight with her estranged husband

The U.S. Capitol in Washington on Jan. 12. (Sarah Silbiger/Bloomberg)

A Texas judge ruled Wednesday that a top Republican congressional recruit must continue living away from her family home until after the March 1 primary, following a contentious court hearing with her estranged husband.

Monica De La Cruz, who is backed by House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), testified that she had moved out of her Edinburg, Tex., home to an Airbnb rental last year, after her husband accused her in court papers of mistreating his teenage daughter and she told police he was trying to provoke her by making video recordings of her.

A top recruit for her party with nearly $1 million in the bank, De La Cruz is running for the only open competitive seat in the state, the 15th District, which stretches north from the border city of McAllen to the eastern suburbs of San Antonio. She was endorsed last year as a “Young Gun” by McCarthy and this year as a “Trailblazer” candidate by the Congressional Leadership Fund, a super PAC tied to the leader — endorsements whose monikers come with the promise of significant financial support.

Hidalgo County Judge Fernando Mancias ruled that De La Cruz would be able to take possession of the marital home starting on April 1, rejecting her husband’s efforts to keep the house indefinitely. She told the court she hopes to return with her two children from a previous marriage, who have been staying with their father.

“I am grateful that the judge understood the facts and ruled in our favor,” De La Cruz said in a statement to The Washington Post. “I continue to ask for privacy for the minors involved.”

The ruling was the latest turn in an acrimonious separation process between De La Cruz and her husband, Johnny Hernandez, who have been married since 2015. De La Cruz in court denied the allegations of mistreatment, including her husband’s assertion that she was verbally abusive and pinched his daughter to stop her from crying.

She also defended her own conduct in the face of text messages, introduced into the court record, in which she attacked Hernandez’s daughter by name during a fight with him.

“I loved her and I accepted her into our home,” De La Cruz said of the daughter during the Jan. 7 court hearing. “I loved her as I did my other kids.”

Hernandez testified that she had been cold to his daughter for an extended period of time before the recent incidents. His daughter had been living for much of the last two years with her biological mother, Hernandez said in court.

De La Cruz and Hernandez’s relationship deteriorated in late August, when Hernandez took a trip to visit his daughter and at one point decided to drive his ex-wife to her home after she had been drinking, he testified. He later told De La Cruz that he wanted to bring his daughter back to Edinburg to live with them again.

Text messages from the time, which were introduced in court, showed that De La Cruz threatened to end the marriage when she found out that her husband had driven his ex-wife home while intoxicated. De La Cruz testified that she suspected Hernandez had been cheating on her with his ex-wife, both during and before their current marriage.

“I love my husband and I don’t like him sleeping with his ex-wife,” she told the court.

Hernandez, in an interview, said he had not cheated on De La Cruz. His ex-wife, Marlies Vanewijck, also denied in an interview any relationship with Hernandez beyond their efforts to raise their daughter. She confirmed that she had drunk alcohol the night she got a ride from Hernandez.

The text messages showed that De La Cruz threatened to end the marriage in August if Hernandez brought his daughter home, and directed a four-letter expletive at Hernandez, his ex-wife and their daughter.

She later repeated the vulgar message twice, referring to his daughter by name. The Washington Post is not disclosing her name because she is a minor.

“Not very congressional,” her husband responded in the text message thread. “You don’t mean that about me and my daughter.”

“I mean every word,” De La Cruz shot back.

After the August incident, relations between the couple remained combustible, court documents show. On Nov. 15, a week after De La Cruz was named a “Young Gun,” police were called to their home. De La Cruz told officers that Hernandez and his sister had been following her around the house and video recording her in an effort to “instigate a rise out of her,” according to the Edinburg Police Department report of the incident. The report said she told officers she felt afraid of him.

Hernandez, the report said, told police that he had recorded his wife because she appeared to be intoxicated. No charges were filed as a result of the incident.

Both Hernandez and De La Cruz are now seeking a divorce. Hernandez said he had worked with his wife for years to get involved with local Republican politics, but that their separation has led to him being ostracized from local party officials.

“She has become so shortsighted with everything,” Hernandez said in an interview. “If it doesn’t help her campaign, she doesn’t care. She would rather not deal with it.”

De La Cruz ran against Rep. Vicente Gonzalez (D-Tex.) in the 2020 cycle, coming about three percentage points short of victory.

Gonzalez has since announced that he will compete in 2022 in a neighboring congressional district, placing De La Cruz in contention for a key pickup opportunity for her party.

Despite the support of national Republicans, De La Cruz will face a challenge in the GOP primary from Mauro Garza, an area business executive, and Ryan Krause, who ran against her in the primary in 2020.