Politics

Competitive Primaries in Texas Yield Few Outright Wins

Most are heading for May 22 runoff

Gina Ortiz Jones has made the Democratic primary runoff in Texas’ 23rd District. (Thomas McKinless/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Tuesday’s elections in Texas were the first congressional primaries of the 2018 cycle. But many competitive intraparty contests in the Lone Star State are heading for runoffs, with no candidate clearing 50 percent. 

Former Air Force intelligence officer Gina Ortiz Jones advanced to the Democratic runoff in her quest to take on two-term Republican incumbent Will Hurd in Texas’ 23rd District, one of the most competitive seats in the country.

With more than 89 percent of precincts reporting, Ortiz Jones, who is backed by EMILY’s List, led with 41 percent of the vote. It’s not yet clear whom she’ll be facing in the May 22 runoff.

Lawyer Jay Hulings, a former House Intelligence Committee staffer, was in a surprising fourth place with 15 percent behind Jones, Judy Canales and Rick Trevino. 

Hurd is a top Democratic target in a district Hillary Clinton carried by 4 points in 2016. If she wins in November, Ortiz Jones would be the first Filipina-American to serve in Congress.

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In the competitive 7th District Democratic primary in suburban Houston, Lizzie Pannill Fletcher and Laura Moser advanced to the runoff. Democrats are targeting GOP Rep. John Culberson here, after Clinton  narrowly carried the seat in 2016. 

Fletcher, who was endorsed by EMILY’s List, led with 29 percent of the vote to 24 percent for Moser, with 97 percent of precincts reporting. Moser came under attack by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee less than two weeks ago for negative comments she once made about living in the state, and for her campaign’s ties to her husband’s consulting firm. But the attacks may have emboldened liberals to rally behind her.

Nine Republicans ran for retiring GOP Rep. Ted Poe’s seat in 2nd District. State Rep. Kevin Roberts and former Navy SEAL Dan Crenshaw will face off in the May runoff. Wealthy GOP activist Kathaleen Wall, who spent millions in the primary, finished third. The runoff winner will face Democrat Todd Litton, whom some strategists think could be competitive. The general election is rated Solid Republican. 

In the first race to be called Tuesday night, there was an outright primary winner. State Sen. Van Taylor won the Republican contest for retiring GOP Rep. Sam Johnson’s 3rd District seat. He is in a strong position to win the general election race rated Solid Republican.

The Solid Republican race for the 5th District seat, being vacated by GOP Rep. Jeb Hensarling, is heading for a runoff. State Rep. Lance Gooden will meet Hensarling’s former campaign manager Bunni Pounds. 

In the Solid Republican 6th District contest, retiring GOP Rep. Joe L. Barton’s former chief of staff Ron Wright advanced to the May runoff. He will meet Jake Ellzey, who was running before Barton announced his retirement. President Donald Trump carried the seat by 12 points in 2016.

A whopping 18 Republicans were on the ballot for the GOP primary in the 21st District, another Solid Republican race, where GOP Rep. Lamar Smith was not seeking re-election. Chip Roy, a former chief of staff to Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, and businessman Matt McCall, who ran for the seat in 2014 and 2016, have advanced to the runoff. Roy has the backing of the Club for Growth PAC and the House Freedom Fund, the political arm of the House Freedom Caucus. 

Democrats are targeting this race and will also have a May runoff between Mary Wilson, a former professor-turned-minister, and former Army officer and entrepreneur Joseph Kopser. Democrats think Kopser could make the general election competitive. He’s backed by 314 Action and VoteVets.

GOP Rep. Blake Farenthold announced his retirement amid sexual harassment allegations after the filing deadline for the 27th District had already passed. Texas Water Development Board Chairman Bech Bruun and former Victoria County GOP Chairman Michael Cloud will face each other in the May runoff. The winner will be heavily favored in the general election, rated Solid Republican.

Texas’ 32nd District is another Democratic target. Lawyer Colin Allred, a onetime NFL linebacker who also worked in the Obama administration, finished first with 39 percent of the vote. Joining him in the May runoff will be businesswoman Lillian Salerno, an EMILY’s List endorsee, who took 18 percent. The winner will take on GOP incumbent Pete Sessions. The general election contest is rated Likely Republican.

In the Solid Democratic 16th District race, El Paso County Judge Veronica Escobar won the primary outright with 61 percent of the vote. She has the support of EMILY’s List and Bold PAC. Democratic incumbent Beto O’Rourke is running for Senate. (He easily won his primary Tuesday to face Republican incumbent Ted Cruz.) Hillary Clinton carried the El Paso district by 41 points in 2016.

In the Houston-based 29th District, state Sen. Sylvia Garcia avoided a runoff in the Democratic primary, finishing with 63 percent. Democratic incumbent Gene Green is retiring. Garcia was backed by EMILY’s List, Bold PAC and Green. She’s now a strong favorite in the Solid Democratic general election.

Both Escobar and Garcia now appear set to make history in the fall. 

“In a state that has never elected a Latina to Congress, EMILY’s List is particularly proud to congratulate Veronica Escobar and Sylvia Garcia as they both move one step closer to making history this November,” Stephanie Schriock, the group’s president, said in a statement.

Bridget Bowman contributed to this report. 

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