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Several House Incumbents Are Very Entrenched

Last of three parts

For Texas Republicans serving in the House and the Lone Star State GOP in general, there is bigger political cause in this year’s elections than flipping the 22nd and 23rd districts back into GOP hands.

[IMGCAP(1)]There are a raft of Democrats and Republicans waiting in the wings to run for federal office, should any incumbents in House districts 1 through 32 ever decide to call it quits.

But with a relatively static House delegation, most of the focus this cycle is on the 7th and 10th districts, where Democrats are challenging two sitting Republicans, and the 22nd and 23rd districts, where the GOP is hoping to oust two Democratic Congressmen who previously represented other districts before winning election to their current seats in 2006.

The 22nd district is a Republican-leaning seat in suburban Houston, formerly held by ex-Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R). The Republican primary attracted 10 candidates, with former Senate aide Pete Olson (R) ultimately defeating former Rep. Shelley Sekula Gibbs (R) in a runoff, thanks in no small part to help from the Texas House GOP delegation.

Olson is facing Rep. Nick Lampson (D) in the fall. Should Olson oust Lampson, look for this seat to once again move into “off the table” status for the Democrats.

The 23rd district is competitively drawn and was created by a federal court in the summer of 2006 to bring it into compliance with the Voting Rights Act. Then-Rep. Henry Bonilla (R) nearly won re-election in the new seat in a November 2006 special election. But he failed to secure 50 percent of the vote and went on to lose to former Rep. Ciro Rodriguez (D) in a runoff a few weeks later.

To win a second term in the 23rd district, which stretches from San Antonio west to the edge of El Paso, Rodriguez must defeat Bexar County Commissioner Lyle Larson (R). Larson defeated wealthy attorney Quico Canseco in the March 4 GOP primary despite the fact that Canseco spent nearly $1 million of his own money during a campaign that lasted almost a year.

If Larson beats Rodriguez, the Democrats might turn to state Sen. Carlos Uresti or state Rep. Pete Gallego to avenge the seat in 2010.

“Texas Republicans are fortunate to have Pete Olson and Lyle Larson running in these two marquee Congressional districts,” Texas GOP spokesman Hans Klingler said Monday. These are “individuals who have the positive vision and conservative records which will be imperative in taking back these seats from the current liberal occupants.”

The Democrats are confident that they will hold the 22nd and 23rd districts. While Republicans argue that voters want Congressmen who reflect their political values, Democrats contend that they want independent thinkers who puts the needs of the district above partisanship.

“The Democratic wins in Texas Congressional districts 22 and 23 were a strong signal that Texans were fed up with Republican politicians who failed to meet the needs of their constituents,” Texas Democratic Party spokesman Hector Nieto said.

The Democratic-leaning 16th district is one of those districts where ambitious Texas politicians might be waiting awhile. After the Democrats took control of the House in 2006, Rep. Silvestre Reyes (D) was named chairman of the Intelligence Committee, and there is no indication that he wants to retire any time soon.

But when he does, Democrats might look to state Sen. Eliot Shapleigh to succeed him.

In the solidly conservative 17th district, Rep. Chet Edwards (D) may have seen the last of his tough challenges in 2006, when he defeated wealthy businessman and military veteran Van Taylor (R). Still, the political makeup of the seat probably means the GOP won’t stop trying — the 17th is President Bush’s home district.

One possible Republican candidate is former House aide and attorney Tucker Anderson. Anderson lost to Taylor in the 2006 GOP primary. But if he is better funded in the future, his ties to Texas A&M University, key in that district, could help him compete against Edwards, who has also benefited from his status as an Aggie.

In the Democratic 18th district, there are three Democrats seen as viable replacements to Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D), should she decide to hang it up. They are state Sen. Rodney Ellis and state Reps. Senfronia Thompson and Sylvester Turner.

In the Democratic-leaning 20th district, Rep. Charlie Gonzalez (D) appears safe from any future GOP challenges. But look for state Sen. Leticia Van de Putte (D) and several state Representatives to angle to succeed him whenever he decides to retire.

In the Republican-leaning 24th district, Rep. Kenny Marchant (R) is serving in his second term and is not seen as going anywhere by his fellow Republicans. But Democrats might look to state Rep. Kirk England as a future challenger. In the Democratic-leaning 25th district, Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D) could be succeeded by state Sen. Kirk Watson (D) or state Rep. Eddie Rodriguez (D), when the time comes for him to retire.

Should Rep. Solomon Ortiz (D) retire from the 27th district, Democrats might look to state Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr. or state Rep. Solomon Ortiz Jr. to replace him. Should Rep. Henry Cuellar (D) retire from the 28th district, Democrats might look to state Rep. Richard Raymond, who has run for the seat before, to replace him.

Should Rep. Gene Green (D) vacate the 29th district, Democrats might look to state Sen. Mario Gallegos or state Rep. Rick Noriega to succeed him. Whether Noriega is available, of course, will depend on how he does this fall against Sen. John Cornyn (R).

Should Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D) vacate the 30th district, state Sen. Royce West (D) or state Rep. Yvonne Davis (D) might run for the seat.

In the Dallas-area 32nd district, no one expects Rep. Pete Sessions (R) to retire any time soon. He is a prolific fundraiser and is viewed as a potential Senate candidate in 2010 or beyond. Should he vacate his seat for any reason, a number of Republicans might run for his seat, including state Rep. Dan Branch, state Sen. John Carona, businessman Ray Washburne and Dallas County GOP Chairman Jonathan Neerman.

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