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Ratings Change: Culberson’s Texas Seat Creeps Closer to Toss-Up

7th District shifts from Leans Republican to Tilts Republican

Rep. John Culberson, R-Texas, doesn’t have the financial advantage typically held by incumbents. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Rep. John Culberson, R-Texas, doesn’t have the financial advantage typically held by incumbents. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Every cycle there is a member of Congress who fails to modernize his campaign and adapt to new challenges, whether it’s Florida’s John Mica last cycle or George Gekas of Pennsylvania from further back. Texas Republican John Culberson might be the newest addition to the club.

He was re-elected in 2016 with 56 percent in an uneventful race, but Hillary Clinton narrowly carried the district (49-47 percent), making Culberson one of 23 Republicans representing districts won by the Democratic presidential nominee, and a Democratic takeover target.

The presidential result and a growing nonwhite population, along with a university community with highly educated voters trending Democratic, helped the congressman draw multiple serious challengers this cycle.

Two Democrats — local nonprofit director Alex Triantaphyllis and lawyer Lizzie Pannill Fletcher — ended September with more cash on hand than Culberson, who had a modest $389,000 in the bank. Two other Democrats, Jason Westin and Laura Moser, are running credible campaigns as well.

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Not only has Culberson ceded the financial advantage typically enjoyed by an incumbent, but it’s also not clear his campaign is up to speed in the face of his most competitive race in years. The New York Times recently reported that the congressman has yet to hire a full-time campaign manager.

The Democratic candidates will have to spend in the March primary and May runoff in order to secure the nomination. But those races are early enough that the winner should have plenty of time to raise money and unify the party, particularly considering the contours of the district.

We’re changing our Inside Elections rating of the race for the 7th District of Texas from Leans Republican to Tilts Republican. To learn more about Culberson’s race and a dozen more interesting races in the Lone Star State, read Leah Askarinam’s Texas overview in the Dec. 15 issue of Inside Elections.

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