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Democrats Get Preferred Candidates in House Races in Texas

GOP sees mixed fortunes for establishment candidates in runoffs

Air Force veteran Gina Ortiz Jones won the Democratic nomination for Texas’ 23rd District. (Thomas McKinless/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Air Force veteran Gina Ortiz Jones won the Democratic nomination for Texas’ 23rd District. (Thomas McKinless/CQ Roll Call file photo)

General election matchups in Texas were set following Tuesday’s runoffs, including a few expected to be competitive in the fall. 

Democrats saw new opportunities in the Lone Star state after Hillary Clinton carried three Republican-held seats in 2016. Each of those races on the Democratic side went to a runoff after no one took more than 50 percent of the vote in the March 6 primary. A slew of Republican retirements sparked crowded GOP primaries, which led to runoffs in five open seats. The winners of most of these contests are likely to come to Congress from the Republican-leaning districts.

GOP-held districts that backed Clinton

Democrats are targeting three districts represented by Republican lawmakers that Clinton carried in 2016.

7th District

The 7th District contest captured headlines after national Democrats dropped opposition research on activist and writer Laura Moser ahead of the March 6 primary. Although Moser made it to the runoff, she was defeated Tuesday by lawyer Lizzie Pannill Fletcher, who scored a 67 percent to 33 percent victory. 

During the campaign, Fletcher stressed reaching out to GOP voters to flip the district. She had the backing of EMILY’s List and a number of local Democrats. She will next face nine-term GOP Rep. John Culberson in the Houston-area district that Clinton carried by 1 point in 2016. Inside Elections rates the race Tilts Republican.

23rd District

Former Air Force intelligence officer and Iraq War veteran Gina Ortiz Jones won the Democratic runoff in the 23rd District, defeating former high school teacher Rick Treviño, 68 percent to 32 percent. She will face two-term GOP Rep. Will Hurd in November.

Democrats have unsuccessfully targeted the seat the past two cycles, but believe Jones’ military service can help counter Hurd’s experience as a CIA officer.

Jones was added to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s Red to Blue program for promising challengers after she finished first in the March primary. If elected, she would be the first Filipina-American to serve in Congress and the first openly gay woman to represent Texas in Washington.

Clinton carried the district by 3 points in 2016. Inside Elections rates the race a Toss-up.

32nd District

Former NFL player Colin Allred won the Democratic runoff in the 32nd District on Tuesday, defeating fellow Obama administration alum Lillian Salerno, who was backed by EMILY’s List, 69 percent to 31 percent.

The DCCC added Allred to its Red to Blue program in late March, signaling it considered Allred the stronger challenger to Republican incumbent Pete Sessions. Clinton carried the Dallas-area district by 2 points in 2016. Inside Elections rates the race Likely Republican.

GOP-held open seats

Five open seats are hosting GOP runoffs Tuesday. In four of them, the winners will be strongly favored for November in the Republican-leaning districts.

The races attracted attention from outside groups. The political arm of the conservative Club for Growth spent nearly $1.5 million in four of the contests. The political arm of the House Freedom Caucus backed candidates in two of the runoffs.

2nd District

Navy veteran Dan Crenshaw won the GOP runoff for Texas’ 2nd District over state Rep. Kevin Roberts, 70 percent to 30 percent. GOP incumbent Ted Poe is not running for an eighth term.

Crenshaw next faces Democrat Todd Litton, a nonprofit executive, in November. 

President Donald Trump carried the Houston-area seat by 9 points in 2016. Inside Elections rates the race Solid Republican.

5th District

State Rep. Lance Gooden defeated longtime GOP fundraiser Bunni Pounds, 53 percent to 47 percent, to win the Republican runoff in the 5th District, vacated by retiring GOP Rep. Jeb Hensarling.

Club for Growth Action spent $333,000 boosting Pounds, who was Hensarling’s campaign manager. Pounds was hoping to join Rep. Kay Granger as the only second Republican woman in the Texas delegation. 

Gooden next faces lawyer Dan Wood, who was unopposed in the March Democratic primary. Trump carried the 5th District by 28 points in 2016. Inside Elections rates the race Solid Republican.

6th District

Ron Wright won the GOP runoff for the open 6th District seat that his onetime boss, GOP Rep. Joe L. Barton, is vacating after a sexting scandal.

With 100 percent of precincts reporting, Wright, a former Tarrant County tax assessor-collector, defeated Navy veteran Jake Ellzey, 52 percent to 48 percent.

Wright had Barton’s support and was backed by Club for Growth Action. He will next face public relations consultant Jana Lynne Sanchez, who won the Democratic runoff over education counselor Ruby Faye Woolridge on Tuesday. 

Trump carried the district by 13 points in 2016. Inside Elections rates the general election race Solid Republican.

21st District

Chip Roy, a former chief of staff to Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, won the the GOP runoff in the 21st District, defeating businessman Mike McCall, 53 percent to 47 percent, in the race to succeed retiring GOP Rep. Lamar Smith. Club for Growth Action had spent more than $454,000 backing Roy in the primary.

Awaiting Roy in November will be Army veteran and entrepreneur Joseph Kopser, who won the Democratic runoff Tuesday over pastor and former teacher Mary Street Wilson, 58 percent to 42 percent. Democrats are targeting the 21st District and see Kopser as a strong candidate. 

Trump carried the 21st by 10 points in 2016 and Inside Elections rates the race Likely Republican.

27th District

Michael Cloud won the GOP nomination in Texas’ 27th District, which opened up after Republican Rep. Blake Farenthold opted not to seek re-election amid allegations of sexual harassment. Farenthold resigned from Congress last month. 

Cloud, a onetime Victoria County GOP chairman, defeated former state Water Development Board Chairman Bech Bruun, 61 percent to 39 percent.

Bruun had been endorsed by former Texas Gov. Rick Perry while Cloud was backed by the political arms of the House Freedom Caucus and the Club for Growth, as well as former Texas Rep. Ron Paul.

Cloud will be heavily favored to win the general election against former congressional aide Eric Holguin, who won the Democratic runoff Tuesday. Trump carried the district by 24 points in 2016. Inside Elections rates the race Solid Republican.

Other races

The Democratic nominees in a few Solid Republican races were also decided Tuesday. 

22nd District

Sri Preston Kulkarni won the Democratic runoff in the Houston-area 22nd District on Tuesday, defeating dentist Letitia Plummer, 62 percent to 38 percent.

Kulkarni, a former U.S. Foreign Service officer, will be a heavy underdog in the general election against five-term GOP Rep. Pete Olson. Trump carried the district by 8 points in 2016.

31st District

Air Force veteran Mary Jennings “MJ” Hegar won the Democratic nomination to take on GOP Rep. John Carter in the 31st District in November. She defeated physician Christine Mann, 62 percent to 38 percent.

During a 2009 tour of Afghanistan as a search-and-rescue pilot, Hegar saved three of her passengers after her helicopter was shot down by the Taliban, which earned her a Distinguished Flying Cross with Valor Device and a Purple Heart.

Democrats have been cautiously optimistic about the seat though the DCCC has not yet added it to its target list. 

“From surviving against all the odds when her helicopter was shot down in Afghanistan, to her work opening up jobs for women in the military, MJ Hegar has never backed down from a challenge. MJ’s unparalleled commitment to serving her country and the tireless work she has done to build a strong, Texas-first campaign makes this race one to watch in November,” DCCC Chairman Ben Ray Luján said in a statement after the race was called.

Trump carried the 31st District by  13 points in 2016. 

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