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Rating change: Hurd retirement moves Texas district toward Democrats

Three-term Republican won his Clinton seat along U.S.-Mexico border by less than 1,000 votes in 2018

Texas Rep. Will Hurd will not seek another term in 2020. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Texas Rep. Will Hurd will not seek another term in 2020. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Rep. Will Hurd of Texas has been considered one of the Republicans’ strongest incumbents. He proved that last fall, when he was one of just three in the House GOP Conference to win reelection in a district that Hillary Clinton carried in 2016.

But Hurd, who founded a cybersecurity firm before running for Congress, announced Thursday night that he will be returning to his roots.

[Texas Rep. Will Hurd announces retirement]

“I have made the decision to not seek reelection for the 23rd Congressional District of Texas in order to pursue opportunities outside the halls of Congress to solve problems at the nexus between technology and national security,” Hurd said in a statement.

It didn’t take long for National Republican Campaign Committee Chairman Tom Emmer to weigh in, arguing that the district favors Republicans and that the party “will fight tooth and nail” to keep it.

But the fundamentals of this district tell a different story. Hurd won reelection by less than 1,000 votes in 2018 and by about 3,000 in 2016. And as Inside Elections contributor Ryan Matsumoto pointed out, Democratic Senate candidate Beto O’Rourke carried the 23rd District by 5 points last year, while losing statewide to GOP Sen. Ted Cruz.

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The demographics of the district also favor the Democrats. Less than a quarter of its residents are non-Hispanic white, and 40 percent of the non-Hispanic white population has a bachelor’s degree or higher. And while it’s possible that a Democratic primary heats up now that the seat is open, Democrats are ready with Gina Ortiz Jones, who nearly toppled Hurd last year and already raised $588,000 through June for what, until tonight, appeared to be a rematch contest.

Still, Democrats don’t exactly have the race in the bag yet. GOP Gov. Greg Abbott carried the district in 2018, though his race never became competitive, while several Republicans carried the seat down ballot in other statewide races, including for comptroller and land commissioner. And while Democratic presidential candidates have carried the district since 2008, Republicans down ballot have still managed to succeed.

Republicans will likely recruit a Hispanic candidate to hold the district. Potential names include state Sen. Pete Flores, who represents a district that stretches from San Antonio toward the state’s western border. He became the first Hispanic Republican state senator in Texas after winning a special election last fall (defeating Democrat Pete Gallego, Hurd’s predecessor in Congress). Former Texas Secretary of State Rolando Pablos has been mentioned as well.

On the Democratic side, state Rep. César Blanco has been mentioned as someone who could be interested in the seat, given his previous work as chief of staff for members of Congress, including Gallego and Houston Democrat Sheila Jackson Lee. His legislative district is east of El Paso. State Rep. Poncho Nevárez also represents a district — which spans 45,000 square miles — that lies in the 23rd. 

Even with Hurd on the ballot, Inside Elections had the race rated as a Toss-Up, considering his narrow prior wins. It’s possible that Republicans find a candidate with similar appeal, but the burden of proof is on the party to find someone who can actively work against the demographic and partisan trends of the district.

We’re changing our race rating for Texas’ 23rd District from Toss-up to Leans Democratic.

Nathan L. Gonzales contributed to this report. Correction 2:57 p.m. | An earlier version of this story misstated a statewide office for which voters in Texas’ 23rd District backed a Republican last year. Voters here supported the GOP nominee in the races for governor, comptroller, land commissioner and railroad commissioner. 

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