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House battlegrounds set in Texas, unclear in Maine

Democrats are targeting several Texas seats, defending Maine’s 2nd District

Texas' 24th District is one of several House seats that Democrats are targeting in 2020. Candace Valenzuela won the party nod Tuesday night to take on Republican Beth Van Duyne in November.
Texas' 24th District is one of several House seats that Democrats are targeting in 2020. Candace Valenzuela won the party nod Tuesday night to take on Republican Beth Van Duyne in November. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Voters in Texas set the contests Tuesday for several House districts that could give Democrats an even bigger majority or offer Republicans a shot at curbing it. Election officials in Maine, meanwhile, appeared likely to need some more time to determine the GOP winner in another battleground district.

Democrats are targeting suburban districts in Texas, seeking to build on their successful 2018 path to the House majority. Republicans have their eyes on recapturing Maine’s 2nd District, where freshman Democrat Jared Golden holds a major cash advantage.  

A three-way GOP primary to choose Golden’s challenger will likely take more time to be decided because no candidate appears to have cleared 50 percent, triggering the state’s ranked-choice voting system.

The presidential campaigns and competitive Senate contests in both states will also factor in these districts heading into November.  

Whoever wins in Maine will trail financially

Three Republicans sought the nomination to take on Golden, and their competitive primary racked up some serious campaign bills, leaving the eventual winner with a fraction of what the incumbent has. Golden reported more than $2 million in the bank as of June 24.

With 79 percent of the vote counted just before 3 a.m. Eastern time, former state Rep. Dale Crafts was leading with 45 percent of the vote, followed by former gubernatorial aide Adrienne Bennett and former state Sen. Eric Brakey.

Crafts, who raised about $330,000 and held just under $60,000 in the bank as of June 24, was endorsed by former Gov. Paul R. LePage even though Bennett had served as LePage’s press secretary. Brakey, an unsuccessful Senate candidate in 2018, raised just shy of $800,000 but had only about $150,000 remaining as of June 24.

Bennett had just $30,000 on hand of her $170,000 raised. She had about 32 percent of the vote at publication time, while Brakey trailed with less than 23 percent.

Brakey got a boost from conservative organizations such as the Club for Growth and FreedomWorks, both of which spent on his behalf.

If Brakey remains in third place, his votes will be allocated to the candidates his supporters picked as their second choice to determine the winner.

“Looking at the polling numbers coming in, I’ll tell you what, it doesn’t look like we’re going to triumph this evening,” Brakey said during a Facebook Live event Tuesday.

Not only will voters in the 2nd District be bombarded with campaign messages from the House candidates and from the Toss-up Senate race between GOP Sen. Susan Collins and Democratic challenger Sara Gideon, but they are also likely to hear from the presidential candidates too. That’s because Maine uses the so-called congressional district method to allocate its electoral votes. Even though Hillary Clinton won the state by 3 points in 2016, Trump won the 2nd District by 11 points, which earned him one electoral vote.

With the House, Senate and presidential races, “it’s going to be unprecedented for the state of Maine to get this kind of attention,” said GOP consultant Michael Leavitt of the firm Red Maverick Media, who worked for Bennett in the 2nd District primary.  

Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales rates Maine’s 2nd District Tilt Democratic.

Texas Democrats pick challengers

Democrats in Texas picked challengers to GOP lawmakers in two targeted districts. 

In the 10th District, lawyer Mike Siegel, who was backed by Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, won the primary runoff to take on GOP Rep. Michael McCaul. Siegel was leading physician Pritesh Gandhi, 54 percent to 46 percent, when The Associated Press called the race with an estimated 77 percent of precincts reporting. 

Trump carried the 10th District, which includes parts of Austin and the Houston suburbs, by 9 points in 2016. But when Democratic Rep. Beto O’Rourke ran unsuccessfully for Senate in 2018, he carried the seat by less than 600 votes. Inside Elections rates the race Likely Republican

Democrats also picked computer engineer Donna Imam to take on GOP Rep. John Carter in the 31st District near Austin. Imam was leading physician Christine Mann 57 percent to 43 percent when the AP called the race with an estimated 62 percent of precincts reporting. 

Though Trump carried the district by 13 points in 2016, Carter almost lost in 2018 to Air Force veteran MJ Hegar, who won the Democratic Senate nomination Tuesday night. But without a stellar fundraiser like Hegar, this seat could be further out of reach for Democrats this cycle. Inside Elections rates the race Solid Republican.

Open Texas races take shape 

Several Republican House members from Texas decided to retire this year, which Democrats gleefully nicknamed the “Texodus.” Democrats are particularly optimistic about flipping open seats in the 22nd, 23rd, and 24th districts, and those general election matchups were set to be decided Tuesday. 

Democrats’ best pickup opportunity could be in the 23rd District, where GOP Rep. Will Hurd is retiring. The expansive district, which stretches from El Paso to San Antonio, is a perpetual swing district, backing Clinton by 3 points in 2016. Retired Air Force intelligence officer Gina Ortiz Jones nearly defeated Hurd in 2018, and she is once again the Democratic nominee, having won her primary comfortably in March. 

The Republican primary runoff between Navy veteran Tony Gonzales and Air Force veteran Paul Reyes remained too close to call at publication time. As of 4 a.m., the AP was reporting all precincts counted but no winner was declared with just seven votes separating Gonzales, with 12,346, from Reyes, with 12,339.

Gonzales had a slew of high-profile endorsements, including from Trump, Hurd and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy. Reyes had support from Texas GOP Sen. Ted Cruz. Inside Elections rates the general election Lean Democratic

Republicans also picked their nominee in the 22nd District in the Houston suburbs, where GOP Rep. Pete Olson is retiring. Former foreign service officer Sri Preston Kulkarni won the Democratic primary back in March, but Republicans Troy Nehls and Kathaleen Wall advanced to a runoff. 

Wall, a GOP activist and megadonor, spent $7.5 million of her own money on the primary, but Nehls, the Fort Bend County sheriff, easily won Tuesday’s runoff. He was leading Wall 71 percent to 29 percent, when the AP called the race with an estimated 49 percent of precincts reporting. Inside Elections rates the general election Tilt Republican.

Democrats picked their nominee in the 24th District, where GOP Rep. Kenny Marchant is retiring. Former local school board member Candace Valenzuela will face former Irving Mayor Beth Van Duyne, who won the GOP primary in March.

Valenzuela’s runoff against retired Air Force Col. Kim Olson featured plenty of outside spending. Olson had support from VoteVets, a group that backs liberal veterans. Valenzuela was backed by EMILY’s List; BOLD PAC, the political arm of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus; Latino Victory Fund; Voter Protection Project; and End Citizens United. 

With an estimated 59 percent of precincts reporting, Valenzuela was leading Olson 60 percent to 40 percent when the AP called the race. Inside Elections rates the 24th District race Tilt Republican.

If elected, Valenzuela would be the first Black Latina in Congress.

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