Five Republican run-offs to watch in Texas

Five Republican run-offs to watch in Texas
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On May 22, Texas holds six Republican congressional primary runoffs. All are open seats where the GOP incumbent is not seeking re-election. 

Five of these contests are in relatively safe Republican districts. In three of the districts, a Republican winner is a sure thing, and in two others a very heavy favorite, in November. With some nuances, these five races feature competitors on opposing sides in the ongoing Texas GOP civil war between the party’s centrist and conservative wings.

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1. In the 2nd Congressional District in Houston, state representative Kevin Roberts is competing against former Navy SEAL Dan Crenshaw to replace retiring Rep. Ted Poe. Roberts finished first on March 6 with 33 percent of the vote to 27 percent Crenshaw who narrowly edged out Kathaleen Wall, who spent $6 million to win 12,524 votes, by 155 votes.

 

Roberts enjoys the backing of a large number of centrist conservative current and former elected local officials and the three leading Republican slate endorsement organizations in the county. Supporters of Crenshaw include Rick PerryJames (Rick) Richard PerryDon’t worry (too much) about Kavanaugh changing the Supreme Court Overnight Energy: Pruitt gone, but investigations remain | Interim EPA chief called Trump a 'bully' in 2016 | Court rules for greens in air pollution case Trump coal plan could lead to 1 pollution-related death for every 2 jobs: study MORE and several members of the Texas House’s Freedom Caucus along with multiple veterans groups. Crenshaw emerged from the March 6 primary with momentum on his side and goes into the May 22 runoff as a slight favorite to win. The winner will face Democrat Todd Litton in November in a race where the Republican will be a heavy favorite.

2. In the 5th Congressional District, which runs from Dallas into East Texas, state Rep. Lance Gooden is competing against the former campaign manager of Rep. Jeb Hensarling, Bunni Pounds, to replace the retiring Hensarling. Gooden bested Pounds in the first round 30 to 22 percent, but Pounds has received the lion’s share of the major endorsements (e.g., Vice President Mike PenceMichael (Mike) Richard PenceElection Countdown: Senate, House Dems build cash advantage | 2020 Dems slam Trump over Putin presser | Trump has M in war chest | Republican blasts parents for donating to rival | Ocasio-Cortez, Sanders to campaign in Kansas Lewandowski: Trump-Putin meeting advances goal of world peace Indiana has spent over million on cleanup of failed Pence family gas stations: report MORE, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton). Pounds also has more financial support than Gooden.

In the runoff Pounds is favored due to optics in the district through which Gooden is perceived to be less conservative than her based on his comparatively centrist voting record in the Texas House. The victor is a lock to win in November.

3. In the 6th Congressional District in Fort Worth, former Tarrant County Tax Assessor-Collector Ron Wright is competing against former Navy pilot Jake Ellzey to replace retiring Rep. Joe Barton (for whom Wright served 10 years as chief of staff).

Wright came close to avoiding a runoff in March, winning 45 percent of the vote to 22 for Ellzey in an 11-candidate field. An overwhelming majority of state and local political organizations and politicians have endorsed Wright, who is the heavy favorite. The victor is all but guaranteed to win in November.

4. In the 21st Congressional District, former chief of staff to U.S. Senator Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzSenators push to clear backlog in testing rape kits Russia raises problems for GOP candidates Deal to fix family separations hits snag in the Senate MORE and First Assistant Attorney General of Texas Chip Roy is competing against businessman Matt McCall to replace retiring Rep. Lamar Smith.

Roy enjoys a considerable advantage over McCall in campaign resources and elite and popular support, and is near-certain to win the runoff. The winner will face one of two Democrats, who are simultaneously competing in a primary runoff, in a race where the Republican will be a heavy favorite.

5. In the 27th Congressional District, centered in Corpus Christi and running north to the outskirts of Austin and east to the outskirts of Houston, former Texas Water Development Board Chair Bech Bruun is competing against former Victoria County Republican Party Chairman Michael Cloud to replace retired Rep. Blake Farenthold

In the first round, Bruun narrowly bested Cloud 36 to 34 percent and going into the runoff the two candidates are running neck-and-neck in terms of elite support and campaign finances.

The loser is expected to suspend their campaign for the June 30 special election to fill the remainder of Farenthold’s term, with the special election nevertheless likely to go to a late August or September runoff due to the presence of three Republicans (including Bruun and Cloud), three Democrats, two independents, and one Libertarian on the ballot. Whoever wins the runoff will be a virtual lock to win in the fall.

The outcome of these races could have a non-trivial impact on the ideological balance of power in the GOP House Caucus during the 116th Congress. Victories by Roberts, Gooden, Ellzey, McCall, and Bruun would push the caucus more towards the center while victories by Crenshaw, Pounds, Wright, Roy, and Cloud would push the caucus more towards the right. 

Mark P. Jones is the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy’s fellow in political science and the Joseph D. Jamail chair in Latin American Studies at Rice University as well as a co-author of “Texas Politics Today: 2017-2018 Edition.” Follow him @MarkPJonesTX.