Special election to replace Blake Farenthold will be a summer twofer

Special election to replace Blake Farenthold will be a summer twofer
© Greg Nash

A special election in Texas’s 27th Congressional District to replace Republican Rep. Blake FarentholdRandolph (Blake) Blake FarentholdThe biggest political upsets of the decade Members spar over sexual harassment training deadline Female Dems see double standard in Klobuchar accusations MORE will again test Democratic and Republican enthusiasm as we move closer to the Nov. 6 midterms.

Since it was drawn in 2011, CD-27 has been a safe Republican district, but as several special elections during the first 16 months of the Trump administration have revealed, that does not mean that this special election is a sure thing for the GOP. We’re likely to see two special elections in the 27th, a first round on June 30 and a probable runoff in late August or early September.

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The 27th congressional district spans across 13 Texas counties, anchored by Corpus Christi on the Gulf Coast in the south, and spreading out to the edge of the Houston metro area in the east and to the outskirts of the Austin metro area in the north.

 

Democrats have argued — and a panel of federal judges has agreed — that the district was drawn to prevent Latinos from electing a candidate of their choice by attaching it to 12 largely rural and semi-rural Republican-leaning districts. Half of the district’s population lives in Nueces County, which includes Corpus Christi — there two out of every three residents is Latino.

Recent election results underscore the 27th’s reliably red status. In 2014, in the gubernatorial race Republican Greg Abbott defeated Democrat Wendy Davis 64 to 34 percent, while Farenthold won 64 to 34 percent. In 2016, Donald TrumpDonald TrumpSenators introduce bipartisan infrastructure bill in rare Sunday session Gosar's siblings pen op-ed urging for his resignation: 'You are immune to shame' Sunday shows - Delta variant, infrastructure dominate MORE defeated Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonClintons, Stacey Abrams meeting Texas Democrats Biden says Russia spreading misinformation ahead of 2022 elections Highest-ranking GOP assemblyman in WI against another audit of 2020 vote MORE, 60 to 34 percent, while Farenthold won 62 to 38 percent.

Finally, data from the University of Texas/Texas Tribune Polls reveal that half of registered voters in the 27th identify as conservative compared to a fifth who identify as liberal, with the remainder placing themselves in the middle of the ideological spectrum.

Farenthold was an accidental congressman who was surprisingly swept into office in 2010 as part of the anti-Obama wave that surged especially high in the Lone Star State. In December, under pressure stemming from revelations he paid $84,000 of taxpayer money to settle a sexual harassment complaint, he announced he would not seek re-election. On April 6 he abruptly resigned from office, too late for the special election to be held on the May 5 uniform election date.

Governor Greg Abbott therefore had two options: wait until the next uniform date (Nov. 6) to hold the special election, or call an emergency election. He opted for the latter on April 24, and scheduled the election to take place on June 30, with candidates required to file to run by no later than April 27.

On March 6, the Republican and Democratic parties held primaries to choose their nominees in the 27th for the November 2018 election. No candidate received more than 50 percent of the vote in either primary, sending the top two finishers from each to a May 22 runoff.

The Republican candidates are Bech Bruun (who garnered 36 percent) and Michael Cloud (34 percent). The Democratic candidates are Roy Barrera (41 percent) and Eric Holguin (23 percent). In addition, the Libertarian Party (the only other party with ballot access in Texas) nominated Daniel Tinus

All four major party candidates and Tinus are expected to file to run in the special election, but other may jump in before the deadline. If no candidate wins more than 50 percent of the vote, a runoff election is held between the top two finishers.

In the current runoff campaign, Bruun and Cloud have clashed over personal and policy matters, with Cloud (a former Victoria County GOP chair) claiming the mantle of being the grassroots candidate and proposing conservative policies more toward the right and Bruun (a former Texas House staffer and chair of the Texas Water Development Board) claiming the mantle of being the candidate of experience and proposing conservative policies more towards the center-right.

Regardless of the rancor, both are loyal Republicans, and it is all but certain the runoff loser will withdraw from the special election, albeit too late to have their name removed from the ballot.

On the Democratic side, Barrera, a Corpus Christi court security officer, was the Democratic Party’s 2016 candidate, while Holguin is a progressive activist from Corpus Christi. It is possible a higher profile Democrat (e.g., former state representative Solomon Ortiz Jr. of Corpus Christi) will file for the special election. It is less certain the loser of the May 22 Democratic runoff will withdraw from the special election. 

With Bruun and Cloud on the special election ballot along side one or more Democrats, a Libertarian and possibly other candidates — it is very likely the special election will be a two-round affair. Expect a runoff eight to twelve weeks later at the end of August or during the first half of September.

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.