Democrats are geared up for primary runoff D-Day in Texas

Democrats are geared up for primary runoff D-Day in Texas
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For the first time this decade, Democrats have a realistic prospect of flipping more than one Republican held U.S. House seat in Texas. This target rich environment has led the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) to get involved in a set of Texas Democratic primaries with the goal of electing the candidate it believes provides the party with its best chance of winning in November.

Texas Democrats are optimistic about reducing the GOP’s 25-11 advantage in the Texas U.S. House delegation. At the top of their list is the biennially competitive 23rd Congressional District which stretches from San Antonio to the outskirts of El Paso, the 7th Congressional District in Houston, and the 32nd Congressional District in Dallas.

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In the event of a blue tsunami, Democrats also believe that with the right candidate they could in theory pick up three additional seats: the 2nd Congressional District in Houston, the 21st Congressional District, which runs from San Antonio to Austin, and the 31st Congressional District, which covers the suburbs north of Austin up to Killeen.

 

With the exception of CD-2, there are runoffs in all of these districts, runoffs where the DCCC has explicitly or implicitly taken a side.

In CD-7 the DCCC is backing Lizzie Fletcher against Laura Moser. Fletcher obtained a narrow advantage over Moser in the March primary, 29 to 24 percent. She also enjoys a modest advantage over Moser in terms of resources, although both campaigns have been quite successful in fundraising, with each raising more than $1.25 million during the primary season.

While the two do not appear all that different in terms of their core policy priorities, Moser has adopted more combative (e.g., anti-Trump) rhetoric than Fletcher and also has some baggage (e.g., pejorative comments about Texas, campaign payments to her husband’s firm, recent move back to Houston from D.C.) that the DCCC believes makes her a liability to the party’s attempt to oust Republican incumbent John Culberson.

In CD-23 the DCCC (as well as pretty much everyone under the sun who is endorsing in this race) is backing Gina Ortiz Jones against Rick Treviño. Ortiz Jones won 42 percent of the vote in March to Treviño’s 17 percent and has outspent Treviño by a more than 20 to 1 ratio.

If victorious in the primary and able to defeat Republican incumbent Will Hurd in November, Ortiz Jones would become the first Asian American (her mother is Filipina-American) and openly LGBT person to represent Texas in Congress. Treviño’s faint glimmer of hope for victory likely lies in a large number of CD-23 Democratic runoff voters believing that a district whose population is three-quarters Latino should have a Latino representative. 

In CD-32 the DCCC is backing Colin Allred over Lilian Salerno. Unlike in CD-7, it is difficult to detect any major rhetorical or ideological differences between Allred and Salerno that would make one a better bet than the other to oust Republican Pete Sessions.

Similarly, unlike in CD-23, neither has been significantly more successful than the other in fundraising. That said, Allred did best Salerno by 20 points in March, 38 to 18 percent, and also has the backing of significantly more prominent Texas Democrats than Salerno, including Rep. Joaquín Castro, former San Antonio Mayor and HUD Secretary Julián Castro, and former state senator and 2014 Democratic gubernatorial nominee Wendy Davis. 

In CD-21 and CD-31 the Democratic nominee will be a long shot to defeat their respective Republican rivals (Chip Roy/Matt McCall and John Carter) in the fall. But, many national Democrats believe the Democratic candidate will be less of a long shot if one of the runoff candidates wins rather than the other. 

As a result, while the DCCC has not become directly involved in these races, statements and actions by leading Democrats make clear who the national Democratic establishment's preferred candidate is in each race: Joseph Kopser over Mary Wilson in CD-21 and M.J. Hegar over Christine Mann in CD-31.

In the three priority races in CD-7, CD-23, and CD-32 the DCCC backed candidate is favored to win, ranging from Ortiz Jones’ standing as a virtual sure thing in CD-23, to Allred’s heavy favorite status in CD-32, to Fletcher’s slight favorite position in CD-7. 

As a result, a DCCC hat trick is not out of the question on May 22, while a strike out seems unlikely, but not a complete impossibility given the uncertainty that goes along with the expected anemic turnout of between 20,000 and 30,000 in each race.

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.