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New poll shows Texas U.S. Senate race shaping up as the most competitive in a generation

Quinnipiac poll finds Democrat Beto O’Rourke within striking distance of Republican incumbent Ted Cruz

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

AUSTIN (CFP) — The last time a Democrat was within striking distance in a U.S. Senate contest in Texas, Ronald Reagan was president, people rented movies from a store and tweeting was only for the birds.

Since the last Democratic victory in 1988, the party’s nominees have lost nine Senate races in a row, all by double digits. The average size of their loss? 19 points.

Ted Cruz

Beto O’Rourke

But a new poll shows Democratic U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke is closing in on Republican U.S. Senator Ted Cruz, cutting Cruz’s lead in half since May and raising the specter of seeing something this fall that hasn’t been seen deep in the heart of Texas for 30 years — a truly competitive Senate race.

A close race in Texas could also have national implications, as Republicans try to hang on to their slim one-vote majority in the Senate.

A Quinnipiac University poll released August 1 put Cruz at 49 percent and O’Rourke at 43 percent among registered voters in the Senate contest. With a sampling error of plus or minus 3.5 percent, that means that, statistically, Cruz’s lead is small enough to be the result of sampling error, rather than an actual lead.

But perhaps the most alarming bit of data in the poll for the Cruz campaign is that his 6-point lead now is down from an 11-point lead three months ago, and Cruz is now below 50 percent, a danger sign for an incumbent.

“O’Rourke has done a good job making the race competitive,” said Peter Brown, assistant director of Quinnipiac Poll in a statement. “He is clearly in contention. A Democratic victory in the Lone Star State would be a serious blow to GOP hopes of keeping their U.S. Senate majority.”

The poll of 1,118 registered voters found Cruz leading among men and white voters, while O’Rouke was leading among women and African-American voters. O’Rourke has a 12-point lead among Latino voters, and the two men are running even among voters who describe themselves as independent.

The poll found Texans generally have a good opinion of Cruz — 50 percent approve of his job performance and view him favorably, while 42 percent disapprove and view him unfavorably. However, he is polling far behind the Republican running in the other marquis statewide race, Governor Greg Abbott, who had a 13-point lead over his Democratic challenger, former Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez.

By contrast, 43 percent of voters surveyed said the didn’t know enough about O’Rourke to offer an opinion of him, which means he remains something of an unknown quantity. And that could give the Cruz campaign an opening to try to define him negatively with voters over the rest of the campaign.

The poll also found that President Donald Trump’s approval rating in Texas was mixed, with 46 percent approving of his performance and 49 percent disapproving, which was within the margin of error.

The Quinnipiac poll surveyed registered voters rather than likely voters, making the results somewhat less indicative of what might happen on election day. However, two other polls taken in July that surveyed likely voters — by the Texas Lyceum and Gravis Marketing — also found Cruz’s lead in single digits.

Federal Election Commission reports also show that O’Rourke has been competitive with Cruz in fundraising. As of the end of June, he had raised $23.6 million to $23.4 million for Cruz and had $14 million in cash on hand, compared to $9.3 million for the incumbent.

The last time Cruz ran, in 2012, he outraised and outspent his Democratic opponent by a 2-to-1 margin, on his way to a 16-point victory.

O’Rouke, 45, has represented metro El Paso in the House since 2013, after serving on the El Paso City Council. Although he is Irish and his given first name is Robert, he was nicknamed “Beto” — a Spanish nickname for Robert — from childhood.

Cruz, 47, was elected to the Senate in 2012 on his first try for political office. In 2016, he made an unsuccessful run for the Republican presidential nomination, carrying 12 primaries and caucuses and finishing second in the delegate count behind Trump.

The Texas race is one of six Southern states with open seats in 2018; the others are Virginia, West Virginia, Florida, Tennessee and Mississippi, where both seats are on the ballot.

Four of those races are shaping up to be competitive — Florida and West Virginia, which are currently held by Democrats, and Texas and Tennessee, held by Republicans.

U.S. Supreme Court lets congressional maps stand in Texas, North Carolina

Rulings may leave current maps will be in place until after reapportionment in 2021

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

WASHINGTON (CFP) — Republican legislators in Texas and North Carolina have both dodged a bullet after the U.S. Supreme Court refused to invalidate congressional maps in both states that lower courts had struck down as illegally gerrymandered.

In the Texas case, the justices rejected a claim that state legislators impermissibly used race to draw electoral maps. In the North Carolina case, they vacated a lower court decision holding that the state’s map unconstitutionally diluted the voting strength of Democrats and ordered the case to be reconsidered.

The high court’s June 25 decisions mean that neither state is likely to face a court-ordered redraw in this election cycle. And while the North Carolina case could be reconsidered for the 2020 election, the ruling in the Texas case likely means that the current map will be used until after new maps are drawn in 2021, based on the results of the 2020 census.

In their decison in the Texas case, the justices ruled 5-to-4 that a lower court erred in finding back in 2017 that a congressional map and state House maps adopted in 2013 should be struck down because they were impermissibly drawn using racial considerations. The Supreme Court had put that ruling on hold while it considered the state’s appeal.

The two congressional districts involved in the lawsuit were the 27th District, which stretches along the Gulf Coast from Corpus Christi toward Houston, and the 35th District, which covers parts of Austin and San Antonio linked by a narrow strip of land.

The lower court’s objection to the 27th District was the GOP-controlled legislature reduced the Latino population from 70 percent to around 50 percent. The objection to the 35 District was that legislators used race to create a district that is more than 70 percent Latino and African American, reducing minority populations in surrounding districts.

The 27th District, currently vacant, has been held by Republicans since it was redrawn. U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, a white Democrat from Austin, represents the 35th District.

In his majority opinion, Justice Samuel Alito said the evidence offered by the plaintiffs “is plainly insufficient to prove that the 2013 Legislature acted in bad faith and engaged in intentional discrimination.” The justices did uphold a ruling that a Texas House district in Fort Worth was an impermissible racial gerrymander.

But in her dissent, Justice Sonia Sotomayor said the court’s decision means minority voters in Texas “will continue to be underrepresented in the political process.”

“Those voters must return to the polls in 2018 and 2020 with the knowledge that their ability to exercise meaningfully their right to vote has been burdened by the manipulation of district lines specifically designed to target their communities and minimize their political will,” she wrote.

In the North Carolina case, the justices vacated a 2018 ruling by a three-judge panel that the congressional map adopted by Republican legislators in 2016 was unconstitutional because it diluted the voting strength of Democrats — the first time that a federal court had ever struck down a congressional map on the grounds of political, rather than racial, gerrymandering.

The Supreme Court had also put that ruling on hold while it considered an appeal.

The Tar Heel State’s map had been redrawn in 2016 after a previous map had been struck down for improperly using racial considerations. GOP lawmakers freely admitted that they were drawing lines to maximize the number of Republican-friendly seats, which the lower court found was evidence of unconstitutional partisan taint.

The Supreme Court sent the case back to North Carolina to be reconsidered in light of a ruling earlier this year in case involving a partisan gerrymander in Wisconsin. In that case, the high court sidestepped the question of whether drawing maps that favor one party over another can be found unconstitutional, returning the case to a lower court on narrow jurisdictional grounds.

The court’s order did not indicate how, or if, justices were split on the merits of the case.

While North Carolina is divided fairly evenly in presidential races and has a Democratic governor, Republicans hold a commanding 10-to-3 margin in the U.S. House delegation.

Texas, which leans more Republican, has 24 Republicans and 11 Democrats in its delegation, with one seat vacant.

U.S. House Primary Wrap: Democrats pick female Marine fighter pilot for targeted seat in Kentucky

Voters in Georgia, Arkansas and Texas also pick party nominees for House seats that could help decide balance of power

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

LEXINGTON, Kentucky (CFP) — In a year in which women candidates have been making noise nationally, Amy McGrath has made her own statement in Kentucky’s Bluegrass country by winning the Democratic nomination for a U.S. House seat over a candidate recruited by party leaders in Washington.

Meanwhile, in other May 22 primaries in Georgia, Arkansas and Texas, Democrats narrowed the fields in races for seven GOP-held seats that are being targeted in November, while Texas Republicans picked nominees in four open seats that are expected to stay in Republican hands.

In central Kentucky’s 6th District, which includes Lexington and Frankfort, McGrath took 48 percent of the vote to 40 percent for Lexington Mayor Jim Gray, who had been recruited for the race by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. Kentucky does not have primary runoffs, so McGrath won the nomination with a plurality and will now face GOP U.S. Rep. Andy Barr in November.

Democratic U.S. House nominee Amy McGrath

Declaring victory with her supporters in Richmond, McGrath — a retired Marine Corps fighter pilot whose call sign was “Krusty” — said “what happened tonight is amazing.”

“Six months ago, political pundits and establishment insiders didn’t think we could pull this off,” she said. “What those insiders maybe still don’t know is how this happened. Well, I know how it happened. It’s because you all care about the future of our country.”

McGrath began her campaign in August 2017 with a video in which she told how, as a young girl growing up in Kentucky, she decided she wanted to be a fighter pilot but discovered that women were not allowed to serve in combat. She then wrote letters to members of Congress in which she asked why she was barred from serving, including a letter to Kentucky U.S. Senator Mitch McConnell, which she said was never answered.

After the ban was lifted, McGrath enrolled in the U.S. Naval Academy and served in Iraq and Afghanistan as a Marine Corps aviator before retiring at the rank of lieutenant colonel.

McGrath’s video went viral, triggering a wave of contributions to her long-shot campaign. She now raised almost $2 million in her quest to unseat Barr, who is seeking his fourth term.

Another positive sign for McGrath: More than 100,000 Democrats turned out to vote in the primary, compared to just 49,000 Republicans in a district President Donald Trump carried by 15 points in 2016. However, GOP turnout also lagged behind Democratic turnout in 2016, when Barr took 61 percent.

Meanwhile, in Kentucky’s 3rd District in metro Louisville, Republicans nominated Vickie Glisson, a Louisville attorney who headed the state health department, to face U.S. Rep. John Yarmuth, who has drawn the particular ire of Republicans nationally with his strong criticism of Trump, including introducing articles of impeachment.

In Georgia, the House races receiving the most attention are in the 6th and 7th districts, where Republican incumbents are seen as possibly vulnerable in districts that President Donald Trump won by narrow margins in 2016.

In the 6th District, in Atlanta’s northern suburbs, where Republican U.S. Rep. Karen Handel won her seat in 2017 after a hard-fought and hugely expensive special election, Democrats have narrowed their field to Lucy McBath, a gun control activist from Cobb County, and Kevin Abel, a Sandy Springs businessman, who will compete in a July 24 runoff.

McBath’s son, Jordan Davis, was shot and killed in 2012 by a man at a gas station in Jacksonville, Florida, over a dispute over loud hip-hop music. His case became part of the nationwide campaign against deadly violence aimed at young African-American men. The shooter, Michael David Dunn, was later convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life without parole.

Handel’s chances of keeping the seat — in a district Trump only carried by just 1.5 points — improved when the man she defeated in the special election, Democrat Jon Ossoff, decided against a rematch.

In the 7th District, in northwest metro Atlanta, Democrats Carolyn Bordeaux and David Kim advanced to the runoff for the right to face Republican U.S. Rep. Rob Woodall in November.

Bordeaux, from Suwanee, is a professor at Georgia State University and former budget analyst for the Georgia Senate. Kim, from Duluth, is the son of Korean immigrants who owns a company that provides tutoring for students. If elected, he would become Georgia’s first Asian-American congressman, running in a district with a growing Asian population.

While Woodall took 60 percent of the vote in the 7th District in 2016, Trump only won by 6 points, putting the seat within the realm of possibility for Democrats.

Arkansas-SQIn Arkansas, the House race drawing the most attention is the 2nd District in metro Little Rock, where Democrats believe they might have a shot at ousting GOP U.S. Rep. French Hill if a national Democratic wave develops.

The Democratic nominee will be State Rep. Clarke Tucker of Little Rock, who won the primary without a runoff.

While Hill won re-election by 11 points in 2016, the 2nd District is the least Republican district in the state, anchored by Pulaski County, which Hillary Clinton carried in 2016. Trump won the district by less than 10 points.

In Texas, Democrats have picked nominees in four targeted U.S. House seats now in Republican hands that Democrats have hopes of flipping in the fall.

In the 7th District, in metro Houston, attorney Lizzie Pannill Fletcher defeated liberal activist Laura Moser for the right to take on Republican U.S. John Culberson, in a district Hillary Clinton carried in 2016. Fletcher had been backed by the DCCC against Moser, who was seen by Democratic leaders as too liberal for the district.

In the 21st District, which stretches from Austin to San Antonio and takes in part of the Texas Hill Country, Republican Chip Roy will face Democrat Joseph Kosper for the seat now held by retiring U.S. Rep. Lamar Smith, a district which Trump carried by 10 points.

Roy served as chief of staff for U.S. Senator Ted Cruz. Kosper is a former U.S. Army officer and technology entrepreneur.

In the 23rd District — the largest Texas district geographically, sprawling from the suburbs of San Antonio to near El Paso — Democrats picked Gina Ortiz Jones to take on incumbent Republican U.S. Rep. Will Hurd in November. Clinton also carried this majority-Latino swing district, which has changed hands four times in the last 12 years.

Jones is a former military intelligence officer who worked as a U.S. trade representative in the Obama administration. If elected, she would be the first open lesbian, Iraq War veteran and Filipino American to represent Texas in Washington.

In the 32nd District, in metro Dallas, former NFL player Colin Allred defeated businesswoman Lillian Salerno and will now face Republican U.S. Rep. Pete Sessions, who is trying to keep a traditionally Republican seat in a district that Clinton also carried. Allred, a civil rights attorney, played five seasons in the NFL for the Tennessee Titans before his career ended after a neck injury.

Also in Texas, the fields have been set in four other open GOP-held districts that Republicans will be favored to keep in November:

Barton decided not to seek re-election after after a nude selfie he had exchanged with a woman with whom he was having a consensual extramarital relationship wound up on social media.

Farenthold resigned after news reports that $84,000 in taxpayer dollars had been used to pay a settlement to a former female staffer who alleged that she suffered sexual harassment from Farenthold and another male staffer. The congressman denied the harassment allegations, while conceding that a lax management style in his Washington office created a “decidedly unprofessional” work environment.

A special election is being held in June to fill the remainder of Farenthold’s current term, with Cloud, Holguin and seven other candidates on the ballot.

State Primary Wrap: Stacey Abrams roars to Democratic governor’s nomination in Georgia; GOP faces runoff

Final fields for governor’s races also set in Arkansas and Texas; incumbent survives in Arkansas Supreme Court contest

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

ATLANTA (CFP) — Democrat Stacey Abrams has made history in Georgia’s Democratic primary for governor, crushing her opponent to become the first African American woman ever nominated for governor by a major political party in a U.S. state.

Georgia Republicans are headed to a runoff between Lieutenant Governor Casey Cagle and Secretary of State Brian Kemp, after neither won a majority in the May 22 primary.

Meanwhile, in Arkansas, Republican Governor Asa Hutchinson was nominated for a second term and will be heavily favored over the Democratic winner, political newcomer Jared Henderson. And Texas Democrats picked former Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez to face incumbent Republican Governor Greg Abbott in November, making her the first Latina and first openly lesbian candidate to be nominated by a major party for Texas governor.

Georgia Democratic governor nominee Stacey Abrams

In Georgia, Abrams, the former minority leader of the Georgia House whose candidacy has drawn national attention, took 76 percent of the vote to 24 percent for former State Rep. Stacey Evans, winning all but six of the state’s 159 counties.

Speaking to jubilant supporters in Atlanta, Abrams vowed to create a “coalition that reaches across backgrounds, sharing our constant belief in our capacity to win.”

“We have to reach out to those who do not believe their voices matter, who’ve been disappointed again and again by promises made and never kept,” she said. “In the Book of Esther, there is a verse that reminds us that we were born for such a time as this.”

After seeing their party lose four governor’s elections in a row, Democrats who voted in the primary clearly bought into Abrams’s argument that the way to reclaim the governor’s mansion was to expand the electorate, rather than Evans’s argument that Democrats needed a nominee who could appeal to Republican-leaning voters by offering more moderate stands.

But while Abrams did win more votes in the primary than any candidate on either side of the ballot, overall, 54,000 more voters picked up Republican ballots, in a state that has no party registration.

Brian Kemp

Casey Cagle

In the Republican primary, Cagle, serving his third term as lieutenant governor, took 39 percent of the vote to 26 percent for Kemp, who has been secretary of state since 2011. Cagle beat Kemp in the large suburban Atlanta counties, where the bulk of Georgia Republicans live, and in all of the smaller cities except Athens, which Kemp once represented in the Georgia Senate.

However, Georgia has a long history of the second-place finisher in a primary coming from behind to win a runoff, most notably in 2010, when current Governor Nathan Deal defeated Karen Handel, who returned to political office last year by winning a seat in Congress.

The runoff in Georgia in July 24.

In another Georgia race of interest, former Democratic U.S. Rep. John Barrow, who lost his seat in 2014, won his party’s nomination for secretary of state without a runoff. Republicans will have a runoff between former Alpharetta Mayor David Belle Isle and State Rep. Brad Raffensperger of Johns Creek.

In Arkansas, Hutchinson took 70 percent to 30 percent for Jan Morgan, a gun rights activist and television pundit who ran at the governor from the right, beating him in five rural counties. In November, he will face Henderson, a former NASA scientist who runs a Little Rock non-profit that advocates on education issues.

The most contentious battle in the Natural State was a non-partisan contest for a seat on the Arkansas Supreme Court, where incumbent Justice Courtney Hudson Goodson advanced to a runoff against David Sterling, who was appointed by Hutchinson as chief counsel for the Arkansas Department of Human Services. Goodson took 37 percent of the vote; Sterling, 34 percent.

A week before the election, Goodson filed a defamation lawsuit against the Judicial Crisis Network, a Washington-based conservative legal group, over ads it was running against her on Arkansas TV stations which alleged she accepted gifts for donors and sought a pay raise.

She also asked judges in three jurisdictions to enjoin stations from airing the ads, triggering protests from media organizations, although some of them voluntarily agreed to stop running the ads. JCN also spent more than $500,000 in 2016 to defeat Goodson in a race for chief justice.

Although the JCN’s ads targeted Sterling’s opponents, he has insisted that he has no connection to the group.

Goodson and Sterling will now face each other on the November general election ballot.

In Texas, in the Democratic race for governor, Valdez defeated Andrew White, a Houston businessman and the son of former Governor Mark White, by a margin of 53 percent to 47 percent. Abbott won the Republican nomination outright in the March primary.

Valdez, 70, was elected to four terms as sheriff of Dallas County, the state’s second largest with 2.5 million people. She resigned in 2017 when she launched her campaign for governor.

Valdez starts the race as a decided underdog against Abbott, who has raised more than $43 million for the campaign. Texas has not elected a Democratic governor since 1988.

Voters in Georgia, Kentucky, Arkansas and Texas will decide primary contests Tuesday

Wide open race for governor featured in Georgia; legislative races take center stage in Kentucky

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

ATLANTA (CFP) — Voters in four Southern states will decide primary contests on Tuesday, with a wide-open race for Georgia’s governorship topping the list of closely watched contests.

Georgia, Arkansas and Kentucky are holding primaries, while in Texas, runoffs will be held for 15 U.S. House seats that were not decided in the initial round of voting back in March, including four targeted by Democrats as pickup opportunities.

In Georgia, all eyes are on the race to succeed term-limited Republican Governor Nathan Deal, with competitive races among both Republicans and Democrats. In Kentucky, much of the attention will be on races for the state legislature, in the wake of teacher protests that have battered GOP Governor Matt Bevin’s popularity. And in Arkansas, the hottest race is a Supreme Court contest in which the incumbent sued an outside conservative group for defamation over controversial TV ads.

In Georgia, seven Republicans are running for governor, including Lieutenant Governor Casey Cagle from Gainesville and Secretary of State Brian Kemp from Athens, who pre-election polls indicate will likely face off in a July 24 runoff. Their departures have also created wide-open races for the GOP nominations for lieutenant governor and secretary of state, where runoffs are also expected.

But it is the Democratic race for governor that is drawing national attention with the candidacy of former State House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams from Atlanta, who is trying to become the first African American women ever elected as governor of a U.S. state. Pre-election polls showed Abrams with a wide lead over former State Rep. Stacey Evans from Smyrna, although a large number of voters were still undecided.

In the Democratic race for secretary of state, former U.S. Rep. John Barrow, who lost his seat in 2014, is trying to make a political comeback against three challengers

Among U.S. House races in the Peach State, most of the attention is on the 6th and 7th districts, where Republican incumbents are seen as possibly vulnerable in districts that President Donald Trump won by a narrow margin in 2016.

In the 6th District, in Atlanta’s northern suburbs, four Democrats are vying to take on U.S. Rep. Karen Handel, who won her seat in 2017 after a hard-fought and hugely expensive special election against Democrat Jon Ossoff. Handel’s chances of keeping the seat — in a district Trump only carried by just 1.5 points — improved when Ossoff decided against a rematch.

In the 7th District, in northwest metro Atlanta, six Democrats are competing to take on U.S. Rep. Rob Woodall. While Woodall took 60 percent of the vote in 2016, Trump only won by 6 points, putting the seat within the realm of possibility for Democrats.

In Kentucky, with no statewide races on the ballot, much of the focus has been on state legislative seats, where Democrats are hoping Bevin’s role in a fight over teacher pensions, which led to statewide protests by teachers, might translate into progress at the ballot box.

The standoff over pensions, which ended when the Republican-controlled legislature approved controversial changes after overriding Bevin’s vetoes, has roiled the Bluegrass State for months, particularly Bevin’s assertion that teacher protests might have led to abuse of children after schools had to be closed when teachers didn’t show up for work.

Bevin, who isn’t up for re-election until 2019, later apologized, but a poll from Western Kentucky University’s Social Science Research Center showed that disapproval of Bevin’s job performance spiked to 60 percent after those remarks.

While the GOP has controlled the Kentucky Senate since 2000, Democrats held the House until 2016, when Republicans finally took control for the first time in 95 years. The Kentucky House was the last legislative chamber anywhere in the South controlled by Democrats.

Republicans hold a 63 to 37 advantage in the House, which means Democrats will have to flip 14 seats to take control. While that is a tall order, those numbers are very similar to the situation in neighboring Virginia, where Democrats flipped 15 seats to come within one seat of winning control in2017

Among Kentucky’s six U.S. House seats, party nominees will be picked Tuesday in two that could become competitive in the fall, the 6th and 3rd districts.

In the 6th District, which includes Lexington and Frankfort, Lexington Mayor Jim Gray and State Senator Reggie Thomas, also from Lexington, are among a field of six Democrats vying to take on GOP U.S. Rep. Andy Barr in November. As Kentucky does not have runoffs, the top vote-getter Tuesday will face Barr in November.

Gray was the Democratic nominee for U.S. Senate in 2016, losing by 14 points to Republican US. Senator Rand Paul. However, in that race he carried Fayette County, the most populous in the 6th District.

In the neighboring 3rd District, which takes in metro Louisville, Republicans are making a play for the seat held by U.S. Rep. John Yarmuth, an unabashed liberal who has introduced articles of impeachment against Trump. Vickie Glisson, a Louisville attorney who headed the state health department in the Bevin administration, is favored over two Republican primary challengers.

In Arkansas, six state executive offices, including governor, are up in 2018. However, Republican Governor Asa Hutchinson faces only token opposition in the primary, with two little-known Democrats vying to take him on in November. The only race with a competitive GOP primary is for secretary of state, where incumbent Republican Mark Martin is term-limited.

Among the Natural State’s four U.S. House seats, the race drawing the most attention is the 2nd District in metro Little Rock, where Democrats believe they might have a shot at ousting GOP U.S. Rep. French Hill if a national Democratic wave develops. Four Democrats are vying for the nomination to replace him, a field that includes State Rep. Clarke Tucker of Little Rock.

While Hill won re-election by 11 points in 2016, the 2nd District is the least Republican district in the state, anchored by Pulaski County, which Hillary Clinton carried in 2016. Trump won the district by less than 10 points.

The most contentious race in Arkansas is a non-partisan battle for a seat on the Arkansas Supreme Court, where incumbent Justice Courtney Hudson Goodson is being challenged by Court of Appeals Judge Ken Hixson and David Sterling, who was appointed by Hutchinson as chief counsel for the Arkansas Department of Human Services.

A week before the election, Goodson filed a defamation lawsuit against the Judicial Crisis Network, a Washington-based conservative legal group, over ads it was running against her on Arkansas TV stations which alleged she accepted gifts for donors and sought a pay raise. She also asked judges in three jurisdictions to enjoin stations from airing the ads, triggering protests from media organizations, although some of them voluntarily agreed to stop running the ads.

The JCN ads have targeted both Goodson and Hixson, although Hixson has so far not brought any legal action. Sterling has insisted that he has no connection to the group. JCN spent more than $500,000 in 2016 to defeat Goodson in a race for chief justice.

If none of the candidates captures a majority on Tuesday, the top two vote-getters will face off during the general election in November, which would drag out the contentious race for five more months.

In Texas, Democrats will pick nominees in four targeted U.S. House seats now in Republican hands that Democrats have hopes of flipping in the fall:

Also in Texas, the fields will be set in four other open GOP-held districts that Republicans will be favored to keep in November:

Barton decided not to seek re-election after after a nude selfie he had exchanged with a woman with whom he was having a consensual extramarital relationship wound up on social media.

Farenthold resigned after news reports that $84,000 in taxpayer dollars had been used to pay a settlement to a former female staffer who alleged that she suffered sexual harassment from Farenthold and another male staffer. The congressman denied the harassment allegations, while conceding that a lax management style in his Washington office created a “decidedly unprofessional” work environment.

Texas primaries narrow crowded fields in U.S. House races

Valdez, White face off in Democratic governor’s primary; Cruz, O’Rourke in U.S. Senate race

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

AUSTIN — Texas primary voters have narrowed crowded fields vying for 11 open or potentially competitive U.S. House seats and the U.S. Senate, while the Democratic race for governor is heading to a May runoff to pick a nominee for an uphill climb against Republican Governor Greg Abbott.

And while Democrats have high hopes of riding a wave of enthusiasm to put a dent into the GOP’s 25-to-11 advantage in the Texas U.S. House delegation, more than 530,000 more voters chose the Republican over the Democratic ballot in the March 6 primaries, although that was a better showing by Democrats than in the last midterm primary in 2014.

O’Rourke

Cruz

In the U.S. Senate race, as expected, Republican incumbent Ted Cruz and Democratic U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke both easily won their primaries, setting up a November race likely to draw national attention. O’Rourke took 62 percent, and Cruz, 85 percent.

In the governor’s race, Abbott, seeking a second term, won outright with 90 percent of the vote. The Democratic runoff will be between former Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez and Andrew White, a Houston investment banker and son of the late former Governor Mark White. Valdez had a strong lead in the race, 43 percent to 27 percent, over White.

George P. Bush

Republican incumbents also won in six other statewide races, including Land Commissioner George P. Bush, son of former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, who took 58 percent of the vote to beat back three challengers.

In the U.S. House races, Democrats’ top targets in November are three GOP incumbents who represent districts Hillary Clinton won in 2016:  John Culberson in the 7th District in Houston; Pete Sessions in the 32nd District in Dallas; and William Hurd, who represents the 23rd District in West Texas stretching from the suburbs of San Antonio over to El Paso. All three easily won their primaries.

In the 7th District, the two Democrats who qualified for the runoff are Lizzie Pannill Fletcher, a Houston lawyer, and Laura Moser, a journalist who carried the endorsement of Our Revolution, a liberal group that sprang from Bernie Sanders’ failed presidential campaign.

This race heated up when Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the campaign arm of House Democrats, intervened by publishing opposition research critical of Moser because of fears she won’t be competitive against Culberson in November. However, she used the DCCC’s memo to raise money and made it past five other Democrats into the runoff with Fletcher.

In the 32nd District, Collin Allred, an attorney and former player for the NFL’s Tennessee Titans, topped the Democratic primary with 39 percent and will face Lillian Salerno, who served as a deputy undersecretary on the U.S. Department of Agriculture during the Obama administration, who got into the runoff with 18 percent.

In the 23rd District, Gina Oritz Jones, an Iraq war veteran from San Antonio who worked as a U.S. trade representative, led the race with 42 percent and will face Rick Trevino, a high school teacher from San Antonio who served as a Sanders delegate in 2016. The majority Latino 23rd District, where Hurd is seeking a third term, is a perennial swing seat that changed hands in 2010, 2012 and 2014.

In addition to the races that Democrats are targeting, there are also eight other open seats in Texas that drew crowded primaries:

House Ethics Committee expands probe into Texas U.S. Rep. Blake Farenthold

Committee looking into whether Farenthold lied, used government resources in his political campaigns

♦By Rich Shumate, ChickenFriedPolitics.com editor

WASHINGTON (CFP) — The House Ethics Committee is investigating whether U.S. Rep. Blake Farenthold of Texas used government resources in his congressional campaigns and lied to the committee during an ongoing investigation into sexual harassment claims by a former staffer.

Meanwhile, CNN is reporting that a former staffer has told House investigators that she was pressured to perform campaign-related tasks during regular work hours in Farenthold’s congressional office, activity that is not allowed under House rules.

U.S. Rep. Blake Farenthold, R-Texas

The latest charges are likely to increase pressure on Farenthold, who has already announced that he won’t seek re-election in 2018 after revelations that he used $84,000 of government money to settle a lawsuit by a former staffer who alleged that she was fired after complaining about sexually suggestive comments made to her by the congressman and another male staffer.

In a December 21 news release, the chair and ranking member of the House Ethics Committee — U.S. Reps. Susan Brooks, R-Indiana, and Ted Deutch, D-Florida — announced that their probe of Farenthold had expanded from the original sexual harassment allegations to include allegations that staff resources may have been used on his campaigns, that he or “any person acting on his behalf” may have required staff members to work on his campaigns, and that he “may have made false statements or omissions in testimony to the committee.”

The statement did not give any details to indicate why the probe had expanded.

In response to the Ethics Committee’s statement, Farenthold’s office released a statement to Texas and national media noting that he had previously been cleared of sexual harassment charges by the Office of Congressional Ethics and pledging his full cooperation with the committee’s expanded probe.

CNN reported that former Farenthold staffer Elizabeth Peace told Ethics Committee lawyers that she was pressured to work on Farenthold’s 2016 campaign during regular office hours in her Capitol office, using House-issued computers and her work e-mail account. The network cited a source familiar with Peace’s conversation with the lawyers; she refused comment to CNN, although she did acknowledge talking to committee staff.

Under House rules, congressional staffers are only allowed to work on campaigns on their own time, and they are not allowed to use House resources, such as office space, computers, or email accounts,, to do political work.

In  2014, Farenthold’s former communications director, Lauren Greene, sued for gender discrimination, sexual harassment and creating a hostile work environment, alleging that she was fired after complaining about sexually suggestive comments made to her by the congressman and another male staffer. The Office of Congressional Ethics investigated and cleared Farenthold, and he reached a mediated out-of-court settlement with Greene in 2015.

The revelation that $84,000 in taxpayer dollars had been used to pay Greene’s settlement in early December led Farenthold to abandon his 2018 re-election campaign in Texas’s 27th District, which sprawls across the Gulf Coast between Corpus Christi and Houston.

In a statement posted to Facebook on December 14, Farenthold insisted that the sexual harassment charges made against him by Greene were false, but he conceded that a lax management style in his Washington office created a “decidedly unprofessional” work environment — a  situation he blamed on his lack of political experience after being elected in 2010.

“I had no idea how to run a congressional office and, as a result, I allowed a workplace culture to take root in my office that was too permissive and decidedly unprofessional,” Fahrenthold said. “It accommodated destructive gossip, offhand comments, off-color jokes and behavior that in general that was less than professional.”

“And I allowed the personal stress of the job to manifest itself in angry outbursts and, too often, a failure to treat people with the respect that they deserved,” he said. “Clearly, that was wrong. It is not how I was raised, it’s not who I am, and for that situation, I am profoundly sorry,” he said.

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