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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.
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.
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:
- In the Houston-area 2nd District, being vacated by Republican Ted Poe, Republicans will have a runoff between State Rep. Kevin Roberts and David Crenshaw, a retired Navy officer.
- In the Dallas-area 3rd District, being vacated by Republican Sam Johnson, State Senator Van Taylor won the Republican nomination outright in the primary. He will face the winner of a Democratic runoff between attorneys Lorie Burch and Sam Johnson (no relation to the incumbent).
- In the 5th District, also near Dallas, which is being vacated by Republican Jeb Hensarling, Republican State Rep. Lance Gooden will be in a runoff against fundraising consultant Bunni Pounds for the right to take on Democrat Dan Wood, a former city councilman in Terrell. Hensarling has endorsed Pounds.
- In the 6th District south of Dallas, being vacated by Republican Joe Barton, both parties will have runoffs. The Republican runoff pits Jake Elizey, a former fighter pilot, against Tarrant County Tax Assessor Ron Wright. On the Democratic side, journalist Jana Sanchez will square off against Ruby Fay Woodridge, an Arlington pastor who ran for the seat in 2016.
- In the 16th District in El Paso, which O’Rourke is giving up to run for the Senate, former El Paso County Judge Veronica Escobar won the Democratic primary with 61 percent of the vote, making her a prohibitive favorite in this heavily Democratic, majority Latino district. Her Republican opponent will be Rick Seeberger, a strategic planner from Canutillo.
- In the 21st District in the Texas Hill Country, being vacated by Lamar Smith, a 18-candidate Republican field has been narrowed to businessman Matt McCall and Austin attorney Chip Roy. On the Democratic side, attorney and former military officer Joseph Kopser will face minister Mary Wilson.
- In the 27th District, which includes Corpus Christi and much of the Gulf Coast and is being vacated by Republican Blake Farenthold, the Republican primary will feature Bech Bruun, former chairman of the Texas Water Development Board, and Michael Cloud, the former GOP chair in Victoria County. The Democratic runoff will include Raul “Roy” Barrera, a federal court deputy in Corpus Christi, and Eric Holguin, a former congressional aide.
- In the 29th District in Houston, being vacated by Democrat Gene Green, State Senator Sylvia Garcia beat six other Democrats to win the Democratic nomination outright with 63 percent of the vote. She will face the winner of the Republican runoff between Phillip Aronoff, a physician, and Carmen Maria Montiel, a Houston TV journalist who once represented her native Venezuela in the Miss Universe Pageant.
Davis, who gained national attention for leading a filibuster against abortion restrictions, will likely face off against GOP Attorney General Greg Abbott.
♦By Rich Shumate, Chickenfriedpolitics.com editor
FORT WORTH, Texas (CFP) – Democratic State Senator Wendy Davis has launched a bid for Texas governor, hoping to ride notoriety from her filibuster against new abortion restrictions last summer all the way to the Lone Star State’s top office.
Davis, 50, kicked off her campaign at a high school in suburban Fort Worth. But despite her very public association with the issue of abortion, she did not mention the a-word during her opening announcement.
Instead, Davis chose a populist focus on fulfilling what she called “the promise of Texas,” including improving education and battling big-money interests in state politics.
“Real leaders know that real problems deserve real solutions,” Davis said. “That’s the approach I brought to Austin, and that’s what I’ll do as your next governor.”
Davis, a single mother who worked her way through college and then Harvard Law School, also said that “Texas deserves a leader who understands that making education a priority creates good jobs for Texans.”
With no other major Democrat yet in the race, she is seen as the most likely opponent for the expected Republican nominee, Attorney General Greg Abbott. The incumbent, Governor Rick Perry, is retiring after 14 years in office.
Given that no Democrat has won a statewide race since 1994, Abbott starts the race as the prohibitive favorite. He also currently has a more than 20-to-1 advantage in fundraising over Davis, although her national profile will probably enable her to narrow that gap.
However, a poll released October 2 by the Texas Lyceum, a non-partisan public interest group, showed Abbott leading Davis by only an eight-point margin, 29 percent to 21 percent, with half of Texas voters saying they’re still undecided. (The poll’s margin of error was plus or minus 3.5 percent.)
While Abbott’s lead is slight, the poll also showed that 55 percent of Texans approved of Perry’s job performance and 62 percent thought the state’s economy was better than the national economy — both figures that bode well for the GOP nominee.
Davis, who represents a Fort Worth-area district, is best known nationally for leading a more than 11-hour filibuster last June that delayed efforts by the Republican-controlled Texas Legislature to pass a anti-abortion bill.
The bill would have prohibited bill abortions after 20 weeks, required abortion clinics to meet the same requirements as outpatient surgery centers and forced abortion doctors to get admitting privileges at nearby hospitals.
Her filibuster ran out the clock on a special legislative session called by Perry. He promptly called another special session – which cost Texas taxpayers $800,000 – and the legislature passed the abortion restrictions, which are now being challenged in court.
Republicans who supported the measures said they were an effort to protect the health of women getting abortions at clinics and to protect unborn children past the fifth month of pregnancy. But Texas abortion clinics and their Democratic allies assailed the new rules, claiming that they would force many clinics to close and make abortions harder to obtain.
Gov. Rick Perry’s departure gives Texas its first open governor’s race since 1990
♦By Rich Shumate, Chickenfriedpolitics.com editor
SAN ANTONIO (CFP) — Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s decision not to seek a fourth full term as the Lone Star State’s chief executive in 2014 has opened up the field, with GOP Attorney General Greg Abbott seen as a prohibitive favorite to succeed the colorful and frequently controversial incumbent.
Perry, the longest serving governor in Texas history, announced July 8 that he would not run to serve another four years in what he called “the greatest job in modern politics.”
Quoting the “time for every season” passage from the Book of Ecclisiasties, Perry said, “The time has come to pass on the mantle of leadership.” He also said he would “pray and reflect” on his future plans but was mum on whether he will seek the presidency in 2016.
Abbott, 55, from Wichita Falls, was appointed as a justice to the Texas Supreme Court by then-Gov. George W. Bush in 1996. He ran for attorney general in 2002 when John Cornyn left that job in a successful bid for the U.S. Senate, and has been re-elected twice.
Abbott, who has used a wheelchair since the age of 26, when he was injured by a falling tree, has raised a staggering, Texas-sized $18 million for the governor’s race, with two years still to go.
Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, who lost a U.S. Senate bid in 2012, has said he plans to run for re-election rather than trying to move up to the top post. If he sticks to that position, it would clear away one possible hurdle for Abbott.
Tom Pauken, a former state GOP chairman and state workforce commissioner from Port Aransas, has announced a bid for governor. Debra Medina, a Ron Paul acolyte from Wharton who challenged Perry in the 2010 GOP primary, has also said she’s considering a bid, and a Facebook page has been set up to draft her into the race.
On the Democratic side, the pickings are slender, which is not surprising given Texas’ strong GOP bent.
Both San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro and former Houston Mayor Bill White, who lost to Perry in 2010, have declined to run. State Sen. Wendy Davis of Fort Worth, who became the heroine of the abortion movement by successfully filibustering an anti-abortion bill in June 2013, is being mentioned as a possibility.
Also being mentioned is Annise Parker, the openly lesbian mayor of Houston. She easily won re-election as mayor of the state’s largest city in 2011.
The last time Texas didn’t have an incumbent running in the governor’s race was in 1990, when Democrat Ann Richards defeated Republican Clayton Williams. Richards lost four years later to Bush, who won re-election in 1998. Perry became governor when Bush was elected president in 2000 and won re-election in 2002, 2006 and 2010.