Analysis: An Early Guide to November’s Competitive Texas Races

By Ross Ramsey, The Texas Tribune, texastribune.org

Most of the 218 races at the top of the state and federal sections of our general election ballots in November are not going to be competitive.

That assessment is not based on the number of candidates, but on the types of voters who will be electing them.

The simple explanation is that politicians draw political districts to minimize the chances that their parties will lose in general elections.

Them that make the rules win the game.

About two-thirds of the Legislature and more than two-thirds of the Texas congressional delegation will be made up of Republicans — because Republican lawmakers drew the maps and flooded their districts with Republican voters. Democratic voters flood the rest.

Republicans are no different in this than Democrats. It’s just that they were in control when it was time to draw the maps, and they did the self-interested thing you would expect them to do.

What that means is that only one of the 36 Texas races for Congress will be competitive, barring a death or a nasty sex scandal.

None of the 16 contests for the Texas Senate is likely to produce a party flip; the only district that might swing isn’t on the ballot until 2018.

In the 150-member House, only a dozen or so are in play. If you squint really hard, and if the political winds blow really hard, another 10 or 11 races could tighten up. But don’t count on it; these mappers are very good at what they do.

If you sort the ballots based solely on past election results in each district, the small number of competitive races stand out. Only in a few did average statewide candidates from one party beat their major party opponents by fewer than 10 percentage points.

Past election results are not a certain indicator of how candidates will do in a particular race, but it’s safe to say that districts packed with voters of a particular party will ordinarily elect candidates of the same party.

The competitive districts are those where the electorate has been more evenly distributed in recent election years. (Abbreviations ahead: CD for congressional district and HD for House district.) These contests are where the parties are most closely matched:

• CD-23. U.S. Rep. Will Hurd, R-San Antonio, in a rematch with former U.S. Rep. Pete Gallego, D-Alpine. That seat has gone back and forth several times: Democrats do better in presidential years, Republicans in off-year elections.

• HD-23. Freshman state Rep. Wayne Faircloth, R-Dickinson, against former state Rep. Lloyd Criss, R-La Marque.

• HD-43. State Rep. J.M. Lozano, R-Kingsville, will face Democratic challenger Marisa Yvette Garcia-Utley.

• HD-54. State Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock, R-Killeen, decided not to seek reelection in a district where Republicans have only a narrow advantage over Democrats in presidential election years like this one. Killeen Mayor Scott Cosper apparently won the Republican runoff, but his 43-vote margin over Austin Ruiz has prompted a recount. The winner will face Democrat Sandra Blankenship in November.

• HD-78. State Rep. Joe Moody, D-El Paso, will contend with Jeffrey Lane, a Republican in a district where Democrats have demonstrated a slight advantage.

• HD-102. Freshman Rep. Linda Koop, R-Dallas, will face Democrat Laura Irvin.

• HD-105. State Rep. Rodney Anderson, R-Grand Prairie, currently holds this swing district. He’ll battle Democrat Terry Meza in November.

• HD-107. State Rep. Ken Sheets, R-Dallas, has fended off a series of challenges in his narrowly Republican district; this time, the chief opponent is Democrat Victoria Neave.

• HD-113. Like Sheets in the district next door, state Rep. Cindy Burkett, R-Sunnyvale, has a district where the incumbent is always under attack. Her Democratic opponent this time is Rhetta Andrews Bowers.

• HD-117. State Rep. Rick Galindo, R-San Antonio, is one of two House Republicans defending a district where Democrats generally win statewide races. He’ll face the guy he beat, former Rep. Philip Cortez, a Democrat, in November.

• HD-118. The other of those Republicans is John Luhan, also of San Antonio, who won a special election earlier this year to replace Democrat Joe Farias, who retired. He’ll face Democrat Tomás Uresti — the loser of that special election — in a November rematch.

• HD-144. State Rep. Gilbert Peña, R-Pasadena, represents a district that has gone for Republicans in some years and Democrats in others. And it’s another rematch: He will face former Rep. Mary Ann Perez, the Democrat who lost in 2014 by 152 votes out of 11,878 cast.

Several incumbents got free passes in districts where an able opponent might have been dangerous. In HD-34, state Rep. Abel Herrero, D-Robstown, drew no Republican challenger. In HD-45, Republican Jason Isaac didn’t draw a Democratic opponent.

And of course, there are a couple of big fat caveats to these assessments. Not all of these races will turn out as close as they might seem today. And candidates somewhere on the ballot who are not on this list will probably lose their perches in Texas politics later this year.

The Texas Tribune is a nonpartisan, nonprofit media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them – about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.