Texas voters are heading to the polls Tuesday to make their voices heard in a series of runoffs that most notably include the Democratic race for governor and a bevy of high-stakes congressional contests.
The runoffs stem from the March 6 primaries, when the top two vote-getters from any race where no candidate got more than half the vote advanced to a second round of balloting. That happened in 33 races for statewide office, Congress and the Texas Legislature.
Toward the top of the ticket, Democrats will choose whether they want Lupe Valdez, the former Dallas County sheriff, or Andrew White, the son of late Gov. Mark White, to be their nominee against Republican Gov. Greg Abbott. Whoever gets the nod will face a steep climb against the lavishly funded Abbott in a state that has not elected a Democrat to statewide office in over two decades.
Further down the ballot, Democrats will finalize their nominees for three Republican-held congressional seats that the national party is most seriously targeting this year in Texas:
- Gina Ortiz Jones, a former Air Force intelligence officer, is up against ex-high school teacher Rick Treviño for their party's nod to take on U.S. Rep. Will Hurd, R-Helotes.
- Colin Allred, a civil rights attorney who previously played in the NFL, faces businesswoman Lillian Salerno in the runoff to challenge U.S. Rep. Pete Sessions, R-Dallas. Allred and Salerno are both former Obama administration officials.
- Attorney Lizzie Pannill Fletcher and activist-writer Laura Moser are seeking their party's nomination to take on U.S. Rep. John Culberson, R-Houston.
The Fletcher-Moser matchup drew national attention in the days before the March primary when the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee took the extraordinary step of coming out against Moser. Since then, though, it has been a mostly cordial affair.
In the two other runoffs, the national party has also made its preferences clear, signaling support for Allred and Jones. That has drawn varying degrees of criticism from their underdog opponents, who argue Washington Democrats are trying to tell Texans how to vote.
The congressional runoffs Tuesday also feature notable races to determine the nominees for five of eight open seats in November, all of which are expected to stay in GOP hands:
- Republicans Dan Crenshaw, a former Navy SEAL, and Houston state Rep. Kevin Roberts are vying for the seat being vacated by retiring U.S. Rep. Ted Poe, R-Houston.
- Republican state Rep. Lance Gooden of Terrell is battling Bunni Pounds, a longtime GOP fundraiser, to replace retiring U.S. Rep. Jeb Hensarling, R-Dallas, who has endorsed Pounds.
- Republicans Jake Ellzey, a former Navy fighter pilot, and Ron Wright, the ex-Tarrant County tax assessor-collector, are running for the seat being vacated by retiring U.S. Rep. Joe Barton, R-Ennis. Two Democrats also in a runoff for the seat: Ruby Faye Woolridge, an educator and minister, and Jana Lynne Sanchez, a public relations consultant and former journalist.
- Republicans Matt McCall and Chip Roy are fighting for the seat being vacated by retiring U.S. Rep. Lamar Smith, R-San Antonio, who has endorsed Roy. McCall is a Boerne business owner who unsuccessfully challenged Smith in 2014 and 2016, while Roy is the former chief of staff to U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz. There is also a Democratic runoff for the seat between tech entrepreneur Joseph Kopser and Mary Wilson, a minister and mathematician.
- Republicans Bech Bruun, the former chairman of the Texas Water Development Board, and Michael Cloud, a member of the State Republican Executive Committee, are vying to replace former U.S. Rep. Blake Farenthold, R-Corpus Christi, who resigned earlier this year amid sexual harassment allegations. Also in a runoff are Democrats Raul "Roy" Barrera and Eric Holguin, a court security officer who previously ran for the seat and a former congressional staffer, respectively.
Most of the GOP congressional runoffs have been high-priced, brutal fights, soaked with hundreds of thousands of dollars in outside spending courtesy of groups like the Club for Growth. Candidates have battled hardest over their conservative credentials and loyalty to President Donald Trump.
Beyond the congressional runoffs, the second rounds of some state House primaries have generated the most intrigue, with much on the line for the warring factions of the Texas GOP. In House District 121, Matt Beebe and Steve Allison are duking it out to replace retiring House Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio. Beebe ran against Straus — and lost — twice previously, while Allison has been endorsed by the speaker to succeed him.
A similar dynamic is unfolding in House District 8, where Thomas McNutt and Cody Harris are battling to replace a Straus lieutenant: retiring state Rep. Byron Cook, R-Corsicana. It is McNutt's second run for HD-8 after he came close to unseating Cook in 2016.
Then there are the two state House runoffs involving incumbents, one Democrat and one Republican. The Democrat, state Rep. René Oliveira of Brownsville, faces Cameron County Commissioner Alex Dominguez in a race that has been highlighted by Oliveira's DWI arrest last month. The Republican, state Rep. Scott Cosper of Killeen, is looking to fend off a second-round upset by veterinarian Brad Buckley.
The rest of the Texas House runoffs include several action-packed open-seat races. One will determine the Democratic nominee to replace state Rep. Dawnna Dukes, D-Austin, who lost re-election in the March primary. The runoff qualifiers were Sheryl Cole, the former Austin mayor pro tem, and attorney Chito Vela.
Early voting for the runoffs was Monday through Friday last week. Turnout was very low — 3.2 percent in the top 30 counties with the most registered voters, according to records kept by the secretary of state's office.
Polls are open Tuesday from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Disclosure: Joseph Kopser has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune's journalism. Find a complete list of them here.
This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2018/05/22/heres-what-expect-texas-runoff-elections/.
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