By Jim Ellis July 31, 2019 — The announcement that Dan Coats is resigning as Director of National Intelligence and Texas Rep. John Ratcliffe (R-Heath/Rockwall) being nominated to replace him creates another open House seat. Now within the space of just one week, the number of open congressional seats for the next election has jumped from 10 to 14.
It is likely that Ratcliffe will go through the confirmation process well into November, meaning Gov. Greg Abbott (R) will call a special election to fill the balance of the current term upon the nominee’s confirmation. Looking ahead, it is likely the special general could fall on March 3, which is the day of the 2020 Texas primary, which means that the candidates would be running to simultaneously fill the current term and for the 2020 party nomination. The confirmation process and calendar, however, will largely dictate if such a schedule will happen.
John Ratcliffe was elected to the House in 2014, after he defeated 34-year congressional veteran Ralph Hall (R-Rockwall) in that year’s Republican primary. He was easily elected in the three subsequent general elections and posted a 76 percent victory last November.
Texas’ 4th District begins at Texarkana on the Texas/Arkansas border, encompasses the counties that touch the northwest Louisiana boundary, and then moves westward and well north of Dallas along the Red River and Oklahoma state line.
The district encompasses 16 counties and parts of two others, containing the population centers of Rockwall/Heath, Texarkana, and Greenville. CD-4 is safely Republican. President Trump carried the district by better than a 3:1 ratio (75-21 percent), making it his third best district among Texas’ 36 seats and behind only two CDs in the western part of the state.
The Ratcliffe district is not likely to be competitive in a general election, but the Republican primary expects to be a major political battle. Two state senators jointly represent almost all of the CD: state Sens. Bob Hall (R-Rockwall) and Bryan Hughes (R-Mineola).
The latter man’s home is just outside the 4th District boundaries, but his state Senate seat, which is close to 15 percent larger than Texas congressional districts in population, covers the entire eastern section of the Ratcliffe CD. Sen. Hall, on the other hand, represents the population heart of the congressional seat: the counties in and around the city of Rockwall, which is now virtually an outer Dallas suburb.
At this point, neither man has indicated that he would run for the open congressional seat, and there will be several other state representatives, local officials, and prominent business leaders who are likely to enter the GOP primary. As an aside, Texas has staggered state Senate terms for its members; therefore, Sen. Hall would not have to risk his Senate seat to run for Congress, but Sen. Hughes would.
Texas now has two open seats, since Houston-area Rep. Pete Olson (R-Sugar Land) was one of the three members to announce his or her retirement last week.
Because the Olson seat would be much more competitive in the general election, we can expect those outside groups looking to convert or protect a seat to focus there, and in as many as eight challenger races throughout the state. This likely means the 4th District’s eventual Republican nominee becomes the prohibitive favorite to win both the special election and the regular November 2020 vote in virtually unencumbered fashion.