By Jim Ellis
Jan. 11, 2017 — Venerable Rep. Sam Johnson (R-TX-3), one of the longest-held prisoners of war during the Vietnam War and a 32-year veteran of elective politics, has announced that he will not seek re-election in 2018. Counting all of the Trump cabinet appointees from the House and the two members who have already announced gubernatorial campaigns, we already have seven open House seats in coming elections.
Johnson will be 88 years old at the time of the next regular election and would retire after serving 14 terms in the House and another three in the Texas House of Representatives. He had been re-elected to a fourth term in the legislature just before winning a special election to replace outgoing Rep. Steve Bartlett (R), who had resigned after winning election as Mayor of Dallas.
The 3rd District is a safe Republican seat, though it dipped a bit in the presidential race. Though Donald Trump carried this north Texas CD, he did so with only a 55-41 percent margin. Mitt Romney carried the same district, 64-34 percent, four years ago.
TX-3 lies north to northeast of Dallas and contains the cities of Plano, McKinney, Frisco, and Allen. The Sam Rayburn Tollway borders the district on the north end and the President George Bush Turnpike nears the southern boundary. All of the overlapping state legislators are Republican in addition to the congressional representation.
Because this district was last open in 1991, the local politicos have been waiting a long time for a shot at the seat. Therefore, the list of Republican primary contenders will be long. Leading the way could be area state Sen. Van Taylor (R-Plano), who would be the presumed favorite if he chooses to seek the congressional post. Other potential candidates include Plano Mayor Harry LaRosiliere (R), Collin County District Attorney Greg Willis (R), and a plethora of state representatives. The nomination will go through a primary and undoubtedly a run-off in 2018, and the eventual Republican nominee will easily hold the seat.
Sen. Ted Cruz (R) stands for his first re-election, and more speculation is surrounding three-term Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-El Paso) as a potential candidate. Late last week the congressman made comments suggesting he is poised to challenge Cruz, but this week he tempered those remarks, saying that he is only considering his options for 2018.
O’Rourke, a former El Paso City councilman, challenged veteran Rep. Silvestre Reyes (D-El Paso) in the 2012 Democratic primary and upset him, 50.5 – 44.3 percent. He has easily held the seat since, though he did originally pledge to serve only four terms.
Democrats are more optimistic about their Texas prospects based upon the presidential results. Though Donald Trump carried the state by the typical nine to 12 point range (52-43 percent) in which a Republican normally wins, Democrats did record some surprising numbers. As in so many places around the country, Hillary Clinton out-performed her vote goals in the major cities.
Of six major Texas metropolitan areas, Clinton took five of them, all by substantial percentages. Trump’s only metro victory came in Ft. Worth’s Tarrant County, where his margin mirrored the state’s 52-43 percent spread. Clinton took Dallas County (61-35 percent), Houston’s Harris County (54-42 percent), Bexar County (San Antonio; 54-41 percent), Travis (Austin; 66-27 percent), and El Paso County (69-26 percent). She even captured three Republican congressional districts: Reps. John Culberson’s TX-7 (Houston; 48-47 percent), Will Hurd’s 23rd CD (San Antonio/El Paso; 50-46 percent), and House Rules Committee chairman Pete Sessions’ 32nd District (Dallas; 48-47 percent).
The overwhelming Trump strength in the 16 outer suburban and rural districts is what allowed him to overcome his deficits in the cities and minority congressional seats. In those bedrock Republican CDs, Trump triumphed 65-31 percent.
Still, Texas is still one of the nation’s Republican core states, and even more so under a mid-term turnout model. Though Rep. O’Rourke would be a formidable statewide candidate, he would still be a heavy underdog to Sen. Cruz and will have a difficult time attracting enough outside money to formulate a highly competitive campaign.