By Jim Ellis
The Lone Star State political card features the US Senate race, a full compliment of statewide races, including Gov. Greg Abbott (R) beginning his campaign for re-election, along with voters choosing nominees in the 36 US House seats. The delegation’s eight open seats will attract the most attention. Should candidates not receive majority support, run-off elections between the top two finishers in each party will subsequently be held on May 22.
Both Sen. Ted Cruz (R) and Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-El Paso) are expected to easily win their respective nominations. This will officially begin the nation’s first US Senate general election cycle. Rep. O’Rourke will have the benefit of commanding strong financial resources — he had just under $5 million in the bank at the end of the pre-primary reporting period — because so many national liberal donors are contributing against Sen. Cruz.
The Democratic gubernatorial primary features Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez opposing businessman Andrew White, son of the late former Gov. Mark White (D). Neither have major resources, and the winner draws Gov. Abbott who could top $100 million in spending. The governor is viewed as a safe bet for re-election.
In the 36 House races, 28 incumbents are seeking re-election; 15 of them (a dozen Republicans and three Democrats) have primary opposition, but all are expected to easily win re-nomination.
Of the eight open seats, six are Republican held as Reps. Ted Poe (R-Atascocita), Sam Johnson (R-Plano), Jeb Hensarling (R-Dallas), Joe Barton (R-Ennis), Lamar Smith (R-San Antonio), and Blake Farenthold (R-Corpus Christi) are retiring. Two Democratic incumbents, Reps. O’Rourke and Gene Green (D-Houston), are not seeking re-election to the House.
All of the opens are expected to remain with its current party, but hot primaries are present in each of them.
Nine Republicans are vying for the right to succeed Rep. Poe, who was originally elected to his Houston suburban seat in 2004. Businesswoman Kathaleen Wall, who has the backing of both Sen. Cruz and Gov. Abbott, along with many conservative organizations, is expected to advance to the run-off with either state Rep. Kevin Roberts (R-Houston) or retired Naval officer Dan Crenshaw.
State Sen. Van Taylor (R-Plano) is expected to win the nomination in the state’s 3rd District outright. With his general election victory he will replace Rep. Johnson, who originally won the seat in a 1991 special election victory.
Financial Services Committee chairman Jeb Hensarling is one of eight retiring standing committee leaders, most of whom are at the end of their limited time of service. State Rep. Lance Gooden (R-Terrell), former state Rep. Kenneth Sheets, and Hensarling campaign finance director Bunni Pounds are expected to fight for the two run-off slots with six other candidates likely being relegated to also-ran status. The eventual Republican winner will face former Terrell City Councilman Dan Wood, who is unopposed for the Democratic nomination. The eventual Republican nominee becomes a strong favorite to hold.
Rep. Barton, the dean of the Texas delegation with 17 terms in office, is also retiring this year. Tarrant County Tax Assessor Ron Wright, a former Barton chief of staff, appears to be the clear front-runner. The main remaining question is whether Wright can win the nomination outright tomorrow, or will he be forced to a run-off election.
Turning to the San Antonio/Texas Hill Country district that Rep. Smith has held for 32 years, 18 Republicans are fighting to see who can advance into the two-person run-off. The most notable candidates are state Rep. Jason Isaac (R-Dripping Springs), ex-congressman Quico Canseco (R-San Antonio), and Chip Roy, formerly the chief of staff to Sen. Cruz.
A sexual harassment accusation is forcing four-term Rep. Farenthold to the political sidelines in the rural district that stretches from Corpus Christi almost to Austin. It appears clear that former state Water Development Commission chairman Bech Bruun is favored to win the party nomination and seat, but questions remain as to whether he can avoid a run-off.
With Democratic Rep. O’Rourke running for the Senate after three terms in the House, a spirited party primary will culminate today. The eventual Democratic general election standard bearer will claim the El Paso anchored district whenever one is officially nominated. The three leading candidates are El Paso County Judge (Executive) Veronica Escobar, former school board president Dori Fenenbock, and ex-state Rep. Norma Chavez.
In Rep. Green’s open Houston-anchored 29th District, the leading candidate appears to be state Sen. Sylvia Garcia (D-Houston). She will eventually win the Democratic nomination, and be elected in November to the safe Dem seat.
The three most competitive incumbent general election races looks to feature Reps. John Culberson (R-Houston), Will Hurd (R-San Antonio) in the traditional swing 23rd District, and Rules Committee chairman Pete Sessions (R-Dallas). With the Democrats more aggressively contesting the Texas races in this election rather than in the past two decades, other surprise campaigns could soon develop after the nomination period draws to a close.