Dec. 18, 2017 — Yet another House member announced late last week that he will not seek re-election due to reverberations from sexual impropriety incidents. Texas four-term Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-Corpus Christi), after filing for re-election on Dec. 4, decided not to continue his campaign effort and now will retire at the end of the current Congress.
Rep. Farenthold was the subject of much negative publicity in the previous couple of weeks and drew a significant Republican primary opponent just before the candidate filing period ended. Now, with Farenthold on the political sidelines, the stage appears set for former Texas Water Development Board chairman Bech Bruun to begin an open seat primary campaign as the perceived favorite for the GOP nomination, and as the party nominee would be projected to win the general election.
Farenthold was first elected in 2010, when he scored the political upset of the year by defeating veteran Democratic Rep. Solomon Ortiz (D-Brownsville) in the previous 27th District, a strongly Democratic CD that stretched from Corpus Christi to Brownsville. Farenthold won a 47.8 – 47.1 percent election over the 14-term incumbent in a low turnout election of slightly more than 106,000 voters.
Since the new congressman was elected in a census year, the Texas congressional boundaries were re-drawn before the 2012 election, and Farenthold benefited from getting a safely Republican district that stretched from his home in Nueces County almost to the outskirts of Austin. Before, the district configuration began in Corpus Christi and traveled directly south to the Mexican border, encompassing the two large population centers in Nueces and Cameron Counties at the CD’s north and south end.
Today, the 27th District is comprised of all or parts of 13 counties, still anchored in the Corpus Christi metropolitan area, and stretching northeast as far as Bay City, and then west to annex the city of Victoria before moving through the rural region to Bastrop County approaching the Austin metropolitan area.
Rep. Farenthold was also fortunate in that neighboring Rep. Ron Paul (R) decided to retire in that redistricting year, thus allowing the map drawers to extract a major portion of his 14th District and transfer it to CD 27 thus providing enough Republican voters to make the seat safe for a GOP nominee. President Trump carried the district with a 60-36 percent margin. In 2012, Mitt Romney won the seat, 60-38 percent.
The Farenthold departure means there are now 42 open or vacant seats in the House for the subsequent election, 28 of which are Republican held. With Arizona Rep. Martha McSally (R-Tucson) apparently preparing to enter the open Senate race, this number could quickly grow to 43. As candidate filing deadlines approach in other states, this high figure could grow even larger.
Before candidate filing closed, 10 individuals came forward to run against the congressman: six Republicans, including Bruun, and four Democrats. None of the candidates appear particularly strong, with the exception of Bruun. Now in an open seat configuration, however, some of the candidates have the opportunity of becoming more competitive.
Unlike some states, Texas has no law that extends the candidate filing period when the incumbent doesn’t file or withdraws. Therefore, the current list of candidates will be the universe on the ballot for the respective March 6 primaries.