Texas Runoff Tomorrow

By Jim Ellis

Texas Sen. John Cornyn (R)

July 13, 2020 — The general election is finally getting underway in Texas. The long-awaited Lone Star State runoff elections are tomorrow, postponed from May 26. At the federal level, 16 nominations will be decided, one for the Senate and 15 more in US House races.

In Texas, if no candidate secures a 50 percent majority in the primary, which, in 2020, was all the way back on Super Tuesday, March 3, a runoff election between the top two finishers is then conducted within 12 weeks. Because of COVID-19 precautions, the extended runoff cycle has consumed 19 weeks.

Sen. John Cornyn (R) will learn the identity of his general election opponent tomorrow night, and the incumbent’s campaign has seemingly involved itself in the Democratic runoff. The Cornyn team released a poll at the end of last week that contained ballot test results for the Democratic runoff, a race that seemingly favored original first-place finisher M.J. Hegar, but closer examination leads one to believe that the Cornyn forces would prefer to run against state Sen. Royce West (D-Dallas).

The TargetPoint survey identified Hegar as a 33-29 percent leader but points out that among those respondents who claim to have already voted, the two candidates were tied at 50 percent apiece. They further used the poll to identify Sen. West as the most “liberal” candidate in the race as an apparent way to influence Democratic voters that he is closer to them than Hegar.

We have seen this type of tactic used in other states. In New Mexico, the EMILY’s List organization was running ads against former state Rep. Yvette Herrell, saying she was the “true Trump candidate” in the Republican primary. This was done to convince Republican voters to support Herrell, a candidate the progressive left organization, and many others, believed to be the weaker opponent for incumbent Rep. Xochitl Torres Small (D-Las Cruces).

Regardless of who wins the Texas Senate Democratic runoff tomorrow night, Sen. Cornyn will be a clear favorite for re-election on Nov. 3.

In the House, six districts host runoffs in seats that will result in a substantial incumbent victory this Fall. Therefore, runoff winners in the 3rd (Rep. Van Taylor-R), 15th (Rep. Vicente Gonzalez-D), 16th (Rep. Veronica Escobar-D), 18th (Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee-D), 20th (Rep. Joaquin Castro-D), and 35th Districts (Rep. Lloyd Doggett-D) will become largely inconsequential in November.

The 2nd District originally was advancing to a secondary election, but candidate Elisa Cardnell barely qualified for the Democratic runoff and decided to concede the race to attorney and former Beto O’Rourke advisor Sima Ladjevardian. Therefore, Ladjevardian became the party nominee against freshman Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-Houston) without having to face a second election. The congressman is a strong favorite for re-election, but Ladjevardian had already raised will over $1 million for just her primary election.

The 10th District Democratic runoff features attorney Mike Siegel, who held Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Austin) to a surprisingly close finish in 2018. Siegel is favored over top physician Pritesh Gandhi who has raised and spent over $1.2 million through the June 24 pre-runoff financial disclosure report, which is about $400,000 more than Siegel.

District 13 features runoffs on both sides, but it is the Republican race that will decide who succeeds retiring Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Clarendon/Amarillo) in the seat that gave President Trump his second strongest percentage (79.9 percent) in the entire country. Though finishing second in the primary election to lobbyist and former congressional aide Josh Winegarner, former White House physician and retired Navy admiral, Ronny Jackson, armed with President Trump’s vocal support, has now become the favorite. According to a Fabrizio Lee & Associates’ late June poll for an outside organization supporting the retired admiral leads 46-29 percent.

Former congressman Pete Sessions is attempting a political comeback after his defeat in 2018. Moving to his boyhood home of Waco to run for the open 17th District, Sessions placed first in the primary, well ahead of second-place finisher Renee Swann, a local healthcare company executive. Being hit for his Dallas roots in the district that stretches from north of Waco to Bryan/College Station, it remains to be seen how the former 11-term congressman fares in his new district.

If he wins, the 17th will be the third distinct seat he will have represented in the Texas delegation. He was originally elected in the 5th CD in 1996, and then switched to the 32nd CD post redistricting in 2004. Of the three elections he would ostensibly face in the current election cycle, most believed the runoff would be Sessions’ most difficult challenge.

The open 22nd District brings us the conclusion to a hotly contested Republican runoff election between first-place finisher Troy Nehls, the Sheriff of Ft. Bend County, and multi-millionaire businesswoman Kathaleen Wall. Wall has been spending big money on Houston broadcast television to call into question Nehls’ record on the issue of human sex trafficking, which is a significant concern in the Houston metro area.

With her issues and money versus a veritable lack of campaign resources for Sheriff Nehls, Wall has closed the primary gap and pulled within the margin of polling error for tomorrow’s election. The winner faces Democratic nominee Sri Preston Kulkarni, who held retiring Rep. Pete Olson (R-Sugar Land) to a 51-46 percent victory in 2018.

In the 23rd District, which stretches from San Antonio to El Paso and is the only true swing district in Texas, retired Navy non-commissioned officer Tony Gonzales and homebuilder Raul Reyes battle for the Republican nomination tomorrow. Gonzales, with President Trump’s support, has the edge over Reyes, who did earn Sen. Ted Cruz’s (R) backing. The winner faces general election favorite Gina Ortiz Jones (D) who held retiring Rep. Will Hurd (R-San Antonio) to a scant 926-vote victory in 2018.

Back in the DFW Metroplex, Democrats will choose a nominee for the open 24th District. Retired Air Force colonel Kim Olson was originally considered the favorite for the nomination, but it appears that former local school board member Candace Valenzuela has overtaken her with outside support from Hispanic and progressive left organizations. The winner challenges former Irving mayor Beth Van Duyne (R) in what promises to be an interesting general election. Rep. Kenny Marchant (R-Coppell) is retiring after eight terms in federal office. Prior to his election to Congress, Marchant spent 18 years in the Texas House of Representatives.

Finally, in the 31st District, Democrats will choose a candidate to oppose veteran Rep. John Carter (R-Round Rock). Physician Christine Mann and computer engineer Donna Imam ran close to each other in the primary, and the winner will face an uphill climb in the general election. Though 2020 Senate candidate M.J. Hegar held Carter to a 51-48 percent win two years ago, the congressman will be considered a much stronger re-election favorite this year.

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