Rating Change: Hurd Retirement Moves Texas District to Democratic Category

by Leah Askarinam August 2, 2019 · 1:17 AM EDT

Will Hurd of Texas has been considered one of Republicans’ strongest incumbents. He proved that point in 2018, when he was one of just three Republicans to win re-election in a district that Hillary Clinton carried in 2016.

But Hurd, who founded a cybersecurity firm before running for Congress, announced on Thursday night that he will return to his roots. “I have made the decision to not seek reelection for the 23rd Congressional District of Texas in order to pursue opportunities outside the halls of Congress to solve problems at the nexus between technology and national security,” Hurd said in a statement.

It didn’t take long for NRCC chairman Tom Emmer to weigh in, arguing that the district favors Republicans and that the party “will fight tooth and nail” to keep it, according to Roll Call’s Bridget Bowman.

But the fundamentals of this district tell a different story. Hurd won re-election by less than 1,000 votes in 2018 and by about 3,000 in 2016. And as Inside Elections contributor Ryan Matsumoto pointed out, Democratic Senate candidate Beto O’Rourke carried the 23rd District in his 2018 loss to Sen. Ted Cruz. 

The demographics of the district also favor Democrats. Less than a quarter of the district is non-Hispanic white, and 40 percent of the non-Hispanic white population has a bachelor’s degree or higher. And while it’s possible that a Democratic primary heats up now that the seat is open, Democrats are ready with Gina Ortiz Jones, who nearly toppled Hurd last year and already raised $588,000 through June for what, until tonight, appeared to be a rematch with Hurd.

Still, Democrats don’t exactly have the race in the bag yet. GOP Gov. Greg Abbott carried the district in 2018, though that race never became competitive, while several Republicans carried the district down ballot in statewide offices, including comptroller and land commissioner. And even as Democratic presidential candidates carried the district in 2008 and 2016, Republicans down ballot have still managed to succeed and Mitt Romney carried the district in 2012. 

Republicans will likely recruit a Hispanic candidate in order to hold the district. Potential candidates include state Sen. Pete Flores, who represents a district that stretches from San Antonio toward the state’s western border. He became the first Hispanic Republian state senator in Texas after winning a September 2018 special election.  Former Texas Secretary of State Rolando Pablos has been mentioned as well. 

On the Democratic side, state Rep. Cesar Blanco has been mentioned as someone who could be interested in the seat, given his previous work as chief of staff for members of Congress, including Reps. Pete Gallego and Sheila Jackson Lee. His legislative district is east of El Paso. State Rep. Poncho Nevárez also represents a district that falls into the 23rd Congressional District — and spans 45,000 miles.

Even with Hurd on the ballot, we’ve had the race rated as Toss-Up, considering the congressman’s narrow victories. It’s possible that Republicans find a candidate with similar appeal, but the burden of proof is on the GOP to find a candidate who can actively work against the demographic and partisan trends of the district.

We’re changing our rating of Texas 23 from Toss-Up to Lean Democratic.