Ratings Update: Texas Primaries Narrow Democratic Fields
March 7, 2018 · 1:33 AM EST
After months of speculation, the 2018 midterm elections are officially underway with initial primaries in Texas.
There's more evidence of a Democratic surge previously seen in Virginia and in special elections around the country, but also the reality that some of the swarm of Democratic candidates aren't even going to make it to the general election.
While operatives on both sides of the aisle treat primaries like the plague, they can be a proving ground for candidates (particularly first-time candidates) and an opportunity to ramp up their campaigns before moving on to more competitive general elections. Some of Democrats' most publicized and well-funded candidates fell short of making the runoff in Texas on Tuesday night.
The primaries are significant considering Democrats have multiple targeted races including the 7th, 23rd and 32nd Districts. But the Democratic nominee won't be known in each race until after the May 22 runoff. That doesn't mean Democrats can't win in November. In spite of competitive and expensive Democratic primaries, President Donald Trump will likely unify and energize the Democratic Party in each race before November.
Pairs of Democrats and Republicans are headed for runoffs in a handful of solid districts that aren't at risk of a party takeover. While three candidates, Republican Van Taylor (3rd District) and Democrats Sylvia Garcia (29th District) and Veronica Escobar (16th District) won their primaries outright and are all-but-certain to be the first new Members of the next Congress (including the first Hispanic women from Texas).
As expected, Republican Sen. Ted Cruz and Democratic Rep. Beto O'Rourke won their primaries and will face off in the general election. O'Rourke continues to raise money at a considerable clip, in spite of shunning PAC money, but still faces an uphill battle. We're keeping our Solid Republican rating for now, but it could get more competitive in the months ahead.
Here's a quick rundown of the primaries (even though all of the votes had not been counted yet as of late Tuesday night) and the general election ratings:
2nd District. State Rep. Kevin Roberts is well-positioned to make the GOP primary runoff against either donor/activist Kathaleen Wall (who spent millions of dollars of her own money) or former Navy Seal Dan Crenshaw in the open seat left by retiring GOP Rep. Ted Poe. The Harris County district stretches from the west to the north of Houston, and Donald Trump won it 52-43 percent in 2016. Democrat Todd Litton will progress to the general election without a runoff, and party strategists believe that he has the profile to take advantage of an electoral wave. Rating: Solid R.
3rd District. As expected, GOP state Sen. Van Taylor won the GOP nomination in the open seat of retiring Republican Rep. Sam Johnson. Taylor lost a challenge to Democratic Rep. Chet Edwards in 2006 in the 17th District but represents 94 percent of the 3rd District in the Legislature. Taylor is a Marine veteran and real estate investment banker who has a Master's in Business Administration from Harvard, and calls himself one of the most conservative senators in Austin. Club for Growth endorsed Taylor, who supported Ted Cruz in the 2016 presidential primary, and he hasn't ruled out becoming a member of the Freedom Caucus. He's the prohibitive favorite in the general election in a seat Donald Trump won with 55 percent. Rating: Solid R.
5th District. Former Jeb Hensarling campaign manager Bunni Pounds and state Rep. Lance Gooden advanced to the GOP runoff after finishing first and second in the primary for the open seat left behind by Hensarling. Former state Rep. Kenneth Sheets, a lawyer and Marine veteran, who was endorsed by Rep. Pete Sessions, former chairman of the NRCC, failed to finish in the top two. Trump defeated Clinton 63-34 percent in the district, which sits southeast of Dallas, so there is little chance of a Democratic takeover. Rating: Solid R.
6th District. Retired Navy pilot Jake Ellzey and Tarrant County Tax Assessor-Collector Ron Wright progressed to the GOP runoff to replace Republican Rep. Joe Barton. Wright worked with Barton for nine years, and was chief of staff for the last two. Democrats are headed for a runoff as well, between journalist/consultant Jana Sanchez and 2016 nominee Ruby Woolridge. The GOP nominee will start the general election with an advantage in a district Trump won 54-42 percent. Rating: Solid R.
7th District. Local non-profit director Alex Triantaphyllis led the Democratic field in cash on hand at the end of 2017 with $634,000, but failed to make the runoff. Lizzie Pannill Fletcher ($437,000) received the most votes, followed by "The Resistance" activist Laura Moser ($329,000). The DCCC publicly opposed Moser in the weeks before the primary by making her opposition research public, but it may have given her a boost from anti-establishment sympathizers.
The DCCC went after Moser before the primary because party operatives believed she would be a weak general election candidate considering her recent move from Washington, D.C. and her past comment about not wanting to live in Texas. Some Democrats fear her nomination will jeopardize the party's ability to win a district that Clinton only carried by 2 points (49-49 percent).
Fletcher has an endorsement from EMILY's List and should be equipped to run a competitive primary, but if the district becomes a proxy war for the Bernie Sanders faction of the party, the race could become unpredictable. Democrats have never won Harris County in a non-presidential year, and they are hopeful that this could be the year where the Houston-based county finally swings in their direction.
Some Republicans acknowledge that Culberson could be in trouble, given both the national environment and slower start to his campaign. Rating: Tilt R.
16th District. El Paso County Judge Veronica Escobar won the Democratic primary over former El Paso School Board President Dori Fenenbock. Fenenbock had previously donated to GOP candidates and looked like a credible threat with her fundraising and personal money. Given Clinton's 68-27 percent victory in the 16th District, Escobar is a prohibitive favorite to join Sylvia Garcia (29th District) as the first Hispanic women elected to represent Texas in Congress and the Hispanic majority district will be represented by a Hispanic Member for the first time since 2012. Rating: Solid D.
21st District. Former Ted Cruz chief of staff Chip Roy won the most votes Tuesday night, while 2014/2016 primary challenger Matt McCall won the second runoff slot over former Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison aide William Negley. Former Rep. Quico Canseco struggled to reach 5 percent of the vote. GOP Rep. Lamar Smith is not seeking re-election. Democrats have been excited about Joseph Kopser, a veteran who founded a tech business, but he didn't win enough votes to gain the nomination outright, and will face minister Mary Wilson in the runoff. Trump won the district 52-42 percent, but the demographics could cause the race to get more competitive. Rating: Solid R.
23rd District. Iraq War veteran/former USTR official Gina Ortiz Jones progressed to the Democratic primary runoff but her opponent was unclear on Election Night. Judy Canales and Rick Trevino were battling for second place while attorney Jay Hulings, who received considerable national attention and raised the most money, was in danger of finishing fourth. GOP Rep. Will Hurd won't be easy to defeat but the sprawling border district is primed for a Democratic takeover considering Clinton won it 50-46 percent. This is the type of district Democrats need to win for a majority but a good example that it won't be easy. Rating: Toss-Up.
27th District. Bech Bruun, who stepped down from his position on the Texas Water Development Board to run for the open seat, and business owner Michael Cloud advanced to the GOP primary runoff. Trump won the district 60-37 percent in 2016 and this seat is not a priority for Democrats now that GOP Rep. Blake Farenthold is not seeking re-election to this Corpus Christi district. Rating: Solid R.
29th District. Harris County Commissioner Sylvia Garcia's is the likely congresswoman-elect to replace Democratic Rep. Gene Green. Garcia avoided a primary runoff despite New York Sen. Chuck Schumer's late endorsement of Tahir Javed, who spent considerable personal money, and she'll avoid a competitive general election in a district that Clinton carried 71-25 percent. Rating: Solid D.
31st District. Democrats have been cautiously optimistic about MJ Hegar, but it looks like being an Air Force veteran who received the Distinguished Flying Cross with Valor Device and wrote a memoir that might turn into a movie starring Angelina Jolie wasn't enough to avoid a runoff against physician Christine Mann. Trump carried the district (which sits north of Austin) 54-41 percent but GOP Rep. John Carter's primary performance wasn't anything to write home about. His challenger spent $33,000 through Feb. 14 and received more than 30 percent of the vote. Rating: Solid R.
32nd District. Colin Allred had not been considered a top contender to face a GOP incumbent in a district that Clinton narrowly carried, but he was the top vote-getter Tuesday night and will progress to the Democratic runoff against business woman Lillian Salerno or Dallas TV reporter Brett Shipp. In one of the more surprising results of the night, Ed Meier, who seemed to be in the top tier of Democratic candidates as a former Clinton staffer, looked likely to fall short of the runoff. GOP Rep. Pete Sessions, the former chairman of the NRCC, will be a tough opponent but Clinton won the seat narrowly, 49-47 percent, and the district's demographics could produce a backlash against President Trump and Republicans. Rating: Likely R.