AUSTIN, Texas — A key Texas runoff for a U.S. House seat will test whether the national Democratic Party’s establishment can overcome an insurgent wing more openly hostile to President Donald Trump.
Others will set up November contests where Democrats hope to flip three Republican-held congressional districts, a once unthinkable total in such a conservative state. And the party will choose its nominee for governor, even if Republican Gov. Greg Abbott looks unbeatable.
But one issue not expected to resonate is gun control, even though balloting comes four days after a shooting killed 10 people at Santa Fe High School near Houston.
Abbott is convening roundtable discussions with major policymakers to discuss better fortifying schools but, like other top Republicans, hasn’t mentioned gun control. Democrats say Texas conservatives don’t dare cross the National Rifle Association by considering tighter firearm limits. Their party’s candidates generally agree on gun control, meanwhile, so there isn’t much debate during the runoff races.
“Nobody’s going to change their mind based on the issue,” said Mark Jones, a political science professor at Houston’s Rice University who noted that more than half of the voters casting runoff ballots did so early, which means before Friday’s shooting or on the same day.
Jones said it’s possible some Democrats could be “driven to turn out by anger and frustration” post-Santa Fe and may back candidates further to the left. If that happens, it could impact a much-watched race pitting Lizzie Pannill Fletcher against fellow Democrat Laura Moser for the chance to face Republican Rep. John Culberson of Houston in November’s general election.
Fletcher, a former Planned Parenthood board member, beat Moser during Texas’ March 6 primary. But Moser still made the runoff in a seven-way race despite the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee criticizing her for writing jokingly in 2014 — when she lived in Washington — that she’d rather have teeth pulled than call small-town Texas home.
Moser is backed by Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders’ political group and founded a resistance organization to the Trump administration. National Democrats worry that she is unelectable against Culberson — who otherwise might be vulnerable since his district narrowly voted for Hillary Clinton over Trump in 2016. That means Tuesday’s result will be seen nationally as whether mainstream Democrats successfully tame the Sanders bloc, even if both Fletcher and Moser say voters care about district issues, not party infighting.
Two other Texas seats Democrats hope to flip are U.S. Rep. Pete Sessions’ Dallas district, which supported Clinton instead of Trump, as did Rep. Will Hurd’s, which encompasses 800 miles of Texas-Mexico border from San Antonio to El Paso. Former NFL linebacker Colin Allred is expected to advance Tuesday to face Sessions and Air Force veteran Gina Ortiz Jones is favored to win the right to face Hurd.
The only statewide runoff features little-known Democratic gubernatorial candidates: Ex-Dallas County sheriff Lupe Valdez against Houston businessman Andrew White, whose father, Mark, was governor from 1983 to 1987. Neither is expected to seriously challenge well-funded Abbott. Texas hasn’t elected a Democratic governor since 1990.
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