Battleground 2020Elections 20202020 Runoff Elections: 10 State Legislative Races to Watch

Here's a look at the top 10 state legislative races to watch in Texas' runoff elections today.
and July 14, 2020
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Today is the day that Texas runoff elections will be decided, and The Texan has narrowed down a list of 10 key state-level races to watch as the results roll in. 

Senate District 19 — Xochil Peña Rodriguez vs. Roland Gutierrez 

The most important Texas Senate race has been District 19 since Sen. Pete Flores (R-Pleasanton) flipped it in 2018. As the member preserving Republicans’ supermajority in the legislature’s higher body, Flores faces a tough bid for reelection in a historically blue district. He is the first Republican to hold the seat since Reconstruction. 

He will face the winner of Tuesday’s runoff race between Xochil Peña Rodriguez, daughter of former Congressman Ciro Rodriguez, and current Rep. Roland Gutierrez (D-San Antonio).

Rodriguez finished ahead of Gutierrez by over 4,000 votes in the primary, but was outraised by Gutierrez by almost $40,000 in the latest filing period.

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The two Democrats have a better-than-outside chance of flipping the seat back but will have to defeat a well-liked incumbent who has the luxury of saving his war chest for the general. 

Senate District 27 — Eddie Lucio Jr. vs. Sara Stapleton-Barrera

Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr. (D-Brownsville) has been a member of the Texas Senate since 1991, but has received criticism in recent years from progressive Democrats for voting with Republicans on some abortion-related legislation.

In the March primary, Lucio faced two challengers: Ruben Cortez, who received 14.6 percent of the vote, and Sara Stapleton-Barrera, who received 35.6 percent of the vote.

Together, they narrowly kept Lucio from reaching the 50 percent threshold needed to avoid a runoff. The senator ended the night with 49.8 percent of the vote.

Stapleton-Barrera has been endorsed by Planned Parenthood Texas Votes, which was criticized by Lucio and several other Democratic state lawmakers for making use of the derogatory term “sucio Lucio” in attacks against the incumbent.

Financially, Stapelton-Barrera will have to win an uphill battle against Lucio, who outraised her in the last quarter alone with a million dollars above her $40,000.

House District 2 — Dan Flynn vs. Bryan Slaton

Eight-term incumbent Rep. Dan Flynn (R-Canton) narrowly escaped defeat in the 2018 GOP primary by about 800 votes and again in 2016 by fewer than 600 votes. Both times, he overcame challenger Bryan Slaton. In 2020, Slaton is back for a third round, hoping to finish what he started two elections ago. 

In the 2020 primary, Flynn separated himself by 2,300 votes from Slaton in the three-man field. Now, the race becomes a competition in voter turnout during a tumultuous election year.

The Flynn campaign has hit Slaton over his support from Empower Texans (ET), specifically in light of the recording in which ET staffers spoke disparagingly about Governor Greg Abbott. The governor has since supported Flynn and made an ad buy on his behalf. 

In addition to Governor Abbott, Flynn has been endorsed by Texas Alliance for Life and Texans for Lawsuit Reform. Slaton has been endorsed by Texas Right to Life and Texans for Fiscal Responsibility — the political advocacy wing of Empower Texans.

Flynn has received a fundraising boon since the Abbott endorsement, pulling in $340,000 to Slaton’s $170,000. 

House District 25 — Ro’Vin Garrett vs. Cody Vasut

After a contentious primary, Brazoria Tax Assessor-Collector Ro’Vin Garrett will compete against former Angleton City Councilman Cody Vasut for the seat currently held by the retiring and embattled Texas House Speaker Dennis Bonnen (R-Angleton).

Having served 16 years as tax assessor-collector, Garrett is heavily backed by local officials in the district. Vasut, an attorney by trade, has received the support of two of his and Garrett’s former primary opponents.

The two have gone to blows over specific issues like property taxes, with Garrett challenging Vasut’s city council record and Vasut looking to clarify his votes.

Most recently, Vasut both outraised and outspent Garrett, raising $48,000 and spending $69,000 compared to Garrett’s respective $22,000 and $38,000. 

Bonnen faced criticism regarding a quid pro quo he offered the grassroots group Empower Texans in a closed-door meeting last year. He later announced he would not seek reelection.

House District 26 — Matt Morgan vs. Jacey Jetton, Suleman Lalani vs. Sarah Demerchant

The only state legislative seat to have runoff elections in both parties is House District 26, which is being vacated by Rep. Rick Miller (R-Sugar Land), who announced his retirement after making derogatory statements about his primary opponents.

On the Republican side, Miller’s endorsee, Matt Morgan received 49 percent of the vote in the primary but has been outraised by his opponent, Jacey Jetton, who received 41 percent of the vote.

Jetton raised $239,000 during the last period, with $34,000 coming from the campaign of Governor Greg Abbott. Meanwhile, Morgan raised $26,000.

In addition to Miller’s endorsement, Morgan also boasts an endorsement from the third candidate in the primary, Leonard Chan, who received 10 percent of the vote in March. Jetton, meanwhile, has received support from current Rep. Mayes Middleton (R-Wallisville).

On the Democratic side, Suleman Lalani led the primary race with 32 percent of the vote compared to L. Sarah DeMerchant’s 30 percent. 

Similarly, Lalani has led in fundraising, nearly quadrupling DeMerchant’s $12,000 with $46,000.

Both candidates have received endorsements from state lawmakers, with DeMerchant receiving endorsements from Rep. Ron Reynolds (D-Missouri City) and Sen. Borris Miles (D-Houston), and Lalani receiving an endorsement from Rep. Gene Wu (D-Houston).

Rice University fellow Mark Jones rates the district as a “toss-up.”

House District 47 — Jennifer Fleck vs. Justin Berry

After making it to the runoff by one vote, Austin police officer Justin Berry faces off against primary winner and attorney, Jennifer Fleck. The latter finished a comfortable first in the primary due, in large part, to a very strong block-walking campaign. However, with the pandemic making a duplication of that effort next-to-impossible, it’s yet to be seen whether her cadre of voters shows up to the polls with the same force. 

Also making things more interesting, Governor Abbott, former Rep. Paul Workman, and a bevy of more establishment-type Republican groups have thrown support behind Berry in the runoff. Abbott endorsed Berry on June 11 and has since raised over 10 times more than Fleck.

Fleck, meanwhile, is endorsed by numerous grassroots conservative organizations and two of the pair’s primary opponents, Aaron Reitz and Don Zimmerman.

Whoever wins will face the uphill battle of taking on freshman incumbent Rep. Vikki Goodwin (D-Austin) in the general. Goodwin flipped the seat in 2018 from Republican control with 52.4 percent of the vote. 

House District 59 — J.D. Sheffield vs. Shelby Slawson

Rep. J.D. Sheffield (R-Gatesville), a family practitioner by trade, has represented the House District 59 since he was first elected in 2012.

In 2019, he was ranked by Rice University fellow Mark Jones as the second most liberal Republican in the chamber, following behind Rep. Sarah Davis (R-West University Place).

During the primary, Slawson came in the lead with 46 percent of the vote while Sheffield trailed in second with 30 percent.

However, since the primary, the incumbent has taken the lead in fundraising, bringing in $253,000 — with major donations from the Texas Medical Association PAC, the Greg Abbott campaign, and the Associated Republicans of Texas — compared to Slawson’s $88,000.

Slawson has received the support of groups like Texas Right to Life and Young Conservatives of Texas.

House District 60 — Jon Francis vs. Glenn Rogers

One of the most-watched runoffs will take place not in a metropolitan area, but in a substantially rural one. With current Rep. Mike Lang (R-Granbury) opting to run for Hood County commissioner, either Cisco businessman Jon Francis or Graford veterinarian Glenn Rogers will be set to succeed him.

Gobs of money has been dumped into the race as Francis, son-in-law of conservative megadonor Farris Wilks, has raised over $1.3 million. Rogers, too, has received ample financial support, bringing in $637,000. 

Rogers has also obtained the endorsement of Governor Greg Abbott, which came soon after a hot mic tape was mistakenly released by Empower Texans in which two of their staffers made derogatory statements about Abbott. Rogers has also been endorsed by former Governor Rick Perry and retiring Congressman Mike Conaway.

Francis, meanwhile, is supported by Sen. Ted Cruz, Attorney General Ken Paxton, Lang, and the other two primary candidates who did not make the runoff.

In the primary, Francis finished narrowly ahead of Rogers and the race has become one of the most heated in the state. 

House District 142 — Harold Dutton vs. Jerry Davis

Harold Dutton Jr. (D-Houston) is one of the longest-serving legislators at the state capitol, having been first elected to the legislature in 1985. He is seeking re-election once again, but has been challenged by Houston City Council member Jerry Davis.

During the primary, Dutton received 45 percent of the vote compared to Davis’ 25 percent.

Another candidate in the race, Natasha Ruiz, received 20 percent of the vote.

Given her absence during the campaign trail, Dutton told the Texas Tribune that he believed “something criminal went on” in order for Ruiz to have received that much of the vote. Ruiz has reportedly told local media that she had never entered the race herself and now lives out of state.

Since the primary, Dutton has raised significantly more than Davis, reporting $1.7 million cash on hand at the beginning of July, compared to his opponent’s reported $40,000.

House District 148 — Anna Eastman vs. Penny Morales Shaw

Rep. Anna Eastman (D-Houston) was first elected to the legislature earlier this year during a special election to take the seat being vacated by Rep. Jessica Farrar (D-Houston).

In order to maintain her position, Eastman will need to win the runoff against Houston attorney Penny Morales Shaw and the general election against Republican Luis LaRotta, who she defeated in January with 65 percent of the vote.

Eastman received 42 percent of the vote during the primary election, while Shaw followed with 22 percent.

Likewise, Eastman has raised four times as much as Shaw over the course of the year — $425,000 compared to $106,000.

During the most recent filing period, Eastman reported spending $183,000 but ended the period with just under $2,000 cash on hand.

Shaw spent about half as much — $90,000 — but ended with a bit more cash on hand at $13,000.

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Daniel Friend

Daniel Friend

Daniel Friend is a reporter for The Texan. He participated in a Great Books program at Azusa Pacific University and graduated in 2019 with a degree in Political Science. He has studied C.S. Lewis’s science fiction trilogy and in his spare time you might find him writing his own novel partly inspired by the series.