Battleground 2020Elections 2020FederalBattleground 2020: After Rep. Pete Olson’s Retirement, Is the Texas-22 Landscape Shifting?

In the wake of Rep. Pete Olson's retirement, Democrats hope to flip this traditionally Republican congressional district in the Houston suburbs.
September 6, 2019
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In Congressional District 22, the race for the long-held Republican seat is shaping up to be competitive after Congressman Pete Olson announced he would not be seeking re-election in 2020 following the end of his sixth term. 

Serving in Congress since 2008, Olson attributed his decision to a desire to spend more time with his family despite the “privilege” and “honor” it has been to represent the 22nd Congressional District of Texas.

In his official statement released at the end of July, Olson said, “As someone who has long advocated for policies that put our families first, it’s time for me to take my own advice and be a more consistent presence to help our family.”

Although the southeastern Texas district has historically been Republican, Democrats are hopeful that the relative closeness of recent elections could indicate a shifting political landscape in the wake of Olson’s recent announcement.

Located in the Houston suburbs, Congressional District 22 stretches across three counties – Brazoria, Fort Bend, and Harris – and includes prominent cities in the greater Houston area like Sugarland and Pearland. 

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In the 2018 election, Rep. Olson narrowly defeated Democratic opponent, Sri Preston Kulkarni, by less than 5 percentage points obtaining 51.36 percent of the vote to Kulkarni’s 46.46 percent.

By comparison, Olson defeated Democratic opponent Mark Gibson in 2016 by a margin of 19 percentage points.

Additionally, according to data obtained from the Texas Legislative Council, the district barely supported Sen. Ted Cruz over Beto O’Rourke by a margin of 50 percent to 49.3 percent in the 2018 senatorial election 

By contrast, the district voted for Republican John Cornyn over Democrat David Alameel in 2014 by a margin of 66.1 percent to 30.5 percent respectfully.

Similarly, Governor Abbott won the district with 63.8 percent of the vote over Democratic challenger Wendy Davis in 2014 compared to a more narrow margin of 55.6 percent over Democrat Lupe Valdez in 2018.

As election results at both the state and federal level have become increasingly close in recent years, Democratic candidates are expressing their hopes of turning the traditionally red district blue.

However, Republicans are hardly going down without a fight.

Just this week, Felicia Harris and retired Maj. Keli Chevalier became the fifth and sixth Republican candidates respectively to enter the race alongside Greg Hill, Howard L. Steele Jr., Thaddeus (Joe) Walz, and Kathaleen Wall who earned an endorsement from Governor Abbott during her 2016 run for the 2nd Congressional District.

Though he has not officially entered the race, Troy Nehls is also rumored as a potential seventh Republican candidate after announcing he would not be running for re-election as sheriff of Fort Bend county.

Three Democratic candidates – Sri Preston Kulkarni, Nyanza Davis Moore, and Derrick Reed – have also announced their decision to run for the open seat. 

Sri Preston Kulkarni stated his hopes of flipping the district by saying, “the contest ahead won’t be easy – but the fights worth fighting never are. But together, we’ll flip TX-22 next year.”

Fellow Democratic candidate, Nyanza Moore, echoed Kulkarni’s sentiments on Twitter.

However, despite these comments and ensuing debates about whether or not Texas is becoming a swing state, the growing number of Republican candidates entering the race indicates that a shift in political alignment for Texas’ 22nd District is certainly not definitive.

With the retirement of Rep. Olson and the growing list of candidates entering the race, this is one to watch in 2020.

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Sarah McConnell

Sarah McConnell

Sarah McConnell is a reporter for The Texan. Previously, she worked as a Cyber Security Consultant after serving as a Pathways Intern at the Department of Homeland Security – Citizenship and Immigration Services. She received her Bachelor’s degree in Political Science from Texas A&M as well as her Master of Public Service and Administration degree from the Bush School of Government and Public Service at Texas A&M. In her free time, Sarah is an avid runner, jazz enthusiast, and lover of all things culinary.