Elections 2020FederalSheriff Troy Nehls Captures Toss Up Houston-Area Congressional Seat for Republicans

In a heated congressional race that drew national attention, Fort Bend County Sheriff Troy Nehls keeps the Houston-suburban district in Republican hands.
November 4, 2020
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In a hotly contested race for Houston area Congressional District 22, Republican Troy Nehls has emerged the victor over Democrat Sri Kulkarni.  

Unofficial results posted by the Texas Secretary of State’s Office at the time of publication indicate that Nehls has captured over 204,000 votes in one of the most racially diverse districts in the state, giving him a reported 28,799 vote victory over Kulkarni. 

Libertarian candidate Joseph LeBlanc Jr. notably took more than 15,000 votes, although this constituted only about 4 percent of the total vote in the race. 

Texas’ 22nd Congressional District stretches across three counties —Brazoria, Harris, and Fort Bend — and includes large Hispanic and Asian populations. In recent years, the district has also become more affluent, with a median household income of $101,658. 

Retiring Rep. Pete Olson (R) had held the seat since 2008, but in the 2018 elections Kulkarni had come within five percentage points, and Democrats from across the country had targeted the district as one that could be flipped this year.  

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Cook Political Report rated the district as a toss-up, and contributions flooded in, giving Kulkarni a significant financial advantage. By early October, Kulkarni boasted a campaign fund haul of  $2.1 million compared to Nehls’ $834,210, allowing the Democrat to flood the greater Houston media market with both attack ads against Nehls and positive ads promoting Kulkarni. 

Twice elected Fort Bend County Sheriff, Nehls enjoyed name recognition and respect as an Army veteran who served in Bosnia, Iraq, and Afghanistan, and who has worked in law enforcement since 1994.

In his campaign, Nehls stressed support for businesses and restarting the post-pandemic economy, and he garnered an endorsement from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. As the Fort Bend County sheriff, He worked to highlight mental health issues, and introduced skilled training programs for inmates in an effort to reduce recidivism. In congress, Nehls has pledged to continue to bring mental health issues to the forefront. 

During his 2018 campaign, Kulkarni had made deep inroads with the district’s immigrant community, but this year drew scrutiny from some Indian Americans over his alleged ties to political groups in India alleged to be violently anti-Muslim. 

The Democrat, son of Indian immigrants himself, attempted to capitalize on President Trump’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic in his campaign, especially the president’s references to the “China virus.” He also attacked Nehls’ on his termination from the Richmond Police Department, but the sheriff attributed his problems there as the result of small-town politics. 

Kulkarni had also sought to portray himself as a moderate Democrat but pledged to support a public health-care option although he did retreat from his 2018 promise to advocate for a Medicare for All plan.

Nehls enjoyed support from the Congressional Leadership Fund PAC, and late Tuesday PAC President Dan Conston congratulated him on his win and referred to his career serving in the military and in law enforcement.

“I know Nehls will use his frontline experience to bring fresh ideas to Congress that will keep Americans safe.”

“It is truly going to be an honor and a privilege to represent you in Washington,” Nehls told supporters in a victory speech late Tuesday night. 

“This was a toss-up district, right? But I think we made it very, very clear; Fort Bend County Congressional District 22 knows better than that and it’s still red.”

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Holly Hansen

Holly Hansen

Holly Hansen is a freelance writer living in Harris County. Her former column, “All In Perspective” ran in The Georgetown Advocate, Jarrell Star Ledger, and The Hill Country News, and she has contributed to a variety of Texas digital media outlets. She graduated summa cum laude from the University of Central Florida with a degree in History, and in addition to writing about politics and policy, also writes about faith and culture.