In 2020, voters in the suburbs to the south and southeast of Houston will play a pivotal role in shaping the political makeup of Texas’ congressional delegation.
The election in the state’s 22nd Congressional District is expected to be a competitive race between the eventual Republican and Democratic nominees, and the primary races for those nominations appear equally competitive.
Currently held by retiring Rep. Pete Olson (R-TX-22), the district covers most of Fort Bend county and some smaller portions of Brazoria and Harris counties.
History of the District
Robert Casey, a Democrat, was elected to the district when it was first created in 1958 and covered more of Harris County.
In the 1970s, some redistricting shuffled the district away from the urban areas of Houston and into the suburban parts of Fort Bend and Brazoria counties.
Casey continued to win elections, though, until he resigned from his position in 1976 to accept an appointment from President Gerald Ford to be the commissioner of the Federal Maritime Commission.
Ron Paul, a Republican who had lost in a challenge to Casey in 1974, won the special election to fill the remainder of Casey’s term throughout 1976.
While Paul failed to win the election for the following Congress later in 1976, he won the seat back from Robert Gammage (D) in 1978.
Paul served until 1984, when he retired to run for the U.S. Senate.
At that time, former Texas state representative Tom DeLay (R) won the open seat.
DeLay went on to win several subsequent terms with little opposition and eventually became the House Majority Leader.
After his controversial involvement in the 2003 Texas redistricting and his ties to the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal, DeLay resigned from office in June of 2006.
Shelley Sekula-Gibbs (R) won a special election to fill the seat for a brief few months at the end of 2006, but the delay of DeLay’s resignation prohibited any Republican from being on the ballot for the election of the next term.
Sekula-Gibbs still received 42.8 percent of the vote from write-ins on the ballot, but Nick Lampson (D) won with 50.8 percent.
In 2008, Pete Olson emerged as the Republican nominee in a crowded primary race and then went on to defeat Lampson with 52.4 percent of the vote.
While the seat has been held by a Democrat for only two terms since 1976 and is rated with a Cook Partisan Voting Index of R+10, some — such as the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) — see the tide turning.
In the 2012 presidential election, Mitt Romney carried the seat by a 25.4 percent margin, and in 2016, Donald Trump carried it with a 7.8 percent lead.
In the 2018 Senate election, Ted Cruz led in the district by a narrow 0.6 percent margin.
The decline over time in the margin of victory for Republican candidates in the above races correlates to the decline in the percentage of votes received by Olson.
In 2012, he won the district with 64 percent of the vote. In 2016, that fell to 59.5 percent. In 2018, he won with a narrow 51.4 percent.
In the wake of Olson’s retirement announcement in July, the DCCC stated, “The simple facts are that Pete Olson is too extreme for Texas and represents an increasingly diverse, Democratic district. With the DCCC and Texas Democrats rising up in Texas’ 22nd district, clearly D.C. Republicans told Pete Olson that it’s time to set [sic] aside.”
In the Republican primary race, the leading candidate has not yet emerged but could be one who has not even made an official announcement yet.
Fort Bend County Sheriff Troy Nehls launched an exploratory committee for the seat until he can make an official announcement without triggering the state’s “resign to run” law.
He is expected to make an official announcement sometime during the first week of December.
Nehls’ significant name ID in the region is likely to boost his chances of winning the primary race.
There are some other notable Republican candidates who could win, though.
Brazoria County Judge and former border patrol agent Greg Hill has received the most individual contributions out of the Republican candidates according to the most recent financial reports — about $177,000 in addition to a $40,000 loan.
If it’s simply about the money, though, another candidate has more to spend.
Businesswoman Kathaleen Wall has put $600,000 of her own money into her campaign.
Wall previously ran for Congress in Texas’ 2nd Congressional District in 2018. In that race, she spent $6.2 million, but lost in the primary race to Dan Crenshaw.
In addition to Hill and Wall, Felicia Harris Hoss is seeking the Republican nomination and has raised $91,000.
Other Republican candidates include Keli Chevalier, Douglass Haggard, Schell Hammel, Aaron Hermes, Matt Hinton, Dan Mathews, Diana Miller, Clint Morgan, Shandon Phan, Bangar Reddy, Howard Steele, and Joe Walz.
The primary election will be held on March 3, 2020.
If no candidate receives over 50 percent of the vote in either the GOP or Democratic primaries, a runoff election between the two top candidates will be held on May 26, 2020.
Editor’s Correction: The original version of this article wrongly stated that Rep. Olson had had a stroke and a heart attack. This information has been categorically rejected as false by Rep. Olson’s team. In 2009, Rep. Olson had a pacemaker installed for bradycardia (a relatively common condition that can result in a slow heartbeat), but has had no other health issues we are aware of since that point.
Because of this and the inability to further verify our source’s claims, we have removed the information from our article.
We first and foremost apologize to Rep. Olson for the mistake and also to our readers for the error.
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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.