Elections 2020Top 10 Things to Watch on Election Day in Texas

The presidential contest, congressional races, and state legislative campaigns — here are The Texan's top 10 things to watch for on Election Night.
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Below is a list of the top 10 facets of the 2020 general election that The Texan will be closely watching on Election Night, November 3.

U.S. Presidential 

While riots and borders took center stage at the debates between Democrat Joe Biden and Republican President Donald Trump, their respective popularity has often ridden two national trends: COVID-19 infection rates and economic well being. Upticks in employment and prosperity have tended to amplify the Trump campaign’s optimistic messaging when they make headlines, and the rising second wave of infections has struck a resonant frequency with Biden’s prophecies of what the next four years could hold.

While races up and down the ticket will count on ballots cast both in person and by mail, the partisan disparity between these two delivery methods has spurred a slew of lawsuits and an ongoing national debate on the security of mailed ballots. With Biden leading mail voters by 32 points, Democrats have fought tooth and nail with Republicans at the state and county level for the expansion of the practice.

The most recent Quinnipiac poll put Trump and Biden at a tie in Texas after months of flip-flopping.

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U.S. Senate

After the close U.S. Senate race between Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and former congressman Beto O’Rourke in 2018, Democrats are hopeful that they can oust Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) with the nomination of MJ Hegar.

As far as finances go, Cornyn had the advantage of having no competitive primary and has led overall fundraising and spending since the cycle began at the beginning of the year.

However, in the third quarter of 2020 and the pre-general filing, Hegar managed to erase Cornyn’s cash advantage and outraised him significantly — a trend seen between Democrats and Republicans in other competitive Texas congressional races.

Polling shows the race is closer than the incumbent’s last reelection bid in 2014, but Cornyn still appears to be ahead, leading Hegar by six points in a recent Quinnipiac poll that put Trump and Biden at a tie in the Lone Star State.

21st Congressional District 

Perhaps the most highly-anticipated congressional matchup in the country pits incumbent Rep. Chip Roy (R-TX-21) against Democratic challenger Wendy Davis. Roy, a rock-ribbed conservative, first won election to the House of Representatives in 2018 by a much slimmer margin than the reliably red district had previously exhibited. 

Davis, a dyed in the wool progressive, relaunched her political career this year for the first time since her sweeping defeat in the 2014 gubernatorial race. She has outraised and outspent Roy by double and Democrats are keen on flipping this seat, more than most others. 

Roy touts his record — having rejuvenated and mended the depleted and imperfect Paycheck Protection Program to provide businesses with aid to survive the government-mandated shutdowns — and advocates the measured reopening of society.

Davis, meanwhile, focuses on the safeguarding of public health from coronavirus — opposing further openings of businesses and commerce and ramping up spending for health measures.

The district reaches from Austin to San Antonio out into the Hill Country. Both Cook Political Report and Sabato’s Crystal Ball rate the district a “Toss Up.”

Three Competitive Open Congressional Seats

Last year, six GOP Texas congressmen announced that they would not be seeking reelection. While half of those retirements came from members who are in solid Republican districts, the other three are competitive.

The retirements of Reps. Pete Olson (R-TX-22), Will Hurd (R-TX-23), and Kenny Marchant (R-TX-24) leave their seats as definite battlegrounds between Republicans and Democrats.

Texas’ 22nd and 24th congressional districts are rated by the Cook Political Report as toss-ups, while the 23rd Congressional District is rated as “Lean Democratic.” 

In the latter race, Gina Ortiz Jones is running for Hurd’s seat again after losing to him by fewer than a thousand votes in 2018. Her name recognition from being on the ballot before is expected to give her an advantage over her Republican opponent, Tony Gonzales, who won the closest primary runoff in Texas congressional races this year.

Texas’ 22nd Congressional District has another Democrat returning to the ballot: Sri Preston Kulkarni, who lost to Olson in 2018 by five points. This year, Kulkarni will face the Republican sheriff of Fort Bend County, Troy Nehls.

In Texas’ 24th Congressional District, Republican and former Irving mayor Beth Van Duyne will face Democrat Candace Valenzuela, who won a school board election for the Carrollton-Farmers Branch ISD in 2017.

Freshman Congressional Democrats

In the Democratic successes of 2018, Republicans lost two congressional seats in Texas: the 7th Congressional District in Harris County and the 32nd Congressional District in North Texas.

Rep. Lizzie Fletcher (D-TX-07) won against a Republican incumbent with 52.5 percent of the vote, and Rep. Colin Allred (D-TX-32) defeated a Republican opponent by almost the same margin.

In the 2016 general election, the Republicans in both districts won by safe margins.

The GOP hopes to regain the lost seats with their nominations of Wesley Hunt in Harris County and Genevieve Collins in North Texas.

Hunt has exceeded Fletcher’s fundraising and spending this cycle, and Collins has also matched Allred financially, thanks to significant self-funding of $1.5 million.

Texas Railroad Commissioner

The state’s oil and gas industry is regulated by the Texas Railroad Commission (RRC). Back in March, incumbent Ryan Sitton was stunned by political novice Jim Wright, an oilfield environmental service business owner, who had spent one-eighth the money Sitton did on his campaign. 

Due especially to the upset, Democrats feel an opportunity exists to win a seat on the RRC for the first time in 30 years. Their candidate is oil and gas industry attorney from Dallas, Chrysta Castañeda, who is campaigning on reining in the commission’s permit approval practices. 

Castañeda has vociferously criticized Wright for his involvement in an ongoing lawsuit concerning environmental regulations. But the violations occurred after Wright sold the business, which he later remedied upon repossession of the company, bearing the brunt of the cost himself.

Wright, meanwhile, has knocked Castañeda as wanting to inhibit the state’s oil and gas industry from supplying the cheap, reliable energy on which Texas relies. The race has drawn national attention due to its environmental connection and Democrats’ hopes of flipping Texas their way.

The tech billionaire and former Democratic presidential candidate Michael Bloomberg dumped in $2.6 million behind Castañeda in a last-minute push to flip the seat. 

Senate District 19 

The only competitive race for the Texas Senate is District 19 which spans from Bexar County all the way to the New Mexico border. It holds extra importance because if Democrat challenger Rep. Roland Gutierrez (D-San Antonio) unseats incumbent Sen. Pete Flores (R-Pleasanton), Senate Republicans will lose their filibuster-proof majority. 

Flores won the seat in a 2018 special election after former Sen. Carlos Uresti was convicted on federal Ponzi scheme charges, turning the district red for the first time since Reconstruction. Now Flores hopes to earn his first full term in the state Senate. 

Gutierrez, who has served in the Texas House since 2008, beat Xochil Peña Rodriguez in the Democratic primary runoff back in July.

The outcome of this race will seriously affect the upper chamber’s business in the coming legislative session.

The Twelve State House Seats Won by Democrats in 2018

Though O’Rourke did not defeat Cruz in the 2018 Senate election, the close race drew out many Democratic voters that led to 12 gains for Democrats in the Texas House of Representatives.

The Texas GOP’s best hope in picking up seats this year lies in those swing districts.

In nine of those seats, Republican challengers reported substantially outraising the Democratic incumbents in the most recent campaign finance reports.

The twelve seats include:

  • House District (HD) 45, where Rep. Erin Zwiener (D-Driftwood) faces Republican Carrie Isaac. Zwiener won the open seat in 2018 with 52 percent of the vote. Prior to Zwiener, Isaac’s husband, Jason Isaac, represented the district for four terms before opting to run for Congress.
  • HD 47, where Rep. Vikki Goodwin (D-Austin) faces Republican Justin Berry. Goodwin defeated a GOP incumbent in 2018 with 52 percent of the vote.
  • HD 52, where Rep. James Talarico (D-Round Rock) faces Republican Lucio Valdez. Talarico won the open seat in 2018 with 52 percent of the vote.
  • HD 65, where Rep. Michelle Beckley (D-Carrollton) faces Republican Kronda Thimesch. Beckley defeated a GOP incumbent in 2018 with 51 percent of the vote.
  • HD 102, where Rep. Ana-Maria Ramos (D-Richardson) faces Republican Linda Koop. Ramos unseated Koop in 2018 with 53 percent of the vote.
  • HD 105, where Rep. Terry Meza (D-Irving) faces Republican Gerson Hernandez. Meza defeated a Republican incumbent in 2018 with 55 percent of the vote.
  • HD 113, where Rep. Rhetta Bowers (D-Garland) faces Republican Will Douglas. Bowers won the open seat in 2018 with 53 percent of the vote.
  • HD 114, where Rep. John Turner (D-Dallas) faces Republican Luisa Del Rosal. Turner won the open seat in 2018 with 56 percent of the vote.
  • HD 115, where Rep. Julie Johnson (D-Carrollton) faces Republican Karyn Brownlee. Johnson defeated a Republican incumbent in 2018 with 57 percent of the vote.
  • HD 132, where Rep. Gina Calanni (D-Katy) faces Republican Mike Schofield. Calanni unseated Schofield in 2018 with 49 percent of the vote. Only 113 votes separated the two candidates and a third candidate, Libertarian Daniel Arevalo, received 1,106 votes. No third party candidate is on the ballot in this election.
  • HD 135, where Rep. Jon Rosenthal (D-Houston) faces Republican Justin Ray. Rosenthal defeated a Republican incumbent in 2018 with 51 percent of the vote.
  • HD 136, where Rep. John Bucy (D-136) faces Republican Mike Guevara. Bucy defeated a Republican incumbent in 2018 with 53 percent of the vote.

The Nine State House Seats Carried by O’Rourke in 2018 but Held by Republicans 

While Republicans seek to win back seats that they lost in 2018, Democrats look to use their momentum to build upon their victories and possibly even win a majority of seats in the chamber.

In order to gain a majority, Democrats would need to maintain the 67 seats that they currently hold and win nine more.

Nine that they could potentially win are the nine GOP seats where O’Rourke carried the district in 2018.

Those include:

  • HD 26, where Rep. Rick Miller (R-Sugar Land) is retiring. Republican Jacey Jetton is running to succeed him against Democrat L. Sarah DeMarchant. DeMarchant ran against Miller in 2018 but lost with 48 percent of the vote. O’Rourke carried the district with 50.5 percent.
  • HD 64, where Rep. Lynn Stucky (R-Denton) faces Democrat Angela Brewer. Stucky held his seat in 2018 with 53 percent of the vote, but O’Rourke carried his district with 49.8 percent, about 350 votes ahead of Cruz.
  • HD 66, where Rep. Matt Shaheen (R-Plano) faces Democrat Sharon Hirsch. Shaheen defended his seat against Hirsch in 2018 with 50.3 percent of the vote, about 600 votes ahead of Hirsch. O’Rourke carried the district with 52.5 percent.
  • HD 67, where Rep. Jeff Leach (R-Plano) faces Democrat Lorenzo Sanchez. Leach held his seat in 2018 with 51 percent of the vote, while O’Rourke carried it with 52.3 percent.
  • HD 108, where Rep. Morgan Meyer (R-Dallas) faces Democrat Joanna Cattanach. Meyer defended his seat against Cattanach in 2018 with 50.1 percent of the vote or 220 votes. O’Rourke carried the district with 57 percent of the vote.
  • HD 112, where Rep. Angie Chen Button (R-Richardson) faces Democrat Brandy Chambers. Button defended her seat against Chambers in 2018 with 51 percent of the vote, while O’Rourke carried the district with 54 percent.
  • HD 121, where Rep. Steve Allison (R-San Antonio) faces Democrat Celina Montoya. Allison defended his seat against Montoya in 2018 with 53 percent of the vote, while O’Rourke carried it with 49.7 percent or about 250 votes ahead of Cruz.
  • HD 134, where Rep. Sarah Davis (R-Houston) faces Democrat Ann Johnson. Davis held her seat in 2018 with 53 percent of the vote, while O’Rourke carried the district with 60 percent.
  • HD 138, where Rep. Dwayne Bohac (R-Houston) is retiring. Republican Lacey Hull is running to succeed him against Democrat Akilah Bacy. Bohac held his seat in 2018 with 50 percent, only 47 votes ahead of his opponent. O’Rourke carried the district with 53 percent of the vote.

Other Competitive Open House Districts

As Democrats gained several open seats last cycle, other competitive open seats this year have the potential to change hands.

Aside from House Districts 26 and 138, which were both carried by O’Rourke in 2018 and listed in the section above, two other open districts are expected to be competitive:

  • HD 92, where Rep. Jonathan Stickland (R-Bedford) is retiring. Republican Jeff Cason is running to succeed him against Democrat Jeff Whitfield. Stickland held his seat with 49.8 percent of the vote in 2018, about 1,400 votes ahead of his Democratic challenger. A Libertarian candidate received 3 percent of the vote, but the only third-party candidate in this election is a Green Party candidate. Cruz carried the district in 2018 with 51 percent, about 1,500 votes ahead of O’Rourke.
  • HD 96, where Rep. Bill Zedler (R-Arlington) is retiring. Republican David Cook is running to succeed him against Democrat Joe Drago. Zedler held his seat in 2018 with 53 percent of the vote, and Cruz carried the district by only 91 against O’Rourke.

For a look at the partisan leanings of each state House seat, see The Texan’s Texas Partisan Index that ranks districts based on the results of statewide elections in the past two election cycles.

Results will be updated on Tuesday night here.

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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.