AUSTIN — Democrats hope to paint the U.S. House blue in 2018, but whether the effort will get a boost from Texas, even with open races for the first time in decades in some districts, remains to be seen.
Five of the seven soon-to-be vacated seats from Texas belong to the GOP.
Of course, there’s time before the Monday filing deadline for new names to join the list of hopefuls who are challenging incumbents, or for another representative to join the Texas delegation members — Rep. Joe Barton of District 6 in North Texas is the latest — who won’t seek re-election in the November midterm elections, creating more open races.
But the latest Texas Tribune/Texas Politics poll shows that 60 percent of respondents who lean Republican approve strongly of the President Donald Trump’s performance, and if the midterms in Texas are a referendum on the White House, there’s no reason to think that conservatives won’t continue to dominate the ballot box here next year.
Still, at least one observer believes that Texas voters might oust two Republican congressional incumbents and replace them with Democrats in 2018.
“There’s a chance that Texas can contribute” to flipping the U.S. House of Representatives, University of Houston political scientist Brandon Rottinghaus said. “But it will require Democratic turnout in higher numbers than in typical mid-terms.
Democrats in down-ballot races, Rottinghaus said, will only be as successful as those at the top of their ticket.
Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican, is sitting on a pile of cash and a history of handily beating his 2014 Democratic challenger, Wendy Davis, who earned national attention for her State Senate filibuster over a restrictive abortion bill.
As for the strongest challenger to Republican Sen. Ted Cruz, Rep. Beto O’Rourke, the El Paso Democrat also faces a proven fundraiser who was at one point in 2016 a top contender for the GOP presidential nomination.
As for the congressional races, there’s one district along the border that’s been in play for years.
District 23 flip-flopped repeatedly between the GOP and Democrats of late, and is currently held by Rep. Will Hurd, a Republican.
Research showed that confusion over contentious voter ID requirements played a role in turning over the seat from the Democratic incumbent in 2014.
Pete Gallego, a one-term congressman from Alpine, lost to Hurd 47.7 percent to 49.8 percent.
The difference between them was 2,422 votes.
“When you look at the people who were confused, those voters overwhelmingly favored Pete Gallego,” Rice University political scientist Mark Jones said. “If they hadn’t been confused, it’s quite possible that Pete Gallego would have won.”
Now, the incumbent, Hurd has $1,339,166 in his war chest, while his best-funded competitor, Democrat Jay Hulings has $200,100, federal records show.
Rottinghaus said that the District 23 midterms might well be decided by “the number of voters that could populate a single restaurant.”
He predicted that seats currently held by the state’s Republicans who are leaving office will be filled by GOP replacements, with the same also being true for the Texas Congressional seats currently held by Democrats.
But he identifies District 7, a seat held by a GOP incumbent, Rep. John Culbertson of Houston, as vulnerable.
Hillary Clinton carried the district in the 2016 presidential race and Culbertson faces Republican, Democrat and Independent challengers.
As of Thursday, a Democratic challenger, Alex Triantaphyllis, had raised $666,393 to Culbertson’s $640,744.
District 32 in Dallas and Collin counties, where Rep. Pete Sessions was first elected in 2004, is the other place where a Republican could face trouble, Rottinghaus said.
Sessions’ best-funded challenger, Democrat Edward Meier, has $582,627 to the incumbent’s $1,138,072.
Sessions on Wednesday drew yet another challenger when Brett Shipp, a veteran investigative reporter, announced that he would run as a Democrat.
Money clearly when running for Congress can cost seven figures.
But the attention Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez’ Wednesday announcement that she will run as a Democrat for Texas governor underscored Rottinhaus’ notion that the top of the ticket can also galvanize down-ballot candidates, voters and who Texas sends to Capitol Hill.
“We’ll know more when the primaries” are over, Rottinghaus said. “Who the candidate is matters.”
John Austin covers the Texas Statehouse for CNHI LLC’s newspapers and websites. Reach him at email@example.com.