Analysis: A Lot of Races, But Not as Much Drama
The elections are coming, but voters in most regions can go back to sleep — at least when it comes to down-ballot contests: Only a handful of legislative and congressional races are competitive.
Here is a safe prediction: Texans will elect a legislature that looks — philosophically, anyway — a lot like the legislature that it is replacing. The same goes for the state’s congressional delegation, where only one incumbent faces a serious challenge.
Only two of the 36 members of the delegation are out of the hunt. U.S. Rep. Steve Stockman, R-Friendswood, gave up his seat for a failed Senate bid. U.S. Rep. Ralph Hall, R-Rockwall, lost his re-election bid in a primary runoff with John Ratcliffe.
Thirteen incumbents face only minor party opposition in November. Only one of the remaining districts — the 23rd — is a battlefield: U.S. Rep. Pete Gallego, D-Alpine, who is in his first term, is defending a seat he wrested from a Republican who wrested it from a Democrat who defeated a Republican who defeated a Democrat.
That contest has attracted attention from the national party organizations and third-party political groups — a distinction that sets it apart from the state’s other 35 congressional seats.
Only 15 of 31 state Senate seats are on the November ballot — senators serve staggered four-year terms — and only one is truly up for grabs. That is the Senate District 10 seat held by Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, who is running for governor. The district favors Republicans in statewide elections, but Democrats are hoping Libby Willis, their candidate, can overcome Konni Burton, a Republican.
Several other state senators will not be back, having decided not to run or having been turned back by primary voters, and a couple of others — Glenn Hegar, R-Katy, and Leticia Van de Putte, D-San Antonio — will give up their seats if they win races for higher office. Those would be filled in special elections. Barring major upsets, Davis’s district appears to offer the only opportunity for Republicans to pick up a seat.
That leaves the Texas House, where the potential for electoral drama is light indeed.
The House has 150 seats. The elections for 63 of the seats are over, either because only one candidate filed or because only one party ran candidates and the primaries ended the argument.
In another 40 seats, only one major party candidate remains, opposed only by someone from the Green or Libertarian parties, neither of which has yet posed a real threat to a Republican or a Democrat in a Texas legislative race.
Each of the remaining 47 races has both a Republican and a Democrat on the ballot, but that does not make them competitive: Thanks to redistricting, most of those contests are in districts drawn to strongly favor one party or the other.
Only 10 seats appear to be up for grabs, something that could change if any particular candidate is exceptional, either in a good or bad way. A few of those contests overlap the precincts contested in the Senate race to replace Davis, which could increase turnout.
Half of the 10 have Democratic incumbents, including one — Celia Israel of Austin — who took office after a January runoff in which she beat the Republican she will again face in November. Two contests are for seats held by Republicans who lost their primaries. And three of the Democratic incumbents in those tight races are running in districts where Republicans have an edge in races at the top of the ballot. In a midterm election with an unpopular Democrat in the White House, those Democrats could be at even greater risk.
Voters looking at the overall picture should not expect much change in the numbers. Republicans could gain a seat in the congressional delegation, where they have a 24-12 advantage now. That could happen in the Senate, too, where the party has a 19-12 edge over the Democrats. In the House, either party could pick up as many as five seats. Either way, the Republicans, with a current 95-55 majority, will remain in control.
This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at http://www.texastribune.org/2014/09/01/analysis-beginning-quiet-election-year/.