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Republicans poised to narrowly increase majorities in Texas Legislature

By Zach Despart and James Barragán, The Texas Tribune

Republicans poised to narrowly increase majorities in Texas Legislature” was first published by The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

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Republicans were poised to narrowly expand their legislative majorities in both the House and Senate early Wednesday morning, though they fell short of taking some seats they targeted in this year’s midterm election.

The Republicans’ leads were being felt prominently in South Texas, where the GOP won key races after targeting the historically Democratic region of Texas after Democratic President Joe Biden underperformed there in 2020.

Several of the races had not been called by Decision Desk HQ early Wednesday morning.

In House District 37, anchored in Brownsville, Republican Janie Lopez was on track to capture an open seat as she led Democrat Luis Villareal Jr. The seat is currently held by Democratic state Rep. Alex Dominguez, who unsuccessfully ran for state Senate rather than seek reelection.

Lopez would be the first Latina Republican to represent the Rio Grande Valley in the House.

In another major South Texas victory, Rep. Ryan Guillen of Rio Grande City, who defected from the Democratic Party and ran this cycle as a Republican, appeared destined to win reelection handily.

In another crucial battle in southern Bexar County, which has traditionally been dominated by Democrats, Republican incumbent John Lujan looked as if he would prevail over Democrat Frank Ramirez, a former San Antonio City Council member.

Republicans appeared to bolster their chances to hang on to that House District 118 seat by reconfiguring it during last year’s legislative session to have a much narrower advantage for Democrats. Biden won the district by 14 points two years ago, but would have only won by 3 points under the new boundaries.

Republicans also poured big money into the race, with Lujan outraising Ramirez nearly 5 to 1 in the latest campaign finance reports.

But Democrat Morgan LaMantia was in a tight race with Republican Adam Hinojosa in Senate District 27, an open seat vacated by Eddie Lucio Jr., a conservative Democrat who sometimes bucked his party in the Legislature on major issues like abortion and LGBTQ rights. LaMantia was ahead early Wednesday morning with all precincts reporting, but the Democrat’s lead was less than 600 votes, putting it squarely in recount territory.

While LaMantia is a well-known Democrat in the Rio Grande Valley, Republicans added more conservative voters from Bee and San Patricio counties during last year’s redistricting process, making the district more competitive for their party. Democratic President Joe Biden won the district by 15.7 points in 2020, but would have won it by only 4.7 points under the new boundaries.

Texas Democratic Party Chair Gilberto Hinojosa tried to pour cold water on any Republican celebrations in South Texas. The GOP set its sights on flipping three congressional seats in the area, but Democrats held them off in two of them.

“Republicans in Austin and D.C. should understand that if they could barely eke out this one win here, they should probably pack up their bags and get the hell out of our region,” he said on Twitter.

Democrats fared well in other races where Republicans had been bullish on pulling off upsets. Incumbent Democrat Eddie Morales was well on his way to fending off a challenge from Katherine Parker in House District 74, which includes Eagle Pass and much of the Texas-Mexico border.

And Democrats also appear to have won some seats that were drawn to be more favorable to them during last year’s redistricting cycle. Democrat Mihaela Plesa was on track to flip an open seat in House District 70 in fast-growing Collin County, which has long been controlled by Republicans.

And in House District 34, Democratic incumbent Abel Herrero was well-positioned to beat back a challenge from Republican Carolyn Vaughn to earn a sixth term representing the Nueces County district.

In House District 52, Republican Caroline Harris, a former legislative staffer, defeated Democrat Luis Echegaray, in a district formerly held by Democrat James Talarico. The district was redrawn last year to give Republicans an advantage and Talarico moved to nearby House District 50, anchored in Austin, where he won the seat over Republican Victor Johnson. That seat was open after Democrat Celia Israel decided to run for Austin mayor.

In Harris County, Republican Mano DeAyala appeared to cruise over Democrat Mohamad Maarouf in House District 133. The seat had been vacated by longtime Republican Rep. Jim Murphy.

With districts that were drawn to be more favorable to the GOP, the Republican incumbents in Dallas County appeared to have won much more comfortable reelections than they did two years ago. Morgan Meyer was on track to defeat Democrat Elizabeth Ginsberg in House District 108, anchored in Highland Park and University Park, while Angie Chen Button looked as if she had prevailed over Democrat Elva Curl in House District 112 in northeast Dallas County.

In the Senate, Republicans extended their majority by at least one after state Rep. Phil King, R-Weatherford, won election to Senate District 10, formerly held by Democrat Beverly Powell. The district was formerly anchored entirely in Tarrant County, but was dispersed to the west and south in last year’s redistricting process and made more advantageous for Republicans.

Powell, who had filed for reelection eventually quit the race claiming it was unwinnable after the GOP redrawing.

King’s victory means that Republicans now hold at least 19 of the Senate’s 31 seats.

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