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State Sen. Nathan Johnson victorious after surprise challenge from Rep. Victoria Neave Criado

By Karen Brooks Harper, The Texas Tribune

State Sen. Nathan Johnson victorious after surprise challenge from Rep. Victoria Neave Criado” 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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Texas state Sen. Nathan Johnson held onto his Dallas-area seat for a third term after a high-stakes, surprise challenge from a fellow Democrat, state Rep. Victoria Neave Criado.

Johnson had 63%, to Neave Criado’s 37%, according to unofficial results from Dallas County. The AP declared Johnson the winner shortly after 10 p.m.

Johnson is virtually assured to have clinched the seat, because there is no Republican challenger this November. A third-party candidate could challenge Johnson, but the district is solidly Democratic.

To run against Johnson, Criado gave up her safe House seat after seven years.

Neave Criado’s House seat is expected to be filled by Dallas financial adviser Linda Garcia, a Democrat who ran unopposed in the primary and faces no opponent in the general election.

Neave Criado, who ran on a platform heavily focused on the rights of women and people of color, made a splash when she surprised political insiders with her 11th-hour candidacy announcement against her fellow North Texan in December.

She struggled to keep up with Johnson’s fundraising in a district that circles Dallas on three sides and includes Irving and north Grand Prairie, parts of North Dallas and Richardson, and most of Mesquite. She pulled in nearly $196,000 compared to the senator’s $235,000 in the most recent reporting cycle. He outspent her nearly 6 to 1.

When Neave Criado filed to contest Johnson in the primary, it was the first time the public had heard of any bad blood between the two. Johnson’s centrist voting record is nearly indistinguishable from most of the other Democrats in the Texas Senate, political scientists note, and so he has generally avoided partisan attacks from the left.

Before filing for the Senate seat, Neave Criado had drawn no opponents in her House primary and no challengers in the Republican primary, guaranteeing her a fifth term and more seniority in the lower chamber.

Neave Criado achieved a measure of power in her four terms in office and was considered a rising star in the House. She is one of Republican House Speaker Dade Phelan’s lieutenants in the staunchly conservative and highly volatile lower chamber, chairing a committee that often holds power over bills that affect members’ districts on a local level. She chairs the Mexican American Legislative Caucus at a time when border and immigration issues are in the spotlight, both in Texas and nationally.

“Women are often told we need to wait our turn,” Neave Criado said in a recent interview with The Texas Tribune. “But you know, I’m not waiting my turn when I see that this district is not being represented like it should be.”

Johnson, an attorney and composer, said his record on a broad range of issues affecting his constituents proves otherwise.

“My opponent is trying to create this distinction between us as to who’s a fighter, and it’s false — except that I’ve been more effective at it,” he said in a recent interview with the Tribune. “She fights. I fight. All the Democrats down there are fighting. But about what? And with what success? That’s the question.”

Neave Criado joined the House after an uphill battle in the 2016 general election, when she unseated Republican state Rep. Kenneth Sheets in the most expensive Texas House race of that cycle.

Her supporters saw an opportunity to claim the Senate seat when the already-diverse district became half-Hispanic after the lines were redrawn in 2021 as part of constitutionally required redistricting.

She was praised for her work on women’s issues such as domestic violence and was endorsed by some fellow House members as well as the Texas Organizing Project, which champions issues important to communities of color.

Johnson was backed by several fellow senators and community leaders, including Ron Kirk, a former Texas secretary of state, Dallas mayor and United States trade ambassador. The Dallas Morning News also endorsed Johnson in an editorial that said he has “quietly become one of the most effective Democratic legislators in Texas.”

He’s also been endorsed by the Texas Medical Association, which supports his work to increase access to health care, and Reproductive Freedom for All (formerly NARAL Pro-Choice America), which scores him 100% on abortion rights.

Disclosure: Texas Medical Association and Texas Secretary of State have been financial supporters of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune’s journalism. Find a complete list of them here.

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