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Texas Is Still Red, But Democrats See Opportunity In The Coming Midterms

Gabriel C. Pérez/KUT
Texas Attorney General Candidate Justin Nelson speaks at the Shangri-La bar in Congressional District 35 as part of a pub crawl across three congressional districts in downtown Austin - the Pub Crawl to End Gerrymandering.

From Texas Standard:

Political pundits, pollsters and activists have been saying for a while that the 2018 midterm elections are likely to result in some upheaval in the ranks of incumbent officeholders. Already, in special elections in other states, Democrats have run strong in reliably Republican areas, and here at home, one senator, and several members of Congress face enthusiastic opposition. But statewide officeholders – Republicans Gov. Greg Abbott, Attorney General Ken Paxton and Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller – face somewhat easier paths to reelection. Still, Democrats are campaigning aggressively.

Brandon Rottinghaus, a political science professor at the University of Houston, says Republican incumbents have a big advantage in Texas statewide offices: they have much more money, and their Democratic opponents are far less-well-known to voters.

"The problem for Democrats is that, collectively, all of the statewide officials have got something like $80 million on hand. And Gov. Abbott has just purchased about $16 million in ads," Rottinghaus says. "So it's going to be difficult to get out from under the general scope of the Republicans' advantage."

For their part, Democrats, including Justin Nelson, who is running for attorney general against Paxton, are working to let voters know about weaknesses they see in the incumbents. Paxton is vulnerable because of an indictment for securities fraud.

"Nelson's objective here – which he might be able to accomplish, given that he's raised a fair amount of money, and polls show that things are fairly close in that race – is [to inform voters] that Paxton does have these issues and that if people can recognize them, it might be that this is a closer race than people assume," Rottinghaus says.

The combative and outspoken Miller faces Kim Olson, a retired Air Force officer who Rottinghaus says "is the spitting image of Ann Richards."

He says Olson speaks her mind, too, and that Democrats love her for her energetic style.

"When these two get together, I think it will be really interesting," Rottinghaus says. "This is a winnable match on paper for Democrats – the no-nonsense colonel versus the gaffe-prone cowboy."

Olson has outraised Miller financially, and Miller has had ethical lapses. He's also famously "tight as a tick" with President Donald Trump, Rottinghaus says, which could give moderates pause.

Olson and other statewide Democrats still face an uphill climb if they are to beat entrenched incumbents in a state that is perceived as deep red.

On the Congressional front, three seats held by Texas Republicans are vulnerable to Democrats. Rottinghaus talked about two of them.

All three Democrats have outraised their opponents, as have two other Democratic congressional contenders.

In Houston's 7th district, John Culberson faces lawyer Lizzie Pannill Fletcher. He says voters there are fairly moderate, politically, and that the election could be a referendum on government response to Hurricane Harvey.

"[Fletcher] presents herself as kind of more moderate in the Democratic Party," Rottinghaus says.

In Dallas, high-ranking Republican Pete Sessions faces civil rights attorney, and former NFL player Colin Allred.

"It's an interesting race because it matches up the new face of the Democratic Party – it's younger, it's more racially and ethnically diverse – versus the Republican Party, which is seen to be a party of older white people," Rottinghaus says.

Written by Shelly Brisbin.

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