Fletcher dominating Moser in key congressional race
Texas Democrats looking to catch a blue wave to Congress squared off in 11 separate primary runoffs Tuesday, none more pivotal than Houston’s 7th Congressional District, where attorney Lizzie Pannill Fletcher held a commanding lead over activist-writer Laura Moser in early returns.
If those results hold, Fletcher will take on nine-term Republican incumbent John Culberson, who Democrats have targeted since Hillary Clinton won the historically GOP district in the 2016 presidential election.
The race drew national attention when the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee attacked Moser before the March 6 primary, questioning her ties to the district and highlighting past articles that some deemed offensive. Moser, a Houston native, said the DCCC intervention actually enhanced her appeal to many primary voters, helping thrust her into the runoff with Fletcher, the top vote-getter in a seven-way primary.
Though Moser’s campaign cast itself as a progressive insurgency challenging the establishment wing of the party, many analysts said the two first-time Democratic candidates differed more in style than in substance.
Moser sought to mobilize new Democratic voters energized by the progressive backlash against President Donald Trump. Fletcher adopted a more centrist tone, seeking to appeal to traditional Democrats, centrists, and some moderate Republican voters, particularly women.
The runoff contest featuring two progressive women - the only two women in the original primary field - highlighted the record number of women running this year for the U.S. House, where 84 seats are now occupied by women.
While the DCCC did not formally endorse Fletcher in the runoff, she clearly became the pick of party officials who see her as giving them a better chance to beat Culberson in November and help them win the 23 seats they must gain to take back control of the House.
A Fletcher win would assure that the national parties, joined by well-funded political action committees on both sides, will spend heavily on the Houston congressional race, making it one of the marquee battlefields for control of Congress.
In another Texas district Democrats have identified as a possible pick-up opportunity, early favorite Gina Ortiz Jones was leading challenger Rick Trevino, a former high school teacher running a low-budget, grassroots campaign. Jones, a former Air Force intelligence officer, was favored by the DCCC to take on two-term Republican incumbent Will Hurd, a former CIA officer.
The sprawling 23rd Congressional District, running along the border from San Antonio to El Paso, is heavily Hispanic but has a history of flipping between the two major parties. It went to Clinton in 2016, making it another potential battlefield in November.
In the third Republican-held district that Clinton won in Texas, Dallas attorney Colin Allred, a former HUD official and NFL player, seemed poised for victory over Lillian Salerno, a former Obama administration official and HIV activist backed by Emily’s List, a group that backs female Democrats who support abortion rights.
The better-funded Allred, backed in the runoff by the DCCC, will face U.S. Rep. Pete Sessions, a former chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee and the powerful chairman of the House Rules Committee. Although Clinton carried Sessions’ 32nd Congressional District, many analysts still consider it to have a solid Republican tilt.
In a Houston-area district Democrats hope to put in play, Sri Preston Kulkarni, a former foreign service officer, appeared to be fending off a challenge from Letitia Plummer, a politically active dentist who has done lobbying work in the Texas Legislature.
The winner will take on Sugar Land Republican Pete Olson in the suburban 22nd District, an area that is both racially diverse and solidly Republican, at least based on recent history like Trump’s 8-point win there.
Kulkarni, who is of East Indian descent, and Plummer, who is African-American, both sought to emphasize the district’s growing diversity, which could make it a battlefield in the future, if not in 2018.
Democrats also hope that a “blue wave” could crest in the 10th Congressional District held by Homeland Security Committee Chairman Michael McCaul. In a conservative district that stretches from northwest Harris County to Austin, assistant Austin City Attorney Mike Siegel was ahead of Tawana Walter-Cadien, a nurse making her second attempt at the seat.
Democrats were also watching the primary runoff between former congressional aide Eric Holguin and security officer Raul (“Roy”) Barrera, both seeking a longshot chance of taking the Corpus Christi seat vacated by Republican Blake Farenthold, who recently resigned amid sexual harassment allegations. The better-funded Holguin was ahead in early voting, but neither candidate has attracted much money or national interest in what remains a solidly Republican 27th Congressional District - even if its boundaries are under court challenge by Democrats.
Another longshot for Democrats is suburban San Antonio’s 21st Congressional District, represented by conservative stalwart Lamar Smith, who is retiring. Joseph Kopser, a well-funded tech entrepreneur, seemed to be handling a surprisingly strong challenge from Mary Wilson, seeking to be the first lesbian Baptist minister in Congress. Though Wilson emerged as the top vote-getter in March, Kopser appeared to be rallying in the runoff to carry the Democratic standard in the fall.
Democrats also competed in runoffs Tuesday in four other Texas congressional districts, all of them solid Republican strongholds that are heavily favored to remain in GOP hands: The 3rd District represented by Plano Republican Sam Johnson, who is retiring; the 6th District represented by Arlington Republican Joe Barton, who was felled by revelations sexually-explicit online messages; the 25th District outside Austin represented by GOP incumbent Roger Williams; and the 31st District north of Austin represented by Round Rock Republican John Carter.