The Texas congressional delegation, dominated by older, white Republican men for decades, is getting a diversity makeover after Democratic voters surged in the Lone Star State.
In the biggest flips of election night, two of the three districts won by Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton in 2016 turned from Republican to Democrat, giving Texas a significant role in the party’s majority control of the chamber for the first time since 2010.
Colin Allred, a black former NFL player, knocked down the highest-ranking GOP member of Congress, U.S. Rep. Pete Sessions, R-Dallas, in the 32nd District, and Houston lawyer Lizzie Fletcher defeated U.S. Rep. John Culberson, R-Houston, in the highly competitive 7th District. Sessions, as chairman of the House Rules Committee, is a member of House leadership.
And for the first time in history, two Latinas will represent Texas in Congress. The two election night winners won their primaries in majority Democratic districts and were assured victory Tuesday night. Former El Paso County Judge Veronica Escobar succeeds U.S. Representative Beto O’Rourke, D-El Paso, who lost a close race for U.S. Senate; and state Senator Sylvia Garcia, D-Houston, replaces retiring U.S. Representative Gene Green, D-Houston. “They’re ready to hit the ground running,” said Matt Angle, director of the Lone Star Project, a Democratic political action committee.
One contest classified “too close to call” was the congressional race between Democratic former intelligence official Gina Ortiz Jones and U.S. Representative Will Hurd, R-Helotes, in the 23rd Congressional District, which extends from San Antonio to El Paso and includes 800 miles of border with Mexico. Hurd, in his second term, proved to be a good campaigner who distanced himself from President Trump in the majority Hispanic district, especially by opposing Trump’s plans for a border wall in favor of a technological approach. On Wednesday, the Ortiz Jones campaign released the following statement:
— Gina Ortiz Jones (@GinaOrtizJones) November 7, 2018
Texas has 36 seats in the U.S. House—currently held by 25 Republicans (with only one woman GOP member, Kay Granger of Fort Worth, and one Latino, Bill Flores of Bryan) and 11 Democrats, which include two women, three African Americans, and four Latinos.
There were seven vacancies created by six retirements and one incumbent, O’Rourke, seeking another office.
The other U.S. Texas races that were rated competitive by nonpartisan handicappers:
- 2nd District: Former Navy Seal Dan Crenshaw, who wears an eyepatch after losing an eye during military service, got a burst of publicity on election eve after he was mocked for it in a Saturday Night Live spot. Crenshaw, a Republican, edged out Democrat Todd Litton, a lawyer. The East Texas district is held by retiring U.S. Representative Ted Poe, R-Humble.
- 6th District: Democrat Jana Lynne Sanchez, in the congressional district represented by Joe Barton, R-Ennis for 34 years and concentrated in Arlington, lost narrowly to GOP candidate Ron Wright, former Tarrant County tax assessor and a former Barton aide.
- 10th District: Incumbent GOP Representative Michael McCaul of Austin held off a spirited challenge by Austin assistant city attorney Mike Siegel, who got a late media bump from a flap at Prairie View A&M over voting rights. A Siegel aide was arrested after taking a photo to prove he delivered a letter to local officials about concerns about students being able to vote at the historically black university. Officials said he hadn’t identified himself; he said he did and that he’d been targeted for being a Democrat. The issue was resolved and Siegel got a spike in funds. The district stretches from Austin neighborhoods to Houston suburbs with the rural counties in between giving the district a GOP advantage. Trump won it by nine points. McCaul won it by four points.
- 21st District: Political newcomer Joseph Kopser, who represented a new breed of Democratic candidate as a West Point graduate, former Army Ranger, combat veteran, and tech entrepreneur, had an uphill fight in a gerrymandered district anchored at one end by Austin and the other by San Antonio. Chip Roy, a former aide to Governor Greg Abbott and U.S. Senator Ted Cruz, won. The district has been represented by U.S. Rep. Lamar Smith, R-San Antonio, since he was first elected to Congress in 1986.
- 22nd District: Another minority candidate, Indian American Sri Preston Kulkarni, a Democrat in the suburban Houston district, who left the Foreign Service to run for Congress in protest of Trump’s policies, came close to edging out U.S. Representative Pete Olson, R-Sugar Land. Kulkarni reached out to the Asian community as well as the other minorities in the diverse Fort Bend area and ran phone banks in thirteen languages.
- 31st District: One of the most colorful races in the state pitted former highly decorated military helicopter pilot Mary Jennings “MJ” Hegar against U.S. Representative John Carter, R-Round Rock. Hegar became a national figure with her pointed ads and finished up the campaign with a video of her as a self-described “badass” riding a motorcycle and going into a biker bar with fellow tat-sporting veterans. Hegar out-raised Carter with contributions just over $4 million to his $1.6 million, but she struggled to topple him in a district that is heavily Republican in Bell County, where Fort Hood is located, despite the shifting demographics of Williamson County, which favored her upstart candidacy.
This article has been updated to correct an error; while we initially stated that U.S. Rep. Will Hurd had beaten challenger Gina Ortiz Jones, the race has been classified as “too close to call.”