Top Political Races to Watch in Texas

The primaries are over. Some runoffs still lie ahead. But some political eyes are already focused on the November races for federal and state legislative seats. The targets: Thibaut, Maldonado, Harper-Brown, Bohac, Bolton, Homer, Kent, Turner, Miklos, Edwards. Waco's a wildcard.

Just one congressional race is likely to attract money and attention from outside the state. There's not much to watch in the state Senate. And the number of state House seats in the target zone is skinny — fewer than a dozen. It's a low-stakes election, as such things go. It still matters, and the local races involve local issues of great importance to some voters. But in the greater scheme of things, the Texas races for Congress and the state Legislature seem unlikely to shake the balance of power in Washington and Austin.

The top of the ticket is another matter. The race for governor will get most of the attention, most of the money, and will determine, to a great extent, whether voters feel compelled to vote next fall. Except for the comptroller's race, every other statewide executive office has candidates from each of the major parties, and after the Libertarians hold their state convention in June, that party will have a candidate in every statewide race.

But this is about the legislative battlefield, where the Senate and Congress are more or less set and Democrats have been whittling away at GOP advantages in the House for several election cycles. U.S. Rep. Chet Edwards, D-Waco, holds the distinction of living in the most Republican district in the U.S. that's represented by a Democrat. The Republicans have been trying to knock him off for years and will try again as soon as their own primary runoff — between Rob Curnock and Bill Flores — on April 13. If you look at the numbers and the maps, Edwards doesn't stand a chance. Only five of the state's 32 congressional districts are more reliably Republican. He's held off all comers but will get a vigorous challenge again this time.

That's not the Waco Wildcard. State Sen. Kip Averitt, R-Waco, decided after the filing deadline that he didn't want another term in Austin. It was too late to get off of the ballot, and he won the GOP nomination easily, with 60 percent of the vote. This week he resigned from office, which sets up a special election, probably in May, for the remainder of his term. He hasn't pulled his name off the ballot yet and might just leave it there until after the voters have chosen his replacement in May. Once Averitt's name is off the ballot, the Republican chairmen in SD-22's 10 counties will choose a replacement nominee. That doesn't have to be the person elected in May, but that person probably will have some extra stroke for just having won an election. The name to watch: David Sibley, a lobbyist and former senator who was once Averitt's boss. He'd like to come back. The wild card: Darren Yancy, who lost the GOP primary to Averitt but who has bragged he's got the backing of enough of the county chairs to win their nomination.

Things are a little more interesting in the Texas House, where Joe Straus ended the legislative session last year with a slim 76-74 majority and the need to secure his position with a few more Republicans. He won two seats before the elections. Rep. David Farabee, D-Wichita Falls, decided not to seek reelection to his spot in a district likely to replace him with a Republican. Former Wichita Falls Mayor Lanham Lyne won the GOP primary and will face Michael Smith in the general election. Straus' next bit of good news came from East Texas, when Rep. Chuck Hopson of Jacksonville decided to switch to the Republican from the Democratic Party. He won his primary, too, and the partisan balance now is 77-73. If Lyne wins, it's 78-72, a close but relatively safe margin for a speaker.

Democrats hold most of the genuinely competitive seats in the House. They've steadily reduced the number of Republicans in the House over the last three elections, from a high of 88 in 2003. But that leaves fewer pick-off opportunities, and their chance at winning a majority was better before Farabee and Hopson acted. Their best bet now is to keep the numbers in the House close enough to hinder outright Republican control. Their best remaining targets are:

• Linda Harper-Brown, R-Irving, in HD-105. She won by fewer than two dozen votes two years ago and will face Democrat Loretta Haldenwang in November. Republicans say 2008 was a wake-up and that Harper-Brown will run a better race this time out. Democrats say it proved Republicans have a weak hold in an area with changing demographics and that it's their best chance at a pickup.

• Dwayne Bohac, R-Houston, HD-138. It's a Republican-leaning district, and the race is a Family Feud kind of deal. The Democrat is Kendra Yarbrough Camarena, whose father, Ken Yarbrough, lost the seat to Bohac in 2002.

Republicans have a few more targets. Their list, more or less in order, includes:

Kristi Thibaut, D-Houston, HD-133. A rematch with Rep. Jim Murphy, the Republican who lost to Thibaut in 2008. The general idea on the Republican side is that 2008 was an Obama-driven fluke and that Murphy should be able to win it back. The Democrats see a district where demographic change has been moving their way and think this one belongs in their column.

Diana Maldonado, D-Round Rock, HD-52. The argument's pretty much the same in this race. Some Democrats in districts that used to be Republican have been challenged over and over — people like Allen Vaught of Dallas — and are battle-hardened. Maldonado and Thibaut and three others listed below are defending their spots for the first time. Maldonado will face the winner of a GOP runoff between Larry Gonzales and John Gordon.

Robert Miklos, D-Mesquite, HD-101. Another freshman, another district with changing demographics. He'll face Republican Cindy Burkett in November.

Mark Homer, D-Paris, HD-3. Homer is one of the "WD-40s" — White Democrats Over 40 — who've been hanging on for years in districts where Republicans hold sway in other elections. Hopson was one of that cohort before jumping ship last year. Erwin Cain is the Republican in this race.

Valinda Bolton, D-Austin, HD-47. Bolton's is a suburban Austin district drawn for Republicans, and hers was one of the closer racess in 2008 — generally a good year for Democrats. The Republican will be the winner of the April 13 runoff between Holly Turner and Paul Workman.

Carol Kent, D-Dallas, HD-102. She knocked off Republican Tony Goolsby last year in a district that has been trending purple for a couple of election cycles. The Republican in this contest is Stefani Carter.

Chris Turner, D-Burleson, HD-96. Another rematch; Turner will face former Rep. Bill Zedler, the Republican he defeated in 2008.

[Editor's note: The original version of this story said Farabee resigned, and he didn't; he decided not to seek reelection and will finish his term.]

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