Incumbents Hold Breath Ahead of Filing Deadline

At the stroke of 6 p.m. Monday, candidate filing with state parties will close and Texans will finally know who is — and isn’t — running for office in 2016.

At the stroke of 6 p.m. Monday, Texans will finally know who is — and isn’t — running for office in 2016. 

It's filing deadline day. The slate of contenders in the state's presidential primaries will be set. Incumbents from county courthouses up to Congress will learn if they are running for re-election unopposed, facing marginal competition or in for the fight of their political lives.

In past cycles, plenty of candidates have waited until the last second to file, exploiting the element of surprise and hoping to see how the field fills out. 

At the federal level, Texas doesn't have a Senate seat open this year, leaving 36 House seats and the party presidential primaries to watch. Federal candidates file with the Federal Election Commission and with their state parties. The filings show up on the Texas Secretary of State website as state parties turn their paperwork over to the agency. March 1 is the primary. Any runoffs would take place on May 24.  

Here's what to know before filing closes:  

Some presidential stragglers

As of Sunday night, two presidential candidates — Republicans Rick Santorum and Jim Gilmore — had not filed in Texas. They have until the close of business Monday to get their paperwork in. 

None of the late-filing candidates are believed to have a serious shot at their party nominations or the presidency. But Texas’ filing thresholds are low: Republicans must pony up $5,000 or 300 signatures from each of Texas’ 36 congressional districts. 

Missing the Texas filing deadline would be a striking indicator that a national campaign lacks campaign funds and organization. 

Little sign of primary trouble for U.S. House incumbents

Despite the anti-establishment mood in the presidential contest, most of Texas' 25 GOP House incumbents are running unopposed in their primaries so far.

Eight Republicans have known primary challengers: U.S. Reps. Joe Barton of Ennis, Kevin Brady of The Woodlands, John Culberson of Houston, Louie Gohmert of Tyler, Sam Johnson of Plano, John Ratcliffe of Heath, Lamar Smith of San Antonio and Randy Weber of Friendswood.

Former U.S. Senate candidate Dwayne Stovall filed in September with the FEC to run in the GOP primary against freshman U.S. Rep. Brian Babin, but he had yet to submit his paperwork to the state party as of Sunday night. 

Whether any of the challengers pose serious threats will become clearer in the new year, when federal financial reports are due. 

On the Democratic side, U.S. Rep. Marc Veasey of Fort Worth might, for the first time in his federal career, be able to coast through his primary. There are no filed Democratic challengers in his 33rd District.  

One possible Democratic dustup could come in District 23, where ex-U.S. Rep. Pete Gallego will be vying to reclaim his seat. Back in November, Felipe Vargas, a former Gallego supporter, publicly mulled challenging Gallego in the Democratic primary, per The San Antonio Express News

That challenge could prove a financial and ideological nuisance to Gallego as he gears up for a rematch with U.S. Rep. Will Hurd, R-San Antonio, in the general election. As of Sunday, Vargas had not officially filed for the race.

Filed opponent or not, ousting a sitting member of Congress is no easy chore, nor is defeating a candidate like Gallego, who national Democrats essentially treat as an incumbent. Members spend all cycle building up war chests to fend off any political threats, and it will be a short sprint to March 1 to mount that challenge.

Surprises are normal

There are plenty of tales from cycles past of organized, well-funded candidates lying in wait until the final minutes before filing. The two aims: to preserve the element of surprise and to have a sense of the competition before taking the plunge. 

A memorable example of the shock factor came two years ago when Republican former U.S. Rep. Steve Stockman filed late to unsuccessfully challenge U.S. Sen. John Cornyn in 2014.

The most lethal late challenger is the self-funder: the politician who does not need to make donor calls to ensure the money needed to take on an incumbent. Instead, this challenger can quietly file on deadline day and catch a House member asleep at the wheel. 

Ratcliffe did as much when he successfully knocked off former U.S. Rep. Ralph M. Hall two years ago. 

This year, many Republicans are closely watching the Dallas-based 32nd district to see if U.S. Rep. Pete Sessions draws a challenger. In 2014, he soundly defeated conservative activist Katrina Pierson, who is now a spokeswoman for GOP presidential contender Donald Trump. 

U.S. Rep. Filemon Vela, D-Brownsville, maintained last week that he would not be surprised to see last-minute filings in the Democratic primary to replace retiring U.S. Rep. Ruben Hinojosa, D-Edinburg. 

Look west for entertainment

The race to replace retiring U.S. Rep. Randy Neugebauer of Lubbock is crowded and competitive: Four Republican candidates filed in recent weeks to replace the retiring 19th District Republican congressman.

The large field also means no candidate will likely cross the 50 percent threshold and win the GOP nomination outright on March 1. As such, a protracted runoff race into May can be expected. 

Blake Farenthold appears safe

A year ago, the Corpus Christi-based Republican congressman was in a heap of political trouble. 

A former staffer's sexual harassment lawsuit against his office became public last December, triggering a cascade of political dominoes that seemed certain to crush him. First and foremost was money. Politically weakened, Farenthold had to amp up his fundraising to protect himself from challengers. Even then, legal bills related to the case contributed to his campaign burn rate.  

Smelling blood, Tea Party activists and other Republicans considered launching a challenge to Farenthold. Even Democrats gave the safely Republican seat a look. All the while, Farenthold denied the accusations and settled the suit out of court.

No serious challenger has emerged on either side of the aisle. And so unless there are surprises, Farenthold is on track to coast to another term.