A day after a Republican unexpectedly snatched away a long-held Democratic statehouse seat in San Antonio, state GOP leaders were crowing while Democrats swore the low-turnout special election was a non-repeatable fluke.
Republican John Lujan defeated Democrat Tomas Uresti for the House District 118 seat in a special election runoff Tuesday night, winning 52.38 percent of the vote.
Republicans are hailing the outcome as a victory for conservative principles in a city long known as one of the state’s Democratic strongholds. However, Democrats say they are are confident Lujan's victory had more to do with low voter turnout than with party politics.
“We think that we’re getting the right template and the right model and the right message out to the citizens and the voters here in Bexar County,” said Robert Stovall, chairman of the county's Republican Party. “We’re going to move inch by inch, yard by yard, and take these victories."
The district, which is largely Hispanic, covers the south side of San Antonio, just inside the Bexar County limits. Democrat Joe Farias served as the district’s representative for nine years before resigning in August. Lujan will serve out the remainder of Farias' term, which expires this year. The Legislature is not set to meet again until 2017, and anther general election for the seat lies ahead.
Lujan and Uresti are both candidates on March 1 party primary ballots in a race for a full term, which means they could meet again in the November general election.
Stovall said the Republican Party has been slowly painting the Alamo City red, citing the recent mayoral election where Republican-backed Ivy Taylor beat longtime state lawmaker Leticia Van de Putte, a Democrat, for the post.
“By all counts Leticia Van de Putte should have won that race,” Stovall said. “But something happened and something has been changing.”
He also cited changing leadership in a neighboring state legislative district, where Republican Rick Galindo was elected to serve in the Texas House.
Manny Garcia, deputy executive director of the Democratic Party of Texas, said he found it unlikely the city would choose to re-elect Lujan come November and said the new representative should “be very careful to even choose out the furniture in his office.”
“Low voter turnout is devastating to our state, and it’s devastating to our democracy,” he said. “You will see a dramatically different turnout on that day versus a little known special election day.”
Just 3,601 people voted in Tuesday’s election — 4.12 percent of registered voters — compared to the 14,531 people who voted in the 2014 general election. In 2012, with a presidential race on the ballot, more than 40,000 voters from the district went to the polls.
David Crockett, a political science professor at Trinity University, said it is not unlikely for “a few dozen votes to swing an election” in a race with low turnout.
“The person winning this runoff doesn’t serve very long before they have to run in a normal election that is during a presidential election year,” Crockett said. “That is going to bring out lots of people, and the natural partisan leanings of that district will probably win out."