Attorney Lizzie Pannill Fletcher and the U.S. House Democratic campaign arm prevailed Tuesday evening in its effort to block activist Laura Moser from being the party's nominee in a highly contentious congressional primary in west Houston.
Moser trailed Fletcher by more than 38 points in their nomination fight to take on U.S. Rep. John Culberson, a Republican, in the fall, according to incomplete returns.
Back in February, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee released an opposition research file on Moser in hopes of knocking her out of this spring’s runoff. Instead, Moser placed second behind Fletcher out of seven candidates.
The DCCC did not officially endorse Fletcher in the runoff, but it made its preference plain. Additionally, Fletcher had the support of EMILY’s List, an influential national organization that backs Democratic women who support abortion rights.
Despite the massive victory, the fall fight is sure to be a slog for Fletcher. While Democrat Hillary Clinton carried the district in 2016, Culberson won re-election by a 12-point margin. He also has nearly $1 million in his campaign account.
At her election night party, Moser encouraged her supporters to back Fletcher in the fall "if this night turns out like it looks like it’s going to turn out," according to Buzzfeed News.
Culberson did not mention Fletcher by name in his statement about the Democratic primary. Instead, he stressed his position as a member of the U.S. House Appropriations Committee and his capacity to potentially deliver funds on flood control, highway, space projects.
"Too much is at state for Houston to experiment with the far-left ideas of my opponent," he said.
"My top priority is fighting every day to ensure that Houston families flooded by Hurricane Harvey get the federal financial help they need to recover and rebuild, and to finish building out our flood control network."
DCCC Chairman Ben Ray Luján released a statement on Fletcher's victory late Tuesday night and sent a strong signal on the issues his party plans to use in its case against Culberson: flooding and health care.
"Lizzie is in a very strong position for the general election, and her inclusive message will strike a powerful contrast with her Republican opponent’s record of undermining investment in critical infrastructure and disaster preparedness, and raising the cost of health care for thousands of families across Texas," the chairman stated.
The Houston race is one of three Democratic primary fights in Texas on Tuesday that could have national implications. Encouraged by the 2016 election results, national Democrats are targeting Culberson and two other Republican incumbents – U.S. Reps. Will Hurd of Helotes and Pete Sessions of Dallas.
In Dallas, former NFL player Colin Allred dominated the early vote with an approximate 40-point lead over former Obama administration official Lillian Salerno in the Democratic runoff for Congressional District 32.
Allred placed first in the March 6 primary and secured the support of many high-profile local and national Democratic players in the ensuing months. Salerno had the support of EMILY’s List, but the organization spent little on her campaign.
Like the Houston district, CD-32 is new territory for Democrats. This is a long-held GOP seat, but Clinton narrowly carried it in 2016 as well.
The winner of the runoff will face Sessions, who sits on a war chest of $1.5 million. He easily won re-election in 2016 without a Democratic opponent.
A third EMILY’s List candidate proved more successful in southwest Texas on Tuesday night.
Former Air Force Intelligence Officer Gina Ortiz Jones easily won her runoff for Texas' 23rd Congressional District, and she will take on Hurd in the general election.
The 23rd District is the most competitive in the state and is all but certain to be a focal point in the battle for the U.S. House in the fall.
Even so, Ortiz Jones will have a tough fight ahead of her against Hurd. He narrowly won in 2016, but he has spent his two terms in office working the sprawling district and sits on $1.6 million.
Within minutes of media outlets calling the race for Ortiz, the two national campaign committees that will war over this seat for the next five and a half months released dueling statements.
“We know that Gina Ortiz Jones’ candidacy is propped up by Nancy Pelosi and the Washington establishment – because it’s clear her views are far too liberal for the community she wants to represent," said National Republican Congressional Committee spokesman Jack Pandol. "When Texans are given the choice between Will Hurd’s independent leadership and Ortiz Jones’ total obedience to the fringe, we have little doubt who they will choose to trust.”
Luján responded by praising Ortiz Jones' biography, highlighting her as "the daughter of a first generation immigration" who "served her country in uniform, protected America’s economic interests at home and abroad, and cared for her mother when she was diagnosed with cancer."
"Gina will be a strong, principled representative for hardworking, middle class Texans and these results show her grassroots campaign is building momentum and will be highly competitive in November," Luján added.
There are a handful of other Texas seats that national Democrats are monitoring, but they're sending few overt signs that they will make significant investments moving forward.
In the 31st District, veteran MJ Hegar won her primary over physician Christine Mann. The suburban Austin seat is generally solid conservative country, but Hegar has run a robust campaign.
As of March 31, the incumbent, U.S. Rep. John Carter of Round Rock, had a somewhat lethargic cash-on-hand total — $350,000 — when compared to other longtime Republican members of the Texas delegation. But if Hegar is a real contender, she has a lot of ground to gain — Carter coasted to re-election in 2016 by 22 points.
Yet the DCCC quickly touted Hegar's win Tuesday night, with a statement from Luján calling the race "one to watch in November" and highlighting Hegar's military record including "surviving against all the odds when her helicopter was shot down in Afghanistan."
Joseph Kopser won his nomination in the 21st District, with a 16-point margin of victory over Mary Street Wilson.
The winner of that nomination is likely to take on Chip Roy, a former staffer for U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz who was narrowly leading Matt McCall in the GOP runoff. This is a race to replace retiring U.S. Rep. Lamar Smith of San Antonio, who won re-election in 2016 by 21 points.
Jana Lynne Sanchez defeated Ruby Faye Woolridge in the Democratic nomination fight to replace retiring U.S. Rep. Joe Barton in the state’s 6th Congressional District.
Disclosure: Joseph Kopser has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune's journalism. Find a complete list of them here.
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