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Texas Elections 2018

Voter turnout in a Texas Democratic gubernatorial runoff hasn’t been this low in nearly 100 years

Democrat Lupe Valdez will face off against Republican Gov. Greg Abbott in the fall. Two incumbents in the Texas House lost their runoffs. And Democrats had their worst runoff turnout in almost a century.

Voters at an early voting location in Houston on Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2018.

Texas Elections 2018

U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz defeated Democratic challenger Beto O'Rourke in the race for U.S. Senate. View full 2018 Texas election results or subscribe to The Brief for the latest election news.

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A tiny fraction of Texas registered voters had an outsized impact on the May 22 runoffs. Here’s a look at what you need to know about Tuesday night’s election returns — and what they mean for the November general election:

Democrat Lupe Valdez will take on Republican Gov. Greg Abbott in November.

Lupe Valdez has made history. Some 14 years ago, the liberal, gay Latina set her sights on an unlikely goal: Dallas County sheriff. Now, she’ll take on an even bigger challenge — running against the popular incumbent Republican governor.

Valdez officially accepted her party’s nomination Tuesday night, narrowly defeating Andrew White with around 52 percent of the vote. But she faces an uphill battle against Abbott, who touts a high approval rating and a $41 million war chest in an ultraconservative state.

Democratic voters made some history of their own. And it wasn't pretty. 

As of 11 p.m. Tuesday, just 415,000 Democrats had cast ballots in the gubernatorial runoff. For reference, that's a decline of almost 60 percent from the 1 million Texans who cast ballots in the March Democratic primary.

That's the largest primary-to-runoff decline — and the smallest number of ballots cast — in the 14 Democratic gubernatorial primary runoffs held since 1920. That year, 449,000 Democrats voted, according to Texas Election Source's analysis of Texas State Historical Association data. 

Some high profile congressional candidates won big. 

Most GOP runoffs for congressional seats were held in Republican strongholds — meaning whoever came out on top became the favorite to win in November. Most Democratic congressional runoffs, meanwhile, were in districts the party has designs on in the fall.

  • CD-7: Democrat Lizzie Pannill Fletcher will challenge U.S. Rep. John Culberson, R-Houston, in November. The runoff battle between Fletcher, an attorney, and Laura Moser, an activist and writer, made big headlines just before the March 6 primary when national Democrats backed Fletcher, but the noise quieted in the runoff stretch. Fletcher easily won the party’s nomination Tuesday night with almost 70 percent of the vote.
  • CD-21: Republican Chip Roy will face Democrat Joseph Kopser in the race to replace retiring U.S. Rep. Lamar Smith, R-San Antonio. Roy, former chief of staff to U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, bested Matt McCall, a business owner; Kopser, a tech entrepreneur, defeated Mary Wilson, a minister and mathematician.
  • CD-23: Gina Ortiz Jones will take on U.S. Rep. Will Hurd, R-Helotes, for what’s considered one of the most competitive congressional seats in the country. Jones, a former Air Force intelligence officer, defeated Rick Treviño, a former high school teacher. 

Incumbents in the Texas House didn't survive their runoffs.

State Rep. René Oliveira, a Brownsville Democrat, fell to a challenge from Cameron County Commissioner Alex Dominguez. The race for Democratic-leaning House District 37 garnered statewide attention last month with Oliveria’s DWI arrest. Dominguez won with roughly 57 percent of the vote Tuesday, ousting an incumbent who represented the district from 1981 to 1987 and again beginning in 1991.

Meanwhile, Republican state Rep. Scott Cosper of Killeen lost to veterinarian Brad Buckley. The runoff for House District 54 didn’t fit traditional Republican battle lines: Cosper had support from establishment groups, but Buckley didn’t visibly campaign to the right of him.

Moderate candidates running for Texas House seats largely kept hard-line conservatives at bay.

Steve Allison will likely fill the San Antonio House seat Speaker Joe Straus is vacating; he coasted by Matt Beebe by about 15 percentage points. Beebe, a small-business owner, had unsuccessfully challenged Straus twice before and had support from Empower Texans and Texas Right to Life, two far-right conservative groups. Allison, an attorney, was endorsed by Straus. A handful of other House races played out just like that Tuesday night, following a trend seen in the March 6 primaries.

  • Cody Harris is likely to take over the seat that state Rep. Byron Cook, a Corsicana Republican and longtime Straus lieutenant, is vacating. Harris, a local real estate broker backed by Cook and other moderate Republicans, handily defeated Thomas McNutt for the Republican-leaning seat in House District 8. McNutt narrowly lost to Cook in the 2016 primary.
  • Ben Leman is poised to replace former state Rep. Leighton Schubert, a Caldwell Republican, in the mostly rural House District 13. Leman, the former Grimes County judge, beat Bellville businesswoman Jill Wolfskill, a staunch conservative who said she’d join the ranks of the Texas House Freedom Caucus if elected.
  • Keith Bell is set to represent House District 4 in East Texas. Bell, a more moderate candidate, defeated former state Rep. Stuart Spitzer, a Tea Party-aligned former surgeon.
  • Reggie Smith is on track to succeed former state Rep. Larry Phillips, a Sherman Republican who vacated the seat in House District 62 earlier this year. Smith, former chairman of the Grayson County Republican Party, had support from Phillips and got 71 percent of the vote to Brent Lawson’s 28 percent.

One exception to this rule was Deanna Maria Metzger, who beat Joe Ruzicka for the Republican nomination to take on state Rep. Victoria Neave, D-Dallas, in November. Metzger had support from those same hard-line conservative groups, while Ruzicka was backed by more centrist ones.

Sheryl Cole came out on top in a hotly contested race to replace Dawnna Dukes. 

Democrat Sheryl Cole will likely replace outgoing state Rep. Dawnna Dukes, the Austin Democrat who lost her bid for re-election in March. Cole, the former Austin mayor pro tem, edged out Chito Vela, an attorney, by about 3 percentage points in the Democratic-leaning House District 46. 

Darla Cameron contributed to this report.

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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