This year, amid an uprising of anti-Trump sentiment and a surge of unprecedented early voter turnout for an off-year election, Democrats saw an opportunity to flip a handful of congressional seats from red to blue in Texas — with three seats considered especially competitive.
Democrats won at least two, enough to help the national party gain control of the U.S. House, while Republicans elsewhere fended off a slew of competitive challengers.
Democrats celebrated victories by political newcomers Lizzie Pannill Fletcher and Colin Allred over long-term Republican incumbents. Meanwhile in Congressional District 23, the state's only true battleground district, incumbent Will Hurd was leading Democratic challenger Gina Ortiz Jones by a little more than 600 votes early Wednesday morning.
Democrat MJ Hegar fell to incumbent Republican U.S. Rep. John Carter in Congressional District 31 but came within three percentage points.
Fletcher beat her opponent, Republican incumbent U.S. Rep John Culberson, by four points in the Houston area’s most competitive race this cycle. Fletcher is an attorney and political newcomer who challenged the 18-year incumbent Culberson on health care and other issues.
"Tonight’s results have shown that we have the power to change the direction of our country—that’s what we did with this race," she said in a statement. "I am amazed and humbled by the support we have received but I am not surprised."
And Allred beat Republican incumbent U.S. Rep. Pete Sessions by six points in the Dallas area. Allred is a Dallas lawyer, former NFL player and political newcomer who challenged Sessions, who has served in Congress since 1997 and is chairman of the House Rules Committee.
"You believed in us when all the pundits didn't, when the experts said it wasn't possible," Allred told supporters after his victory. "And that belief has paid off tonight."
Both races, in districts carried by Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential race, were seen as crucial in Democrats’ nationwide bid for a “blue wave” to reclaim a majority in the U.S. House. But with Hurd's victory, Democrats failed to take a third GOP-held district won by Clinton.
Hurd, a former CIA agent from Helotes, ran as an independent Republican and distanced himself from President Donald Trump more visibly than any other GOP member of the Texas delegation. His fame grew last year when he embarked on a road trip with Democratic Rep. Beto O’Rourke from San Antonio to Washington, D.C.
Jones, a former Air Force intelligence officer, survived a five-way primary in March and a less competitive runoff in May.
The Hispanic-majority district stretches from San Antonio to El Paso, covering hundreds of miles of Texas-Mexico border and vast expanses of rural West Texas.
In the 31st district, which includes Temple, Killeen, Austin’s northern suburbs and the Fort Hood military base, Democratic hopeful Hegar lost to Carter, 48 percent to 51 percent.
Hegar is a military veteran who, with a compelling personal story and fundraising prowess, gave Carter the biggest challenge of his political career since he was elected in 2002. Hegar out-raised the incumbent over the summer after releasing a viral biographical ad highlighting her military service.
Carter is a senior member of the budget-writing U.S. House Appropriations Committee. He is an attorney who, before being elected to Congress, served for more than 20 years as a district court judge in Williamson County.
Elsewhere, Republicans in congressional districts fended off well-funded challenges. Democrat Joseph Kopser fell short of Republican Chip Roy in the race to succeed retiring U.S. Rep. Lamar Smith by 4 points, according to the Texas Secretary of State.
Kopser, an army veteran turned tech entrepreneur and a political newcomer, consistently out-raised his Republican opponent. He hoped to flip Texas’ 21st Congressional District from red to blue by running toward the center, claiming to have “voted for people from both parties.”
Roy, who emerged from a crowded GOP primary featuring 18 candidates, is a longtime political adviser to Republican officials, including U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz. He sought to portray Kopser as a liberal Democrat who was out of touch with the conservative spirit of the district.
And in the race for Texas’ 25th Congressional District, Democrat Julie Oliver lost to Republican incumbent U.S. Rep. Roger Williams by 8 points. Trump carried the district by more than 10 points in the 2016 presidential election.
Republican Dan Crenshaw also beat Democrat Todd Litton in the race to succeed retiring U.S. Rep. Ted Poe. Litton conceded in the race after returns showed Crenshaw was up 53 percent to Litton’s 45 percent.
Harris County held its polls open an hour later than previously scheduled because of problems at polling stations earlier in the day.