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As you meander through the political zoo considering the creatures collected in our latest elections, be sure to take a look at the barelies — the candidates who just barely wriggled into their Election Day victories.
The question for most (but not all) of them is not whether they won. They did. It’s whether their near-failures will temper their behavior in office.
The big changes, of course, are in places where voters flipped from one party to another. They did that in two spots in the state’s congressional delegation, two state Senate seats, a dozen state House seats, and in judicial and county and local races all over the state. That latter group includes many of the state’s most important mid-level appellate courts, county judge and county commissioner spots — particularly in areas where Republican voting strength waned this year.
Those flips generated plenty of attention.
Sprinkled in there, however, were a lot of races that might be signaling newly competitive spots on the Texas political maps. Those are the kinds of changes that determine the next set of targets for political parties and candidates. It happened with the 2016 elections, which pointed Democrats and Republicans alike to the congressional districts where former GOP strength had ebbed, where Donald Trump had lost to Hillary Clinton but where U.S. Reps. like Pete Sessions of Dallas and John Culberson of Houston had held on.
Those were the two losing members of the Texas delegation in this month’s election. The two Republican senators who lost this month — Konni Burton of Colleyville and Don Huffines of Dallas — were similarly both in districts marked, in part, by the presidential results in 2016. Trump lost in Huffines’ district and narrowly won in Burton’s.
Burton doesn’t qualify as one of those barelies: She didn’t win. But her opponent, Sen.-elect Beverly Powell, won 51.7 percent of the vote. A win is a win, but a win that narrow almost guarantees her a spot on her party’s list of vulnerable legislators next time around. Two incumbent Republican senators — Joan Huffman of Houston and Angela Paxton of McKinney — won with less than 52 percent of the vote. Put ‘em on the list for next time.
The same goes for five Republicans who’ll be going to Congress in January off wins in the mid-to-low single digits. One of them, Chip Roy of Austin, will be a freshman. The other four survived reelection challenges: John Carter of Georgetown, Michael McCaul of Austin, Ken Marchant of Carrollton, and Pete Olson of Sugar Land.
The barelies include five of the 12 Democrats who won what have been Republican seats in the Texas House. And the list includes a half dozen members — all Republicans — who narrowly won reelection. A couple of those races are close enough to prompt recounts, and that’s underway. But they were also close enough that whoever finally wins — Democrat or Republican — is all but guaranteed a serious general election opponent in 2020.
One of the apparent winners is Gina Calanni, who finished fewer than 100 votes ahead of state Rep. Mike Schofield, R-Houston. Neither of them broke 50 percent. Both have to be wondering who would have received the 1,104 that went to Libertarian Daniel Arevalo had he not been in the race. House District 132 can probably count on a lively general election race two years from now.
Two more contests landed the winners among the bareliest of the barelies. U.S. Rep. Will Hurd, R-Helotes, apparently defeated Democrat Gina Ortiz Jones, but with only 49.2 percent of the vote. She’s pushing for a recount in that district, which stretches from El Paso to San Antonio and takes in most of the Texas-Mexico border. And in Tarrant County, state Rep. Jonathan Stickland, R-Bedford, prevailed without breaking 50 percent.
That was enough to win. Just barely.