Republicans seemed poised to hold onto their majority in the Texas House on Tuesday, fighting off a well-financed attempt by Democrats to flip the lower chamber for the first time in nearly two decades.
The GOP’s likely electoral success solidifies the balance of power heading into a legislative session that state lawmakers say will be their toughest in years, and it almost certainly means the next speaker of the House — to be elected when lawmakers convene in January — will be a Republican. The issues before the Legislature will include a budget strained by recession, state responses to the pandemic and a once-in-a-decade redistricting process — always a divisive and partisan affair.
It was unclear on election night how many seats the Republicans and Democrats will hold when the Legislature convenes in January, but it appeared from incomplete returns that it will be close to the 83-67 split between the two parties during the 2019 legislative session.
Early voting made up a bulk of the votes counted Tuesday, though a portion of mail-in ballots will not be counted until after Election Day due to later deadlines for them to arrive in the mail.
The fight for the state House this election cycle was a major rallying cry for both Democrats and Republicans, with tens of millions of dollars flowing in from state and national groups.
Democrats, bullish after flipping a dozen seats in 2018, needed nine to gain a majority in the chamber. Both parties had marked dozens of seats as competitive heading into Election Day, including nine in Republican districts that Democrat Beto O’Rourke won in 2018.
In the dozen seats freshman Democrats were defending, Republicans seemed poised to regain control of one in Harris County: Former GOP state Rep. Mike Schofield ousted state Rep. Gina Calanni, the Katy Democrat who unseated him in 2018.
Meanwhile, most Republican incumbents in races targeted by Democrats were leading in early vote returns. In Tarrant County, three — Matt Krause of Fort Worth, Craig Goldman of Fort Worth and Tony Tinderholt of Arlington — were leading their opponents by several percentage points. In Collin County, Matt Shaheen and Jeff Leach, both of Plano, had narrow leads over their challengers.
A notable exception was the Houston-area contest for a seat held for 10 years by Republican state Rep. Sarah Davis. Davis conceded the race to her Democratic challenger, Ann Johnson, on Twitter Wednesday morning. Vote returns showed Johnson leading by more than four percentage points Wednesday.
And in Dallas, two Republicans were trying to hold off tight challenges. State Rep. Morgan Meyer held a lead of fewer than 2 percentage points over Democrat Joanna Cattanach, who conceded the race on Twitter Wednesday morning. And fellow state Rep. Angie Chen Button was leading Democrat Brandy Chambers by just over 200 votes.
Republicans also led in four open-seat contests that Democrats had hoped to flip this cycle in their quest for gaining a majority in the House. Republicans Jeff Cason and David Cook were ahead in their contests, both in Tarrant County, against Democrats Jeff Whitfield and Joe Drago, respectively. And in Harris County, Republican Lacey Hull maintained a narrow lead over Democrat Akilah Bacy, who conceded the race Wednesday morning.
In Fort Bend County, Republican Jacey Jetton was ahead of Democrat L. Sarah DeMerchant by just under 3,000 votes late Tuesday night. Democrats had hoped to flip the seat currently held by Republican state Rep. Rick Miller.
In the Texas Senate, most incumbents coasted to reelection, with the exception of state Sen. Pete Flores, R-Pleasanton, who appeared to have lost to state Rep. Roland Gutierrez, D-San Antonio, after winning the seat in a 2018 special election in a historically Democratic district.
Flores, the first Hispanic Republican to serve in the Texas Senate, was down by a margin of 3 percentage points, according to results posted by the Texas Secretary of State. Flores conceded the race Wednesday morning.
Before the election, Republicans had 19 seats to the Democrats’ 12. If Flores loses the seat, Republicans will have just 18 votes in the Senate, losing the supermajority they need to bring bills up for debate under Senate rules. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who in 2015 oversaw lowering the long-standing 21-vote threshold down to 19, said in January the Senate may further reduce that threshold to 16.
It takes a simple majority to change the rule, which has allowed Patrick's Senate to steamroll Democrats while bringing up a host of conservative priorities for consideration.
"All I'm saying is that if we were to be a vote short — and I don't think we will, but if we were to be — then we would have to look at that because otherwise we would be right back to where we were in history as the majority party ... of having to have a Democrat sign off on every bill," Patrick said in January. "That doesn't feel right to me."
Additional reporting by Edgar Walters.