House Party

Texas Is Kicking Off the First Round of the Trump Midterms

It's fitting that a state with low turnout that tends to be written off by Democrats is launching the 2018 midterms. Here's what you need to know.

by Robert Wheel
Mar 5 2018, 8:25pm

Image by Lia Kantrowitz

Welcome back to House Party, our column looking at the 2018 House of Representative races as midterms approach.

It’s still cold as hell and probably at least somewhat dark out when you leave work, but voting has already begun in the 2018 elections. Texas has the earliest primaries in the country, on Tuesday, and early voting began there way back on February 20. If you haven’t voted already, have no idea what’s going on in Texas politics, or you just want to know what to look for when returns roll in on Tuesday night, we’ve got you covered. Here’s a guide to the six most competitive Democratic primaries as The Resistance takes its first formal step to the midterm ballot box.

Seventh District (West Houston)

Perhaps the most compelling Democratic primary in the state features four viable contenders—which is notable because, in Texas, there’s a runoff among the top two candidates if nobody gets more than 50 percent. If you’re still on the fence...

Vote For Lizzie Pannill Fletcher if you want to support a moderate, pro-choice woman who cuts the most anodyne profile in this district. The seventh went from backing Mitt Romney by more than 20 points to supporting Clinton by less than 2 percent. In other words, the ideology among regular voters here is pretty safe and corporate. The biggest knock on Fletcher is that she’s too friendly with business interests: she doesn’t support Medicare for all and is a partner in a law firm that the local AFL-CIO has a beef with. So if you’re an organized labor fan…

Vote For Alex Triantaphyllis if you like unions and raising lots of money, and are also OK with living outside the district and some pretty lame campaign ads. Seriously dude, I don’t care what the T in Alex T stands for. You’ve got 15 seconds to tell me about what you stand for and you’re spending most of it on your name? It’s a good thing you’ve got more money than anyone else in the race, so you can burn it on that. Also, you’re another relative moderate here, so for the progressives in the crowd….

Vote For Jason Westin if you want a viable liberal candidate. This is the district that George H.W. Bush used to represent. It’s big on watching golf, NCAA regulations and looking the other way on Enron’s accounting fraud. It’ll vote for almost any Republican other than Donald Trump, including current Congressman John Culberson. But it’s also got a legacy of lousy turnout, and there are a ton of non-voters here who could get excited for the right kind of candidate. A cancer doctor who supports Medicare For All could be such a candidate! Westin’s got a ton of progressive endorsements, including, full disclosure, my own. But if you don’t want somebody who can win...

Vote for Laura Moser if you kinda want Rep. John Culberson to be re-elected. The DCCC’s publication of damaging information on her has totally backfired, as nobody seems to be talking anymore about the fact that she appears to have moved back to Houston to run for Congress, that more than half of her PAC’s spending (much of it from small dollar donors that use Moser’s app) went to her husband’s consulting firm, or that she’s only got superficial knowledge of the issues. None of the other candidates (who don’t differ from her all that much on the issues, especially not Westin) suffer from those weaknesses. But if you want to hobble the party’s chances of winning this seat, or at least ensure the runoff is a vicious bloodbath, then by all means vote for Moser.

32nd District (Suburban Dallas)

In contrast to the Seventh District race, the 32nd District primary has been a mostly positive affair, with little separating the three of the four leading candidates in either ideology or viability. Any of them would be a solid option going forward. But if you really need help deciding...

Vote for Ed Meier if you want someone who can win the war on the airwaves. He’s the top fundraiser in the race and Democrats will need every dollar they can get their hands on here. Rep. Pete Sessions is a former NRCC chairman so, for all his shortcomings, he’s a crack fundraiser with a ton of connections. Meier, a former Hillary Clinton policy aide, has been able to replicate his former boss’s success with donors. But if you want someone whose strength is something other than money….

Vote for Lillian Salerno if you want a woman who’s going to fight monopolies to get single- payer healthcare. Salerno most recently served as a USDA official in the Obama Administration, but before that she helped invent a retractable needle designed to prevent healthcare workers from accidentally getting pricked and possibly infected. However, a medical device manufacturer’s monopoly prevented the needle from gaining traction (and saving lives) in hospitals. Salerno is determined to use her experience fighting those monopolies to help drive down costs. She’d really be an asset in Congress, but she actually isn’t my favorite candidate here, because I think you should...

Vote for Colin Allred if you want a truly inspiring nominee. Allred is a former NFL linebacker (never hurts in Texas) turned HUD lawyer turned political candidate. He’s also been the most dynamic of this three on the campaign trail with a volunteer operation that’s the envy of any nationwide. The Dallas Morning News said he was the most impressive of the three and people I’ve talked to in the area agree: there’s something special about him. Even if he loses this primary, I doubt this is the last we’ve heard from Colin Allred.

The fourth viable candidate, Brett Shipp, has been running a less energetic campaign than the other contenders and appears to be trying to coast off of name recognition from his days as a local TV reporter.

23rd District (San Antonio to the Rio Grande)

Voters might actually avoid a runoff in the 23rd, as there are two candidates (Jay Hulings and Gina Ortiz Jones) who have been outpacing the field in both raising money and endorsements. How do you decide between the two?

Vote for Jay Hulings if you want a safe choice. Like Doug Jones in Alabama last year, he’s a former federal prosecutor running a competent, left-of-center campaign. He’s had some good ads and supports a public option for healthcare. But he may be a bit too careful: he castigated his opponents for dropping f-bombs, which seems both quaint and divorced from the urgency of this political moment. I still think he’d be a good nominee if he won, but I’d rather have someone with more of a fighting spirit. Which is why if I lived I here I would…

Vote for Gina Ortiz Jones because she’s not afraid to stand up for liberal values. The pro-single-payer Jones is an Air Force vet and talks like one sometimes. She’s refreshing, and in a district with one of the lowest voter turnout rates in America, maybe Democrats should try a candidate who could appeal to those nonvoters?

16th District (El Paso)

Beto O’Rourke is vacating this safely Democratic seat to run for Senate and the primary has a pretty stark contrast between its leading candidates. To wit, you should...

Vote for Dori Fenenbock if you are a Republican. Texas doesn’t have voter registration by party, but Fenenbock is a Republican in all but name. She voted in the 2008 and 2010 Republican primaries, at one point had received about half of her donations from GOP primary voters, and her allies set up a Republican-led PAC to attack her main rival, Veronica Escobar. She says she’s a moderate overall and a conservative on spending and border security. But El Paso is a Democratic city that takes up a Democratic congressional district, so Fenenbock is running as a Democrat. Which is why you should probably instead….

Vote for Veronica Escobar because you are a Democrat. She’s gotten just about every Democratic endorsement you can think of, including left-wing stalwarts like the National Nurses United, the Congressional Progressive Caucus, and the SEIU. Former State Rep. Norma Chavez is trying to run to her left, but Chavez has a nasty history of using anti-gay smears and if forced into a runoff with Fenenbock would be a much weaker candidate than Escobar.

29th District (Latino Houston)

In 1992, Houston’s Latino community finally grew to the point where it could support its own congressional district. And since 1992 this seat has been represented by....Gene Green, a moderate white Democrat. But with Green retiring this year, you can….

Vote for Sylvia Garcia if you want the 29th to finally be represented by a progressive Latina. Garcia has lined up the endorsement of just about everyone of note who lives in the 29th and an eager community that’s excited to finally elect one of their own. But if you want to disregard all that, then….

Vote for Tahir Javed if you want to reward a fundraiser. Because that’s what Chuck Schumer did! I live in the same borough as Schumer and his endorsement doesn’t matter to me so I can’t imagine anyone in Houston cares about him. But rewarding a money guy to shut Houston Latinos out of this congressional district again, especially when you’ve just caved on DACA, is a really bad look. Javed didn’t even live in Houston until very recently.

21st District (Central Texas)

The 21st contains the heavily Republican Hill Country, conservative-but-turning-purple San Antonio suburbs, and a deep blue slice of Austin. At the start of the decade, it was safely Republican, but only gave Trump 53 percent last year, and now that Rep. Lamar Smith is retiring, Democrats think they have a shot. So…

Vote for Joe Kopser if you want to nominate the strongest general-election candidate. The veteran, scientist and businessman cuts the ideal profile for a Democrat running for a Republican-leaning seat. However, he’s committed some liberal apostasies; he supports a public option but not single payer, and is willing to support beefed-up border security in exchange for DACA protections. So you can always...

Vote for Derrick Crowe if you want to send the national party a message: support progressive policies in every district. Crowe is a weaker candidate than Kopser. You know how Republicans tie Democrats in conservative areas to Nancy Pelosi because she’s unpopular? Crowe actually worked for Pelosi! But he’s more liberal than Kopser on just about everything except maybe gun control. So if you want to send a message to top recruits everywhere that they need to move to the left or they’ll lose their primaries, then vote for Crowe.

Robert Wheel (a pseudonym) is an attorney who lives in New York. He tweets here, and his DMs are open.