During the last midterm election cycle, very little intrigue accompanied the races, with many landslides depleting voter interest. But fast forward four years later, and several contentious races appear to have piqued interest of voters around the county, state, and local neighborhoods.
Both Republicans and Democrats have placed a multitude of propositions that will appear on residents’ ballots for consideration in Harris County. Meanwhile, Leader-area House District 2 looks to be a coin flip between Democratic candidate Todd Litton – who held off four challengers in March primaries – and Republican Dan Crenshaw, who emerged from a crowded nine-member primary field for the seat previously filled by Ted Poe. Additionally, incumbent Senator Ted Cruz will look to hold off a strong charge from Beto O’Rourke, while sitting Governor Greg Abbott looks to take down Lupe Valdez.
Though prefacing the statement by reiterating that 2014 was a very bad year for turnout in Texas — thus necessitating approaching 2018 from a low point – Rice University Political Science professor Mark Jones believes early voter turnout in Texas and Harris County should approach a typical presidential election year as opposed to typical midterm year when all is said and done.
As of publication, nearly 15,000 had turned out to cast an early ballot at the SPJST Lodge off Beall Street, while nearly 550,000 have made their voice heard in Harris County according to records from the County Clerk’s office.
That mark already surpasses the early voter turnout from the last midterm cycle in 2014, and is more than halfway to the 2016 presidential election year mark of nearly 954,000, per records from the Texas Secretary of State.
“We’re not going to see as many turn out as in the 2016 cycle, but it will be closer to that level than a 2014 level. It’s tough to predict actual overall turnout up until after election day,” Jones said. “Because we are seeing a turnout more comparable to presidential election periods, it’s much more likely we’ll see election day turnout more comparable to those years – meaning a low turnout, with maybe 1 of 4 casting on election day, and vice versa in early voting.”
Johnson believes that at the heart of the saturated early voting turnout is simply the increased competitive nature of this cycle’s battles. In his words, none of the 2014 statewide elections were remotely close, and of 36 House races, only one of them was in doubt; only one Texas Senate seat was in doubt, and maybe 5-6 House seats were shrouded in mystery.
“One thing that can motivate people to turn out is a belief that their vote will matter; that the outcome of the election has not been predetermined,” he said. “[It was] a pretty meager offering [in 2014]”.
Fast forward to 2018, and the U.S. Senate race hasn’t been decided; unlike 2014 when John Cornyn was already essentially set for re-election according to Jones. This year, he said three Houston-area districts are also truly up for grabs that were Republican locks during the previous midterm cycle. CD-7, CD 22, and Leader-area CD 2 (where there lies a race between Dan Crenshaw and Todd Litton) are all shaping up to be heated races.
“Just right there, you have a competitive Senate race and three competitive House races, and in 2014 you had none of the above. Plus, in this election, essentially all the county-wide races are in play. It may not be the marquee battle like the Senate or House races, but it’s yet another incentive for people to come out,” Johnson said. “People realize this election matters in the sense that turnout could have a major effect in multiple races, which was not the case back in 2014.”
As a reminder, several races will impact local Leader residents. Election Day is Tuesday, Nov. 6.
U.S. Representative – District 18
Once again, incumbent Sheila Jackson Lee will have to fight off some game challengers to retain her seat and serve her 13th term in the 18th District, which serves much of inner city Houston and the surrounding area.
Republican Ava Pate, along with Libertarian Luke Spencer and Independent Vince Duncan, will be fighting to unseat Jackson-Lee while making some history – the 18th Congressional District has not been represented by a non-Democrat in nearly five decades.
U.S. Representative – District 2
This seat immediately became a hot commodity early in 2018, when long-standing representative Ted Poe announced he would not seek re-election. In all, 14 candidates filed for the primaries and there are four left standing on November’s ballots. Democrat Todd Litton and Republican Dan Crenshaw won their respective party primaries in February for spots on the ballot, and they will be challenged by Libertarian Patrick Gunells and Independent candidate Scott Cubler for the seat.
County Commissioner, Precinct 4
Incumbent Jack Cagle will run for re-election as Precinct 4’s County Commissioner, which envelops many of our local neighborhoods north of the 610 Loops. Cagle has served in the position since 2011, and is seeking his third term after winning the seat in both 2010 and 2014.
His challenger – Democrat Penny Shaw – has been an attorney for 17 years and was previously a United States Congressional advocate for six years.
Incumbent Republican Governor Greg Abbott is running for re-election to a second term in office and will face Democrat Lupe Valdez, the former Sheriff of Dallas County, as well as Libertarian candidate Mark Tippetts, a former member of the Lago Vista city council. Abbot won the March Republican primaries with 90 percent of the vote, while Valdez won a May 22 runoff against Andrew White.
Sitting Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick was first elected in 2014, and will seek re-election in 2018. He will square off against Democratic candidate Mike Collier along with Libertarian candidate Kerry McKennon after holding off former Rockwall City Council Member Scott Milder in the March primaries. Collier, former founder and CFO of a major Texas oil company, held off a challenge from Michael Cooper. Kerry Douglas McKennon will run as a Libertarian candidate.
Harris County Judge
By now one of the most-recognized politicians in the state, incumbent Harris County Judge Ed Emmett (R) is seeking re-election for his third full term as head of the county’s governing body. He was appointed to the position in 2007, filling the remainder of Robert Eckels’ term before winning re-election in both 2010 and 2014.
Opposing Emmett in this cycle, and facing an uphill battle in doing so, is Democratic candidate Lina Hidalgo.
A Stanford graduate also possessing a joint degree in law and public policy at New York University and Harvard, Hidalgo would be the first woman elected to serve as County Judge.
Libertarian candidate Eric Gatlin will also be up for the seat.
Neither current sitting AG Ken Paxton, running for re-election after winning in 2014, nor Democratic challenger Justin Nelson (a former clerk for both Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor and Appellate Court Judge J. Harvie Wilkinson) faced a challenger in March primaries, setting the stage for the November clash.
Sitting incumbent Ted Cruz will again look to take the Senator’s seat for the third consecutive election cycle after holding off challenges from Stefano de Stefano, as well as Christian T.V. producer Bruce Jacobsen, former La Marque Mayor Geraldine Sam and Mary Miller in the Republican primaries.
On the other side of the aisle, current U.S. Representative Beto O’Rourke will be Cruz’s most prominent challenger for the seat, though Libertarian Neal Dikeman will be vying for the spot as well.