Back in September, before the election, Wendell Champion spoke proudly about the traction he was gaining in the area.
The Republican challenger to U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, a Democrat who first was elected to Congress in 1994, had seen his face on several campaign signs decorating front yards throughout the Garden Oaks and Oak Forest areas. He also relayed an anecdote from a block walker that spoke to his appeal to members of both political parties.
Champion, who stumped for change and prosperity for all in a district Jackson Lee has served for a quarter-century, said one of his campaign volunteers had visited a couple in the Heights. The husband said he planned to vote for Donald Trump, according to Champion, and the wife was going to pick Joe Biden in the presidential race.
“But both were going to vote for Champion,” he said. “How about that?”
As it turned out on Election Day, Champion indeed had the backing of a significant number of area voters, particularly in Garden Oaks, Oak Forest and adjacent neighborhoods such as Candlelight Estates, Ella Lee Forest and Shepherd Park Plaza. He won six voting precincts in those areas but did not win any in the Heights, or in many other locales in an economically and ethnically diverse congressional district that also includes southern and northeast parts of the Houston area.
Jackson Lee cruised to a 14th term in dominating fashion, much like she always has. She received 73.3 percent of the 245,000-plus votes cast in the District 18 race, which is in line with her previous margins of victory.
That’s partly because of the power of incumbency, and also because District 18 remains a Democratic stronghold.
Harris County as a whole has turned blue during the last several years, and the overall area served by The Leader also leans Democratic. In a local race that did not include an incumbent, Democrat Penny Morales Shaw earned 63.7 percent of the vote against Republican Luis La Rotta in their bid for the Texas House of Representatives seat in District 148.
But a look at precinct-by-precinct voting in some locally relevant races reveals that parts of the area could be shaded red.
There also are instances in which the same local precincts favored Democrats in some races and Republicans in others. Maybe places like Garden Oaks and Oak Forest could be considered “swing” neighborhoods on Houston’s electoral map.
Perhaps it depends on the candidates and their merits and likability.
Some of the area precincts that favored Champion also supported other Republicans, such as Harris County District Attorney candidate Mary Nan Huffman and Harris County Sheriff candidate Joe Danna, who grew up in Lindale Park and later lived in Forest Pines and Mangum Manor. But both lost on a countywide level to Democratic incumbents Kim Ogg and Ed Gonzalez, respectively. They also have area ties and garnered strong support from area voters, particularly those in the Heights, where Gonzalez grew up.
But those precincts that leaned Republican did not do so in every election, most notably in the presidential race. For example, Biden received more votes than Trump in four of the six local precincts that favored Huffman, although the counts were fairly close in all of them.
Another race that included local voters was for the District 2 congressional seat, which represents the area along U.S. 290 near the western part of Oak Forest as well as neighborhoods to the southeast such as Lazybrook, Shady Acres and Timbergrove Manor. Republican incumbent Dan Crenshaw won the majority of precincts in those areas en route to being reelected to a second term, but Democratic challenger Sima Ladjevardian was favored in three of those precincts.
So what does it all say about the political preferences of voters in the Greater Heights area? I’d say they’re a thoughtful, discerning and well-informed lot that chooses candidates based on a variety of factors, and not just blind allegiances to one party or another.
Straight-ticket voting was eliminated from this year’s general election, per a new Texas law. And even though there are indications that many voters sided with one party over the other anyway, there also is evidence that the candidates mattered more to local voters than those candidates’ political affiliations.
That dynamic could make things interesting in 2022 or 2024. It also suggests that a candidate such as Champion, who made inroads in the Garden Oaks and Oak Forest areas, could build even more support if he decides to challenge Jackson Lee again in two years.
Beating a well-established incumbent such as Jackson Lee is another matter, but a lot can happen in two years.