No Democrat has won a statewide race in Texas since 1994. That’s the hard reality facing this year’s electoral slate, which voters finalized in Tuesday’s primary runoff election. Gubernatorial candidate Beto O’Rourke and agricultural commissioner candidate Susan Hays won the March 1 primary outright by garnering at least 50 percent of the vote; in all the other races, the top two primary finishers advanced to the runoff. (Democratic railroad commissioner candidate Luke Warford ran unopposed.)
In the Republican party, just two statewide races went to runoffs: attorney general and land commissioner. Four Democratic races went to runoffs—partly, no doubt, a reflection of the candidates’ low name recognition. In the key race for attorney general, civil rights attorney Rochelle Garza easily won the nomination over former Galveston mayor Joe Jaworski. Garza, a Brownsville native who successfully sued the Trump administration on behalf of a seventeen-year-old immigrant detainee who was seeking an abortion, swept the Rio Grande Valley and most of rural Texas, while Jaworski performed best in the Houston metro area. Garza’s victory puts her in position to challenge incumbent attorney general Ken Paxton, who —despite an easy runoff win over George P. Bush—is widely seen as the weakest statewide Republican officeholder, given his well-documented legal problems.
In the race for lieutenant governor, Houston accountant Mike Collier appears poised to win the nomination over state representative Michelle Beckley. But Collier’s narrow victory may portend trouble in the general election. Despite barely campaigning, Beckley managed to win nearly 45 percent of the runoff vote to Collier’s 55 percent. Collier, who was running for his third statewide race in eight years and who came within five points of beating incumbent Dan Patrick in 2018, surely hoped to do better. He’ll have an uphill battle unseating Patrick in an unfavorable political environment for Democrats this fall.
The race for the land commissioner nomination was even tighter. Austin-based conservationist, filmmaker, and businessman Jay Kleberg eked out a victory over San Antonio therapist Sandragrace Martinez, despite outspending her by $1.1 million to $3,000 (!). Kleberg, a scion of the legendary King Ranch, is among the best-credentialed land commissioner candidates in recent memory, while Martinez had no apparent qualifications beyond her ambition to be the first female land commissioner. The fact that she nearly won is likely giving the state Democratic party heartburn.
In the last of the Democrats’ statewide races, Janet Dudding, the former budget manager for College Station, won the nomination for comptroller over Fort Bend County businessman Ángel Luis Vega. Dudding will face incumbent Republican Glenn Hegar in the general election; if she wins, she will become the first CPA to ever serve as Texas comptroller, the office that oversees the state’s $248 billion budget.
Noted philosopher Donald Rumsfeld once quipped that nations go to war with the army they have, not the army they want. This year’s Democratic candidates may not be anyone’s idea of a dream team (where are the Castro brothers?), but it appears to be the best the party could assemble. And hey, it could be worse—at least Lupe Valdez isn’t at the top of the ticket this time.