Just one of the now 17 state Senate districts on the ballot this year is competitive from a partisan perspective, and that’s largely because of the incumbent’s party.
SD19 (Lean Democratic) sprawls across all or part of 17 counties from the east side of Bexar County to west of the Pecos River, touching the border of New Mexico while a long swath of the border with Mexico.
Sen. Pete Flores (R-Pleasanton) is the first Republican to serve SD19, wherever it has been located, since 1879. He is the first person outside San Antonio to hold the seat since 1966. Flores defeated former Rep. and U.S. Rep. Pete Gallego (D-Alpine), 53%-47%, in a September 2018 special runoff election, becoming the first Hispanic/Latino Republican ever elected to the Senate. Flores finished first out of an eight-way special election after running up large margins in Atascosa and Medina Cos., which were again key to his runoff victory.
Flores won 10 of the district’s 17 counties in the runoff election, taking 73% of the vote in those counties, where 13.8% of registered voters cast ballots. Gallego won the other seven counties with 56% of the vote, and turnout was considerably lower (7.7%) in those counties. Gallego won Bexar Co. by 1,700 votes. He needed 2,700 more. Bexar Co.’s turnout, which has historically been paltry during special elections, was 7.1%, third lowest of the district’s 17 counties.
Gallego received barely half the number of votes in Bexar Co. that were cast in the Democratic primary earlier that year. In other words, there were enough votes there to keep the seat in Democratic hands, but they did not turn out.
The seat opened because of the resignation of former Sen. Carlos Uresti (D-San Antonio) four months after his conviction on 11 felony fraud counts. He would begin a five-year federal prison sentence in 2019.
The Race in 2020
Flores faces Rep. Roland Gutierrez (D-San Antonio), who finished third in that 2018 special election. Gutierrez won the Democratic nomination in a runoff. Libertarian Jo-Anne Valdivia is also on the ballot. Flores is seeking a full term as he faces general election voters for the second time. Flores lost to Uresti, 56%-44%, in the 2016 general election.
Flores has narrowly out-raised Gutierrez, $481K to $445K, for the election cycle, but the incumbent did not have to wage an expensive battle for his party’s nomination. The incumbent entered the second half of this year with a $550K advantage in cash on hand. Neither candidate will be short on cash going forward.
Like much of South and West Texas, SD19 is growing steadily friendlier to Republicans, but it remains quite friendly to Democrats. It was 9.1 points bluer that the state as a whole in 2018, down from 12.0 points bluer than the state in 2016 and 13.4 points bluer in 2012. The average Democrat has typically gotten between 52% and 56% of the vote since 2002. Unlike most districts, there is no particular trend in partisan lean here.
No statewide Republican won the district in 2018, but Gov. Greg Abbott (R) came close, narrowly losing to then-Dallas Co. Sheriff Lupe Valdez by less than 2 points. Former U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-El Paso) beat U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R) by 14.4 points here that year, a slight increase over Hillary Clinton’s 11.5-point victory over Donald Trump two years earlier. In 2012, then-President Obama carried the district by 10.5 points over Mitt Romney.
Democrats have held a significant advantage in straight-party voting in this district so far this decade. The estimated straight-party advantage was 31K votes in 2016, up from 27K votes in 2012. The Democratic advantage was estimated to be 22K in 2018, up significantly from 7K in 2014. Flores lost the full-ballot vote to Uresti by 6 points, measured head-to-head.
Our model places SD19 within 0.07 percentage points of the Likely Democratic column. It projects a 9- to 11-point Gutierrez victory. It is projected to be a full 2 points bluer than CD23, which overlaps this district considerably. That district is a national battleground, likely to attract significant outside spending.
The Rest of the Senate
The next most “competitive” districts held by Republicans and on the ballot this year are SD12 (Likely Republican), projected to be 6.3 points redder than the state, and SD11 (Likely Republican), 7.4 points redder. Those districts are held by Sens. Jane Nelson (R-Flower Mound) and Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood), respectively. Seven other Republican-held districts are projected more likely to flip, at least if they were on the ballot.
The next most “competitive” districts held by Democrats are SD21 (Likely Democratic), which is projected to be 13.4 points bluer than the state as a whole, and SD20 (Likely Democratic), 13.4 points bluer). Those districts are held by Sens. Judith Zaffirini (D-Laredo) and Chuy Hinojosa (D-McAllen), respectively. Two other Democrat-held districts would be more likely to flip than these two, but they are not up for election this year after being flipped two years ago.
©2020 Texas Election Source LLC