Former Sen. Carlos Uresti’s (D-San Antonio) resignation following his conviction on felony corruption charges triggered a special election to fill his unexpired term. Gov. Greg Abbott (R) decided the district should not wait until November to have “effective representation” and ordered an emergency special election for July 31, just six weeks after he signed the proclamation.
At the time Abbott ordered the election, we speculated that its timing gave a Republican candidate a shot at making the runoff and, potentially, picking up the seat. We projected that candidate to be Pleasanton retired game warden Pete Flores, who received 40% of the vote in the 2016 general election for the seat. Flores is indeed a candidate in the special election, but two other Republicans filed, likely splitting the vote in a way that keeps them all out of a runoff. Flores has not received a campaign contribution in over a year, and the other two Republican candidates reported no contributions in their most recent reports.
Thus, the eight-person race has essentially already boiled down to just two: former Rep. and U.S. Rep. Pete Gallego (D-Alpine) and Rep. Roland Gutierrez (D-San Antonio). Together, they account for practically 100% of all contributions received by, expenditures made by and cash on hand for all the candidates during the election cycle. Two other Democrats filed, including Rep. Tomás Uresti (D-San Antonio), the brother of the former incumbent who lost his own re-election bid in March. The final candidate is Libertarian Tony Valdivia, who ran for president as a write-in in 2016 and received 11% of the vote in a 2017 San Antonio council race.
Gutierrez holds key campaign finance advantages over Gallego, but Gallego has demonstrated the ability to match Gutierrez’s fundraising ability, at least during the reporting period covered by the candidates’ 30-day-out reports. Gutierrez narrowly out-raised Gallego, $184K to $173K, for the period, which began on January 1 for Gutierrez and March 27 for Gallego. Since March 27, Gallego has out-raised Gutierrez, $173K to $114K. Gutierrez raised $228K prior to that date, of which $158K occurred in prior reporting periods.
Gutierrez has outspent Gallego, $126K to $18K, for the reporting period and $250K to $18K since January 2017. Gutierrez has the advantage in cash on hand, $196K to $130K.
Unsurprisingly, San Antonio (32%) and Austin (26%) are the biggest geographical sources of contributions in the race so far. About 20% of contributions have come from zip codes located wholly or partially within SD19. Gallego has out-raised Gutierrez, $64K to $39K, from district zip codes, representing 37% of Gallego’s total contributions and 11% of Gutierrez’s. Nearly two thirds of all contributions have come from individuals. Gutierrez has out-raised Gallego, $178K to $161K, from individuals, and he has out-raised Gallego, $163K to $12K, from PACs and other entities.
Gallego’s largest contributors are San Antonio political consultant Christian Archer ($21K), Alpine telephone company executive Justin Haynes ($15K) and Dallas retiree John Davis Jr. ($6K). Gutierrez’s largest contributors so far this cycle are San Antonio general contractor Chester Drash Jr. ($13K), Texas Assoc. of Realtors TREPAC ($10K), Border Health PAC ($10K), San Antonio attorney David Earl ($10K), Austin lobbyist Rusty Kelley ($10K) and Houston rancher Oscar Wyatt Jr. ($10K).
Gallego's Top Contributors
$21,000 – Christian Archer
$15,000 – Justin Haynes
$5,500 – John Davis Jr.
$5,400 – Gary and Gwen Gilmer, Stephen Silberstein
$5,000 – Magdalena Montelongo, Texas Consumer Finance Assoc. PAC
$4,000 – Texas Democratic Party
Gutierrez's Top Contributors
$12,500 – Chester Drash Jr.
$10,301 – Texas Assoc. of Realtors TREPAC
$10,000 – Border Health PAC, David Earl, Rusty Kelley, Oscar Wyatt Jr.
$9,000 – Lamantia family (Anthony, Greg, Joe III)
$8,719 – Blackridge
$8,000 – Alan Harper
$7,500 – Beer Alliance of Texas PAC, Texas Automobile Dealers Assoc. PAC
$7,000 – Texas Trial Lawyers Assoc. PAC
$6,339 – Wholesale Beer Distributors of Texas PAC
$6,000 – USAA PAC
$5,218 – Focused Advocacy PAC
$5,500 – HillCo PAC
$5,000 – Chickasaw Nation PAC, Mark Granados, W.D. Hord III, John Scott, Tom Rhodes Law Firm PC
$4,000 – Texas Democratic Party
Gutierrez got a month’s head start on Gallego. Shortly after Uresti’s conviction, Gutierrez said it was time for the district “to move on.” Gutierrez said at the time he would be talking with constituents about how to move forward. On March 1, his campaign said he would soon make “an important announcement on his plans for working together with the communities” of SD19. On March 10, he announced his candidacy even though the seat was not up for election until 2020 (Although convicted of a felony, Uresti could continue to serve until the legal process was completed.). Gallego formed a campaign committee on March 27 and began accepting contributions. On that day, the Gutierrez campaign released a list of endorsements, bringing his total to 76. Gallego announced his campaign on April 5.
Gutierrez currently represents 47 of the district’s Bexar Co. precincts and no part of its remaining 16 counties. To Gutierrez’s benefit, Bexar Co. is home to about 60% of the district’s registered voters, and he should fare well there. In a 2012 Democratic primary for CD23, Gallego received just 23% of the vote in the Bexar Co. precincts located in both CD23 and SD19, falling far behind the 64% received by former U.S. Rep. Ciro Rodriguez (D-San Antonio), who represented portions of Bexar Co. in the state House (1987-97) and U.S. House (1997-2005, 2007-11). Gallego has not carried Bexar Co. in any of his three general election races for Congress.
Of concern is Bexar Co.’s recent low – in some cases, historically low – turnout in special elections that do not coincide with a general election. Fewer than 5% of registered voters cast ballots in a hotly contested SD26 special election featuring two local sitting representatives in January 2015. An early August 2016 runoff election for HD120 drew just 1.3% turnout, and it was won by an independent candidate over a Democrat.
Geography may be Gallego’s biggest advantage in this race. He has represented all of part of 15 of the district’s 17 counties during the past decade, either as a state House member (HD74) or a member of Congress (CD23). However, he has lost two consecutive general elections for the latter seat and did not seek it this year. Further, his share of the vote in most of those counties has declined steadily since 2008.
During the previous redistricting cycle (2002-10), Gallego represented HD74, which was comprised of 13 counties, all of which lie within the current boundaries of CD23 and seven of which lie within SD19. In the 2008 general election, Gallego defeated Fort Stockton rancher T.C. Kincaid, Jr., 64%-36%. Two years later, in a rematch, Gallego’s margin of victory over Kincaid dropped by half to 55%-45%. In and of itself, that drop was similar to declines in Democratic performance across the state for an election that saw Republicans gain 23 seats in the state House and three seats in the congressional delegation.
However, his decline continued during his congressional campaigns. Gallego received 53% of the vote in his then-current House district in 2012, a decline of 11 percentage points from his 2008 re-election race. He received 48% of the vote in his former House district in 2016.
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In those seven counties located in SD19, Gallego received 64% of the vote in 2008, 54% in 2012 and 48% in 2016, an overall decline of 16 percentage points. Within the 15 counties of CD23 that lie within SD19, Gallego received 57% of the vote in 2012 and 51% in 2016, a decline of 6 percentage points, which matches the same cycle-to-cycle decline in the seven counties he formerly represented in the state House.
Of course, these percentages were in general elections, where Gallego faced a Republican opponent and, typically, a Libertarian opponent in counties where Libertarians tend to overperform their state averages. That’s not the race he faces here.
Perhaps the 2012 Democratic primary and runoff for CD23 are more instructive. In the primary, Gallego finished second behind Rodriguez, 46%-41% (Here we are looking at all of CD23, not just the portion within SD19.). A third candidate received the other 13%. Gallego went on to defeat Rodriguez, 55%-45%, in a runoff in which 27% fewer people cast ballots. Gallego received 2% fewer votes in the runoff than in the primary, while Rodriguez lost nearly 30% of his primary voters. However, there are Republicans and a Libertarian in this SD19 race.
Special elections lie somewhere in between a primary and a general, except that their turnout is often much lower than either. Turnout is typically south of 10% for special elections held on a date other than a general election. Adding to the likelihood of low turnout is the election’s timing, which has truncated the campaign to just a few weeks in the middle of summer. A similarly timed special runoff election for SD4 drew fewer than 1 out of every 20 registered voters four years ago.
Strange things can happen when turnout is less than 5%. In this case, a runoff is highly likely, and it’s likely to involve the two Democratic frontrunners, unless Republican voters coalesce around Flores and turn out to vote. Had he been the only Republican, we would not have been surprised to see Flores place first in the initial vote. The presence of the two other Republicans and the lack of resources for anyone not named Gallego and Gutierrez make that outcome unlikely. An outright Gutierrez win would likely require significantly higher Democratic turnout in Bexar Co. than has been the recent trend.
We will take another look at this race before Election Day.
©2018 Texas Election Source LLC