Lege, Statewide, and Beyond

What does Trump's toxicity mean for downballot races?

Lege, Statewide, and Beyond
Photo by Jana Birchum

The brutal truth is that Republican presi­dential nominee Donald Trump could, as he once jokingly threatened, shoot someone in the middle of New York's Fifth Avenue and not lose voters – well, at least not enough to lose Texas. However, he currently only holds the state with a 6% margin. If that number carries on to November, that would be the narrowest GOP victory in the state since Bob Dole beat Bill Clinton by five points in 1996. So the big question is, what does that mean for the downballot and statewide races?

Democrats are probably cursing that neither of the state's U.S. Senate seats are up for grabs this year (especially that of Sen. Ted Cruz, whose political career appears to be on life support). They're also probably kicking themselves for not running more candidates in a year in which red-leaning seats in the Legislature and Congress could become toss-ups. There are also some embarrassments on the statewide slate, such as seasoned former House member Lon Burnam losing to perennial election gadfly Grady Yarbrough in the Railroad Commis­sioner primary.

That doesn't mean uncontested races in Austin's six seats in the Texas House. Two Dems face no challengers: Former AISD board president Gina Hinojosa will replace retiring veteran lawmaker Elliott Naishtat in House District 49, while Eddie Rodriguez will return for an eighth term in HD 51. And two more should win easily: one-termer Celia Israel against Republican Ceasar Ruiz in HD 50, and HD 48's Donna Howard over multi-time Libertarian challenger Ben Easton.

That leaves two potentially competitive races. First, HD 47 Democrat Ana Jordan looks to oust the area's sole GOP rep, Paul Workman; that may seem an uphill struggle, but between the Trump factor, and Libertarian Scott McKinlay, not so steep a challenge as might have been predicted. Much more of a nail-biter will be HD 46: 11-term incumbent Dawnna Dukes has seemed invulnerable, but a criminal investigation into expenses by the Texas Rangers, plus a series of embarrassing headlines about campaign finance reports, has Dems concerned about what Republican Gabriel Nila and Libertarian Kevin Ludlow could do to her numbers.

There's one headline race on the Senate side of the dome. With Republican Troy Fraser retiring, Democrat and Llano rancher Virginia "Jennie Lou" Leeder goes to battle against both Republican candidate and Austin doctor Dawn Buckingham and a heavily gerrymandered district map. Mean­while, both Republican Lois Kolkhorst and Democrat Judith Zaffirini, whose districts barely pass through Travis County, return with no opposition.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

Legislature, November 2016 Elections, House District 49, Gina Hinojosa, Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, House District 46, Dawnna Dukes

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