This election cycle, Texas defied all expectations by becoming something of a battleground state. During next month’s midterms (November 6), races across the state that had been boring—mostly between incumbent Republicans and Democratic challengers—are now intriguing, and several of these have direct ties to Houston. Chances of an upset are remote in some cases, a serious possibility in others. The only certainty? We’ll be watching. Here are four you might want to keep an eye on, too:
The seat: U.S. Senator, Texas
The match: U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R) vs. U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D)
Of note: Despite being the incumbent and making a decent run for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016, Cruz has found himself having to work harder than expected to hold his seat, deep in the throes of a surprising fight against O’Rourke, a Kennedy-esque up-and-comer from El Paso.
Why to bet on Cruz: He’s got plenty of campaign money, he's a household name nationwide, and Texas hasn’t elected a Democrat to statewide office since 1994. What he lacks in charm, Cruz more than makes up for in political savvy: It’s proven all too easy for him to paint O’Rourke as a bleeding-heart liberal—the kiss of death in this kind of race.
Why to bet on O’Rourke: He’s pulled off an impressive feat, campaigning nonstop, hitting all 254 counties in the state, and raising more money via grassroots donations than anyone thought possible. He’s also been polling better than any other Texas Democrat running this year in a statewide election, with some showing him within just a few points of Cruz as of this writing.
The seat: U.S. Representative, Texas District 7
The match: U.S. Rep. John Culberson (R) vs. Lizzie Pannill Fletcher (D)
Of note: District 7 in West Houston has been held by Republicans since George H.W. Bush was first elected to Congress in 1966, but many now believe that the seat is in play because of changing demographics and lingering anger over fallout from Hurricane Harvey—the Addicks and Barker reservoirs flooded the district’s neighborhoods during and after the storm, and relief was slow to arrive, according to many residents.
Why to bet on Culberson: He’s held this seat for the past 17 years and, in 2016, won re-election by about a dozen points.
Why to bet on Pannill Fletcher: The district has gotten younger and more diverse in the past decade, and Hillary Clinton carried it over President Donald Trump in 2016. Pannill Fletcher, a local attorney, won the Democratic nomination in a tough primary that garnered national attention, making her mark by running a smart campaign and raising a lot of money. If she can tie Culberson to Trump and tap into frustration over flooding, she may take the seat.
The seat: Texas State Senator, District 17
The match: State Sen. Joan Huffman (R) vs. Rita Lucido (D)
Of note: While Texas Monthly named Huffman one of the most valuable state legislators of the 2017 session, she also spent a lot of time last year supporting the more extreme causes of the state GOP, backing both the fight against the “bathroom bill” and efforts to restrict access to abortion. This race could be a test of how much voters care (or don’t care) about what went on during the 85th Biennial State Legislative Session.
Why to bet on Huffman: As the Republican incumbent, she managed to put together a bill to reform Houston’s pension problems, likely saving the city from bankruptcy. So she has that to her credit—and that’s a lot.
Why to bet on Lucido: While the strangely shaped district—which runs from West Houston down to Freeport, cutting through six counties along the way—has been reliably Republican, this is another situation in which the makeup of the community has been shifting. Trump carried this area in 2016, but it was by less than a point. Enter Lucido, a local attorney described by the Chron as “tough as nails,” who has campaigned on a promise to actually get things done at next year’s legislative session, perhaps music to the ears of some voters.
The seat: Harris County Judge
The match: Judge Ed Emmett (R) vs. Lina Hidalgo (D)
Of note: Emmett has been involved in local and state politics since 1978, when he won his first race, for a seat in the state House of Representatives. He was appointed Harris County Judge in 2007 after his predecessor stepped down, and since then he’s become something of an institution in this town, the rare politician to be admired by both sides. Still, the Democrats have tapped Hidalgo, a young progressive and the kind of candidate the Dems probably wouldn’t waste on a race they viewed as unwinnable.
Why to bet on Emmett: On top of his bipartisan appeal, Emmett worked round the clock to help manage the city during Harvey, despite having suffered a minor stroke just days before. People haven’t forgotten that.
Why to bet on Hidalgo: Harris County finally went solidly blue for the first time in 2016, with Democrats taking every countywide seat on the ballot and Clinton beating Trump by more than 160,000 votes. Hidalgo—a Harvard grad and Colombian immigrant—is exactly the kind of candidate who could attract widespread support among Dems and the Latino community.