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Analysis: Down the Ballot, Few Races in November

Political mapmakers have moved most of the real competition for congressional and legislative races in Texas to the March primaries. The November general elections will feature only a dozen or so real contests on the ballot.

The Texas House has 95 Republicans and 55 Democrats. Don’t be surprised if November's general election leaves the numbers relatively unchanged.

This is the benefit or the price, depending on your point of view, of partisan redistricting. The mapmakers are so effective at what they do that one party or the other more or less owns each congressional and legislative district in Texas. As a practical matter, that puts most of the competition for those seats in the March primaries, when Republicans and Democrats fight for the nominations to the seats their parties already control.

That process ends with next month’s runoff elections.­­­ In the House, nine Republican and two Democratic races are still undecided. An early list of competitive November races — this is in a House with 150 seats — comes in under a dozen. Put another way, there are about as many competitive races in the party runoffs as in the November general election.

In the Senate, there are only two runoffs — both in the Republican primaries. And in November, only the SD-10 seat — now held by Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth — looks from this distance like a genuinely competitive two-party contest. 

The 36-member congressional ballot is just as imbalanced, with three runoffs (all Republican) next month and only one obviously competitive November race, in the 23rd Congressional District, where freshman Democrat Pete Gallego of Alpine is the incumbent. Democrats are starting to talk hopefully about the chances for Wesley Craig Reed, the challenger to U.S. Rep. Blake Farenthold, R-Corpus Christi. That district, CD-27, was drawn to favor Republicans, however, and part of Reed’s challenge will be to overcome that advantage in a midterm election year with an unpopular Democratic president in office.

That’s the problem for challengers with these maps: Barring the unexpected — scandal, death, resignations that come too late for candidates to be replaced — most races will be over by the end of next month, if they aren’t over already.

Those are most of the caveats, along with the usual one: It’s early, and things will change. All that said, here is an early list of House races to watch in November, mostly because they are in the handful of swing districts that remain on the map.

Keeping score? That list includes four seats currently held by Republicans that the Democrats would like to take away, and five Democratic seats that the Republicans hope to grab. At the extremes, that would mean the Texas House would convene with 91 to 100 Republicans and 50 to 59 Democrats in January 2015 — about where it is today.

The state Senate currently has 19 Republicans and 12 Democrats, with one Democratic seat in play. And the state’s delegation to Congress has 24 Republicans and 12 Democrats, with a Democratic seat at the top of national lists of swing seats for both parties, and a Republican seat on the Democratic wish list. Both the Senate and the congressional delegation — at least on a partisan basis — should look about the same in January as they do now.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at http://www.texastribune.org/2014/04/30/analysis-down-ballot-few-races-november/.

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