Long before the seat opened up here in Texas Senate District 19, state Rep. Roland Gutierrez was traveling the massive district, making friends as far west as Big Bend National Park’s Brewster County in anticipation of the fate that would ultimately meet the embattled incumbent, Carlos Uresti.
Late Thursday morning, though, Gutierrez found himself much closer to home, knocking on doors in the heart of his House district on San Antonio’s southeast side, where he encountered a number of familiar faces. He reminded them he has represented them for 13 years — three as their City Council member, 10 as their state representative.
Gutierrez is going to need all the support he can get in the area Tuesday, when voters head to the polls in the eight-way race to replace Uresti, who resigned last month after being found guilty of 11 felonies including securities fraud and money laundering. Gutierrez’s toughest opponent is fellow Democrat Pete Gallego, who entered the abbreviated special election with loads of name recognition as a former congressman and longtime state lawmaker from West Texas.
“I don’t think there’s any doubt in anyone’s mind that we’re the underdog in this thing,” Gutierrez said in an interview, noting the millions of dollars that have been spent in Gallego’s congressional races building his name ID in the area. “At the end of the day, you need more than that. You need certainly all of the elements of character and integrity and desire, but you’ve got to put in the work.”
Complicating the dynamic between Gallego and Gutierrez is a growing Republican effort to unify behind a single candidate — Pete Flores, who ran against Uresti in 2016 — and send him to a runoff in the Democratic-leaning district. That movement became clearer than ever Thursday when Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick jumped into the fray, endorsing Flores over his two lesser-known GOP rivals.
“We feel like we’re likely in the range and we have a good chance to be in a runoff,” said Matt Mackowiak, a Republican strategist working for Flores. “We’re doing more this week than we’ve ever done.”
Gutierrez outspent Gallego more than 2 to 1 in the first 21 days of July — $251,000 to $97,000 — working to overcome his disadvantages, according to their latest filings with the Texas Ethics Commission. Part of Gutierrez’s spending went toward a TV buy attacking Gallego as a “career politician,” telling voters they “fired him from Congress, and now he wants to bring his tired ideas to our Texas state Senate.”
Gallego, for his part, is more than okay with being the known entity in the race, a steady presence after the stormy waters of the recent Uresti era. The former state senator was sentenced to 12 years in prison last month in the fraud case, which stemmed from his work with a now-defunct oil field services company that was found to have perpetrated a Ponzi scheme.
“The experience, the roots, the knowledge — all of those, I think, make me the best candidate,” Gallego said in an interview. “I think people want a familiar face. These are really difficult times.”
See here for some background. Carlos Uresti won re-election over Pete Flores in 2016 by a 55.9 to 40.4 margin, and Uresti was the best performer among Democrats. It’s entirely plausible to me that Flores will make it to the runoff, and honestly I’m a little surprised that Republicans hadn’t lined up behind him before now; Patrick’s endorsement came after the end of early voting. A Pete Gallego-Roland Gutierrez runoff is also possible – I’d very much prefer that – but as is always the case with special elections it depends on who shows up. As has been the case with the other two specials so far, this one has felt pretty quiet so far, but a D-versus-R runoff would change that. If you’re in the district, how has this race looked to you?