Republican Pete Flores and Democrat Pete Gallego are headed to a runoff in the special election to replace convicted former state Sen. Carlos Uresti, D-San Antonio.
With all precincts reporting Tuesday night, Flores led Gallego by 5 percentage points, 34 percent to 29 percent, according to unofficial returns. At 24 percent, state Rep. Roland Gutierrez of San Antonio came in third in the eight-way race, and he conceded in a statement. The five other candidates were in single digits, including Uresti’s brother, outgoing state Rep. Tomas Uresti of San Antonio.
The first-place finish by Flores, who unsuccessfully challenged Carlos Uresti in 2016, is a boon to Republicans in the Democratic-leaning district. In the home stretch of the race, he benefited from a raft of endorsements from Texas’ top elected officials including Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and U.S. Sens. John Cornyn and Ted Cruz.
Flores, a former Texas game warden, was the best-known of three Republicans on the ballot Tuesday. He received 40 percent of the vote against Carlos Uresti two years ago in SD-19, which encompasses a 17-county area that starts on San Antonio’s East Side and sprawls hundreds of miles west.
Flores is being given a lot of credit for finishing first and for leading the vote on Tuesday, likely helped by the late endorsements he got from Greg Abbott and Dan Patrick. That said, he was (barely) in third place after early voting, and the overall partisan tally was 59.3% to 39.6% for the Democratic candidates combined versus the Republicans. That’s in a district that went for Carlos Uresti 55.9 to 40.4 in 2016 (and Uresti was the best-performing Dem in 2016), and was basically 50-50 in 2014. In other words, Dems outperformed their 2016 baseline by four points (more like seven points if you compare to other races) and outperformed their 2014 baseline by about 19 points. Call me crazy, but that doesn’t look like a bad result to me.
Now of course, the Republicans are going to pour a bunch of money into the runoff, in part because Flores made a decent showing and in part because winning that seat (which won’t come up for election again until 2020) would give them a commanding 21-10 margin in the Senate pending any Democratic pickups this November. This seat has a lot of value, in both real and symbolic terms. Pete Gallego is the favorite, but nothing can be taken for granted here. I don’t know exactly when the runoff will be, but this is the race you need to be paying attention to right now.