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More moderate Democrats prevailed in two key primary ballots Tuesday in South Texas, while a third was too close to be called.
As Republicans race to secure seats in what has become a more competitive part of the state, the runoffs hold high stakes for Democrats who have seen their grip on Texas’ Deep South — which is mostly Hispanic and always favored the Democrats – getting weaker.
In the race to replace incumbent Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr., D-Brownsville, Morgan LaMantia defeated Sara Stapleton-Barrera in the runoff of the Democratic primaries for Texas Senate District 27. LaMantia got 57% of the vote to Stapleton-Barrera’s 43%. .
Luis Villarreal defeated Ruben Cortez to be the Democratic nominee for Texas House District 37, a new battleground district Republicans placed in the Rio Grande Valley in the final round of redistricting. Villarreal got 52% of the vote against 48% for Cortez.
And in the 15th congressional district, Michelle Vallejo came out of election night just 23 votes ahead of Ruben Ramirez. The race had not been announced early Wednesday morning.
“Although the race is too close to announce, we are encouraged by the clear path to victory,” Vallejo said in a statement.
In the most publicized Democratic primary runoff in South Texas, U.S. Representative Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo, declared victory Tuesday night while challenger Jessica Cisneros refused to concede. Cuellar had a lead of 177 votes.
The wins for LaMantia and Villarreal are wins for a more pragmatic Democratic brand in the mold of Lucio, who had endorsed them both. Their two opponents – Stapleton-Barrera and Cortez – had challenged Lucio in the 2020 primary.
While the Cuellar-Cisneros contest captured national attention, the other three Democratic polls in South Texas highlighted clear differences among Democrats heading into November’s general election.
In the 15th congressional district, Ramirez openly ran as a moderate, while Vallejo proudly campaigned as a progressive. They have split on issues such as the single-payer health care system known as Medicare for All, with Vallejo supporting it and Ramirez opposing it.
In Texas Senate District 27, LaMantia ran as a more traditional Democrat with support from Lucio, though she distanced herself from some of her less popular positions in the Democratic Party, including her opposition. to abortion. Stapleton-Barrera campaigned on a more progressive platform, including a tougher defense of abortion rights.
LaMantia was far better funded than his opponent, receiving nearly $3 million in loans from his family, owners of South Texas beer distributor L&F Distributors.
And in Texas House District 37, Villarreal, a former aide to Lucio, was quick to bring up his former boss’s politics, promising to work with both sides in Austin to get things done for the Rio Grande Valley. . Cortez, a member of the State Board of Education, campaigned as a stronger advocate for democratic values, vowing to fight for teachers and women targeted by the state’s rightward shift last year.
Given that Stapleton-Barrera and Cortez showed up against Lucio two years ago, their Tuesday playoffs served as something of a grudge match between the powerful incumbent and his intraparty critics. The runoff for HD-37 became particularly nasty as Lucio became more involved towards the end, accusing Cortez of being an uneducated deadbeat.
There were also clear divisions on immigration. More moderate Democrats, like Ramirez and LaMantia, disagreed with President Joe Biden’s decision to end Title 42, the pandemic-era policy border officials use to quickly deport migrants, while their opponents supported it. LaMantia even aired TV ads criticizing Biden’s handling of the border.
All three districts are expected to be competitive in November given that Biden would have taken them to single digits. Republicans are especially motivated to flip the 15th congressional district, which they see as one of their best pick-up opportunities nationwide — and effectively the centerpiece of their South Texas offense.
In each district, the Republicans have already chosen their candidate for the March primary. The GOP candidate for the 15th congressional district is Monica De La Cruz, who ran against Gonzalez in 2020 and surprisingly nearly unseated him. The Republican nominee for Texas Senate District 27 is Adam Hinojosa, a Corpus Christi business owner. And the GOP nominee for Texas House District 37 is San Benito School Board Vice President Janie Lopez.
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