Gov. Abbott wins re-election as other statewide Republicans claim victory
AUSTIN — Gov. Greg Abbott and Republican statewide candidates down-ballot handily won re-election Tuesday, keeping Texas government in GOP hands and shutting out Democrats for a 24th year.
The tightest re-election race was that of first-term Attorney General Ken Paxton, who fended off a competitive challenge from Democrat Justin Nelson, an Austin-based attorney who sought to make Paxton’s legal troubles central to the contest.
Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, Land Commissioner George P. Bush, Railroad Commissioner Christi Craddick and Comptroller Glenn Hegar won their races. Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller was leading by late Tuesday night.
Democrats haven’t won a statewide election since 1994. But they benefited Tuesday from the spirited campaign of Democrat Beto O’Rourke, who turned out voters in droves in his bid to unseat Republican U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz.
The tight margins, however, didn’t trickle down to all statewide races. Abbott won comfortably over Democratic challenger Lupe Valdez, the former Dallas County sheriff.
“We all know that this past year has been filled with campaigns that have battled under different banners. There’s been the red team versus the blue team. Well, now that elections are over and the people have spoken, it is time for all of us to unite under the best banner of them all and that is the great flag of the Lone Star State of Texas,” said Abbott, 60, at an election night event in Austin.
While Abbott was leading by a wide margin, it wasn’t nearly as commanding as his first win in 2014. Then, he beat Democrat Wendy Davis by more than 20 percentage points.
Abbott far out-raised Valdez and at one point counted more than $40 million in his campaign war chest. Ultimately, he funneled some of that money to Paxton and to vulnerable GOP state senators and representatives locked in contested races. In the final weeks before Election Day, Abbott spent more time boosting other Republicans than his own candidacy.
Felisha Bull, a 27-year-old who attended Abbott’s election night celebration, was skeptical of a so-called blue wave this year.
“I think the blue wave is coming, but I don’t think it’s coming this year,” said Bull, who works in Austin. “The GOP needs to look at growing trends of voters and realize they have a serious issue (with engaging young people), or we’re going to look up in a few years and realize we’re not the majority anymore.”
Valdez, meanwhile, touted the strong voter turnout and told supporters she called Abbott to concede.
“(This year) has made us all a team. A team against the team of hatefulness and division,” Valdez said at an election night event in Austin. “The team that says this is not the Texas brand. We stepped out of our comfort zone and out of our echo chambers and committed to hearing each other. And in that progress we learn that compromise is not a bad word, and that reaching across the aisle can build partnership that will carry us forward for years to come.”
Many Republican statewide candidates, including Patrick and Bush, spent little time this election cycle rallying voters or hosting town hall meetings. But by Tuesday night most had won, or were leading, the contested races.
Paxton ran a largely quiet campaign while Nelson showered voters with $3 million worth of reminders about Paxton’s unresolved criminal indictment.
Paxton has yet to go to trial on a trio of white-collar crimes charges, including felony securities fraud, although a federal judge dismissed similar charges in civil court. A series of delays put off Paxton’s trial until after the election.
Perhaps sensing a tightening race, Paxton changed tactics just weeks before the election. The tea party Republican ramped up his fundraising as Abbott poured more than $350,000 worth of polling and political advertising into Paxton’s campaign. The attorney general began running television ads in October casting Nelson as opposed to border security, comments Nelson’s campaign said were false.
Miller led Tuesday night in his first re-election bid to oversee the Department of Agriculture despite failing to earn the endorsement of key groups of farmers and ranchers. “With God’s grace and a little cowboy logic, I will make the most of the trust you have placed in me and together, we will succeed!” Miller posted on Facebook.
Miller made several enemies during his first term after raising fees and picking fights with barbecue restaurants and gas stations. However, the former rodeo cowboy is best known for controversy. He was investigated by the Texas Rangers for taking trips to Oklahoma and Mississippi using government funds to compete in a rodeo and obtain a so-called “Jesus shot” to cure back pain. He later paid back the money and no charges were filed. He is also known for engaging in culture wars on social media. He has been criticized for using his bully pulpit to suggest the United States drop an atomic bomb on the “Muslim world,” joke about suicide, spread fake news and shared a message referring to then-presidential candidate Hillary Clinton as a vulgar four-letter word.
Kim Olson, a Democrat, pilot, retired lieutenant colonel and bee-keeper, ran against him. Although she raised a comparable amount of money in the race and toured the state, she failed to win endorsements from several major conservative agricultural groups that refused to support Miller.
Patrick, who presides over the state Senate, defeated Mike Collier, a Kingwood Democrat who made school finance and property tax reform a primary issue in the race.
Bush, the land commissioner, beat out Democrat Miguel Suazo, to win a second term. Bush has led an ambitious effort to overhaul Alamo Plaza in San Antonio, which earned criticism from Suazo over a planned relocation of the Cenotaph.
“I’m honored Texans have voted to continue strong leadership in the Texas General Land Office,” Bush said on Twitter. “We reduced the size of government, housed thousands after #HurricaneHarvey, and saved the Alamo. Thank you for another great victory. We’re just getting started.”
Craddick defeated Democrat Roman McAllen in her campaign for a second term on the Railroad Commission. The three-member panel regulates the state oil and gas industries. Hegar also won another term, defeating Democrat Joi Chevalier.
Catherine Marfin contributed reporting from Austin.