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Blue Wave hits Texas, but spares Sen. Ted Cruz

November 7, 2018

A national Blue Wave washed into Texas, producing the state’s closest U.S. Senate race in 40 years, launching record numbers of Texas women into Congress and putting longtime GOP incumbents in Congress from Dallas and Houston out of office.

In the first nationwide elections since President Donald Trump took office, a record number of Texans went to the polls and boosted Democrats statewide. Races for Lieutenant Governor, Attorney General and the U.S. Senate were all closer than the state has seen in decades.

One of the few to be unaffected by the wave was Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, who cruised to victory over former Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez, the underfunded Democrat who trailed in fund-raising and the polls for the entire contest. Abbott and Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush, another Republican, had dominating leads and were expected to easily gain new 4-year terms in office.

The wave also appeared to be remaking the Texas Congressional delegation into a younger, bluer and more diverse delegation with more women than ever before. With at least two Congressional incumbents having lost in Dallas and Houston, Texas was on the verge of losing at least 10 members of Congress to retirements or election defeats in 2018 — a new record for the state.

In Houston, U.S. Rep. John Culberson conceded defeat as Democrat Lizzie Fletcher won one of the most watched races in the nation. Culberson was trying to hold the 7th Congressional District in the Houston suburbs that Hillary Clinton won in 2016 against Trump. In Dallas, former NFL player Colin Allred was declared the winner over U.S. Rep. Pete Sessions in another district where Clinton did well against Trump.

Fletcher and Allred helped assure Democrats would regain control in the U.S. House. Democrats needed to pick up 23 seats this year to pull that off. With the wins of Allred and Fletcher, the party was guaranteed to get to that number.

“I’ve been saying all day that this is the most important election of my lifetime,” Fletcher said, tearing up. “And it isn’t because my name is on the ballot. My name is on the ballot because it’s the most important election of our lifetime.”

Texas is guaranteed to have more women in the halls of Congress than ever before. In Houston, Democrat Sylvia Garcia beat Republican Philip Aronoff and in El Paso Democrat Veronica Escobar defeated Republican Rick Seeberger. They join U.S. Reps Eddie Bernice Johnson, D-Dallas; Kay Granger, R-Fort Worth, and Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Houston.

The growing voice of women from Texas wasn’t lost on Fletcher supporter Saher Hyderali.

“We need more women in Congress,” she said from Fletcher’s victory party in Houston. “Clearly the men aren’t getting the job done.”

Garcia and Escobar also assured Texas will send its first Latinas to Congress. And Houston, by sending Garcia, will for the first time in history be sending someone who is Hispanic to Congress.

But while races in suburban Houston districts were closer than at any time in recent history, key Republicans appeared to be surviving easily, including retired Navy SEAL Dan Crenshaw, who was on pace to defeat Democrat Todd Litton.

Not just a military veteran, Crenshaw, 34, also becomes the first millennial elected to Congress from Texas and the youngest member of the delegation. Further south in Fort Bend County, Republican U.S. Rep. Pete Olson narrowly won over Democrat Sri Preston Kulkarni, a former foreign service officer who leaned heavily on the 22nd Congressional District’s changing demographics.

The wave also was wreaking havoc with the Texas Legislature. In both the Texas House and Texas Senate, Democrats chipped into the Republican majorities. In the Texas Senate, Democrats cut the Republican advantage in the Senate to 19 to 12.

The tightness of the U.S. Senate race was startling to many Republicans who were convinced that Texas’s long history as a Republican stronghold would easily sweep U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz into a second term in office. With over 7 million votes cast, Cruz was declared the winner about 9:45 p.m.

“Texas saw something this year that we’ve never seen,” Cruz said to cheers. “This election wasn’t about me and it wasn’t about Beto O’ Rourke. This election was a battle of ideas. It was a contest for who we are and who we believe. It was a contest and the people of Texas decided this race.”

While Cruz held on, his race with Beto O’Rourke will be the first race decided by less than 10 percentage points since 1978.

O’Rourke and Cruz combined to spend over $110 million to make the Texas Senate race the most expense U.S. Senate battle in American history.

Tony Diaz stood nervously in front of a flat-screen television tuned to Fox News. The 52-year-old Cuban, who came to the United States when he was 2 and owns his own property preservation business in Katy, said the tight race worried him.

“I didn’t think it would be this close,” he said. “Not just this race, a lot of the races, even the governor’s race. No one even knew who his opponent was.”

Staff writers Alex Stuckey, Lomi Kriel, Emily Foxhall, and Todd Ackerman contributed to this report.

jeremy.wallace@chron.com

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