New districts, new ratings in Texas

Just three of 38 districts could see competitive races under new map

Texas Rep. Vicente Gonzalez has opted to run in the 34th District after his current 15th District was made more Republican-leaning in redistricting.  (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Texas Rep. Vicente Gonzalez has opted to run in the 34th District after his current 15th District was made more Republican-leaning in redistricting. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Posted November 22, 2021 at 9:00am

ANALYSIS — Three years ago, Democrats came close to drawing even with Republicans in the Texas congressional delegation at 18 seats apiece. After the latest GOP-controlled redistricting process, however, Texas Democrats are at risk of sending half as many representatives to Washington as Republicans over the next decade.   

In 2018, Democrats flipped two congressional seats and came within 4 points or less of taking five more. Two years later, Republicans stemmed their losses and held their ground in competitive races as the suburbs stalled in their movement toward the Democratic Party and some Hispanic voters gravitated toward the GOP. 

Republicans used their majorities in the state Legislature and control of the governor’s office to solidify their lock on the delegation, currently 23-13, and grab one of the two new seats Texas gained through reapportionment. The new map also dramatically reduces the number of competitive races for incumbents in both parties. That means fewer takeover opportunities for Democrats over the next 10 years and makes one of the largest states in the country almost unimportant in future fights for the House. 

Rather than maximizing their takeover chances and putting some seats at risk later in the decade (or opening themselves up to legal risk and getting the map thrown out), Republicans chose to shore up their current seats. 

The races for 23 redrawn districts are initially rated Solid Republican by Inside Elections. That comes at the expense of packing some Democratic districts, and thus the contests for 12 districts are initially rated Solid Democratic. That includes districts represented by Reps. Lizzie Fletcher and Colin Allred, who flipped seats in 2018, were targets in 2020 and now find themselves in safe Democratic territory.

So, just three of the 38 new districts will have races with an initial competitive rating, and only one of them is close to a Toss-up. The margin between Joe Biden and President Donald Trump in the 2020 presidential race would have been 10 points or less in just three new Texas districts. That’s in contrast to the current map, under which 14 districts backed Trump or Biden by 10 points or less, per calculations by Bradley Wascher of Inside Elections. According to Inside Elections’ Baseline metric, Texas’ 15th District is the only one where one party has a partisan advantage of less than 12 points.

Depending on how the few competitive races play out, Republicans stand to gain a seat or two out of Texas in their quest to pick up a net of five seats nationwide to recapture the House majority. Escaping the 2022 elections with a 24-14 delegation split should be considered a coup for Democrats, which is a far cry from where they were not too long ago. 

15th District (Open; Vincente Gonzalez, D) 

Gonzalez currently represents two-thirds of the redrawn district, according to calculations by Daily Kos Elections. But he is running for reelection in the neighboring 34th District, which is bluer (Biden would have won it by 16 points) and does not have an incumbent because Democratic Rep. Filemon Vela is retiring. And after coming close to an upset loss in 2020, Gonzalez might relish an easier general election race. 

The redrawn 15th, which Trump would have carried by 3 points, cuts a straight line through south-central Texas, running approximately 250 miles from Hidalgo County to Guadalupe County. Republicans are counting on the shift toward Trump among Hispanic voters in the Rio Grande Valley continuing through the next decade and beyond, and they see this seat as one of the best, initial takeover opportunities anywhere in the country. 

On the GOP side, Monica De La Cruz is running again and has locked up support from much of the party establishment. She lost to Gonzalez by 3 points in 2020 in a race that didn’t receive any national attention. De La Cruz will have to get beyond a recent Washington Post story about allegations of “cruel and aggressive conduct” toward her estranged husband’s 14-year-old daughter. Ryan Krause, who lost to De La Cruz in the GOP primary last cycle, is running again, as is Mauro Garza, who lost to Democratic Rep. Joaquin Castro last year by more than 30 points in the San Antonio-area 20th District.  

On the Democratic side, former Labor Department official Eliza Alvarado and health care lobbyist Roberto Haddad are running. Both candidates worked for Gonzalez’s predecessor in Congress, Democrat Ruben Hinojosa. This is the type of district Republicans should win in a good political environment for the GOP. Initial Rating: Tilt Republican.

23rd District (Tony Gonzales, R) 

The expansive border district typically hosts close and competitive races and has seen four partisan changes in the last 20 years. It still covers much of West Texas from La Salle County (between Laredo and San Antonio) all the way along the border to east of El Paso. 

Republican Tony Gonzales kept the seat in party hands with his 4-point victory in 2020 to succeed GOP Rep. Will Hurd. Republicans made the seat a little more comfortable for the freshman by adjusting the partisan performance here from a 2-point Trump win to a 7-point Trump win. In this environment, that should be enough to secure a second term for Gonzales. Initial rating: Likely Republican.

28th District (Henry Cuellar, D) 

Once again, the initial attention will be on the Democratic primary, in which Cuellar faces a rematch with lawyer Jessica Cisneros. Cuellar beat Cisneros by 4 points in the 2020 primary before winning the general election by 19 points. 

But this is the type of district that could get competitive if a sizable pro-GOP wave develops next year. Cuellar’s hold on the seat, located in South Texas and connecting Laredo to San Antonio, could loosen if more Hispanic voters shift away from the Democratic Party. Biden would have won the redrawn district by 7 points, which is on the outskirts of what GOP strategists think will be competitive in this political environment, particularly after recent election results in New Jersey and Virginia. 

Republicans’ 2020 nominee, Sandra Whitten, is running again, along with businessman Ed Cabrera and others. But no one had raised more than $25,000 for the race through the end of September. So someone on the GOP side will have to step up their efforts to take advantage of a potential opportunity. Initial rating: Likely Democratic.

Races rated Solid Republican (23)

Races rated Solid Democratic (12)