Longtime Texas state Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr. may face a runoff election


State Sen. Eddie Lucio, D-Brownsville, is the body's third most senior member after nearly three decades in office. Marjorie Kamys Cotera for The Texas Tribune

Longtime Texas state Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr. was on the edge of facing a primary runoff election late Tuesday in the Democratic race for his Rio Grande Valley seat.

Shortly before midnight, with most of the votes counted in Hidalgo and Cameron counties — the two most populous in his district — he had just under the required 50% of votes to avoid a runoff, according to reports from the two counties and the Texas secretary of state. Brownsville attorney Sara Stapleton Barrera had the second most votes with about 35%.

The race for Lucio's seat was the most competitive of the primary elections for the 31-member Texas Senate, where Republicans are expected to keep their majority after the November general election.

Lucio, a 74-year-old Brownsville Democrat, is the body's third most senior member after nearly three decades in office. Before Tuesday’s primary election, he emphasized that his seniority and experience were crucial entering the 2021 legislative session, when lawmakers will draw new political state maps.

His challengers, Stapleton Barrerra and Texas State Board of Education member Ruben Cortez, criticized Lucio for often voting with Republicans and failing to represent his solidly blue district in the Rio Grande Valley. Lucio, a conservative Democrat, has split with his party on causes like abortion, school choice and the 2017 “bathroom bill” that would have restricted transgender Texans’ access to certain public facilities.

Lucio was the only incumbent in the Texas Senate who faced high-profile primary opposition. No Republicans had primary challenges, and the only other Democrat who did — state Sen. Borris Miles of Houston — was leading in the polls Tuesday night.

But several Democrats were competing with each other to challenge Republican incumbents in November, most notably in the race to go up against state Sen. Pete Flores, R-Pleasanton. Early returns Tuesday night indicated San Antonio attorney Xochil Peña Rodriguez and state Rep. Roland Gutierrez may go head to head in a runoff election for a spot on the November ballot. They each had about 40% of the vote, with about 40% of polling locations reporting to the secretary of state. Freddy Ramirez, a felony prosecutor in Bexar County, was lagging behind.

Flores is a freshman senator in a historically Democratic district spanning 17 counties that stretch from the Mexican border up to southern San Antonio. Flores fell short in his bid to upset state Sen. Carlos Uresti for the seat in 2016, then won it in a 2018 special election after Uresti, D-San Antonio, resigned after being found guilty of felony fraud and money laundering crimes.

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