Candace Valenzuela among runoff winners as Texas congressional battleground races take shape

The U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. REUTERS/Alexander Drago

The general election is shaping up in Texas congressional battlegrounds.

Voters from both parties picked their nominees in a handful of competitive U.S. House districts around the state, in some cases selecting candidates aligned more closely with their parties' activist wings rather than making plays for the center. The decisions came as the national parties are deeply invested in what happens here at the U.S. House level.

Early this cycle, national Democrats staked their claim on Texas as their new offensive front in expanding their House majority. Republicans, however, say they intend to fight hard to retain their ground. Several of the races are for open seats, thanks to a crush of retirements last year.

In the Dallas-Fort Worth suburbs, Candace Valenzuela declared victory in her bid against Kim Olson for the Democratic nomination for the 24th Congressional District. With less than 10% of voting centers reporting, she had a nearly 20 percentage point lead and the Associated Press had called the race in her favor.

“I’m proud to announce that tonight our grassroots coalition has won, and I am the Democratic nominee for Texas’ 24th District,” she said in a livestream.

“But the job isn’t done. We have to continue to fight for better representation,” she later added. “And I’m confident that the diverse coalition of support we have built throughout this campaign will propel us in November.”

Valenzuela often talks of growing up poor and living homeless for a time after her mother fled domestic abuse, once sleeping in a kiddie pool outside a gas station. She was first elected to the Carrollton-Farmers Branch school board in 2017 and resigned late last year to focus on the congressional race. If elected, she would become the first Afro Latina to serve in Congress.

She had overwhelming national support from Democratic groups like EMILY’s List, but Olson was the frontrunner after the first round of voting in March. Valenzuela, will face off against former Irving Mayor Beth Van Duyne, a Republican, in the fall in the race to replace U.S. Rep. Kenny Marchant, R-Coppell, who is retiring.

In Congressional District 10, attorney Mike Siegel, a supporter of Medicare for All who was endorsed by U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, defeated Dr. Pritesh Gandhi in the race to take on U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Austin, in the general election. Siegel was the 2018 nominee for this seat, and nearly defeated McCaul. The district incorporates parts of Austin, stretches across southeast Texas and reaches into the western Houston suburbs.

"This is the result of years of work by an unstoppable coalition that reflects the incredible diversity of this district," Siegel wrote on Twitter.

Gandhi, meanwhile, said in a video on Facebook that he planned to call Siegel and congratulate him on his victory.

“I recognize that for the tens of thousands of Texans that voted for us tonight and back in March, all of us had hoped for a different outcome,” Gandhi said. “But you know what? I’m not feeling bad tonight...I’m not despondent, I’m fired up, and you should be too.”

On the Republican side, Fort Bend County Sheriff Troy Nehls defeated Republican activist and donor Kathaleen Wall in one of the highest profile Republican primaries of the cycle. His lead was nearly 40 percentage points with just under 10% of voting centers reporting.

“We WON!” Nehls wrote on Facebook Tuesday night. “What a journey this campaign has been. I’m overwhelmed and humbled by y’all’s support and faith. Now the real work begins and I can’t be more excited to continue this journey with y’all.”

Nehls staked his bid on his local ties from his time in law enforcement, while Wall invested millions of her own dollars in the race, according campaign finance reports. Two years ago, she unsuccessfully ran for the nomination in the Houston-based 2nd Congressional District and also made significant investments then too.

Nehls will take on former foreign service officer Sri Kulkarni, who ran a spirited race two years ago against U.S. Rep. Pete Olson, R-Sugar Land, who is retiring, and beat most expectations. The Fort Bend County-based district will likely be one of the nationally most closely watched House races

In the GOP runoff in Congressional District 23, Raul Reyes was leading Tony Gonzales by 1.4 percentage points, with over 90% of polling locations reporting, in what is traditionally the most competitive House district in the state.

The nominee will face retired Air Force intelligence officer Gina Ortiz Jones, who nearly won this race two years ago. The 23rd district sweeps across West Texas, covering the region between San Antonio and El Paso. Gonzales had the support of President Donald Trump in the race, while Reyes was backed by U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas.

The race is to replace retiring U.S. Rep. Will Hurd, a Helotes Republican.

And in Congressional District 31, Donna Imam was leading Christine Eady Mann with a 13 percentage point lead in the Democratic primary to take on U.S. Rep. John Carter, R-Round Rock, with all polling locations reporting. While Carter was one of the most vulnerable Republicans last cycle, it remains to be determined how significantly Democrats will invest in this central Texas district that reaches into the Austin suburbs.