Republican John Lujan and Democrat Frank Ramirez advance to runoff for San Antonio-area Texas House seat

Democrat Frank Martinez and Republican John Lujan are headed into a runoff election for House District 118.
Democrat Frank Martinez and Republican John Lujan are headed into a runoff election for House District 118.

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Republican John Lujan and Democrat Frank Ramirez are advancing to a special election runoff to fill the seat of former state Rep. Leo Pacheco, D-San Antonio, a seat the GOP is eager to flip as it looks to gain new ground in South Texas.

With all vote centers reporting Tuesday night, Lujan was getting 42% of the vote, while Ramirez was receiving 20%, according to unofficial returns. Democrat Desi Martinez, a lawyer, was in third with 18%, followed by Democrat Katie Farias, a local school board member, at 12%. The other Republican on the ballot — Adam Salyer, the 2020 nominee for the seat — finished last at 9%.

The special election was triggered by Pacheco’s resignation last month to teach at San Antonio College.

The district, anchored in the South Side of San Antonio, is Democratic-friendly, though Republicans believe they have a shot at capturing it as they seek to capitalize on President Joe Biden’s underperformance across South Texas last year.

“This special election sets the tone for Republicans as we continue to reach out to Hispanic voters and South Texas communities to win seats in the 2022 election cycle,” Aaron De Leon, vice president of the Associated Republicans of Texas, said in a statement on Lujan's first-place finish.

The Republican National Committee also chimed in, casting the election as a "rebuke" of President Joe Biden's policies in Texas and saying it "forecasts bright opportunities ahead for Republicans in 2022."

The Texas Democratic Party urged party unity for the runoff — and wasted little time painting a contrast with Lujan.

"While Frank has proven himself as a committed voice for working people across San Antonio, our opponent John Lujan has consistently shown that he will toe the party line of the Texas GOP -- even as Texas Republicans throw San Antonio in harm’s way," party chair Gilberto Hinojosa said in a statement. "We cannot afford another state rep who will be complicit in Greg Abbott’s attacks."

Lujan has run three times before in the district, the first time in a 2016 special election where he flipped the seat before losing the regular general election months later. Lujan was backed by Gov. Greg Abbott, House Speaker Dade Phelan and a number of deep-pocketed GOP groups, which have helped him raise more than double what the Democratic candidates combined raised.

Still, Lujan campaigned with a bipartisan appeal, leaning on his business experience and law enforcement background. He even said he supported Medicaid expansion, though he clearly lined up with his party on issues like abortion and gun rights.

Pacheco endorsed Ramirez to succeed him, as did Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff.

Ramirez is the former zoning and planning director for a San Antonio City Council member and before that, he was chief of staff to Pacheco's predecessor in the seat, Tomas Uresti. At 27, Ramirez ran on the generational change he would bring to the seat and his already considerable experience in government.

The Democratic field seized on some of the issues of the day, with Farias campaigning against what she called a “war on women” under the state’s new abortion law banning the practice as early as six weeks into pregnancy.

Democrats sought to show they would not get caught off guard after suffering special-election upsets in the San Antonio area over recent years. The state Democratic Party did not endorse a candidate but praised all three as "strong" and messaged against the GOP field as "hellbent on dragging San Antonio back into the past."

Disclosure: San Antonio College has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune's journalism. Find a complete list of them here.

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Correction, Sept. 30, 2021: A photo caption on a previous version of this story misidentified one of the candidates for the state House. He is Frank Ramirez, not Frank Martinez.