February 7, 2020
Democrat Battle for Shot at Rookie Republican
Crowns Senate Watch List with Runoff Potential
Texas House Primary Cash - Open Races
Texas House Primary Cash - Incumbents
By Mike Hailey
Texas Senate Primary
Races to Watch 2020
Ranked on Cash
Senate District 19 - Dem
Xochil Peña Rodriguez
Senate District 27 - Dem
Eddie Lucio Jr. (Inc)
Senate District 13 - Dem
Borris Miles (Inc)
Senate District 11 - Dem
Margarita Ruiz Johnson
Senate District 12 - Dem
The Democrats have a monopoly on the Texas Senate primary action in 2020 with a pair of incumbents poised to stave off multiple first-round challengers while a veteran state representative appears to have an edge over a former congressman's daughter in a fight for a seat that the GOP controls and probably will lose this fall.
But the Senate battlefield only features two truly competitive primary fights in a state where longtime State Senator Eddie Lucio Jr. of Brownsville appears to be the strong betting favorite in a field with two formidable foes in the contest that's ranked number two on the Capitol Inside Races to Watch for the upper chamber in round one this year.
While Lucio is the runaway leader in the campaign cash chase in contested Senate primaries in a bid to avoid overtime this spring, State Rep. Roland Gutierrez of San Antonio and Xochil Peña Rodriguez could be destined for a runoff in the top-rated race on the east wing watch list in the opening round of the Texas elections in 2020.
Democratic State Senator Borris Miles of Houston hasn't appeared to face a serious threat in a fight that's ranked third in a district where he has a couple of token opponents in his first appearance on the primary ballot as a Senate incumbent. Miles had run unopposed in a House re-election race in the primary election in 2016 when he was subsequently chosen by a group of local party activists to be the Senate District 13 nominee after the incumbent withdrew from the competition.
The most entertaining aspect of the Miles re-election race is the fact that he has a primary foe named Milinda Morris in a district where Melissa Morris will be waiting in the wings for a shot in the fall as the only Republican on the ballot there.
It's been a very different story in the battle for the Senate District 27 seat that Lucio has held for 35 years and has been forced to fight to keep with San Benito attorney Sara Stapleton-Barrera and State Board of Education member Ruben Cortez of Brownsville taking aim at him in March.
Lucio has responded to a rare ballot-box test by raising more than $700,000 from donors including almost $89,000 in the first three weeks of January. Stapleton-Barrera has been the incumbent's closest rival in terms of war chest size after loaning her campaign more than $166,000 on top of $9,600 that supporters have contributed to her bid. Cortez has generated less than $85,000 from supporters as a Senate contender who already had a significant amount of name identification as an elected education official in the Rio Grande Valley where SD 27 is anchored.
While Lucio has his sights on an outright victory at the primary polls next month, a runoff could be in store in Senate District 19 where Gutierrez is attempting a comeback after losing to rookie Republican State Senator Pete Flores of Pleasanton in a special election in 2018. Gutierrez has raised almost $320,000 since early last year for his second shot in SD 19 where Rodriguez has received almost $73,000 in contributions to go with a $125,000 loan for a fight in a sprawling district that overlaps with the area that her father Ciro Rodriguez represented in Congress. The elder Rodriguez who serve in the Texas House before a promotion to Washington is a justice of the peace in Bexar County now.
The Democratic primary winner in SD 19 where Freddy Ramirez and Belinda Svetz also are running will enter the second half of the year as a substantial favorite over Flores in a district where a majority of the voters are Democrats. Flores pulled off a monumental upset in the special election that he run in a runoff at a time when Democrats were divided and taking the contest for granted.
Democrats Susan Criss of Galveston and Shadi Zitoon of Grapevine have had minimal funding as Senate hopefuls who are running against primary rivals who've had no money at all in districts where the Democratic primary victors can expect to be crushed in November by powerful GOP State Senators Larry Taylor of Friendswood and Jane Nelson of Flower Mound respectively.
Criss would seem to have the edge in round one as a former state district judge who spent a considerable amount of money in an unsuccessful Texas House race several years ago. But Criss rival Margarita Ruiz Johnson of Pearland could have a tastier name for some voters in the Senate District 11 primary election on March 3. Zitoon has raised less than $7,000 for a primary contest in Senate District 12 where Democratic opponent Randy Daniels of Fort Worth hasn't had a dime.
Houston Democrat Richard Andrews added $100 to his campaign kitty last month in a bid to unseat Miles in a district where he's raised less than $13,000 for a six to one lead in campaign cash over Morris the Democratic contender. Miles stepped on the gas for the first time in the current race when he rounded up almost $67,000 from supporters in January to push his total donor dollar count to more than $125,000 in his first Senate primary.