Elizabeth Markowitz, the lone Democrat vying to fill a Texas House seat in Fort Bend County long held by a Republican, won the largest share of the vote Tuesday, placing her in a competitive runoff election set for December. Markowitz won 39% of the vote — 10.5% ahead of her closest Republican rival. The result underscores the GOP’s vulnerability in the region and in a seat they’ve historically controlled.
“Together we can change the narrative in Texas. We need all hands on deck to ensure we’ll restore honesty and integrity to Austin!,” Dr. Markowitz wrote on Twitter. Her opponent is a Trump Republican.
The race for House District 28 covering the Richmond area outside Houston is one of the most closely watched races of the year in Texas. The seat was previously held by Republican state Rep. John Zerwas, whose retirement provided Democrats with the potential to flip one of nine seats needed to earn a majority in the Texas House.
What to expect in the runoff
While Fort Bend County (which makes up more than half of HD28) has historically voted Republican, last year the county saw a “blue wave” of its own. Democrats scored multiple wins in local races, including county judge, district attorney, and 22 judicial positions.
Also telling, the majority of Fort Bend County (55 percent) voted for former El Paso Congressman Beto O’Rourke in his bid for U.S. Senate in 2018, a major shift since the 2014 election cycle when the majority of the county (58 percent) voted for Sen. John Cornyn.
With those gains by Democrats– spurred on by changes in the county’s demographics, a strong effort by candidates to reach out to the region’s Asian community, and a renewed interest in politics in general– Markowitz’s chances to nab the seat appear stronger than ever.
During a visit to the party’s major annual fundraising dinner last month, Democratic National Committee chairman Tom Perez highlighted the race for HD28 and urged local Dems to contribute to Markowitz’s campaign. “This ain’t Tom DeLay’s Fort Bend County anymore,” Perez said at the time, referring to the former GOP House Majority Leader who represented Fort Bend area for two decades.
Prior to election day, Markowitz saw the biggest fundraising haul with $294,006 in contributions during October. In terms of cash on hand, her campaign has held onto $168,000 for the upcoming runoff. Markowitz’s last-minute fundraising haul dwarfed Allred’s, who raised only $66,290 during the same period.
A forecast for Texas
Due to the nature of being a special election, HD28 is the first Texas House district likely up for grabs before 2020.
Political observers have called the Richmond-area race a bellwether for Texas politics. A Democratic victory next month would help close the nine-seat gap between Democrats and Republicans in the Texas House. Democrats would then need to only successfully challenge 8 out of the 33 House districts Republicans have admitted are competitive next year to see a majority in the state House.
As with other state House races soon to come, the stakes are particularly high in 2020. In 2021, the Texas Legislature will convene to draw district lines for the entire state, including district lines for seats in the Texas Legislature as well as Congress.
Fernando covers Texas politics and government at the Texas Signal. Before joining the Signal, Fernando spent two years at the Houston Chronicle and previously interned at Houston’s NPR station News 88.7. He is a graduate of the University of Houston, Jack J. Valenti School of Communication, and enjoys reading, highlighting things, and arguing on social media. You can follow him on Twitter at @fernramirez93 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org