Facebook / Fred Rangel
Republican Texas House candidate Fred Rangel (right) points out poll results on the night of the February 12 special election.
How do you turn a traditionally Democratic district Republican?
These days, the answer may be simple as calling a special election.
Last year, Pleasanton Republican Pete Flores flipped one of San Antonio’s state Senate seats after advancing to a runoff special election against Pete Gallego, the Democrat widely considered to have the election sewn up.
Next month, a similar situation could play out in a runoff for District 125, a Texas House seat representing Northwest San Antonio that was once considered dependably blue.
Republican businessman and activist Fred Rangel emerged as the top vote-getter in the February 12 special election to fill the spot, vacated when Democratic State Rep. Justin Rodriguez departed to take the late Paul Elizondo’s seat on Bexar County Commissioner’s Court.
Like Flores, Rangel has been bolstered by high-level GOP endorsements — Gov. Greg Abbott and U.S. Sen. John Cornyn among them. And, like Flores, he could benefit from good Republican ground game, especially if Democrats stay home.
Just 6 percent of the district’s 101,000 registered voters cast ballots in the special election earlier this month. Poll watchers warn equally sparse numbers could mark the runoff, scheduled for March 12.
“That ought to scare local Democrats,” said David Crockett, a political science professor at Trinity University. “In special elections, small numbers can make a big impact and make outcomes very difficult to predict. It often comes down to whoever can mobilize their friends and family.”
The District 125 runoff is likely to go overlooked since it’s months ahead of the May citywide election, Crockett points out, and many may not even be aware whether they’re eligible to vote since they typically cast House ballots as part of a larger election cycle.
That kind of unpredictability and the election’s standalone status have Abbott and other top Republicans eager to see if they can pull off an upset.
“It’s the only game in town, so it doesn’t surprise me that you would see bigwigs weigh in on this one,” Crockett adds.
Even so, the Texas Democratic Party has publicly struck a positive note, pointing out that 60 percent of the vote in the February special election went to its candidates.
“Texas House District 125 is a Democratic district and it will remain a Democratic district,” party Chairman Gilberto Hinojosa said in a press statement.
It’s true that the race’s four Democrats outperformed Rangel as a group. But he was, far and away, the top individual vote getter, locking up 38 percent to Lopez’s 19 percent. Coda Rayo-Garza trailed Lopez by a couple dozen votes.
Plus, last year’s special-election upset wasn’t the first time Democrats have lost a recent off-cycle race in San Antonio. In 2016, Republican John Lujan won a South Side legislative seat and independent candidate Laura Thmpson did the same on the East Side.
H. Drew Galloway, executive director of voter mobilization group MOVE San Antonio, said his organization plans to step up education and turnout efforts to make people aware of the runoff.
Ahead of the special election, his nonpartisan group hosted a candidate forum and conducted registration pushes at St. Mary’s and Our Lady of the Lake universities — both located in the district. Now it will need to hit the streets again.
Nonpartisan MOVE’s focus is on young voters, who emerged as a significant factor in the November midterms. Realistically, though, many first- and second-time voters simply may not be aware of what’s at stake in a special election for a Texas House seat, Galloway said.
“We’re concerned about the turnout rate in District 125,” he said. “We know special elections are notoriously hard to get people to turn out for.”
Early voting for the District 125 election will run March 4 through March 8. Those unsure whether they live in the district can visit the Bexar County Election Department website at bexar.org/1718/Texas-State-Representatives
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