Republican candidate Gary Gates won the 2020 special runoff election for Texas House District 28 on Tuesday.
The special election comes after Republican incumbent John Zerwas stepped down last year. The race gained national attention after Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Beto O’Rourke and Gov. Greg Abbott placed their support behind the candidates.
Joshua Blank, the research director for the Texas Politics Project, said the involvement from political figures is not normal in state House elections. Blank said the election became a show of political strength for both parties.
“What you’re seeing here … is that partisans on both sides, and in particular, the media, look to these special elections as harbingers of what is going to happen in the upcoming general election,” Blank said. “The reality is that there’s little connection between the two because these special elections are such unique (phenomena).”
Because House District 28 contains the suburbs of Houston, UT student groups were excited about what either outcome could mean for the state.
Abdullah Adi, vice president of the College Republicans at Texas, said he does not think the national influence is good because the people who are giving their opinions are not from Texas.
“People in Texas, voters in Texas, volunteers within the state of Texas are more aware of the issues they’re facing, and are more honest whenever they’re going and engaging with voters about the issues they face in the community,” economics junior Adi said. “While outsiders … (are) basically utilizing Texas as a tool for them to fulfill (whatever) goals they have.”
Mason Tyndall, College Republicans at Texas president and economics junior, said multiple College Republicans joined campaigning efforts for this race from Austin while others made the trip to Houston.
The race gained attention because there was no incumbent in the House seat, giving Democrats an opportunity to flip the seat, Blank said. Democrats flipped 12 House seats in the 2018 election and need to flip nine more seats in November to gain the House majority.
University Democrats president Alex Meed said flipping the seats in November is important to Democrats because new voting districts will be created in 2021. Meed said Austin is currently divided among six districts.
“Austin is the largest city in the United States that doesn’t have an anchored congressional district,” Meed said. “ … There’s no one person in the U.S. Congress whose job it is to represent our interests, the interests of the people of Austin.”
In the 2018 elections, the majority of District 28 voted for Democratic candidate Beto O’Rourke in the U.S. Senate elections. However, the majority had also voted for Republican incumbent John Zerwas for the Texas House of Representatives seat, according to the Fort Bend County government website.
“(District 28) was a more reliably Republican district in the recent past,” Blank said. “But like many of the counties that are adjacent to some of the largest urban counties in the state, as urban areas continue to expand and population continues to grow, what you’re seeing is a change … in these suburban counties which are becoming less reliably Republican.”
The seat will be up for grabs in the November elections, and the rest of the term will take place while the House of Representatives is out of session.