Yesterday, Republican Pete Flores defeated Democrat Pete Gallego in the final round of a special election for Texas’ Senate District 19. While typically a reliably Democratic district, the seat’s sudden vacancy and potential implications for the Texas Senate’s balance of power meant the race drew increased attention from both parties. Flores’s win marked the culmination of a special election that began July 31, after former State Senator Carlos Uresti, D-San Antonio, resigned in the wake of 11 felony convictions including money laundering and fraud. Uresti was sentenced to 12 years in prison and stepped down shortly afterwards.
When the 8-way race in July concluded without any single candidate winning more than half of the vote, a runoff election was set between Pete Flores, a longtime game warden and former enforcement director with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, and Pete Gallego, a former congressman who had previously represented the area in Congress and the Texas House. Despite the overall split of votes leaning Democratic, Flores earned 34% of the vote, managing to outperform any other single candidate. Flores’s impressive showing in the July race, combined with the often-unpredictable dynamics of a special election, gave Republicans optimism that the seat could be won in the runoff race.
To that end, Republicans mounted an aggressive effort to elect Flores, sensing an opportunity to flip a Democratic seat and strengthen the GOP’s narrow supermajority in the Senate during an election cycle featuring several vulnerable GOP seats. Flores enjoyed the support of several prominent statewide Republican officeholders, including Lt. Governor Dan Patrick, whose campaign offered significant in-kind support in the form of polling, media, and mailers. Governor Greg Abbott lent further assistance by cutting ads with Flores and mobilizing his get-out-the vote operation in the district.
After a summer of campaigning, Pete Flores came away on Tuesday with 53% of the vote in a race. Especially significant was high turnout in the areas outside Bexar County, which encompasses the City of San Antonio, which can in part be credited to strong support from GOP officeholders like Gov. Abbott or Lt. Gov. Patrick as well as outside groups like Texans for Lawsuit Reform. Flores will finish the remainder of Carlos Uresti’s term, which is up in 2020.