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SAN ANTONIO – This time everyone knew what was going on.
While Democrats were caught off guard by the previous special election in the San Antonio area, Republicans made it clear from the start that they were targeting the vacant seat in Texas House District 118. And Democrats caught them. seriously, seeking to show it from the start. that they wouldn’t be upset in a predominantly Hispanic district that President Joe Biden raised by 14 percentage points last year.
And yet Republican John Lujan won the seat on Tuesday, in exactly the kind of nationally resonating result Democrats were trying to avoid.
Lujan had a lot going for him. He was a very familiar face in the district, having briefly held the seat in 2016 and making his eighth appearance on an HD-118 ballot in six years. He had a backing party that was united, determined, and willing to spend big. And he waged a campaign that largely avoided the burning issues that have recently plagued Texas politics.
The end result was a 2 percentage point victory that left Republicans screaming that they were marching to South Texas, where they were eager for further gains after President Joe Biden’s disappointing performance of the year. last.
As he emerged from election night shortly before midnight Tuesday, Lujan attributed his victory to a “perfect environment”. His victory came the same night Republicans won the governorship in Virginia in a race widely seen as an early referendum on Biden’s presidency.
“What I think has really helped is the fact that there is a big movement, I think, for conservatism because people see what is happening nationally all the way to our borders and to the jobs and hardships, gas prices – all of those things are important in our community, âsaid Lujan,â And the Hispanic community has always been about faith, family and country, and I think it shows. now, and I just think all of those things created the perfect environment for this win.
Lujan’s campaign believes his deep involvement in the community on the south side of San Antonio and his bread and butter platform has given him considerable cross-appeal. While Lujan got 49% of the early votes, his campaign found that only 40% of all first voters came from households with a history of Republican primary voting, suggesting he won a good portion outside of the election. base of the GOP.
Democrats said the playing field was against them throughout the race. Democratic opponent Frank Ramirez’s campaign manager Ryan Garcia said on Wednesday it was “clear that the campaign has been structurally disadvantaged relative to Republicans from the very beginning”, starting with the tight deadlines for each special election convened by Governor Greg Abbott.
“In the race for House District 118, Republicans used money from major national donors to spend two to one on our grassroots movement,” Texas Democratic Party Chairman Gilberto Hinojosa said in a statement Tuesday night.
While campaign spending figures after October 23 are not yet available, it is true that Lujan had a strong fundraising advantage in the second round – nearly 2 to 1 – and he benefited from the l national money. However, Ramirez also gained national support, collecting checks from the National Democratic Redistricting Committee and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.
Lujan has nonetheless been a tremendous fundraiser from the start of the race this summer. One of Ramirez’s top individual donors in the second round, Austin attorney Adam Loewy, lamented Wednesday that there are “wealthy Democratic donors in Texas who could easily have written checks to put 50 to 100 $ 000 more behind Frank who I think could easily have won this election. . “
âThe truth is it was a Democratic seat, and allowing a Republican to come in and spend 2 to 1 to win that seatâ¦ is just a disaster, just a shame,â said Loewy.
Hinojosa also claimed Republicans had “inside information” about the run-off date that gave them an unfair head start – a reference to Lujan’s campaign literature that said the run-off would take place on November 2, before Abbott announced it. Lujan said he assumed the date would be November 2 – the same day as the statewide nominations election – and made the decision to print the literature against his advice. campaign.
Hinojosa also complained that state and county election officials “made the process as confusing as possible for voters.” Bexar County Election Officer Jacque Callanen said Abbott called the second round too late for it to be included on the same ballot as the constitutional amendments. This led to two elections on Tuesday, forcing voters to submit separate mail-in ballots or queue twice to vote in person.
Both sides complained about the electoral setup, with Lujan calling it “just plain bad”. Callanen did not respond to a request for comment on Hinojosa’s reviews.
Despite the hurdles, turnout hit 11% on Tuesday, higher than in the September 28 special election, which was 7%, and the 2016 special election second round that Lujan won and Democrats won. dismissed as a fluke with low turnout. The participation rate for this competition was 4%.
Lujan won the seat in January 2016 only to lose it months later in general elections for the full term, before he could ever vote once in the Legislature.
But this time around, Lujan has a better chance of retaining the seat as the Republicans redesigned the district to be more competitive for them next year. Biden would have won the new HD-118 by just 3 points.
Lujan and Ramirez plan to run again next year.
âThis siege remains, as if it were yesterday, a battlefield siege,â Garcia said. “I don’t think there is any reason to expect John Lujan to ever vote in the Legislative Assembly.”
In Lujan’s 2016 race and the second round of the 2018 Special Election for Senate District 19, Democrats were criticized for sleeping behind the wheel. But Democrats went out of their way this time around to show that wouldn’t be the case, with the state party issuing a statement in the first round insisting they were “going all out” and “not taking any chances” . As usual, the party did not back a Democratic candidate in an area that included several, but hailed all three as “strong” and attacked Lujan as the alleged Republican qualifier for the second round.
To the extent that there was Democratic consolidation in the September 28 special election, it was around Ramirez – and for good reason. At 27, he already had an impressive resume, working for former HD 118 representative Tomas Uresti and then for a member of the San Antonio City Council. There was no doubt about his roots in the district, and he was a polite and affable activist.
Still, Ramirez had to face two other Democrats in the first round and snuck into the second round behind Lujan, who had only one minor GOP opponent and came first by a wide margin. Republican and Democratic candidates effectively split the Sept. 28 votes 50-50, hinting at a hard-fought second round.
One of the main Democratic messages against Lujan was that he was beholden to Abbott, who backed Lujan in the first round, and that he would accept the brutal conservative turn the state recently took under the governor’s leadership. Even in the defeat, Democrats continued to beat Lujan against Abbott, with Ramirez stating in his concession statement that he hopes Lujan “will choose to put our community first rather than being complicit in Governor Abbott’s attacks on Texans. “.
Lujan downplayed the extent of his relationship with Abbott, though he said he supported some of the state’s recent policies, like new abortion restrictions and unlicensed handguns that entered into force in September. His campaign, however, was more focused on less polarizing issues related to his experience as an IT business owner and a former firefighter and sheriff’s deputy.
Lujan’s biggest donor throughout the race was the Associated Republicans of Texas, who spent $ 232,000 in in-kind contributions for canvassing, digital ads and text messaging to secure the vote. The group stuck to relatively basic issues by introducing Lujan, running ads saying he would fund police and public schools and “remove government regulations and support small businesses.”
Lujan spoke during the election campaign of his aversion to partisanship, but he appealed directly to his fellow supporters. He ran ads promoting a “red wave” and appeared on Fox News on the morning of the runoff at the new Republican National Committee office in San Antonio.
His victory gave Republicans material to say they are building on their 2020 gains in South Texas, where, at a minimum, they would like to overthrow a seat in Congress and reclaim one more seat in the House of L ‘Status next November. ART vice-president Aaron De Leon said in a statement Tuesday evening that Lujan’s victory “sets the tone” for the offensive.
Lujan will undoubtedly have a powerful ally on Capitol Hill, House Speaker Dade Phelan, R-Beaumont. It was the first race that Phelan got seriously involved in since becoming president in January, and his campaign ended up funneling $ 75,000 to Lujan, which included the biggest donation he received during the second round, for $ 50,000.
As he prepared to leave his election night – which coincided with the loss to the Houston Astros from the World Series in Game 6 – Lujan received a congratulatory call from the speaker.
âHe was very disappointed – that the Astros lost,â Lujan said. “But he said this election had made the night for him.”