Democrats got another huge boost on Thursday when GOP Rep. Will Hurd announced he will forgo reelection and pursue other opportunities "at the nexus between technology and national security." Hurd is one of just three House Republicans in districts carried by Hillary Clinton in 2016, the House's only black Republican and is now the sixth Republican—and the third from Texas—to announce retirement plans in the past ten days.
Hurd is probably the only Republican capable of holding Texas's massive 23rd District, which stretches from the San Antonio suburbs to El Paso and takes in more of the Mexico border than any other district. A former CIA operative, Hurd developed a reputation as an indefatigable retail campaigner who isn't afraid to shred President Trump, particularly on Russia and the proposed border wall.
Hurd's work ethic and willingness to break from the GOP have been the keys to his three victories in a 69 percent Hispanic district Hillary Clinton carried by three points. Even so, Hurd won all three of his races by two points or less. In 2018, Hurd defeated Iraq War veteran and fellow intelligence officer Gina Ortiz Jones by just 926 votes, while GOP Sen. Ted Cruz lost the district by five points.
Ortiz Jones announced in March for a rematch, and Democrats had been working to clear the field for her. But the newly open seat could entice other Democrats to run, potentially a Hispanic candidate (Ortiz Jones is Filipina-American, not Latina). Still, Ortiz Jones ended June with $597,000 in the bank and will have a head start against both Democrats and Republicans. The filing deadline is December 9.
Republicans will be hard-pressed to find a candidate who can replicate Hurd's appeal. Some note that in a special election last September, GOP retired game warden Pete Flores was able to win a state senate district that overlaps with much of the 23rd CD and voted for Hillary Clinton by 12 points. But November 2020 will feature a much higher Hispanic turnout than that race and possible November 2018, complicating the math.
A much larger concern for Republicans is the prospect of a larger exodus in the aftermath of losing the majority. In the last few months, Reps. Rob Woodall (GA-07), Susan Brooks (IN-05) and Pete Olson (TX-22) have retired from seats that are prime Democratic pickup opportunities. Republicans need to pick up at least 19 seats for a majority, but losses would make that gain much harder to achieve.
Now, attention will turn to GOP Reps. Michael McCaul (TX-10), Kenny Marchant (TX-24) and John Carter (TX-31), all of whom have served more than 15 years and won their 2018 races by shockingly narrow margins of less than five points. Their districts were drawn as safe Republican seats in 2011, but Democratic growth in Texas's suburbs has put them in play and at the moment, at least one retirement looks likely.
This was the only Texas seat drawn as a competitive district at the outset of the decade, so it's unlikely Republicans will end up writing it off. But for now, Texas's 23rd CD moves from Toss Up to the Lean Democratic column.
Image: AP Photo/Eric Gay