In the 2020 election season, redistricting is the biggest prize in Texas politics. The lawmakers elected to office this November will have outsized influence over the all-important redistricting process in the 2021 legislative session. Democrats are working to usher in a “blue wave” of influence in Austin, particularly when it comes to the redrawing of district maps for the next decade.
So how did one of the Democrats’ most senior State Senators with a coveted seat on the Senate Select Committee on Redistricting — seemingly a “sure bet” as a long-time incumbent — end up in a primary runoff against a member of his own party?
Eddie Lucio Jr., a moderate Democrat from Brownsville with almost three decades in an elected office, is the Texas State Senator for District 27. Senator Lucio has gained a reputation as a Democrat willing to cross the aisle in a Republican-controlled Senate on key issues like abortion, school choice and, perhaps most notably, the 2017 “bathroom bill.” His more moderate position has arguably served him well with his Republican peers in the upper chamber of the legislature, including that all-important seat at the table on the Redistricting Committee. However, Lucio’s record in the Senate has garnered increasing discontent in his own district, culminating in a challenge from left that pushed SD 27 into a primary runoff.
In what was easily the most competitive primary race in the Texas Senate, Lucio narrowly missed winning the three-way primary election in March, with a total of 49.8 percent of the vote. Sara Stapleton-Barrera, an attorney and former teacher with a liberal platform and impressive endorsements, took 35.6 percent. Lucio and Stapleton-Barrera will now face off in a runoff election originally scheduled for May 2020, but postponed until July in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Texas Senate District 27 – By The Numbers
|Eddie Lucio Jr. (Incumbent)(D)||Sara Stapleton-Barrera (D)|
|Total Money Raised||$1,166,152||$9,531|
|Total Number of Donations||415||51|
|Average Donation Amount||$2,810||$187|
|Total Money Raised In-District||$87,095||$5581|
|Total Number of Donations From In-District||58||36|
|Percentage Raised From In-District||7%||59%|
|Total Money Raised Outside District||$1,079,057||$3,951|
|Total Number of Donations Raised Outside District||357||15|
|Percentage Raised From Outside District||93%||41%|
|Cost Per Vote||$44||$8|
There are a few strategic considerations at play in this race. The one with the biggest implications is, of course, Lucio’s seat on the Senate Select Committee on Redistricting. Lucio argues that his seat is of the utmost importance for the left to have a chance to influence the once-a-decade redrawing of Texas’ district maps. A vote for his opponent is a vote to remove Democrats from the heart of the conversation, say his supporters.
But some Democrats question his ability to truly influence legislation to the left, and are looking for someone more likely to stick to progressive policy positions. Top Democrat-led organizations, including Progress Texas, Annie’s List, and Human Rights Campaign have endorsed his opponents in the primary.
While the numbers show that Lucio clearly out-raised Stapleton-Barrera across all metrics leading into the primary, her in-district support numbers are impressive. As a percentage of total contributions, 59 percent (36 donations) of Stapleton-Barrera’s dollars came from inside District 27, compared to only 7 percent (58 donations) for Lucio. In-district donations are typically a helpful predictor for voter turnout.
But this is an atypical election year. What is yet to be seen is whether contributions from notable Democrat-led organizations and in-district residents — in the form of both money and manpower — will be able to influence the turnout in a delayed runoff election, marked by a global pandemic and widespread social unrest.
The stakes are high — in this race, as well as other Texas senatorial elections. With 19 Republicans, 12 Democrats, and the three-fifths rule provision in place, controversial issues have the potential to swing either direction in the Senate. It remains to be seen which strategy will prevail for SD 27, and if the victor can exert influence in the upcoming legislative session.
We’ll be watching to see how it all unfolds.