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The big statewide races were over by 8 p.m., or really, even before polls opened Tuesday, as Republicans hardened their hold on Texas, an outcome evident the moment early voting results were released at 7 p.m. After two decades of Republican domination, Texas remains a one-party state with no change in sight.
Bexar County voters, on the other hand, had a few key races keeping their attention Tuesday night.
In the night’s stunning upset, Democratic challenger Nicholas “Nico” LaHood scored an unexpected knockout against longtime Republican District Attorney Susan Reed. LaHood, overcoming the after-effects of a serious drug bust in his college days, used a controversial $1.2 million infusion of campaign funds from a single lawyer to overwhelm Reed, a courthouse force that many in both political parties thought had overstayed her welcome.
For the fourth straight time, Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff posted a convincing win, this time over Republican challenger Carlton Soules, a former District 8 City Councilmember whose anti-Wolff platform offered voters little else.
LaHood appeared with his family and issued a victory statement, seemingly stunned and humbled by his victory, while an emotional Reed withdrew from public view without conceding.
At the Bexar County Courthouse, the results were otherwise as red as the historic courthouse’s stone facade as all 12 contested district court judicial races went to the Republican Party candidates. Democrats won only one of the 13 contested county court at law seats.
Once again, voters with little or no knowledge of the candidates elected judges based on party affiliation rather than merit.
The picture in Texas this time mirrored the picture nationally. It was a very good night to be a Republican. Early voting results came in at 7 p.m. and one hour later it was all over in the big statewide contests as Republicans raced to commanding victories in every single major race. There’s no purple in the Lone Star State, not even a tinge. Texas remains blood-red. Republicans, in fact, earned their biggest margins ever and extended their absolute reign to 20 years with no signs of weakening. Democrats have not won a statewide office since 1994.
Battleground Texas, the much-vaunted effort to boost Democratic Party candidates back into contention, has little to show for its time in the state. The top of the ticket, state Sens. Wendy Davis and Leticia Van De Putte, were steamrolled, neither winning even 40% of the vote. The compelling narrative that launched the Davis campaign after her filibuster in the Texas Legislature went viral, proved too little to sustain a campaign. Van de Putte’s appeal as a widely admired Latina candidate on the state ballot gave her a respectable finish in her hometown and county, but amounted to nothing statewide.
Come January, it will be Gov. Greg Abbot, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, Attorney General Ken Paxton, Comptroller Glenn Hegar, Land Commissioner George P. Bush, Agricultural Commissioner Sid Miller, and Railroad Commissioner Ryan Sitton.
Add four Republicans taking four Texas Supreme Court seats, and three Republicans taking three seats on the Texas Criminal Court of Appeals and you have a clean sweep. Not a Democrat in the bunch.
It’s easy to see why Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julián Castro chose to join the Obama administration in Washington rather than plot a run for Texas governor. There is simply no encouraging data to suggest that even the most charismatic Democratic candidate can succeed at the state level. On the other hand, it isn’t going to be easy governing as Democrat in the nation’s capital, either, with Republicans in such strong ascent.
Nationally, the Republicans took control of the U.S. Senate, knocking off at least four Democratic incumbents and winning three open seats to score a seven-seat swing, one more than necessary to give Republicans full control of the Senate to go along with the House as President Obama eyes his final two years in office. The Republican Party’s big Tuesday night ends eight years of Democratic control of the Senate, and undoubtedly ignites the debate about 2016 and each party’s presidential aspirations.
Locally, in Bexar County, there was more to keep the attention of election-watchers in both parties. Democratic incumbent Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff was re-elected to a fourth term, easily defeating Republican challenger Carlton Soules. With all precincts reporting by midnight, Wolff’s margin of victory was 52.09-44.19%, with minor candidates drawing 3.5%.
The night’s big upset was in the District Attorney’s race, where longtime Republican incumbent Reed fell to challenger LaHood in a race marked by negative campaigning and big outside money bankrolling the challenger. With all precincts reporting, LaHood’s lead stood at 51.56-48.44%, a margin of 9,300 votes.
In the 23rd Congressional District, Republican challenger Will Hurd held on to a narrow lead to upset Democratic incumbent U.S. Rep. Pete Gallego in a race that couldn’t be called until the last precinct reported. Hurd jumped out to a 10-point lead in early voting. That gap closed to a dead heat, 48-48% with 52% of the precincts reporting. Hurd then rebuilt a solid lead, only to see it erode as the night grew long. With 99% of all precincts reporting, Hurd held on by two percentage points, 49.8-.47.7%, a 2,500 vote margin. A third-party candidate won 2.3% of the vote.
U.S. Reps. Lloyd Doggett (D-Dist. 35), Joaquín Castro (D-Dist. 20), Lamar Smith (R-Dist. 21), and Henry Cuellar (D-28) all cruised to easy victories against token opposition.
In Bexar County, less than 20% of the county’s 959,438 registered voters voted in the 12-day Early Voting period, 191,701 ballots in all. Republicans voted in greater numbers than Democrats, no surprise, but the difference was more narrow. Only 303,971 voters, or 31.7% of registered voters, cast ballots this year in the general election. Apathy persists.
In other races…
U.S. Senator John Cornyn cruised to easy re-election over Democratic challenger David Alameel, with a 61.9-34% finish. Cornyn will be a major player in the Republican-controlled Senate come January.
Incumbent State Representative Mike Villarreal (D-123) recorded a commanding victory over Green Party candidate Paul Ingmundson, winning 86.3% of the vote while preparing his run for another office. Villarreal has said he will resign his state office to run for mayor in San Antonio, with city elections scheduled for May 9. So far, he is the only announced candidate. Speculation about Van de Putte will intensify now that her statewide hopes have been dashed.
Other local legislators who did not draw opponents or only token opposition all cruised to easy victories.
The best statewide reporting service for analysis and checking final results is the Texas Tribune. Click here.
*Featured/top image: Nicholas “Nico” LaHood addresses supporters on election night with his wife, Davida, and daughter Maya, 5. Photo by Scott Ball.
This story was originally published on Tuesday, Nov. 4, 2014 and was continuously updated to reflect election results.