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Crenshaw Holds Edge Over Litton, But Future Of TX-2 In Play

Republican Dan Crenshaw is in a tough fight against Democrat Todd Litton to succeed retiring Congressman Ted Poe in a district whose boundaries could shift dramatically after the 2020 Census.


Congressional candidates Dan Crenshaw (Republican, left) and Todd Litton (Democrat, right) debated at the University of Houston-Downtown on Wednesday, September 26, 2018.

One of the big races we’re following in this midterm election is for the seat held by retiring Congressman Ted Poe. His fellow Republican who wants the seat is Dan Crenshaw. The Democratic challenger is Todd Litton. The two candidates faced off in a debate last week at the University of Houston-Downtown.

Crenshaw talked about his support for building a wall on the Mexican border. "Nobody seriously thinks that we're going to put a wall across every single inch," Crenshaw said. "It's just a geographic impossibility. But we do need the funding to actually get it started, because in the end, the goal is to prevent someone from crossing from point A to point B."

Litton called for protecting women's health care access and reproductive rights. "Government should be staying out of the doctor's office," Litton said. "We don't want government in the doctor's office telling women, or anybody, what they can and should do with a legal procedure like abortion."

In past cycles, such a contest in Texas' 2nd Congressional District wouldn't even be close. Poe regularly won reelection by double digits. But in 2018?

"It is competitive, I think," says David Branham, a professor of political science UH-Downtown who attended the debate. "You have to do well if you're a Republican if you expect to win. If you run poorly, I think there's a very good chance that you could lose this district."

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The district includes wealthy, conservative suburbs in northeastern Harris County, like Kingwood. It also has more liberal Houston neighborhoods, like Montrose.

"But in that center part, where it connects in the northwest side, I think you're going to see a lot of change in that part of the district," Branham says. That's because the district’s demographics are changing. Hispanic residents now make up about a third of the population, and that percentage is growing.

This is also an area hit especially hard during Harvey. Rice University political scientist Bob Stein says Litton has been aggressive in courting the votes of flood victims.

"I've seen some of his public meetings where he goes around telling people, ‘Have you gotten your small business loan application in? Have you gotten your FEMA money in?' He's sort of kind of replacing, ′cause there's no incumbent here, what Ted Poe would normally do as a congressman," Stein says.

Crenshaw certainly hasn't ignored the issue of Harvey. During his debate with Litton, Crenshaw said he'd seek a seat on the House Armed Services Committee, where he could pressure the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to complete flood infrastructure projects. But that's not the central message of his campaign.

"The campaign has played up, ‘I'm a Republican, I support the party, and I support Donald Trump,'" Stein says. "That may be enough, but it's not enough, I think, to kind of inspire what I will call a heavy turnout in the district."

Even with a lower than usual turnout, Stein says Republicans probably hold the edge for now, "but nobody's putting a lot of investment in the future. Nobody thinks this district is going to be here in 2022."

Why? In between now and 2022 is the next census. "We're going to get three new congressional seats in Texas, and they're going to have to go somewhere," Stein says.

It will most likely be Republicans who will decide where those seats go during the next round of redistricting. But in drawing safe GOP seats, they'll still have to work around growing minority populations that are more likely to vote Democratic.

"The configurations will be to protect longer-term veterans," Stein says. "If Crenshaw wins this time, he's not high on the seniority list." Which means that Crenshaw needs to do more than just win this November if he's hoping to last in Congress. He needs to win big.


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Andrew Schneider

Andrew Schneider

Politics and Government Reporter

Andrew Schneider is the senior reporter for politics and government at Houston Public Media, NPR's affiliate station in Houston, Texas. In this capacity, he heads the station's coverage of national, state, and local elections. He also reports on major policy issues before the Texas Legislature and county and city governments...

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