Texas has a special election set for late June to replace Republican U.S. Rep. Blake Farenthold, who resigned last month amid allegations of sexual harassment and word that he used $84,000 from a special House fund to settle a 2014 lawsuit stemming from them.
But the race isn’t expected to capture national attention like others recently — including special House elections in Georgia, Pennsylvania and Arizona, which were viewed as barometers for a possible “blue wave” of Democratic midterm victories, or as signs the GOP can beat that back.
Here’s why the Texas race has largely remained low profile:
The winner of the June 30 non-partisan special election only gets to serve the remainder of Farenthold’s term expiring Jan. 3. That would mean joining a lame duck Congress for about six months — but only if one of the race’s candidates wins more than 50 percent of the votes cast.
That’s unlikely since nine hopefuls — three Republicans, three Democrats, two independents and a Libertarian — are all competing. If none exceed the 50-percent threshold, Republican Texas Gov. Greg Abbott will schedule a runoff in September, meaning the winner only gets about three months in office.
Further complicating matters is the regular election to succeed Farenthold for a full term beginning next year. During Texas’ March 6 primary, two Republicans and two Democrats advanced to a May 22 runoff for the right to compete as their party’s nominee on the November ballot. All four have now also jumped into the special election, hoping to win it and run as a mini-incumbent in November.
Farenthold’s Gulf Coast district is anchored in conservative Corpus Christi and spreads northwest to rural communities near Austin. Farthenhold captured almost two-thirds of its 2016 votes.
The district once included Brownsville on the U.S.-Mexico border and was heavily Democratic, but Farenthold upset 14-term U.S. Rep. Solomon Ortiz during 2010’s tea party wave. Texas’ Republican-controlled Legislature then drew new boundaries that were safe for Farenthold — and probably for the Republicans now vying to replace him.
Abbott declared that replacing Farenthold required an “emergency” special election, allowing him to suspend electoral law when setting its date. He says Farenthold’s replacement is critical since the district was ravaged by Hurricane Harvey and needs a voice in Congress to fight for federal storm relief.
Running are Republicans Bech Bruun, former chairman of the Texas Water Development Board, and ex-GOP county chairman Michael Cloud, who are also competing in the May 22 primary runoff. So is the Democrat Farenthold beat in 2016, Raul “Roy” Barrera, and his runoff competitor, Eric Holguin.
Lesser-known candidates include Chris Suprun, a Dallas paramedic who, as a Republican state elector in December 2016, shunned Donald Trump and cast one of Texas’ Electoral College votes for Ohio Gov. John Kasich.
The special election has struggled for political attention since Farenthold’s is one of a record eight open House seats in Texas. While all the others departing Congress are serving out the remainder of their terms, the five other Republicans and two Democrats retiring are, like Farenthold, leaving behind districts not likely to flip.
By contrast, Texas has three congressional districts with Republican incumbents where Hillary Clinton beat Trump in 2016. The prospect that they could be more competitive has kept political eyes focused on Rep. Pete Session’s Dallas territory, Rep. John Culberson in Houston and a border district that sprawls from San Antonio to El Paso and had frequently switched between parties before Rep. Will Hurd won re-election in 2016.