Dallas County is a major battleground this election season, from a marquee congressional race between longtime Republican Pete Sessions and civil rights lawyer Colin Allred to a tough fight over a state Senate seat that stretches from Irving to Rowlett.
But perhaps the most overlooked races are for the Texas House: More than half of Dallas County’s 14 state House districts are seen as competitive this year.
Dallas is a Democratic county generally, and it’s been getting bluer. During the 2016 presidential election, Hillary Clinton won the countywide vote by 26 points over Donald Trump. In 2014, Dallas County voters picked Democrat Wendy Davis over Gov. Greg Abbott by 11 points.
Democrats control state House seats in the southern portion of the county. It’s in the mid-cities, suburbs and in northern Dallas where things are really competitive. And that’s where demographic changes bode well for Democrats in the long term. These areas are growing increasingly diverse. And a lot of new people are moving in.
Across Texas, there are 10 House districts with Republican incumbents where voters chose Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump. That’s where Democrats see their greatest chance to chip away at GOP dominance in the lower chamber in Austin, and where Republicans are working hard to defend (and, in some cases, drawing on big money from deep-pockedeted, right-leaning groups to fund the fight).
Seven of those Republican-held, Clinton-supporting seats are in Dallas County. Some of those districts were won by small margins. For example, Republican Rodney Anderson beat Democrat Terry Meza by just 64 votes in 2016. Now, the two are facing off again in the district on the western edge of the county.
Two of the seats are open: House District 113, after state Rep. Cindy Burkett of Sunnyvale stepped down to run for Congress, and HD 114, where state Rep. Jason Villalba was ousted in the March primary by the more conservative Lisa Luby Ryan.
Republicans are at something of a high watermark, controlling 95 seats in the Statehouse, compared to Democrats’ 55. Cal Jillson, a political scientist at Southern Methodist University, says Republicans simply have the most seats to lose this year, if Democratic voters are as energized as they seem to be.
“A lot of those seats that Republicans hold that maybe they haven’t held in the past, that Clinton won in 2016, are going back to the Democrats in a good Democratic year,” Jillson said.
Republicans in these contested districts run across the spectrum, from more moderate, business-focused Republicans, like state Rep. Linda Koop in North Dallas, to state Rep. Matt Rinaldi in Irving, a member of the ultraconservative House Freedom Caucus. Rinaldi made headlines last year after he got into a scuffle on the House floor when he called immigration agents on a group of protesters.
Rinaldi’s opponent, Julie Johnson, has pitched herself as a progressive and someone who can work across the aisle. Many of the Democratic challengers in the county are using that language of unity, saying that they want to get things done on important issues like public education.
Here are the competitive state House seats held by Republicans in Dallas County:
- HD-102, state Rep. Linda Koop, R-Dallas
- HD-105, state Rep. Rodney Anderson, R-Grand Prairie
- HD-108, state Rep. Morgan Meyer, R- Dallas
- HD-112, state Rep. Angie Chen Button, R- Richardson
- HD-113, state Rep. Cindy Burkett, R-Sunnyvale (open seat)
- HD-114, state Rep. Jason Villalba, R- Dallas (open seat)
- HD-115, state Rep. Matt Rinaldi, R-Irving
One Democratic-held district is also widely seen as competitive: House District 107 on the eastern side of Dallas County. State Rep. Victoria Neave knocked out the Republican incumbent two years ago by just 836 votes, and went on to a successful first term. She was dubbed “freshman of the year” by her colleagues, and she wrote and passed a bill to help ease Texas’ huge backlog of untested rape kits.
But after the session ended, Neave was arrested for drunk driving, and now she’s facing a challenge from Republican Deanna Maria Metzger. Both women are Latina, and both are courting Latino voters and campaigning hard in this diverse district.
Even if Democrats take all of the competitive Dallas County state House seats, the victory will still leave them far away from a majority in the chamber. But that doesn’t mean these results won’t make any difference.
One of the first things that lawmakers will do in Austin in January is pick a new speaker of the House. For the last several sessions, Rep. Joe Straus of San Antonio has filled the role. He’s retiring. He was a more moderate Republican who drew support from Republicans and Democrats, and played a key role blocking some of the most far-right agenda items like a bill to bar transgender people from going into the bathroom that they’re most comfortable using.
There’s a push from the conservative wing of the Republican Party to make sure the next House Speaker isn’t a consensus candidate, but someone who’ll champion an extremely conservative social and economic agenda. Adding more Democrats to the House could make that more difficult. At least, that’s what Democrats are hoping.