Gov. Greg Abbott and every other statewide Republican seeking re-election emerged victorious on Tuesday. Still, the election proved to be the closest statewide contest in two decades as many of the incumbents won by notably slim margins.
Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, Attorney General Ken Paxton and Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller were neck and neck with their Democratic challengers throughout Tuesday night but eventually prevailed as election results poured in.
Meanwhile, Abbott easily fended off Democratic challenger Lupe Valdez to win a second term though his margin of victory wasn't nearly as large as it was four years ago when he faced off against former state Sen. Wendy Davis.
In 2014, Abbott, Patrick, Paxton, Miller and other statewide Republicans all won by more than 20 points.
The largest gap on Tuesday appeared in the gubernatorial race, where Abbott led Valdez by nearly 14 points with most precincts reporting. Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush performed second-best, leading Democratic challenger Miguel Suazo by more than 10 points.
In a prepared statement, Abbott called for unity following one of the most divisive midterm elections in U.S. history.
“We must always remember that what unites as Texans is far greater than our differences," he said. "With the election behind us, it is time for us to work side by side to build a brighter future for every person in our state. Together, we will elevate Texas to even greater heights.”
At a raucous election night party thrown by the Texas Democrats in Austin, Valdez acknowledged that her “uphill battle” had come to an end but urged the room of supporters standing shoulder to shoulder to look toward the future.
“My real pride is in believing that I will not be the last,” Valdez said, adding that “2020 starts tomorrow.”
Patrick, Paxton and Miller all won re-election by single-digit margins after maintaining narrow leads over their Democratic challengers throughout Tuesday night. With most precincts reporting, none of their opponents were within four points of their leads.
Many considered Patrick among the more vulnerable statewide Republicans, but he still overcame his close race against Democratic challenger Mike Collier. Paxton, a Republican incumbent who has served most of his first term under criminal indictment for securities fraud was at one point behind Democrat Justin Nelson on Tuesday, but eventually prevailed. Nelson made Paxton's indictment the centerpiece of his campaign as Paxton ran a mostly under-the-radar campaign until the final weeks of the contest.
Acknowledging that Republican U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz's nationally watched race against Democratic U.S. Rep. Beto O'Rourke could be close, Paxton on Monday said in a radio interview that his campaign was taking this year's election seriously.
"Mine could be close," he said.
The same phenomenon played out in the Cruz-O'Rourke showdown with Cruz pulling away in a neck-and-neck race, eventually winning re-election to a second term.
Sid Miller, the state’s controversial and colorful agriculture commissioner, also eventually pulled ahead in his race against Democrat Kim Olson, a retired air force colonel who ran a spirited campaign.
Abbott's re-election to a second term had been in little danger throughout a campaign that has consistently shown him to be the heavy favorite. During his first term, Abbott drew largely positive reviews for his role as the state's commander-in-chief in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey. He also urged Congress to reform the "broken immigration system" and worked behind the scenes on a pitch to fix public school financing.
Valdez, a former Dallas County sheriff, made headlines as the first openly gay and Latina candidate to win a major party’s gubernatorial nomination in Texas, a title she notched after beating Andrew White in a tight Democratic runoff. During the only gubernatorial debate of the race, she came out swinging against Abbott in September, attacking him on Hurricane Harvey relief funding and guns in classrooms.
But she has long been the race’s clear underdog, plagued by a disorganized, poorly funded campaign since she stumbled over her announcement in 2017. Polls have consistently highlighted Abbott’s dominant advantage over Valdez — as did his fundraising totals easily dwarfed hers. Facing little competition in his own campaign for re-election, Abbott spent the early voting period campaigning for down-ballot Republicans in tighter races.
Despite coming under fire recently for potential conflicts of interest relating to her financial stakes in the West Texas oil and gas industry, Christi Craddick, the incumbent Republican railroad commissioner, handily bested her long-shot challenger, Democrat Roman McAllen.
Boosted by strong name recognition among voters and a sizable campaign war chest, Craddick, the daughter of former Texas House Speaker Tom Craddick, secured an early lead of seven points.
Texas Republicans were also poised to maintain their hegemony on the state’s two high courts.
Three incumbent Republicans on the Texas Supreme Court — Justice Jimmy Blacklock, Justice Jeff Brown and Justice John Devine — held slim leads in early voting totals Tuesday evening. The strongest showing from a Democrat came from R.K. Sandill, a district judge in Houston who emerged as the best-funded Democratic challenger this election cycle.
The trend was the same on the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, where two Republican incumbents — Presiding Judge Sharon Keller and Judge Barbara Hervey — seemed poised for victory along with Republican Michelle Slaughter, who is running for an open seat without a Democratic opponent.
Emma Platoff contributed to this report.
This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune.