School shooting unlikely to rile Texas runoffs Tuesday

May 21, 2018 - 2:13 pm
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By WILL WEISSERT, Associated Press

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Texas holds its primary runoff election just four days after a 17-year-old student killed 10 people and wounded 13 others at his Santa Fe High School near Houston.

That sent shockwaves through Texas and the nation. But it's unlikely to be a major factor in Tuesday's balloting, which will decide 34 races, including party nominees for governor and Congress, where no candidate won at least 50 percent of the votes cast during Texas' March 6 primary.

Here's a look at why:

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HOUSE DEMOCRATIC IN-FIGHTING

Texas has 17 U.S. House runoffs, 11 Democratic and six Republican. Getting the most attention is a tony Houston district where the national Democratic Party openly criticized Laura Moser, who is running to unseat Republican Rep. John Culberson. The seat is one of three held by the GOP that Democrats hope to flip in November because they supported Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump in 2016.

Moser made the runoff anyway behind Lizzie Pannill Fletcher, an abortion rights activist and prominent lawyer. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee blasted Moser for writing jokingly in 2014 that she'd rather have teeth pulled than live in small-town Texas.

Fletcher and Moser agree on the need for stricter federal gun laws and also say that local issues, such as the ongoing recovery after Hurricane Harvey's devastation, are driving the race — not intraparty squabbles. Still, the result will be viewed as a test of the Democratic establishment's efforts to tame an insurgent wing.

The other two possibly vulnerable incumbents are U.S. Rep. Pete Sessions in Dallas, who has rarely been challenged since arriving in Congress in 1997, and Rep. Will Hurd, whose sprawling border district has frequently changed parties.

Former NFL linebacker turned civil rights attorney Colin Allred is expected win Tuesday to face Sessions. Gina Ortiz Jones, a Lesbian, Filipina-American, ex-Air Force intelligence officer, should meet Hurd in November.

Texas has a record eight open House seats, with six Republicans and two Democrats all leaving Congress. But none of those seats are likely to switch parties — meaning the bulk of the state's 36-member congressional delegation will remain strongly in favor of gun ownership rights.

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GUNS AND THE GOVERNOR'S RACE

The only statewide runoff features little-known Democratic gubernatorial candidates: ex-Dallas County sheriff Lupe Valdez against Houston businessman Andrew White, whose father, Mark, was governor from 1983 to 1987.

Valdez, Texas' first openly gay, Hispanic sheriff, topped White in March without cracking 50 percent. Both reacted to the Santa Fe shooting by calling for tightening gun sale limits and "universal background checks," while criticizing Republican Gov. Greg Abbott for failing to stand up to the national gun lobby.

Beginning Tuesday, Abbott is convening statewide roundtables to discuss preventing future school shootings, but has failed to even mention the notion of gun control.

So far, some students who survived the Santa Fe shooting have been more supportive of Abbott and wary of organizing in favor of the national gun control than their counterparts who survived the Feb. 14 mass shooting in Parkland, Florida. That gives Abbott political cover if little comes out of the discussions.

Neither Valdez nor White should seriously challenge Abbott. Texas hasn't elected a Democratic governor since 1990 and the party hasn't won any statewide office since four years after that — the nation's longest political losing streak.

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