One Texas House race holds drama Tuesday night

Pete Gallego, May 16, 2003
Pete Gallego, May 16, 2003 MCT

In Texas this election cycle, there is only one competitive federal race.

The 23rd congressional district stretches from San Antonio to El Paso, 800 miles along the border; a plane ride or 10-hour drive end to end.

It has switched sides and candidates in the last three election cycles. On Tuesday, freshman Rep. Pete Gallego, a Democrat, faces a challenge from Republican Will Hurd, a former CIA agent. The district is majority Hispanic, but in recent presidential elections voted Republican and is considered a Republican district.

“It is a close race,” said Brandon Rottinghaus, associate professor of political science at the University of Houston.

“Gallego’s going to struggle to get his vote out and turnout is down where he needs it to be up,” he said. “For Hurd, the benefit is he’s in an election year with serious Republican turnout because of the governor’s and lieutenant governor’s races and there’s so much venom for (President Barack) Obama.”

There have been no recent outside polls, although the nonpartisan Cook Political Report scores it as “lean Democratic.”

“We are pleased with early voting,” said Anthony Gutierrez, Gallego’s campaign manager. “We feel we’re ahead in turnout in areas where we’re strong.”

Hurd, in an interview, expressed confidence.

“This election has been about the message.,” he said. “Folks in this district are worried about a lack of leadership in Washington, D.C.”

The enormous size of the district, with population centers in the outskirts of San Antonio and El Paso, has made for time-consuming retail politics, mostly mobile.

“I had to buy a new car,” said Hurd.

The congressional contest has largely remained a local affair, focused on the issues of jobs, the economy and border security. The candidates couldn’t work out a date to hold a debate, so there was no one-on-one encounter for voters to see them face off against each other.

Gallego, 52, a former Texas state senator, has not brought in any big-name Democrats to boost his re-election. Money-wise, he has raised nearly $2.3 million, compared to Hurd’s $1.06 million. His campaign did begin a robocall Monday using the voice of former President Bill Clinton to urge voters to support the congressman.

Hurd, 37, who works for a cybersecurity company in San Antonio, won a contested Republican primary this year after losing in the primary two years ago.

Gallego is Latino and Hurd is African American. The district flipped from a Latino Republican, Henry Bonilla, in 2008 to a Latino Democrat, Ciro Rodriguez, followed by the 2010 win of a Latino Republican, Quico Canseco to 2012’s victory by Gallego.