There are several high-profile races that are garnering national attention, many of them in the diverse Sun Belt. Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams could make history again if she's elected as the first black women to serve as governor. In Florida, Andrew Gillum could make history as his state's first black governor. And here in Texas, Beto O'Rourke's much-covered race for Senate against Ted Cruz has reenergized the regular speculations about turning the state blue after nearly 25 years of Republican domination in statewide elections.
But there are some not-quite-as-high-profile, close races and measures worth watching as well that could offer insight into deeper shifts, starting in Houston.
Congressional District 7
Representing a well-off section of west Houston, Harris County and several small, incorporated cities, incumbent John Culberson has expressed undaunted confidence this election but analysts aren't so sure it's warranted. The seat has been held by a Republican since the '60s when George H. W. Bush held the office. The race here, against newcomer Lizzie Fletcher is seen as a critical one on the national scene. "It’s now conventional wisdom that Texas' 7th District is central to whichever party will control the next Congress," wrote Abby Livingston in the Texas Tribune. Because of his appropriations committee assignment, Culberson has argued his role is especially critical for the Houston area, which is still recovering from Hurricane Harvey. But Fletcher has argued that he has misused the seat, supporting things like the Katy Freeway and failing to use it to invest in flood mitigation before Harvey.
Congressional District 22
The suburban Fort Bend County, one of the most diverse counties in the country, defies easy stereotypes. For decades, the county has been a Republican stronghold. But in the 22nd Congressional District, covering much of the county, Democratic challenger Sri Kulkarni is counting on a ground game that will bring out low turnout groups to challenge incumbent Pete Olson. Though Olson won his last election with a nearly 20-point lead in 2016, Trump proved less popular there, with a lead that was less than half as large. It's possible that some of the same energy infusing races higher on the ballot could help boost Kulkarni's numbers. A win for Kulkarni could also suggest a longer-term shift in the works for the county as a whole. The county is still largely Republican-dominated but it did go for Hillary Clinton in 2016. Still, the Cook Political Report considers this race to be leaning Republican.
Congressional District 32
Another conservative suburban district in Texas is the site of a close race with a Democrat challenging a powerful and longtime incumbent. Unlike Congressional District 22, this district is majority-white and though Clinton won by a narrow margin in 2016, there was no Democratic challenger for the congressional seat. This election, civil rights attorney and former special assistant with the Department of Housing and Urban Development Colin Allred is hoping to unseat Pete Sessions, chair of the House Rules Committee. In the latest New York Times Upshot/Siena College poll of 477 people, Allred seemed poised to do just that, with a 4-point lead over Sessions. But with nine percent of respondents saying they were still undecided, the race in the district former President George W. Bush calls home could go either way.
Other Sun Belt States
California 45th Congressional District
The Orange County district has been held by a Republican since it was created in the early '80s, but there are signs that could be shifting. With a sizable Asian and Hispanic community, the district captures complicated and shifting political terrain. Here incumbent Mimi Walters is in a toss-up race with Democratic challenger Katie Porter. Should Porter win, the result could suggest some serious realignments in the district and county. But there's reason to be skeptical, others argue.
Writing specifically about the county's Vietnamese population, columnist Viet Thanh Nguyen argues, however, that "...if the Democratic Party assumes that demographics equal political fate, it may be in for disappointment. This is because the Asian-American community is diverse in so many ways, including in its political beliefs and passions." Similar to Houston's own Vietnamese and broader Asian-American community, Orange County's Asian-American community has included some pretty conservative politics. That could change. "The county’s demographic change is real," argues Los Angeles Times columnist Gustavo Arellano, "and younger Asian Americans are more liberal than their parents, even if they still vote for their own kind." But, he argues, the Democratic Party still hasn't done enough to reflect and engage that change. "[A]s it stands right now," writes Arellano, "the O.C. Republicans have a slate of diversity that looks like modern-day California while Democrats look like they are immigrants … from Idaho."
California 25th Congressional District
Another one of suburban districts where Republicans have held office for decades, California's 25th congressional district includes part of northern Los Angeles County as well as a portion of Ventura County. It's also a toss-up race, with incumbent Steve Knight recently distancing himself from Trump as his Democratic challenger Katie Hill shows well in polls. The district includes some consistently conservative communities but it's also home to a growing Hispanic population. "They are not only places where you have pretty high median income," Lawrence Becker, a political science professor at California State University-Northridge, told CNBC. "They are also places where you have a lot of college-educated voters, which is the kind of district that has been giving Republicans some trouble this year."
Kansas 3rd Congressional District
We're stretching a bit north of the traditional Sun Belt here to look at Kansas' third congressional district, which includes parts of Kansas City and its suburbs, is majority-white and currently represented by Republican Kevin Yoder, who serves on the House Appropriations Committee. Though Yoder enjoyed a more than a 10-point win over his Democratic challenger in 2016, his seat is considered among the most endangered for House Republicans and the Cook Political Report considers the district to be leaning Democratic. If it does lean that way on Election Day, Democrat Sharice Davids would find herself in office with a lot of "firsts" to her name, including the first lesbian congressperson from her state and potentially the first Native American woman elected to Congress (Deb Haaland could also take the title as a candidate in New Mexico). The district is also interesting as a potential reflection of suburban districts more generally. "Its large population of college-educated moderates represents precisely the demographic that Trump has alienated in suburban districts across the country," wrote Russell Berman in the Atlantic. "They’re similar to voters in swing districts outside of Chicago, Philadelphia, and Los Angeles, and if they take their anger at Trump out on the Republican incumbents who have voted with him in the past two years, they’ll hand Democrats the House majority."
Austin, Proposition A
Austin voters will weigh in on $925 million worth of bond propositions Tuesday, including Proposition A, which would direct $250 million toward affordable housing. KUT breaks it down:
- $100 million for land acquisition: The city would use this money to buy and hold land that would ultimately be used to build new affordable housing. The land may be developed by the city’s Austin Housing Finance Corporation, nonprofits or private affordable housing developers.
- $94 million for rental housing development assistance projects: This money would go toward a program that improves and maintains existing rental housing, as well as adding new affordable rental units.
- $28 million for the Acquisition & Development Homeownership Program: This money would fund a program to help residents who meet certain income requirements find a home they can afford.
- $28 million for a home repair program: This money would go toward completing minor home repairs throughout the city for residents who make below a certain income.
The city's other bond measures include funding for libraries, parks, transportation infrastructure and more.
California, Proposition 1
Voters could decide to allow the state to borrow some $4 billion to fund home loans for veterans, building or renovating affordable housing for households earning below 60 percent of the median state income and other housing programs. In support of the proposition, the Los Angeles Times editorial board wrote that while it wouldn't solve the state's housing crisis, "it's an important part of the solution." Another proposition, Proposition 2, would also direct funds toward housing by allowing the state mental health funding to be used to help house homeless people dealing with mental illness. Proposition 10 would also seek to address the housing crisis, this time by doing away with an old law that curbed cities' ability to expand rent control.
Florida, Amendment 4
While people convicted of felonies currently have to wait five years after the end of their sentences to possibly have their voting rights restored by a state clemency board, this amendment would automatically restore those rights once those who are convicted, excluding people convicted of murder or sexual offenses, have served their time. "If the amendment passes," wrote Alice Speri for The Intercept, "it will enfranchise the largest number of people at once since American women won the right to vote in 1920."
There are plenty more races and measures to watch, but these are few that have caught our attention.