Democrats poised for gains in Texas Legislature

November 4, 2008 11:38:53 PM PST
Texas Democrats seemed poised to pick up seats in the Texas Legislature, including their first gain in the Senate in a decade, but their dreams of grabbing a majority in the House faded as the night wore on. Race results: Key Races | State Representatives | State Senate | Harris County | Ft. Bend County | Galveston County | Montgomery County | Brazoria County | All Races

Veteran Sen. Kim Brimer, R-Fort Worth, was defeated by Democrat Wendy Davis. Democrats also brought down a House committee chairman, Rep. Tony Goolsby, R-Dallas. But the Democrats had their share of losses, too, making it difficult to say how many seats each party would have when the dust settled on Wednesday.

Rep. Juan Garcia, D-Corpus Christi, a friend of President-elect Barack Obama, was defeated by Republican Todd Hunter, a former legislator making a return to politics. And Democrats failed to keep the largely rural district lying just east of Austin. The open seat fell to Republican Tim Kleinschmidt.

Democrats were hoping to take a majority in the House but that didn't materialize. Still, even a slight change in the House makeup could endanger the rule of longtime GOP House Speaker Tom Craddick, possibly giving an edge to a different Republican.

One contender already declared Craddick on the way out -- something Craddick would surely dispute.

"The Texas House of Representatives will have a new speaker," said Rep. Jim Keffer, R-Eastland, who has filed the paperwork to become the House leader. "Bipartisanship has won a clear victory tonight."

Elsewhere, Democrat Chris Bell, who ran for governor in 2006, was headed for a runoff with Republican Joan Huffman in Houston.

Democrats, staying unusually competitive in the money game, have been running strong in areas that seemed unimaginable even a few months ago. That cost incumbents like Craddick lieutenant Goolsby of Dallas. Arlington Rep. Bill Zedler was also defeated, losing handily to Democrat Chris Turner.

In one of biggest surprises of the night, five-year House veteran Rep. Linda Harper-Brown, R-Irving, was in the fight of her career. She was narrowly ahead of Democrat Bob Romano early Wednesday. That race had hardly been on the political radar before Tuesday night.

Another surprise came in Houston, where Rep. Jim Murphy, considered a rising star in the House Republican caucus, was trailing Kristi Thibaut with 96 percent of the precincts in.

Both sides said the large turnout, particularly in urban areas, made predicting an outcome more difficult than usual. Candidates in several House races were separated by extremely slim percentages.

In rapidly growing Round Rock, long considered a Republican stronghold, GOP Rep. Mike Krusee barely broke 50 percent two years ago and has decided not to seek re-election. This year, Democrats have predicted an upset victory by Democrat Diana Maldonado over Republican Bryan Daniel. She had a narrow lead early Wednesday with over 90 percent of precincts reporting.

Republicans were poised to hold the Houston-area district left open when popular incumbent Rep. Robert Talton, R-Pasadena, decided to retire. Republican Ken Legler was leading the closely watched race.

Republicans now have a 79-71 majority in the House, so Democrats would need a net gain of five seats to take over.

A four-seat gain would leave the House at a 75-75 tie, potentially sparking leadership fights and policy gridlock in the Legislature. In the Senate, Republicans will hold a 19-12 edge, representing the loss of Brimer's seat.

Craddick, who easily won re-election against Midland Democrat Bill Dingus, has set his sights on winning a fourth term as speaker.

But for any gains to be substantial for the current minority party, Democrats still must hang on to the handful of blue seats that are close to turning red.

A largely rural House district outside Austin, for instance, is being vacated by a well-known Democrat who eked out successive victories despite its conservative makeup. But Republican Kleinschmidt easily defeated Democrat Donnie Dippel.

In Fort Worth, Republican Mark Shelton defeated incumbent Democratic Rep. Dan Barrett.

And in the Dallas suburb of Mesquite, Democrat Robert Miklos was leading Republican Mike Anderson in a seat left open when the Republican incumbent was ousted in the primary.

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