Democrats pick candidates for two border districts; GOP rivals head to runoffs


West Texas' 16th District likely to stay blue, but fate of 23rd hangs in air, analyst says

EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) — The Democratic field is set for two spots in Congress that represent portions of El Paso, while the Republicans will have to go into runoffs following results from Tuesday’s primary.

U.S. Rep. Veronica Escobar (D-El Paso) ran unopposed in the 16th Congressional District but still managed to get 54,496 votes in an election where the overall Democratic turnout was up more than 12,000 votes compared to 2016.

“We had a great turnout from El Paso voters and Democrats,” Escobar told Border Report on Wednesday. “We’re going to work very hard leading up to November to make sure we not only win but also help all Democrats on the ballot. We are going to initiate a very ambitious, robust field operation to break records and send a very strong message about our community and border values.”

U.S. Rep. Veronica Escobar (center) at an event in Washington, D.C. (photo taken from Twitter)

Six Republican candidates for the 16th Congressional District managed a combined 16,246 votes, with Sam Williams and Irene Armendariz-Jackson headed into a runoff.

The last time a Republican won the district, President John F. Kennedy was still in office. Still, outgoing El Paso County GOP chairman Adolpho R. Telles thinks there’s a chance to deny Escobar a second term in office.

“There’s tremendous dissatisfaction with the existing representative and that’s why we had so many candidates and I think the two strongest ones came out. Both are very competent, very adequate for the task,” Telles said.

Adolpho R. Telles

The Republican leader — who on Tuesday lost a bid to continue as GOP county chairman to Rick Seeberger — said Escobar focused too much time on trying to get President Trump impeached. “She’s focused on whatever (House Majority Leader Nancy) Pelosi tells her to. They’ve been approving what they absolutely have to but if things come up that the President might get credit for, they won’t support it,” he said.

Telles said the GOP candidates support border security, which will benefit border residents by speeding up lawful trans-border commerce while keeping the country safe.

But Richard Pineda, associate professor of communication at the University of Texas at El Paso, says he doesn’t see change coming to the 16th Congressional District in November.

“This has been a Democratic-controlled county for a long time. […] They (Republicans) don’t have candidates that are well-rounded and I think that’s a challenge out of the gate because you need to swing moderate or conservative Democrats. There’s no way you win this county unless you win Democratic voters. I don’t think that’s going to happen,” Pineda said.

Dr. Richard Pineda

He said the Republicans in this race were “all over the place” in terms or priorities and issues, appealing to a very specific set of voters.

The 23rd Congressional District is another story.

That’s a district that runs from Far East El Paso to the western edges of San Antonio. In between, there’s a lot of mostly empty border, small towns, farms, ranches and churches. It’s represented in Congress by a Republican who decided not to run for reelection.

Gina Ortiz Jones became the Democratic candidate for the 23rd after Tuesday’s primary. Two years ago she lost to incumbent U.S. Rep. Will Hurd (R-Texas) by a 1,000-vote difference. Republicans Tony Gonzales and Raul Reyes are headed into a runoff. All three have a military service background but little experience in public office.

Telles said a lot of voters in between the urban centers of San Antonio and El Paso are lifetime conservatives.

“There are a lot of farmers and ranchers, small business people who understand that less government regulations are beneficial to economic growth. And it’s not just economics, it’s also values. They are people who have Christian values, don’t support abortion and fervently support the Second Amendment,” Telles said.

Gina Ortiz Jones (photo taken from Twitter)

Pineda referred to the 23rd Congressional District as a “good example” of gerrymandering benefiting the Republican Party.

“It’s very hard to put together a Democratic coalition across that district because it’s so big and spread out. That favors Republicans in the 23rd in a way that the 16th does not,” he said.

Jones on Wednesday put out a statement outlining her priorities. “Folks in South and West Texas are ready to send a leader to Washington who will fight for quality, lower cost health care, responsible and compassionate immigration reform, and an economy that works for everyone,” she said.

The runoff election is May 26.

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