How Vulernable Are House Districts Clinton Won? Preliminary Analysis of Texas By Luke Perry and Paul Joyce
Republican House districts won by Hillary Clinton in 2016 are widely considered the front line of Democratic efforts to retake the House next year. The Utica College Center of Public Affairs and Election Research will regularly analyze these 23 districts between now and election day. We begin our analysis in Texas.
Hillary Clinton won 43 percent of the vote statewide in 2016, equaling Barack Obama’s total in 2008 and surpassing his 41 percent in 2012. Three Texas GOP Congressmen represent districts that Hillary Clinton won in 2016: John Culberson (TX-7), Will Hurd (TX-23) and Pete Sessions (TX-32). Clinton’s victory was narrow in each (1.4 percent, 3.4 percent, and 1.9 percent respectively), while the margins of the victory for the Texas MC’s varied. Sessions, who represents suburban Dallas, faced no Democratic challenger and won over 90 percent of the vote. Culberson, whose district is in Houston, won by 13 points. Hurd, whose district is in the southern, more liberal part of the state, won by two points.
Recent history points to Republican control of each seat. In TX-7, for instance, only three people have held the seat since 1967, and they were all Republicans (George H.W. Bush 1967-1971, Bill Archer, 1971-2001 and John Culberson since 2001). Pete Sessions (R) has represented TX-32 since the seat was created in 2003. Culberson and Sessions both survived the Democratic wave election of 2006.
In contrast, TX-23 has changed hands several times. Will Hurd defeated Democratic Incumbent Pete Gallego in 2014 and defeated him again in 2016. Though the dynamics of each district differs, Republican strength is a common theme, and all three representatives are battle tested incumbents.
All three Congressmen have also been strong legislative supporters of President Trump. Culberson and Sessions have uniformly voted for Trump’s proposals. Hurd has only deviated once, opposing The American Healthcare Act (AHCA).
Responding to events related to the Trump administration and Russia investigation is an inherent challenge for all incumbent Republicans pursuing reelection. These three Texas Congressmen have addressed James Comey’s firing and the prospect of a special prosecutor differently.
Sessions preferred “a more gracious way” to remove Comey, such as offering an opportunity to resign, but did not believe a special prosecutor was necessary. Culberson said very little about Comey, but lauded Robert Mueller’s appointment as special prosecutor, believing this would produce a “thorough and fair assessment.” Hurd was alarmed by the timing of Comey’s dismissal from office, which highlighted the need for the House to proceed in a bi-partisan manner with their related investigations.
Though conventional wisdom suggests these districts are vulnerable, incumbency advantage is powerful in the House. 97 percent of House incumbents were reelected in 2016. This was slightly higher than the post-World War II average of 94 percent. Democrats believe GOP AHCA votes will be impactful, given the national unpopularity of the bill, but that remains to be seen, particularly in districts where registered Republicans outnumber Democrats.
Experiences in Texas suggest that previous seat history and margin of victory create substantive differences in attempting to evaluate the future of districts Clinton won in 2016. John Culberson (TX-7) and Pete Sessions (TX-32) appear better positioned to retain their seats than Will Hurd (TX-23) because of GOP dominance of their respective seats, their larger margins of victory in 2016, and their demonstrated ability to prevail during the last Democratic wave election.
Luke Perry (@PolSciLukePerry) is Professor of Government at Utica College. His column Sound Off! critiques various aspects of American politics.
Paul Joyce is an MPA Candidate at the University of Albany.