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Cornyn and Crenshaw Win Quick as Trump Takes Texas

Harris County election workers carried in voting materials to be counted Tuesday night at county election HQ in NRG Arena.
Harris County election workers carried in voting materials to be counted Tuesday night at county election HQ in NRG Arena.
Photo by Jack Gorman

While the presidential race remained too close to call in the nation’s Electoral College Wednesday morning, victors were crowned before midnight (in some cases, well before) in the races for Texas Senate and U.S. House seats in Texas Congressional Districts 2, 7 and 22 .

A record-shattering 1.65 million Harris County voters cast their ballots in the 2020 general election, easily beating the record 1.34 million votes cast in 2016.

Harris County Clerk Chris Hollins was clearly proud of the milestone on election night, and was definitely still riding the high of winning federal court approval on Monday to count 127,000 ballots cast via drive-thru voting, his most recent victory against Texas Republicans trying to fight back against his office’s efforts to make voting easier and safer during the deadly coronavirus pandemic.

In another win for Hollins, Election Day itself in Harris County saw nearly no lines across the 806 polling places spread across the Houston area thanks to the six-day increase in early voting authorized by Gov. Greg Abbott, which came after — you guessed it — Hollins requested him to do so.

“I can report that throughout the day today, there were nearly no lines at our 800 voting places. I’m sure that made your reporting experience a lot more boring than you expected,” Hollins joked to reporters at the county election headquarters in NRG Arena Tuesday night.

U.S. President

Just after midnight, the Associated Press called Texas for Trump, maintaining the streak of Republican presidential victories in the state that's been unbroken since 1980.

By Wednesday morning, Biden had secured 238 electoral votes to Trump’s 213, with the race still too close to call in Nevada, Wisconsin, Michigan, Georgia, North Carolina and Pennsylvania.

In a speech late Tuesday, Biden told his supporters that while “it ain’t over until every vote is counted, until every ballot is counted,” he still felt confident that he’d prevail in the end. “I’m here to tell you tonight we believe we’re on track to win this election,” he said.

But in the wee hours of Wednesday morning, Trump gave an unhinged speech in which he prematurely claimed to have won.

“We were getting ready to win this election. Frankly we did win this election,” Trump said. He then threatened that he’d try to get the nation’s highest court involved to stop lawfully cast ballots from being counted in states that had not yet been called for either candidate.

“We want the law to be used in a proper manner. So we’ll be going to the U.S. Supreme Court. We want all voting to stop,” Trump continued, mischaracterizing uncounted cast ballots as new votes. “We don’t want them to find any ballots at 4 o’clock in the morning and add them to the list, okay?”

It’s clear that we might not know for days whether Trump or Biden will be the next president, as both candidates still have a ways to go to secure 270 electoral votes. Here’s hoping that all votes cast will be counted, and that a victor can be rightfully declared without the specter of court intervention hanging over the whole ordeal like Bush v. Gore in 2000.

U.S. Senate

Incumbent Republican John Cornyn held onto his Senate seat despite facing the toughest challenge of his career from Democrat and Air Force veteran MJ Hegar.

Cornyn led Hegar narrowly as early returns trickled in, and his lead had expanded to just under eight points by the time 77 percent of Texas’s votes had been counted at 9:38 p.m. Tuesday. Hegar had called Cornyn to officially concede the race by 8:30 on election night.

Throughout the race, Hegar attempted to paint Cornyn as a Trump bootlicker who did the president’s bidding in trying to repeal Obamacare, while she sold herself as a badass, motorcycle-riding Super Mom who wasn’t a career politician like her rival.

Cornyn tried to distance himself from Trump as the race became increasingly tight during the final weeks of the campaign, going so far as to criticize the president for minimizing the COVID-19 crisis and admitting that he told Trump (privately) that he wanted to stop using Dreamers — the undocumented residents brought to the United States as children protected by the Obama administration — as political pawns to push through a large-scale immigration reform package.

“This is a historic election for so many reasons,” Cornyn said in his victory speech Tuesday night. “Whether I earned your vote or whether you were pulling for my opponent, I’m honored and committed to serving and representing all Texans.”

“Together, we stood up and got to work, building a powerful grassroots campaign from the ground up, shattering voter turnout records, and most importantly sending a message to a previously safe Senator that he answers to us,” Hegar said in a statement Tuesday night. “I am confident that the work we did will move our state forward for years to come.”

U.S. House District 2

Incumbent Republican U.S Rep. Dan Crenshaw was declared the victor in his race to remain in Congress by the Associated Press a mere 30 minutes after the polls closed in Texas at 7 p.m. Tuesday. Early returns showed Crenshaw with a commanding 12 point lead over his Democratic opponent, Houston attorney and former Beto O’Rourke adviser Sima Ladjevardian. The two candidates competed to represent Texas’s 2nd Congressional district, which encompasses Montrose, part of the Heights, Humble, Spring and Kingwood.

Ladjevardian tried to blunt Crenshaw’s meteoric rise as a national GOP star by ruthlessly attacking his response to the coronavirus, highlighting his early-pandemic attempts to downplay the effectiveness of face masks and his tendency to attend largely maskless fundraisers and campaign events throughout the race. But Crenshaw’s national profile — he was the only Texan asked to speak at this year’s Republican National Convention — along with his military background as an Iraq War veteran and his frequent, biting critiques of Democrats that routinely go viral on social media proved to be more appealing for TX-2 voters.

“We wouldn’t be here without all of you, because you’re our support. You guys are what drive this dream. You’re what light this dream on fire. Fire needs to spread, and that’s what happened,” Crenshaw told the adoring fans assembled for his election night victory party at The Houstonian.

“I want to start by congratulating the congressman. Clearly, Dan and I disagree on the path forward for our nation, especially through this tragic crisis — but I do hope he’ll succeed for the sake of our community’s health,” Ladjevardian tweeted Tuesday night.

U.S. House District 22

Early returns on election night showed a five point lead for Republican Fort Bend County Sheriff Troy Nehls against his Democratic opponent Sri Preston Kulkarni in their race to take retiring Republican Rep. Pete Olson’s seat in Congress, and the race was officially called for Nehls by the Associated Press at 11:15 p.m.. The 22nd district contains small chunks of Harris County and Brazoria County, but is anchored by Fort Bend County, one of the most ethnically diverse counties in Texas.

Kulkarni previously ran against Olson in 2018 and narrowly lost by just 5 points, which had Democrats bullish throughout the campaign that he might be able to turn this red seat blue. He ran hard on his international yet essentially Texan background — Kulkarni is the son of an Indian immigrant father and a mother descended from Sam Houston, and served across the globe as an Obama-era foreign service officer, which he hoped would endear him to a district that is only 38 percent white according to the U.S. Census.

The campaign was marked by viscous attack ads from surrogates of both campaigns; Nehls-aligned groups made Kulkarni out to be a radical liberal drug user based on a drug arrest when he was 18 and Kulkarni’s attendance of the Burning Man festival, while Kulkarni’s allies in the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee hit Nehls hard for being fired from a past police job in Richmond for a laundry list of infractions, including destruction of evidence.

Both candidates ran campaigns that tried to sand off their own partisan edges to appeal to the district’s suburban voters, who have consistently elected Republicans over the years but have soured on Trump more than other traditionally red corners of Texas. Kulkarni moved to the center by abandoning his previous support for Medicare For All, opting to support expanding Obamacare with a public option for health insurance, while Nehls initially embraced the president vocally only to pull away once he’d secured the Republican nomination, deleting references to Trump from his campaign website.

That said, Nehls still ran on a traditionally conservative platform of supporting law and order at all costs, trading heavily on his longtime law enforcement background and his decades living and working in Fort Bend County, which clearly paid off in the end.

U.S. House District 7

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Democratic incumbent Lizzie Fletcher held a narrow four point lead in early returns over Republican challenger Wesley Hunt in the contest to represent Texas’s 7th Congressional District, and the AP called the race for her at 11:17 p.m. Tuesday.

The 7th district, which encompasses parts of western Harris County including Cypress and Bellaire, had been the state’s longest-held Republican district until Fletcher’s victory in 2018. That same year, Democratic senatorial candidate Beto O’Rourke carried the district by seven points over incumbent Republican Ted Cruz.

Her early lead was not surprising. Fletcher had out-raised Hunt by over $1 million going into September, and polls gave her a slight edge over Hunt as early voting began, an advantage that ultimately carried her through to victory.

Anna Ta contributed to this report.

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