SAN ANTONIO (CN) – Despite Republican Congressman Will Hurd’s claiming victory Tuesday night, his race against Gina Ortiz-Jones is still too close to call after a dramatic overnight turn of events that brought the Democratic challenger within 689 votes of flipping a third U.S. House seat in Texas.
But Texas’ congressional delegation remains tightly in Republican hands – at least 22 of the state’s 36 U.S. House seats were retained by the GOP, with Hurd’s seat still in the balance.
And while Democrats mounted a vigorous political fight, unlike past midterms, they were unable to capture enough votes to topple Republicans from any statewide office. Gov. Gregg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Attorney General Ken Paxton each coasted to re-election. Paxton held onto his post despite serving most of his first term under criminal indictment for securities fraud.
Hurd claimed an early victory at an Omni Hotel in northeast San Antonio Tuesday night over challenger Ortiz Jones, who hoped to become the state’s first Filipina-American to serve in Congress.
At midnight, Ortiz Jones trailed the two-term moderate Republican from Helotes by 4 percentage points.
“We achieved the largest victory in a political climate that ended the careers of dozens of my colleagues,” Hurd said just after 10:30 p.m. CST Tuesday to a roaring crowd of supporters.
But his victory speech in one of the state’s few swing districts may have come too soon; Ortiz Jones pulled ahead of Hurd as more votes rolled in early Wednesday morning. By 8 a.m. CST, 689 votes separated the two candidates, 102,903 to Ortiz Jones’ 102,214.
Hurd has been unafraid to part with Republican leadership on crucial issues. He has publicly criticized Trump’s plan for a border wall and denounced Russia’s influence on the 2016 election.
Hurd, who worked as an undercover agent for the CIA in Afghanistan, India and Pakistan for 9½ years and is one of only two black Republicans in the House, overcame Democratic incumbent Pete Gallego by just under 2,500 votes in 2014, and bested the former congressman again in 2016 by a slightly larger margin of 3,051 votes.
Ortiz Jones, one of about 50 women running for office in Texas this year, dubbed Hurd “Washington Willie” in campaign ads and reminded voters of his eight votes to repeal the Affordable Care Act every chance she got. She pushed her experience as an intelligence analyst in the Obama administration and military service in Iraq as a way of matching Hurd’s foreign policy expertise.
Hurd told reporters Tuesday night: “My goal is simple — I treat everyone with respect. And that’s the example I’ve shown over the last four years. When you actually solve problems, people are going to reward you. “I’m excited that the folks of the 23rd have realized that I’m actually working on their behalf.”
District 23 wraps around western San Antonio and stretches to the edge of El Paso, running along the Rio Grande and incorporating rural border towns such as Del Rio and Eagle Pass.
In the tiny West Texas town of Alpine, population 6,000, enthusiasm over the Senate race brought an uptick of voters to the sand-colored downtown Civic Center.
Peggy Low, 52, an Alpine Elementary School teacher, said she voted for Cruz and Hurd.
“I’m pretty much backing our president so I’m voting toward that end,” she said. “I feel like (Cruz) is a good solid person. I feel like I trust what he says and what he says he’s going to do.”
Conrad Soto, 47, an Alpine resident, also voted for Republicans, including Cruz and Hurd.
“I wasn’t buying everything that Beto was selling,” Soto said while declining to elaborate.
But Stephanie Saenz, 52, a retired teacher from Alpine who taught 28 years at Alpine Elementary, said she voted for O’Rourke and Ortiz Jones.
“I like his message about what he is going to try to do for retired teachers as well as for teachers. It’s time for us to be recognized for the work that we do,” she said.
Central Texans in District 31 handed Republican John Carter a ninth term in Congress over decorated war veteran and Mary Jennings “MJ” Hegar. Her race was an uphill fight; the district has never elected a Democrat since its creation in 2002. But Hegar finished just 2 points behind Carter, who defended his seat by a 22 percentage point margin in 2016.
Voters woke up to a dense fog advisory on Election Day, and parts of the city were still covered in a thick haze by midmorning, when District 31 voter Hannah Diller, 41, waited in the short line outside of Northwest Fellowship Church, a faded-yellow building that shares a parking lot with a Family Dollar and the Honey Bee Quilt Store.
“I typically vote Republican,” Diller said, who, like many Texas voters, was drawn out to cast a ballot in the hotly contested Senate race. “But I care very strongly about the issue of immigration and refugees, and I’m not aligned at all with Ted Cruz on that.”
Mark Davison, 43, who also voted at the church in North Austin, in the southern part of Williamson County, did not want to reveal who he was voting for in the Senate race between Cruz and O’Rourke, or in the District 31 House race, but said he thinks “change is good.”
“That’s a nice code word,” Davidson said, smiling. Davison, who is African-American, said that men, and especially his “white male counterparts” have “had their turn.”
“I think it’s time to give the rest of the country a chance, too,” Davison said. “Females are the majority in this country, and I don’t see them appropriately represented. To me, that’s taxation without representation.”
California transplant Brandon Peralez, 35, said he’s also voted in nearly every election since he turned 18.
“I’m a conservative so I feel that it’s important to get out and support the president and do my part,” Peralez said.
He said he’s supporting Cruz, because he likes the Senator’s “approach towards business.”
“I really don’t like the policies of O’Rourke,” he said. “I think it’s detrimental to our state, to our country. I’m originally from California and I’ve had to live in that environment, and there’s no jobs and very high taxes, very high prices on everything. … I don’t want to see that happen here in Texas.”
In other Texas news, former Navy SEAL Dan Crenshaw won U.S. House District 2, keeping it in Republican hands after the retirement of Ted Poe, who did not seek re-election for the seat he has held since 2005.
Crenshaw, a Houston native, wears a patch after losing his right eye in an IED explosion during a 2012 deployment in Afghanistan. The blast also blinded his left eye, but surgeons restored his sight after several surgeries.
The Tea Party-backed Crenshaw oppose abortion, supports President Trump’s call for a border wall and wants to repeal the Affordable Care Act, calling it an “unmitigated disaster.”
District 2 contains Lake Houston, a reservoir that supplies the city’s drinking water.
Also Tuesday, Houstonians voted to raise firefighters’ salaries to the same amounts as police officers of comparable rank and seniority, despite Mayor Sylvester Turner’s objection that doing so will cripple the city financially and force hundreds of layoffs,.
Turner and City Controller Chris Brown said the “pay parity” proposition will cost the city more than $100 million in the first year.
It passed despite Turner’s spending $355,000 of his campaign funds on opposition ads and holding town hall meetings all over the city warning voters of its consequences.
Houston has around 3,950 firefighters. Their starting salary is $40,127, compared to the $51,000 average first-year salaries of firefighters in San Antonio, Dallas, Austin and Fort Worth.
(Courthouse News reporters Daniel Conrad, Kelsey Jukam, Natalie Krebs and Cameron Langford contributed to this report.)