GOP Congressman Will Hurd Hangs Up His Political Boots “Deep in the Heart of Texas” August 18, 2019
The OC, Orange County, CA, formerly the Goldwater/Reagan GOP stronghold, now has more registered Democrats than GOPers. These new figures were released nearly nine months after Democrats took over that county’s entire congressional delegation, a key to “Team Blue’s” recapturing the House. Reagan once stated that the OC was a place where “good Republicans go to die (cnn.com, Cole, D., 8/07/19, LA Times).” IMHO, the OC is now the place where “good Democrats, including ‘Blue’ realigning college-educated voters, go to live.” In Campaign 2018, Democrats also began concentrating on flipping votes in another “Red” bastion. Where? “Deep in the Heart of Texas.” The results? In 11/2018, far-right U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) narrowly won re-election against El Paso Dem. Cong. and now presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke. At the same time, 12 TX State House seats flipped “Blue,” robbing Lone Star GOPers of their House supermajority. Two TX State Senate seats went Democratic, depriving the GOP of a supermajority in that chamber as well (Kos, scamperdo, 8/05/19).
In Campaign 2018, two Dem. Congressional candidates, Lizzie Pannill Fletcher and Colin Allred, flipped the TX 7th and 32nd Congressional Districts respectively. Six TX congressional seats were held by the GOP in 11/2018 by under a 5% margin. All 59 incumbent GOP judges in Houston lost their seats. Record voter turnout blew past every internal GOP estimate, helping Democrats. After “Blue” 11/2018 TX victories, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) stated it would target 6 TX congressional districts as hard as it had previously challenged the 6 OC, CA GOP-held congressional seats. National pundits and TX GOPers ignored or laughed at the DCCC. About 7 months after the DCCC’s comments, the Lone Star GOP wasn’t laughing any more. It was, in fact, starting to freak out. Why? It noticed that a “Texodus,” an exodus of GOP TX Congressmen, was occurring. From 7/25-8/05/2019, four TX “Team Red” Representatives, Pete Olson, Mike Conaway, Will Hurd, and Kenny Marchant, all announced they were retiring (Kos, scamperdo, 8/05/19). In my previous blogpost, I discussed Pete Olson’s leaving and analyzed the chances of “Team Blue” taking this open seat in 2020. It’s time to look at Cong. Will Hurd’s retirement and discuss the opportunity for Democrats to paint his former seat “Blue.”
Third-term retiring GOP Congressman Will Hurd, who will turn 42 on 8/19/19, presently represents TX’s 23rd Congressional District (CD). The current 23rd is located in the Lone Star State’s southwest portion. It includes 29 counties and is TX’s largest geographical CD. The 23rd is larger than most states east of the Mississippi River and spans 800 miles of the TX-Mexico border. The 23rd stretches from San Antonio’s outskirts to the edge of El Paso. The 23rd CD goes from Eagle Pass and Maverick County to the NM border and takes in 23% of the state’s land area (Barone & CQ 14 Political Almanacs, 116th Congress At Your Fingertips). The 23rd is predominantly rural and has one of the lowest population densities in the country. Most of the 23rd’s residents live in Bexar (BEAR) County in the rapidly growing suburbs on three sides of San Antonio. Over 9% of the 23rd’s residents are veterans. The 23rd contains part of the large Joint Base, San Antonio, a combined Army and Air Force base. In addition, the 23rd has military training facilities at Camp Bullis that occupy 28,000 areas northwest of San Antonio. The city of Del Rio is in the 23rd. The military bases have lured shopping and entertainment centers. Hotels have been built to accommodate visitors. In addition to trade and tourism, mining, energy, and agriculture economically bolster the 23rd . The Permian Basin in the 23rd has been an area of oil production and is now emphasizing wind farms. More than 20 million acres in the 23rd are devoted to farmland and ranches. The 23rd’s pastures are among the nation’s top in sheep and goat production (CQ & Barone 14 Almanacs).
The 23rd is 68.34% Hispanic, 24.92% white, and 3.85% black, a majority minority district (See census.gov). The TX 23rd is the politically most competitive of the Rio Grande districts. Although it has a nearly 70% Hispanic vote, Hispanic turnout is not high. The 23rd’s constituents have diverse concerns. Some favor strong border security, others are interested in military and agricultural issues as well as suburban development. Many of the 23rd’s voters have culturally conservative and hawkish national security views. In 2012, the 23rd was only one of nine House seats that Romney won (51%-48%) but also sent a Democrat, Pete Gallego, to the House. Democrat Gallego had ousted a GOPer who had won in 2010. Hillary won the 23rd in 2016 by a 3.4 percent margin (CQ & Barone 14, Pres. Election Results). The most recent Cook PVI, Partisan Voting Index, gives the TX 23rd an R+1 score, making it one ultra-swingy district (See cookpolitical.com/file, 4/07/17).
A graduate of Texas A&M University, Will Hurd worked for the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) from 2000-2009. He was stationed mainly in D.C., but did a tour of duty as an operations officer in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India. He speaks Urdu, the language of Pakistan, and worked there undercover (Weissert, W., 3/07/15, yourconroenews.com). He decided to enter politics after briefing members of Congress, as part of his CIA duties. After leaving the CIA, he returned to TX and worked in a strategic advisory firm and with a cybersecurity firm (nationaljournal.com, 2014). In 2014, Hurd won the GOP congressional primary and was endorsed by CIA Director Robert Gates. He defeated Democratic freshman Gallego by 2.1 points. In 2016, Hurd defeated Gallego in a rematch by 1.3 points. During that race, he tried to distance himself from Demagogue Donald’s anti-Muslim/anti-Mexican “nasty rhetoric (politico.com, Alberta, T., 5/15/17, TX 23rd district election, 2016).” In 2018, in one of the closest House races in TX, Hurd defeated Dem. Gina Ortiz Jones by just .5% of the vote (dallasnews.com, 11/19/18).
Despite all of his campaign talk, as of 1/2018, Cong. Hurd voted with Demagogue Donald 96.6% of the time (Bycoffe, A. 1/30/17, projects.fivethirtyeight.com, projects.propublica.org, Willis, D.). In the present 116th Congress, Hurd voted “only” 51.2%% of the time with Donald (projectsfivethirtyeight.com). I guess he wanted to look slightly “independent” should he run again. Hurd, as the GOP’s sole African American House member, was able to give the impression to his constituents that he himself was no racist and was a “moderate” (LOL) GOPer. He campaigned heavily in the 23rd’s Democratic areas which aided him. However, in the end, Hurd realized that he would only win with razor thin margins every time he ran, and that sooner or later his constituents would give him the electoral “hook.” He wisely decided to “hang up his political boots and spurs.” After the horrific El Paso gun massacre, it also would not have helped him in the 23rd’s neighborhood to have Democrats repeatedly note that the National Rifle Association, had given him at least $38, 350 in campaign funding (cbsnews.com).
In Campaign 2020, Democrat Gina Ortiz Jones (38) will be running again for the now open 23rd CD seat. San Antonio native Jones grew up in TX as the first-generation daughter of a single mother, Victorina Ortiz, a Ilocano , the third largest ethnic group in the Philippines. Ortiz’s mother came to the U.S. and earned a teaching certificate (Pastor, R., usa.inquirer.net, Scherer, J., 5/10/18, “San Antonio Express News”). Ortiz Jones attended San Antonio’s John Jay High School where she served on the student council. She earned a four-year Air Force ROTC scholarship that allowed her to enroll in Boston University. In 2003, she graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in E. Asian studies and a Master’s in economics. At 15, she “came out” to her mother as a lesbian. She served in the U.S. military under the now repealed “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, where public discovery of her sexual identity could have caused her to lose her ROTC scholarship (Brown, J., 6/18/18, “BU Today,” Teeman, T., thedailybeast.com, 5/24/18). Ortiz Jones later earned a Master’s in military arts and sciences at the U.S. Army School of Advanced Military Studies at the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College (Scherer, expressnews.com, 5/10/18).
After graduating college, Ortiz Jones joined the Air Force as an intelligence officer and deployed to Iraq under the W Bush administration. After three years of active duty and having reached the rank of captain, she returned to TX in 2006 and worked for a consulting company. At that time, she also cared for her mother who was suffering from colon cancer, from which she eventually recovered (Scherer, expressnews.com, huffingtonpost.com, Ruiz-Grossman, S. 6/28/18, youtube.com). Ortiz Jones then returned to working as an intelligence officer for US Africa Command in Germany. In 2008, she joined the Defense Intelligence Agency where she specialized in Latin American issues and became a special advisor to the deputy director (Scherer, Malloy, D., ozy.com, 2/14/18). In 11/2018, Ortiz Jones moved to the Executive Office of the President (Obama) to serve under the U.S. Trade Representative. Having served under both GOP W Bush and Democrat Obama, Ortiz Jones continued in her role under GOPer Trump until 6/2017. She then left that role. At that time, she told the Huffington Post that “the type of people that were brought in to be public servants (under Trump) were interested in neither the public nor the service… to me, was a sign that I’m going to have to serve in a different way (huffingtonpost.com, Bendery, J., 1/06/18).”
Ortiz Jones returned to San Antonio to run for Congress. She won her primary and faced Hurd in the general election, where she was endorsed by groups including feminist pro-choice Emily’s List, Vote Vets, and the Asian American Action Fund (Bendery, teenvogue.com, Young, L., 3/05/18). Health care reform played a major role in the election. She and GOP Cong. Hurd broke major fund-raising records (rollcall.com, Connolly, G., 7/09/18, Bloomberg.com). In the end, Hurd defeated her by a mere 1,150 votes(news4sanantonio.com).
With Hurd out of the race in Campaign 2020, Ortiz Jones will look more like the incumbent and should have heavy name recognition. This district looks like the best one TX Democrats can flip with its mere +1 R Cook score. However, other Democratic candidates could challenge Ortiz Jones in the Democratic primary. Even if Ortiz Jones has the primary field unopposed, in the general election, she could face GOP state senator Pete Flores or Rolando Pablos, both Hispanics. They have been mentioned as possible challengers. Pablos previously served as TX Sec. of State from 1/2017-12/2018. Count on the GOP to pour oodles of money into this key race to back whomever their nominee is. And do not “misunderestimate” the GOP’s ability to use misogyny and attack Oritz Jones for her sexual identity with “dog whistles” or MAGA “bullhorns.” Democrats must come out strongly for Ortiz Jones with both financial contributions and with a strong turnout in November, 2020, which can not be taken for granted in the 23rd. Again, on paper, this race looks very winnable for Ortiz Jones. However, elections are never won on paper, only at the ballot box. It’s always about the “T” word, “Turnout.”