Longtime Texas state Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr. heads to a runoff

By Jolie McCullough, Texas Tribune

Longtime Texas state Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr. is headed into a primary runoff election against attorney Sara Stapleton Barrera in the Democratic race for his Rio Grande Valley seat. Lucio was just shy of the majority of votes needed in Tuesday’s primary election to move on to November’s general election unimpeded.

With all polling locations reporting Wednesday morning, he had about 49.8% of the total votes. He needed 50%. Stapleton Barrera had the second most votes with about 35%.

On Wednesday morning, Lucio tweeted that he was grateful for his supporters who positioned him as the top vote-getter in the race, despite being 100 short of the required amount to clear a runoff.

“Your thoughts and prayers ensured the strongest finish for the run off to come,” he said.

The race for Lucio’s seat was the most competitive of the primary elections for the 31-member Texas Senate, where Republicans are expected to keep their majority after the November general election.

Lucio, a 74-year-old Brownsville Democrat, is the body’s third most senior member after nearly three decades in office. Before Tuesday’s primary election, he emphasized that his seniority and experience were crucial entering the 2021 legislative session, when lawmakers will draw new political state maps.

His challengers, Stapleton Barrera and Texas State Board of Education member Ruben Cortez, criticized Lucio for often voting with Republicans and failing to represent his solidly blue district in the Rio Grande Valley. Lucio, a conservative Democrat, has split with his party on causes like abortion, school choice and the 2017 “bathroom bill” that would have restricted transgender Texans’ access to certain public facilities.

Lucio was the only incumbent in the Texas Senate who faced high-profile primary opposition. No Republicans had primary challenges, and the only other Democrat who did — state Sen. Borris Miles of Houston — was projected to win his race.

But several Democrats were competing with each other to challenge Republican incumbents in November, most notably in the race to go up against state Sen. Pete Flores, R-Pleasanton. San Antonio attorney Xochil Peña Rodriguez and state Rep. Roland Gutierrez will head to a runoff for a spot on the November ballot. They had about 44% and 38% of the vote count, respectively, with more than 98% of polling locations reporting early Wednesday.

Flores is a freshman senator in a historically Democratic district spanning 17 counties that stretch from the Mexican border up to southern San Antonio. Flores fell short in his bid to upset state Sen. Carlos Uresti for the seat in 2016, then won it in a 2018 special election after Uresti, D-San Antonio, resigned after being found guilty of felony fraud and money laundering crimes.