Longtime Democratic state Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr. leading over challenger from his left

Sen. Eddie Lucio, D-Brownsville, spoke during during a Senate State Affairs committee hearing on July 23, 2017. Marjorie Kamys Cotera for The Texas Tribune

State Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr. of Brownsville held an early lead Tuesday against Democratic primary runoff opponent Sara Stapleton-Barrera, as the longtime legislator aimed to fend off a challenge from the left that has highlighted the party’s ideological divisions.

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According to early returns from the Texas Secretary of State, Lucio was leading Stapleton-Barrera 54%-46%. If Lucio holds his lead, he will face Republican Vanessa Tijerina in the November general election.

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

Over the course of the primary runoff campaign, Stapleton-Barrera, an unabashed progressive, said Lucio’s voting record showed he was out of touch with the district’s younger and more progressive voters. Recent campaign finance reports show some of the biggest GOP donors in Texas pitched in last-minute to help Lucio’s reelection campaign.

Stapleton-Barrera also accused Lucio of being too cozy with the Senate’s Republican leadership. Lucio, a conservative Democrat, has long split with his party on issues like abortion, and has cast votes that were controversial within his party in recent years on private school choice and the 2017 “bathroom bill,” which would have restricted transgender Texans’ access to certain public facilities.

Lucio, who ranks third in seniority in the Senate, was first elected to the Senate about 30 years ago. During the Democratic campaign, he touted his seniority, experience and local ties.

Whoever comes out victorious in the runoff will be an overwhelming favorite to win in November.

In the March primary, Lucio narrowly missed an outright win — garnering about 49.8% of the total votes. He needed 50% to avoid a runoff. Stapleton-Barrera had the second-most votes, with about 35%.

Another Senate runoff that drew considerable attention was the Democratic race to go against state Sen. Pete Flores, R-Pleasanton. State Rep. Roland Gutierrez was holding on to a 53%-47% lead over Xochil Peña Rodriguez, according to early vote returns.

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

As of late Tuesday evening, the special election to replace former state Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, remained fluid. While former Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhardt, a Democrat, held on to 51% of the vote, it’s still unclear whether she’ll be able to win the six-way primary outright or be forced into a runoff. State. Rep. Eddie Rodriguez, the other Democrat in the race, trailed Eckhardt with 34% of the vote, according to early returns.

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