Sara Stapleton Barrera, 2020 primary challenger to state Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr., announces comeback bid as he retires

Sara Stapleton Barrera, a Brownsville lawyer who last year challenged state Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr., stands in downtown Brownsville on July 4, 2020. Stapleton Barrera said she is again running for the seat after Lucio decided against seeking reelection. (Brenda Bazán For The Texas Tribune, Brenda Bazán For The Texas Tribune)

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Sara Stapleton Barrera, who last year forced longtime state Sen. Eddie Lucio, D-Brownsville, into a primary runoff, has decided to run again now that the incumbent is retiring.

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The Brownsville lawyer challenged Lucio from the left in the 2020 primary election, eventually losing to him by 7 percentage points.

"We had so much momentum and I feel like so much hope was generated in South Texas over our last race," Stapleton Barrera said. "I feel like now’s the time."

Stapleton Barrera is the first major candidate to declare for Lucio's Senate District 27 seat since he announced Thursday that he would not seek reelection next year. Lucio, a moderate Democrat who is close with Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, has served in the Senate for three decades.

With the newly open seat, Stapleton Barrera said she does not expect to change much in her bid for office. She plans to run on the issues that fueled her 2020 campaign, including campaign finance reform, term limits and transparency in government.

The Democratic primary is set to be competitive again. Even before Lucio announced his retirement, state Rep. Alex Dominguez, D-Brownsville, began exploring a run for the seat. He is expected to make an announcement in the coming days.

Stapleton Barrera said she did not know who would run now that the seat is open but predicted there "will likely be a bunch of career politicians."

"That’s the stuff we’re just sick and tired of down here in South Texas," she said. "The people see through that."

Redistricting has made the district less safe for Democrats. Republicans can be expected to put up a fight for the seat as they seek to make inroads in South Texas after President Joe Biden underperformed there in 2020. But Stapleton Barrera said she thinks "if we all rally together, then we can keep a Democrat in the seat."

Both sides have a short timeline to field candidates. The filing period for the primary runs from Nov. 13 to Dec. 13.