Races to watch during the primary election around San Antonio

From Congress to constable, here’s what we’re watching

Here are the races to watch in 2020. (Henry Keller, KSAT)

SAN ANTONIO – The road to November begins for candidates hoping to represent their political party with the primary election.

Before Texas voters decide who will hold public office in November, they must first decide who will represent each party in the general election.

Early voting for Texas’ primary election begins on Feb. 18, and Election Day is slated for Super Tuesday, March 3.

Unless a candidate secures more than 50% of the vote in the primary, the top two contenders in that race will square off in a runoff election on May 26.

Rather than focusing on national and statewide elections, we want to highlight local races that will directly impact San Antonio and the surrounding area.

Whether it’s one of the three congressional races that will determine the region’s representation in Washington, or one of the local races that can change how things are run in Bexar County, they’re all beginning to heat up.

We’re taking a look at those races, the candidates’ fundraising efforts and providing context for each. But as we’ve learned in recent years, elections are more challenging to predict than ever, so keep that in mind. At the end of the day, the voters will decide.

To keep up with all the local election news, don’t forget to sign up for KSAT’s free Vote 2020 Newsletter and you can find more election resources on our Vote 2020 page.

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Bexar County Sheriff

Democrats: Javier Salazar (incumbent), Michelle Barrientes Vela, Jose Trevino, Sharon Rodriguez, Pete Lozano

Republicans: Willie Ng, Gerard “Gerry” Rickhoff, Gary Garcia

Perhaps the most competitive local race for 2020, the fight for sheriff will be worth watching from beginning to end.

First-term Democratic Sheriff Javier Salazar has already been targeted by challengers of both parties over controversies at the jail. Those range from low morale and disciplinary issues among staff to multiple erroneous releases of inmates and the deaths of several people incarcerated over criminal trespassing allegations.

Bexar County Sheriff Javier Salazar talks to reporters after a body burned recognition was found in Southwest Bexar County on December 3, 2019. (KSAT)

Salazar, a former public information officer with SAPD who won the 2016 election by less than one percentage point, has pushed back on criticisms, instead touting what he says are faster response times by deputies and a drop in violent crime.

Based on campaign fundraising, which can sometimes reflect community support, two front-runners in the primary election appear to be Salazar and Republican Willie Ng.

A longtime SAPD detective, Ng has so far has raised over $152,000, nearly double than any other candidate in the last six months of 2019, including Salazar’s $78,000 haul. Those numbers were reported in the semi-annual campaign finance report.

Third in fundraising for Bexar sheriff candidates was Democratic candidate Jose Trevino, a veteran in the Sheriff’s Office who raised nearly $14,000.

All the remaining candidates have raised less than $4,000.

Bottom line: The biggest question for March 3 is whether either of the apparent front-runners are able to solidify their campaigns and win more than 50 percent of the vote to avoid a resource-sucking runoff.

Bexar County Commissioner, Precinct 3

Democrats: Ismael Reyes, Alfonso Perez, Christine Hortick

Republicans: Tom Rickhoff, Trish DeBerry, Weston Martinez, John (The Marine) Casares, Ellen Pfeiffer, Judy Stuller, Kenny Vallespin, Celeste Brown

Since Kevin Wolff, the only Republican on the Commissioner’s Court, announced his retirement last August, candidates have lined up to replace him like it’s taco time at Cowboy Breakfast.

The North Side district will likely trend Republican in November — Wolff won in 2016 with 58.66% of the vote — but with a vacuum at the top and a long list of contenders, each party’s primary could lead to a runoff.

Kevin Wolff, who won't seek reelection.

Republican Trish DeBerry, founder of marketing agency The DeBerry Group and a former TV anchor, is blowing all other candidates out of the water when it comes to campaign funds. According to her semiannual campaign finance report, she raised $112,242 in the final six months of 2019. DeBerry might also be familiar to voters because she unsuccessfully ran for mayor in 2009.

Another GOP candidate who has some name recognition among local voters is Tom Rickhoff. The former probate judge’s political career dates back to 1978 and he has already ramped up public attacks against DeBerry.

Bottom line: It seems likely that the crowded Republican primary will head to a runoff after March 3. Political experts believe DeBerry and Rickhoff are the front-runners in this race. Whichever GOP candidate takes the nomination has a good chance of replacing Wolff after the vote in November.

Bexar County Constable, Pct. 2

Democrats: Rudy Dominguez, Raymond Ford, Ino Badillo, Anthony Castillo, Leonicio Barrera Moreno III, Val Flores, Richard “Rick” Pedrazine, Leticia R. Vazquez (incumbent), Edward Prado, Debra L. Solis Zerda, Mano Rodriguez

Republicans: Charlie Pena Jr.

It seems that no public office has been as tumultuous in Bexar County in the past year as the Pct. 2 constable seat. The badge was previously worn by Michelle Barrientes Vela, who was elected in 2016 with 66% of the vote.

Her term was rocked with multiple allegations of misconduct, reports of a hostile work environment and the arrest of a deputy who planned to run against her.

In September, while watching Texas Rangers raided her office, Barrientes Vela announced her plans to run for sheriff in 2020. The announcement forced Barrientes Vela to resign from her post in compliance with state law. Months later, she was indicted on charges of aggravated perjury, tampering with evidence and official oppression. (She has continued her campaign for sheriff despite her legal difficulties and has a court date later this month.)

County commissioners chose Leticia R. Vazquez to fill the post from September 2019 until the election. Though she initially vowed not to run for the seat, Vazquez later announced her candidacy for a full term in December.

Leticia Vazquez, Pct. 2 Constable (KSAT)

This race is a crowded field with 12 candidates overall. Eleven of them are running for the Democratic nomination.

Bottom line: A runoff is expected on the Democratic ticket. Whoever wins faces an uphill job of getting the office back on track after a period of turmoil.

State Senate District 19

Dems: Freddy Ramirez, Roland Gutierrez, Xochil Peña Rodriguez

Republican: Pete Flores (incumbent)

Texas Democrats held this state Senate district for more than 100 years before Republican incumbent Pete Flores upset Pete Gallego in the Battle of the Pete’s during a special election in 2018. That special election was caused by the resignation of ex-state Sen. Carlos Uresti, a Democrat who was convicted on fraud charges in February 2018.

Flores’ surprise victory turned out to be a major blessing for Republicans after two Dallas districts subsequently flipped to Democrats during the 2018 midterm election, nearly voiding Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s supermajority in the upper chamber for the 2019 legislative session. So the Texas GOP will hope to keep SD-19 come November, especially considering the next session will include redistricting.

In November, the Democratic-leaning district may end up being too much to overcome for Flores in a presidential cycle. Flores is unopposed in the primary.

Two front-runners in the Democratic primary appear to be state Rep. Roland Gutierrez, who forfeited his state House seat to run, and Xochil Peña Rodriguez, an attorney who is also the daughter of Ciro Rodriguez, a former congressman and current justice of the peace in Bexar County.

Bottom line: The two leading Democratic candidates, Gutierrez and Rodriguez, could be headed to a runoff after March 3 and the winner has a good chance of becoming the next state senator from San Antonio.

Texas Senate District 19 (Texas Tribune)

Congressional District 23

Democrats: Ricardo R. Madrid, Jaime Escuder, Rosalinda “Rosey” Ramos Abuabara, Efrain V. Valdez, Gina Ortiz Jones

Republicans: Ben Van Winkle, Raul Reyes, Darwin Boedeker, Cecil B. “Burt” Jones, Alma Arredondo-Lynch, Jeff McFarlin, Tony Gonzales, Alía Ureste, Sharon Breckenridge Thomas

One of the most competitive congressional districts in the country, CD-23 has been a tug-of-war between the two major political parties for the last decade — and 2020 will be no different.

After a narrow win in the 2018 general election, Republican Congressman Will Hurd announced in 2019 that he wouldn’t seek reelection in the border district, which spans nearly all of Texas’ southwestern border and up to San Antonio.

Hurd’s surrender created an opportunity for both Republicans and Dems to potentially seize an important seat in the U.S. House. But before the much-anticipated November showdown, which is sure to draw millions in spending, each party’s primary voters will have to choose the contenders in March (and possibly May).

For Hurd’s part, he’s endorsed Republican candidate Tony Gonzalez, a San Antonio native and military veteran whose politics appear to align largely with Hurd’s. Gonzalez has so far raised the most on the GOP side, but he’ll be facing off against eight other candidates.

On the Democratic side, Gina Ortiz Jones, an Air Force veteran, appears to be the front-runner, based on the fact that she nearly won the exact same district in the midterm against a GOP incumbent.

Bottom line: This race will be among the most competitive all year. Can a candidate from either party create separation in the crowded primary and avoid a runoff? Will a Republican other than Gonzalez emerge as a serious contender?

CD-23 map (Texas Tribune)

Congressional District 21

Democrats: Wendy Davis, Jennie Lou Leeder

Repubs: Chip Roy (incumbent)

Wendy Davis is back in the political fray after a big loss in Texas’ gubernatorial race against Greg Abbott in 2014. The former state senator is now hoping to challenge Congressman Chip Roy, a Republican who was first elected in 2018.

Roy beat Democrat Joseph Kopser with 51.5 percent of the vote during the midterm.

The district stretches from west of Leakey, up to Fredericksburg, across north San Antonio and along the northern edge of I-35 into downtown Austin. The seat had previously been held by Lamar Smith since the late 1980s until he announced his retirement before the midterm election.

Davis became a beloved figure of Democrats statewide and nationally after leading an attempted filibuster to kill a state legislative proposal that was among the most stringent abortion restrictions in the country.

Roy is best known for working as U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz’s former chief of staff before making his congressional run. By succeeding Smith, Roy was able to keep the seat within the Republican Party’s control.

An expected race between him and Davis in November is bound to be a close one, provided that Davis beats Jennie Lou Leeder in the primary.

Bottom line: It will be interesting to see which party gets stronger turnout in the primary election, but most of the action for CD-21 will come during the general election.

CD-21 map (Texas Tribune)

Congressional District 28

Democrats: Henry Cuellar (incumbent), Jessica Cisneros

Republicans: Sandra Whitten

This race is already heating up. The reliably blue district will likely go to the Democrats in November, but the voters will make a statement on the direction of the party in the primary.

The district goes as far south as the Rio Grande Valley, along the border to Laredo and includes parts of Bexar, Wilson and Atascosa counties.

U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, a moderate Democrat who has held the seat since 2004, is facing a challenge from the left: Jessica Cisneros, a progressive candidate who has the support of politicians like Bernie Sanders, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Elizabeth Warren.

Cullear, on the other hand, has Nancy Pelosi’s endorsement.

Cisneros, an immigration attorney, argues Cuellar is “Trump’s favorite Democrat" because of his moderate voting record.

With competing visions of the Democratic party at odds, the race has drawn more than $2 million in outside spending.

Bottom line: This is sure to be one of the most contentious Democratic primaries in Texas, but do voters see a need to change the status quo?

CD-28 map (Texas Tribune)

About the Authors:

Kolten Parker is digital executive producer at KSAT. He is an amateur triathlete, enjoys playing and watching soccer, traveling and hanging out with his wife.