Houston’s newest congressional district was drawn with the aim of electing a Republican – in fact, experts say it was drawn to elect one particular Republican.
But that candidate faces a major obstacle on the road to his party’s nomination.
Former Army captain and Iraq War veteran Wesley Hunt came within four points of beating Congresswoman Lizzie Fletcher in 2020. Since then, state GOP lawmakers carved out a new district, Texas’ 38th, specifically with him in mind.
TX-38 stretches from the Energy Corridor in western Harris County northwards to Cypress and Tomball. It includes the most conservative portions of Fletcher’s former 7th district with portions of the deep red 8th district, from which Congressman Kevin Brady is retiring.
The result is a district likely to favor Hunt, according to political analyst Jacquie Baly.
“Wesley Hunt grew up in the district,” said political analyst Jacquie Baly. “He has over $1 million. His endorsements include heavy hitters like (U.S. House) Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and Sen. Ted Cruz.”
And last week, Hunt got his highest-profile endorsement yet: Former President Donald Trump.https://platform.twitter.com/embed/Tweet.html?creatorScreenName=houstonpubmedia&dnt=true&embedId=twitter-widget-0&features=eyJ0ZndfZXhwZXJpbWVudHNfY29va2llX2V4cGlyYXRpb24iOnsiYnVja2V0IjoxMjA5NjAwLCJ2ZXJzaW9uIjpudWxsfSwidGZ3X2hvcml6b25fdHdlZXRfZW1iZWRfOTU1NSI6eyJidWNrZXQiOiJodGUiLCJ2ZXJzaW9uIjpudWxsfSwidGZ3X3NwYWNlX2NhcmQiOnsiYnVja2V0Ijoib2ZmIiwidmVyc2lvbiI6bnVsbH19&frame=false&hideCard=false&hideThread=false&id=1494466287917019136&lang=en&origin=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.houstonpublicmedia.org%2Farticles%2Fnews%2Fpolitics%2F2022%2F02%2F21%2F419242%2Fwesley-hunt-doesnt-have-a-free-ride-in-his-bid-to-become-tx-38s-first-congressman%2F&partner=tfwp&sessionId=2951b4f79bf0cb4b85503a517b93a217cd12468a&siteScreenName=houstonpubmedia&theme=light&widgetsVersion=2582c61%3A1645036219416&width=500px
In fact, Hunt’s latest campaign finance report shows him with $2 million, roughly 20 times as much as his nearest competitors in the Republican primary.
Hunt has nine opponents in the primary, but Baly believes he can clear the 50% +1 threshold needed for a first-round victory.
“Based on the last time that we saw Hunt — which was in CD 7 — on the ballot in a Republican primary, he had several opponents at that time and won without a runoff,” Baly said. “There’s probably a good probability that will happen again. Even though he has nine opponents, this district is pretty much handmade and crafted for him.”
But at least one of those nine — oil and gas engineer Mark Ramsey — could give Hunt a serious run for his money.
Ramsey’s campaign is more local, Baly said: his endorsements have come from Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller and state Rep. Mayes Middleton with the Texas Freedom Caucus.
What could really give Ramsey an advantage, however, is the endorsement of the three main conservative slate mailers: the Conservative Republicans of Texas led by Dr. Steven Hotze, the Texas Conservative Review led by Red, White, and Blue co-host Gary Polland, and the Link Letter.
Jones noted that Ramsey has been able to contrast his support, which mostly comes from local Republicans, with Hunt’s, which mostly comes from national Republicans.
“These slate mailers send out endorsement lists to Republican primary voters, and especially in races where people don’t have a lot of information about the candidates, they tend to be quite influential,” said Rice University political scientist Mark Jones. “And the fact that Ramsey is endorsed by all three of those means that he’s going to get pretty widespread coverage in those mailers that are sent out to all Harris County Republican primary voters.”
It’s unlikely Ramsey would be able to deliver a knockout punch to Hunt in the first round. But if the contest goes to a runoff in May, Jones said, the momentum could shift to Ramsey as the more conservative candidate.
“Ramsey’s goal, combined with the eight other minor candidates, is to simply keep Hunt below 50%, and thus force a runoff, where turnout’s going to be substantially lower, and where Ramsey might have at least the possibility of victory,” Jones said. “We know, especially in Harris County, when turnout falls, it tends to favor the more conservative candidate with local ties and local roots, and that’s Ramsey, not Hunt.”
Hunt’s other rivals for the Republican nomination in TX-38 include retired Houston firefighter and small business owner Jerry Ford, technician Phil Covarrubias, consultants Alex Cross and Roland Lopez, teacher Brett Guillory, minister David Hogan, small business owner Damien Mockus, and oil and gas professional Richard Welch.
Whoever emerges from the crowded Republican field will face off against one of three Democratic candidates in the fall. The leading candidate in that primary is likely teacher and activist Diana Martinez Alexander, who previously ran an unsuccessful 2020 primary campaign for Harris County Commissioner for Precinct 3. Her Democratic rivals include Spring Branch ISD Superintendent Duncan Klussman and business owner Centrell Reed.
None of these Democrats are likely to fare well against the ultimate Republican candidate, because of the way the GOP-led Legislature drew the district.
“Republicans start off with a 25 point advantage, which is unbeatable in any general election,” Jones said.