A Houston congressional race exposes rifts within the GOP

The top candidates for a vacant seat in Houston’s newly redrawn 8th congressional district present different versions of the post-Trump Republican party.

By Jill AmentDecember 9, 2021 10:15 am,

Houston-area Republican Congressman Kevin Brady didn’t seek reelection, so his seat is up for grabs in 2022. It’s drawn a nine candidate Republican primary field that’s exposing rifts within the GOP.

Brandon Rottinghaus is a political science professor at the University of Houston and has studied this race closely.

Listen to the interview above or read the transcript below.

This transcript has been edited lightly for clarity:

Texas Standard: Nine candidates in the Republican primary – who seems to be the most formidable?

Brandon Rottinghaus: It’s an open seat, so you’re definitely going to see a lot of people come out, because it’s an opportunity to win where otherwise you might not have it. The two top candidates that have emerged are Morgan Luttrell, who is a former Navy Seal and also worked with Secretary Rick Perry at the Department of Energy, and Christian Collins, who is a conservative activist and former Ted Cruz staffer. Both present a slightly different version of the post-Trump Republican Party. I think this election will tell us a lot about what the new breed of conservative post-Trump will look like.

Could you say a little bit more about that, for those who haven’t been following the politics of what it means to be a Republican in Texas right now? Break that down for us. 

There are subtle differences, and I think that’s what most voters are going to have to cue on – especially most Republican primary voters, who tend to be pretty cognizant of these things. Mr. Collins presents as more of a true believer, a movement conservative, a Cruz style pugilist. He’s cut his chops as the founder of the Texas Youth Summit, so he’s had conservative connections all over the district. He presents a litany of conservative issues: gun rights, protecting elections, critical race theory, abortion. Morgan Luttrell presents slightly differently. He’s more of a conscience conservative, so he, along with, say, Jake Ellzey, who was elected in the North Texas district, is more grounded in terms of the things people are worried about, but in a conservative way. So, securing the border, cybersecurity, public education – these are the things that help Jake Ellzey win in North Texas. It’s a model that can be recreated. One thing that neither of them do in their materials – in their web site or their announced videos – is talk about Donald Trump, and that’s interesting.

It seems like a lot of what we’ve heard is about the MAGA, pro-Trump candidate – somebody who is loud and proud in that corner, versus in the establishment. This seems more nuanced. We’re talking about an area in Houston. Tell us a little bit about the folks who would be represented in this district.

This is a district which has changed slightly because of redistricting. In keeping with where Republicans have redrawn districts, they’ve gobbled up some more rural areas and put them into some more areas in potential jeopardy that connect to suburban areas. This is a district which now is a slimmer version of itself. You have some territory they didn’t have before in western Harris County. This area is booming. There’s not a lot there in terms of people, but there’s infrastructure, so you’re going to see a real change in the next few years. In fact, about 43% of Ted Cruz’s 2018 Republican voters in the old district do not live in the proposed new district. There’s a lot of new territory, a lot of newcomers to Texas. The ground game is going to matter. I think the thing to watch is the money, primarily. Luttrell’s already got $700,000 in the bank. We haven’t seen that same money from Collins yet because he just announced. Nobody else has raised anything close to that.

You mentioned a lot of newcomers in this district. Can Democrats make inroads here? 

It’s going to be a challenge in the near term, but in the long term, maybe. We may see the same kind of scenario we saw happen beginning in 2010, where lines are drawn to protect Republican incumbents. But Texas is changing so fast that it’s really hard to make those predictions a decade out. I don’t think that this is a cycle where you’re going to see Democrats do well generally or in this district, but in a couple of cycles from now, that could change.

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