Despite High-Profile Endorsements, Democrat Eliz Markowitz Loses Houston-Area Special Election

The loss suggests that what worked for Beto O’Rourke in 2018 might not work in 2020.

By Rhonda FanningJanuary 29, 2020 1:04 pm

On Tuesday, Republican Gary Gates beat Democrat Eliz Markowitz in a special election for Texas House District 28 in Houston. The race was seen as a bellwether for what to expect later in 2020, and at least three presidential candidates got involved to support Markowitz, including Beto O’Rourke.

Mark Jones is a political science professor at Rice University. He says despite all of the time, money and energy Democrats devoted to the race, they weren’t able to replicate O’Rourke’s 2018 success. And Jones says they can’t blame low voter turnout on the loss; 30,000 people voted, which he says is a record for a Texas special election.

“We saw a pretty striking rejection of the Democratic candidate, Eliz Markowitz, with Gary Gates defeating her by 16%,” Jones says.

Democrats devoted a lot of resources to the race. Jones says O’Rourke essentially lived in the district for a period of time; Mike Bloomberg and Julián Castro block-walked with campaign volunteers; and Elizabeth Warren and Joe Biden endorsed Markowitz. Democrats, overall, spent about $2 million on the race.

The loss showed that what worked for Beto O’Rourke in 2018 doesn’t necessarily apply to 2020 races.

“Just because Beto won a district or came close to winning a district [in 2018], that’s not very representative of true Republican or Democratic support in a district,” Jones says.

He says it’s better to look at other data to gauge voter sentiment in particular districts, like governor’s races or judicial elections.

There were two other special elections on Tuesday: one in HD 100 and in HD 148, and Democrats won both. But Jones says Democrats had a much stronger advantage in both races.

As for the November election, Jones says Democrats are still aiming to take control of the Texas House because if they succeed, they will have an opportunity to then bring more Democrats to the U.S. House through redistricting.


Written by Caroline Covington.