New poll shows little shakeup in race for Houston mayor

But numbers are clearer on expected runoff between frontrunners Whitmire and Jackson Lee.

By Rhonda Fanning & Glorie G. MartinezOctober 12, 2023 11:20 am,

Houston’s mayor, Sylvester Turner, is nearing the end of his second term. And as a result of term limits, the race for a new mayor has been intensifying.

Early voting starts in less than two weeks. Texas state Sen. John Whitmire and U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee appear to be leading a crowded field. But with a new poll from the University of Houston’s Hobby School of Public Affairs, what are the numbers now saying?

Renée Cross is senior executive director and researcher at the Hobby School and joined Texas Standard to discuss. Listen to the interview above or read the transcript below.

This interview has been edited lightly for clarity:

Texas Standard: Well, now, last time there was a poll in this race, I believe the results came out in July, if I’m not mistaken. What did this new poll say about who’s in the lead and what’s changing?

Renée Cross: Well, from July to October, there hasn’t been a whole lot of change. State Sen. John Whitmire is still in the lead with 34%. Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee is a close second, currently at 31%. In July, she had been 32%. So statistically, we’re the same.

Our folks that are tied for third place, Gilbert Garcia and Jack Christie are very distant 4%. Definitely a two person race between two long term political veterans, both Democrats.

Ryan Poppe / Houston Public Media and public domain photo

State Sen. John Whitmire and congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee.

I mentioned it is a crowded field – very crowded indeed. Tell us about the other candidates and are they going to continue to run, do you think, or how is that shaping up?

Well, we again, we have 18 candidates, so quite a crowded field. And at this point, it appears that everybody is digging down and going to stay in the race.

I mentioned Gilbert Garcia. This is the first time he’s run for elective office, even though he’s been in politics for a number of years behind the scenes. He was appointed metro chair. Jack Christie was a city council member. That was term limited out, as was M.J. Khan.

We’ve got Robert Gallegos, who is a current city council member, and then another newcomer, an attorney, Lee Kaplan, who is coming in at a whopping 2%. But compared to, you know, a dozen other candidates, he’s doing good.

The poll shows just over 20% undecided. Maybe we should get beyond the horse race here. What about the issues that voters are hoping that these candidates will address?

Well, what we saw in July, crime is certainly the number one issue in Houston, even though our crime rate has consistently went down since the pandemic. Of course, our friend flooding is a big concern as well as just basic infrastructure, including streets and roads. We’ll have more for you guys on the policy side next week.

Oh, very interesting. All right. Well, we’ll be listening out for that. But let me ask you, what happens, technically speaking, if… I mean, this is a very close race between Whitmire, Jackson Lee, at least according to these numbers. If neither candidate wins a majority vote in the first round, well, we’re looking at a runoff here. How does this play out?

Definitely looking at a runoff. And I would say it’s all but certain that there will be a runoff on Dec. 9.

At this point, it would be John Whitmire and Sheila Jackson Lee. And this is the interesting part, I believe, about this poll. If we look at the general election again, they’re very close. 34%-31%. But in a runoff, Sen. Whitmire garners 50%, while the congresswoman is at 36%.

So Whitmire is able to keep his coalition together as well as make a little bit of inroads among women. And, you know, a 14 point spread at this point looks pretty decisive or cinch for Whitmire.

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