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Three Dallas-Area Races That Could Reshape Local Politics

The low-profile primary races in state House District 108 and the contest for Dallas County Republican Party chair will have wide-reaching impacts.

The Texas State Capitol on Sept. 15, 2023.
The Texas State Capitol on Sept. 15, 2023.
(Juan Figueroa/The Dallas Morning News/TNS)
The March 5 primaries will determine whether Texas Republicans want Donald Trump as their nominee for president, while Democrats will choose a candidate to challenge Republican U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz in the November general election.

Along with three open congressional seats in North Texas, the primaries also feature Gov. Greg Abbott’s support for Republican lawmakers who back school choice, while Attorney General Ken Paxton has targeted Republican House members who voted to impeach him.

Although these themes will dominate most of the primary election conversation, there’s also intrigue in several Dallas-area contests that won’t get much attention. They may be more obscure than the presidential primary, but they will have a bigger impact on local politics.

Here are three under-the-radar races to watch as the primary season unfolds.

Republican House District 108

University Park Republican Morgan Meyer has held the District 108 seat since 2015, and during that time demographic changes in the area have made it challenging for him to hold off Democratic opponents.

Despite the odds being less favorable than when the GOP dominated the district, Meyer has been reelected. The chairman of the influential House Ways and Means Committee faces a primary challenge from Dallas lawyer Barry Wernick.

Wernick, who in 2021 lost a bid for Dallas City Council, has the endorsements of Paxton and Agricultural Commissioner Sid Miller, while Meyer is backed by Abbott and others.

The GOP nominee will run against the winner of the Democratic primary between Dallas lawyers Elizabeth Ginsberg and Yasmin Simon, which is also an interesting tussle. Ginsberg lost to Meyer in the 2022 general election by nearly 13 percentage points.

Dallas County Judge Clay Lewis Jenkins has endorsed Simon.

Democrats are watching the GOP primary race with interest.

Meyer and state Rep. Angie Chen Button, R-Garland, are the only Republicans from Dallas County in the Legislature. If Meyer loses the primary, it could give Democrats a better chance of beating Wernick, since he’s campaigning on hard-right policies that could alienate the district’s moderate voters.

A similar scenario was at play in 2018, when Lisa Luby Ryan beat incumbent Jason Villalba in the House District 114 Republican primary. Ryan campaigned to the right of Villalba and touted her support of Trump. With Villalba defeated, Democrat John Turner flipped the seat from red to blue.

One more factor to consider: The Republican winner could have an easier time than in cycles prior to 2021, when the Legislature changed the district’s boundaries to make it more favorable to GOP candidates.

The fortified GOP district could make Wernick’s hard-right stands less perilous if he makes the general election, though it will be tough to beat Meyer, who has strong connections to the area.

The district includes the Park Cities, downtown Dallas, Uptown, Preston Hollow, Lake Highlands and Lakewood.

Democratic House District 100

Freshman incumbent Venton Jones replaced Democrat Jasmine Crockett in the Dallas-based district after Crockett succeeded Eddie Bernice Johnson in Congress.

Jones has an interesting challenge for reelection.

Barbara Mallory Caraway, a former state representative and former Dallas City Council member, is expected to be Jones’ toughest primary opponent. Also in the race is former Dallas City Council member Sandra Crenshaw, who Jones beat in 2022, and Justice McFarlane.

After leaving the District 110 seat in the Texas Legislature after her 2010 two-year term ended, Caraway ran for Congress six times, including 2022 when Crockett won the race to replace Johnson.

Caraway has significant name recognition, which could give Jones a problem.

But Jones has significant backing and resources, including more than $90,000 in his campaign account.

Expect Jones to base part of his campaign on his ability to bring stability to the district.

It was represented for nearly 10 years by Eric Johnson, who left to become Dallas mayor in 2019. Since then, Dallas lawyer Lorraine Birabil, Crockett and Jones have represented the area.

District 100 includes parts of South Dallas, West Dallas, East Dallas, Buckner Terrace, Victory Park and Oak Cliff.

Dallas County Republican Party Chairperson

Before we discuss the local GOP chairperson race between incumbent Jennifer Stoddard-Hajdu and former Texas GOP Chairman Allen West, here’s some background on the state of county politics.

The Dallas County Republican Party has been in transition since 2006, when Democrats won every contested countywide race and stunningly changed the power dynamic in the home county of former President George W. Bush.

Dallas County is now one of the bluest areas in Texas. With the exception of Susan Hawk winning the district attorney race in 2014, Republicans have struggled to maintain an electoral presence in county politics. Democrats hold every seat on the five-member Commissioners Court and every elected countywide seat.

The prime question facing local Republicans is how to make gains in urban areas where the demographics favor Democrats.

Since 2006, local Republicans have moved further to the right, even as the county has become more progressive.

West, a former Florida congressman who in 2022 mounted an unsuccessful bid for governor against Abbott, is a conservative firebrand who could take the party even further to the right and use it as a platform to plan another run for elected office. As chairman of the Texas GOP for almost a year in 2020-21, he put the party on a rightward course on issues related to immigration and policies geared toward curbing the coronavirus pandemic.

Stoddard-Hajdu, who is touting her conservative credentials, also wants to show that she’s the best choice to rebuild the party and prepare it for battle on an urban turf.

West stepped into the race when Republican Lauren Davis, the party’s 2022 nominee for county judge, dropped out of the contest to focus on family issues.

The outcome of the race will determine the local GOP’s approach to competing in elections and the mechanics and ongoing rebuild of the party’s infrastructure.

©2024 The Dallas Morning News. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
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