State Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr. managed to fend off challenger Sara Stapleton Barrera during Tuesday’s Democratic primary runoff election for the Senate District 27, according to unofficial results.
He will face Republican challenger Vanessa Tijerina in the November General Election.
It was a tight race between Lucio and Barrera in Cameron County, though, with Barrera winning 10,079 votes to Lucio’s 10,300 with 100 percent of precincts reporting.
As of press time, Barrera, a Brownsville personal injury lawyer and political newcomer, had 14,625 votes to Lucio’s 16,883 from the five counties of the district, which encompasses all of Cameron, Kenedy, Kleberg and Willacy counties and 42 percent of Hidalgo County. Barrera and Lucio were bound for a runoff after the senator fell short of the 50 percent plus one votes he needed for a clear win over Barrera and Ruben Cortez in the March 3 Democratic primary.
Lucio was first elected to the Senate in 1991 after serving two terms in the Texas House of Representatives. The third most senior member of the Senate, Lucio ran a campaign based on his many years of experience, highlighting his work to get legislation passed in areas such as higher education, property tax relief and housing reform. He argued during the campaign that now is no time for someone with no political experience to represent the district, with the all-important redistricting effort soon to take place after the U.S. Census count is complete.
Barrera countered that she has a decade of experience fighting for her clients in the courtroom, that the district deserves a fresh, progressive voice and that Lucio is too cozy with Senate Republicans, voting with them much of the time, and on the wrong side of the issue of abortion and LGBTQ rights from her perspective. Lucio described himself as a “moderate to conservative Democrat” whose Catholic faith is a determining factor in his decision making.
Barrera, who also supports term limits, said after the primary in March that her strong showing meant “people are ready” for a change of leadership for District 27.
In Tuesday night’s runoff, Lucio led Barrera in mail-in and early voting over all counties by 11,795 to 10,378. Lucio was more popular in the portion of Hidalgo County included in District 27, with 4,207 votes as of press time to Barrera’s 3,055 votes.
Once most of the returns were in late Tuesday, Barrera said she felt good about the campaign she ran and thinks her strong showing in Cameron County comes down to the fact that she’s well known here.
“This is my hometown,” Barrera said. “I’ve been here 36 yrs more or less. I’ve worked with hundreds of people a year in and out of the court room. I have three kids, lot of connections with families. Certainly this is where my life is, so I know a lot of people.”
She said she considers her campaign a win in the sense that it was outspent by Lucio’s campaign 10 to one and still was a tight race. Barrera said she thinks it’s a sign that the days of the old guard are coming to an end.
“Win or lose, we’ve reshaped the narrative of what politics looks like in South Texas,” she said. “I think it’s a beautiful thing. The fact that I had such a strong coalition of real people wanting change indicates to me we have a bright future.”
Lucio said it’s been a long road since the March primary but that he feels good.
“I want people to understand that it is my duty to work with both sides of the aisle,” he said. “It is a duty, a responsibility, that I have as a senator from this district to work with everyone, the leadership, whoever the state elects, to try to make sure that the issues important to this district get the attention they deserve.
“I will work hard no matter what it takes to communicate with Republicans and Democrats and Independents and all parties to be able to get the job done for my district,” Lucio said. “That’s the message here tonight. That was the basic difference between my opponent and I.”
He touted accomplishments during the last legislative session such as passage of $6.5 billion in new dollars for education statewide and property tax relief, as well as a long history of wins in the areas of health care, education, workforce training and other categories important to the district.
“We’re real proud of our track record,” Lucio said.