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Analysis: Hot at the Top of the 2016 Texas Ballot, Cool at the Bottom.

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That big political race on the surface hides a very quiet state ballot down below. In fact, a surprising number of the members of the Legislature and of the Texas delegation to Congress face no major-party opposition in November.

One might think that, with 36 congressional seats on this year's Texas ballots, there might be a lot of incumbents quaking in their boots.

One would be wrong. Only two incumbents - Ruben Hinojosa, D-Edinburg, and Randy Neugebauer, R-Lubbock - are leaving office voluntarily. Hinojosa's district is pretty safe turf for Democrats, though there are candidates from both major parties on the November ballot. Neugebauer's is safe Republican territory, and Jodey Arrington, who won the GOP primary, doesn't have a Democrat standing between him and Washington, D.C., anyhow.

Of the other 34, only one - the 23rd congressional district - is a real swing district where either party's candidate could win. With that one exception, the districts are represented by incumbent lawmakers who are very likely to win another term.

Some already have, unless third-party candidates spring historic surprises: In 10 of those districts, only one major party has a nominee. Chances are good that there will be at least 11 Democrats and at least 24 Republicans in the final bunch, with that last seat going to either incumbent Will Hurd, R-San Antonio, or the incumbent he beat two years ago, Pete Gallego, D-Alpine.

The state's legislative races are also pretty laid back.

The Texas Senate has 31 seats. The four-year terms are staggered, and this year, 16 of those seats will be on the ballot. Two senators didn't seek re-election, and a third - Houston Democrat Rodney Ellis - is leaving to become a Harris County commissioner.

That means three new faces in the room when the Senate convenes in January. Barring a bombshell, there won't be any more than that. Only three of the remaining 13 senators have a major-party opponent in November. Only one of the three open seats has candidates from both parties. That translates, probably, into three new senators and no change in the Senate's mix of 20 Republicans and 11 Democrats.

It's in the Texas House, though, where the lack of options for voters really sticks out.

The House has 150 seats. Between voluntary and involuntary departures, the House will have at least 22 new members - a number that includes John Lujan, R-San Antonio, and Jarvis Johnson, D-Houston, who won special elections after last year's legislative session and who will be on the ballot again in November. Lujan has a major-party rival; Johnson does not.

Of the 202 incumbents, as many as 175 will be returned to office in these general elections. Add in the competitive races and assume those incumbents lose, and the number of returnees falls to 165.

Of those 22 seats, only seven will be contested by candidates from both the Democratic and Republican parties. In the other 15, only one of the major parties has a nominee. With the exception of Lujan's seat, it's fair to assume that the incoming member will be from the same party as the outgoing incumbent. Lujan has already beaten his Democratic opponent in a special election, but he now has to repeat that in a general election, and in a district where Democrats are usually safe.

Back up a step and consider the House as a whole. Of the 150 districts, voters in 97 will have only one major-party candidate on their ballots. Credit a combination of redistricting - which put in place political maps that dramatically favor one party over the other in most districts - and the absence of minority party candidates willing to run for office.

About one in three House districts - 53 of 150 - are contested by candidates from both the donkey and elephant corrals.

In the House, only nine incumbents are defending themselves in districts where - based on results in past elections - their party doesn't have an insurmountable advantage.

Boil it all down: With 202 state and federal legislative seats on the ballot, there are just 10 races that, based on past results, could flip a Republican seat to the Democrats. There are none, on that same basis, likely to flip from the Democrats to the Republicans.

Of the 202 incumbents, as many as 175 will be returned to office in these general elections. If the incumbents in all of the competitive races lost, the number of returnees would fall to 165.

We're gonna get roughly 82 percent to 87 percent of our incumbents back.

At least we won't have to learn a bunch of new names.

More columns from Ross Ramsey:

The symmetry was swell, with confirmation of Rick Perry's appearance on "Dancing With the Stars" landing on what would have been the 72nd birthday of Molly Ivins, the state's most famous connoisseur of political humor.

Nastiness and politics go together like expensive coffee and free wifi. Presidential races often prompt urges for civility. Even so, the forces of decency, propriety and good taste kinda have a point this year.

Don't count Donald Trump as a supporter of Rick Perry for Senate 2018 just yet. He's more of a fight promoter at this point, or - dare we say it - a polished politician.
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Publication:The Texas Tribune
Geographic Code:1U7TX
Date:Sep 2, 2016
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