The Slatest

Establishment Democrat Lizzie Fletcher Defeats Nine-Term Incumbent John Culberson in Houston

A close-up photo of Culberson
U.S. Rep. John Culberson speaks with members of the media outside a polling place on November 6, 2018 in Houston, Texas.
Loren Elliott/Getty Images

Lizzie Pannill Fletcher is projected to defeat nine-term incumbent Rep. John Culberson in Texas’ 7th District.

Fletcher’s victory in the state marks another indicator that Texas’ shifting demographics are threatening to turn long-held Republican seats in one of the most reliably conservative states in the country. The first clues for the 7th District came when the decades-long Republican district swung for Clinton in 2016. Fletcher’s win contributes another seat to the Democrat’s mission to take over the House.

Fletcher, a local attorney, has tried to connect Culberson to President Trump, aiming to win over the district’s large number of white, college-educated women. Culberson began representing the district in 2001, but the district has become both more diverse and more suburban since then, driving one of the biggest shifts in the country from red to blue in the 2012 and 2016 presidential elections.

Fletcher defeated Laura Moser, a freelance journalist (who has written for Slate) who supported Medicare For All and impeaching Trump, in a primary runoff that featured unusual interference from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. The DCCC had taken the unusual move of attacking Moser directly, building an oppo-research file and branding her a “Washington insider” who didn’t really want to live in Texas. Other establishment Democrat groups and individuals threw their financial support behind Fletcher, as the Bernie Sanders wing of the party rallied behind Moser. The DCCC backed off from the race after the primary, deciding not to advertise its support for Fletcher.

The DCCC had argued that it had attacked Moser because it wanted to set the district up with the strongest possible Democratic candidate. While it’s hard to know what could have been, from Fletcher’s victory in the midterms, it appears that the party may have been right to bet on a moderate pitch for Republicans and independents rather than a progressive pitch aimed at turning out a progressive base.