AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Former Republican Party county chairman Michael Cloud topped a crowded, bipartisan special election field Saturday to succeed disgraced ex-Texas Congressman Blake Farenthold.
Farenthold, a Republican, abruptly resigned in April amid allegations of sexual harassment, and word that he used $84,000 from a special House fund to settle a 2014 lawsuit stemming from them.
It was the district’s third election of the year following Texas’ March 6 primary and May 22 runoff, and proceeds November’s general election. At least Cloud managed to capture a majority of the votes cast — meaning a fourth election, a runoff between Saturday’s top-two finishers, won’t be necessary.
Cloud now heads to Washington, but may only get to stay for a few months. Here’s a look at how we got here and what to expect next:
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Cloud, the former head of the Republican Party in Victoria County near the Gulf Coast, will only serve the remainder of Farenthold’s term expiring Jan. 3. That means a lot of his time on Capitol Hill could be as part of a lame duck Congress after November.
It could have been worse, though. Overcoming the two other Republicans, three Democrats, two independents and a Libertarian all competing in the special election meant avoiding a runoff that would have come in September — further shortening his potential term.
And voters will still again see Cloud’s name on the ballot soon. He won the primary runoff last month to capture the Republican nomination for the general election and is favored against Democrat Eric Holguin, who won his party’s runoff. Cloud now gets to enter that race as the incumbent.
Farenthold’s district is anchored in conservative Corpus Christi and spreads northwest to rural communities near Austin. Farenthold captured almost two-thirds of its 2016 votes.
The district once included Brownsville on the U.S.-Mexico border and was heavily Democratic, but Farenthold upset 14-term U.S. Rep. Solomon Ortiz during 2010’s tea party wave. Texas’ Republican-controlled Legislature then drew new boundaries that were safe for Farenthold — and probably for Cloud going forward.
Republican Gov. Greg Abbott declared that replacing Farenthold required an “emergency” special election, allowing him to suspend electoral law when setting its date. He argued that Farenthold’s replacement is critical because the district needs a voice in Congress to fight for federal storm relief funding after Hurricane Harvey hammered the area last August.
The governor said Farenthold should reimburse the $84,000 he got in taxpayer funding to settle the sexual harassment claim to pay for the special election — even though that wasn’t enough to cover its full cost, which has instead fallen to the counties.
Farenthold once promised to pay back taxpayers. But the former congressman has since accepted a $160,000 annual salary to lobby for a port in his former district and now says he won’t keep that pledge, citing the advice of his lawyers.
The candidates Cloud beat Saturday without a runoff included Holguin and Dallas paramedic Chris Suprun. He’s familiar to Texas political junkies because, as a Republican state elector in December 2016, Suprun shunned Donald Trump and cast one of the state’s Electoral College votes for Ohio Gov. John Kasich.
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