Early voting for the 2018 midterm primaries begins a week. This election, three seats now up for grabs that were previously locked down by incumbents in Republican strongholds.
While U.S. reps are elected to two-year terms, history shows whoever wins the Republican primaries could end up a U.S. representative for decades.
The name ‘Sam Johnson’ is all over Collin County. He is a fixture in North Texas politics, but he and several other fixtures are stepping aside now, leaving a power vacuum that will likely get filled during the Republican primaries in March.
In the fields of Texas District 3, a lot has changed since 1991, but its representative in the U.S. House. has been a constant figure. For more than 27 years, Representative Sam Johnson has been "the guy.” He reps a district that now spans Frisco, McKinney, and Prosper. It also includes the Plano Senior Center.
Bobbie Groce has been trying to vote Johnson out for years.
“I’m a yellow-dog Democrat,” he said.
But the support in the Republican stronghold district has left Johnson untouchable.
“I think he's a good person,” said voter Lynn Baade. “He's done well for the country. He's served our country his whole life in many different capacities.”
2018 offers a rare opportunity for voters, says SMU Political Science Professor Cal Jillson. Seats secured for years are now open in North Texas and all across the state.
“We know we're going to lose 150 years of seniority in the Texas delegation,” he said.
Three North Texas Republican reps are leaving: Johnson in District 3, Jeb Hensarling in District 5, who’s been in Congress since 2003, and Joe Barton from District 6, who’s been in Congress since 1985.
Jillson says in a way once you get in, you're in.
“It's not all uncommon for a member to get elected,” the professor said. “They are most vulnerable in their first re-election, and then they tend to lock down their district and stay as long as they want.”
Jillson says it's more common to see in states like Texas where one party rules and almost every district is drawn up so that one party has a distinct advantage, the so-called ‘safe seats.’ He says it's a strategy parties have used to keep seats for decades.
“They used to say that we want to elect them young and keep them there as long as possible,” he said. “So they get seniority, they become committee chairs, and they deliver benefits back to the state.”
It's all the more reason to pay close attention to the sometimes overlooked non-presidential year election.
“If you think that Congress is deadlocked because there are too many ideologues, get out there, get out to the primary and vote for someone that you think would make more sense,” Jillson said.
Even in the primaries, voters could be electing a candidate for life.
Jillson says the case most likely to be contested is District 6 for Joe Barton's seat. Past elections have hardly been close. Barton won by 19 percent in 2016 and 25 percent in 2014. But Jillson points out the district is getting more blue in the mid-cities area.