Cook Wins Special Senate Vote Amid
Shift from Underdog to Runoff Favorite

Capitol Inside
May 4, 2024

The Austin lobby took it on the chin in Houston on Saturday night when Molly Cook defeated State Rep. Jarvis Johnson in a special election for the Texas Senate District 15 seat that new Houston Mayor John Whitmire gave up after 30 years.

A 32-year-old emergency room nurse with no experience in elective office, Cook jumped out to a significant lead with 55 percent of the early vote in the special Senate contest when mail ballots are counted in the equation. Johnson prevailed in the mail ballot chase with almost 53 percent.

But Cook scored 59.6 percent of the votes that were cast in person early to more than offset the defeat at the post office in a district where Johnson's chances for a comeback on election day may have drowned in flooding from the weather. Cook fared slightly better with 60.1 percent on the day of the special election for a final winning total of 57.3 percent.

Cook entered the special election as the underdog after trailing Johnson by 15 points in the March primary election when he led a field of six with 36 percent. Cook and Johnson will square off in a primary runoff vote on May 28 in the heavily Democratic swath of Houston were HD 15 is located.

The runoff is the more important vote - and Cook will have three weeks to run as the favorite by virtue of incumbency in an overtime duel that will decide who represents SD 15 when the Legislature convenes in January. Cook would join a largely forgotten club of state lawmakers who never cast a vote in a session if she doesn't duplicate the win in the special election.

Cook received more than half of the campaign funding from a group in Washington D.C. that's backing young progressives in state legislative and congressional contests this year. The PAC called Leaders We Deserve contributed nearly $191,000 to Cook for a race with a rival who had the big-giving special interests in Austin united behind him for the open Senate clash.

Cook raised more than $347,000 since the start of 2023 after an unsuccessful bid to oust Whitmire in the Democratic primary election the previous year. Cook gained momentum with a stronger than expected showing in the fight with Whitmire in 2022 when she garnered 42 percent as his only primary foe.

Cook outperformed Johnson in the donor dollar dash in March and April. But the four-term representative who's a former Houston City Council member had a substantial advantage overall after generating almost $672,000 in the past sixteen months.

Cook reaped endorsements from the LGBTQ+ Victory Fund, Annie's List, the Texas Young Democrats, Texas Organizing Project, Moms Demand Action, Mothers Against Greg Abbott and an array of other progressive groups in addition to the windfall from Washington.

Cook reported a $10,000 contribution from Houston investor Charles Tate two days before the special vote in HD 15. Tate has been a major donor to Republicans in Texas for decades. But Tate has contributed to Democrats at times as well.

The Houston Chronicle endorsed Johnson for the Senate seat late last month.

more to come ...







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