Republican John Lujan defeated Democrat Frank Ramirez in a special election runoff for Texas House District 118 on Tuesday, reclaiming the seat he held in 2016.

The business owner and former firefighter ended the night with 286 more votes than Ramirez, a first-time candidate. The runoff was expected to be a tight race. At the beginning of the evening, Ramirez held a narrow lead in early voting and absentee ballots. Lujan won 51.2% of the vote.

Tuesday night’s results were unofficial. The Bexar County Elections Department can still accept absentee ballots until 5 p.m. Wednesday, as long as they were postmarked by Tuesday.

The two claimed spots in Tuesday’s runoff election after being the top two finishers among five candidates in the Sept. 28 special election.

Lujan led the pack in September with 41.5% of the vote while Ramirez narrowly made the runoff, beating the third-place candidate by only 173 votes. In order to avoid a runoff during a special election, one candidate must win a majority of the votes.

The seat in HD 118, which spans much of south Bexar County and curves to include parts of the east and northeast, was vacated by former state Rep. Leo Pacheco, who resigned from the seat in August to take a job with San Antonio College. Pacheco was in the middle of his second term; the winner of Tuesday’s runoff will finish out the rest of his term until the 2022 elections.

Lujan previously held the seat, winning a special election in 2016. He lost in the regular election later that year to Tomas Uresti, and in 2018 to Pacheco. This election is his fourth try for the seat. The Republican owns IT company Sistema Technologies and consulting firm Y&L Consulting. He worked at the Bexar County Sheriff’s Office as a deputy for six years and at the San Antonio Fire Department as a firefighter for 25.

Lujan did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday night.

Ramirez most recently served as director of zoning and planning for San Antonio City Councilwoman Ana Sandoval (D7) but left that job to run for the House. He also worked as Uresti's chief of staff while the former state representative was in the Texas House from 2017 and 2019.

Before election day totals were fully reported Tuesday, Ramirez told reporters that whether he won the runoff or not, he would work to make sure a Democrat represented HD 118.

After the votes were all tallied, Ramirez thanked his supporters at an election watch party Tuesday, acknowledging Lujan's lead.

"Although we didn't make it over the line tonight, although we're not where we want to be, we are where we should be," he said. "There's still work to be done. We still have an electrical grid that hasn't been weatherized. We still have voting rights that are being infringed upon. And we still have infrastructure here in the South Side of San Antonio that need to be fixed."

He also told party attendees that he would be returning as a candidate in the district.

"I asked all of my Democratic allies, all the friends I've made along the way, 'Let's do it again in March,'" he said.

Though the special election runoff also competed with the state constitutional amendment election, that did not seem to dampen voter enthusiasm. Early voter turnout for the runoff outpaced that of the first round of voting on Sept. 28. Just over 11% of registered voters cast ballots in the race overall.

Though Ramirez secured most of the absentee votes reported Tuesday, Lujan outpaced him with in-person vote totals.

Lujan forged ahead into the runoff with the support of both the San Antonio police and fire unions, as well as a strong fundraising effort. Lujan reported $336,451 in campaign contributions between Sept. 19 and Oct. 23, while Ramirez reported $209,691. Lujan outspent Ramirez as well, with $83,440 in reported expenditures to Ramirez’s $55,244.

Political consultant Matthew Jones predicted last week that the race would be close. Jones runs Azul Strategies and is not working on either Ramirez’s or Lujan’s campaign.

He added that even though Lujan’s fundraising haul was much larger, most of the election hinged upon who knocks on more doors.

“Direct voter contact is what wins elections,” he said.

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Jackie Wang

Jackie Wang covered local government for the San Antonio Report.