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Republican Troy Nehls defeats Democrat Sri Kulkarni in heated battle for 22nd Congressional District

Longtime Fort Bend County Sheriff Troy Nehls is going to Washington.
Credit: KHOU
Sri Preston Kulkarni and Troy Nehls

HOUSTON — Republican Troy Nehls has defeated Democrat Sri Kulkarni after an ugly race to replace U.S. Rep. Pete Olson in Congress.

At last check, Nehls had 51% of the vote compared to 45% for Kulkarni.

"This was truly a great win. I look forward to representing our district in Congress and keeping my promise to be OUR voice," Nehls tweeted.

Kulkarni released the following statement on Wednesday:

“Our campaign in TX-22 has always been about bringing real representation to our communities and ensuring that everyone has a voice in our political system. Over the past three years, we built the most diverse and inclusive grassroots campaign for Congress Texas has ever seen, with more faiths, more ethnic and linguistic communities represented in our coalition than anything we have ever seen before.

Our work doesn’t end today. This campaign is about all of us, not any one person running for office, and about the poential we have to restore reason, compassion and decency in our society. We must all continue to hold people in power accountable and stand up against extremism, cruelty, and hate mongering. I am tremendously grateful to all of our volunteers and supporters who worked so hard for so long on this mission. I am asking you for one more thing: do not lose hope. I promise you that we’re not done fighting for our future.”

District 22 includes the Houston suburb of Fort Bend County -- the most diverse area in the U.S. -- along with parts of Harris and Brazoria counties.

The high-profile race was messy with attack ads on both sides.

Nehls focused mostly on Kulkarni’s arrest for cocaine. The Houston native told the Fort Bend Star it was true, but said it happened when he was 18.

Kulkarni far outspent Nehls with ads that focused on the sheriff’s 1998 firing from the Richmond Police Department for 19 violations in one year.

With more than 20 years in law enforcement, Nehls painted himself as a friend of police, echoing the language of President Donald Trump, Gov. Greg Abbott and other GOP leaders.


In a recent Facebook video, Nehls called himself the people’s sheriff” and boasted that rates of burglaries, robberies and aggravated assaults all decreased significantly under his watch, according to the Texas Tribune.

Before entering law enforcement, Nehls served in the U.S. Army reserve for 21 years, including deployments to Bosnia, Iraq and Afghanistan. He was awarded two Bronze Stars.

This isn’t the first time Nehls has faced attacks on his record. During the primary runoff for this election, his opponent, Republican Kathaleen Wall, spent $8 million on attack ads, accusing Nehls of not taking human trafficking seriously enough in Fort Bend County.

Nehls didn’t spend a dime of his own on TV ads during the runoff and still defeated Wall by nearly a 40-percentage point margin.

But Democrats saw an opportunity to flip the historically solid red district.

They banked on the ability of Kulkarni, who speaks six languages, to appeal to minorities.

“Our minority communities have been ignored by politicians for decades, and it is time they are given a seat at the table,” he told the Fort Bend Star.

Kulkarni, who lost to Olson in 2018, has never held public office but he served as a foreign policy and defense advisor to New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand’s office. He also served in the United States Foreign Service, including in Iraq and Russia.

Our news partners at the Texas Tribune contributed to this story, along with the Fort Bend Star.

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