Tony Buzbee, a former Marine who made his fortune taking down big corporations in court, had fewer votes than Mayor Sylvester Turner but denied him the outright victory needed in a crowded race of a dozen candidates to cinch a second term.
Turner needed more than 50% of the vote to avoid a runoff. He got almost 49%, while Buzbee finished second with 29%. Houston is solidly Democrat, and Turner sailed into office four years ago running an unapologetically liberal campaign in a city that consistently ranks as the most racially and ethnically diverse in the country. He shepherded Houston through the devastating floods of Hurricane Harvey in 2017 and reduced the city's huge pension debt under his watch.
The runoff extends what had become an increasingly bitter mayoral race. Turner's campaign tested whether Trump's deep unpopularity in Houston — which is ringed by suburbs the GOP still controls — could help take down his main rival. Buzbee hosted a fundraiser for Trump in 2016 and donated $500,000 to his presidential inauguration committee, which Turner sought to burn into the minds of voters.
Buzbee has rejected partisan labels and has lavishly donated to both Republicans and Democrats. He denounced comparisons to Trump as "silly foolishness," ran on rooting out cronyism at City Hall and poured more than $10 million of his own fortune into the race.