Tomorrow (Tuesday), Texas voters will cast ballots in the first-in-the-Nation primary election of this mid-term cycle. Our live coverage of results and analysis will begin at about 7 p.m. CT and can be found at txelects.com/live.
Here are some of the storylines we’re following.
Statewides in Runoff or Runoffs? Gov. Greg Abbott (R), Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R), Atty. Gen. Ken Paxton (R), Agriculture Comm. Sid Miller (R) and Railroad Comm. Wayne Christian (R) are facing multiple primary opponents, setting up the potential that more than one statewide incumbent could be forced into a runoff. That hasn’t happened since 2002, when all three sitting Court of Criminal Appeals judges on the ballot were forced into runoffs, which they all won.
No primary election since at least 1970 (and we suspect it goes back much earlier) has seen multiple executive branch incumbents forced into runoffs. The last single executive branch incumbent forced into a runoff was then-Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst (R), who went on to lose that runoff to Patrick.
Abbott and Patrick appear the least likely to head to runoffs. Abbott has two well-funded challengers appealing to the strong conservative wing of the party in former Sen. Don Huffines (R-Dallas) and former state Republican chair Allen West. Nearly every poll – save a series pushed by West’s campaign – show Abbott winning outright comfortably. Patrick’s five challengers have raised less than $100K combined and have (very) low name ID.
Paxton is the likeliest to be forced into a runoff. Two of his three opponents – Land Comm. George P. Bush (R) and former Supreme Court Justice Eva Guzman (R) – have won multiple statewide races and have each spent around $6M. U.S. Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Tyler), a late entry into the race, likely draws more from Paxton’s strong conservative base than from Bush and Guzman. Paxton’s campaign has been directly attacking Gohmert since he entered the race and has of late ramped up attacks on Guzman. Paxton, having to face one of them, may prefer to face Bush.
Christian faces four opponents. Collectively, they have raised $60K and spent $47K. With low name IDs across the board, Christian may be pushed into a runoff because of the size of the field. Miller faces a much smaller field: Brenham economics professor Carey Counsil and Rep. James White (R-Hillister). The latter has out-raised Miller, $383K to $325K, over the election cycle but has been outspent better than 2-to-1. Miller has the endorsement of former President Trump.
Two other statewide elected officials have spirited challengers. Supreme Court Justice Evan Young (R) faces Court of Appeals Justice David Schenck, and Court of Criminal Appeals Judge Scott Walker (R) faces Sugar Land attorney Clint Morgan. Much safer is Comptroller Glenn Hegar (R), whose challenger has raised $5K so far this cycle. Hegar has spent $1.6M to Mark Goloby’s $14K.
The open Land Commissioner race is likely headed to a runoff. Sen. Dawn Buckingham (R-Lakeway) has key endorsements, including Trump, and a huge fundraising advantage, but it may not be enough to win an 8-way primary outright.
Runoff Madness: At least 30 congressional and legislative races have gone to runoffs three times in the past five election cycles (2012, 2018, 2020). Historically, around half of races that could go to runoffs end up needing them. There are 74 primary races for those seats that could go to runoffs this year.
This year’s runoffs are likely to feature statewide contests for both parties and a potential record number of contests for legislative and congressional seats.
Fallen Incumbents? At least five incumbent legislators have been defeated in primary elections (not including runoffs) in every election year since 2002 except for two. In 2016, only four incumbents, all Republicans, fell on primary night. In 2020, none were defeated (though a statewide elected official lost). We are guaranteed at least one falling this year.
Rep. Art Fierro (D-El Paso) faces Rep. Claudia Ordaz Perez (D-El Paso) in the only battle of paired incumbents arising from El Paso Co. losing a seat in redistricting. Each has spent nearly $140K so far, and each has been endorsed by at least one other member of the local delegation. Both were among the Democratic contingent who fled to Washington, D.C. to block election legislation, but Fierro returned early and helped re-establish a quorum. Fierro later sued to have Ordaz Perez declared ineligible to run (She moved into this district from another.), but he was unsuccessful. Those two decisions, depending on how they play with primary voters, could be the decisive factors.
Other hot races (rated 4 stars or more) to watch featuring incumbents include:
- HD12: Rep. Kyle Kacal (R-College Station) faces businessman Ben Bius, who is making his fifth bid for office. Each has spent $289K over the past month, as Bius’s ability to self-fund has made up for a deficit in campaign fundraising. A third candidate in the race could tip it to a runoff.
- HD14: There will be no runoff in HD14, where Rep. John Raney (R-Bryan) faces John Harvey Slocum, son of a former Texas A&M football coach, head-to-head. Slocum has raised nearly $200K for his challenge, and both candidates have combined to spend more than $430K.
- HD18: Rep. Ernest Bailes (R-Shepherd) faces three opponents, including Silsbee ISD board president and Abbott appointee Janie Holt. She has the backing of several scorecard conservative groups and has largely self-funded her campaign.
- HD60: Freshman Rep. Glenn Rogers (R-Graford) faces three opponents, including Aledo Mayor Kit Marshall and Aledo retired chemist Mike Olcott.
- HD62: Rep. Reggie Smith (R-Van Alstyne) faces salon owner Shelley Luther, who is making a second bid for office. She once again has the backing of scorecard conservative groups.
- HD91: Rep. Stephanie Klick (R-Fort Worth) faces four opponents running to her right including North Richland Hills conservative activist David Lowe, who has the backing of True Texas Project, a successor to the Northeast Tarrant Tea Party.
- HD142: Longtime Rep. Harold Dutton (D-Houston) faces Aldine educator Candis Houston. Teachers’ groups, labor unions and Planned Parenthood are among the blocs backing Houston. Dutton has out-raised her 2-to-1, but his contribution total for the cycle is south of $100K; and
- HD150: Rep. Valoree Swanson (R-Spring) faces former Rep. Debbie Riddle (R-Tomball), who Swanson ousted in the 2016 primary.
For most incumbents, advancing to a runoff is tantamount to losing. Since 1996, 34 incumbent legislators have been forced into runoffs, and 27 of them have lost, including all of them who finished second in the primary.
Congressional Hot Seat: U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Laredo) faces 2020 opponent Jessica Cisneros, a third Democratic challenger and an FBI raid of his home and campaign office. Cuellar narrowly defeated the progressive Cisneros, 52%-48%, two years ago, when she raised almost $2M and was the beneficiary of $1.7M of independent expenditures. She’s not far off that pace this year – raising $1.5M so far with another $1.3M of independent expenditures behind her. A third contender, though not likely to garner much support, could get enough votes to send it to a runoff.
No other incumbent member of Congress faces a particularly troubling race, and all should win their respective primaries outright. The one race to watch is CD3, where U.S. Rep. Van Taylor (R-Plano) faces four opponents including former Collin County Judge Keith Self (R). Taylor has been criticized for voting against objecting to several states’ slates of electors and his vote for a congressional commission to investigate the January 6, 2021, storming of the U.S. Capitol.
Turnout: At least 4M Texans have participated in primary elections three times (2008, 2016, 2020), and this year probably will not be the fourth. At least 1.65M Texans have voted early, according to the most recent preliminary figures reported by counties to the Secretary of State. That means 15.5M registered voters have not gone to the polls yet, and we expect a record number of non-voters will sit this one out. The previous record was set in 1988, when 12.66M registered voters did not cast a primary ballot.
For the 8th straight election year, more than 1M people have voted in the Republican primary, and that figure could cross 2M for just the third time (2016, 2020) to become the highest total participation in a Republican gubernatorial primary election.
As for the Democrats, if Election Day turnout puts them over 1M voters, then it will be the fourth straight primary election with at least that many Democratic participants.
If combined primary turnout tops 3M voters, it will be just the fourth time in state history (2008, 2016, 2020) and the first time ever for a gubernatorial election cycle.
However, even if the raw number of voters increases over 2018, the percentage of registered voters going to the polls could drop. There are nearly 2M more registered voters this year than in 2018.
Rejected Ballots: How many absentee ballots will be rejected under the provisions of recently passed election legislation that won’t be counted? What is the partisan split of those ballots? Will they play into election challenges?
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