Texas Republicans will require a runoff in May to choose their nominee for state attorney general after incumbent Ken Paxton failed to win a majority in the primary on Tuesday, setting up a battle with Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush in May, according to CNN.
Despite vigorous and well-funded challenges from Bush, former state Supreme Court Justice Eva Guzman, and Rep. Louie Gohmert, Paxton comfortably dominated the four-candidate race. “I guess what I’d say is, clearly, to the establishment: they got what they wanted,” Paxton said in a speech to supporters late Tuesday. “They got me in a runoff.”
According to CNN, Texas Governor Greg Abbott, a two-term incumbent, will win the Republican gubernatorial nomination by defeating a large field of GOP competitors, while Beto O’Rourke, a former congressman and Senate and presidential contender, will win the Democratic nomination.
The first primaries of the 2022 midterm elections are being counted in Texas, with contests on both sides of the aisle likely to define the landscape for November elections that might transfer control of Congress to Republicans.
However, as the election results came in, Texas was thrust into the spotlight alongside President Joe Biden’s State of the Union address on Capitol Hill and the quickly increasing crisis in Ukraine, where Russian-backed invading forces are advancing on major cities throughout the country.
On Tuesday, the focus was on Paxton, the two-term incumbent who launched a failed lawsuit in an attempt to effectively reverse the 2020 election and ran under a cloud of legal difficulties, with the possibility of more to come. His Republican adversaries, backed by Bush and Guzman, said that he may jeopardise the GOP’s efforts to sweep statewide seats once more.
Paxton had a commanding lead in polls leading up to Election Day, but it appeared that he would fall short of the majority needed to win the nomination outright.
Bush is the latest in a political dynasty that, despite the Republican Party’s current enslavement to former President Donald Trump, retains tremendous political clout in Texas, and this campaign amounted to a vote as regards the future of that dynasty.
Guzman, who served on the state’s high court for more than a decade, is a relative moderate like Bush. In a recent discussion, Guzman questioned Bush’s qualifications, while Bush referred to Guzman as a “gutter politician.” The candidacy of Gohmert, whose ideological and geographic base overlaps with Paxton’s, was more worrying for Paxton.
According to CNN, the Democratic attorney general primary will also go to a runoff.
Concerns about the impact of the state’s new stringent voting restrictions hung over the primary, at least among Democrats and voting rights supporters.
Texas was the first of a series of Republican-led states to hold important elections after adopting legislation complicating mail-in voting and outlawing other initiatives to make the ballot more accessible, on the back of a political tsunami sparked by Trump’s extended campaign to sow doubt about his loss in 2020. Some of Texas’ larger counties have seen an increase in ballot rejections as a result of new identification procedures that have been beefed up and, to many, perplexing.
According to a press statement published late Tuesday by state election officials, Harris County officials warned of delays in reporting results due to “damaged ballot sheets that need to be reproduced” after polls closed. Later that night, Harris County election officials stated that this was just a “preliminary talk” of a possible delay, and that they were confident in meeting the deadline to tally votes on Wednesday, despite earlier claims of “damaged ballots.”
Although there were some poll worker shortages and other issues during the primaries, Election Day was mainly uneventful, with the rush to rectify the unusually high number of erroneous mail-in votes emerging as the most significant obstacle from this first round of voting.
The main issue, according to Isabel Longoria, who oversees elections in Harris County, is that voters failed to add identifying numbers on the return ballot envelopes beneath the flap. As of Monday, the number of potential ballot rejections amounted to 30% of all mail-in ballots submitted in the county. According to the US Election Assistance Commission, less than 1% of mail-in ballots were rejected in the 2020 general election, or roughly 8,300 ballots statewide.
The decennial redistricting process has added to the uncertainty — and fascination — surrounding primary night.
With a new congressional map designed to lower the number of contested seats on the map, the majority of both parties’ nominees may expect their primaries to be more intensely contested than the November elections. With the number of swing districts dwindling, campaigns pitting opposing party flanks against one another have become even more important.
For Democrats, such contrasts have been on full show in the 28th Congressional District, where Rep. Henry Cuellar, one of the most conservative Democrats left in Congress, and progressive challenger Jessica Cisneros are expected to face battle in a runoff, CNN predicted Wednesday.
Cisneros, a 28-year-old immigration lawyer endorsed by New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, came close to unseating the congressman in South Texas in 2020.
However, this time around, his district is slightly more Democratic, and Cisneros gained a late boost in the race when it was revealed that Cuellar is under FBI investigation. Cuellar has denied any wrongdoing, and the probe’s specifics are mostly unknown.
However, in a sad twist for the left, progressive candidate Tannya Benavides, who received over 5% of the vote, may have snatched enough votes from Cisneros to prevent her from achieving the 50% needed to avoid a rerun.
In the 2020 elections, Republicans, including Trump, outperformed expectations among Latino voters, and Cuellar has argued that his tougher stance on immigration issues, which stretches from the San Antonio suburbs to the Rio Grande Valley and along the border to Laredo, is the only way for Democrats in the region. However, Cisneros’ triumph in May — and the composition of her alliance if she wins — will provide additional insight into what the shifting margins from two years ago mean for the fall elections.
Even in this first round of voting, the party’s splits were evident from the start. Cisneros’ base of support was in the San Antonio suburbs, while Cuellar led in the border counties, a split that will give both sides of the party reasons to rejoice and worry.
CNN estimates that Cassy Garcia, a former staffer for Texas GOP Sen. Ted Cruz, would advance to the runoff in the Republican primary for the 28th District. As of lunchtime Wednesday, the second place in that May battle had still to be determined.
While Cuellar’s attempt for re-election drew the most attention, Republicans in other sections of South Texas were keeping a careful eye on GOP turnout after ramping up their candidate recruitment in a region that has been dominated by Democrats for decades.
According to CNN, Monica De La Cruz, who came within three points of defeating Democratic Rep. Vicente Gonzalez in 2020, will win the GOP nomination for the newly redesigned 15th District, buoyed by Trump and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s endorsements.
A runoff will be held to select who will face De La Cruz in the crowded Democratic primary. CNN reports that Afghanistan veteran Ruben Ramirez, a lawyer and former high school teacher backed by Gonzalez, has secured his seat, but it is unclear whether John Villarreal Rigney, an attorney and owner of a South Texas construction firm, or Michelle Vallejo, a progressive small business owner backed by Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, will join him.
Gonzalez is now running in the 34th District, which has become more Democratic-friendly after redistricting. CNN predicts that he will win his primary and advance to the general election, where he will face Mayra Flores, who will defeat three other candidates in the GOP primary.
Despite the uncertainty surrounding the Cuellar-Cisneros race, CNN predicts that former Austin City Council Member Greg Casar, a progressive backed by Sanders and Ocasio-Cortez, will advance to November after winning a comfortable majority in the Democratic primary for the 35th District, a safe blue seat.
On the Republican side, incumbent Reps. Van Taylor and Dan Crenshaw were put in jeopardy due to a perceived lack of loyalty to Trump. Taylor’s opponents in the 3rd District had targeted him for voting to create an independent commission to examine the US Capitol insurgency on January 6. Senate Republicans rejected the panel, which was effectively replaced by a select committee established by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. However, Taylor’s vote enraged other Trump fans, fueling the opposition to him.
Taylor was expected to go to a May runoff against former Collin County Judge Keith Self, but the congressman’s reelection attempt was suspended on Wednesday after he admitted to having an extramarital affair. Days before Tuesday’s primaries, right-wing media reported on Taylor’s infidelity.
Crenshaw, who went unopposed in the 2020 Republican primary, defeated a slew of right-wing candidates in the 2nd Area, thanks in part to Texas Republicans’ gerrymandering of the district to make it a safe red seat. Crenshaw is one of the most conservative members of the GOP conference, and he signed Paxton’s 2020 election lawsuit, but he has sparred with some of the former President’s closest allies, most recently criticising Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene for speaking at a White nationalist conference over the weekend.
In the battle to replace retiring GOP Rep. Kevin Brady in Texas’ 8th District, Greene and North Carolina Rep. Madison Cawthorn were also challenging GOP leadership. Former Navy SEAL Morgan Luttrell is the national party’s nominee, but Christian Collins, a far-right opponent, received support from Greene, Cawthorn, Cruz, and Joe Arpaio, the former Maricopa County, Arizona, sheriff who was pardoned by Trump. As of Wednesday morning, the election was still undecided.
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