Elections 2022Top 10 Things to Watch for on Texas Primary Day

Here are 10 top political stories to watch in Texas during the 2022 primary election.
https://thetexan.news/wp-content/uploads/2020/10/Austin-Early-Voting-15-1280x853.jpg

#1: The Attorney General’s Race

Shortly after several senior aides in the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) raised criminal allegations against Attorney General Ken Paxton, rumors began circulating that Land Commissioner George P. Bush was considering a bid for the position.

Seven months later, Bush officially launched his campaign. Since then, two other candidates have joined the race — former Texas Supreme Court Justice Eva Guzman and Congressman Louie Gohmert (R-TX-01), who launched his campaign as state Rep. Matt Krause (R-Fort Worth) dropped his bid for the position to run for Tarrant County district attorney instead.

Polls released throughout the race show that out of the statewide incumbents, Paxton is the most vulnerable in the Republican primary with Bush trailing in a distant second place.

While former President Donald Trump gave his endorsement to Paxton, he has also said positive things about both Bush and Gohmert.

The Texan Tumbler

The race has been heated, with Paxton criticizing all of his opponents, particularly singling out Gohmert throughout January but shifting to more criticism against Guzman in recent weeks, while Guzman and Bush have been critical of one another and all challengers have been critical of Paxton.

Democrats also see Paxton as a vulnerable candidate in the general election and several lawyers are running for the position, including Mike Fields, Rochelle Garza, Joe Jaworski, Lee Merritt, and S. “T-Bone” Raynor.

#2: Can statewide incumbents avoid runoffs?

Six statewide Republican officials face primary challenges on Tuesday, and each hopes to avoid the time and financial investments that come with runoffs. To win outright, candidates must obtain a simple majority of voters. Otherwise, round two will be on May 24.

Lt. Governor Dan Patrick and Comptroller Glenn Hegar appear likely to avoid runoffs in their races as they’re without high-profile challengers.

The next tier is Governor Greg Abbott and Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller, who have more notable opponents, but whom polling has shown to be close to or clear of a runoff spot. Abbott is facing former Texas GOP chair Allen West and former state Sen. Don Huffines, among others. Miller’s most well-known opponent is state Rep. James White (R-Hillister).

The race for attorney general tops the list of the most-watched campaigns, and polling has shown Paxton to be in position for a runoff with Bush. But of late, Paxton has ramped up his attacks on Guzman and Gohmert hoping to peel off enough support from them to win the race outright.

Railroad Commissioner Wayne Christian faces four challengers — one of whom passed away tragically last month — in his bid for a second term at the state’s oil and gas regulating agency. The latest poll showed three-fourths of surveyed voters undecided in the race and each candidate, including the incumbent Christian, in the single digits. The Railroad Commission has been a source of upsets before, with political upstart Jim Wright knocking off incumbent Ryan Sitton in 2020.

#3: Do Dan Patrick’s endorsed Senate candidates sweep?

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick presides over the Texas Senate and has taken an active role in shaping the way that it may look in the next regular session.

Patrick has endorsed candidates in four of the five open seats, as well as in Senate District (SD) 10, which Republicans redrew to favor their party. His candidates have been seen as the front-runners in each respective race, but some, such as SD 11 and SD 24, include several candidates that could potentially head to a runoff. 

His endorsements include:

  • Rep. Phil King (R-Weatherford) in SD 10
  • Rep. Mayes Middleton (R-Galveston) in SD 11
  • Rep. Tan Parker (R-Flower Mound) in SD 12
  • Former state Sen. Pete Flores in SD 24
  • Kevin Sparks in SD 31
#4: Will Speaker Phelan-backed incumbents survive primary challenges?

Speaker Dade Phelan (R-Beaumont) is in the midst of his first primary season while holding the Texas House gavel. Without a primary himself, the speaker has waded into 12 state House races on behalf of the GOP incumbents. Those candidates are:

  • Dustin Burrows (R-Lubbock)
  • Giovanni Capriglione (R-Southlake)
  • Travis Clardy (R-Nacogdoches)
  • Ryan Guillen (R-Rio Grande City)
  • Cole Hefner (R-Mt. Pleasant)
  • Lacey Hull (R-Houston)
  • Andrew Murr (R-Junction)
  • Glenn Rogers (R-Graford)
  • Mike Schofield (R-Katy)
  • Reggie Smith (R-Sherman)
  • Steve Toth (R-The Woodlands)

The speaker’s paid for items such as polling, direct mail, and media buys for the members. In total, his campaign has paid nearly $260,000 in in-kind contributions to the members’ campaigns. Multiple of the challengers to these members are openly critical of Phelan’s tenure as speaker, such as Dallas salon owner Shelley Luther who is facing Smith.

Preventing the ranks of those critical of their leadership from growing is an objective of every speaker, even if the votes are not currently in question.

#5: How many voters in South Texas will cast their ballot for Republicans?

Since the massive swings toward Trump between 2016 and 2020 in South Texas and along the border, Republicans have ramped up efforts to take broader control of the region.

One of the key metrics to watch to preview Republican potential for the fall is voter turnout in the two parties’ primaries.

A number of competitive Republican primary elections in South Texas could be drawing out more voters, including HD 37, SD 27, and the 15th, 28th, and 34th congressional districts.

For early voting, Republicans saw a notable increase in South Texas turnout compared to 2018, the last midterm election. If that trend continues on election day, it could be a good omen for Republicans’ prospects at swinging more seats in November.

#6: How do Trump-backed candidates fare?

Former President Donald Trump has endorsed 33 officials and candidates in Texas going into this primary. Less than half of those are in even remotely competitive primaries. The top races to watch with Trump-endorsed candidates are:

  • Governor Greg Abbott, re-election
  • Attorney General Ken Paxton, re-election
  • Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller, re-election
  • Sen. Dawn Buckingham (R-Lakeway), running for land commissioner
  • Monica De La Cruz, running for the 15th Congressional District
  • Wesley Hunt, running for the 38th Congressional District
  • Rep. Ryan Guillen (R-Rio Grande City), re-election
  • Rep. Mayes Middleton (R-Wallisville), running for Senate District 11
  • Pete Flores (R-Pleasanton), running for Senate District 24
  • Kevin Sparks (R-Midland), running for Senate District 31
  • Rep. Steve Toth (R-The Woodlands), re-election
  • Frederick Frazier, running for House District 61
  • Tim O’Hare, running for Tarrant County Judge
  • Phil Sorrells, running for Tarrant County District Attorney

Some of these candidates find themselves in good positions to avoid runoffs going into Tuesday’s election, but others are facing complete unknowns. 

Since his rise, Trump’s endorsement has been the most sought-after in GOP politics. And the former president wants to continue what has been a largely unblemished, but still imperfect, record in Texas elections.

View the full list of Trump’s endorsements here.

#7: State Board of Education Races — and Critical Race Theory

With education topics nosing their way into hot-button political discussions, several State Board of Education (SBOE) races have attracted serious money and attention. 

The Democratic primary for District 1 to succeed the SBOE’s most fervent charter school critic pits a charter school superintendent against a Women’s and Gender Studies professor — endorsed by the incumbent — and a developmental disabilities specialist. Statewide officials have waded into the race for District 15, a safe Republican seat, where freshman Republican Jay Johnson faces criticism from rightward challenger Aaron Kinsey over his votes on charter schools and critical race theory.

Following a school year marked by plummeting test scores, peak administrator employment despite a historic drop in student enrollment, mask mandates that seem to have had little impact on positivity rates, and continued school bond requests even after billions in federal aid and undiminished state funding that parents and school officials disagreed on how to spend, education has already begun to shape local elections. For example, Texas voters rejected most school bonds on the November ballot for the first time in nearly a decade in 2021.

#8: New faces aiming to fill open seats after redistricting

Amid redistricting last fall, a wide swath of incumbent lawmakers announced their retirements or plans to run for a different office.

In total, 27 state House districts were ultimately left open, as were five state Senate districts and six congressional districts.

Many of these races are seeing competitive primaries full of many candidates. A list of open seats and more details on races to watch can be found on The Texan’s War Room.

#9: Progressive challenges to Democratic incumbents

Republicans aren’t the only ones facing tough primaries. In multiple races across the state, Democrats are facing starkly progressive opponents.

Congressman Henry Cuellar (D-TX-28) is facing a rematch from his 2020 opponent Jessica Cisneros, who’s endorsed by the slate of national progressive figures like Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY). Cuellar, currently the subject of an FBI probe, hopes to fend off Cisneros for a second time.

Also endorsed by that slate of national figures is former Austin City Councilman Greg Casar, who is running in Texas’ 35th Congressional District, notably against state Rep. Eddie Rodriguez (D-Austin).

Another intra-Democratic Party proxy war is in Dallas’ 30th Congressional District. State Rep. Jasmine Crockett (D-Dallas), the third-most liberal member of the Texas House, is endorsed by retiring Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX-30) whom Crockett is hoping to succeed. She faces a few other Democratic candidates but appears to be the polling frontrunner.

Republican factions have warred internally for years, but Democratic intra-party fighting has noticeably increased in recent years.

#10: Hot races at the local level

Several local races have drawn national attention and could be major tests for incumbents who were in charge during the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

A crowd of both Republican and Democratic candidates has assembled to run against Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo, a controversial Democrat who has drawn criticism for her handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, cutting law enforcement budgets, and other issues. 

She and her colleagues are being investigated by a grand jury over an $11 million vaccine outreach program contract authorized by the Harris County Commissioners Court.

Hidalgo took office after defeating former county Judge Ed Emmett, a Republican, by fewer than 20,000 votes in a contest in which nearly 1.2 million cast ballots.

Former President Trump weighed in on a North Texas race for criminal district attorney.

After Tarrant County District Attorney Sharen Wilson indicated that she would not seek another term in office, Rep. Matt Krause (R-Fort Worth) bowed out of a crowded race for attorney general to run to succeed Wilson instead.

There are two other Republican candidates running for criminal district attorney: Phil Sorrells, who has received the endorsement of former President Donald Trump, and Mollee Westfall.

Tiffany D. Burks, Lawrence “Larry” Meyers, and Albert John Roberts are vying for the Democratic nomination.

Trump lost Tarrant County in the 2020 presidential election, and this could be a test of how influential the former president’s endorsement is among GOP voters in the county.

Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins is also facing his first test at the ballot box since the stay-at-home orders and mask mandates he instituted in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Attorney Billy Clark is challenging Jenkins in the Democratic primary.

On the Republican side, there are two candidates for county judge: Edwin Flores, a lawyer and trustee on the Dallas ISD school board, and Lauren Davis, a business owner.

In Texas, voters are not required to register in advance with a political party during a primary. Voters merely request either a Republican or a Democratic ballot when they go to the polls.

###

Disclosure: Unlike almost every other media outlet, The Texan is not beholden to any special interests, does not apply for any type of state or federal funding, and relies exclusively on its readers for financial support. If you’d like to become one of the people we’re financially accountable to, click here to subscribe.

Get “KB's Hot Take”

A free bi-weekly commentary on current events by Konni Burton.

Brad Johnson

Brad Johnson is a senior reporter for The Texan and an Ohio native who graduated from the University of Cincinnati in 2017. He is an avid sports fan who most enjoys watching his favorite teams continue their title drought throughout his cognizant lifetime. In his free time, you may find Brad quoting Monty Python productions and trying to calculate the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow.