Elections 2022Top 9 Things to Watch in Texas’ Primary Runoff Tonight

Here are some themes to watch as election results begin rolling in Tuesday night.
May 24, 2022
After a heated primary on March 1, 37 state races moved to runoffs after no candidate eclipsed 50 percent-plus-one. In addition to those races, voters’ ballots include multiple congressional runoffs along with a handful of noteworthy local contests.

Early voting concluded last Friday, and so far 175,000 more people have voted in the Republican primary runoff than the Democratic one.

Here are nine things to watch as voters head to the polls, and see results begin to roll in at The Texan’s Election Night Tracker.

Does Paxton evade upset or will the Bush family political dynasty continue?

Despite a crowded field of high-profile primary challengers spurred on by the various allegations of misconduct against the incumbent, Attorney General Ken Paxton finished first in the March 1 primary. But he did not eclipse 50 percent and was thus forced into a runoff by Land Commissioner George P. Bush.

The runoff is largely a redux of the primary, with Bush trumpeting the abuse-of-office allegations against Paxton and suggesting that the incumbent is primed for a November defeat. Paxton has returned fire, accusing Bush of being a member of the liberal wing of the GOP — specifically highlighting his family name that for so long held substantial electoral pull within the Republican Party.

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Polling for the most-watched runoff has shown mixed results, predicting anywhere from a comfortable Paxton lead to a tight race set for a late-night decision.

Who wins the right to face off against Lt. Governor Dan Patrick?

Lt. Governor Dan Patrick won his primary comfortably and has spent much of his time since giving endorsements in lower races and beating the drum on issues he’ll tackle next session. But the candidate he’ll face in November will be decided tonight.

Mike Collier, the 2020 Democratic challenger to Patrick, is back again as the fundraising favorite — so far outraising his opponent state Rep. Michelle Beckley (D-Carrollton) 35 to 1.

Beckley, a two-term state representative first elected in the 2018 Beto-wave, was among those Democrats who broke quorum last summer first walking out of the House chamber and later fleeing to Washington, D.C. She made the runoff by about 2 percent, edging Carla Brailey.

Four years ago, Collier lost to Patrick by less than 5 percent. But this time, the midterm pendulum is likely to swing the Republicans’ way with Democrat Joe Biden in the White House.

Who will square off in the general election for Land Commissioner?

With Bush running for attorney general, that leaves open his spot atop the General Land Office. The odds-on favorite is state Sen. Dawn Buckingham (R-Lakeway), who has the advantage both in fundraising and notable endorsements. She faces now-former Republican Party of Texas historian Tim Westley.

On the Democratic side, Sandragrace Martinez — a political unknown who surprisingly finished first in the primary — squares off with Jay Kleburg, a legacy of the famed King Ranch family.

Does the Railroad Commission GOP race feature a repeat upset?

The weirdest and wildest race so far this year has been the GOP primary for Railroad Commission, the agency that regulates Texas’ oil and gas industry.

Incumbent Wayne Christian, first elected to the position in 2016, faces Sarah Stogner who edged out the rest of the field to make the runoff after releasing a video of herself straddling an oil pumpjack while mostly nude.

Because of its obscurity, the Railroad Commission is often primed for shocking upsets, such as the 2020 GOP primary. While not taking donations for most of the campaign, Stogner accepted a $2 million in-kind television buy from West Texas rancher Ashley Watt during the length of early voting.

The race also pits two competing visions for the future of oil and gas in Texas. The winner will face Democrat Luke Warford in November, in a contest likely to again be targeted by progressive and environmental organizations hoping to see a strictly regulated energy industry.

Is there an uptick in South Texas voter turnout for Republicans?

South Texas appears to be fertile ground for Republican gains moving forward as the Democratic Party’s progressive orthodoxy clashes with the more traditional values of its moderate base, especially in Hispanic circles.

In 2020, of the 10 counties across the country with the biggest vote swings toward the Republican Party, nine are in South Texas. The Republican Party has heightened its focus on the border region and other parts of South Texas. In the March 1 primary, Republican turnout doubled in the Rio Grande Valley compared to the 2018 primary.

A midterm backlash against the party in the White House is expected, but if Republicans can make more gains in the Hispanic vote, they’ll build even further on their electoral hopes come November.

Do progressives make gains in South Texas?

As the GOP’s flirtation with moderate Democrats in South Texas grows, that leaves open a vacuum in the Democratic Party for the progressive wing to make inroads in what has traditionally been a haven for moderates.

Congressman Henry Cuellar (D-TX-28) faces a challenge from Jessica Cisneros — his 2020 primary opponent who’s backed by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio Cortez (D-NY). Cuellar fell short of evading a runoff by 1.5 percent in the primary, but ever since, Cisneros has flexed her fundraising muscles bringing in about four times what Cuellar did before the runoff. The national progressive apparatus smells blood in the water, seeing an opportunity to knock off one of Congress’s most moderate Democrats.

In the open state Senate District 27 Democratic runoff — open after Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr. (D-Brownsville) opted for retirement — Sara Stapleton-Barrera is running to the left, although somewhat marginally so, of Morgan LaMantia.

LaMantia is endorsed by Lucio in the race, but she’s made a point to stipulate she disagrees with the pro-life Democrat on abortion and LGBT issues. Stapleton-Barrera, a former Cameron County Democratic Party chair, ran against Lucio in the 2020 primary but lost in the runoff by seven points.

Both races showcase a potential intra-party progressive surge in an area in which they’ve largely been unable to gain footing.

How many incumbents stave off their challengers?

There are seven incumbents in Tuesday’s runoffs across the state and federal races. They include:

  • Paxton
  • Christian
  • Cuellar
  • Rep. Kyle Kacal (R-College Station), House District (HD) 12
  • Rep. Glenn Rogers (R-Graford), HD 60
  • Rep. Phil Stephenson (R-Wharton), HD 85
  • Rep. Stephanie Klick (R-Fort Worth), HD 91

Statewide incumbents have fared better historically than their district counterparts in runoffs, but Lt. Governor Patrick’s 2014 victory over then-incumbent David Dewhurst shows upsets do happen.

According to Texas Election Source, over the last quarter-century only seven out of 34 state legislative incumbents forced to runoffs won their party’s nomination. Both congressional members forced to runoffs over that period lost.

Each incumbent finished first in their respective primary, but in a one-on-one contest, anything can happen.

Do Trump-endorsed candidates follow up on their March 1 primary success?

Former President Donald Trump endorsed in 33 Republican primary races and each one finished first in their respective contests. However, five were forced to runoffs. Those five include:

  • Paxton
  • Buckingham
  • Pete Flores, SD 24
  • Frederick Frazier, HD 61
  • Phil Sorrells, Tarrant County District Attorney

Trump’s endorsement is still the most sought-after in GOP politics, but his track record is not unblemished. In a 2020 special election, Trump-endorsed Susan Wright lost to state Rep. Jake Ellzey for the seat left open after her late husband’s death.

Flores, previously in the Senate from 2018 to 2020, received substantial backing from most corners of his party’s apparatus and is one of the lieutenant governor’s chosen candidates.

In Tarrant County, Sorrells faces state Rep. Matt Krause (R-Fort Worth) in the district attorney race that’s punched above its weight in attention from top-level political figures.

The former president has an opportunity to bat one-thousand in his Texas races, shoring up his endorsement’s appeal among down-ballot candidates.

How do pro-school choice candidates fare in the Texas House?

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Governor Greg Abbott have become heavily involved in the GOP runoffs, and both have placed rhetorical emphasis on school choice as a burgeoning state issue in Texas. But their endorsements fall on different sides of the issue, with Cruz only choosing candidates who openly support school choice legislation in some fashion.

Meanwhile among Abbott’s choices, some have said they support the governor’s push for school choice while others remain either silent on it or are openly opposed.

Lt. Governor Dan Patrick has stated emphatically his intention to push school choice legislation through his chamber next session, but the House is more divided on the question.

The results of the Cruz versus Abbott races hold importance not only for measuring clout between those two officials, but also for the prospects of the issue likely to feature when the legislature reconvenes next year.


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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.