Showdowns Abound in Texas Primary Runoffs
SAN ANTONIO — Dozens of Texas primary races around the state will be determined in runoff elections held on Tuesday, May 24, including those for U.S House seats, Texas Senate and House seats, attorney general, lieutenant governor and local offices.
Early voting in the elections began on Monday and will conclude Friday. Eligible Texas voters can find polling locations through the Secretary of State’s website, and the polls are open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. local time on election day.
Independent and write-in candidates may enter the general election race later if they submit a filing fee or nominating petition between July 23 and Aug. 22, according to the state election code.
This year’s primary season has yielded competitive matchups with strong implications for the political direction of the nation. Texas’ primaries are shaping up as an early showcase of which in-party factions will prevail and shift the balance in their favor.
High Stake Hopefuls
As previously reported by The Well News, incumbent Democratic Rep. Henry Cuellar will face progressive challenger Jessica Cisneros in a runoff for the U.S. House’s 28th Congressional District. Cuellar’s reelection campaign had to contend with some unflattering headlines, but the nine-term congressman has remained popular and he’s received help stumping from fellow U.S. Reps. Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., and James Clyburn, D-S.C.
Cuellar is an anti-abortion liberal who has vocally admonished the Biden administration’s plans to roll back the Title 42 migrant expulsion public health authority. Cuellar’s campaign messaging strongly underscores his willingness to work across the aisle with Republicans on legislative priorities.
Cisneros represents the left wing of the Democratic Party in contrast to Cuellar’s centrist ideology. Cisneros, an immigration attorney with support from progressive legislators like Sens. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., has embraced her distinctions from her opponent and built on the lessons learned from her failed 2018 campaign against Cuellar.
She’s leaned heavily into her stances on abortion rights and support for a Green New Deal despite the state’s deep reliance on oil and gas. The prospect of her candidacy appeared to be viable when fellow progressive candidate Greg Casar won the party’s nomination to the 35th Congressional District in March.
Both the Cuellar and Cisneros campaigns are well funded: Each candidate has raised millions and had over $1 million on hand according to their latest filings with the Federal Election Commission.
Across the state, Democratic state Rep. Jasmine Crockett and former chief of staff Jane Hope Hamilton are in a runoff for the district long held by outgoing U.S. Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson, D-Texas. Johnson, a former chief psychiatric nurse at the Dallas Veterans Administration Hospital, is the only representative to serve Texas’ 30th Congressional District since its creation in 1992.
As one of Texas’ majority-Black districts, Johnson’s district has been a safely blue stronghold in a sea of red since its conception. Hamilton was quick to throw her hat in the ring as Johnson’s potential replacement when she first announced her plans to retire in October 2019.
Although she has never held public office, Hamilton has proven herself to be a more than capable Democratic strategist after working as a Democratic primary state director and a general election strategic advisor for President Joe Biden’s campaign. She was once the campaign manager and chief of staff for Rep. Marc Veasey, D-Texas, who represents the 33rd Congressional District.
Her primary issues of focus on the campaign trail have been a federal minimum wage increase, voting rights protections, criminal justice and policing reform, and health care for all. Early on, she appeared to be the odds-on favorite to win her party’s nomination.
However, Crockett appears to be Johnson’s handpicked choice for her successor.
Her policy goals closely resemble Hamilton’s with issues like voting rights, reforms to the justice system and access to health care at the forefront of her messaging. The main difference between the two, as with the 28th Congressional District race, is Hamilton’s centrist approach and Crockett’s progressive mindset.
Crockett underscores her career as a civil rights and criminal defense attorney and her record as a state legislator in speeches on the campaign trail. She has pledged to join the Congressional Progressive Caucus if elected, the party’s farthest left-leaning faction of which Johnson is already a member.
Crockett had more votes in the March 1 primary than Hamilton and narrowly missed the 50% vote margin threshold to avoid the runoff. Hamilton has outraised Crockett and could obtain enough support from voters who supported one of the seven other primary candidates to turn the tide in her favor.
Republicans, meanwhile, are hoping to field a strong candidate to challenge Democratic incumbent Rep. Lizzie Fletcher in the U.S. House’s 7th Congressional District race. Former Army combat medic and small business owner Tim Stroud qualified for the runoff against Baptist preacher and rancher Johnny Teague with just under 3,000 votes separating the two in the primary.
They share similar views on immigration, governmental overreach, the national debt and inflation spending. Both draw heavily from their past personal experiences to rationalize their political viewpoints and worldviews in campaign speeches.
Stroud’s and Teague’s views diverge on issues like term limits for officeholders, which Stroud strongly supports imposing. Each of Teague’s policy positions is accompanied by a biblical passage on his campaign website.
Stroud’s messaging appears to be further to the right of the political spectrum than Teague’s. Stroud embraces the characterization of critical race theory as a “left-wing, anti-American, Marxist political indoctrination ideology” on his campaign website, and his hardline support for free market principles are the foundation of his economic agenda.
All Hat, No Cattle
Both of Texas’ races for state attorney general will be decided in the runoff. Incumbent Attorney General Ken Paxton must contend with Land Commissioner George P. Bush while Rio Grande Valley Democrat Rochelle Garza faces former Galveston Mayor Joe Jaworski.
Paxton has dealt with legal problems for as long as he’s been the state’s top lawyer, as previously reported in The Well News. Bush has homed in on those issues in his campaign messaging and hammered Paxton hard to make his case for AG.
The Houston Chronicle’s endorsement of Bush begins by pleading, “For the love of God — and of Texas — pick the one who’s not indicted,” conveying public frustration with Paxton’s knack for conjuring undesirable headlines.
Paxton is former President Donald Trump’s preferred candidate in the race, and he’s proven willing to fight proxy battles on Trump’s behalf as he did when spearheading an effort to overturn the 2020 election results in Texas v. Pennsylvania. Bush is the scion of an American political dynasty and represents a more moderate alternative to Paxton.
Bush has criticized Paxton for kowtowing to Trump’s whims and made government accountability a major pillar of his candidacy. Paxton has underscored his support for voter ID requirements and investigating parents and doctors who provide gender-affirming care for transgender youth as a form of child abuse.
Political analysts expect the Republican runoff to be close, and Bush’s vote margin was within striking distance of Paxton in March. Enough votes went to former Texas Supreme Court Justice Eva Guzman and Republican Rep. Louie Gohmert to propel Bush over Paxton in the race.
Garza, a former lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union, was the top vote-getter in the Democratic AG primary. Jaworski, her opponent, is the grandson of former Watergate special prosecutor Leon Jaworski who took over the investigation after the Saturday Night Massacre.
Both Garza and Jaworski have called for legalizing marijuana recreationally in the state, and both aim to dismantle Paxton’s voter fraud division of the office if elected. Instead, the candidates say they would take action to expand voting access in the state but through different means.
In Garza’s vision for AG, she would transform Paxton’s election integrity unit into a voting rights unit as a component of a civil rights division. Jaworski, on the other hand, has iterated support for expanding access to voting by mail and instituting ballot drop boxes in Texas counties.
Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick will contend with either Houston-area accountant Mike Collier or Democratic state Rep. Michelle Beckley in the general election after their nomination is determined in the runoff. Both Collier and Beckley have highlighted their education priorities as candidates as Patrick has made headlines for his hardline opposition to teaching critical race theory.
Beckley has served in the Texas House since 2018 and Collier previously ran for lieutenant governor against Patrick that same year. Patrick’s grip on the state Senate has made it practically impossible for Democratic initiatives to be brought up for business, even with support from Republican colleagues.
Beckley’s campaign draws heavily on her experience as a state lawmaker and each of the legislative priorities listed on her campaign website are accompanied by examples of bills she’s filed for each issue. Collier’s margin of defeat was just over 400,000 votes in the 2018 general election for lieutenant governor.
Collier has appealed to third-party leaners in his latest pursuit of the office. He has balanced his support for stifling the impacts of climate change with his experience as chief financial officer of the oil and energy company Layline Petroleum.
Results of the runoffs on election night can be found on the Secretary of State’s dashboard.
Reece can be reached at [email protected] and on Twitter @ReeceNWrites
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