Texas Primary Takeaways
March 2, 2022 · 4:07 PM EST
Voters officially kicked off the midterms in Texas Tuesday night, heading to the polls to select party nominees for Congress, governor, and other statewide offices. The results were largely as expected, though a few races will head to runoffs on May 24 because no candidate secured a majority of the vote.
As my colleague Bradley Wascher has written, Texas Republicans used last year’s redistricting process to eliminate nearly all of the Lone Star State’s competitive congressional districts: at this point just one district looks like it will be highly competitive in November. That means the primary races are especially important, because the favored nominees will have clear paths to Congress.
Under the new map, Texas will likely send 24 Republicans and 13 Democrats to Congress, with that one highly competitive district rounding out the state’s delegation.
Incumbent Greg Abbott easily dispatched former Florida Rep. Allen West and former state Sen. Don Huffines in the GOP primary, winning 67 percent of the vote. He will face former Rep. Beto O’Rourke, who coasted to the Democratic nomination, in November. While that matchup will draw plenty of media attention and millions of donor dollars, there’s little to suggest Abbott is in much danger at the moment. Rating: Solid Republican.
GOP Rep. Louie Gohmert gave up his safe East Texas district just to place last in the statewide primary for attorney general. Smith County Judge Nathaniel Moran had much better luck in his bid to replace Gohmert, winning 63 percent of the vote in the GOP primary and avoiding a runoff. President Donald Trump would have won this district 72-26 percent, and Moran is headed to Congress. Solid Republican.
Houston Republican Rep. Dan Crenshaw ruffled some feathers in conservative circles when he seemed to lash out at colleague Marjorie Taylor Greene and the House Freedom Caucus by calling them “grifters” and “idiots,” and Crenshaw entered the primary having only represented 35 percent of the newly drawn district. But no serious challenge ever emerged, and he won with 75 percent of the vote. Trump would have won this district, 61-38 percent. Solid Republican.
Embattled Republican Rep. Van Taylor was unable to avoid a runoff election, falling just 1 point short of the 50 percent threshold. Taylor has come under fire from conservatives for his vote in favor of the bipartisan January 6 commission that passed the House but died in the Senate. His district was also redrawn to be far less competitive in the general election, but that meant adding GOP voters unfamiliar with Taylor. Despite major outside financial help in the closing weeks of the race from groups including Kevin McCarthy-aligned Congressional Leadership Fund, Taylor will face former Collin County Judge Keith Self in a May 24 runoff. Solid Republican.
Update 4:35pm, 3/2/22: Taylor has suspended his re-election campaign, according to Patrick Svitek of the Texas Tribune, after news broke of an extramarital affair.
Morgan Luttrell, a former Navy SEAL and the brother of Lone Survivor main character Marcus Luttrell, is barely above the 50 percent he needs to avoid a runoff with former Sen. Ted Cruz staffer Christian Collins. But there are still votes left to count. The primary has become a proxy fight between more bombastic elements of the GOP including Cruz and Marjorie Taylor Greene, who support Collins, and the GOP establishment including the McCarthy-aligned CLF and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who support Luttrell. Solid Republican.
The one highly competitive district in Texas is this Rio Grande Valley seat that is open because incumbent Democrat Vicente Gonzalez shifted to a more Democratic neighboring district. The 15th is a top GOP target, and national Republicans got the candidate they wanted in insurance agent/2020 nominee Monica de la Cruz, who avoided a runoff with nightclub owner Mauro Garza by securing 57 percent of the vote.
The picture was less clear on the Democratic side. Attorney Ruben Ramirez, who ran for this seat twice before and is the choice of many DC Democrats, was in first place with 28 percent and will advance to a runoff. His opponent will be flea market owner/Columbia University graduate Michelle Vallejo, who placed second with 20 percent and is running on a more progressive platform that includes Medicare for All. Tilt Republican.
The most hotly anticipated contest of the night ended anticlimactically, as neither conservative Democratic Rep. Henry Cuellar nor challenger Jessica Cisneros secured the 50 percent necessary to win the nomination outright. Cuellar ended the night with 49 percent while Cisneros came in at 47 percent. A third candidate, Tannya Bennavides, won 5 percent of the vote.
The pro-life Cuellar was already politically isolated within the party. An FBI raid on his house in January — part of an ongoing investigation into the congressman — only turned up the heat. But a late TV advertising push may have saved Cuellar, at least for the moment, as he ran up big margins in the vast, rural southern part of the district while Cisneros dominated near San Antonio. The two will face each other again in May.
On the Republican side, former Ted Cruz aide Cassy Garcia (29 percent) and 2020 nominee Sandra Whitten (16 percent) are also headed to a runoff. Lean Democratic.
In the all-important Democratic primary to succeed retiring Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson, state Rep. Jasmine Crockett narrowly missed the 50 percent threshold to avoid a runoff, with 48.5 percent of the vote. She’ll face former Biden campaign adviser Jane Hope Hamilton in a runoff. Solid Democratic.
Former Austin City Councilman Greg Casar handily won the open Democratic primary for this seat outright with 61 percent. That’s win for progressives including Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who rallied for Casar in the closing weeks of the race. Solid Democratic.
Two years after failing to knock off Democratic Rep. Lizzie Fletcher in Texas’ 7th, former Army helicopter pilot Wesley Hunt is well on his way to Congress in a new, heavily Republican Houston-area seat drawn just for him. He currently has 56 percent of the vote, though Harris County (Houston) has had difficulty counting ballots and there’s still a slight chance Hunt could be forced into a runoff with engineer Mark Ramsey. Solid Republican.