The 2022 primary season is now underway with Texas voting on March 1 under the state’s new restrictive GOP-imposed voting law. It’s hard to say how the new conditions affected turnout in a year with less drama than some. But voters will get another chance to participate in two of the highest-profile contests.
In the Republican primary for attorney general, scandal-plagued but Trump-endorsed incumbent Ken Paxton finished a comfortable first against three well-known opponents but didn’t clear the 50 percent threshold necessary to avoid a May 24 runoff. Land commissioner George P. Bush, scion of the state’s great but fading GOP political dynasty, managed to squeeze past former Texas Supreme Court justice Eva Guzman and Representative Louie Gohmert for a runoff spot opposite Paxton. With most of the vote in, Paxton had 43 percent, Bush 23 percent, Guzman 18 percent, and Gohmert 17 percent. It will be interesting to see how active Trump becomes on Paxton’s behalf during a runoff campaign that may otherwise be focused on the incumbent’s many ethical issues. The 45th president has described George P. Bush — whose father is Jeb, and uncle is W., and grandfather is H.W. — as “the Bush who got it right.” But it wasn’t enough to get a Trump endorsement.
Another anticlimactic result was in the red-hot Democratic primary in the heavily Latino 28th congressional district of South Texas. In a rematch of their very close 2018 primary, nine-term incumbent Henry Cuellar, generally regarded as the most conservative Democrat in the U.S. House, narrowly finished first (with some votes still out) against progressive challenger Jessica Cisneros but will also face a May 24 runoff. Cuellar scored 48.5 percent of the vote and Cisneros 46.8 percent. The incumbent was hampered by a mysterious FBI raid of his home, reportedly in conjunction with the investigation of shady business figures from Azerbaijan. The challenger, an immigration lawyer, hopes to join another progressive insurgent, Austin city councilman Greg Cesar, in Congress. Cesar easily won the Democratic nomination in the new Austin and San Antonio–based 35th Congressional District. Unlike the 35th, the 28th is expected to be competitive in November, and Republicans there will also hold a runoff between former senator Ted Cruz staffer Cassy Garcia and 2020 nominee Sandra Whitten.
The top of the ticket race in Texas was relatively quiet. Former Senate and presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke won an uneventful Democratic gubernatorial primary. And two-term incumbent Republican Governor Greg Abbott, another Trump endorsee, easily dispatched three opponents, including former Florida congressman and Texas state GOP chairman Allen West, winning 67 percent of the vote after running hard to the right.
Once the party nominations are set, Texas will be watched carefully in November as a state where urban demographics have helped Democrats make gains while Republicans are doing surprisingly well among South Texas Hispanic voters.