It’s almost hard to believe two months have passed since the March 1 primary elections in Texas, but with election day in the May 24 primary runoff just eight days away, Monday May 16 marks the first day of in-person early voting in the runoff, and a number of intriguing storylines have emerged as voters head to the polls.
Here are some of the biggest races our team will be tracking:
Attorney General – Republican Runoff
Our regular readers are no strangers to the foibles of our indicted and embattled Attorney General Ken Paxton, who has spent more time in office avoiding jail time than representing the people of Texas. The one-time rising star in the Republican Party of Texas has become something of an albatross around the necks of his fellow statewide officeholders, but despite a rap sheet spanning nearly a decade and a potential federal investigation hanging over his head, Paxton is widely favored to win the runoff.
If that victory comes to fruition, it could bring with it the death of a Texas political dynasty. Paxton’s opponent, Land Commissioner George P. Bush, is the scion of one of Texas’ most beloved Republican families, the grandson of late former President George H.W. Bush, son of former Florida Governor Jeb! Bush, and nephew of former President George W. Bush has tried his best to make this race a referendum on Paxton’s lengthy criminal issues, but hasn’t broken through in public polling. Paxton managed to keep disgraced former President Donald Trump’s endorsement throughout the race, and with the blood feud between the Bushes and Trumps still intact, that could be a deciding factor in this race.
Attorney General – Democratic Runoff
But wait, there’s more action in the race to be our state’s next attorney general, with a competitive runoff on the Democratic side as well. Reproductive justice advocate and attorney Rochelle Garza faces Joe Jaworski, a scion of one of America’s most famous legal families and a former mayor of Galveston.
Garza took first place in the March 1 primary, and Jaworski was locked in a tight fight for second place, eventually edging out civil rights attorney Lee Merritt to advance. Merritt quickly threw his backing behind Garza, who scant polling has shown in the lead here.
Lieutenant Governor – Democratic Runoff
In the race for the Democratic nomination for what many openly call the most powerful position in all of Texas, 2018 nominee Mike Collier is back and on the airwaves in an all-out effort to secure the nomination and defeat two-term State Rep. Michelle Beckley. Collier, who has been on the statewide ticket in 2018 and in 2014 for comptroller, finished in first place in the March primary, but is leaving nothing to chance as he tries to reclaim the Democratic nomination.
This race has gotten increasingly more heated since March 1, when Collier easily took first place in the primary. Shortly after election day, Beckley called on Collier to drop out of the race and claimed that he failed to inspire the Democratic base, despite besting Beckley by a wide, double-digit margin.
It only got stranger from there, with Beckley attempting to tout a distinction from Planned Parenthood that many in the movement felt was designed to confuse voters into thinking she had their endorsement (the organization had already publicly endorsed Collier) and in recent days, Beckley has had to fight off criticism from prominent, veteran legislative staffers, including her own former chief-of-staff, about her performance as an employer and fitness for office.
This race could get more heated in the next week, and will have major implications for the Democratic ticket.
Land Commissioner – Democratic Runoff
The General Land Office is quietly one of the most powerful and important offices in the state, and has traditionally been used as a launching pad for ambitious politicians looking to break into statewide office. (It was well said in 2013 that George P. Bush coveted the office to build out his statewide operation for a future gubernatorial run).
With a portfolio of responsibilities that touches everything from regulating state-owned mineral rights to disbursing disaster relief funds, it is expected that the influence of this office will only grow as climate change worsens, and in the Democratic runoff, Jay Kleberg seems to have captured a certain share of the momentum as he faces Sandragrace Martinez.
Martinez finished first in the primary but doesn’t seem to have mounted much of a campaign in the runoff. In contrast, Kleberg has announced or won a series of endorsements in recent weeks that have given his campaign noticeable heft: he’s got the backing of Beto O’Rourke and every other statewide Democratic nominee along with an impressive slate of state legislators and local elected officials throughout the state, and he’s secured major newspaper endorsements including the Houston Chronicle.
Crucially for Democrats eager to break the two-decade streak of losses for the Land Commissioner’s race, Kleberg has raised an impressive amount of money and seems to have the ability to make the general election a lively race. This one is likely to come down to turnout, but could get very interesting.
28th Congressional District – Democratic Runoff
We’ve talked a lot about this South Texas race, where anti-abortion Congressman Henry Cuellar is facing off with attorney and activist Jessica Cisneros in a rematch from their heated 2020 primary. Cisneros has made the most of the opportunity, running an insurgent campaign that clearly benefited from the lessons of her 2020 loss. She’s had Cuellar playing defense across the district, even before an early 2022 raid on the congressman’s home and office drew national attention.
Cuellar has, thus far, refused to go quietly into the good night of retirement. He’s called in favors and pushed for support from establishment Democrats like Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Majority Whip James Clyburn, two heavyweights in national Democratic politics who have refused to split with Cuellar even as Roe v. Wade has come under attack, angering Democrats across Texas who see this race as an inflection point on choice.
National pundits have looked at this race for a different type of inflection point: will this South Texas district swing for the young progressive in Cisneros, or will Cuellar be able to hang on in a region of the state that seemed to shift toward Republicans in 2020? Will the victor of this race signify a political shift or further reveal the ideological chasm in the Democratic party?