(The Hill) — The first primaries of the year are taking place on Tuesday in Texas, setting the stage for November’s midterm battle in the Lone Star State.
Both parties are watching a number of key races, including the Democratic primary in the 28th Congressional District and the Republican attorney general primary.
Here are five things to watch ahead of Tuesday’s primaries in Texas:
Can Cuellar overcome another progressive challenge?
Progressive candidate Jessica Cisneros narrowly lost to Rep. Henry Cuellar in her first challenge against the Texas Democrat. Two years later, Cuellar is facing a very different political environment.
Last month, his home and campaign offices in Texas were raided as a part of an FBI investigation into his ties to Azerbaijan. Cuellar has denied any wrongdoing. While Democratic leaders like Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) campaigned with Cuellar two years ago, they have been silent this primary cycle.
Cisneros has used the investigation to paint Cuellar as corrupt and out of touch. But the investigation does not make her a shoo-in for the nomination. Cuellar is a fixture in the district, with his allies saying his moderate and sometimes conservative stances match the views of the majority of the district’s voters. Cuellar, for his part, has argued that Cisneros’s progressive stances are too far to the left for the 28th District.
Recent elections show that the district has become more conservative. In 2016, Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton won there by nearly 20 points. In 2020, Biden won it by 4. Cisneros and her allies argue that voters in the district are not concerned about the “progressive” label and are more concerned about electing a candidate who is not beholden to special interests.
What impact will the new voting law have?
Tuesday’s primary also marks the first election under Texas’s controversial new voting law, known as S.B. 1. The law requires Texas voters who are voting by mail to either provide a driver’s license number, a Texas ID number or the last four digits of their Social Security number. Whatever number is provided must match the number in a voter registration file.
But the law is off to a rocky start this primary season. Thousands of voters who voted by mail have had their ballots rejected as a result of the new law. In Harris County, the state’s most populous county, 38 percent of ballots have been flagged specifically because there was no ID. The county’s rate of rejection for mail ballot applications, 14 percent, is more than double the 6 percent rate seen in the 2018 primaries.
Election officials have expressed concern that the process may drive down turnout. Supporters of the law, which was passed in the wake of the 2020 presidential election, argue that it’s needed to ensure fair elections. However, critics say it is being used to suppress Democratic turnout.
Will Trump score a win with his AG endorsement?
Former President Donald Trump also faces a test in the state, which he won by 5 points two years ago, particularly in the crowded Republican primary race for attorney general. Incumbent Attorney General Ken Paxton is facing state Land Commissioner George P. Bush, former state Supreme Court Justice Eva Guzman and Rep. Louie Gohmert.
Last year, Trump endorsed Paxton, dealing a blow to Bush, who had been openly jockeying for the former president’s backing. However, Paxton has faced backlash for various ethics scandals he’s facing. And there is the risk he could face a runoff. A poll released earlier this month from the University of Texas and Texas Politics Project showed Paxton leading the very competitive field at 47 percent but missing the 50 percent threshold to avoid a runoff.
Paxton losing or potentially facing a runoff could make the former president’s endorsement look weak in the deep-red state, especially as Trump mulls another presidential bid and prepares to campaign for Republican midterm candidates across the country.
And the attorney general’s race won’t be the only contest that will test the former president’s endorsement. Trump has backed a total of 32 candidates in Texas, including 23 incumbents.
Will Hispanic voters continue to swing toward the GOP?
Both parties will closely be watching Hispanic voters, a major voting bloc in Texas. Trump made significant inroads with the group in 2020, particularly in South Texas, and Republicans have continued to focus on the border and immigration policies since. On top of that, a number of Hispanic GOP candidates are running for office in the state, including Monica De La Cruz, who is the front-runner in the crowded primary for the 15th Congressional District, and Mayra Flores, who’s running in the 34th Congressional District.
But Democrats are trying to shore up support with Hispanic voters as well. A University of Texas at Tyler poll conducted last month showed incumbent Gov. Greg Abbott and Democratic gubernatorial candidate Beto O’Rourke virtually tied in a hypothetical match-up among Hispanic voters.
Will Abbott win his primary by a landslide?
Abbott is facing a crowded GOP field in Tuesday’s primary, but he’s widely expected to win. However, his margin of victory could be an important indicator of his standing going into the general election as an incumbent.
Former state GOP Chairman Allen West and former state Sen. Dan Huffines are among Abbott’s primary challengers.
Abbott has come under scrutiny from a number of his opponents for his handling of the coronavirus pandemic, with some Republicans arguing his coronavirus restrictions in the beginning were too strict. Additionally, Abbott has faced backlash for how he handled the massive winter storm that hit the state last year.
However, a Dallas Morning News-University of Texas at Tyler poll released earlier this month showed that 60 percent of likely GOP primary voters said they planned to vote for Abbott, putting him well above the runoff threshold.