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Texas primary to offer early midterm clues for Democrats, Republicans

On the ballot are Gov. Greg Abbott and his right-wing rivals, Democrats Rep. Henry Cuellar and Jessica Cisneros in a competitive House district — as is the future of the Alamo.
Image: Texas Governor Abbott Campaigns For Reelection In Houston
Gov. Greg Abbott speaks during a "Get Out the Vote" event on Feb. 23 in Houston. Brandon Bell / Getty Images

Texas will kick-start the 2022 midterm election year Tuesday with a slate of major primaries that could provide clues about the direction of both parties, among them a closely watched Democratic congressional race and several Republican battles for statewide office.

The first polls open at 7 a.m. CT, and the last close in the western part of the state at 7 p.m. MT.

One of the marquee matches features Rep. Henry Cuellar, a centrist Democrat, facing another challenge from Jessica Cisneros, a progressive human rights lawyer whom he fended off in the 2020 primary. This year’s contest in the 28th District follows a January FBI raid on Cuellar’s home and campaign office as part of an investigation into a U.S. businessmen’s ties to Azerbaijan. 

Cuellar has denied wrongdoing and has kept a low profile since the raid. The race has played out as a generational and ideological fight. Cuellar, 66, points out Cisneros’ support on the liberal left, raising questions about her electability in a Democratic-leaning district where Republicans hope to make gains. Cisneros, 28, casts herself as a change candidate.

The race for governor — which had the potential for higher national intrigue before actor Matthew McConaughey declined to run — appears to be headed for a November matchup between Republican incumbent Greg Abbott and Democrat Beto O’Rourke. 

O’Rourke, a former presidential candidate who lost a close Senate race in 2018, is the heavy front-runner in his primary. Abbott is, too, but with a catch. He is facing some aggressive challengers in Allen West, the state’s former GOP chair who previously served in Congress from Florida, and Don Huffines, a former state senator. Abbott’s rivals have criticized his early handling of the pandemic and have pushed him to the right on other issues.

But Abbott is well funded and has former President Donald Trump’s endorsement. A recent University of Texas at Austin poll found the governor leading the GOP field with 60 percent of the vote — more than enough to clear the 50 percent needed to avoid a runoff.

Another top statewide primary pits Republican Attorney General Ken Paxton in a re-election fight against Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush, Rep. Louie Gohmert and Eva Guzman, a former state Supreme Court justice. Much of the attention has focused on a clash between the Trump-endorsed Paxton and the son of vanquished Trump rival Jeb Bush.

Polls have shown Paxton in the lead but potentially heading to a runoff. And while Bush has been polling in second, the U.T. Austin poll found him bunched closely with Guzman and Gohmert.

The race to succeed Bush as land commissioner also is catching attention. Eight Republicans and four Democrats are seeking the job. The commissioner oversees the Alamo, a landmark of Texas’ Revolution war for independence, and cultural debates about how the history of the revolution is told — with regard to the role slavery played, according to a recent report by The Dallas Morning News — have found their way into the GOP primary. 

“There will not be any reimagining of the Alamo under my watch,” state Sen. Dawn Buckingham, a leading candidate for land commissioner, told the newspaper in January. 

Trump cited Buckingham’s position on the Alamo when endorsing her last year. The former president has endorsed more than 30 candidates on the Texas ballot, most of them incumbents.