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Here are the races to watch for next week's primaries in Texas

by Chuck Todd, Mark Murray and Carrie Dann /
Image: Voters wait in line to cast ballots at an early polling site in San Antonio
Voters wait in line to cast ballots at an early polling site on Nov. 4, 2016, in San Antonio.Eric Gay / AP file

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First Read is your briefing from Meet the Press and the NBC Political Unit on the day's most important political stories and why they matter

WASHINGTON — With the relative lull in national political news, our attention turns to the Lone Star State, which holds the first official primaries for the 2018 midterms exactly a week from today. There are several interesting contests to watch up and down the ballot – including an intraparty challenge that George P. Bush is receiving for land commissioner, as well as races for potentially competitive House seats come November.

Here are the 10 primaries we’re watching (if no candidate surpasses 50 percent of the vote, a runoff between the Top 2 candidates takes place on May 22):

  • TX GOV — Dem: Neither former Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez nor businessman Andrew White (son of former Gov. Mark White) has received the national attention (or money) that Senate candidate Beto O’Rourke has, but the winner will face incumbent Gov. Greg Abbott, who’s looking like a shoo-in for re-election.
  • TX Land Commissioner: Jeb Bush’s son, George P. Bush, is the incumbent, but he’s receiving a credible challenge from former Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson. Can George P. avoid the runoff – especially when the GOP is the party of Trump rather than the Bushes?
  • TX-2 GOP: It’s a crowded field to replace retiring Rep. Ted Poe, R-Texas — led by wealthy GOP activist Kathaleen Wall, state Rep. Kevin Roberts and businessman Rick Walker.
  • TX-3 GOP: State Sen. Van Taylor is the big favorite to replace retiring Rep. Sam Johnson, R-Texas.
  • TX-5 GOP: In another race to replace a retiring GOP congressman – Jeb Hensarling – the candidates are GOP operative Bunni Pounds, former Tyler Councilman Jason Wright and former state Rep. Ken Sheets.
  • TX-7 Dem: This has become the Dem race to watch after the DCCC dropped oppo on candidate Laura Moser (her Washingtonian article criticizing small-town Paris, Texas). Before the oppo – and national attention on Moser – the Cook Political Report’s David Wasserman identified lawyer Lizzie Pannill Fletcher (backed by EMILY’s List) and attorney Alex Triantaphyllis as the top Dem candidates to challenge GOP Rep. John Culberson, who is very vulnerable in this affluent Houston district.
  • TX-21 GOP: A whopping 18 Republicans are running to replace retiring Rep. Lamar Smith in this San Antonio/Austin suburbs district – led by former Ted Cruz staffer Chip Roy, former U.S. Rep. Quico Canseco, state Rep. Jason Isaac, Bexar County GOP Chair Robert Stovall and former Bush administration official Jenifer Sarver (who voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016).
  • TX-23 Dem: The top Dems running to challenge potentially vulnerable GOP Rep. Will Hurd are Iraq vet Gina Ortiz Jones, former assistant U.S. attorney Jay Hulings and former USDA official Judy Canales.
  • TX-29 Dem: In the race to replace retiring Rep. Gene Green, D-Texas, the top candidates are state Sen. Sylvia Garcia (endorsed by EMILY’s List and Green) and Tahir Javed (backed by Chuck Schumer).
  • TX-32 Dem: Another vulnerable GOP congressman is Rep. Pete Sessions (Hillary Clinton won his district in 2016), and the top Dems are former Obama State Department official Ed Meier, attorney and former NFL player Colin Allred and former USDA official Lillian Salerno, who is backed by EMILY’s List.

Sexting scandal rocks Arizona special election

Meanwhile, a sexting scandal has dominated the GOP primary taking place today for a special congressional election in Arizona. “Trent Franks, a Republican, resigned from the U.S. House late last year after admitting to an inappropriate relationship with female staffers, including asking an aide to carry his child,” NBC’s Alex Seitz-Wald writes. “Now, Franks' hand-picked successor, Steve Montenegro, a former state senator, is grappling with his own scandal involving a former female subordinate.”

“The story, which broke last week, could lead to Montenegro, who had been considered the race's front-runner, being surpassed by a former state Senate colleague, Debbie Lesko, in a conservative district. The winner of Tuesday's GOP primary is heavily favored to win the general election in April… Last week, media outlets obtained text messages that The Arizona Republic described as "flirty" between Montenegro and a former state Senate aide, including a late-night message telling her he wished she had come on a work trip after she texted him a topless photo of herself.”

Besides Montenegro and Lesko, the other GOP candidates in the race to replace Franks are former state Rep. Phil Lovas and former state corporation commissioner Bob Stump.

The special general election takes place on April 24.

Mississippi will become the next GOP ideological battleground

Conservative Chis McDaniel is set to challenge Roger Wicker in Mississippi’s June 5 Senate primary, NBC’s Jonathan Allen reports. “Hostilities are about to resume in the Republican civil war — this time, in Mississippi.State Sen. Chris McDaniel, a conservative who narrowly lost a primary challenge to U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran in 2014, will announce this week that he's running against the state's other Republican senator, Roger Wicker, according to a person familiar with McDaniel's plans.”

“Republicans in Mississippi, and at the national level, already are bracing for an ugly fight — one that figures to pit the activist base against an incumbent that President Donald Trump is expected to support.”

Unlike last year’s race in Alabama, however, Democrats don’t appear to have a candidate who might be able to capitalize if McDaniel beats Wicker. The filing deadline in Mississippi is March 1.

Florida Senate committee clears gun-control bill

“A key Florida Senate committee took the first step Monday to raising the legal age for buying a gun in Florida and building a stronger safety net to keep guns out of the hands of the mentally impaired in the wake of the deadly school shooting in Parkland,” per the Miami Herald. “But while the Senate Rules Committee voted 9-4 in favor of SPB 7024, senators also rejected a ban on semi-automatic rifles, the top priority of students and gun activists who arrived in busloads last week and again on Monday.”

More: “The proposal is a collaborative response from House and Senate Republican leaders to the deadly shooting in Parkland that killed 17 students and teachers and left 15 injured. Named the “Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act,’’ it was written to address ‘the crisis of gun violence, including but not limited to, gun violence on school campuses,’ the bill said. The bill was amended to match a proposal to be heard Tuesday in the House. While the vote was the first time a Republican-led Senate committee voted to limit gun rights in Florida in nearly two decades, the committee also voted 7-6 to reject the amendment by Sen. Jose Javier Rodriguez, D-Miami, that would have defined certain semi-automatic rifles and banned their sale and possession in Florida.”

Missouri launches impeachment probe of embattled governor

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch: “In a historic decision, the Missouri House formally launched an investigation Monday that could lead to the impeachment and ouster of Gov. Eric Greitens. House Speaker Todd Richardson named seven members to a special committee that will lead the unprecedented probe of a Missouri chief executive. The hastily formed panel will be chaired by Rep. Jay Barnes, R-Jefferson City.”

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