Texans voted in the first primary election of the 2022 cycle yesterday, concluding some hard fought campaigns and setting up a few more in the process. To be self-accountable, Split Ticket will be releasing recaps after each primary revisiting our Watchlist predictions while shedding some light on November. So buckle up and prepare for a concise analytical dive coupled with four South Texas House ratings changes.
TX-Gov (Abbott’s Expected Triumph)
Like most observers, Split Ticket correctly called this race. Republican Governor Greg Abbott avoided a runoff with broad geographic support, defeating conservative opponents Allen West and Don Huffines. As of this writing, Abbott has 66.6% of the vote; that figure is in the ballpark of the final University of Texas poll of the race, which placed the Governor at 60%. Abbott will face former Congressman Beto O’Rourke in the fall. Safe Republican
As for O’Rourke, the South Texas protest vote was not nearly as significant as it was when he won the Senate nomination over Sema Hernandez in 2018. Although he won every county along the Rio Grande and took 91.3% of the statewide vote, his performance throughout South Texas was much weaker than his average across the state’s other regions.
TX-AG (A Stylistic Battle: Paxton v. Bush)
Rumors of Eva Guzman’s late-breaking momentum did not pan out last night. The former State Supreme Court Justice finished in third place with 17.4% of the vote. Besides coming in 2nd in her home of Harris County (Houston), Guzman notably finished ahead of Bush in his home of Travis County (Austin).
Land Commissioner George P. Bush rallied his supporters to secure a spot in the upcoming runoff against incumbent Attorney General Ken Paxton. Bush finished second in most of the Lone Star State’s 254 counties, enough to take 22.8% of the vote to Paxton’s 42.7%; he also performed well in the Rio Grande Valley, winning Hidalgo, Starr, and Jim Hogg counties.
With 17.1% of the vote, 1st district Congressman Louie Gohmert arguably outperformed expectations. Given that his only base of geographic support was the swathe of counties in his expansive House seat, his actual statewide vote share is comparatively high. Running as a “uncorrupted” ideological-clone of Paxton, Gohmert nearly finished in third place and likely kept the incumbent below the 50% threshold required to avoid a runoff.
TX-01 (A New Gohmert? – Maybe So)
In northeastern Texas, long-time incumbent Louie Gohmert retired to run for Attorney General. Smith County Judge Nathaniel Moran secured the nomination with 63.1% of the vote, defeating three opponents. He has a similar political background to Gohmert, who was once a Smith County Judge himself. Although three rural counties voted against Moran to back favorite sons, his 82% of the vote in Smith – home to Tyler – was enough to establish an overwhelming lead. (Smith accounts for about 1/3rd of the district’s population)
TX-03 (Taylor Quits & Self Gets Lucky)
*The following analysis was written before Congressman Taylor suspended his runoff campaign after admitting to allegations of an extramarital affair*
This contest was not mentioned in the Watchlist, but it was always on Split Ticket’s radar. The 3rd is a strongly-Republican seat based mostly in Collin County. Prior to the election, there were rumors that Congressman Van Taylor was not taking his reelection seriously enough.
Former Collin County Judge Keith Self and Sales Executive Suzanne Harp both attacked the incumbent for his 1/6 Commission vote, lambasting him as insufficiently conservative. Self, a better self-funder than Harp, was most effective at getting his message out: Taylor was no Sam Johnson.
The criticisms seemed to make a difference in the result, with the tabulation of early votes showing the Congressman just slightly above 50%. Taylor’s lead sank below the runoff threshold as the remainder of the election day vote trickled in. Following recent allegations of sexual misdeeds, Taylor decided not to contest the runoff and suspended his reelection campaign. Given the 3rd is Trump +14, presumptive Republican nominee Keith Self will very likely be entering the halls of Congress next January without much competition.
As J. Miles Coleman of Sabato’s Crystal Ball has noted, the addition of Hunt County in redistricting likely ended up working against Taylor. There is a case to be made that a runoff could have been avoided had the 3rd remained entirely based in Collin County.
TX-04 (Fallon Survives…Unimpressively)
In the 4th district, dominated by the suburbs and exurbs of Dallas, incumbent Congressman Pat Fallon was renominated with just 59% of the vote. He was endorsed by former President Trump, but faced challenges on his right from news anchor Dan Thomas and John Harper. Fallon won easily in every county except Grayson, the second most populated in the seat, where he beat Thomas by a 51-43% margin. Fallon and Taylor were the only incumbent Republicans vulnerable to primary challenges.
TX-08 (Luttrell avoids a runoff)
The 8th district is primarily based in the suburbs and exurbs of Houston located in Harris and Montgomery counties. Split Ticket expected this high-stakes battle for the direction of the Republican brand to result in a contested runoff, but CLF-backed candidate Morgan Luttrell seems to have avoided that course of events altogether.
As of this writing, Luttrell leads Collins 52.5-22%. This result lines up well with Montgomery’s traditional affinity for establishment Republicans. Although Collins lives in Montgomery along with his two opponents, he performed best in the Harris portion of the seat. That segment of the district is more populated than its Montgomery counterpart, but packs a smaller punch in the GOP primary because it is more Democratic and Hispanic.
TX-15 (De La Cruz Triumphs; Democratic Runoff Underway)
In this Hidalgo County-based seat, 2020 nominee Monica de la Cruz won her primary with 59% of the vote against multiple opponents. The Democratic nomination will be decided in a May runoff. On the back of a strong performance in Hidalgo County, attorney Ruben Ramirez finished first with 28.3% of the vote. The battle for second place is still undecided. As of this writing, businesswoman Michelle Vallejo leads attorney John Rigney 20-19%. Likely R (flip)
TX-23 (Lira Wins)
Frontrunning Democrat John Lira, a combat veteran, won the 23rd district Democratic nomination 56-44% last night. A 12 point win in Bexar County coupled with victories throughout the seat’s eastern rural counties allowed Lira to defeat Priscilla Golden, who ran best further west near the 23rd’s other population center in the outskirts of El Paso. Safe R
TX-28 (Twin Runoffs In South Texas)
After an incredibly contentious ideological campaign between a progressive firebrand and a beleaguered fixture of South Texas conservatism, the Democratic nomination in the 28th district remains undecided. As of this writing, Congressman Cuellar leads Jessica Cisneros 48.5-46.8%. That means the two candidates will have to face off for a third (and final) time in a May runoff.
There was significant geographic polarization in last night’s returns. Despite being under active investigation by the FBI for his Azerbaijan dealings, Cuellar improved off of his 2020 vote share in Webb (Laredo), Starr, and Zapata counties. The gains Cisneros made in San Antonio area counties like Bexar, Guadalupe, and Atascosa did not help her at all further south.
Tannya Benavides, another progressive in the race, took just shy of 5% of the total vote, likely preventing Cisneros from achieving an outright majority. How can we assume Benavides hurt Cisneros more than Cuellar? She received the highest shares of the vote in the Bexar and Guadalupe portions of the district, each of which broke solidly for Cisneros. Cisneros is currently considered a slight favorite in the runoff.
Since this district will be a top target for Republicans regardless of the Democratic nominee, Split Ticket will be paying close attention to the GOP runoff too. Cassy Garcia, the Republican with the most national attention, placed first with 29% of the vote. As of this writing, it appears that Sandra Whitten, the 2020 nominee for this district, will take the second place spot. Tossup
TX-30 (EBJ’s coronated successor moves to a runoff)
The 30th district is a heavily-Democratic, plurality-black Dallas seat being vacated by long-time incumbent Eddie Bernice Johnson. Her ordained successor is State Representative Jasmine Crockett. Because Crockett only took 48% of the vote, she will be forced into a May runoff election against former CoS to Congressman Marc Veasey Jane Hope Hamilton. Despite having been outspent by her opponent, receiving 48% of the vote gives Crockett a much easier starting point than Hamilton has at 19%.
TX-34 (Gonzalez and Flores move on)
15th district Democrat Vicente Gonzalez successfully defeated primary challenger Laura Cisneros to secure the nomination in the 34th. He will face Republican Mayra Flores, part of the trio of Latina Republicans hoping to win the three competitive South Texas districts in the fall. Gonzalez moved districts after the retirement of Filemon Vela to facilitate an easier reelection, but Split Ticket is led to believe that he could be in more trouble than he bargained for given regional trends exacerbated by the national environment. Leans Democratic
TX-35 (Casar dominates districtwide)
Taking 61% of the vote, frontrunning Austin Councilman Greg Casar performed even better than Split Ticket expected. He defeated State Representative Eddie Rodriguez, and even bested San Antonio-native Rebecca Viagran. Since Cisneros was unable to defeat Cuellar outright, Casar’s lopsided win was probably the highlight of the night for progressives.
TX-38 (Hunt on the victory path)
After some initial delays with the Harris County election day vote prevented us from getting a complete picture of the primary results in this reliably-Republican suburban Houston seat, we are now confident that frontrunner Wesley Hunt is on his way to victory with 55.2% of the vote. Hunt previously lost a competitive bid against Lizzie Fletcher in the 7th district.
Ratings Shifts – House – Democratic Trouble in South Texas
- TX-15 (Lean R to Likely R) (flip) Monica de la Cruz easily secured the nomination here last night and has a commanding advantage in the fundraising game. Her Democratic opponent will be decided in a runoff. This district shifted from Clinton +13 to Trump +3 between the last two Presidential contests, and it seems like Democrats will cede it to focus their efforts on holding the 28th and 34th. The lesser populated, whiter portions of the seat in Guadalupe and Wilson counties have trended Democratic (they remain Republican), but probably will not be enough to cancel out significant Republican gains in Democratic Hidalgo.
- TX-23 (Likely R to Safe R) Although the preferred Democratic candidate John Lira did win the nomination in this Trump +8 seat, the leftward trends in the Bexar County portion probably will not make a districtwide impact anytime soon. (This part of the district still backed Trump 51-48 in 2020) The remainder of the district, including the El Paso County portion, swung toward the Republicans between 2016 and 2020. Incumbent Republican Tony Gonzales should have no trouble winning a second term and continues to dominate the fundraising game.
- TX-28 (Lean D to Tossup) Long-time Congressman Henry Cuellar’s unique appeal to culturally-conservative South Texas Hispanics was clearly shown by the first round results from yesterday’s primary. As a result of his ability to generate crossover voting, most pundits accept that Cuellar would be a far stronger general election candidate than Cisneros. Either way, increased Republican primary participation and auspicious Republican trends outside of the San Antonio area merit a shift to Tossup. This district shifted from Clinton +19 to Biden +7 between the last two Presidential elections, but the shift was a whopping Clinton +38 to Biden +10 with Bexar and Guadalupe removed. The Democratic Bexar portion accounts for roughly 30% of the 28th’s population, meaning it is not nearly enough to form a winning coalition if the district’s southern counties vote overwhelmingly in the other direction.
- TX-34 (Likely D to Lean D) This is the most controversial change of the bunch, but it remains a completely logical one given that the abysmal state of the national environment for Democrats could end up being exacerbated in South Texas due to educational polarization. Most of the vote in the 34th is cast in Cameron and Hidalgo counties, both of which have become more favorable for Republicans. The new 34th moved from Clinton +36 to Biden +15.5 between the last two Presidential races, with Republican vote share climbing a full 12 points. Like Monica de la Cruz and Cassy Garcia, Republican nominee Mayra Flores is already contesting this seat in earnest. Vicente Gonzalez may have switched districts to facilitate an easier reelection, but it is unclear how strongly favored he is in a district that sources on the ground are confident will be decided by single digits.
My name is Harrison Lavelle and I am a political analyst studying at the College of New Jersey. As a co-founder and partner at Split Ticket, I coordinate our House coverage. I write about a variety of electoral topics and produce political maps. Besides elections, my hobbies include music, history, language, and fitness.
Contact me at @HWLavelleMaps or firstname.lastname@example.org