The Lone Star state will, two weeks from Tuesday, kick off the 2022 midterm election season with the nation’s first primaries as America heads to polls to judge Democrat President Joe Biden and his party two years into his administration.
The March 1 primary in Texas has lots of things to excite conservatives and supporters of former President Donald Trump, and may offer some key insights on things to look for heading into later primaries coming up in the spring and summer, as well as the general election in November.
March 1 is also the day that Biden will give his first State of the Union address to Congress. Given the bad news for Democrats to come as the country’s political attention span shifts to the midterms where they are expected to face a national drubbing from voters, it is no surprise that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Biden settled on the day of the Texas primary for the president to give this important speech.
This important Texas election also may have some harbingers for Democrats as they try to stem the tide of a looming red wave in November and attempt to navigate a rising socialist left inside their own party.
There could also be some lessons learned for Republicans when it comes to shifts among key electoral demographics like the Hispanic vote in the Rio Grande Valley, and this election is the first test of an interesting new strategy from the GOP to build long-term community centers in urban areas throughout Texas to engage with these types of voters. Democrats have expressed concern about some of these community centers, too, and a lack of engagement with these communities—meaning Republicans might make even more inroads with minority voters–especially Hispanics in 2022 than in recent years.
ABBOTT AIMS TO AVOID PRIMARY RUNOFF
Perhaps the biggest story in the March 1 Texas primaries will be whether GOP Gov. Greg Abbott can successfully outright win the GOP nomination and stave off his primary challengers.
Former Texas GOP chairman Allen West—who previously was a U.S. Congressman from Florida before he later moved to Texas—is running against Abbott, as is former Texas state Sen. Don Huffines.
To avoid a runoff later in the spring, Abbott needs to win 50 percent plus one vote or more on March 1—and his team is privately signaling confidence that he will avoid a runoff and win handily in the first round. Avoiding a runoff would allow Abbott to focus quickly on the general election and amass resources now to defeat Democrat former Rep. Robert Francis “Beto” O’Rourke. Abbott clearly leads O’Rourke in most polling, suggesting if he avoids a runoff and shifts to the general early next month rather than getting dragged down in a second primary round later in May, he will be able to beat O’Rourke easily in November—and Republicans will be able to keep Texas red again this year.
Public polling suggests Abbott is likely to clear the field and win outright on March 1. A new YouGov survey published this week shows Abbott at 60 percent—double digits more than he needs to win without a runoff—and West down at 15 percent with Huffines at 14 percent.
2022 #TXGov Republican Primary Poll:
— PollTracker (@PollTrackerUSA) February 14, 2022
Other public polling shows a similar story, but apparently some internal surveys from the West and Huffines teams show Abbott in trouble. One West internal poll released in January showed West actually leading Abbott—that seems far-fetched, but it may be possible that Abbott is lower than what public polls show him at—and some rumblings behind the scenes among Texas conservatives suggest that a runoff may be a possibility.
Complicating matters in this race is that a man named “Rick Perry”—not the former governor of Texas who ran for president twice and later served in Trump’s cabinet as Energy Secretary, but a different man with the same name—is also running and apparently pulling at least some support in polls.
If Abbott is dragged into a runoff, it would probably be with West not Huffines, but Huffines would presumably throw his support behind West and it would force a long and protracted intra-GOP fight that, no matter who emerges from it, he would be weaker against O’Rourke heading into November.
BETO REBRANDS HIMSELF TO CLEANSE PAST EXTREMIST STENCH
On the other side, Democrats seem primed to easily nominate O’Rourke as their Lone Star State standard-bearer. O’Rourke lucked out earlier this cycle too when actor Matthew McConaughey decided against a run for governor—effectively clearing the field for him.
Democratic presidential hopeful Beto O’Rourke addresses the media about migrant children in front of a detention center in Homestead, Florida on June 27, 2019. (Photo by RHONA WISE / AFP) (Photo credit should read RHONA WISE/AFP/Getty Images)
The failed presidential and Senate candidate of the past—he ran unsuccessfully for U.S. Senate against Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) in 2018, and unsuccessfully for the Democrat presidential nomination in 2020—has in his career staked out extreme leftist positions on a number of issues, particularly the Second Amendment.
In 2019, for instance, O’Rourke threatened gun owners by saying “we’re going to take” away their AR-15s and AK-47s, something he stood by for years. But last week in Tyler, Texas, O’Rourke tried to change his stance by now saying “I’m not interested in taking anything from anyone.”
O’Rourke still supports gun control though, as in the next breath he ripped constitutional carry measures that Abbott backed. “I want to make sure that we protect our fellow Texans far better than we’re doing right now,” O’Rourke said. “And that we listen to law enforcement, which Greg Abbott refused to do. He turned his back on them when he signed that permitless carry bill that endangers the lives of law enforcement in a state that’s seen more cops and sheriff’s deputies gunned down than in any other.”
A big question in Texas will be whether O’Rourke can effectively cleanse his past extremism on such issues, or if voters will remember just how out there this former congressman really is.
THE POWER OF THE TRUMP ENDORSEMENT
This is the first regularly scheduled primary election in the 2022 cycle, and therefore the first opportunity to test Trump’s endorsement in his post-presidency. Trump has endorsed in a boatload of Texas races this year, and has a lot riding on the line starting in the Lone Star State.
At the top of the list is Abbott, who Trump backed early, but Trump has also backed Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Attorney General Ken Paxton. Paxton faces primary challenges of his own, with Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX) coming for him on one side and George P. Bush on the other. These statewide endorsements will be a test of Trump’s strength, but are not the only people the former president is backing here.
The full list of Trump endorsements in Texas this cycle so far includes:
- Greg Abbott for Governor
- Dan Patrick for Lt. Governor
- Ken Paxton for Attorney General
- Dawn Buckhingham for Land Commissioner
- Sid Miller for Agriculture Commissioner
- Rep. Michael Burgess (R-TX) in TX-26
- Rep. John Carter (R-TX) in TX-31
- Rep. Michael Cloud (R-TX) in TX-27
- Rep. Pat Fallon (R-TX) in TX-04
- Rep. Ronny Jackson (R-TX) in TX-13
- Rep. Michael McCaul (R-TX) in TX-10
- Rep. August Pfluger (R-TX) in TX-11
- Rep. Beth Van Duyne (R-TX) in TX-24
- Rep. Roger Williams (R-TX) in TX-25
- Pete Flores for Texas State Senate
- Mayes Middleton for Texas State Senate
- Angela Paxton for Texas State Senate
- Kevin Sparks for Texas State Senate
- Ryan Guillen for Texas State House
- Tim O’Hare for Tarrant County Judge
How Trump fares on these races—especially if he wins all or most of them—could influence how aggressive he gets in future primaries down the road elsewhere in America.
AN INTRA-GOP PROXY WAR IN THE EIGHTH CONGRESSIONAL DISTRICT?
The race among Republicans to succeed retiring longtime Rep. Kevin Brady (R-TX) is turning into an eighth congressional district proxy war between different elements of the national GOP.
The two major candidates in a very crowded field are retired Navy SEAL Morgan Luttrell and political activist Christian Collins.
Luttrell, who has the backing of Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-TX) and former GOP Gov. Rick Perry—the actual Rick Perry not the other one running in the governor race—has emerged as one of the top candidates in the race. Collins, who has the backing of the House Freedom Caucus’s PAC and of Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), has emerged as the other major candidate.
They have sparred in debates, and some have framed it as a battle between the establishment—which they say are behind Luttrell—and the grassroots which they say are behind Collins.
Collins’s history on the issue of immigration in particular—while in graduate school he published a thesis advocating Republicans support amnesty for illegal aliens, something he now disavows as Breitbart News previously reported—is a centerpiece in the race, as are Luttrell’s positions on things like big tech.
A recent Texas Tribune piece from Patrick Svitek on the race says that it “has boiled over into a tense proxy war” but questions the narrative laid forward by some that it really is one.
“There are few notable policy differences between Luttrell and Collins — they both fervently want to secure the border, restrict abortion and protect gun rights,” Svitek writes. “But at least one of them sees the race as having implications for the future of the GOP, pitching himself as more of a pro-Trump warrior who will battle leadership.”
Svitek interviewed Collins for the story, who slammed Luttrell as “lining up with the establishment in Washington” while he framed himself as “lining up with those who are the tip of the spear.”
But, Svitek writes, “the race is not as clear-cut.”
“While House GOP leadership is pulling for Luttrell, he also has Trump loyalists in his corner, like U.S. Rep. Ronny Jackson of Amarillo, and has the endorsement of the leader of the Texas House Freedom Caucus, state Rep. Mayes Middleton of Wallisville.”
THE DEMOCRATS STAND DOWN IN SIX CONGRESSIONAL DISTRICTS
According to filings published by the Texas Secretary of State’s office, U.S. House Democrats have failed to field any candidate whatsoever in a whopping six different Texas congressional districts—meaning they do not have anyone challenging Republicans for these seats.
The six seats are Texas’s sixth congressional district, the 11th congressional district, the 19th congressional district, the 25th congressional district, the 26th congressional district, and the 31st congressional district.
The sixth is particularly interesting because that seat Democrats did try for in a special election last year that now Rep. Jake Ellzey (R-TX) won—but Democrats were completely boxed out of a runoff between Ellzey and fellow Republican Susan Wright after the primary earlier in the year. The embarrassment seems to have scared off any Democrat candidates, and now the Democrats will not even challenge the Republicans for this seat.
Democrats not fielding candidates in the 11th, 19th, and 26th districts is understandable, as these are deep-red GOP seats held respectively by Reps. August Pfluger (R-TX), Jodey Arrington (R-TX), and Michael Burgess (R-TX).
But the 25th and 31st districts, held by Reps. Roger Williams (R-TX) and John Carter (R-TX), while red districts are both a bit more battleground in nature—making it a sign of Democrats’ national struggles that they stood down in all these seats surrendering them to Republicans without even fielding a candidate.
DEMOCRAT HENRY CUELLAR STARES DOWN SOCIALIST CHALLENGE
Democrat Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-TX) is in serious political trouble after FBI agents raided his home in January as part of a corruption probe.
Cuellar, who insists he did nothing wrong and says he is cooperating with authorities in the investigation, faces Jessica Cisneros, a socialist Democrat challenger, in his primary. National Democrats have been descending on the district to back Cisneros, with Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Katie Porter (D-CA) endorsing her in addition to Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA).
If Cuellar goes down in this primary—or if he survives and has a weaker-than-usual showing—Republicans expect this seat to be competitive in November. Whether Cuellar wins, and how well he does regardless of who wins, are things to watch on March 1.
THE RIO GRANDE VALLEY AND HISPANICS SWITCHING TO THE GOP
A trend that exploded in 2020, and again in 2021, was Hispanic voters rushing to ditch the Democrats and join the GOP. In 2020, Laredo, Texas, saw the biggest swing toward Republicans from Democrats of any metro area with more than 250,000 people—but it’s not just Laredo. The entirety of the Rio Grande Valley and South Texas saw massive swings, especially with Hispanic voters, toward Trump and the GOP and away from Biden and the Democrats. Several counties along the border actually flipped from supporting a Democrat for president—like they did as recently as 2016 in backing Hillary Rodham Clinton—to backing Trump.
“Trump performed significantly better than expected in 2020 with South Texas’ Latino voters like Tejeda. Zapata County, a patchwork of cattle ranches covered in prickly pear cactus that is nearly 95% Latino or Hispanic, went for Clinton by a 33-point margin in 2016,” a post-election analysis from Time Magazine published in early 2021 says. “In November, Trump won it by 5 points, the first time since 1920, according to data provided by the Texas State Library and Archives Commission, that this rural county of 14,000 voted Republican in a presidential race. At least four other South Texas counties that are majority Hispanic and Latino—La Salle, Jim Wells, Kenedy and Kleberg—also flipped from Clinton to Trump. Laredo, an hour’s drive north of Zapata, had the biggest swing toward Trump of any U.S. metro area with a population exceeding 250,000, according to the New York Times.”
Now Rep. Tony Gonzales (R-TX), a South Texas conservative Republican, also held the 23rd congressional district in Texas—a seat that was vacated by Rep. Will Hurd (R-TX)—with far more votes than Hurd got in his last reelection bid. Many national political prognosticators predicted this seat would fall to Democrats in 2020, but it actually swung more the other way toward Republicans.
The trend continued in 2021, with Republican John Lujan flipping Texas House District 118 in San Antonio—a 73-percent Hispanic district Biden won by 14 points in 2020—in a special election. Republicans also swept Javier Villalobos into the mayor’s office in McAllen for the first time a Republican ever won that office, which is in the 85 percent Hispanic Hidalgo County that went for Biden by approximately 17 points in 2020.
What’s more, while Biden’s approval rating is abysmal nationally and in battleground states and districts, when it comes to Hispanic voters he fares even worse—something Republicans hope can lead to more flips like these. Recent Quinnipiac polling shows only 28 percent of Hispanics approve of Biden—far lower than his national approval rating across all voters—and 61 percent disapprove, higher than other demographics.
Voter registrations gains in suburban and urban centers throughout Texas, GOP officials told Breitbart News, are another sign Hispanic voters may swing harder toward Republicans. Williamson County and Fort Bend county are two counties GOP officials are watching closely, party officials said.
“Not only have Democrats taken the Hispanic vote for granted for far too long, but Hispanics are also being burden by Biden and Democrats’ radical agenda,” Republican National Committee (RNC) communications director Danielle Alvarez told Breitbart News. “The values of Hispanic communities align with the values of the Republican Party, and under Republican leadership, our community thrives.”
RNC ‘COMMUNITY CENTERS’ BEFUDDLE THE DEMOCRATS
One more thing to watch as the GOP is making gains in these Hispanic and urban and suburban communities as the Texas primaries roll around is the impact of a pilot “community center” program the RNC launched to increase engagement in key Texas communities.
The RNC recently stood up community centers in several Texas cities, like Dallas, McAllen, Laredo, Houston, and San Antonio. These are places where people have been gathering for things like movie night, game night, or other local events—a hang out spot for the local community, that also encourages folks to get involved politically.
Cuellar, the Democrat congressman, has even sounded the alarm about his party’s lack of similar engagement—and the Republicans’ effectiveness in reaching people. A recent local news piece on the matter captured Cuellar’s concerns, with the author noting that Cuellar told said these community center are particularly effective:
“They have RNC centers in Laredo and other places,” he said, noting that sometimes their reach is uncontested and “in phone calls with the National Democratic Party I tell them, ‘Everyone should be paying attention to South Texas.’”
Along the border, Cuéllar said, Republicans have used two things: that Democrats were taking oil and gas jobs away, and that they support underfunding the police, which is anathema to Hispanics who work as sheriffs, police or border patrol. .
“When they think you are going to take their jobs, it has an impact on the way people think,” he said.
If these are as successful as even Democrats admit in Texas, look for Republicans to export this idea nationally—especially to inner cities—to make inroads with other traditionally Democrat constituencies.