2022 Texas Primary Elections Review by Royce Poinsett

The theme of the March 1 Texas primary election results was “No Big Surprises.” And many of the questions posed in our February preview (see below) have been answered. But there are many races that remain to be decided in the Tuesday, May 24 primary runoffs.

The 2022 Texas primary turnout was higher than the last six midterm primaries. Still, only 17.4% of registered voters participated.

Statewide Offices

As expected, Republican Governor Greg Abbott and his Democrat challenger Beto O’Rourke each won their respective primary elections with resounding victories.

Most of the other Republican incumbent statewide elected officials also won their primary races easily, including Lt. Governor Dan Patrick, Comptroller Glenn Hegar and Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller.

Somewhat surprising, two Republican statewide incumbents were pushed into runoff elections to keep their offices. Attorney General Ken Paxton will face George P. Bush in a runoff.  And Railroad Commissioner Wayne Christian will face attorney Sarah Stogner.

In the race to fill the open Land Commissioner seat, former Senator Dawn Buckingham will face pastor Tim Westley in a Republican runoff.

All Republican statewide candidates will be heavily favored to win in the general November elections against Democrats.

Texas House

Incumbent Republican House members fared very well in facing primary challengers from the right. Republican House Speaker Dade Phelan’s leadership team had a very good election, largely defeating an effort from right-wing groups to defeat Republican incumbents. 30 Republican House incumbents faced primary challengers, with 19 specifically targeted by Defend Texas Liberty PAC, a well-funded right-wing PAC. All but four of these Republican incumbents won their primary elections outright; the 4 incumbents facing runoffs are:

Rep. Glenn Rogers (R-Graford) (Veterinarian)

Rep. Kyle Kacal (R-College Station)

Rep. Stephanie Klick (R-Fort Worth)

Rep. Phil Stephenson (R-Wharton)

There were 26 open House seats up for grabs, and 17 of these seats will be headed to May 24 runoff elections on either the Republican or Democratic side.

Texas Senate

As expected, all Senate incumbents seeking re-election were victorious.  In open seats in Republican-leaning districts, the Lt. Governor’s favored candidates fared well.  Former Reps. Phil King (R-Weatherford), Mayes Middleton (R-Wallisville) and Tan Parker (R-Flower Mound), and newcomer Kevin Sparks (R-Midland), won their respective nominations outright. Former Sen. Pete Flores’s (R-Pleasanton) comeback run will require a runoff against Raul Reyes Jr.

There are not expected to be any competitive Senate races in November, except perhaps for the open seat in SD 27 in far South Texas.

Open Questions

We earlier noted that Austin political insiders were looking to the March 1 primary results to answer several pressing questions:

  • Are any Republican statewide officials defeated, or pushed into runoffs, by their primary opponents?

Attorney General Ken Paxton and Railroad Commissioner Wayne Christian were pushed into runoffs.

  • How many of the 40 House incumbents with primary challengers are defeated (or pushed into runoffs) on March 1?  I.e., does either party’s primary voters send a clear signal that they want a “new direction” from their legislators? Are any House committee chairs defeated?

Only one House incumbent (a Democrat) was defeated outright. Only four incumbents (all Republicans, including one committee chair) were pushed into runoffs. So primary voters from both parties generally supported their incumbent legislators.

  • In the 7 House districts expected to be competitive in November, what type of candidates do Republican and Democrat voters nominate: “mainstream” candidates that can compete for independent voters, or “extreme” candidates that might not be able to win a swing seat?

Some of these nominees are yet to be decided in the May 24 runoff, but generally it appears that relatively “mainstream” candidates will represent both parties in these competitive November elections.

  • Which campaign issues resonate strongest with primary voters (suggesting possible policy priorities in the coming legislative session)?

Republican primary voters seemed to be most motivated by continuing concerns around Border Security/Immigration, Election Security, Abortion, Guns, Critical Race Theory and Transgender Sports issues. Democratic primary voters seemed to be most motivated by continuing concerns around Abortion, Voting Rights, Access to Healthcare, Education Funding and Electric Grid Reform. No particularly “new” issues are emerging on either side of the aisle.