We now have our first comprehensive look at what to expect from the 2024 Texas elections. Monday was the deadline for candidates to file for next year’s March primary, meaning we can finally take stock of every name that will be on Texas ballots in the near future. Here are four main takeaways from the field of contenders across the state.
Statewide Democrats are relatively weak
All the candidates in the U.S. Senate Democratic primary declared months ago, and there are no surprise entrants. The lack of a star throwing his or her hat into the ring must come as a relief to Ted Cruz, who barely eked out an election win against Texas Democrats’ golden boy, Beto O’Rourke, in 2018. There’s not much polling in the race, but judging by fundraising so far, it will likely come down to a two-way contest between Representative Colin Allred, of Dallas, and state senator Roland Gutierrez, of San Antonio. (In total, nearly one dozen Democrats or third-party candidates Democrats filed to run for the seat.)
Neither Allred nor Gutierrez is considered an A-lister for Texas Democrats—the former is obscure enough that most Democratic voters have no opinion about him at all, and the latter has yet to raise even one million dollars in a single fundraising period. (As of October, Allred had a twenty-to-one edge over the state senator in donations.) Still, Democrats are bullish on their chances. Gutierrez made a name for himself after the massacre in Uvalde, which is part of his state Senate district; Allred, a former NFL player, is leaving his three-term post representing Texas’s Thirty-second Congressional District based on a belief that he could be the one to beat Cruz. It’s too early to say whether he’s right, but going off of fundraising, endorsements, and the little polling we have, Allred seems to have the upper hand.
For Texas Democrats, the stakes of this race are high. The national map looks otherwise bleak for the party: the retirement of Democratic senator Joe Manchin, of West Virginia, means that if Democrats want to maintain control of the Senate, they might have to beat Cruz.
Democrats are putting up a fight in other races across the reliably red state. Of the seven other statewide races that’ll be on the ballot next November, every one received a Democratic challenger, according to the Texas Secretary of State. Considering Democrats have long been bullish about their chances of flipping a statewide seat (Texas Democrats haven’t won a statewide election since 1994) their strategy here is understandable—even if it’s a long shot.
Republican hopefuls are crowding around primary races in red districts where the incumbents threw in the towel
The busiest primary races on the ballot will be for the open-seat races in U.S. House districts in North Texas where would-be incumbents have stepped down. Allred, a Democrat, along with Republican representatives Kay Granger, of Fort Worth, and Michael Burgess, of Lewisville, are all giving up their seats ahead of 2024.
Judging by the sheer number of participants, the most dramatic contests will be to replace the two exiting Republican Congress members. Burgess, a nondescript conservative and longtime Obamacare opponent, represented a swath of North Texas for nearly a quarter-century before announcing this year that he’d retire. His Twenty-sixth Congressional District is, by one measure, one of the reddest seats in the state, and Burgess himself won reelection in 2022 by nearly 39 percentage points. A teeming roster of at least eleven Republicans are now running to replace him. Perhaps the most notable are Luisa del Rosal, who served as the 2020 Republican nominee for a Dallas-area state House seat and as West Texas representative Tony Gonzales’s chief of staff, and Brandon Gill, founder of right-wing news site the DC Enquirer and son-in-law of 2020 election denier Dinesh D’Souza. Gill already has the endorsement of Trump—who touted him as “the clear ‘America First’ candidate”—and Freedom Caucus member Lauren Boebert, of Colorado. Given the far-right star power involved, it seems likely that Burgess’s exit could open up the door for a more extreme Republican like Gill—who said in his campaign announcement that he wanted to “kick weak Republicans who rubber stamp progressives’ agenda out of Congress.”
The battle for Granger’s seat in North Texas’ Twelfth Congressional District, anchored around parts of Tarrant County, is more tame by comparison. Only a handful of Republicans have entered the race, but state representative Craig Goldman, also of Fort Worth, already has the backing of Governor Greg Abbott and a slate of state House and Senate members. Perhaps his biggest competitor is John O’Shea, a doctor who has the endorsement of Attorney General Ken Paxton and has lambasted his opponent for spearheading efforts to impeach the state’s top lawyer.
Regardless of who emerges victorious in these primaries, neither risks flipping blue. Granger won her last reelection bid by about 29 percentage points. But these open-seat races serve as a prime example of the type of circus you get when a solidly red district that’s been buttoned up for years suddenly becomes available.
There’s not much competition for either open state Senate seat
Like Congress, the state Senate has also seen a few retirements ahead of the 2024 races. The exit of Drew Springer, a Republican from Muenster, left open District 30 in North Texas. Farther south, in Houston, at least six Democrats have filed to run for Senate District 15, since its current representative, John Whitmire, was just elected the next mayor of the sprawling urban city.
Overall, though, there’s not much drama around these two seats just yet. Let’s start with the vacating Republican: In Senate District 30, both Abbott and Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick have thrown their support behind Brent Hagenbuch, a trusted conservative lieutenant who Patrick said would help promote the “policies of the district” and “President Trump’s MAGA agenda.” Meanwhile, the two more prominent Democrats running to potentially replace Whitmire are Karthik Soora, a renewable energy developer, and Molly Cook, an emergency room nurse who challenged Whitmire in the 2022 primary and received 42 percent of the vote.
Usually, open state Senate seats bring out a slate of candidates climbing over one another for a chance to win a spot in the upper chamber. This year was no different. Seemingly predicting that Whitmire would go on to win his runoff in the Houston mayoral race, six Democrats filed to replace the Senate’s longest-serving member.
But on the Republican side, it was a slightly different story: the dual endorsement of Abbott and Patrick would be understandably prohibitive to any other hopeful contenders. It is also, frankly, just more fun to be battling it out for seats in the lower chamber right now, where members are being targeted based on their respective votes on impeachment and school vouchers.
Abbott and Paxton are flexing their political muscles in the state House
In the races where both Abbott and Paxton—who is just beginning his revenge tour—have gotten involved, they’re often at odds when it comes to who to back. This can be attributed, in part, to conflicting priorities between the two Republicans. Paxton wants to reward those who voted against his impeachment; Abbott wants to punish those who voted against vouchers in this most recent special legislative session. In House District 11, incumbent Travis Clardy, of Nacogdoches, who voted against impeachment and vouchers, has Paxton’s support. Clardy’s opponent, Joanne Shofner, the president of Nacogdoches County Republican Women, has Abbott’s. A similar story is unfolding in House District 61, where embattled state representative Frederick Frazier, of McKinney, who voted for impeachment and supported vouchers, has Abbott’s support, while one of his opponents, Keresa Richardon, an entrepreneur, has Paxton’s backing. (Abbott and Paxton are also endorsing opposing candidates in House District 63, House District 64, House District 65, House District 66, and House District 67, among many, many others. You get the gist.)
But there are still a handful of races—though fewer—where the two Republicans are on the same page: both Abbott and Paxton are looking to oust state representative Glenn Rogers, of Graford, from the lower chamber, because of his votes in favor of impeachment and against vouchers. Abbott and Paxton have both endorsed Mike Olcott, a research scientist, for the seat instead. And in January’s special election runoff to replace state representative Bryan Slaton, of Royse City, both Abbott and Paxton have backed Brent Money, a real estate, business, and probate lawyer, over Jill Dutton, the former president of the Republican Women of Van Zandt, who has the backing of groups allied with Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan.
All of these races will test the muscle of various statewide Republican electeds, but with a popular and prolific fundraiser like Abbott betting against a highly motivated revenge-seeker like Paxton, these races are really anyone’s game. Weird things can happen when only a small percentage of Texans vote and call the shots.
Update, December 14, 2023: This story has been updated to reflect the most recently available candidate filings in statewide races via the Texas Secretary of State.
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