7:09 a.m., Forrest Wilder
We’re a bit bleary-eyed this morning, but the light of day shows us that Henry Cuellar managed to narrowly beat Jessica Cisneros to hold onto his Laredo-based Senate seat. The tally was 51.6 percent to 48.4 percent. Reporting by Texas Monthly‘s Cat Cardenas proved to be prescient: Cuellar, one of the most conservative Democrats in Congress, was vulnerable to a challenge, but Cisneros didn’t quite have what it took. One of the complaints about Cuellar that Cat heard frequently in Laredo was that Cuellar was absent from the district in many ways. Last night, Cuellar didn’t show up to his own victory party.
That’s all, folks!
1:08 a.m., Chris Hooks
We’re signing off for the night, but let’s do the rounds. In the Democratic primary, Joe Biden has leapfrogged over Bernie Sanders to pull ahead in Texas, with a lead of about 32 to 29 percent (the Associated Press has called the race for Biden). With 78 percent of precincts reporting, the only other candidate to cross the 15 percent threshold for viability is Mike Bloomberg, at 15.7 percent. That translates to what will probably be a meaningful delegate lead and the narrative-altering victory of a popular vote lead for Biden.
In the U.S. Senate primary, MJ Hegar seems to have secured a spot in a runoff. Dallas state senator Royce West is in second, although progressive Austin labor activist Cristina Tzintzún Ramirez, whom AOC endorsed, has a shot as additional votes come in.
Sri Kulkarni has won the Democratic primary outright, avoiding a runoff, in Congressional District Twenty-two, a swing district that he narrowly lost in 2018 to Pete Olson. Fort Bend County sheriff Troy Nehls put in a strong showing, but will have to face a runoff with a distant second-place finisher. Pierce Bush, the nephew of George W. and Jeb Bush, was eliminated. Could this be the end of the Bush dynasty? No. There are always more. And let’s not forget about land commish George P. Bush.
Henry Cuellar, the conservative Democratic congressman from Laredo who is facing a young left-wing challenger named Jessica Cisneros, may have won—but it’s too soon to call. Cuellar is up five percentage points, but there’s a lot of votes that look to be uncounted in areas where Cisneros is running strong. This one has attracted lots of national attention as it’s an obvious test of the strength of, on one side, Nancy Pelosi and of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez on the other.
Extremely veteran state senator Eddie Lucio Jr., of Brownsville, did not get so lucky. With 170 of 175 precincts reporting, he’s winning 49.9 percent of the vote—which means he might be facing a runoff with trial lawyer Sara Stapleton Barrera by the tiniest of margins. That could change as votes are counted. It’s not all troubling news for the Lucio dynasty, though. Lucio’s son, state representative Eddie Lucio III, beat back his own primary challenger, 54 to 46 percent.
Money can’t buy everything
1:00 a.m., R.G. Ratcliffe
- New York billionaire Michael Bloomberg spent $20 million to try to carry the Democratic presidential primary in Texas—which he called Tejas—but instead of buying him a victory, the money got him to a distant third place. On the other hand, he will wind up with more delegates than former state governor John Connally received in his 1980 campaign. Connally spent $11 million to obtain a single delegate to the Republican National Convention. Of course, Connally was spending other people’s money.
- The conservative Club for Growth spent $1 million on television commercials to support former Colleyville city councilman Chris Putnam’s Republican primary challenge to U.S. representative Kay Granger of Fort Worth. Putnam described Granger as a RINO who was insufficiently on board with Trump. With 24 years of service and an endorsement from President Trump, Granger easily put to bed Putnam’s hopes. Granger will have a Democratic opponent in the fall, but the district is heavily Republican.
- This one’s a bit of a head-scratcher. Texas railroad commissioner Ryan Sitton, who has $2.2 million in the bank, somehow lost to a guy named Jim Wright, who has $13,000. Old heads will remember when another Republican railroad commissioner, Victor Carrillo, lost to another unknown, anemically funded challenger. Many thought that loss was attributable to GOP primary voters choosing the Anglo surname on the ballot. But in the case of Sitton–Wright, that doesn’t seem to apply. On the other hand, a former Texas U.S. House speaker from Fort Worth shares the name Jim Wright.
- JFK conspiracy enthusiast and breast aficionado Robert Morrow has been an unwelcome guest in Austin politics for years. He coauthored, with Republican dirty trickster Roger Stone, a book called The Clintons’ War on Women, which is as provocative and fact-free as you might image. He has called President Trump a child rapist. And when he won election as the Travis County GOP chairman in 2016, the local party found a loophole in state law to oust him. But on Tuesday, Morrow made it into a Republican runoff for a seat on the State Board of Education. Travis County Republican chairman Matt Mackowiak said he would set himself on fire in Morrow wins.
Progressive challengers to Democratic DAs likely to go 1 for 2
12:56 a.m., Forrest Wilder
It looks like the score for Texas prosecutors who ran afoul of their own reform-minded bases is 1:1. In Harris County, it seems DA Kim Ogg has successfully fended off three challengers, including two of her former assistant DAs. Ogg has 55 percent of the vote, followed by Audia Jones with 23 percent.
In Travis County, DA Margaret Moore is trailing challenger José Garza, 44-42. That could put Moore in a runoff with Garza, a dangerous position for an incumbent who has made a lot of people unhappy in Austin over her incrementalist approach to criminal justice reform and concerns that her office has failed sexual assault survivors.
Revisiting turnout in Collin County
12:52 a.m., Ben Rowen
On Monday, Dan Solomon looked at whether Democrats’ large turnout in Collin County early voting might mean the party could challenge the GOP in a former conservative stronghold. With 89 percent of precincts reporting, more than 77,500 votes have been cast for Democrats this cycle, versus just under 40,000 in 2016.
The story of one man who spent more than four hours in line in Harris County
11:52 p.m., Peter Holley
By noon on Tuesday, the line to vote at Texas Southern University in Houston’s Third Ward was already more than an hour long thanks to a series of malfunctioning voting machines. By evening, the wait time had more than doubled. Long voting lines proliferated across Harris County on Tuesday, as I reported here earlier, but the TSU campus may have been ground zero for voting delays.
From his precarious position somewhere near the back of that line—which snaked across campus and was hundreds of people deep at times—Allyn West bore witness, logging troubling, inspiring, humorous, and painful observations on Twitter. West’s marathon began at 6:15 p.m. and concluded with a vote at 10:45 p.m. How did West and his fellow voters endure? A mixture of teamwork and ingenuity, West recounted via text afterward.
“We would hold each other’s spots, share phone cables,” he wrote, when asked how people used the restroom and kept phones alive. “Volunteers passed out bottled water, Capri Sun, pizza. One dude set up outside with a saxophone.”
“It was a spirited scene,” he continued. “Clapping and cheering when people came out. A kind of esprit de corps. Two exhausted-looking parents came out around 10:15, a newborn on the mother’s shoulder, and the whole room ushered them out and home.”
Democracy bent, but somehow did not break, a credit, West texted, to something essential in the Houstonian nature.
“It was kind of an amazing experience,” West, who has lived in Houston since 2008, added. “People were excellent to each other.”
Asked why, West cautioned that he could only speculate: “It was a one party building for the most part,” he offered. “Extraordinary diverse. On the campus of an HBCU. In a historic black community.”
When West finally left campus, he estimated another one hundred people were still waiting in line.
— Allyn West (@allynwest) March 4, 2020
A weak showing for Austin democratic socialists in a House race
11:21 p.m., Chris Hooks
In Congressional District Twenty-five, which stretches from Austin to Fort Worth, two Democrats lined up for the privilege of challenging longtime Republican representative Roger Williams: Heidi Sloan and Julie Oliver. Oliver had run in 2018, when she held Williams, who had won by twenty and twenty-five points in other recent elections, to a winning margin of less than 10 percent. Sloan, with the backing of local and national Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) groups, ran to be the one to challenge Williams instead.
A socialist farmer, Sloan was a well-spoken and impressive first-time candidate who won a good deal of national media attention. Her signs, with a New Deal-inflected aesthetic, multiplied around Austin. So far, she’s getting crushed: Oliver is winning more than two-thirds of the vote.
The strange thing, ultimately, is that this race happened at all. Oliver is herself a very progressive candidate, by Texas standards, and she did relatively well in the district after she won the nomination in 2018. Like last time, she probably won’t beat Williams this year—the district is pretty red—but then again, if Sloan had won, she wouldn’t either. So, it seems like maybe a waste of Sloan’s talents.
One thing the DSA wing of the Democratic party lacks is an infrastructure that cultivates talent, helps candidates make strategic decisions about how to run, and helps guide them to races where they’ll be effective. The places where DSA candidates ought to be focusing their attention, one would think, would be in deep-blue districts represented by moderate Democrats, which is emphatically not Roger Williams’s district.
Granger withstands challenge from the right
11:13 p.m., R.G. Ratcliffe
Despite the efforts of North Texas tea parties to portray U.S. representative Kay Granger as a RINO, voters have decided to return her to Congress, rejecting her opponent, former Colleyville city councilman Chris Putnam. With Granger leading with 59 percent of the vote, Putman conceded defeat in this Fort Worth-based district. Granger overcame Putnam’s substantial financial support from libertarian groups such as a PAC associated with Kentucky senator Rand Paul and the Club for Growth. She also apparently convinced voters that she was sufficiently tight with Trump, despite Putnam’s efforts to paint her as Never Trumper. It probably didn’t hurt that Trump endorsed her.
Granger is the only Texas woman representing the Republican Party in Congress. But she had angered some in her party in 2016 by calling on Donald Trump to drop out of the presidential contest and for her support of abortion rights. In her position as one of the House appropriators, she had negotiated money for Trump’s border wall, but far less than what the president wanted. However, Trump had endorsed her reelection in recent weeks.
College biology professor Lisa Welch apparently will win the Democratic nomination to challenge Granger in the November election.
No surprises in Dem Senate race
11:03 p.m., Forrest Wilder
As we noted early on, the twelve-way Democratic Senate race has been strangely sleepy. Polls indicated that many voters were unsure of whom to vote for, which is understandable given the relatively obscure status of most of the candidates, with the partial exception of MJ Hegar, who had a viral video and a fairly robust campaign against Republican congressman John Carter in 2018. I predicted earlier this evening that Hegar would make the runoff and there would be a surprise candidate, someone who “shouldn’t” make the runoff because they were an unknown, underfunded, or just plain goofy (or all three!). This happens with regularity in Texas Democratic primaries. Think Jim Hogan, of goats-eat-watermelons fame. Or perennial candidate Gene Kelly.
Well, as usual, it looks like I’m wrong. Right now, with 40 percent of precincts reporting, Hegar is leading with 24 percent of the vote, followed by veteran Dallas state senator Royce West at 14 percent, and activist Cristina Tzinztún Ramirez at 13 percent. The next two candidates—Annie “Mamá” Garcia and Houston city councilwoman Amanda Edwards—are trailing with 9 percent each. I think it’s fair to say that these three—Hegar, West, and Tzintzún Ramirez—have generally been considered the front-runners, and the ones most likely to be able to marshal the money and campaign mojo to mount a serious challenge against John Cornyn in November. So it’s likely that two of these three will meet again. Probably the biggest contrast would be between Hegar and Tzintzún Ramirez. Hegar is already running a general election campaign, one that is patently moderate and focused on her military record and personality. Tzintzún Ramirez, on the other hand, is running in the AOC/Bernie Sanders mold. (AOC endorsed her last month.) Well, we’ll keep our eyes on this one. Maybe “Mamá” will make a comeback.
Texas exit polls: late-breaking voters go for Biden
9:53 p.m., R.G. Ratcliffe
Texas Democrats who just couldn’t make up their minds on who to vote for in the party presidential nomination broke to former vice president Joe Biden in the days after he won the South Carolina primary—according to exit polls published by CNN.
Forty-nine percent of the voters who made up their minds in the past few days cast ballots for Biden. Of those who had made up their minds previously, 36 percent said they supported Senator Bernie Sanders, followed by Biden at 30 percent.
Some other highlights of the exit poll:
—Biden was the top choice of female voters, with a 34 percent plurality. Sanders received a 38 percent plurality of the male voters.
—Sanders had a plurality of 32 percent with white voters and 45 percent with Hispanics. Biden carried the black vote by 60 percent.
—As might have been expected, Sanders carried 55 percent of the vote of people under age 44. Then it flipped, with 44 percent of those age 45 and older casting ballots for Biden. The older voters made up 62 percent of the electorate.
—Among those Texas voters who at least attend church occasionally, Biden got a plurality of 40 percent of the vote. Among those who never attend church, Sanders received a majority of 51 percent.
Explore the exit poll for yourself and point out to us what you think is important.
Will Senator Lucio avoid a runoff?
9 p.m., R.G. Ratcliffe
Young progressives sought to oust one of the most conservative Democratic state senators in this year’s primaries, and right now Senator Eddie Lucio Jr., a veteran Rio Grande Valley lawmaker, is hovering around 50 percent of the vote. If, at the end of the counting, he clears the 50 percent threshold, he’ll avoid a runoff.
Trial lawyer Sara Stapleton Barrera and State Board of Education member Ruben Cortez have been critical of Lucio on issues such as abortion rights and support of the LGBTQ community. In much of the district, Stapleton Barrera was trailing with about 34 percent of the vote, while Cortez had less than 20 percent. Lucio had more than half the vote in the portion of Hidalgo County represented by his district, and he was hovering at 49 percent in Cameron and Kenedy counties. Kleberg and Willacy counties had not reported in yet.
Lucio frequently votes with the Senate Republicans on issues such as restricting abortion or limiting transgender people from using public restrooms that do not match their birth gender. But while he has angered progressives, Lucio also has a reputation for bringing home state government appropriations that translate into local jobs. In 2017, Lucio obtained $5 million in a tight state budget to finance the restoration of an adobe mansion and create a birding center in McAllen to attract tourists. He denied that the funding was a reward for voting for the so-called bathroom bill.
Warren slipping below delegate threshold
8:40 p.m., Ben Rowen
With 32 percent of the expected vote in, Elizabeth Warren is slipping below the 15 percent viability threshold necessary to gain delegates in Texas. She currently stands just over 13 percent.
Home-field advantage proving big in Senate race
8:15 p.m., R.G. Ratcliffe
Never underestimate the decision of voters to cast ballots for the homers; that is, the candidates with a hometown audience. So far, the Democratic contest for the U.S. Senate nomination has turned into a home-turf advantage for a crowded field of candidates with little to no statewide name identification.
Former Air Force rescue helicopter copilot Mary Jane “MJ” Hegar is leading in many of the counties reporting so far, but she also is the only candidate who has been able to mount even a small television campaign. She has the backing of the national Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.
However, in Dallas County, state senator Royce West received a hefty hometown vote and leads the contest locally with 48 percent in current returns. Hegar leads in Harris County, but Houston politicians Chris Bell and Amanda Edwards each received about 18 percent of the local vote so far. Travis County is home territory of both Hegar and Christina Tzintzún Ramirez—Hegar had 39 percent followed by 26.5 of the early vote. In her real home county, Williamson, Hegar has 65 percent of the vote.
A runoff is almost guaranteed with Hegar facing off against one of the other candidates as the Democratic nominee to challenge the reelection of Republican U.S. senator John Cornyn.
Will the early vote be enough for Sanders?
8:13 p.m., Chris Hooks
Numbers are just starting to trickle in across Texas, but we’re starting to learn something about how the presidential candidates did in Texas’s largest counties. In Harris County, the state’s most populous, Biden and Sanders are tied, with about 25 percent each, and Bloomberg is pulling almost 22 percent, with no other candidate pulling more than 12 percent. In Dallas County, Biden holds a slim lead with 27 percent to Sanders’s 25 percent, with Bloomberg in third with 20 percent. In Travis County, Texas’s progressive bastion, Sanders is in first with 37 percent, Warren in second with 25 percent, with no other candidate above 10 percent. From this and other counties that are reporting results we can say a few things. Biden is running strong. Bloomberg is running surprisingly strong. Warren is running weak, except in, perhaps, a few corners of the state. And Sanders is doing okay, so far. The problem for him is that his election day vote may not be as strong as the early vote, and the early vote looks like it may not be enough. But there’s a long way to go.
Bernie surprising in Collin and Denton counties
7:51 p.m., Forrest Wilder
In Collin County, Sanders is leading with 29 percent to Biden’s 22 percent. In Denton County, Sanders leads 32 to 20. And in Williamson County, north of Austin, Sanders has 30 percent, Warren has 19, and Biden 18. As Dan Solomon noted on Monday, there was a Democratic surge in voter registration and turnout in Collin and Denton counties, both traditional GOP strongholds, and Collin is the stomping grounds of Texas attorney general Ken Paxton, a staunch social conservative.
In Houston, broken voting machines unleash long lines and frustration
6:42 p.m., Peter Holley
The frustrated voter, a middle-aged woman in blue scrubs, was walking in the opposite direction of a polling station on Texas Southern University’s campus when she was intercepted by the sound of a woman’s voice trying to get her attention.
“Ma’am! Excuse me, ma’am!” the voice said. “Did you just try to vote?”
The voice didn’t belong to a poll worker. Instead, it was none other than 13-term U.S. congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee, wearing a brightly colored jacket, jeans, and a comfy pair of running shoes.
Like many other people walking out of the polling station, the woman told Jackson Lee she’d waited as long as she could, but had to return to work. Half of the station’s ten Democratic voting machines were broken, she explained.
Holding a cellphone to her ear, Jackson Lee told the voter she was well aware of the issue and was on the phone with voting officials that very instant, trying to get the problem resolved as soon as possible. Though Jackson Lee urged her to return to the voting booth, the woman said she’d try to return later. Jackson Lee—who’d witnessed multiple people leave the polling station in fits of frustration—shook her head, but wasn’t surprised.
“I spoke to a person who walked away about twenty minutes ago because he had to go to work and he saw no way that he will get back here,” she said. “That breaks my heart for him.”
Beginning early Tuesday morning, voters across Harris County faced long lines, warm temperatures, and broken voting machines in their effort to cast ballots in the Democratic contest for president. A few miles south of TSU, elderly voters in particular struggled to endure a two-hour-long line outside Thompson Elementary in Houston’s Third Ward. At one point, a poll worker said, only half of the station’s voting machines were functional, though all but one was back up and running by mid-afternoon.
Long lines were also reported at Trinity Episcopal Church, in Kashmere Gardens, and at numerous other polling locations around Harris County, as the Houston Chronicle noted.
Perhaps none of those lines felt as symbolic as the one on TSU’s campus. That particular polling station was opened to make voting easier for young people at a school, as Jackson Lee pointed out, that was “born out of the ashes of segregation.”
“This location reminds us every day of the struggle of African Americans and other minorities to vote,” Jackson Lee said, as she waited for a technician to arrive to fix voting machines. “Unfortunately, even as we fought for this site we’re certainly disappointed to find that out of the ten machines here, five are down.”
“That’s modern day voter oppression,” she added.
Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Tex.) was at @TexasSouthern today trying to resolve voting chaos after 5/10 Democrat voting booths went down before lunch (All 10 Repub machines worked fine). Here she is reporting issues after doctor was forced to go back to work. I saw… pic.twitter.com/lewIHGuB8f
— Peter Holley (@peterjholley) March 3, 2020
Is Bloomberg here to stay?
6:18 p.m., Ben Rowen
Late last week, our very own Dan Solomon reported on whether Michael Bloomberg’s operation would remain in Texas after the primary. Field organizers were idealistic and thought he’d remain to turn Texas blue in November; campaign higher-ups, however, wouldn’t commit.
This exchange with a reporter today doesn’t settle the question, but maybe Bloomberg learned some things campaigning here.
Reporter: “You’ve spent a lot of time in Texas?”
Michael Bloomberg: “Tejas, we’d say here.”
Reporter: “What’d you say?”
Bloomberg: “That’s Spanish for Texas. You’re in a Cuban neighborhood, so you’ve got to know a little…” pic.twitter.com/JbPYEOR6xp
— The Hill (@thehill) March 3, 2020
Keepin’ it weird
5:41 p.m., Forrest Wilder
Texas, you may have heard, is a big state. And with so many competitive races, on both the Democratic and Republican ballots, from Brownsville to Muleshoe, it’s nearly impossible to keep up with everything, even in our own communities. I don’t know about you, but I put off going to the polls until the last day of early voting, Friday, because I could never find the time to research the down-ballot candidates. (Three different good candidates for County Court at Law No. 4?!) You can be forgiven for not knowing about, say, a fifteen-way Republican race for Congress in the Panhandle.
But, folks, I have an unhealthy habit of tracking some of the wonderfully/horribly idiosyncratic critters who run for office in our great, strange state, and I’m here to tell you there are some real *characters* out there this year. This is Texas after all. Here’s a brief list of colorful candidates to watch:
—Beth Van Duyne, former mayor of Irving, who earned minor fame for going after “shariah courts” and being less than cool to a fourteen-year-old Irving boy who brought a clock to school. Naturally, she landed a job in the Trump administration (regional HUD administrator for Ben Carson). Now, she’s running in a five-way Republican primary to replace outgoing Congressman Kenny Marchant, in a Dallas-area district that Democrats want to pick up.
—Annie “Mamá” Garcia. Mamá is one of the twelve entrants in perhaps the sleepiest, most crowded primary this cycle: the Democratic race to take on Senator John Cornyn. Fun fact: Mamá, who isn’t Hispanic, adopted “Mamá” because she says she has a “el corazón Latino.” This isn’t quite as ballsy as changing your middle name to “SECEDE,” but it does suggest a certain Rachel Dolezal level of hubris. What else? Her website’s donation button relies not on English or Spanish to solicit money, but rather German: “Ich bin eine Geschäftsfrau.” She walked 420 miles (heh) across Texas to protest John Cornyn, and says that the arguments for marijuana legalization are “as varied and nuanced as the number of strains sold at the Bloom Room in San Francisco.” She doesn’t know what colonias are, but she’s learning …
—Ronny Jackson. Donald Trump’s doctor, a.k.a. “Candyman,” is in a fifteen-way race to replace retiring Republican congressman Mac Thornberry in CD-13 in the Panhandle, one of the most conservative districts in the nation. He’s supremely confident about making the runoff, which is kinda strange, because he seems to have no idea how to campaign. His pitch to voters is that he’s really close to the president—close enough to know he has “incredible genes”—but the Trumps haven’t endorsed or really even lifted a finger to help him. Sad!
—Jon Francis. He’s the son-in-law of Farris Wilks, one of two fracking billionaires who are the Koch brothers of Texas. He also works for one of the family businesses. Like the Tom Wambsgans character on Succession, Francis is making good use of his wife’s family’s fortunes to fund his ambitions. Because everything about politics now is farcical, Wilks is running as an “outsider” who is bravely pledging to “only accept contributions from individual citizens.” Those individual citizens, his father-in-law, mother-in-law, and others in the Wilks clan have given Francis almost all of his $600,000 in campaign contributions. If all goes as planned, Francis will earn his political office—Texas House District Sixty—the old-fashioned way: his in-laws will buy it for him.
—I know nothing about these candidates but I love their names: Bangar Reddy, Sugar Ray Ash, Tanner Do, and, uh, Pierce Bush.
What does it mean to be a progressive prosecutor?
5:18 p.m., Forrest Wilder
Both Travis County (Austin) and Harris County (Houston) feature competitive Democratic primaries for district attorney that will test the limits of what it means to be a “progressive prosecutor” and the reach of the criminal justice reform movement.
In Harris County, DA Kim Ogg, who unseated an incumbent in 2016 on a platform of overhauling the county’s notoriously tough criminal justice system, faces three challengers. Two of them are her former assistant prosecutors, Carvana Cloud and Audia Jones, who accuse Ogg of betraying her reformist roots by refusing to get behind cash bail reform and stopping short of effectively decriminalizing marijuana, as other big-city DAs—like John Creuzot in Dallas—have done.
But with lots of new Democrats at the polls and healthy turnout, there’s really no telling what can happen. How many people are paying close attention to the finer points of criminal justice policy? “Experts say” that Ogg, as the well-funded incumbent, has the edge in the race. For what that’s worth.
In Travis County, DA Margaret Moore finds herself beset by angry progressive activists, who argue that the DA in the state’s most liberal county should be doing more to dismantle an unjust system. For reasons that are too complicated to go into here, Austin’s justice system has been dominated historically by a Democratic old guard that has taken a much more incremental approach to reform compared with their counterparts in Dallas and Houston.
Moore has also taken a lot of heat for mishandling sexual assault cases, spawning two federal lawsuits that accuse her of discriminating against survivors, not believing them, and allowing rapists to go free. Needless to say, this is not a good look for a DA in 2020. Moore has two Democratic opponents, José Garza and Erin Martinson. Garza probably poses the biggest threat to Moore. He’s a well-known and respected attorney who leads the Workers Defense Project.
Both races may end up in runoffs.
What we’re watching
4:55 p.m., Chris Hooks, R.G. Ratcliffe
At long last, the primary has come to Texas. There’s a lot up for grabs tonight, but you know the main story: For the first time since 2008, Texas matters quite a bit in a Democratic presidential primary. And while that contest was a relatively simple one between two candidates, Super Tuesday this year is a wild melee among at least four candidates. As one of two large states to vote this Tuesday, the results in Texas will be a big part of how people assess the state of the race tonight—especially since our blood rivals in California often take hours and hours, if not longer, to count their votes.
First, the math. Texas has 228 delegates to give to Democratic candidates tonight. Only 79 of those are awarded based on the statewide results. Another 149 are awarded based on the performance of candidates in each of the 31 state Senate districts. In both Senate districts and the statewide tally, a candidate has to clear 15 percent of the vote to be eligible for delegates. Got that?
Because each state Senate district is so different, this leads to a lot of uncertainty about who will do well in the delegate count, no matter what the polls say. To add more uncertainty, Texas has open primaries, which means the Democratic primary is open to both first-time voters and disaffected, or mischievous, Republicans. And there’s yet another major variable: a big proportion of Texas voters have already voted, with some having cast their ballot for candidates who have already dropped out. Oh, to be an early-voting, Biden-friendly Buttigieg voter today!
The front-runner in the national race is Vermont senator Bernie Sanders, who pulled into first in many Texas polls a few weeks back. He’ll look to run up the count with progressive and nontraditional voters across the state and hope that few other candidates cross the 15 percent threshold. But Joe Biden has hung close to Sanders in second place in many of those same polls, with one last-minute poll by Data For Progress indicating that he’s inched into first. He could do well in many state Senate districts, and with Republican crossover voters, like he did in South Carolina.
At an extraordinary rally in Dallas last night, three of Biden’s rivals and many Texas Democrats declared Biden the consensus candidate, making an eleventh-hour push to defeat Sanders. Will Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar’s leftover voters put Biden over the top, now that their candidates have dropped out? Or is too much of the early vote baked in for Sanders?
Then there’s Elizabeth Warren and Mike Bloomberg, who in most recent statewide polls have placed well behind Bernie and Biden but are nonetheless hanging close to the 15 percent threshold. The narrative coming out of Texas, and the delegate race, will look a lot different depending on whether they’re able to pick up a significant number of delegates or they’re blown out across the board.
Les Misérables: The super-crowded, but sleepy, Dem Senate race
But the presidential race isn’t the only major statewide primary this year. You may or may not be surprised to learn that there’s a U.S. Senate race in Texas this cycle, and that approximately fourteen dozen candidates are running to take on John Cornyn in November. In even the most recent polls, as many as 40 to 50 percent of Democrats are undecided about who’ll they’ll vote for, leaving open the possibility that voters pick a name at random in the booth, which is something of a tradition for the party. And there are some great names. One is named Victor Hugo Harris.
Another, who is on the ballot for the U.S. Senate race as Annie “Mamá” Garcia, is a white woman from Minnesota who goes by Mamá in part because she has “el corazón Latino.” Another, Cristina Tzintzún Ramirez, had to apologize after she boasted to Democrats that the Tzintzún family name was “more Mexican than any Garcia or Lopez.”
MJ Hegar, who ran a viral congressional campaign against John Carter in 2018, comes in first in most polls and seems likely to make a runoff. The major question is who she faces off against. Early on, Tzintzún Ramirez was supposed to be the progressive challenger to Hegar’s more moderate campaign, but recent polls have state senator Royce West and former congressman Chris Bell vying for the runoff spot, and even Mamá herself. Quien sabe what the hell is gonna happen.
Cuellar versus Cisneros
Henry Cuellar is one of the most conservative Democrats in the U.S. House, a veteran wheeler-dealer who’s kept an iron grip on his seat since 2005 despite representing a district that looks much bluer than he is. He faces a challenge from Jessica Cisneros, a young progressive who has been endorsed by national progressive organizations and Cuellar’s newsmaking colleague Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Cuellar has faced some pushback in his district for the length of his tenure and for working with the Trump administration. Will it be enough?
The last gasp of the tea party in Fort Worth?
While the Cuellar/Cisneros contest is a fight for the future of the Democratic party, in the Fort Worth area there’s a Republican primary contest that tests the waning strength of the tea party movement. U.S. representative Kay Granger of Fort Worth, who has been in Congress for 23 years, is facing a challenge from former Colleyville city councilman Chris Putnam, whose campaign theme song sounds vaguely like a promotion to sell pickup trucks: “D.C. down to Cowtown; District Twelve is a battleground.” Putnam is receiving major financial backing from libertarian Republican groups such as the political action committee aligned with U.S. senator Rand Paul of Kentucky and the Club for Growth.
The campaign is focused on Granger’s call for President Trump to drop out of the 2016 presidential race and her support for abortion rights. But she has been a popular politician in Fort Worth, where she once served as mayor. Granger is the only Texas woman representing the GOP in Congress and has been a staunch defender of appropriations for the area’s defense contractors. An added plus for Granger, President Trump has endorsed her reelection.
Near Houston, in Congressional District Twenty-two, voters in both parties are picking challengers in one of the most hotly anticipated congressional matchups this fall. Pete Olson is retiring, setting off a messy Republican field of fifteen candidates, including Pierce Bush, George W. and Jeb!’s nephew, and Troy Nehls, the former Fort Bend County sheriff who once seemed to threaten a woman with arrest on Facebook for having a “F*** Trump” truck decal, causing her to put up a new truck decal that read “F*** Troy Nehls.” The Democratic field includes Sri Kulkarni, who became a rising star in the 2018 cycle despite losing his race against Olson, and four other contenders.
Try to tell these Austin lefty candidates apart
There are still other interesting congressional primaries. In an ugly-looking district that stretches from Austin to Fort Worth, two Democrats, Heidi Sloane and Julie Oliver, are vying to take on Republican Roger Williams in reddish Congressional District Twenty-five. Sloane, a democratic socialist, has become a national star among like-minded progressives, while Oliver is also a progressive Democrat with a little milder branding. As with seemingly all Democratic contests these days, this one has been taken as a referendum on the direction of the party, though how much it actually says is up for debate.
Odds and ends and oddballs
And on the Republican side, Trump’s scandal-plagued former doctor Ronny Jackson is taking a swing at retiring Mac Thornberry’s district in the Panhandle, though he’s had a rough time with it. And in College Station, Pete Sessions, the Blimp King of North Texas, has paradropped into a new district to try to win back a seat after losing his in Dallas in 2018.