SPRING IS LITMUS-TEST time in Texas politics. Many voters in the March 12 primaries will be activists whose chief loyalty is to a faction rather than to a party, so the winners of those races will likely be candidates who can pass ideological muster. Here are some of the crucial contests that will decide who has clout in ’96—and who doesn’t.

The Republicans

U.S. House, Fort Worth Is there a place for moderates in the GOP? The race to succeed retiring Democrat Pete Geren will measure whether the popularity of ex-Fort Worth mayor Kay Granger can overcome the resentment of right-wingers, who grumble that she isn’t a true-blue conservative—or Republican, for that matter.

U.S. House, Southeast Texas Incumbent Greg Laughlin defected to the GOP at mid-term, but some conservatives in his district are in open revolt. A Laughlin loss could dissuade future party switchers.

U.S. House, Dallas County Democrat John Bryant’s departure to run for the U.S. Senate has ignited a classic confrontation between the old establishment (former Dallas city councilman Glenn Box, who has the support of business) and the new populism (Pete Sessions, who is courting the suburbs by accusing Box of impurity on taxes and affirmative action).

State Legislature, San Antonio The city’s business leaders are backing insurance manager Caron De Mars against incumbent Frank Corte, a darling of the right, who voted against the interests of San Antonio in last year’s Edwards Aquifer fight. Will voters be motivated by social issues or hometown chauvinism?

State Legislature, Austin A battle for the soul of the local GOP. The leading combatants: the former head of the Travis County Christian Coalition (Kirk Ingels), a moderate black woman who ran for Congress in 1994 (Jo Baylor), and a retiring county sheriff with strong ties to conservative Democrats (Terry Keel).

The Democrats

U.S. House and State Legislature, Corpus Christi Is there a religious right on the left? A strong Pentacostal organization in Corpus Christi helped elect Congressman Solomon Ortiz. Now Pentacostal minister Trinidad Botello, an Ortiz ally, is running against Hugo Berlanga, a longtime power in the Legislature, while Berlanga’s cousin, State Board of Education member Mary Helen Berlanga, is challenging Ortiz.

State Legislature, Houston A shoot-out over concealed weapons. Incumbent Ken Yarborough, a retired labor union representative, is for the right to carry handguns. His opponent, talk show host David A. Jones, is against it.

State Legislature, Austin Two Democratic factions go head-to-head: gays and Hispanics. Incumbent Glen Maxey, the Legislature’s only openly gay member, holds a seat drawn for Hispanics that was previously occupied by disgraced ex-railroad commissioner Lena Guerrero. Former school board member Abel Ruiz is his strongest challenger.