• As expected, Donald Trump won the GOP primary, and Joe Biden the Democratic primary.
  • Colin Allred has defeated Roland Gutierrez and eight other opponents in the Democratic race for the nomination to challenge Senator Ted Cruz.
  • Speaker of the House Dade Phelan is heading to a runoff against David Covey.
  • Southwest Texas Congressman Tony Gonzales, once a MAGA faithful now censured by the state GOP, is heading to a runoff against gun influencer Brandon Herrera.

That’s All (For Now) Folks

With most of the day’s big races called, we’re gonna call it a night, folks. Stay tuned tomorrow for more coverage of how Abbott’s school voucher push played out (once some of the closer races are called), how Ken Paxton’s revenge tour went, and what it all means for the May runoffs and November. They will be here sooner than you think!

An Update on the Voucher Fight

Here’s how things stand with the 16 anti-voucher incumbents in the Texas House. Fifteen of the races have been called, with six incumbents winning: Keith Bell, Drew Darby, Jay Dean, Charlie Geren, Ken King, and Stan Lambert. Five incumbents–Steve Allison, Ernest Bailes, Travis Clardy, Glenn Rogers, and Reggie Smith—lost to pro-voucher challengers. 

An additional four incumbents—DeWayne Burns, Justin Holland, John Kuempel, and Gary VanDeaver—are headed to a runoff on May 28. 

There are five more seats being vacated by anti-voucher incumbents who decided to retire instead of run for re-election. Two of those seats have been claimed by Abbott-backed candidates and two more are headed toward a runoff. The fifth has not been called yet. If you’re keeping count, Abbott and the pro-voucher side are up seven, with several races left to be decided. I would call that a pretty good night for those who want to privatize public education, given that flipping eleven seats from anti- to pro-voucher would’ve been enough to pass Abbott’s plan in last year’s legislative sessions.

Mitch Little’s Win Caps a Strong Night for the Right-wing

It’s been a really tough night for “establishment” Republicans around the state—a phenomenon we’ll be talking about more the rest of this week, but late in the night there was one last kick in the nuts for the old guard. Mitch Little, who was the most truculent lawyer on Ken Paxton’s impeachment legal defense team, has knocked off Kronda Thimesch, a Republican incumbent in Denton County. With 100 percent of the votes counted, Little has won 50.69 percent of the vote to Thimesch’s 49.31 percent, a margin of just 298 votes.

Thimesch was a freshman last session—she won the seat from Democrat Michelle Beckley, and Thimesch didn’t have much time to distinguish herself before getting this primary challenge. She was an ally of Speaker Phelan who voted for Paxton’s impeachment—but she also voted for Abbott’s voucher program, and won his endorsement this cycle, along with a healthy chunk of campaign cash.

Little’s arrival in the chamber, where he’ll get to needle the speaker (be it Phelan or someone else) in line with Paxton, is another psychic burden for House Leadership. They’re reaping what they sowed. AG Paxton could ultimately get convicted of a felony and go to prison. But until then—I’m not holding my breath—the consequences of coming for him are mostly being borne by House moderates.

The State Board of Education Swings Right

Way down the ballot, there’s drama in some races that have received very little attention this year. Seven of the fifteen seats on the State Board of Education are up for re-election this year. Five of them are currently held by Republicans, and three of those are currently losing to or facing a runoff with candidates who could be described as more right-wing than they are.

The most high-profile thing the SBoE does is argue about what’s in state textbooks and educational curriculum: They also supervise the Texas Education Agency and the Permanent School Fund, the investment agency that backstops public ed in Texas. But in recent years, the board’s purview has become the subject of a right-wing moral panic over “sexually explicit” material in school libraries—which led to the passage of a book-banning law ultimately overturned by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.

Incumbent Patricia Hardy is losing by 10 points to Brandon Hall, a candidate who pledges he is “committed to dismantling liberal curriculums,” a cause he’s been committed to ever since giving “speeches at TEA party rallies at age 13.” Tom Maynard, a longtime member of the board who is now considered something of a moderate because he’s committed to the cause of public education, is just south of the fifty percent mark he needs to avoid a runoff—his second-place opponent, Mary Bone, pledges to take on “the mind-virus of wokeness” and those who are “teaching out children to hate their country.” Another incumbent, Pam Little, won just 36 percent, putting her in a runoff with Jamie Kohlmann, endorsed by Dan Patrick, Ted Cruz, and the Texas Eagle Forum.

There’s a farcical element to all Republican primary challenges this year, but especially these ones: the SBoE hasn’t been anything approaching liberal in a long time, so it’s comical to see challengers condemning state board wokeness. But it also signals a rightward shift in another critical but under-examined part of state government.

Paxton-backed, Abbott-opposed Travis Clardy Loses

What happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object? We can’t say from the Travis Clardy-Joanna Shofner showdown. But we now know that when a pretty powerful force, Greg Abbott’s endorsement, runs into the most stoppable force, Ken Paxton’s goodwill, the former triumphs. Shofner, who was endorsed by Abbott, handily beat the anti-voucher House GOP incumbent, who famously denounced the attempt to impeach the attorney general and received his blessing.

Tony Gonzales Hasn’t Seen the Last of “The AK Guy”

Tony Gonzales
Tony GonzalesMichael Brochstein/Sipa USA)(Sipa via AP

For the crime of being just slightly to the left of Donald Trump, Congressman Tony Gonzales has faced a crowded field of primary contenders all hell-bent on ensuring his demise. The four opponents—gun manufacturer and YouTuber Brandon Herrera, rancher and boutique owner Julie Clark, former ICE agent Victor Avila, and “Border Patriot” Frank Lopez, Jr.—have all failed at outright besting the incumbent, but the AP is projecting a runoff.

Brandon Herrera, who garnered over 3 million YouTube subscribers as “The AK Guy,” seems to have effectively weaponized that online following. With just over 90 percent of the ballots counted, Gonzales has just less than 46 percent of the vote—Herrera is currently in second place with nearly 23 percent, meaning the two will face each other May 28. 

Gonzales faced a runoff after the 2020 Republican primary—against Raul Reyes. During that race, Trump endorsed Gonzales, who ran on “building the wall,” almost certainly aiding his victory by 45 votes. This time around, Trump has yet to endorse any of the primary candidates, though all seem to have been vying for his affections. Perhaps in a runoff, the Donald will bless one of the candidates with his seal of approval. 

West Rides Again

Good news for fans of the controversial former Florida Congressman Allen West, who won and lost his seat in the tea party boom years before going to Texas, taking control of the state Republican Party here, nearly bankrupting it, and then losing a longshot bid to unseat governor Greg Abbott. He’s back! In Dallas County, he’s set to take over control of the local Republican Party organization. He’s winning nearly 70 percent of the vote against Jennifer Hajdu, a conservative who won endorsements from a bunch of weighty Republican figures, including Ken Paxton.

That means West has a real platform again to comment on matters of state and, one assumes, to launch yet another bid for elected office in a few years. Some folks who worked in the state party when Allen West ran it are less excited. “I don’t know [how much] cash on hand is in the Dallas GOP,” posted Derek Ryan, a Texas political consultant who quit West’s party organization. “But it’s about to disappear in the next few months.”

If At First You Don’t Succeed, Run Again—It Worked For These Three Candidates

Forrest Wilder, 11:12 p.m.

The GOP is supposed to be the party of winners, but Republicans seem to have a tolerance for losers. Donald Trump quite famously lost the 2020 election, but he is cruising toward the nomination again. Meanwhile, much further down the ballot here in Texas, three Republicans who previously lost their races are leading their incumbent opponents. 

Shelley Luther, a Dallas salon owner who became regionally famous during Covid for defying pandemic restrictions, lost a state Senate special election in 2020 to Drew Springer. During that race, she cut an ad accusing Springer of sponsoring a bill to allow Chinese drones to surveil Texans:  “I’m Shelley Luther,” she said, firing her weapon at the drone. “This is what I think about Chinese Communist drones flying over my property.” Now she is beating state representative Reggie Smith of Sherman and will likely get a chance to finally take on the Chinese in Austin.

Katrina Pierson, a tea party activist from Dallas, ran for Congress in 2014 against Pete Sessions. She lost badly but soon latched onto Donald Trump, becoming his spokesperson in the 2016 presidential campaign, working for his political operation during his presidency, and helping to organize his January 6 rally on the Ellipse. Those MAGA credentials are paying dividends. She is heading toward a runoff with state representative Justin Holland, an ally of Speaker Dade Phelan, from Rockwall. 

Finally, Mike Olcott. In 2022, he narrowly lost to Glenn Rogers, a veterinarian, in a district west of Fort Worth. During the 2023 legislative session, Rogers voted to impeach Ken Paxton and opposed private-school vouchers—drawing the ire of Paxton and Greg Abbott. Olcott enjoyed not just the endorsements of the attorney general  and governor, but also  those of  Ted Cruz and Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller and Texas GOP chairman Matt Rinaldi—as well as the financial backing of some of the wealthiest right-wing donors in Texas, including the billionaire oilmen Farris and Dan Wilks and Tim Dunn. Now, in 2024, Olcott is trouncing Rogers. 

It pays to be a loser.

Phelan Admits Defeat(ish)

Dade Phelan.
Dade PhelanEric Gay/AP

In a lengthy statement, House Speaker Dade Phelan acknowledged what many of us have known for the last hour: that he’s headed to a runoff against David Covey, an oil and gas consultant who boasted the support of President Donald Trump, Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, and Attorney General Ken Paxton. 

Even if he wins the runoff on May 28, being forced to one isn’t a good look for a sitting House speaker. If he’s defeated, a real risk in a low turnout runoff election, he’s out of office and Texas loses a check against the far-right. If he ekes out a win, the rightwing might convince enough GOP House members that Phelan is not sufficiently conservative enough to lead the lower chamber. Only if he wins the runoff handily, will he have a chance of convincing a coalition of Democrats and somewhat moderate Republican representatives to re-elect him as speaker next year. 

Still, Phelan projected strength heading into the toughest fight of his career. Despite a “tidal wave of outside influence and the relentless flood of special interest dollars,” he said that his campaign is still “standing strong” (by Phelan’s own metrics, we assume). What’s interesting, though, is that he heads into a runoff as an underdog, which is unusual for a Republican incumbent—let alone one of the most powerful Republicans in the state. 
“This runoff is not just another race, it’s the frontline of the battle for the soul of our district,” Phelan said in a statement. “Our campaign has been and will continue to be about the issues that matter, the results we’ve achieved, and the victories we’ve secured for House District 21. I am confident we will ultimately be victorious, carrying our momentum into the runoff and securing a resounding win that reflects the true will of our district—not the will of fringe West Texas billionaires.” (See: Midland oilman Tim Dunn.)

Ken Paxton On His Way to a Sweep on the Court of Criminal Appeals

The AP has called one of the three races for seats on the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals: Place 7, where incumbent Barbara Hervey is losing 2 to 1 to her Ken Paxton-backed challenger Gina Parker. The other two incumbent judges the attorney general endorsed against are also losing. While candidates Paxton backed in the state House are having a rockier time, he appears on his way to a sweep of this corner of the downballot.

The attorney general hated these three incumbent judges because they ruled against him in a case a few years ago. The irony is that replacing them would not have been enough to flip the verdict in that case. The court ruled that Paxton’s office could not unilaterally prosecute voter fraud cases due to constitutional restrictions 8 to 1. The verdict next year might be 5 to 4—unless this experience frightens other judges into coming into line with the AG.

The result could have significant consequences for a lot of Texans who are not named Ken Paxton, too. This is the court of last resort for any number of criminal cases, including death penalty ones. Putting three cranks on a nine-member court could tip the balance in criminal cases in the future. It’s bad news.

What Happened to Dan Crenshaw?

Representative Dan Crenshaw, of Houston, has long rebuked the furthest-right members of his party. He was one of a handful of House Republicans who voted to certify President Biden’s victory in 2020, and he scolded many of his colleagues who rejected Biden’s win. His contrarian streak only goes so far: he’s still backing Trump in 2024, and even signed on to attend a fundraiser for the former president in Washington, D.C. 

While Crenshaw is currently leading in the race against Jameson Ellis, who is running on the incumbent’s right-flank, the numbers indicate Crenshaw is facing some blowback from the GOP base. With about 75 percent of the vote reporting, Crenshaw is leading by 18 percentage points. At first glance, that might seem like a lot, but it’s a significant dip from when Crenshaw faced Ellis two years ago in the 2022 Republican primary. In that race, he emerged victorious by a much-larger 58 percentage point margin.  

Ken Paxton’s Win-Loss Record (So Far)

Ken Paxton endorsed an astonishing 47 candidates running for the Texas House as part of his ongoing revenge tour against Republican representatives who voted to impeach him. His personal grievance aside, it’s hard to find a throughline. The endorsees range from the outlandish and incompetent—and the outlandishly incompetent—to well-funded, disciplined campaigners. But, in general, the attorney general characteristically stuck to his spirit of un-discernment, giving the nod to just about anyone willing to do battle with his long list of enemies. So how’s Ken doing? As of now, 20 of his candidates are in the lead while 27 are trailing. Make of that what you will.

Phelan’ Bad

The most explosive result so far tonight comes from southeast Texas, where House Speaker, Dade Phelan, is defending his legacy and career in a primary against a very well-funded challenger, a Christian nationalist named David Covey. (A third candidate, hairdresser Alicia Davis, is an also ran.) With more than 80 percent of the vote in, Phelan and Covey are likely to head to a runoff. Covey is currently in first place, with 46 percent of the vote. Phelan has 44.5. Phelan’s campaign was hoping to win outright. While he could triumph in a runoff, this result has the potential to torpedo his chances of remaining speaker, which requires the support of a majority of the House. It’s an earthquake.

This race was the one most likely to affect the balance of power in Texas, and the runoff will become one of the most important Texas has seen in many years. Phelan’s allies—dwindling in number before this—will have to pony up a tremendous amount of money to try to save him, after a campaign that has already lasted a full calendar year. That’s on top of the numerous races around the state in which Phelan allies targeted by other Republicans have been pushed into runoffs. The next two and a half months will be a nailbiter that will determine the state’s future political direction—and the speaker is on the back foot.

Conservative influencers may have failed to influence Travis County DA Race

Allegra Hobbs, 9:54 p.m.

Republicans more or less managed to use the Democratic primary for Travis County District Attorney as a trojan horse. In the battle against incumbent José Garza, whose progressive tenure conservatives have claimed embolden criminals, GOP donors threw their weight behind tough-on-crime candidate Jeremy Sylestine. They were joined by more conservative Democrats, who collectively contributed $1.2 million to Sylestine’s campaign. Garza, by contrast, raised just more than $200,000. 

It’s early, but so far it seems like that money wasn’t enough to sway the results for Sylestine. Nor, for that matter, was the last-minute endorsement of libertarian billionaire Elon Musk or centrist darling journalist Bari Weiss. With 10 percent of the vote in, Garza leads Sylestine by 30 points.

Nathan Johnson Wins

In Dallas County this year there was an unusual attempt by one Democratic elected official to knock off a sitting Democratic state Senator in the primary. Nathan Johnson, who represents north Dallas County, faced a vigorous primary challenge by state Representative Victoria Neave Criado. The race was made possible by the last round of redistricting, which changed the seat to which Johnson was elected from a majority Anglo district to one in which half the district’s voters were Hispanic.

Criado, a well-respected member of the House, saw an opportunity and launched a challenge. It’s falling flat. With some 67 percent of the vote counted, Johnson is more than 30 percentage points ahead. Criado’s challenge came so late that there was a scramble to replace her in the House: the woman who will follow in her footsteps, Linda Garcia, ran unopposed.

Nathan Johnson, who composed the Dragonball Z theme song in a prior life, has over 9,000 votes.

Colin Allred Wins

Rep. Colin Allred, D-Texas, conducts a news conference introducing legislation that would help offset expenses incurred by new parents in the Capitol on Wednesday, December 4, 2019.
Colin AllredTom Williams/CQ Roll Call via AP

NBC News projects that Representative Colin Allred will win the Democratic Senate primary. Up until now, it was unclear whether Allred could surpass the 50 percent threshold needed to avoid a runoff, because there were nine Democrats vying for the nomination. According to the current results, Allred leads his nearest opponent, state Senator Roland Gutierrez, of San Antonio, by nearly 46 percentage points. 

The Allred campaign should be ecstatic. Instead of using the gobs of money he’s raised on a protracted primary runoff, he can focus his resources on the general election against Senator Ted Cruz. Of course, that race won’t be any easier for Allred. In Texas, a Democrat hasn’t won statewide in thirty years; recent hypothetical head-to-head polls of the race, too, show Cruz beating Allred by double-digits in most cases.

In the Battle of the Endorsements Between Greg Abbott and Ken Paxton, the Governor is Unimpeachable

In 23 Texas House races, Greg Abbott and Ken Paxton endorsed different Republicans in service of their separate vengeance-fueled crusades. Who’s winning? The governor or the attorney general?

Abbott is, so far, by a landslide. Twenty of the candidates he’s backing—a mix of incumbents and insurgents—are currently ahead. Paxton’s pets are leading in only three races. The fact that Abbott is leading in this admittedly silly head-to-head is not surprising: Paxton seems to have had very little quality control in his endorsements. Were you willing to say that the impeachment of Ken Paxton was a travesty of justice? Do you have a pulse? In almost every case, those two combined factors alone have been enough to get the Ken kiss of approval.

How Are the Anti-Voucher Rural Republicans Doing?

Of the sixteen House Republicans who voted against private-school vouchers last year and are running for reelection—drawing a slew of Greg Abbott-backed GOP challengers—only five are currently in the lead. Seven of them are currently behind. (The remaining five races do not have results yet.)

Voucher proponents will need to flip at least eleven seats in order to come back next year with a tentative majority in support of school privatization (leaving aside the potential for Democrats to knock off Republicans in the fall, which may be a possibility in a few districts, or for proponents to change their minds). What would count as victory for Abbott? I would argue that anything that gets him close to an even split in the House would give him and the billionaire backers of vouchers room to maneuver—and to strike fear into some of the survivors, who might bend or break to his will. But there’s a lot of vote-counting ahead of us. Four of the anti-voucher incumbents currently losing may be headed to a runoff and, as stated, five of the races do not have results yet.

Sheila Jackson Lee Beats Her Former Intern (Not Literally!)

Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX) speaks at a press conference calling for the expansion of the Supreme Court on July 18, 2022 in Washington, DC.
Sheila Jackson Lee Jemal Countess/Getty Images for Take Back the Court Action Fund

Since 1994, Houston’s Eighteenth Congressional District has been represented by Sheila Jackson Lee. Despite the embarrassment of Jackson Lee’s loss in last year’s race for Houston mayor, the constituents in her overwhelmingly Democratic district have chosen to stick with her over young upstart Amanda Edwards, ABC News is now projecting. Edwards, a former Jackson Lee intern who raised a truckload of cash, failed to unseat her long-tenured opponent. She has now lost in the Democratic primary for U.S. Senate, dropped out of the Houston mayoral race, and now lost to her former boss.

For Edwards, a Harvard-educated lawyer and former Houston City Council member who once looked like the future of Houston politics, the failure to even force a runoff is a major disappointment. For Congresswoman Jackson Lee, the victory cements her status as one of the most skillful politicians in Houston history.

Never Count Out Money

Just two months ago, Republican Brent Money was seen as the undisputed front-runner in the special election to replace disgraced state Representative Bryan Slaton in House District Two. He boasted the endorsements of Greg Abbott, Ken Paxton, Ted Cruz, and pretty much every Texas politician you’ve heard of. 

But his dreams came crashing down in late January after Jill Dutton, a former school board member who was aligned with more moderate House leadership groups, narrowly eked out a win in the special election by 111 votes. At the time of her victory, many rightwingers said that Dutton only won because Democrats voted in the race—presumably to stop a Money win. There was plenty of reason to doubt this happened in large force. 

Now that the special election is over, though, and Democrats are focused on their own primary—and, of course, the rightwing is highly motivated—Dutton isn’t doing quite as hot. With a little more than 54 percent of the vote in, Money leads her by 13 percentage points. 

See what happens when Democrats choose to vote in their own primary and don’t work to thwart more far-right candidates from winning? I wonder if we’ll hear more calls from Republicans to close the state’s primaries now that their choice candidate is ahead. (My guess is that we won’t.)

Allred, Allred, Allred

There are many candidates in the Democratic race to become the candidate who will lose to Ted Cruz, but most of us following the campaign have considered it a two-person race between Congressman Colin Allred, from Dallas, and state Senator Roland Gutierrez, from San Antonio. Allred has positioned himself as a moderate, and has a lot of national support: Gutierrez is a scrappy underdog and a progressive fighter. With about half of the vote counted, it looks a lot like that impression was wrong: It was a one-man race with a lot of other candidates in the running.

With more than half of the vote in, Allred has 65 percent of the vote. He’s winning in all the state’s large counties, though El Paso has yet to report. Gutierrez has only 15 percent of the vote, and is only leading in counties in South Texas. But even there, where Hispanic candidates are expected to do well, Gutierrez’s performance is underwhelming. In several small counties there, he’s losing to a third candidate, Mark Gonzalez.

Remember Those Open Congressional Seats? 

Late last year, I questioned why so many members of Congress from Texas—three, to be exact—were abandoning their posts or retiring. In some cases, their exits made sense: Dallas Democrat Colin Allred, who is running for Senate, wanted a larger pond to swim in. And the two others who left, Kay Granger and Michael Burgess, both Republicans, both from North Texas, were the type of old-school politicians with off-the-shelf politics who keep out of the news. Their way of politicking, though, is somewhat at odds with the rabble-rousing House GOP caucus and their exits weren’t all that shocking. 

So, who’s going to replace them?

In Texas’ Thirty-second District, which Allred represents, the leading candidate, state Representative Julie Johnson, of Carrollton, is in runoff territory. With roughly 33 percent of the vote in, she’s netted 50.8 percent support. In second place currently, with 20.8 percent of the vote, is Brian Willliams, a trauma surgeon. 

Meanwhile, it looks like the race in Texas’ Twelfth Congressional District (the seat vacated by Granger) is State Representative Craig Goldman’s to lose. With nearly 70 percent of the vote in, he’s leading John O’Shea, who was backed by Attorney General Ken Paxton and was a potential Freedom Caucus member, 47 percent to 25 percent. There’s also a clear front-runner in the race to replace Burgess, in Texas’s Twenty-sixth District. Brandon Gill, election denier Dinesh D’Souza’s son-in-law, currently leads his closest challenger by more than 41 percentage points. (The results in this race shouldn’t be too shocking, especially given that Gill has the backing of Donald Trump, Senator Ted Cruz, and Representative Matt Gaetz of Florida.)

Trump, Biden Win Texas

Not much surprise in it, but the AP has now called Texas for both Donald Trump and Joe Biden. On the Republican side, Trump has about 75 percent of the vote to Nikki Haley’s 19 percent. In line with the national trend, Trump is underperforming February polls of Texas, but just by a little—and polling in Texas, which is hard to poll anyway, has been infrequent. That’s a dominant performance.

Biden has a solid 87 percent of the vote. Houston native Marianne Williamson, new-age orb queen, has 3.5 percent, and Dean Phillips is in fourth place with 2.5 percent. A candidate named Armando Perez-Serrato is in third, edging the slightly better known and better financed Phillips, surely because of his name.

Can Harris County Finally Have a Controversy-Free Election?

Tonight is a major test for Harris County clerk Teneshia Hudspeth, who is running her first primary election. Last year, the Texas Legislature eliminated the position of Harris County elections administrator, citing repeated problems under administrators Isabel Longoria (who initially missed 10,000 mail-in ballots in the 2022 primary) and Clifford Tatum (under whose management dozens of voting centers ran out of paper ballots in the 2022 general election). Harris County had created the elections administrator position in 2020 under the rationale that an independent, nonpartisan bureaucrat would be more competent than an elected political hack. Several other large Texas counties, including Tarrant and Dallas, also use the elections administrators model. But in Harris County, which has long struggled to count votes in a timely manner, the model backfired based in part on questionable hires for the elections administrator position. 

So far, things appear to be going smoothly. Other than a bizarre issue involving district attorney Kim Ogg’s partner voting in her name, there were no major reported issues today, and Hudspeth’s office released the early voting results almost immediately after polls closed at 7 p.m.—something that hasn’t always happened under her predecessors. It remains to be seen how long it takes Harris County to finish counting votes tonight—with 4.7 million residents spread across nearly 1,800 miles, the county is usually the last in the state to report results.

Travis’s Last Stand

One of the strangest cases in the GOP Primary this year was that of Travis Clardy, who represents a rural east Texas district based out of Nacogdoches. Clardy has served in the House since 2013, and counts as a veteran. He voted against Abbott’s school voucher push, but also voted against the impeachment of Ken Paxton. (Only one other representative threaded this needle: Four Price, of Amarillo, who is retiring.) In most races where Abbott and Paxton made different endorsements, Abbott endorsed the incumbent and Paxton endorsed a challenger. Clardy’s was the one race where Paxton endorsed the incumbent and Abbott the challenger, Joanne Shofner, who serves on the Nacogdoches Historical Landmark Preservation Committee. Shofner was also endorsed by everybody else on the list: Rick Perry, Ted Cruz, Sid Miller, and Donald Trump.

With some 60 percent of the vote in, Clardy is getting dunked on: He’s more than 20 points behind Shofner. This is a pretty dramatic beating. Since he won office, Clardy had never won renomination with a margin of fewer than 30 percentage points, and sometimes ran unopposed. In this case, at least, Paxton’s support meant very little. 

How Are Republican Incumbents in the Lege Faring? 

A handful of incumbents who faced either Greg Abbott or Ken Paxton-backed challengers (or both) look like they may get to keep their seats—so long as trends continue in their favor. Here’s a quick (and not comprehensive) roundup of a few members who, so far, have healthy leads over their primary opponents: 

— HD-4: State Representative Keith Bell, of Forney, an anti-voucher, anti-Paxton, Republican, is currently ahead of his Paxton-backed opponent, Joshua Feuerstein. Abbott declined to endorse either candidate in this race, which is odd considering his crusade against lawmakers who opposed his pet-project during this past year’s legislative sessions. But then again, Feuerstein isn’t a normal candidate.

HD-88: State Representative Ken King, of Canadian, is leading against his Paxton-backed opponent, Karen Post, by nearly 48 percentage points (with an estimated 12 percent of the vote in, according to The Texas Tribune). 

— HD-128: State Representative Briscoe Cain, of Deer Park, who voted for Paxton’s impeachment, is currently trouncing his opponent Bianca Garcia, who is endorsed by the attorney general, by roughly 44 percentage points.

 HD-138: State Representative Lacey Hull, of Houston, another representative who supported impeachment, is currently leading against Jared Woodfill, who’s backed by Paxton. Woodfill infamously testified that he continued working with his law partner after finding out his colleague had been accused of sexually abusing a child (both Woodfill and his law partner say that accusation was unfounded).

Other incumbents aren’t doing too hot—at least right now. It’s still early, of course, but keep a close eye on these Republican state representatives who voted against school vouchers: Steve Allison, of San Antonio; Travis Clardy, of Nacogdoches; and Jacey Jetton, of Richmond. It also looks like Gary VanDeaver, of New Boston, may be headed to a runoff: he’s currently behind one of his primary challengers, Chris Spencer, 46.7 percent to 45.5 percent.

Shed a Teare for Harris County DA Kim Ogg

Kim Ogg, the powerful and controversial Harris County district attorney, appears to have lost her reelection bid based on the early voting results. More than 78 percent of early voters favored Ogg’s opponent, former DA division chief Sean Teare, compared to less than 22 percent for Ogg. Teare, who headed the vehicular crimes division in the DA’s office, resigned last year to run against his old boss, citing low morale, a backlog of felony cases, and poor leadership. Over two terms, Ogg has systematically alienated nearly every local Democratic politician and Democratic constituency—indicting three staff members of county judge Lina Hidalgo, investigating former mayor Sylvester Turner, and feuding with the Democratic-controlled county commissioners court—while squashing an investigation into Republican power broker and current state representative candidate Jared Woodfill. 

Teare had a significant fundraising advantage, and won the endorsements of most local Democratic groups, including the LGBTQ+ Caucus—despite the fact that Ogg was the first openly gay DA in Harris County history. He campaigned on reforming the office, fixing the cash bail system, cutting down the case backlog, and supporting reproductive rights.

Ken Paxton’s Bid to Reshape the State’s Highest Criminal Court May Be Working

We’re early in the count, obviously, but many counties have reported their early vote totals. One of the more surprising results so far is that Ken Paxton’s effort to unseat three judges on the Court of Criminal Appeals may be working. Presiding Judge Sharon Keller—effectively the chief justice—is 14 points behind her Paxton-backed challenger. Incumbent Barbara Hervey is losing to hers by 25 points. Only the third incumbent, Michelle Slaughter, is close—within two points of her challenger. Things could change but this is a baffling result: other incumbents around the state, notably those in local races, seem fine.

Phelan Better

House Speaker Dade Phelan has been under a lot of pressure for a long time. His bid for renomination has been going on for a year, he’s faced death threats, and activists have been bothering his family. Outside his district, his friends in the House have been facing well-financed challenges all over the state—targeted by Ken Paxton, Greg Abbott, and Dan Patrick. He’s been trying to keep it under control.

In an interview late this afternoon on Dallas TV station WFAA, you can see Phelan, at the finish line, letting loose just a little bit. The reporter asks Phelan what he would tell Ken Paxton today. “Best of luck in the future,” Phelan says, offering a small smile. “He’s got a rough road ahead of them.” He’s got a trial coming up, says the reporter. Phelan lets out some uncharacteristic laughter. “He’s got more than one coming up.”

Then the reporter asks what he has to say to Dan Patrick, who will be Phelan’s counterpart again in the 89th session if he survives this challenge. Phelan is controlled again. “I look forward to working with you,” he says.

Do Polls Overrate Trump?

Unless you’ve been living under a rock and avoiding politics for the last decade—in which case, congrats, go back under and take shelter!—you know Donald Trump will win the Texas GOP primary in Texas. The open question is by how much. Polls have him with anywhere from a 58 to 71 point lead over Nikki Haley—about as big as a polling lead can get in the Free World. But an interesting phenomenon has emerged in early primary states: Trump underperforms by 5-10 percentage points. Not enough to overcome his massive polling advantages but enough to suggest to some Dems and old-school conservatives that he might be more vulnerable than perceived. The story of the 2020 election was that folks were afraid to tell pollsters that they supported Trump; perhaps, now likely GOP voters have the opposite fear.

Money on the Floor

The amount of money in state races is obscene. In the 2020 cycle, Texas candidates took in a collective $43 million. In 2022, the figure rose to $78 million. Now, in 2024, candidates have collected $88 million. Texas has no limits on individual or PAC contributions, but there is an arms race among candidates, and their special interest backers, far down the ballot. Just one quick example: In a single state House race in San Antonio, pitting Republican incumbent Steve Allison against Democrat-turned-Republican Marc LaHood (backed by Ken Paxton and Greg Abbott) the two candidates have spent more than $2.5 million. One shudders to think of what kind of access, and favors, that money will buy.

Keeping Score on Abbott’s and Paxton’s Sometimes Overlapping Revenge Tours

We’ve talked quite a bit about Greg Abbott’s and Ken Paxton’s attempts to sway the Texas House this year. As results come in tonight, we’ll be keeping an eye on that, of course, and trying to determine how much they get the blame, or credit, for what happens next.

But if you’re following along at home and you, like us, are real sickos, you might be wondering what races you should be following in order to evaluate that yourself. If you’re making up a scorecard for the Great House War of 2024, there are two parts. The first is the list of House Republicans who helped beat back Abbott’s voucher program and are seeking reelection. These are mostly rural Republicans—some from the suburbs. In alphabetical order, they are:

  • Steve Allison of San Antonio
  • Ernest Bailes of Shepherd
  • Keith Bell of Forney
  • DeWayne Burns of Cleburne
  • Travis Clardy of Nacogdoches
  • Drew Darby of San Angelo
  • Jay Dean of Longview
  • Charlie Geren of Fort Worth
  • Justin Holland of Rockwall
  • Ken King of Canadian
  • John Kuempel of Seguin
  • Stan Lambert of Abilene
  • Glenn Rogers of Graford
  • Hugh Shine of Temple
  • Reggie Smith of Sherman
  • Gary VanDeaver of New Boston

There’s also a handful who are retiring: Kyle Kacal of College Station, Andrew Murr of Junction, John Raney of College Station, Ed Thompson of Pearland, and Four Price of Amarillo.

Some of these Republicans appear quite vulnerable, and their opponents have been the recipients of an ocean of money from Abbott and his friends. Some are vulnerable to right-wing challengers, but their opponents haven’t been endorsed or supported by Abbott. Others, like Charlie Geren, are probably fine. (Geren will outlive us all.)

In the last month, Abbott alone has given more than $600,000 to four candidates running against incumbents on this list. Those four races are a good place to start, as you’re watching the results come in. The four candidates Abbott is backing are Marc LaHood, who is running against Steve Allison; Janis Holt, who is running against Ernest Bailes; Alan Schoolcraft, who is running against John Kuempel; and Stormy Bradley, who is running against Drew Darby. Those have all been bitterly contentious races.

If Abbott’s candidates walk away victorious, it could indicate that his PR blitz has been successful. But before arriving at that conclusion, you’d want to compare Abbott’s emerging track record to races on this list in which Abbott hasn’t played a big role. That includes Justin Holland’s fight to stave out his two challengers, Katrina Pierson and Dennis London, both of whom have different bases of support but neither of which has won Abbott’s blessing.

The second part of the scorecard involves Ken Paxton’s vengeance tour over his impeachment. It’s not so helpful just to identify the candidates he endorsed (though he helpfully tweeted the full list of 73, 47 of which are in the Texas House), because he endorsed a lot of fringe people who are not likely to win. The more interesting thing is the many races in which Paxton endorsed one candidate and Abbott endorsed another. Abbott’s support typically comes with more money and institutional support, but Paxton speaks for the grassroots. What’s more important?

Most of the races in which Paxton and Abbott have backed different horses are ones in which Abbott is supporting the incumbent and Paxton is supporting a challenger. We count 25 of these, and it would be surprising if more than a few of the incumbents went down Tuesday night. But there are a few interesting cases. One is Travis Clardy, who voted against Abbott’s voucher program but also against the Paxton impeachment—so Paxton endorsed Clardy, while Abbott has endorsed Clardy’s challenger, Joanne Shofner.

In Gary VanDeaver’s district, Abbott has endorsed one challenger, Chris Spencer, while Paxton has endorsed Dale Huls. Probably one of them ends up in a runoff with VanDeaver. There are two districts that are open. In House District 30, previously held by Geanie Morrison, Abbott has endorsed Jeff Bauknight, while Paxton supports A. J. Louderback. In House District 56, the governor supports Pat Curry, while Paxton supports Devvie Duke.

Once you’ve scored all those races, you’re then faced with a different question. What counts as a “win”? If Abbott pops up with a couple of scalps and forces a few more into runoffs, he’ll probably have enough to say this election was a success. But he’ll likely be no closer to passing vouchers next year. And Paxton is unlikely to emerge from this with very many more friends in the House than he had before.

What Do Elon Musk and Beyoncé Have in Common?

One thing that’s struck me as somewhat interesting today is the amount of last-minute endorsements coming in, specifically in the Travis County District Attorney race. What prompts someone like Elon Musk to give an eleventh-hour endorsement to Democrat Jeremy Sylestine, a former prosecutor who has accused incumbent José Garza of putting a “political bullseye” on APD officers. 

Are the forces encouraging Musk to weigh-in last minute the same ones that prompted Beyoncé to endorse Beto O’Rourke on election night in 2018?

How much do these endorsements matter anyways? I spoke with Seth McKee, a professor of political science at Oklahoma State University, who co-authored a study assessing how much Trump’s endorsement helped Republican candidates in Georgia. McKee said the former president—and other big names—had the largest impact on down-ballot races. “The farther down the ballot you go, those endorsements are worth more because it’s signaling, ‘OK, we now know what this person stands for.’” For what it’s worth, Trump has endorsed eighteen Texas legislators this cycle. 

Of course, Musk’s endorsement came rather late, and he doesn’t have the gravitas of Trump, so it’s unclear whether he’ll have any sway on Election Day voters. 

Nonparticipatory Democracy

The polls are about to close in most of the state, and the counting about to begin!

You’d be forgiven for thinking voters decide elections. Most everywhere in the free world, they do. But in Texas, particularly in primaries, a different group reigns supreme. Members of this cohort far outnumber those who cast ballots for Democrats and those who cast ballots for Republicans, often combined: those who don’t vote at all. Consider the headline-grabbing election in 2022 between Greg Abbott and Beto O’Rourke: the Republican earned 4.4 million votes; the Democrat, 3.6 million. That’s 8 million in all. A big number. But nonvoters won the day; 11 million eligible Texans stayed at home. 

A lot might have changed on Election Day—we’ll know soon—but so far, the story of the primaries is that Texans don’t seem to be particularly engaged. Through the end of early voting, only about 10 percent of registered voters—1.8 million—had cast ballots. In 2020, the last presidential election primary election, 12.6 percent did. Total primary turnout in recent Texas history is usually just around 20 percent. 

Democrats have long looked to that 80 percent, the nonvoters, as a November salvation. Surely they are Democrats in waiting! But those who don’t cast ballots tend to be more conservative than Democrats would like, and the party hasn’t shown that it can reach them. 

All voting families are alike; each nonvoting family is nonvoting in its own way. The explanations I’ve heard for abstaining have been eclectic. A cashier in Pecos, in one of Texas’s lowest-turnout counties, in the heart of the West Texas oil patch, told me she wasn’t going to cast a ballot in 2022 because she’d heard the saying that “one vote can make a difference” and worried she’d make the wrong decision. But most nonvoters express the opposite sentiment: certainty that their vote won’t make a difference. They aren’t entirely wrong: extreme gerrymandering in the state indeed ensures few races are competitive. Ironically, however, that means the primaries are more important, but voters haven’t yet internalized that truth. 

Primary Candidates Are Locked in a “Who Can Sound Toughest on the Border” Contest

When it comes to the border, how tough is tough enough? Tony Gonzales, who represents a southwest Texas district in Congress, has tried to showcase his attention to the issue as his primary heats up: in January, he became a vocal champion of the bipartisan Senate bill that would have made it harder for migrants to claim asylum and easier for authorities to carry out deportations; then in February, he became a vocal critic of the bill after Trump slammed it as an unacceptable compromise. For his four challengers, it’s too little, too late. Each has highlighted the incumbent’s opposition last year to legislation that would have given Homeland Security unilateral authority to halt the asylum process as a mark against him (so much for small government).

The border faces little competition as the biggest issue on the table this primary season. Governor Greg Abbott is talking a big talk about “school choice,” sure, and Attorney General Ken Paxton has declared war on those who voted for his impeachment, but a look at campaign ads circulating ahead of the election—from candidates in every corner of the Republican civil war—makes it abundantly clear that border security is top of mind. As Representative Gary VanDeaver has touted his anti-voucher stance as a brave stand against legislation that “would have handed out school vouchers—your tax dollars—to illegal immigrants,” his opponent, Chris Spencer, is running an ad pledging to secure the border. 

This posturing is not limited to the Republican Party. Congressman Colin Allred—running against state senator Roland Gutierrez to be the Democratic challenger to U.S. senator Ted Cruz—joined thirteen other Democrats in voting for a GOP-led resolution “denouncing the Biden administration’s open-borders policies.” Gutierrez criticized the vote, and he has stressed a more progressive platform of immigration reform. Each showcases a different response to the Republican hammering on perceived soft-on-border policies.

Of course, the idea that even the most MAGA-brained Republicans want to actually do anything about the border is dubious at best—they had a chance to in February, in the form of landmark legislation that would’ve given the federal government emergency powers to effectively close the border. Their wildest dreams about border security seemed within reach. But politicians just want to be able to use the border to talk tough, and to lambast the opposition as not tough enough.

The State GOP Has Entered the Chat

One of the many precedent-breaking elements of this primary season has been the interventionist role played by the Republican Party of Texas and its chairman, former state representative Matt Rinaldi. For many reasons, the state party traditionally served as the invisible infrastructure that helped Republicans win office. In the last few years, it has become a vigorous participant in the internecine feuds that constitute politics in the state.

Rinaldi, the current party chairman, won his post in 2021 in part by saying he would be very reluctant to endorse one candidate over the other in a party primary. So did David Covey, who was also running for party chairman. But then Rinaldi won control of the party, and Covey decided to run against House Speaker Dade Phelan in his primary. The party, under Rinaldi’s leadership, has been all in on beating Phelan, lambasting his appointment of Democratic committee chairs (a tradition that precedes Phelan). Rinaldi endorsed Covey, and the state party’s executive committee officially censured Phelan. The censure enabled the party, amid fund-raising difficulties, to spend its own money trying to dirty Phelan’s reputation in his district. The party never went this far when Phelan’s predecessor, Joe Straus, was in office: for it to go after one of its foremost state officials like this is nothing less than shocking.

Rinaldi has endorsed his own slate of House candidates around the state, typically the same candidates endorsed by Paxton, Trump, and other right-wingers. Few Texans know who Rinaldi is compared to those guys, so the added benefit of that endorsement may not add up to very much. The state Republican Party organization has been turned into just one of many groups run by a small faction of folks who don’t necessarily represent Texas conservatism as a whole. But a voter who sees that the Texas GOP has weighed in against their hometown representative may not understand that. It’s another burden that the candidates have to overcome.

Dan Patrick: Uncensored

Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, presiding officer of the Texas Senate, has an unprecedented level of control over its inner workings and runs the chamber like a veteran elementary school teacher runs their classroom. It wouldn’t be a surprise if, next session, he made his senators carry hall passes when they left the chamber. But the lieutenant governor generally confines his ministrations to the Senate and leaves the unholy mess of running the House to the Speaker. They will often criticize each other, but there are certain norms that have been observed—even, in Patrick’s time, when the Speaker was someone he didn’t like at all. Patrick smashed those rules this year with his continued attempts to bludgeon Speaker Dade Phelan.

Patrick had telegraphed his intention to do so for quite some time. The Eighty-eighth Legislative Session saw a long-running and bitterly personal feud between the two, in which communication between the “big three”—the governor, the Speaker, and the lieutenant governor—normally maintained by a weekly breakfast during the session, broke down entirely. Patrick’s hatred for Phelan seems to be largely personal—they’re oil and water. They decried each other during the session in terms that were at first a little playful, like when Patrick branded Phelan “California Dade.” But by the end of the session, Patrick was calling Phelan a failure and demanding he resign—over and over again. At the end of the impeachment trial for AG Ken Paxton, Patrick gave a rip-roaring speech condemning not only Phelan but the entire Texas House.

Like others this season, he was sometimes slow to make endorsements. At first, he endorsed a few state representatives. After Trump endorsed Phelan’s primary opponent David Covey, though, he went whole hog. He cut ads for Covey: he called Phelan a liar and a phony and a fake friend of Donald Trump. As has become his habit, he pronounced Phelan’s last name to rhyme with “failing.”

The Speaker and the lieutenant governor usually hate each other at least a little. That’s a tradition too. But we’ve never had a session in which that hatred has been so openly expressed. Patrick could succeed in bludgeoning the House out of selecting Phelan as Speaker for the Eighty-ninth Legislative Session. But if he doesn’t, what’s the plan? If the big three’s breakfasts resume, the governor should be sure to bring armed guards.

The Endorsement War: What Is It Good For?

The endorsement war this cycle has gotten a lot of attention. It’s easy to cover, and the folks who are making the endorsements naturally want to be covered—they would like to be the story, and would like credit for victories.

But there are some good reasons to doubt how much it all matters. It can sometimes feel like local politics is dead, and that every race is an extension of the national political discourse. But each contested state House race is taking place in a specific community in a specific context. These are races in small districts that are decided in low-turnout elections. Candidate quality matters, and so does support from local figures. State House races are not uncommonly decided by dozens of votes.

On January 30, a special election between Jill Dutton and Brent Money was held to replace the disgraced state representative Bryan Slaton. Money had the support of every conservative figure you could think of from across the state—the chair of the Texas GOP, Ted Cruz, Greg Abbott, Ken and Angela Paxton, etc. Dutton had the support of local leaders. A right-wing blogger posted a picture of a roadside display showing Dutton signs interspersed with ridiculous-looking cardboard cutouts of a bunch of Money supporters folks in the district may have never heard of before—many of them not from Texas, none of them with a connection to the district. Dutton narrowly won.

Rick Perry’s Comeback Road Tour

He hasn’t gotten a lot of attention, but one of the most interesting characters of this election in Texas is a man who last held office in 2015—former governor Rick Perry. His two runs for president and stint as a Trump administration cabinet secretary had him focused on D.C. for a while, but he kept a hand in Texas politics as a kingmaker, helping friends like Morgan Luttrell and Stan Gerdes win election to Congress and the Texas House, respectively.

He’s back this year in a big way. His biggest intervention came with a flashy endorsement of Speaker Phelan the week before early voting started, but he has also campaigned on behalf of more moderate Republicans in tight races, like state representative Jill Dutton. He is perhaps the only major political figure in Texas trying to beat back right-wing insurgents in a sustained way.

In endorsing Phelan, Perry made the defense of the Speaker sound like a personal mission. He has always been motivated by loyalty, and he’s known Phelan a long time. But he also made the case for the kind of politics that characterized his governorship—and that has been getting more and more unfashionable. A former conservative Democrat, Perry argued that Texas politics should be first and foremost about growing the economy—everything else, he said, was secondary. 

2024: The Idiot Plot

Christopher Hooks, 5:17 p.m.

This has been an unprecedented, expensive, and bitter election, at least on the Republican side, and it only tracks that we’ve seen some unhinged rhetoric in campaigns and from the candidates themselves. Candidates like Kyle Biederman and Bianca Gracia, running races against incumbent House Republicans, came to the defense of Bryan Slaton, expelled from the House for plying a nineteen-year-old staffer with alcohol and having sex with her. (Biedermann and Gracia, coincidentally, both attended the January 6 Capitol riot.) 

A Biederman supporter caught hell on Twitter for writing that his opponent Ellen Troxclair, a mother, should quit the Lege to go home and take care of her kids. Then Biederman topped it off by sending a mailer on behalf of his own campaign with the title “Kyle Biederman Kicks Puppies!” He meant this as a joke to insulate himself from attacks, but in truth, if Biederman did kick puppies, it would be one of the less objectionable things about him, starting with the fact that a family court once ordered him to stop sleeping nude with his daughters. (At the time, Biedermann disputed the accusations that he had done so.) 

Silly season ran long this year. School voucher opponents like Gary VanDeaver tried to defend their position by arguing that vouchers would have sent taxpayer money to “illegal immigrants.” So the governor, who supports vouchers, took the equally dumb position that VanDeaver had voted to send taxpayer money to illegal immigrants by supporting public schools—without seeming to be unduly bothered by the added implication that Abbott did too.

All over the state, folks argued so bitterly and for so long—a full calendar year, in some places—that they ran out of things to argue about. And then they got dumber still. In Phelan’s district, a right-winger sent out a mailer wishing Beaumont residents a “Happy Ramadan,” the Islamic holy month, from the Speaker. In the never-ending war between Jill Dutton and Brett Money to replace Slaton in his state House seat, the Money campaign sent out a mailer to bash two supporters of Jill Dutton’s by name—two private citizens, or, as the mailer described them, “a homosexual and liberal activist couple in Greenville who donated hundreds to Democrats.” Not hundreds of thousands of dollars, mind you—hundreds of dollars. Money’s closing argument was that two gay men were going to vote for his opponent.

Democrats were not immune to this. In Austin, voters were subject to an onslaught of mailers charging that local district attorney José Garza loved criminals and even—in the case of one bizarre mailer that features a derelict teddy bear, symbolizing the loss of innocence—pro-pedophile. The bizarre ad, condemned by Garza’s opponent, came from a PAC no one had heard of that was registered in Irving, northwest of Dallas.

Insurrection Is on the Ballot

January 6, meet March 5. 

At least four MAGA candidates running in the Republican primary were involved in the events of January 6, 2021, at the U.S. Capitol. Their participation ranges from peacefully protesting at the Capitol to organizing alongside two of the men serving long prison sentences for sedition. None has been charged with a crime. Each is challenging a conservative Republican incumbent, and three of the four are backed by Attorney General Ken Paxton, who led the flailing legal effort to overturn the 2020 election results in favor of Donald Trump. 

They are:

Kyle Biedermann (House District 19): a former state representative and Ace Hardware dealer from Fredericksburg. He is challenging incumbent Ellen Troxclair, formerly the lone Republican on the Austin City Council, who is backed by Greg Abbott but opposed by Paxton. Biedermann was videotaped standing near the Capitol steps as rioters gathered to storm the Capitol, but there is no evidence he went inside. Biedermann has said he does not believe that J6 constituted an insurrection. A week before heading to the Capitol, he announced plans to file a bill to put Texas secession on the ballot. 

Joshua Feuerstein (House District 4): a Californian pastor and C-list internet celebrity who relocated to North Texas several years ago. He is challenging Keith Bell, a conservative who voted to impeach Paxton and opposed private school vouchers. Feuerstein has been endorsed by Paxton. An American flag draped around his neck like a scarf, Feuerstein spoke at a rally on January 5, screaming, “It is time for war! Let us stop the steal!” The next day, Feuerstein watched Trump fire up his supporters, then returned to his hotel. Feuerstein says he was questioned by the FBI about comments he made onstage that seemed to call for violence. His campaign website features a photo of him, wrapped in the flag, speaking on January 5. 

Katrina Pierson (House District 33): one of Trump’s earliest grassroots soldiers, a MAGA stalwart from Dallas who worked in the former president’s political operation during his time in the White House. Pierson is trying to knock off Justin Holland, a Dallas-area Republican who voted to impeach Paxton and against school vouchers. Pierson was deeply involved in planning the rally at the Ellipse, where Trump whipped his supporters into a frenzy over nonexistent electoral fraud. Pierson later told investigators that she butted heads with another organizer over the inclusion of the “crazies”—far-right extremists, including Alex Jones—though she gamely stuck to the stop-the-steal message of the day when it was her turn to speak.

Bianca Gracia (House District 128): the president of Latinos for Trump. In this eastern Harris County district that includes Baytown and La Porte, she is challenging Briscoe Cain, a far-right troll who has of late been hanging out more in House Speaker Dade Phelan’s good ol’ boys club. They have split endorsements: Paxton is backing Gracia, while Abbott has blessed Cain. Gracia was a significant figure in J6. She helped organize the “Stop the Steal” rally, and on the night before the riots, a documentary crew filmed her meeting with Enrique Tarrio, the leader of the violent street group the Proud Boys; Stewart Rhodes, the founder of the Oath Keepers, an extremist militia; and two others. Tarrio and Rhodes are both serving long prison sentences for crimes related to the January 6 attack. “You need to be here tomorrow,” Gracia told Tarrio in the video of the meeting. Gracia pleaded the Fifth dozens of times when House investigators attempted to learn more about her involvement. 

Lost That Lovin’ Phelan

House Speaker Dade Phelan, of Beaumont, is one of the most powerful Republicans in Texas, but the far right, including former president Donald Trump, Attorney General Ken Paxton, and Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, have declared him enemy number one. Patrick, in particular, has made the race a crusade: he makes a cameo appearance in his opponent’s ads. 

Phelan’s detractors accuse him of not being conservative enough—labeling him a weak-kneed Republican in name only (i.e., RINO). This is despite the fact that the Texas House passed some of the most restrictive border and immigration and abortion legislation ever under his leadership. To be sure, Phelan has appointed Democrats to certain lower-level leadership roles, but this is not a new or particularly notable phenomenon. His real crime, in the right’s eyes, is leading the House’s effort to impeach Paxton last May—for which the Texas GOP censured him this February. 

Almost all of those who want Phelan out of office are throwing their weight behind David Covey, an oil and gas consultant and former chairman of the Orange County Republican Party. Covey is theoretically running to Phelan’s right flank, but, during an interview with the Texas Tribune, he was unable to list a single conservative priority that failed in the House as a result of Phelan’s leadership. 

One interesting wrinkle in this race is the involvement of Trump and Patrick. But Phelan still has friends in high places, too. Rick Perry, the former Texas governor, stumped for him, along with other House Republicans facing tough reelection bids, last month. During the stop, Perry elicited laughs from the crowd when he quipped that the term “RINO” was “sexy.” We’ll see if Republican primary voters agree. 

Indecent Propositions

After picking their favored candidates, GOP primary voters in Texas will have a chance to vote on thirteen nonbinding ballot propositions, based on proposals that received the required 97,709 signatures—5 percent of the total vote received for governor in the Republican Party’s most recent primary. 

The state party made news in December by rejecting a proposition stating that Texas should secede from the U.S., prompting a lawsuit from the Texas Nationalist Movement, which claimed it had gathered enough signatures to put the question to voters. In an open letter, Texas GOP chairman Matt Rinaldi explained that the secession petition had been submitted late and included only about 8,300 handwritten signatures, with the remainder submitted electronically. 

But the propositions that did make it onto the ballot have a similarly radical bent, and they indicate the tenor of the Trump-era Texas GOP. They include proposals to ban the sale of land to citizens of China, Iran, North Korea, and Russia (a similar bill was sponsored by Republican state senator Lois Kolkhorst in last year’s Legislature but failed to pass); to restrict voting in the GOP primary to registered Republicans; to allow the use of gold and silver as legal tender; and to require the use of E-Verify by all employers to prevent undocumented immigrants from getting jobs. 

Can Travis County’s Progressive Prosecutor Shake It Off?

In 2020, in the wake of Black Lives Matter protests, José Garza cruised to the Travis County district attorney seat, defeating incumbent Margaret Moore by more than 36 points in a primary runoff and thus securing the office in a solidly blue area. In office, he has focused on limiting jail bookings for nonviolent charges and pursuing grand jury reviews of police use-of-force cases. He’s now drawn a challenger, former prosecutor Jeremy Sylestine, who’s running as a tough-on-crime Democrat. 

Sylestine boasts well-funded backers who are assisting him in a scorched-earth campaign against Garza. On election day, he also picked up an endorsement from Elon Musk. Saving Austin, an unregistered PAC with the listed address of a UPS store in Irving, some 225 miles away from Travis County, sent out a mailer accusing the incumbent of “filling Austin’s streets with pedophiles and killers” in bold letters next to a photo of a bloody teddy bear. (Sylestine denounced the mailer.) On the final weekend before Election Day, a motorcycle group came to Austin to challenge Garza campaign block walkers. The Sylestine campaign has accused Garza of being a “Soros-backed DA” and a “rogue prosecutor,” uncommon rhetoric in what’s nominally a race between two Democratic candidates in the state’s progressive stronghold. 


The Garza campaign, meanwhile, has responded by sending a cease-and-desist letter to the UPS store mailbox, holding a press conference to condemn the motorcycle group, and ramping up high-profile endorsements: it announced the support of Willie Nelson and former gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis days before Super Tuesday. (Garza also sent out a mailer comparing himself to Taylor Swift, because of the ire he attracts from the right.) With Democratic early turnout depressed across Texas, and in a downballot primary that typically isn’t high-engagement, this race could come down to the wire, which makes the Travis County DA’s race a Democratic primary battle to watch on a night when most of the action appears to be on the GOP side. 

Boss Ogg’s Last Ride?

Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg pauses as she talks to the media, Thursday, June 8, 2017 in Houston.
Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg Elizabeth Conley/Houston Chronicle via AP

Democrat Kim Ogg was elected Harris County district attorney in 2016, becoming one of the first in a wave of “progressive prosecutors” who would gain power across the country over the following years—many (including Ogg) with funding from Hungarian-born billionaire George Soros. Having campaigned on bail reform, marijuana decriminalization, and reducing racial inequities in the justice system, Ogg was swept into office on a tide of goodwill from newly ascendant Houston-area Democrats.

Eight years later, that goodwill is all but exhausted. Over two terms in office, Ogg has managed to alienate virtually every local Democratic official and every Democratic constituency. A recent University of Houston poll found Ogg losing to one of her own former division chiefs, Sean Teare, by a nearly three-to-one margin. Among Democratic voters, she enjoys a dismal 29 percent approval rating. 

Ogg began making enemies almost as soon as she took office. First, she fired 37 veteran prosecutors whom she apparently viewed as obstacles to her agenda. Then she implemented a marijuana diversion program whose requirements—paying a $150 fine and attending a four-hour “cognitive decision-making” class—deterred many eligible participants. In 2019, she broke a campaign promise by announcing her opposition to a legal settlement that ended cash bail for most misdemeanors, then spent the next few years scapegoating Democratic judges for their supposed leniency toward defendants. 

After winning reelection in 2020 against an unusually weak slate of opponents, Ogg continued adding to her enemies list. She hired a top Republican operative to investigate Democratic county judge Lina Hidalgo, while squashing an investigation into GOP power broker Jared Woodfill, who is now running for House District 138. She launched an investigation into Democratic Houston mayor Sylvester Turner. Meanwhile, her office was roiled by high turnover, low morale, an unusually high number of acquittals, and an inexperienced intake unit that resulted in 4,500 cases being tossed by judges in a single year for lack of probable cause. 

In December, the Harris County Democratic Party formally censured Ogg, passing a resolution saying she had “abused the power of her office to pursue personal vendettas” and “stood in the way of fixing the broken criminal justice system.” If the polling is correct, this may be Ogg’s last year as a DA. Then again, based on her friendly relationships with GOP officials, there may be a job in state government waiting for her. 

The Legislature

Dragon Ball D(allas Democrats)

In 2018, Democrat Nathan Johnson—who, as the composer to the theme song of the American dub of Dragon Ball Z, has one of the best biographies of any Texas lawmaker—beat the Republican Don Huffines to grab a seat in the Texas Senate, representing North Dallas, becoming one of a handful of white male Democrats in either chamber.

When Republicans gerrymandered the state, they gave Johnson a much more strangely shaped district that was more Democratic—but also half Hispanic, whereas his previous district was about one third Hispanic. (There’s a long history of Republicans redrawing districts to unseat white Democrats.) Even still, it was a surprise in the district when state representative Victoria Neave Criado, a generally well-regarded House progressive, launched a bid to unseat Johnson. The race quickly took on a bitter and contentious tone.

Neave Criado has characterized the somewhat more centrist Johnson as being complicit in the excesses of Patrick’s Senate, which Democratic voters loathe. Johnson has argued that Criado’s more combative approach will leave her unable to accomplish anything in Patrick’s Senate, which will hurt her constituents. In a way they’re both right: There’s no good way to be a Democrat in the Senate. It’s a bit of a mystery why anyone wants to be one.

Some Fearmongering, Homophobic Republicans Love the Guy Who Allegedly Aided an Alleged Child Molester

Dr. Steve Hotze of Houston, who runs a hormone therapy clinic, is one of the strangest men in the Texas GOP firmament. He’s a Christian conservative and a prolific political donor who’s extremely right-wing on gay rights, right-wing on many other issues, and squishy on a few others, like immigration. He’s been fighting the “gay agenda” for decades in strident and at times weird terms: at one event I went to in 2015, Hotze passed out copies of what he alleged was the “homosexual manifesto,” a plan to sodomize America’s youth, and then got up onstage to condemn it, whipping out a sword to swing around—a token of his desire to, well, penetrate the gays “with God’s word.”

If Hotze is the state’s antigay Batman, his Robin is Jared Woodfill, a lawyer from Houston who has been Hotze’s stalking horse for many years. Woodfill ran the Harris County Republican Party for twelve years on Hotze’s behalf: in 2015, and also in 2016, he unsuccessfully tried to become chair of the state party, with Hotze’s backing. Since then he’s been involved in stop-the-steal and anti-vaccine lawsuits, both causes supported by Hotze.

This year Hotze is trying to put him in the state House: Woodfill is running against Lacey Hull in House District 138, in Houston. His candidacy is notable for two reasons. If Woodfill makes it to the House, he’ll be Hotze’s line to the chamber as if the doctor were a ventriloquist working a puppet—giving the House a new and distinct type of fringe guy.

But it’s also notable because Woodfill testified that in 2004 he was made aware that Paul Pressler, his law partner and a prominent figure in the Southern Baptist Convention, had been accused of sexually abusing a child. (Pressler never faced criminal charges, but a civil case stemming from that allegation was confidentially settled in December of last year.) Despite knowing of the allegation, Woodfill continued working with Pressler, and their firm continued supplying him with young aides. Subsequently, others have accused Pressler of sexual abuse (Pressler’s lawyers did not respond to a request for an interview by press time). Woodfill denies wrongdoing. When asked by my colleague Forrest Wilder, he wrote that he “never saw or witnessed him [Pressler] do anything inappropriate.” 

Folks like Woodfill and Hotze are quick to call gay men groomers. But the former associated with an alleged groomer for years, and many in the Republican Party—among them Ken Paxton and Matt Rinaldi—want to welcome Woodfill into the fold.

Will Shawn Thierry Get Her Flowers?

Houston Democrat Shawn Thierry has the gift of gab, but that hasn’t always served her. In what’s gearing up to be one of the most competitive Democratic primaries in the Texas House this election, the incumbent, who broke with her party last session to support a few contentious GOP bills, will fight for reelection against two challengers. She spoke in favor of legislation that would ban books deemed sexually explicit from public schools, claiming that they expose kids to porn on the internet. And she spoke in favor of a bill to ban gender-affirming care for children and teens. While Thierry was joined by a few other House Democrats in voting for the latter, fellow caucus members chafed specifically at the way she went about announcing her vote: delivering a tearful speech in support of the bill. Thierry maintains that she’s just representing her constituents in south Houston, the majority of whom are Black. But it’s those same votes that motivated labor organizer Lauren Ashley Simmons, a Black queer woman, to run against her. A vocal proponent of public schools and raising the minimum wage in Texas, Simmons has snatched key Democratic endorsements from Equality Texas, an LGBTQ advocacy organization, and the Texas advocacy branch of Planned Parenthood. Also running is ​​Ashton Woods, a Black Lives Matter activist who primaried Thierry in 2020. 

Thierry also faces potential fallout from the allegations of former staff members that she was verbally and emotionally abusive—on one occasion, multiple former staffers say she threw flowerpots at one employee. Thierry denies the allegations and says staffers levying complaints against her were retaliating for her vote on the transgender bill because they were queer. 

Her race puts to the test the question of whether socially conservative politics do indeed play in a deep blue majority-minority district.

Quiz: Who’s the Conservative?

The dictionary defines “conservative” as “disposed to preserve existing conditions, institutions, etc., or to restore traditional ones, and to limit change.” 

So begins the most trite debate speech ever. In years past, you probably wouldn’t have needed us to provide that definition for you because it was obvious. Now you wouldn’t want us to because it wouldn’t be that helpful. Words have power, but in this GOP primary, they do not have meaning; some of the most right-wing lawmakers in the state are being decried as Republicans In Name Only, while some of the relative moderates are being exalted as warriors for the conservative cause. So let’s take a two-stop safari through the GOP primary in the Texas House and try to spot the conservative. 

House District 19

In a Fredericksburg-anchored Hill County district, incumbent Ellen Troxclair faces Kyle Biedermann, her predecessor. Biedermann served an undistinguished three terms in the Texas House. His most notable legislative achievement was filing dead-on-arrival legislation to put Texas secession on the ballot. He was unpopular enough within his caucus that his district was gerrymandered in 2021 to make his reelection less likely, and he did not seek reelection. (He frames his retirement as an act of grace, not fear. Ahead of the 2022 primary, he told me he wasn’t running again because it was important that a Latina represent the district. Don’t worry; he wasn’t being woke. Biedermann explained that he wanted to see a Hispanic woman in his seat “not because I believe in diversity . . . [but because] I believe we, as, you know, unfortunately, white males, we don’t really get a voice.”)

Troxclair subsequently won office by attacking the character of her opponent, an Austin police officer under indictment, whom she decried as a union sympathizer who was soft on woke teachers. Notably, when I asked her about her opponent’s indictment on (now-dropped) charges of aggravated assault stemming from injuries he may have caused a Black Lives Matter protester, she offered only that she “generally [has] always and will continue to support our police.” 

But Troxclair had one bold break from right-wing orthodoxy—voting to impeach Ken Paxton—that sent Biedermann out of retirement quicker than Brett Favre. His pitch to voters: the Texas House is controlled by Democrats such as . . . Troxclair, whom he attacks for voting to expel state representative Bryan Slaton from office. Slaton, of course, was booted from the House in a unanimous vote after he plied an intern with alcohol and had sex with her.

Who is the family values conservative in this race? 

Verdict: Split. GOP megadonor and Christian nationalist Tim Dunn has given more than $80,000 to Biedermann. Abbott, meanwhile, is backing Troxclair. 

House District 33

Four-term representative Justin Holland, physically and politically, is a bobblehead come to life: a lantern-jawed yes-man who nods along in approval to nearly everything Speaker Dade Phelan wants. Unfortunately for Holland, he, like another famous puppet, was cursed to become human. (Seriously, when we asked his colleagues about him for our Best and Worst Legislators package, he was praised for being a real “human being.”) And then—human, all too human—he failed his three temptations: 

  • He voted to advance a gun-safety bill raising the age to purchase certain semiautomatic firearms from 18 to 21, believing the legislation at least deserved debate—and perhaps knowing it would fail. 
  • He voted to impeach Ken Paxton, believing he abused his office. 
  • He voted against school vouchers, as rural parts of his district would not benefit from such a plan. 

For his sins, he now faces MAGA stalwart Katrina Pierson in his Dallas-area district. One of the first Texas Republicans to latch on to Donald Trump, Pierson rode his coattails to the rally at the Ellipse on January 6, 2021, which she helped plan. She calls herself a fan of Paxton’s and, when called to testify before the U.S. House January 6 committee, said she thought his immediately dismissed lawsuit challenging the 2020 election results was “beautifully written.” 

Who stands for conservative principles of small government in this race? 

Verdict: Not Holland, apparently. Paxton endorsed Pierson. Though Abbott stopped short of supporting her, he has attacked Holland throughout the campaign, including by highlighting a Rockwall County GOP letter accusing the incumbent of “disregard[ing] Republican principles.” 

Whoever Wins, the Eighty-ninth Legislative Session Loses

Most legislative sessions start with a lot of fake friendliness and end with mutual, undisguised loathing. There may be some important policy questions decided tonight, but you don’t need to wait for a list of the winners to know that the next legislative session will begin with mutual loathing—thinly disguised, at best—and can only go downhill from there. It’s going to be miserable.

Some kind of trust and understanding between the chambers and between the “big three”—Abbott, Patrick, and Phelan, for now—is necessary to resolve major issues and pass big bills. But such alliances seem unlikely this coming session. Abbott is attempting to decimate the Texas House Republican Caucus. Patrick is trying to push Phelan off a cliff. The attorney general and the House will be at war.

Sure, structural forces will push people together. The representatives Abbott failed to kill will need his signature on their bills. Patrick will need things from the House. But dysfunction and distrust already reached a high level in the Eighty-eighth Legislative Session—part of the reason the session featured four increasingly miserable special sessions. It’s most likely gonna get worse.

Phelan Under Fire

No Speaker of the Texas House has ever been unseated in a primary election. It would be a nutty thing for a district’s voters to do, as former governor Rick Perry said in Nederland last month, warning the good men and women of southeast Texas that he would be administering a “mental competency test” if they evicted Dade Phelan. The reason it would be nutty is material: a city that is represented by the Speaker is immensely privileged. Their needs come first.

But there exists at least the possibility that Speaker Dade Phelan will be unseated tonight by a right-wing challenger, David Covey, a Christian conservative and former Orange County GOP chairman who is backed by rich men who hate Phelan. There’s a third candidate in the race, much less well-funded, so there’s also the possibility that Phelan is kicked into a runoff, which would become the most important race in the state and soak up many more millions of dollars. This is a district that has been under siege for a full calendar year, in which benighted Beaumont residents have been buried under an avalanche of mailers, yard signs, and extremely tendentious TV and radio advertising.

Covey is endorsed by virtually every Republican of note outside the House and his district save for Greg Abbott, who has stayed neutral, while Phelan’s most notable endorsement has come from Perry, who has not held office in the state in nearly a decade. But there are good odds the incumbent will still power through. If he does, and once again becomes Speaker, what, then, will he do next session with all the men and women who tried to knock him off? You come for the Dade, you best not miss.

No Race Too Small, No Grudge Too Petty

While Ken Paxton’s revenge tour is focused primarily on those who participated in his impeachment, the man has enough hate in his heart to devote to an older grudge. He’s targeting three incumbent judges on the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals—Michelle Slaughter, Barbara Hervey, and Sharon Keller. In 2021, those three were part of an 8–1 majority that ruled that Paxton had overstepped his constitutional authority in unilaterally prosecuting voter fraud cases. The state’s constitution clearly said that  local DAs had the authority to prosecute those cases, and that Paxton’s agency had to get permission to supersede them. All nine judges on the court are Republicans, of course.

Paxton seemed to take this as a personal and grievous insult. The available evidence suggests that he’s a firm believer in the stop-the-steal stuff and views voter fraud as the most important thing his office prosecutes. Instead of attempting to change the law or the constitution to empower his office, he’s on a crusade to replace the incumbents with cronies—Lee Finley, Gina Parker, and David Schenk—who would bend the knee and recognize his authority. Putting one more ideological crank in the 150-member House doesn’t mean very much, but putting three cranks on the nine-member CCA could prove consequential. Paxton would still have lost his case 5–4. But the court hears many other important cases that have nothing to do with Paxton, including appeals in death penalty cases.

His obvious pique aside, this is a strange one for Paxton to get involved in. Approximately a busful of living Texans have cast an informed vote for a CCA judge: this is a box most people tick on their way down the ballot without really caring. Paxton is betting that he is so beloved on the right that he can swing these races with little additional help. True, he’s brought in Donald Trump Jr. and some other online rightoids, like the Australian influencer and self-identified “Alpha Male” Nick Adams, to rail against the tyranny of the CCA. Maybe it will work. But unlike in every other kind of state race, the challengers are constrained by campaign finance laws. A Daddy Warbucks like the ones who have backed Paxton can’t just drop a million dollars in these candidates’ accounts. The incumbent judges will, no doubt, remember this if they are one day asked to rule on a criminal case in which Paxton is the defendant.

House Wars: The Revenge of the Ken

God love him, Attorney General Ken Paxton also wants a piece of the action. He’s ticked off at the House for a good reason: that traitorous legislative body impeached him, accusing him of doing favors for an Austin real estate magnate who was under investigation by the FBI. After Paxton beat those charges in the Senate, you could tell he felt like a million bucks. He was talking trash about his coming vengeance far and wide, even flying up to Maine to talk to Tucker Carlson. He’s still feeling his antihero status, it seems like: A recent New York Times report had him attending a closed-door party at the Hungarian embassy in D.C. during CPAC, the right-wing confab.

Will he prove a kingmaker in the Texas House? TBD. The University of Texas at Austin’s Texas Politics Project, when it asked GOP primary voters what their top issue was, found that “potential GOP primary voters made almost no mention of anything having to do with Paxton’s impeachment.” Paxton has endorsed a slate of candidates that is weirder and seems less likely to win than Abbott’s—and in some cases, the two are backing different horses in the same race. Abbott is backing Briscoe Cain of Deer Park, who was an impeachment manager. Paxton has endorsed Cain’s opponent, Bianca Gracia, a Trump-aligned activist who helped plan the January 6 rally and was investigated by a House committee for it. 

Paxton’s most significant political role this year may have been his ability to mobilize Trump, and the wider universe of Trump hangers-on, against his enemies. Speaker Dade Phelan blamed Paxton for Trump’s endorsement of his opponent. But Patrick, who also has Phelan in his crosshairs, is also close to Trump—and ultimately, only the Donald knows why he does what he does.

School Vouchers

Why Immigration Has Invaded the School-Voucher Issue

You’re one of the 21 rural Republicans who bravely voted against the governor’s private school–voucher legislation, a scheme to funnel taxpayer dollars from public to private schools. There are few, if any, private schools in your area, so any money bled from the public education system will harm your local ISDs. But now you’re running for reelection, and you’ve got the governor waging a jihad against you. He’s campaigning for your opponent and turning out big crowds. He’s as popular as ever, thanks to his deft positioning as Joe Biden’s foil on matters of border security and immigration. And Greg Abbott is a prodigious fund-raiser; he and his extremely wealthy friends have the kind of walk-around money that can turn an otherwise limp primary opponent into a serious threat. Jeff Yass, a Pennsylvania billionaire, alone gave the governor $6 million to spend on pro-voucher challengers. You’re fighting for your political life. What do you do?

You attempt the political equivalent of nuclear fusion: you fuse your anti-voucher bona fides with a hard-line immigration stance. Thus, we have the strange spectacle of several incumbents in the Texas House releasing ads bragging that their vote against the governor’s voucher proposal was really a swipe at illegal immigration. “Last year, I stopped a bill that would have handed out school vouchers—your tax dollars—to illegal immigrants,” said Representative Gary VanDeaver, a Republican from New Boston, in northeast Texas, in an ad. “Border security is about more than just walls. It’s also about stopping the incentives that encourage illegal crossings in the first place.” Representative Drew Darby, of San Angelo, took a similar tack in an ad, calling vouchers “free handouts offered to illegal immigrants.”

VanDeaver and Darby are right in a narrow sense. Under Abbott’s voucher plan, undocumented immigrant families would’ve been eligible to receive tax dollars to spend on tuition at private schools. That’s because Texas has no other option: a 1982 U.S. Supreme Court decision forced the state to educate all children, regardless of immigration status. Moreover, the debate at the Capitol last year over vouchers had little to nothing to do with this issue. This is the kind of messaging only a political consultant could dream up. Will it work?

Why Abbott’s Voucher Warpath Is a High-risk Gamble

The most substantive issue up for grabs at the polls today is school vouchers—programs to send children to private schools with taxpayer money—which failed to pass the Legislature last year and will come up again next year. That’s because it has become the signature priority of Governor Greg Abbott, who is trying to move the ball down the field by targeting House Republicans who bucked him on the issue with his public ire and millions of dollars of campaign spending. Abbott has never done this before with any real vigor. His efforts to defeat lawmakers in previous election seasons have been sporadic and sometimes unsuccessful. This year, he vowed he would go to war.

The war got going slowly, but recently, Greg’s trickle of pique became a tsunami. In the last month alone, Abbott donated more than $600,000 apiece to opponents of state representatives Steve Allison, of San Antonio; Ernest Bailes, of Shepherd; John Kuempel, of Seguin; and Drew Darby, of San Angelo. All four are very conservative, but all four voted against vouchers. Abbott has given between $100,000 and $400,000—just this last month—to twelve more candidates (some challengers, some incumbents). And he’s been headlining rallies around the state to dole out praise for his chosen contenders.

With the other hand, though, he’s been doing something that’s gotten much less attention. He’s attempting to defend some incumbent Republicans from right-wing challengers. He may just be trying to make friends, but the effect is to bolster the campaigns of representatives who are friendly to House leadership. He gave nearly a quarter of a million dollars this past month to Ellen Troxclair, who’s attempting to ward off Kyle “Gay Hitler” Biedermann, and more than $100,000 to Kronda Thimesch, who is being challenged by Mitch Little, one of Ken Paxton’s impeachment lawyers.

This is all a high-risk, high-reward bet, and thus uncharacteristic of Abbott, who has been a pretty cautious governor. If he loses most of these races, he’ll look weaker, and his perceived enemies will come back to work hating him. But if he wins most of them, he may come out looking like the House’s new dad—able to punish with one hand and protect with the other.

Greg Abbott’s Path to a Pro-Voucher Majority in the Texas House

The fate of private school vouchers could be decided on Tuesday. If Greg Abbott and his allies have a decent night at the polls, they can gain a pro-voucher majority in the Texas House. The overall context strongly favors voucher proponents, because the other side—besieged anti-voucher incumbents—is almost entirely playing defense. 

Here’s the math on that: In November, the House voted 84–63 to kill the governor’s voucher plan. Twenty-one of the chamber’s 85 Republicans joined the Democrats in the effort. Now 5 of those 21 Republicans—John Raney, of College Station; Andrew Murr, of Junction; Four Price, of Amarillo; Kyle Kacal, of College Station; and Ed Thompson, of Pearland—are retiring. One of those five seats—Raney’s—will almost certainly be occupied by pro-voucher candidates next year. That’s because the two Republicans in that race favor vouchers, and a Democrat doesn’t stand a chance in the deep red district in November. The race will effectively be decided in the primary. So, going into Tuesday, Abbott and company are already plus one. 

In nineteen of the twenty remaining races, at least one challenger has publicly stated his or her support for vouchers. (In one super-rural Panhandle district, the incumbent, Ken King, opposes vouchers, and his opponent, Karen Post, has expressed ambivalence about the issue.) If ten of the nineteen pro-voucher challengers win, along with the Raney pickup, that would give Abbott a slight pro-voucher majority in the House, assuming no defections from either side and not accounting for the general election (more on that in a moment).

However, there are a handful of House GOP races in which it is conceivable that a pro-voucher incumbent could lose to an anti. For example, House District 2: after pro-voucher representative Bryan Slaton was booted from the House when it came to light that he had plied a young staffer with alcohol and then had sex with her, the special election in January to replace him saw voucher skeptic Jill Dutton beat Abbott-backed Brent Money. Those two will now have a rematch on Tuesday. If Dutton holds on to her seat, she would presumably shore up the small but mighty conservative public education caucus. In a handful of other races, pro-voucher incumbents face well-funded anti-voucher opponents. 

One final wild card: the general election. In the fall, Democrats and Republicans will fight over a relatively small number of competitive districts. For the most part, a Democrat knocking off a Republican incumbent will help the anti-voucher cause. 

Bottom line: even though Abbott and the billionaires who favor school privatization lost badly last year in the Legislature, they have a good shot at adding to their ranks today. And they could come back to Austin next year with an army.

Incumbents vs. Bored of Education 

After failing in multiple special sessions to get his way on his priority issue, Governor Greg Abbott took the fight for a voucher program, which would allow parents to pay for private school tuition and/or offset homeschooling costs, to a new level: he threatened political retribution against the 21 mostly rural Republican opponents of the program. Assuming the composition of the Texas House doesn’t change in any other race and no lawmaker changes his or her mind, the governor would need to unseat 11 voucher opponents to pass his plan. 

If you’ll remember, rural Republican opposition stopped a voucher proposal from making its way through the Lege last year. The GOP voucher opponents’ argument against the program is straightforward: many rural communities don’t have private schools, so they would be hurt by a diversion of spending from public schools. The lawmakers are simply voting their districts. But that hasn’t come without political consequences. Now 16 of the 21 Republicans who voted against vouchers are running for reelection, and most are being targeted by Abbott and allied pro-voucher groups. One voucher supporter, national GOP megadonor Jeff Yass, gave Abbott a whopping $6 million in December, which the governor used to help defend many challengers of voucher opponents. Some of the top beneficiaries were Mark LaHood, a voucher proponent who is targeting state representative Steve Allison, of San Antonio, and Janis Holt, who is challenging another voucher opponent, Ernest Bailes, of Shepherd. (They received $672,410 and $671,300 from the governor, respectively.)

It’s possible that Abbott’s endorsements could profoundly reshape the makeup of the Lege’s lower chamber. One poll, for instance, found that anti-voucher Republicans were deeply unpopular with Texas’s GOP primary voters; Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick predicted voucher opponents would go down. But endorsements alone probably aren’t enough to win these races, and in most cases, rural incumbents are far outraising their challengers. The sixteen Republicans are fighting back in other ways, too. Seemingly hoping to win back the goodwill of the far right, Drew Darby, of San Angelo, turned to a tried-and-true red meat issue to defend his anti-voucher vote: immigration. In a recent campaign ad, he said he stopped a bill that would’ve handed out school vouchers to “illegal immigrants.”

Regardless of this year’s election results, though, it’s clear that Abbott won’t give up on vouchers anytime soon. Too many big GOP donors and conservative voters are hell-bent on destroying traditional public schools. Plus, there’s a built-in constituency of people already educating their kids privately for which vouchers are simply a redistribution of taxpayer dollars in their favor. 

U.S. House Races

Sheila Jackson Lee Finally Has a Formidable Opponent—Her Former Intern

In 1994, an ambitious 44-year-old Houston City Council member named Sheila Jackson Lee won the Democratic primary for Texas’s Eighteenth Congressional District, then a majority Black area of inner-city Houston that had previously been represented by civil rights icons Barbara Jordan and Mickey Leland. Jackson Lee has held the seat ever since, earning a reputation as, depending on whom you ask, either an indefatigable advocate for her constituents or a shameless self-promoter. 

But Houston’s best-known Black politician is looking newly vulnerable after a quixotic, ill-fated bid for Houston mayor. In November, Jackson Lee narrowly forced a runoff with Democratic state senator John Whitmire, only to lose the head-to-head battle by nearly thirty points. Two days later, she announced that she would run for reelection to her congressional seat. This time, she faces more than her usual token opposition. Amanda Edwards, a 42-year-old Black former Houston City Council member, had originally intended to run for mayor, only to switch to the Eighteenth District race after Jackson Lee threw her hat in the ring.

The two candidates have a long shared history. Between graduating with a B.A. from Emory University and entering Harvard Law School, Edwards, who grew up in the Eighteenth District, interned in Jackson Lee’s D.C. office. Now that they’re facing each other in the Democratic primary, Jackson Lee finds herself in a competitive race for the first time in recent memory. The district’s changing demographics—Hispanics now represent a plurality of residents—and a desire for new leadership may threaten Jackson Lee’s hold on her seat. Edwards has significantly outraised her old boss; a recent University of Houston poll shows Jackson Lee, who was endorsed by Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, clinging to a five-point lead, with 16 percent of likely Democratic voters undecided. This contest between the old and new generations of Houston Black leaders may be a nail-biter. 

The Revolution Will Be YouTubed

Can Brandon Herrera, a popular YouTube gunfluencer known as “the AK Guy,” leverage his niche internet fame into a seat in Congress? The bearded, long-haired twentysomething is one of four challengers to Tony Gonzales, the two-term congressman who has drawn the ire of the MAGA right for his mild apostasy. The quartet of well-armed Gonzales opponents includes a retired Border Patrol agent turned podcaster and a former ICE agent whose partner was murdered by a drug cartel in Mexico. But Herrera—campaign slogan: “Let’s Go Brandon”—is the only one who comes in with a built-in fan army, 3.25 million followers on his channel (a bro-tastic stream of slick, gun-oriented content with an anti-government, conspiratorial bent). 

Herrera is not the first YouTuber to run for office. Recent years have seen a surge in content creators trying—and failing—to get elected. Joey Saladino, a.k.a. Joey Salads, a Trump-admiring YouTuber, ran for a congressional seat in Staten Island in 2019. He raised a pittance and withdrew before the GOP primary. Alex Stein, a Dallas troll who flies around the country harassing enemies of the far right, ran for the Highland Park ISD school board in 2023. He received 1 percent of the vote. Their campaigns were little more than naked bids to harvest new likes and subscribers.

Herrera insists that he is a Serious Candidate. He has positioned himself—as most politicians do—as a political outsider, a citizen who only reluctantly entered politics out of a desire to give back. “I do not need this,” he said in (what else?) a YouTube video announcing his campaign. “I’m not running because this is a career I always wanted. It’s not.” 

In essence, content creators turned politicians are just the Gen Z and millennial versions of old-school celebrities reaching for public office—next-generation Reagans or Schwarzeneggers or Trumps. Herrera recently told my colleague Allegra Hobbs that he has used his “very, very rabid pro-freedom following” to fuel his candidacy. No doubt: his online footprint dwarfs his opponents’, and his fund-raising is fairly robust. But how many of those fanboys live in Texas’s Twenty-third Congressional District? How many of them vote in low-turnout GOP primary races? We shall see.

Four Fringe Candidates Are in a MAGA-off for Tony Gonzales’s Seat

Back in the day, Republican Tony Gonzales was the MAGA candidate for Congressional District 23. Christened by Donald Trump’s endorsement during a primary runoff in 2020 against the more moderate Raul Reyes, he thumped for “the wall” in a district that spans much of the western Texas-Mexico border and rode that message to victory. But that was eons ago. Now, after four years in office, Gonzales has occasionally broken from America First orthodoxy. He voted for a moderate gun reform bill, supported codifying the right to same-sex marriage, and refused to support severe border restrictions (he did, ultimately, vote for slightly less-severe ones). For his sins, a crowded field of far-right challengers now call him a Republican in name only.

Brandon Herrera, an edgelord YouTuber who has built a formidable online following by shooting things with guns on camera, got involved primarily to defend the Second Amendment freedoms he felt were at stake. Julie Clark, a rancher and boutique owner, led the charge in censuring Gonzales when she was chair of the Medina County GOP; the state party followed her lead shortly thereafter. Victor Avila, a former ICE agent whose partner was gunned down by the Los Zetas cartel, benefits from minor celebrity on conservative media platforms. Former Border Patrol agent Frank Lopez Jr. calls himself the “Border Patriot” and feels the woes that have befallen our nation can be traced to a lack of devotion to the Lord. It’s a colorful parade of fringe candidates, but they all have one thing in common: they are dead set on unseating Gonzales and adding one more Trumpian member to Congress who will fall in line with his vision for the Republican party. 

Gonzales has raised more money than all of his opponents combined. But small numbers of voters determine primary outcomes—and if Gonzales fails to win an outright majority of the votes this round, he will be forced into a May runoff with whoever comes in second place. If that happens, we may get a showdown in which the furthest-right wing of the party aligns against him.

The Senate Race

Can Roland Gutierrez Ride the Hispanic-Name Effect to a Runoff?

Texas State Senator Roland Gutierrez testifies before House Judiciary Committee about Examining Uvalde: The Search for Bipartisan Solutions to Gun Violence during a hearing on December 15, 2022 at Rayburn HOB/Capitol Hill in Washington DC, USA.
Texas State Senator Roland GutierrezLenin Nolly/NurPhoto via AP

Last month, the Daily Beast obtained an audio recording of a recent Houston campaign event at which state senator Roland Gutierrez told supporters that he would outperform his main primary rival, Dallas-area congressman Colin Allred, against Republican senator Ted Cruz in the general election, because “it’s gonna be a Hispanic candidate.” Gutierrez is clearly banking on what has become a familiar trend in Democratic primaries, where candidates with Hispanic surnames often outperform their Black and Anglo opponents. (Republican primaries often see the opposite effect.) “The lower the amount of information Democratic primary voters have about a race, the more likely they are to rely on the perceived gender or ethnicity of the candidates,” said Rice University political science professor Mark Jones. “That’s a significant advantage for Hispanic candidates, since Hispanics represent between one-third and two-fifths of Democratic primary voters.” 

In 2022, an unknown San Antonio therapist named Sandragrace Martinez won a plurality of votes in the Democratic primary for Texas land commissioner, forcing a runoff with King Ranch scion Jay Kleberg, despite Kleberg’s impressive résumé and prodigious fund-raising. In 2018, a similarly obscure candidate named Sema Hernandez outperformed Beto O’Rourke in much of South Texas in the primary for U.S. Senate. O’Rourke’s decision to use his nickname on the ballot, rather than his given name of Robert, was criticized by U.S. senator Ted Cruz as a cynical ploy to attract Hispanic votes. (Cruz goes by his own Anglo nickname of Ted rather than his given name, Rafael.)

Unlike Martinez and Hernandez, Gutierrez is a serious candidate with a certain level of popularity, thanks to his advocacy for gun reform in the wake of the Uvalde shooting. But in the Democratic primary for U.S. Senate, he may benefit from the same phenomenon, with many low-information voters reflexively picking him on name alone. At 40 percent of the population, Hispanics constitute a plurality in the state, although because many are too young to vote or are undocumented, they make up just a third of eligible voters. 

Of course, in a nine-candidate primary contest that also includes a Gonzales and a Gomez, the Hispanic-name effect may be muted. But in a close race, it might be enough to help Gutierrez force a runoff with Allred. 

Cruzin’ for a Bruisin’

Representative Colin Allred, of Dallas, logged fewer campaign stops in Texas than his chief competitor, state senator Roland Gutierrez, of San Antonio. Allred’s team has long said that it’s focused on the general election, against Senator Ted Cruz, but to get there, Allred has to beat back eight other Democratic candidates also vying for their party’s nomination. 

He’s the runaway favorite, but that’s a tough ask. Runoff elections are quite frequent in Texas, and an unusually large slate of candidates makes it increasingly likely that there might be a second round after Tuesday. Allred’s biggest assets are his significant fund-raising advantage and his ties to D.C.-based PACs and organizations that seem keen on throwing money his way. According to OpenSecrets, Allred had raised a whopping $21 million, compared with Gutierrez’s $1.3 million, as of February 14. But will that be enough to take him over the top in an otherwise low-energy primary race in which Democratic turnout—at least based on early voting projections—already looks abysmal

Only one poll shows the congressman netting enough support among potential Democratic primary voters (52 percent) to beat the 50 percent–plus–one vote threshold needed to avoid a runoff. But even then, the results are within the margin of error. With nine total Democrats running, anything can happen.

The Presidential Races

The Other Guys (and Gals)

Joe Biden, Donald Trump, and Nikki Haley aren’t the only politicians running in the Democratic and Republican presidential primaries today. The usual menagerie of crackpots, lunatics, and self-promoters—some familiar, most unknown—have wormed their way onto the ballot, along with a handful of ghost candidates who have already dropped out of the race but whose names linger on like a foul odor. Here’s our guide to the other guys. (Note: Texas Republicans—but not Democrats—also have the option of choosing “uncommitted” for president.)

Democratic Party

Gabriel Cornejo

  • Home state: Nevada
  • Profession: Entrepreneur
  • Campaign promise: Provide $1,000 a month to every U.S. citizen over the age of eighteen
  • Status: Running

Star Locke

Frankie Lozada

  • Home state: New York
  • Profession: Entrepreneur
  • Campaign promise: Allow Americans to obtain a federal credit score that will replace their previous credit history 
  • Status: Running

Armando Perez-Serrato

  • Home state: California
  • Profession: Business owner
  • Campaign promise: Declare the entire California coast a national monument
  • Status: Running

Dean Phillips

  • Home state: Minnesota
  • Profession: U.S. congressman
  • Campaign promise: Create a Medicare for All health-care system
  • Status: Running

Cenk Uygur

  • Home state: Istanbul, Turkey (naturalized U.S. citizen)
  • Profession: Podcast host
  • Campaign promise: End the Israel-Hamas war
  • Status: Running

Marianne Williamson

  • Home state: Texas
  • Profession: Self-help author and public speaker
  • Campaign promise: Outlaw “soring,” the deliberate injuring of horses’ feet to exaggerate their gait at horse shows
  • Status: Suspended her campaign on February 7, then “unsuspended” it on February 28 after finishing third in the Michigan primary 

Republican Party

Ryan Binkley

  • Home state: Texas
  • Profession: Business owner; founder of Create Church 
  • Campaign promise: To be Donald Trump, but fiscally responsible 
  • Status: Dropped out of race on February 27

Chris Christie

  • Home state: New Jersey
  • Profession: Failed presidential candidate; former governor of New Jersey
  • Campaign promise: To not be Donald Trump
  • Status: Dropped out of race on January 10

Ron DeSantis

  • Home state: Florida
  • Profession: Governor of Florida
  • Campaign promise: To be Donald Trump, but electable 
  • Status: Dropped out of race on January 21

Asa Hutchinson

  • Home state: Arkansas
  • Profession: Attorney; former governor of Arkansas
  • Campaign promise: To not be Donald Trump
  • Status: Dropped out of race on January 16

Vivek Ramaswamy

  • Home state: Ohio
  • Profession: Entrepreneur
  • Campaign promise: To be Donald Trump, but younger
  • Status: Dropped out of race on January 15

David Stuckenberg

  • Home state: Florida
  • Profession: Businessman; Air Force Reserve officer
  • Campaign promise: To be Donald Trump, but better-looking
  • Status: Running

Nikki Haley Asks What Democrats Can Do for Her 

Republican presidential candidate former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley, center stage with microphone, speaks at a campaign event in Forth Worth, Texas, Monday, March 4, 2024.
Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley speaks at a campaign event in Forth Worth on March 4, 2024. Tony Gutierrez/AP

Former South Carolina governor and long shot Republican presidential nominee Nikki Haley held a campaign rally in Dallas in February, pitching herself as the best candidate for voters who want to see something new. For at least a year or so now, voters across the political spectrum have said this is a priority, telling pollster after pollster that they don’t want another election cycle where Joe Biden and Donald Trump are again their party’s respective nominees. Indeed, Haley is Texas voters’ lifeline if they really want to go in another direction—but so far, voters here seem content to stick with tradition

Haley’s investment in Texas is a sort of unconventional zag-while-they-zig electoral strategy. Finally having reached the conclusion that she’s almost toast in the GOP presidential primary, she’s attempting to make inroads in some of the delegate-rich Super Tuesday states with open primaries, such as Texas, which allow voters to choose between a Democratic or Republican ballot—even if it doesn’t align with their ideological preferences. But to surpass expectations here—at least one recent poll gave Trump a sixty–percentage point edge—she’ll have to win over masses of disillusioned Republicans, pragmatic Democrats, or something in between. This is known as crossover voting and, though rare, allows Democrats and other non-Republicans to cast ballots in GOP races, presumably to prevent more right-wing candidates from winning. 

Can it work? Not on this scale. Historically, not enough Democratic voters have “crossed over” to the GOP ballot to make a difference: in the 2022 midterm elections, only about 5 percent of all votes in the GOP primary were cast by Texans who had voted in at least one Democratic primary since 2014. And it’s unlikely Haley will have historic success. For one, her appeals for help from outside the party aren’t working, even in her home state of South Carolina, which is another open primary state

When Trump Endorsements Are Fake News

State representative Jeff Leach, a Republican, recently took to X to levy a complaint about his opponent. Daren Meis, a former Allen city councilman who is backed by Attorney General Ken Paxton, had apparently claimed the support of another politician revered by the far right: Donald Trump. But Trump hadn’t said anything about this race—mostly staying out of the Texas primary altogether until a week before Super Tuesday. Trump eventually endorsed candidates in 18 legislative races, including the House Speaker’s race, but he has not endorsed either Leach or Meis. 

“His fake conservative groups are falsely claiming he has the endorsement of President Trump,” Leach wrote. “I call on my opponent to publicly disavow these groups and their deceitful claims.” By nefarious “groups,” Leach was referring to the enigmatic Trump Conservative Club of Texas, which has distributed flyers for various legislative candidates. The flyers that Leach made a fuss about don’t explicitly say that Meis—or any other Republican listed, for that matter—was endorsed by Trump. But they are wildly deceiving. The former president’s headshot sits directly next to a heading bearing the group’s name. Below, there is a list of candidates endorsed by the mystifying Trump Club Board of Directors, whose names are never disclosed. Prior to Leach’s post, Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, Trump’s front man in Texas, warned voters that these flyers were not coming from the former president. One report even said that Patrick reached out to Trump personally to let him know that his likeness was being invoked without his consent. 

Seeking Trump’s seal of approval is still a central Republican candidate strategy, especially in primary elections. This makes sense: according to a February report by the University of Houston Hobby School of Public Affairs, 70 percent of likely Republican primary voters said they were more inclined to back a state House candidate if he or she was endorsed by Trump, against 12 percent who were less inclined. Sure, having the support of statewide electeds like Governor Greg Abbott (64 percent), Senator Ted Cruz (61 percent), and even Paxton (40 percent) held some weight with voters, too, but having the backing of a twice-impeached, once-defeated, multiply indicted politician matters most to the GOP’s base. It’s enough of a coup to pretend you have it, apparently. 

The Elephant in the Room: The Presidential Primary

This year’s presidential primary in Texas has only a fraction of the excitement it had in 2020, when Democrats consolidated support around Biden ahead of Super Tuesday to box out Bernie Sanders, or in 2016, when Senator Ted Cruz notched a satisfying victory over Donald Trump here. But it still has the potential to matter, particularly for down-ballot races on the Republican side.

On the Democratic side, there’s no “uncommitted” option on the ballot, which has been used recently by Democrats in other states to signal dissatisfaction with Biden (there is, however, an “uncommitted” option for Republican voters). The president should cruise to victory easily over the candidate I’m told is named Dean Phillips and hometown hero Marianne Williamson, who was born in Houston. Biden’s sure victory in the primary may be one feature driving low voter turnout in the Democratic primary across the state. (Turnout is dismal on the Democratic side in every part of the state except South Texas, which will probably give Roland Gutierrez a boost over Colin Allred in the battle to take on Cruz.)

But on the Republican side, the willingness of anti-Trump voters to turn out for Nikki Haley could make the difference in some close races around the state. More moderate Republicans are grateful Haley is still in the running. (Former Speaker Joe Straus, for one, has campaigned with Haley.) 

Trump hangs over this year’s GOP primary like a bad odor, of course: He’s endorsed his own candidates in Texas, among them David Covey, Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan’s primary opponent. But the way that has played out has been counterintuitive. “Right-wing” candidates have sometimes been accused by their “moderate” counterparts of lacking sufficient loyalty to Trump—the wingers having once been fans of Cruz or folks like Florida governor Ron DeSantis.

If You Want Your Vote to Count, Forget About November

I’m tempted to copy and paste what I wrote in 2022 about the effects of extreme gerrymandering on Texas elections, because the situation is more or less the same. The primaries—especially on the Republican side—and will decide who runs Texas, not the general election. There are two overriding reasons for that: One, the continued dominance of the GOP statewide. Two, the maps that the Republican-led Legislature drew following the 2020 census almost completely obliterated competitive elections for Texas’s 38 congressional seats, 31 state Senate seats, and 150 state House seats. Now more than ever, the small and unrepresentative group of voters who participate in partisan primaries—about 3 percent of Texans on the GOP side—decide Texas’s representation in Austin and Washington, D.C. 

In the 2020 general election, sixteen Texas House seats were won by fewer than five percentage points. After redistricting, in 2022, only three races were decided by five or fewer percentage points. Three seats out of 150! More than a third of the House races that year—58—were uncontested in November, i.e., no member of the opposite party bothered to run. Two years ago, only a single Texas Senate race (out of 21 seats up that year) was competitive—the Brownsville-based Rio Grande Valley district, in which Democrat Morgan LaMantia beat Republican Adam Hinojosa by fewer than seven hundred votes. Out of 38 congressional districts up for grabs two years ago, only two races were decided by fewer than ten percentage points, both in South Texas. And neither of those was particularly close—in CD-15, Republican Monica De La Cruz beat Democrat Michelle Vallejo by nine, and in CD-34 Democrat Vicente Gonzalez beat incumbent Republican Mayra Flores by an identical margin. 

A lot can happen between now and November, but by all present indications, the general election this fall will be almost entirely a foregone conclusion. Most of the competitive districts—few as they are—will be the same as in 2022. Sixty-one Texas House races will be uncontested, three more than in 2022. Depending on the primaries for Congress and the Texas Senate, the candidates in competitive races may even be identical! LaMantia versus Hinojosa. De La Cruz versus Vallejo. Gonzalez versus Flores. Time is a flat circle. At the same time, the GOP primary is unusually lively and chaotic, with dozens of Texas House seats up for grabs.

The upshot is this: If you want your vote to matter, vote in the primary! Hardly anyone does. 

The Would-be Emperor’s New Groove

Tim Dunn is not sitting this one out.

Midland’s oil billionaire–lay minister–Christian nationalist–zoo impresario has injected more money into Texas elections in the past couple years than anyone else. He’s not slowing down in the March 5 primary.

So far this year, Dunn has put $2.66 million into Texas campaigns, securing his spot as Texas’s most prolific and generous campaign donor in recent memory. The overwhelming majority of his donations went to Texans United for a Conservative Majority, a brand-new political action committee that also received $1.29 million from fellow conservative oilman Farris Wilks. He used to funnel most of his campaign contributions to the Defend Texas Liberty PAC, but that became radioactive after its president met with infamous white supremacist Nick Fuentes last year.

So far, the new PAC has given $1.93 million to 21 campaigns—the vast majority to challengers running to unseat incumbent Republicans in the state legislature in order to shift the balance of power in the Texas House to the right and toward officials beholden to Dunn. This is pretty standard for him.

In this election cycle, the largest recipient of Texans United money ($414,444) is David Covey, an oil and gas consultant. He is running against Speaker of the House Dade Phelan, who incurred the wrath of right-wingers when the lower chamber impeached Attorney General Ken Paxton last year.

Texans United is trying to send some pretty conservative members of the Texas Legislature into retirement. It is backing challengers to Kronda Thimesch, Jeff Leach, Reggie Smith, and Ellen Troxclair, all of whom were ranked as among the most conservative among the Republican caucus, according to Rice University Political Science professor Mark P. Jones—but all of whom voted to impeach Paxton.

The PAC’s money is going a long way to single-handedly finance these challengers. Take, for example, Andy Hopper. He’s raised $306,751 so far this year in his bid to oust Lynn Stucky from a seat that includes Denton and Decatur. Most of that money—$230,000—came from Texans United. And that doesn’t include $50,000 in television advertisements the PAC purchased to support his candidacy.

Then there’s Kyle Biedermann, a former state representative from the Hill Country who is running against Troxclair. Biedermann is perhaps best-known for once dressing as “gay Hitler,” and his chief legislative “achievement” was filing a bill to put Texas secession on the ballot mere weeks before he rallied at the Capitol (but not inside) on January 6, 2021. He has raised $228,868 for his campaign, not including $30,000 he loaned himself. Most of his cash has come from two checks totaling $150,000 from the Texans United for a Conservative Majority PAC.  

All Politics Is Loco

Do local politics matter any more? Or have elections as far down the ballot as a state House race been thoroughly nationalized? Time was, getting elected to the statehouse required little more than a good family name, roots in the community, a firm handshake, and a willingness to keep the bidness community happy while attending to the particular needs of your constituents, be it subject-matter expertise in chronic wasting disease in deer or deftness in grabbing cash for the local ISD or community college. Those things still matter, of course. But polarization, the incessant culture wars, the MAGA-fication of the GOP, and the sense that everything is at stake in every election has created new incentives and expectations for down-ballot candidates. 

Consider Mitch Little. He’s a Harvard-educated lawyer from Lewisville, an affluent suburb of Dallas, who made a name for himself while serving on Ken Paxton’s impeachment defense team. (“The dapper, scenery-chomping Mitch Little was the far right’s breakout star,” is how my colleague Mimi Swartz, aptly described it.) Little was so incensed by the GOP-controlled House’s effort to hold Paxton accountable that he decided to run against state representative Kronda Thimesch, who voted to impeach Paxton. Little has already told voters that he doesn’t expect to pass much legislation in the House, should he be elected, since his priority is stripping Democrats of their committee assignments and bringing down Speaker Dade Phelan. This is a campaign built on Trump-style revenge. And Trump allies have noticed. On Sunday, Steve Bannon—the dark poet of MAGA world and would-be builder of a global movement of far-right nationalists—headlined a get-out-the-vote rally for Little in Denton. 

Meanwhile, Trump has endorsed seventeen Texas House candidates. A presidential candidate endorsing legislators? Highly unusual, but a sign that the MAGA movement understands the power inherent in statehouses, even if many voters do not. 

The Texas Troubles

Elections, the saying goes, have consequences. In Texas, they also have a second function: largely inconsequential grudge settling. One issue of substance, school vouchers, will be in contention on Tuesday (much more on this throughout the day). Beyond that, however, the GOP primary is less about policy than about exacting revenge. 

The revenge tours run along two axes. First, there’s Ken Paxton, whose impeachment cleaved the Texas GOP into two factions—broadly speaking, the far right and the moderate far right (the latter is moderate in everything, including moderation). But the cleaving wasn’t exactly clean. Like most civil wars, the GOP skirmish has created refugees: in this case, terminological ones. Some of the furthest-right members of the Texas House—election skeptics, the authors of bills restricting abortion, pistol-toting book banners—voted to impeach Paxton: their Republican challengers now smear them as Republicans in name only (RINOs). Take Briscoe Cain, of Deer Park, for example. This proud member of the Thought Leader side of the caucus flew up to Pennsylvania to challenge the 2020 presidential election results on behalf of Donald Trump. He now faces a January 6–er, Bianca Gracia, from the Ground Game side. 

Meanwhile, a handful of the most moderate Republican members of the House voted against impeaching Paxton, and the attorney general has, in turn, blessed them. Consider Travis Clardy, of Nacogdoches, who was once put on a GOP hit list by Paxton ally Michael Quinn Sullivan. Now he has earned the attorney general’s praise as a “lifelong conservative.” Paxton, here and elsewhere, exhibits the sort of naked self-interest and absence of principle that would make even Adam Smith blanch. The attorney general’s backers have a quite visible hand in the election, spending more than a million in the final month of the campaign on challengers for anti-Paxton incumbents.  

Concurrently, Abbott is crusading against the sixteen incumbent Republicans who opposed school vouchers while backing dozens of pro-voucher incumbents. His battle maps only partially onto Paxton’s—the governor and the attorney general have endorsed against each other in 25 races, including Clardy’s. Living well may be the best revenge, but short of that, spending well suffices: in the last month of the election, Abbott distributed $6 million to pro-voucher primary candidates. 

Those on the opposite sides of Paxton’s and Abbott’s offensives are also spending. Texans for Lawsuit Reform, a tort-reform advocacy organization that opposes Paxton, dropped $8.2 million on the primary through late February. H-E-B chairman Charles Butt, through his foundation, has given $1.3 million to the anti-voucher incumbents Abbott is targeting. 

For all the money, the internecine GOP skirmish has been a cold war so far. Today it goes hot. No matter who wins, some megadonors are guaranteed to see their money go up in flames. 

The Most Consequential Election Voters Don’t Care Much About

In case you’re new here—and this being Texas, statistically, quite a few of you are—let’s kick off election day with a simple fact about life in this godforsaken state. In Texas, today’s primary elections are much more important than the general election in November. That’s been true every election year this century, and it will probably be true this year, barring some unforeseen and spectacular catastrophe that changes the laws of physics in the universe. The overwhelming majority of races up and down the ballot are not competitive in the general, owing to gerrymandering and a weak state Democratic party that, for thirty years, hasn’t been able to win a statewide race. Nearly every candidate who will hold office in 2025 will face their toughest election bid today, or in a May runoff if they fail to win 50 percent of the vote in the primary That means a vanishingly small number of Texans will select who runs the state. (Please vote.)

There are a scattering of interesting and potentially consequential races around Texas in both parties, and we’ll be talking about many of them on this blog during the course of the day. But particular attention must be paid to the Republican primary elections for the Texas House. Governor Greg Abbott is not on the ballot today. Nor is Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, who runs the Senate. But all 150 members of the Texas House are, including the Speaker, Dade Phelan. Because the House sometimes—haltingly—acts as a check on the power of Abbott and Patrick, what’s up for grabs today is the balance of power in Texas, and with it the kind of state we’ll be in the future.

That’s been the story for some fifteen years. But in many of those elections, the battle for the Texas House was a High Noon–style shootout, one side against the other in the town square, where more traditional Republicans (and their wealthy donors) stared down more right-wing Republicans (and their wealthy donors). This year, it’s been an omnidirectional melee, the kind of kung fu–driven gunfight you might see in a John Wick movie. Every Republican politician worth his or her salt in the state has endorsed their own slate of House candidates, for their own reasons, and an unholy amount of money has been dispensed to politicians who carry the debt with them to office.

In the House, the results could ease passage of a voucher program next session—that allows parents to use taxpayer dollars to subsidize private school tuition—further weakening the state’s less-than-healthy public school systems. In the judiciary, right-wingers hope to plant three fellow travelers on the Court of Criminal Appeals. Oh, yeah—there’s a presidential election happening, too.


Welcome to the Texas Monthly primary live blog! Election Day is finally upon us, after a seemingly interminable campaign season. Electioneering started more than nine months ago, after the Texas House impeached Ken Paxton and rejected Greg Abbott’s school voucher program for the first time. Those two seismic events widened deep rifts in the GOP and inspired a spate of primary challengers. In the interim, our politics has gone full Mad Libs. High-profile GOP operatives met with a neo-Nazi, a lawmaker (allegedly) proposed a duel with agriculture commissioner Sid Miller, and a candidate sent out a mailer to voters in his district accusing himself of kicking puppies. Democracy might die in darkness, but the daylight isn’t proving that nurturing either. 

If you haven’t cast a ballot yet, put away your phone and go do that. If you have already voted, keep refreshing this page. Through 7 p.m. CST, when the polls in most of the state close, we’ll be giving y’all the crucial context on the key races and issues on the ballot today. Then, as the results start coming in at 7, we’ll provide live analysis, writing deep into the night. 

Some of the key questions we’ll be mulling: Does local politics still exist, or has every race become thoroughly nationalized? Can Abbott make good on his threats to win at the ballot box after flailing at the Texas Legislature? Do voters care about the Paxton impeachment nearly as much as GOP megadonors do? Does the Texas Democratic Party have a pulse? 

This and more, from the Texas Monthly team. Thanks for following along!