That’s all folks!

12:15 A.M., Ben Rowen

With most of the big races called, we’re going to turn in tonight. Thanks for joining us as we covered the state’s big races.

Here are the key results from the evening:

  • MJ Hegar has won the night’s marquee matchup, defeating Royce West in the Democratic runoff to choose a challenger to John Cornyn.
  • Former White House doctor and Rear Admiral Ronny Jackson will almost certainly be heading back to Washington. He’s defeated Josh Winegarner in the GOP runoff in the Thirteenth Congressional District, one of the most conservative districts in the country.
  • Pete Sessions, who moved to Waco to run in the Seventeenth Congressional District after losing a Dallas-area seat in 2018, has defeated businesswoman Renee Swann.
  • Candace Valenzuela will be the Democratic nominee in the Twenty-fourth Congressional District as the party tries to flip the Dallas-Fort Worth suburbs blue.
  • Troy Nehls has crushed Kathaleen Wall in the GOP primary for U.S. House in Fort Bend County.
  • José Garza has defeated incumbent Margaret Moore in the Democratic runoff for Travis County District Attorney.
  • State senator Eddie Lucio Jr.—Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick’s favorite Democrat in the Lege—has won his runoff in Texas Senate District Twenty-seven against attorney Sara Stapleton-Barrera.
  • Two Republicans in the state House, Dan Flynn and J.D. Sheffield, have lost their runoffs to conservative challengers.
  • In a much-watched race pitting Glenn Rogers, a candidate backed by Greg Abbott and Rick Perry, against Jon Francis, backed by Ted Cruz and megadonors Dan and Ferris Wilks, Rogers appears to have won.

 

Abbott goes four for six in endorsements

11:52 P.M., Forrest Wilder

Note: This entry has been updated to reflect that Governor Abbott made two endorsements before the GOP primary in March.

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Other than that whole COVID-19 mess, Governor Greg Abbott is having a pretty good night. In the 2018 GOP primaries, Abbott endorsed three candidates, only one of whom won. Now, in these GOP runoffs, the governor is four for six, albeit with a somewhat eclectic roster.

His two losses came in state House candidates that he had endorsed before the primary. Veteran East Texas lawmaker Dan Flynn succumbed to Bryan Slaton and J.D. Sheffield, a medical doctor and relative moderate, lost to Shelby Slawson, who challenged Sheffield from the right, as Chris writes below.

Abbott’s triumphant endorsees include a county commissioner candidate (Jack Wilson in Hood County), a State Board of Education contender (Lani Popp), and three candidates for the statehouse — Glenn Rogers, Justin Berry, and Jacey Jetton. The county commissioner’s race was pretty low stakes, unless, of course, you live in Precinct 3 of Hood County. The SBOE endorsement was a no-brainer; Popp’s opponent, Robert Morrow, favors a jester hat and calls Donald Trump a “child rapist.” But Abbott did have some political exposure by siding with Glenn Rogers. His opponent, Jon Francis, campaigned with Ted Cruz over the weekend and has enjoyed the support of Farris Wilks, the fracking billionaire who also happens to be Francis’s employer and father-in-law. Rogers won by fewer than 700 votes.

On a certain level, this is no game-changer; there are 150 members of the Texas Legislature and Rogers’ presence is unlikely to greatly affect the course of legislative events. (Nor will, say Sheffield or Flynn’s absence, though both were far from backbenchers.) On the other hand, Abbott is arguably at a political nadir at the moment, beset by those on the right who find his mandatory mask order to be governmental overreach, and by much of the rest of the political spectrum frustrated by his tentative approach to the pandemic. Four of six is at least a winning record for the night.

Three senior members of the Lege faced runoffs; two lost to right-wing challengers

11:34 P.M., Christopher Hooks

Three senior members of the state House faced tough runoffs tonight. As of 11 p.m., Veteran African American Houston lawmaker Harold Dutton was fending off a challenge by Houston city councilmember Jerry Davis by some 5 points. The equally veteran rural Republican Dan Flynn, who has been a fixture in the lower chamber since 2003, lost his seat by a 21 point margin to Bryan Slaton, who was endorsed by the far-right Empower Texans faction.

But the most remarkable result tonight in the state House, the one that will have the biggest consequence for the next session, is moderate Republican J.D. Sheffield’s loss to attorney Shelby Slawson in House District 59. Sheffield was a well-respected member of the GOP caucus. A medical doctor like his colleague John Zerwas, who retired abruptly last year, Sheffield’s expertise was valued at the lege. He’s one of a dwindling number of moderate Rs from the era of former House Speaker Joe Straus, and he’s long been a target of the right faction of the party.

Slawson, meanwhile, is a big Trump fan who wants Texas to help the federal government build the border wall. It’s possible to make too much of the loss of individual members of the state House—no one member truly matters that much—but Sheffield’s loss will be felt next session, particularly if Republicans retain control of the lower chamber.

Robert Morrow learns extremism has its limits

11:23 P.M., Forrest Wilder

Former Travis County GOP chair and B-list Austin crank Robert Morrow has suffered a stinging defeat in his bid to serve on the State Board of Education. GOP voters were apparently not in the mood for Morrow’s ideas for Texas schoolchildren, including pole-dancing classes for high-schoolers and teaching that Lyndon Johnson assassinated John Kennedy. Morrow is losing 78-22 to Lani Popp, who has a lovely name and seems wisely to have stayed off Twitter, her challenger’s preferred medium for anime porn. Current Travis County GOP chair Matt Mackowiak must be relieved that he will not have to follow through on his promise to “light [himself] on fire” if Morrow wins.

There’s probably not much to conclude from Morrow’s defeat other than this: Republican base voters can tolerate a lot of extremism in the defense of liberty, but goofballs in jester hats who call Trump a “child rapist” are not particularly welcome.

Similar to Morrow, Bexar County GOP chair Cynthia Brehm, who Greg Abbott and other GOP leaders tried to poleax after she called George Floyd’s murder a hoax, among other transgressions, also lost tonight.

 

In a GOP house divided, the traditional candidate wins

11:16 P.M., Christopher Hooks

There are all kind of factions and flavors in the Republican Party of Texas, but there’s been been less of the center-right versus far-right fighting we’ve seen in the past. The runoff in House District 60 provided a more unusual pairing. On the one hand, you had Glenn Rogers, who could be called a “Hank Hill Republican.” Traditional, reliable, wearing a cowboy hat. Rogers was endorsed by Gov. Greg Abbott and former Gov. Rick Perry, which was a bit unusual, since neither guv endorses just anybody these days.

On the other hand you had Jon Francis, who could be called a “large son Republican.” Well, son-in-law, that is, of Ferris Wilks, of the Wilks brothers, the Republican megadonors who hold their own personal fiefdom in District 60. Francis worked for the Wilks Development corporation, the family’s real estate company. Ted Cruz, whose campaign was bankrolled by the Wilks brothers, came to hold a rally for him, and so did all number of Wilks-aligned Republicans.

It didn’t work. With 100 percent of the vote in, Rogers is leading by three points. Score one for the Hanks.

 

Will state senator Eddie Lucio Jr.’s win push him right?

11:03 P.M., Christopher Hooks

State Senator Eddie Lucio Jr., who has represented his south Texas district since 1991, appears to have won his primary runoff tonight against attorney Sara Stapleton Barrera by some seven points. That’s closer than he might have hoped, but a win is a win. It means that Lucio, who has won the dubious title of Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick’s favorite Democrat, will return to the upper chamber, where he often sides with the majority party on abortion and gay rights, among other social issues.

The runoff—which featured a young, progressive woman against an entrenched incumbent with a complicated legacy—had a good deal in common with the primary that pit Jessica Cisneros against Congressman Henry Cuellar for U.S. House in another south Texas district. There, too, Cisneros fell short, but by a thin enough margin to make clear that the future probably belonged to candidates like her instead of candidates like him.

At the end of the Lucio race, Republican groups like Americans For Prosperity and Texans for Lawsuit Reform weighed in heavily for the senator. That’s not uncommon in Democratic primary races, where conservatives often put conservative Democrats over the top. While its too much to say Republican money saved Lucio—the margin wasn’t that close—the support could nonetheless mean that Lucio returns to the Lege irritated at the progressives who challenged him and indebted to Republican groups. In other words, the primary could very well have pushed him right.

 

Democrats make their choice to flip the Dallas-Fort Worth suburbs blue

10:57 P.M., Ben Rowen

After beating his Democratic opponent in the Twenty-fourth Congressional District (Dallas-Fort Worth suburbs) by 17 points in 2016, Republican Kenny Marchant only won by 3 in the 2018 midterms, and then announced he wouldn’t be seeking reelection. In March, Democrats seemed poise to nominate Kim Olson, a retired Air Force colonel who placed a distant first in the primary, to try to flip the district blue. But in recent months, former school board member and progressive challenger, Candace Valenzuela, made a strong push in the polls—and is now set to handily win the runoff.

In November, Valenzuela will face off against Republican Beth Van Duyne, the former mayor of Irving, nationally famous for her stance against Sharia law.

 

Taking stock of MJ Hegar versus John Cornyn

10:01 P.M., Christopher Hooks

It’s likely to be John Cornyn versus M.J. Hegar this fall. Hegar had a bit of a scare when state senator Royce West had the lead early tonight, but that faded as results trickled in from Austin, San Antonio, and south Texas, where Hegar held a commanding lead.

This general election will be a tough race for Hegar. She has only three and a half months to get the word out. Her fundraising has been poor, her poll numbers show her trailing Cornyn by double digits, and it’s been difficult for her to get much attention from the media as the world has continued to fall apart.

If there’s a reason to suspect she might be able to pull off an upset, it’s this: Cornyn has held statewide office since before the Soviet Union dissolved—since January of 1991. He’s been a senator for almost 20 years. And Texans don’t seem to have any feelings about him whatsoever. On election night, a member of Cornyn’s team was dunking on Hegar by citing a poll that had the senior senator winning 42 percent to Hegar’s 29 percent., with 29 percent undecided. But 42 percent, at this stage, for the state’s eldest statesman, is simply not very good. Will Hegar be able to do anything with that? We’ll see.

 

A good night for candidates who relocated to run

9:48 P.M., Christopher Hooks

Pete Sessions, once the Blimp King of North Texas, is probably returning to D.C., after a momentary interruption in his long tenure on the Hill. Sessions was a longtime Dallas-area congressman before Colin Allred, a Democrat, kicked him out in 2018. So Sessions relocated to Waco, where he set about running for the district held by retiring Rep. Pete Flores, who warned his constituents not to trust the man. Flores backed businesswoman Renee Swan: At this moment, Swan is losing by about 8 points with two-thirds of the vote in.

Flores won this seat by 15 points in 2018, so the district is most likely not up for grabs in the fall. Sessions is a political survivor, if nothing else: This will be the third district he’s represented. Conventional wisdom says people don’t like candidates that came in from outside their district to run. That hasn’t been the case in these runoffs. Ronny Jackson in TX-13 and Sessions both parachuted in to their races like the 101st Airborne over Normandy and won over the locals. God bless ’em.

 

Trump’s old doctor is likely heading back to Washington

9:35 P.M., Christopher Hooks

Hold on to your butts, America: Ronny Jackson, Donald Trump’s (and Barack Obama’s) White House doctor, is mostly likely going to serve in Congress. The runoff in the Thirteenth Congressional District, by some measures the most conservative in the country, looks increasingly out of reach for Josh Winegarner, a cattle industry lobbyist who had the blessing of retiring Rep. Mac Thornberry. Jackson’s re-emergence on the national stage is one of the greatest gifts this state has given other Americans since we sent Louie Gohmert east.

Jackson scored a little more than half of Winegarner’s 39 percent in the first round of the primary in March, and his campaign was a bit ramshackle. But he had one powerful asset: President Donald Trump’s blessing. If Winegarner had won, it could have been a sign that deep-red districts like this one retain a model of Republicanism that’s not associated with Trump and Trumpism. Jackson’s victory, meanwhile, is one indicator that the party is still in his thrall.

 

A loss for the coronavirus hoax platform

9:08 P.M., Christopher Hooks

Cynthia Brehm, the head of the Bexar County GOP who, in late May, held a rally in which she called the coronavirus a hoax and urged attendees to take off their masks and hug each other, lost the post tonight to John Austin. Brehm had become a known quantity in Texas politics: She also shared agitprop on Facebook which suggested the police killing of George Floyd had been arranged by George Soros. Austin ran with the backing of Governor Greg Abbott and other Texas Republicans.

 

District Attorney No Moore: José Garza Cruises to Victory in Travis County

8:38 P.M., Forrest Wilder

José Garza has, it’s fair to say, crushed the incumbent Travis County DA Margaret Moore. Not long after early voting returns came in, showing the Workers Defense Project leader up 68-32, Moore conceded.

Few observers in Austin political circles thought Moore would survive this challenge. Even Moore sounded resigned at times. But the defeat was so lopsided that it’s probably fair to read in the tea leaves that Austin voters wanted a decisive break with Moore’s brand of go-it-slow criminal justice reform, real and perceived. For voters beyond Austin, this race was also a test of whether the “progressive prosecutors” movement was sputtering out, particularly after Moore’s peers, such as Harris County DA Kim Ogg, beat back challenges from the left. Though Ogg came under heavy criticism for defending cash bail and not moving fast enough to stop prosecuting marijuana cases, she cruised past two strong challengers in March and avoided a runoff.

Moore was not so lucky. In part, she managed to upset multiple constituencies including, critically, plenty of women who said she was derelict in her duty prosecuting sexual assault cases. Garza was also a well-funded, well-connected opponent with a clear, though not strident message. Moore’s fate was probably sealed when Black Lives Matter focused the local, state, and national conversation on deep-seated problems in policing and criminal justice. Though Moore was capable of defending her record on the merits, her complaints about being misunderstood were drowned out by the louder cries for a new way of doing things.

Now it’s Garza’s turn (assuming he wins in November, which is almost a certainty) to change the system. No pressure. Tonight, his ally, Austin City Councilman Greg Casar, said that he thinks Garza can be “the most progressive DA in the country.”

 

Results are starting to look good for MJ Hegar

8:26 P.M., Christopher Hooks

MJ Hegar started this runoff the favorite over Royce West. But the race seemed to have tightened significantly in recent months as endorsements from notable Texas Democrats (Rep. Joaquin Castro, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner) flooded in and the protests over the police killing of George Floyd gave added urgency to West’s campaign to become the first Black (non-judicial) statewide elected official in Texas. When results started to come in tonight, West jumped out to an early lead. But it likely won’t be enough: Hegar looks to have won this one.

West pulled in strong support in his home county of Dallas, with some 71 percent, and did well in Tarrant, with 59 percent. He won parts of the state with a large African-American population convincingly. But he needed to do well in Harris County to make up the votes he was likely to lose in other parts of the state, and he’s currently winning only 51 percent of the vote there.

Hegar has a comfortable margin in Austin’s Travis County, and is pulling about 65 percent of the vote in Bexar County and El Paso County, both places with a significant military presence. (Hegar is a combat veteran.) She’s also doing well in south and rural Texas. That looks like it will be enough.

 

Kathaleen Wall’s money isn’t going very far

8:02 P.M., Christopher Hooks

A surprising number of races are too close to call right now. One isn’t: Kathaleen Wall is getting blown out of the water by Troy Nehls in Fort Bend County, winning just 28 percent of the vote. Wall put more of her own money into the race—at least 8.3 million dollars—than any candidate in a U.S. House race in Texas History. That money went to buy a torrent of television ads in the district, while Wall herself seemed to recede into the background (her campaign’s Twitter account even went private).

This is Wall’s second attempt to buy a congressional seat in two years after she lost another very expensive bid in a different district to Dan Crenshaw. Whatever you think of Wall’s politics, it’s always nice to be reminded that money doesn’t buy everything.

 

Early returns feature close races

7:49 P.M., Forrest Wilder

One of the hallmarks of contemporary politics is astonishingly close elections. But usually when we think of nail-biters, we think of a bitter Democrat versus Republican death match that hopefully avoids, say, the U.S. Supreme Court deciding the final outcome or four years of woulda, coulda, shoulda over a few tens of thousands of voters in Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. We don’t typically think of partisan primary runoffs.

But tonight, at least so far, there are several close races on both the Democratic and Republican sides. In the marquee races, Air Force combat veteran MJ Hegar has a narrow lead over state senator Royce West. The favorite of national Democrats such as Chuck Schumer, Hegar is up by fewer than 3,000 votes right now. It’s anyone’s race, as they say. (Side-note: West made a point in the final stretch of the race to complain that Hegar was being unfairly anointed by the Democratic establishment—a message that resonates, I suspect, with many on the fence Democratic voters.)

Other close runoffs include the GOP race for the Thirteenth Congressional District, which features Trump family friend and White House doctor Ronny Jackson, who leads Josh Winegarner, 53-47.

Further down-ballot, forever incumbent state senator Eddie Lucio Jr. is leading progressive challenger Sara Stapleton Barrera, 53-47.

We’ve got a ways to go, but, dammit, we might be up late tonight.

 

What we’re watching

6:52 P.M., Ben Rowen

Welcome to Texas Monthly’s primary runoff live blog! Back in March, after the initial round of primaries, we expected to be bringing you this in May—and then the coronavirus hit and Governor Greg Abbott delayed the election. At the time, the decision to postpone voting looked wise, but the elections now fall as cases spike across Texas. After months of dispute over how to conduct voting during the pandemic—and a protracted legal battle over expanding access to voting-by-mail—we’ll finally have results to discuss tonight.

The pandemic doesn’t seem to have suppressed the vote: more than a million Texans cast ballots early—in 2016 fewer than 200,000 did—and the election is set to break turnout records for a primary runoff. Candidates who placed in the top two of their primaries in March, but who failed to secure an outright majority of votes, are competing to win their party’s nomination for the general election in November. There are a number of key races that we’ve been following; to get up to speed as we wait on results, read Christopher Hooks’s statewide runoff preview.