Texas Republican Gov. Greg Abbott easily bested a group of conservative challengers to lock up his party’s nomination Tuesday and will face Democrat Beto O’Rourke in the November general election.
O’Rourke, who nearly ousted Texas Sen. Ted Cruz in 2018, will get the chance to try for an even bigger upset in November. He’ll be an underdog against Abbott, who began the campaign with more than $50 million and hardline positions on abortion guns and immigration.
Some of those casting ballots, however, said they were worried that new restrictions on abortion, the toughest in America, go too far.
“That’s where I think Greg Abbott and the current Republicans kind of crossed the line,” said Eric Medrano, 25, a longshoreman in Houston who voted for one of Abbott’s far-right challengers, Don Huffines. He added, “I don’t believe (abortion) should be banned at such an early, early stage.”
In the GOP attorney general primary, incumbent Ken Paxton is facing several challengers, including Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush, the nephew of one president and grandson of another, and U.S. Rep. Louie Gohmert. Paxton led a failed lawsuit to overturn the 2020 election and has for years faced securities fraud charges and an FBI investigation into corruption allegations. He has broadly denied wrongdoing.
Democrats face challenges of their own. Nine-term U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar is hoping to avoid becoming the first Democratic member of Congress to lose a primary this year. He’s facing progressive Jessica Cisneros and is contending with the fallout of a recent FBI raid on his home, though he’s denied wrongdoing.
Still, in America’s largest Republican state, much of the focus is on the GOP’s rightward lurch.
Texas’ rapid growth — driven by more than 4 million new residents — has shifted once solidly red suburbs away from Republicans. But the GOP has countered that with redrawn maps that left fewer competitive congressional districts along with dramatic new voting restrictions.
Thousands of mail-in ballot applications — and actual ballots — were rejected under the new requirements. Most of those were because voters did not include newly mandated identification, worrying local elections officials that many won’t correct problems to have their vote count.
Absent poll workers and technical hiccups also caused isolated delays in two major cities on Tuesday.
In Houston, morning voters were left standing in line or looking for polling places after a Harris County website that directs people to nearby voting sites went down temporarily.
Also, a handful of Democratic poll workers in Fort Worth did not show up as scheduled, delaying the opening of some party polling places in Tarrant County. New state law requires each party to have a separate setup at voting sites.
The primary is also a first test of the Republicans’ more aggressive courting of Hispanic voters — and even before polls closed, they were celebrating.
Counties along the state’s border with Mexico, long a stronghold for Democrats, were on track to smash Republican turnout levels compared with recent elections. It is the latest warning sign for Democrats who are trying to hold the line with Hispanic voters who swung toward former President Donald Trump in 2020.
After Texas, primaries in other states won’t resume until May. That means results here could be viewed for months as a measure of the nation’s political mood.
Republicans are betting that Texas’ primaries will be the first step toward them retaking Congress in November, pointing to President Joe Biden’s low approval ratings, spiking inflation and anger about the chaotic withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan.
History is also on the GOP’s side. The party controlling the White House has lost congressional seats in the first midterm race every election cycle this century except in 2002, after the September 11 terrorist attacks.