1. A Republican congressman who certified the 2020 election is in a runoff
This felt like one of the most telling moments of the primary. Rep. Van Taylor (R) represents the Dallas suburbs, and unlike most of his Texas Republican colleagues, he voted to certify the 2020 election results rather than challenge them. He also voted, alongside some other Republicans, to create a bipartisan commission outside of Congress to investigate the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol. (That effort failed, and Democrats in Congress are leading the investigative effort, which Taylor opposed.)
Former president Donald Trump wouldn’t endorse Taylor, and he got four primary challengers, each declaring him a traitor to the party. And now he’s the only Republican incumbent member of Congress in Texas who won less than 50 percent of the vote on primary night, meaning he has to go through a runoff in May.
That’s despite, as the Dallas Morning News reports, Taylor championed how conservative he is. He campaigned as “one of just six House members with a 100% score from Heritage Action and “A” grades from the NRA and National Right to Life.” He aired an ad of himself alongside Trump at a border wall.
Taylor is still well-positioned to keep his seat. He won 48.7 percent of the vote; he’ll be facing former local judge Keith Self, who won 26.5 percent of the vote.
But his runoff underscores that devoted Republican voters who feel that someone has crossed Trump do not forget easily.
2. One scandal-plagued Trumpian candidate is in a runoff
That’s Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton (R). But the rest of Trump’s statewide loyalists — Gov. Greg Abbott (R), Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R), Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller (R) — did just fine.
Paxton got 43 percent of the vote, which means he will be in a runoff with the No. 2 in the primary, George P. Bush. (Yes, of that Bush family. His dad was governor of Florida; his uncle and grandfather were both presidents.)
Bush has been the state land commissioner, an elective office in Texas, and he decided to challenge Paxton, who has spent the past few years mired in serious scandal.
Paxton is facing a federal investigation, and he has been indicted by a state grand jury on felony charges of securities fraud. His top aides have accused him of abuse of office and bribery; he fired whistleblowers in his office; the top U.S. Senate Republican in Texas, John Cornyn, said he is “troubled” by the allegations.
But Paxton made national news when he led an outlandish, long-shot lawsuit to overturn Trump’s 2020 election loss in four states. The U.S. Supreme Court quickly rejected it, but more than half of House Republicans supported it.
Bush, aware of the Trump-ification of his party, has been trying to step away from his family name — “Texans know me as my own man,” he told The Washington Post’s Dan Balz. But the runoff inevitably will be framed as a Trump-endorsed loyalist and a Republican establishment figure.
3. Liberals had some modest victories over establishment Democrats
The closest race of the night was between Democrats: Rep. Henry Cuellar (D), who has long represented a congressional district that stretches from the San Antonio area to the Mexican border, was ripe for a serious primary challenge. He is one of the most conservative House Democrats — he supports gun rights and recently voted against codifying the right to an abortion — and his home and campaign office were recently searched by the FBI. (Cuellar has denied wrongdoing.)
Immigration attorney Jessica Cisneros challenged him from the left, and she had the support of liberal heavyweights including Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), who all traveled to Texas to campaign with Cisneros.
Cuellar and Cisneros battled in 2020, as well, and she nearly beat him. On Tuesday, Cisneros succeeded in taking the race to a runoff.
Democrats also were divided on the best approach to take in a potentially competitive congressional district in South Texas. On the Democratic side, the race will go to a runoff between more-moderate Army veteran Ruben Ramirez and liberal activist Michelle Vallejo.
4. More Republicans than Democrats turned out to vote
What does that mean for the biggest race in Texas this fall, the governor’s race? The biggest name on the Democratic side was Beto O’Rourke. The former presidential candidate, Senate nominee and congressman was persuaded by national Democrats to run for governor. He easily won his primary.
But 1 million Democrats came out to vote for O’Rourke, while 1.9 million Republicans came out to vote for Republican incumbent Greg Abbott.
Democrats contend that new, more-restrictive voting rules made it harder to vote. The new law makes it harder for older people to vote by mail (which could hurt Republicans in Texas) and took away some voting methods popular with people of color (which could hurt Democrats and Republicans alike).
And they say they’ll be ready in November to show that Texas continues to march toward blue, if slowly. On the state legislative level, Democrats characterized many Republicans who won their primaries as extremist: One, state Sen. Angela Paxton (whose husband is the attorney general), attended a Stop the Steal rally on Jan. 6 in Washington.
But Republicans, buoyed by a national environment favoring them, are feeling pretty good about the first state primaries of the season. They keep outvoting Democrats and using the tools they have, such as redistricting, to draw them out of power. “The EPA should be down here protecting Democrats as an endangered species,” Republican consultant David M. Carney told The Post’s David Weigel.