March 1 (Reuters) – Polls across most of Texas have closed in the first statewide nominating contests of the 2022 U.S. midterm elections, with Republican Governor Greg Abbott aiming to hold off challengers on his right flank as he seeks a third term in office.
The winner of the Republican gubernatorial nomination will likely face off in November against Democratic former Congressman Beto O’Rourke, who faced only token opposition in the Democratic primary.
Abbott, who secured former President Donald Trump’s endorsement last summer, is expected to prevail against his most notable opponents, former Texas Republican Party Chairman Allen West and former state Senator Don Huffines.
Texas primary voters were also selecting their parties’ nominees on Tuesday for the U.S. House of Representatives and other statewide offices.
The results could offer clues about the mood of American voters ahead of the Nov. 8 elections that will determine control Congress for the rest of President Joe Biden’s four-year term.
The election is also the first test of new Republican-backed 7voting restrictions passed in response to former President Donald Trump’s false claims of election fraud.
As of Tuesday evening, there were no reports of long delays or major problems at polling places, following weeks in which several counties recorded an unprecedented number of rejected mail-in ballots due to new identification requirements. Read full story
Midterm elections typically serve as a referendum on the sitting president, and Republicans are favored to win a majority in at least one of the two chambers of Congress that Democrats control by razor-thin margins. That would allow Republicans to block Biden’s legislative agenda and launch investigations that could damage his administration.
Biden, whose public approval remains at a low 43%, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll completed on Tuesday, was set to deliver his annual State of the Union address in the evening. Read full story
The Republican race for attorney general may provide an early measure of Trump’s enduring popularity among the party’s faithful. Ken Paxton, the incumbent, is running for a third term with Trump’s backing, despite his pending 2015 indictment for securities fraud and a separate federal investigation into allegations of bribery. Paxton has denied any wrongdoing.
His Republican opponents include firebrand U.S. Representative Louie Gohmert, Land Commissioner George P. Bush, grandson of former President George H.W. Bush, and former state Supreme Court Justice Eva Guzman.
Under Texas law, if no candidate exceeds 50% of the vote, the two top vote-getters advance to a runoff election on May 24.
ABBOTT PUSHES CONSERVATIVE AGENDA
Abbott has pursued increasingly conservative policies during his second term, including opposing COVID-19 vaccine and mask mandates. He signed the most restrictive abortion ban of any U.S. state and supported a Mexico border wall. Read full storyRead full story
Last week, he instructed state agencies to consider medical treatment for transgender adolescents as child abuse, days after Paxton issued a legal opinion to that effect. While the full effect of the order remains unclear, transgender advocates decried the move as discriminatory and dangerous.
“Abbott has not left much room to the right of him for these competitors to gain any traction,” said James Henson, director of the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas.
O’Rourke, a former congressman, is the state’s most prominent Democrat after losing a surprisingly close race for U.S. Senate in 2018 and then mounting a brief campaign for president.
O’Rourke, who raised record sums during his Senate campaign, had close to $7 million in the bank as of late February after entering the race in November. But Abbott, a formidable fundraiser in his own right, had nearly $50 million on hand even after spending millions on advertising during the primary.
The Democrat has attacked Abbott’s handling of the state’s power grid, which failed during winter storms that killed hundreds in February 2021.
Abbott’s campaign has sought to tie O’Rourke to national Democrats, including Biden, pointing to statements from his brief presidential campaign to portray him as too liberal for Texas.
Among congressional races, Republican-backed redistricting has eliminated virtually every competitive district. Still, some primaries will provide early looks at how each party is navigating internal tensions.
In the 28th District in south Texas, incumbent Representative Henry Cuellar, one of the most conservative House Democrats, will face progressive Jessica Cisneros for the second time.
Either could prove vulnerable in November. Federal investigators searched Cuellar’s home recently, though he has denied wrongdoing. Cisneros, closely aligned with liberals such as Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, may be susceptible to Republican attacks that she is extreme.
Republicans have their own proxy battle in the 8th District, where House leadership has backed former Navy SEAL Morgan Luttrell. Trump acolytes in the House favor Christian Collins, a former campaign aide to Senator Ted Cruz.
The 15th District, perhaps the most competitive this fall, has a crowded field for both parties after incumbent Democrat Vicente Gonzalez opted to run in a neighboring district. Republicans are hopeful they can flip the seat in November after Trump showed unexpected strength among Hispanic voters in 2020.
(Reporting by Joseph Ax and Moira Warburton; Editing by Scott Malone and Alistair Bell)