Ken Paxton and George P. Bush will advance to the May runoff in the Texas attorney general primary, CNN projects

Paxton led the four-man candidate by a comfortable margin, despite fiery and well-funded challenges from Bush, former state Supreme Court Justice Eva Guzman and Rep. Louie Gohmert.

“I guess what I’m saying is clearly directed at the establishment: They got what they wanted,” Paxton said in a speech to supporters Tuesday night. “They put me in a second round.”

But as the results came in, Texas shared the spotlight with President Joe Biden’s State of the Union address on Capitol Hill and the rapidly escalating crisis in Ukraine, where forces of Russian invasion move towards the big cities of the country.

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s troops were camped on the Ukrainian border when early voting began in Texas on February 14, and while the dispute appears unlikely to influence Tuesday night’s election, rapid events at home and abroad Abroad highlight the challenges facing candidates in 2022. The mid-terms begin in earnest.

Tuesday’s banner contest revolved around Paxton, the two-term incumbent who filed an unsuccessful legal action to effectively overturn the 2020 election and ran under a cloud of legal trouble, with the possibility of more to the horizon. His GOP challengers, led by Bush and Guzman, have argued that he could jeopardize GOP efforts to sweep state offices again.

Polls before Election Day showed Paxton with a decisive lead, but suggested he would not get the majority he needed to win the nomination.

Bush, the latest in a political dynasty that, even with the Republican Party now in the thrall of former President Donald Trump, maintains considerable stature in Texas political circles and this campaign amounted to a referendum on the future of this dynasty.

Like Bush, Guzman, who spent more than a decade on the state high court, is a relative moderate. The two clashed in a recent debate, in which Guzman questioned Bush’s credentials and Bush denounced Guzman as a “gutter politician.” More troubling for Paxton, however, was the candidacy of Gohmert, whose ideological and geographic base overlaps with Paxton’s.

The Democratic primary for attorney general will also go to a runoff, CNN predicted.

Over the primary, there were concerns — at least among Democrats and suffrage advocates — about the effect of the state’s restrictive new voting rules.

Texas was the first of a number of Republican-led states to hold major elections after passing legislation, following a political wave sparked by Trump’s long campaign to cast doubt on his loss in 2020, complicating mail-in voting and outlawing other efforts to make the ballot more accessible. Some large counties in Texas reported spikes in ballot rejections because potential voters failed to meet new, tougher and, for many, confusing ID requirements.

As polls closed, Harris County officials warned of delays in reporting results, due to “damaged ballots that need to be duplicated,” according to a news release Tuesday evening.

The primaries brought election worker shortages and other problems, but Election Day itself was mostly quiet – with the scramble to fix the unusually high number of faulty mail-in ballots that appeared as the biggest challenge of this first ballot.
The main problem, said Isabel Longoria, who presides over the elections in the populous Harris County, was that voters had not included ID numbers on return ballot envelopes under the flap. The tally of potential ballot rejections from Monday would represent 30% of mail-in ballots submitted in the county. By contrast, less than 1% of mail-in ballots — or about 8,300 ballots statewide — were rejected in the 2020 general election, according to the US Election Assistance Commission.

The decade-long redistricting process also added to the primary nighttime uncertainty — and intrigue.

With a new Congressional map designed to further reduce the number of contested seats on the map, most candidates of both parties can expect their primaries to be more fiercely contested than the contests that await them in November. The dwindling number of swing districts means an even greater emphasis has been placed on campaigns that pit opposing flanks of parties against each other.
For Democrats, those contrasts have been highlighted in the 28th Congressional District, where Rep. Henry Cuellar, one of the most conservative Democrats remaining in the House, is locked in a close race with Jessica Cisneros, immigration 28 years old. lawyer backed by New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, who nearly ousted him from the South Texas seat in 2020.

Cuellar’s district is slightly more Democratic this time around, but the primary appears to be even tighter — and could be heading for a runoff without Cuellar or Cisneros on track to clear 50%. In a cruel twist for the left, progressive candidate Tannya Benavides appears to have siphoned off enough support from Cisneros to keep the competition with Cuellar tight.

Cisneros had received a late boost in the race when it was revealed Cuellar was under FBI investigation. Cuellar has denied any wrongdoing and details of the probe remain largely a mystery.

Henry Cuellar is a South Texas political institution.  FBI raid and second challenge from progressive Jessica Cisneros could topple him

The signal to National Democrats of the South Texas showdown may be clearer, especially if Cuellar is able to overcome his legal troubles and defeat Cisneros again.

Republicans, including Trump, exceeded expectations of Latino voters in the 2020 election and Cuellar argued that his tougher line on immigration issues, in a district that stretches from suburban San Antonio to to the Rio Grande Valley and along the border with Laredo, is the only path for Democrats in the region. Cisneros’ victory — and, if she wins, the composition of her coalition — will provide new insight into what the shifting margins of two years ago portend for the fall elections. But regardless of the outcome, the divisions within the party were clear from the start of the night. The backbone of Cisneros’ support came from suburban San Antonio, while Cuellar dominated in border counties — a split that will give both flanks of the party reason to celebrate and worry.

The 28th District Republican primary was undecided on Tuesday, with Cassy Garcia, a former staffer of Texas GOP Sen. Ted Cruz, advancing to the second round, CNN projects. The second place for this May competition had not yet been called on Wednesday noon.

While Cuellar’s bid to survive has garnered the most attention, Republicans are also closely monitoring GOP turnout in other parts of South Texas after ramping up their recruitment of candidates to run in a region dominated by Democrats for decades.

Monica De La Cruz, who pulled off a surprising finish when she came within 3 points of Democratic Rep. Vicente Gonzalez’s 2020 dispatch, will win the GOP nomination for CNN’s newly redesigned 15th District Projects, bolstered by Trump’s endorsement and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy.

Democrats seek to win back Latino voters after Trump forays into South Texas

The crowded Democratic race to face De La Cruz will be decided in a runoff. Afghan veteran Ruben Ramirez, a lawyer and former high school teacher backed by Gonzalez, has secured his spot, CNN projects, but it’s still unclear if John Villarreal Rigney, a lawyer and South Texas construction company owner, or Joining him will be Michelle Vallejo, a progressive small-business owner endorsed by Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren.

Gonzalez is now running in the neighboring 34th District, which has become more Democratic-friendly after redistricting. He will win his outright primary to advance to the general election where he will face Mayra Flores, who will be the best of three other GOP primary candidates, CNN projects.

Despite the uncertainty surrounding the Cuellar-Cisneros race, another progressive backed by Sanders and Ocasio-Cortez, former Austin City Councilman Greg Casar, will move on to November, CNN projects, after securing a comfortable majority in the Democratic primary for the 35th district, a safe blue seat.

On the Republican side, a perceived lack of loyalty to Trump was among the factors that put incumbent Representatives Van Taylor and Dan Crenshaw at risk. Taylor’s opponents in the 3rd District had attacked him for his vote to establish an independent commission to investigate the Jan. 6 uprising at the United States Capitol. The panel was voted down by Senate Republicans and effectively replaced by a select committee created by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. But Taylor’s vote angered some Trump supporters, fueling opposition against him.

CNN predicted Taylor would advance to a runoff in May against former Collin County Judge Keith Self, but the congressman suspended his re-election bid on Wednesday after admitting an extramarital affair. Allegations of Taylor’s infidelity surfaced in right-wing media days before Tuesday’s primary.
Crenshaw, who ran unopposed in the 2020 GOP primary, triumphed over several 2nd District challengers by attacking him from the right – a consequence, in part, of Texas Republicans gerrymandering in the district to en make a safe red seat. Crenshaw is one of the more conservative members of the GOP conference and was a signatory to Paxton’s 2020 campaign trial, but has at times fallen out with the former president’s closest allies, including Rep. of Georgia Marjorie Taylor Greene, most recently criticizing her for speaking at a white nationalist conference over the weekend.
Greene and North Carolina Rep. Madison Cawthorn also opposed GOP leadership in the race to replace retired GOP Rep. Kevin Brady in Texas’ 8th District. Former Navy SEAL Morgan Luttrell is the national party’s pick, but far-right opponent Christian Collins had the support of Greene, Cawthorn, Cruz and Joe Arpaio, the former sheriff of Maricopa County, Arizona, who was pardoned by Trump. The race was undecided on Wednesday morning.

This story has been updated with additional developments.

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