Texas primary puts Cuellar and Taylor in runoffs

Crenshaw, Gonzalez, Doggett all renominated

Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Texas, faces primary runoff against an immigration attorney who he beat by 4 points in 2020. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Texas, faces primary runoff against an immigration attorney who he beat by 4 points in 2020. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Posted March 2, 2022 at 6:41am, Updated at 1:20pm

Two Democratic incumbents who switched districts after a new Texas map was released won their primaries Tuesday, as did a Republican who came under fire for calling some of the conservatives in his party "grifters."

But another Republican who opposed overturning the 2020 election results and supported an independent Jan. 6 commission faces a runoff to keep his seat, as does one of the last remaining anti-abortion Democrats.

Texas gained two seats through reapportionment, and many other districts, in both parties, became less competitive through redistricting, so primaries — and the runoffs that follow in May if no one gets over 50 percent — effectively decide who gets elected in November.

Competitive primaries were also being watched for clues they could offer about about the upcoming the midterm cycle, such as the value of former President Donald Trump’s support, and whether moderate Democrats face renewed threats from progressives. 

One House incumbent, Rep. Louis Gohmert, finished last in a four-candidate field in the race for the GOP nomination for attorney general. Gohmert, a 68-year-old former judge, gave up his seat in the heavily Republican 1st District to take on Attorney General Ken Paxton, who has Trump's backing but legal problems of his own. Paxton led the field in the primary, but was headed to a runoff. 

Here are results of notable races.

Cuellar rematch runoff

Rep. Henry Cuellar, one of the most conservative Democrats in Congress, will be in a runoff in 28th District against progressive immigration attorney Jessica Cisneros, who was making her second to bid to unseat him. 

Cuellar led with 48.5 percent to Cisneros’ 46.8 percent, while Tannya Benevides’ 4.7 percent was enough to deny either of them the nomination outright. The Associated Press called the race at 2:06 a.m. Central time. 

Cuellar, who has held his seat since 2005, argued that his positions, including votes against abortion rights, reflect a better understanding of the Latino-majority district along the Mexico border. Cuellar beat Cisneros by 4 points in 2020. 

The 28th District became slightly more Democratic during redistricting, picking up voters in left-leaning areas around San Antonio. Cuellar was also dealing with the fallout of an FBI raid of his home, reportedly in connection with an ongoing federal probe related to Azerbaijan. Cuellar maintained the investigation would find no wrongdoing on his part.

The race in November is rated Likely Democratic by Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales, but Republicans see it as a pick-up opportunity regardless of the Democratic nominee. 

Cassy Garcia, former deputy state director for Sen. Ted Cruz, advanced to a runoff on the Republican side with 29 percent of the vote, but six other candidates had between 10 percent and 16 percent with the AP estimating about 2 percent of the vote was outstanding.

Taylor became target

GOP Rep. Van Taylor, who became a target of the far-right for his willingness to push back against false claims that the 2020 election was stolen from Trump, will have to win a runoff in May to hold onto his seat after failing to get over the 50 percent threshold to win the nomination outright. 

Taylor led the field of five candidates with 48.7 percent, followed by retired Army Officer Keith Self with 26.5 percent, when The Associated Press called there would be a runoff at 1:16 a.m. Central Time.

Taylor has a bachelor’s degree and an MBA from Harvard and is a former Marine and state legislator. In spite of his reputation as one of the most conservative lawmakers in the state delegation, he also stresses the importance of working with his Democratic colleagues. 

He was among just a handful of Texas members who voted to certify the 2020 elections and was one of only two Texas Republicans, along with Rep. Tony Gonzales, to vote for an independent commission to investigate the events of Jan. 6.  All of his challengers have said they think Trump was the rightful winner of the 2020 election. 

The district in the Dallas suburbs became more strongly Republican after redistricting carved out the more diverse Frisco and Plano and added all of Hunt County, which is more whie, more rural and more conservative.

Crenshaw cruises

Republican Rep. Dan Crenshaw, a fundraising powerhouse considered a rising star in GOP since his election in 2018, batted back three primary challengers who had argued he had betrayed his conservative constituents. 

Crenshaw got 75 percent of the vote and The Associated Press called the race at 11:48 p.m. Central time. 

Jameson Ellis, Martin Etwop and Milam Langella all campaigned to be truer conservatives and more loyal to Trump. They challenged Crenshaw for not accepting Trump’s false claim that the 2020 election was stolen, and because of his December comment warning of “grifters” and liars among his fellow conservatives.

The challenges attracted national attention partly because the Houston-area district became markedly more Republican under the new district lines, which transformed it from a seat that Trump carried by just 1 point in 2020 to a GOP stronghold that he would have carried by 23 points, according to Inside Elections. 

Crenshaw had spent almost $10 million and had $3 million in the bank as of Feb. 9, according to the FEC. Ellis, the top fundraiser of his challengers, pulled in just $45,000.

District-switches work

Rep. Vicente Gonzalez easily won a seven-way race to return to Congress as the Democratic nominee for the 34th District, where he moved after incumbent Democratic Rep. Filemon Vela announced his retirement and redistricting made Gonzalez’s 15th District more competitive. 

Gonzalez was leading second-place finisher Laura Cisneros 65 percent to 23 percent when when The Associated Press called the race at 9:37 p.m. Central Time. 

And Rep. Lloyd Doggett easily defeated three other Democrats to win the nomination in the newly created 37th District in central Austin, where he chose to run rather than in the remapped 35th District he won in 2020.

Doggett was leading second-place finisher Donna Imam 79 percent to 18 percent in a four-candidate field when The Associated Press called the race at 10:50 p.m. Central time.

Both Gonzales and Doggett face races in November rated Solid Democratic.

GOP races uncalled

Several races for open seats remained uncalled.

In the newly created 38th District, a Republican stronghold, Army veteran Wesley Hunt led the GOP primary with 56 percent, but only an estimated 59 percent had been counted as of 3:50 a.m. Central time. That was enough to lead the 10-candidate field but not enough to rule out a runoff.

Hunt narrowly lost a nationally watched campaign against Democratic Rep. Lizzie Fletcher in the 7th District in 2020 and Republicans in Washington consider him one of their top recruits.

There was a similar situation in the 8th District, where Rep. Kevin Brady is retiring.

Former Navy SEAL Morgan Luttrell led the field with about 53 percent of the vote, well ahead of the 10 other candidates. But with an estimated 9 percent of the vote still out, the nomination had not been called. Christian Collins, a former campaign aide to Cruz, led his challengers with 22 percent.

Democratic runoffs in 15th, 30th

In the highly competitive 15th District, Republican Monica De La Cruz won the crowded Republican primary, but Democrats will have to wait until the runoff to have a nominee.

The south central district would have narrowly voted for Trump over Biden under the new maps, making it the most competitive in the state after redistricting. The race in November is rated a Toss-Up.

De La Cruz, the Trump-endorsed owner of an insurance agency, avoided a runoff by taking 56.5 percent in the field of nine candidates.  On the Democratic side, The Associated Press called that attorney and Afghanistan veteran Ruben Ramirez advanced to the runoff, but it was unclear if the second spot would go to nurse and activist Michelle Villejo or attorney and construction company owner John Rigney.

In the heavily Democratic 30th District, where Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson is retiring, Johnson-backed Jasmine Crockett led the field comfortably but came up short of 50 percent and faces a runoff against Jane Hope Hamilton, who was state director for Biden’s 2020 campaign.

The five-person race was crowded with high-profile political figures who split the loyalties of national and state political groups. But it was cast as a measure of progressive political clout against the more traditional elements of the party, a theme that will only intensify in a one-on-one runoff.

Crockett attracted national attention, and eventually Johnson’s endorsement, when she served as the spokesperson for the state House Democratic caucus as they fought a GOP bill last summer to impose new voting restrictions. She also had backing from national progressive groups, including Our Revolution, a group that was spun out of the 2016 presidential campaign of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders. She benefited from more than $2.1 million in outside spending. 

Hamilton, a former chief of staff and campaign manager to Rep. Marc Veasey, had his endorsement along with those of other state and local political figures. She was also the top fundraiser in the race, pulling in $378,000 to Crockett’s $256,000.

Progressive wins in 35th

Progressive former Austin City Council member and labor organizer Greg Casar won the Democratic primary in the 35th District, which runs from San Antonio to East Austin. 

Doggett, the incumbent, left the seat open to run in the 37th District. 

Casar had backing from numerous national progressive groups and movement leaders, including New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who held a rally for him in the district, and Sanders.

Cesar had over 60 percent of the vote, and the AP called the race for him at 11:02 p.m. Central time. Running second was state Rep. Eddie Rodriguez, a longtime fixture in state politics who attacked Cesar’s city council record on issues central to the progressive platform, including homelessness and police funding. 

Judge wins in Gohmert district

Smith County Judge Nathaniel Moran won the Republican primary to replace Gohmert in the 1st District in the northeastern part of the state, where the fall election is rated Solid Republican. Moran led the four-candidate field with 63 percent.

He told supporters when he launched his campaign in December that his priorities included, “Securing borders, limiting government overreach, eliminating foreign influence [and] pushing back against cultural Marxism,” according to the Longview News Journal