TEXAS (May 24, 2022)—Democrats and Republicans in Texas are getting their final say on their nominees for the November election in Tuesday’s primary runoffs — and there are plenty of statewide and national implications.
U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, a moderate Democrat from Laredo, is fighting for his political life in a runoff that has put on vivid display a host of divisions within his party. And it’s one of several Democratic runoffs across South Texas that also carry stakes for the general election, where Republicans are eagerly waiting with new ambitions to turn the region red.
At the statewide level, Attorney General Ken Paxton is up against a well-known challenger in Geprge P. Bush, the land commissioner and last remaining member of his famous political family who still holds elected office. Meanwhile, in another Republican primary runoff, Railroad Commissioner Wayne Christian is confronting a shrewd opponent in Sarah Stogner, whose shoestring campaign in the primary turned into a serious seven-figure effort in overtime.
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And across almost all the most competitive runoffs, there are still reverberations from the bombshell news earlier this month that the U.S. Supreme Court is poised to overturn Roe v. Wade.
Here are five things we’re watching Tuesday.
Can Cuellar hang on?
The biggest race on the ballot Tuesday is Henry Cuellar’s. The nine-term incumbent faces progressive challenger Jessica Cisneros, who ran against him in 2020 and lost by 4 percentage points. This time, thanks to a third candidate in the primary, they received nearly three more months to brawl in a runoff.
Cuellar was already dealt a politically seismic blow in the primary when the FBI raided his home in Laredo. And then another major twist came in the runoff: the leaking of a U.S. Supreme Court opinion indicating it would overturn Roe v. Wade, which cast the harshest spotlight yet on Cuellar’s lonely status as a Democrat who opposes abortion.
“Jessica is running against a candidate, Mr. Cuellar, who apparently believes that it is appropriate for the government at the federal, state and local level to tell every woman in this country what she can and cannot do with her body,” U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., said during a rally with Cisneros on Friday in San Antonio. “Jessica and I and you disagree.”
House Democratic leaders have stood by Cuellar despite their promises to protect abortion rights in a post-Roe world. Two days after the leaked opinion, House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn came to San Antonio to campaign for Cuellar, and Speaker Nancy Pelosi has done a robocall for him in the runoff, calling him a “fighter for hardworking families.”
Cisneros has had to confront an avalanche of attack ads claiming she would take jobs away from South Texas due to her 2019 suggestion to “split ICE in half and reassign enforcement functions to other agencies.” She has denied she would support anything that would put South Texans out of work.
Pro-Cuellar super PACs have poured nearly $3 million into the runoff, with the lion’s share coming from United Democracy Project, a super PAC aligned with the pro-Israel group American Israel Public Affairs Committee. Groups backing Cisneros have not been able to keep pace, though she has raised much money on her own during the runoff.
The attacks on her have gotten personal. They have increasingly centered on a March story by the New York Post that said she had a relationship with a former high school teacher, who was married, when she was in college. One billboard put up by the advertising firm of a Cuellar backer labeled Cisneros a “home wrecker.”
The runoff has been unscrupulous to the end. Over the weekend, it surfaced that a mailer went out proclaiming that Cuellar had been “cleared” in the FBI probe, a deceptive claim given that only his lawyer has said he is not the target of the investigation. Even more suspicious: The mailer lacked a disclaimer saying who paid for it.
Will the Republican primary runoff for railroad commissioner be more competitive than the one for attorney general?
Heading out of the primaries, it looked like the most competitive statewide runoff for Republicans would be the one for attorney general, where incumbent Ken Paxton faces challenger George P. Bush, the land commissioner. But polls have continued to give Paxton a lead — sometimes double digits — and he has been campaigning as if he expects a clear victory.
Rather, the most interesting statewide runoff may be the GOP one for railroad commissioner. Incumbent Wayne Christian faces a unique challenger in oil and gas attorney Sarah Stogner, who first made waves in the primary by releasing an ad where she rode a pumpjack nearly naked. But her campaign got more serious in the runoff as she benefited from $2 million in fundng from Ashley Watt, a West Texas rancher who is close to Stogner and has been battling the commission, which regulates the oil and gas industry in Texas, over abandoned oil wells on her property.
Source: Texas Tribune