Analysis: Progressive Democrats did surprisingly well in primaries, but Republicans have an edge heading into November

Highlights from statewide primary races.

By Kristen Cabrera & Caroline CovingtonMarch 2, 2022 1:59 pm,

Results are rolling in from Texas’ first-in-the-nation primary elections.

Two politics experts joined Texas Standard to help make sense of the results and what they could mean for the general election in November. Alex Samuels is a reporter for FiveThirtyEight and Sharon Navarro is a political science professor at the University of Texas at San Antonio.

Listen to the interview in the audio player above or read the highlights below to learn more about key winners and losers, whether progressives are making inroads with Democratic voters, the degree to which former President Donald Trump still holds sway over Republican voters, the impact of new statewide voting rules and more.

On voter turnout:

Sharon Navarro: “We’ve seen lower numbers than the previous primary elections, and it may be due to the changes in the election laws, lack of excitement. But this certainly worked to the benefit of Republicans.”

On issues at polling centers:

Alex Samuels: “Harris County reported some minor technical issues with its voting machines. But the [Texas] secretary of state put out a statement late last night, essentially saying that they were closely monitoring the situation. And then, in addition to that, in Tarrant County, there were staffing shortages, which I believe led to some polling sites actually getting shut down.”

On Gov. Greg Abbott’s Republican challengers falling short:

Navarro: “I don’t think [they did well] enough to stir the pot or give him second thoughts. I think, in general, the Republican base is happy with the way he is in the state of Texas, and so we’ll see how that carries over into the general [election].”

On Beto O’Rourke’s win as Democratic candidate for governor:

Samuels: “It was pretty predictable that he would win the Democratic primary overall. … But for sure … it will be a hard-fought race for O’Rourke this fall, considering Texas has not elected a Democrat to a statewide office since 1994.

On the inevitability of a runoff for the Republican attorney general candidate:

Samuels: “Ken Paxton is headed to a runoff against [George P.] Bush. … This is a reality that Paxton acknowledged well before Tuesday night. He had a feeling that this race would go to a runoff. He had so many Republican challengers, so I think we kind of knew from the jump that this was a likely outcome. His legal woes definitely factor into it. I mean, Paxton has been kind of fighting these allegations for years now, and I think that definitely worked against him in this race.”

On Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller prevailing despite criticism from fellow Republicans:

Navarro: “I think part of the fact is that it’s an office that doesn’t garner that much attention, and the things that he did to garner controversy were early on in his term. And so he just played it safe, stayed quiet, didn’t rock the boat and I think that worked in his favor.”

On surprising success of more liberal Democratic candidates:

Samuels: “You have Greg Casar in Texas’ 35th [Congressional] District who was endorsed by the Sunrise Movement, Bernie Sanders, [Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez], etc. He easily won his open primary there. And in Texas’ 30th [Congressional] District, you have Jasmine Crockett, who was endorsed by Our Revolution. Again, she’s leading that open primary as of last night. And then, of course, in Texas’ 28th [Congressional] District, you have Jessica Cisneros, who’s currently leading Rep. [Henry] Cuellar in a very close race that I think now is expected to go into a runoff.”

Navarro: “I think the most interesting one was Cisneros and Cuellar. She really gave him a run for his money, so we will see how this plays out in the runoff.

On what the results could mean for the general election in November:

Samuels: “Historically, midterm elections are not great for the party whose candidate is in the White House, which means Republicans will have an edge this year. And in Texas specifically, as I mentioned before, a Democrat hasn’t won a statewide race since the ’90s. So if I were to make a bet now, I would think that some of these marquee races will probably end up in GOP victories come fall.”

Navarro: “The fact that Texas was one of the first primaries, it kind of gives the nation a sense of how Republicans will do against Democratic challengers. And I think we won’t see any big changes come of the general election.

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