March primaries chock full of Republican candidates

All eyes will be on Republicans in the March primaries in Texas, where retirements and redistricting have opened the door for first-time candidates to run for dozens of seats.

By Jill AmentDecember 15, 2021 11:30 am,

The deadline to file for a spot on the March primary ballot passed this week, giving political observers a chance to scope out which races attracted the most attention after the Legislature drew new district maps for state and federal offices. Those maps still face court challenges, amid charges that they do not provide adequate opportunities for people of color to choose their representatives.

Jasper Scherer reports on Texas politics for the Houston Chronicle. He says while there will be a slew of Republican primaries to watch in March, it’s been quieter on the Democratic side, with elected officials in the state’s minority party largely avoiding primary challengers.

Listen to the interview above or read the transcript below.

This transcript has been edited lightly for clarity:

Texas Standard: What’s the explanation for what we’re seeing here?

Jasper Scherer: I think a lot of this does come down to redistricting. There have been a lot of races that were competitive in recent years where those districts were essentially dismantled. And that new layout is less likely to attract Democrats who just no longer see it as a competitive race. And then, some Democrats are looking at the disappointing 2020 election results for their party here in Texas and seeing not quite as rosy of an outlook. And also, President Biden’s approval rating in Texas appears to be dragging some of the candidates farther down the ticket.

Let’s focus a little bit more on redistricting. Texas gained two congressional seats as a result of the latest census. Could you say a little bit more about how that redistricting seems to be tamping down enthusiasm among Democrats

Back in 2018 and 2020, the Democrats made a big scene about how they were contesting every single congressional race in Texas, and a lot of those were seats that they had never contested, or hadn’t done so in decades. And now, after the latest round of redistricting, almost all of those seats have been made completely noncompetitive. Some of them were Republicans deciding to shore up Democratic-held seats, and in other cases, it was Republican held seats that were just moved completely out of reach for Democrats.

If you don’t have a lot of Democrats piling on for the primaries, like what we’re seeing for the Republicans, perhaps that says something about a certain unity among Democrats –  maybe not a lot of people wanting to shake things up. What do you think?

I think you’re onto something there. Going back to those recent cycles, we did see a lot of contests between moderates and progressives, and we’re really not seeing as much of that this year. The activity is more on the Republican side. If you look at some of the statewide races like Governor Abbott and Attorney General Ken Paxton, that’s where we’re seeing most of the activity. And at the congressional level, a lot of the incumbent congressmen are not receiving primary challenges themselves. I think it’s more on the statewide level.

It seems like the GOP has set its sights on South Texas in particular. How do you see things shaping up there and are Democrats committed to holding on to at least what has historically and traditionally been a rather strong position in that region?

Some of the races to watch down there – there is Congressman Henry Cuellar, who has a competitive Democratic primary. He’s one of the more moderate Democrats in Congress, and he’s again facing a challenge for the second straight cycle from a progressive opponent, Jessica Cisneros, who’s an attorney from Laredo. His district actually is one of the more competitive ones in the November general election. So I think Republicans will be going after that one and also a neighboring congressional district that was drawn to become more competitive.

So I think when you combine some of those congressional races with the state House, where some of those districts have been redrawn to be more competitive. I think this will probably be the year where we see the most aggressive play by Republicans down in places like the Rio Grande Valley and other nearby regions.

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