On March 6, Texas will hold the first primary contests in the nation this year. If patterns emerge in the statewide results, the primaries could set the tone for contests in the rest of the country.
When it comes to congressional races, a number of retirements among Texas Republicans has resulted in packed fields of candidates vying to replace them. And campaign committees from both national parties have been hesitant to endorse candidates.
Roll Call reporter Bridget Bowman says outside groups are becoming heavily involved in the primary races. One reason is that Texas uses a runoff system – if no candidate receives over 50 percent of the vote in the primary election, the top two vote-getters meet in a runoff.
“One Democratic strategist I talked to said ‘…if you publicly back a candidate, and they don’t get into the runoff, that doesn’t look very good,'” Bowman says.
Though party leaders might not take a public position, Bowman says they sometimes donate to a preferred candidate, which sends a signal to others in the party.
Outside involvement in Texas primaries so far has come via endorsements, Bowman says. Emily’s List, for example, which supports female, pro-choice candidates, has endorsed in five Texas races. The conservative Club for Growth PAC has endorsed candidates in two Republican primaries.
“We see outside groups playing in some of the safe races, too,” Bowman says. “Because whoever wins the primary in some of these seats is likely to become [a] member of Congress, so they can build some allies early on by playing in some of these primaries.”
Democrats are targeting three Texas congressional seats they see as vulnerable. The 23rd district, currently represented by Republican Will Hurd, is a typical battleground district, Bowman says. The district is quite large, and hugs the U.S.-Mexican border. It has been represented by Democrats and Republicans.
Rep. John Culberson’s 7th district, near Houston, is also on the Democratic target list, as is the 32nd near Dallas, where Rep. Pete Sessions is the incumbent Republican.
“Both of these districts represent some of the emerging targets Democrats have across the country,” Bowman says. “These are districts that Hillary Clinton narrowly won in 2016. They’re heavily suburban districts as well, and they’re also expensive media markets. There are similar races in California, Illinois [and] Pennsylvania.”
Bowman says that of the six Republican seats left vacant by retirements, five feature competitive primaries, with fields ranging from five to 18 candidates.
Written by Shelly Brisbin.