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2022 midterm season kicks off in Texas

Tuesday’s primary in the Lone Star State features closely watched contests to determine party nominations for governor and attorney general.

SAN ANTONIO (CN) — Texas voters became the first in the nation to cast ballots in this year’s midterm elections, where candidates for governor, attorney general, congressional seats and other statewide and local offices will be nominated ahead of the November general election.

Tuesday’s primary election in the Lone Star State will not only set the stage for key races up and down the ballot, but will also offer a preview of how each party’s messaging is being received by voters, with the next state primaries not occurring until May 3.

Texas Republicans have largely embraced former President Donald Trump and moved the state further right in the last legislative session, including by passing a strict new abortion law in effect for six months now, approving a GOP-friendly redistricting plan and placing restrictions on voting that will be tested during the primary. All three measures have drawn various legal challenges still pending in court.

Democrats, meanwhile, remain eager to turn the page on more than two straight decades of statewide losses. They see the most energy in former Congressman Beto O’Rourke’s bid for the governor’s mansion, and in the race for attorney general, where a weak incumbent facing indictment could provide Democrats their biggest opportunity for a statewide win.

But it all depends on what unfolds Tuesday in Texas.

“We are going to win tomorrow night,” Republican Governor Greg Abbott told a crowd at a campaign stop in San Antonio on Monday night. “And then after that, we are going to beat Beto and keep Texas red.”

While 13 candidates are vying for governor, none have attracted enough attention to stop the all-but-certain Abbott versus O’Rourke matchup that has already been playing out for months. The state’s two-term governor and O’Rourke, a former 2020 presidential candidate, have launched into full general election mode since O’Rourke officially entered the race in November.

Both are eager to exploit each other’s missteps: Abbott has tied O’Rourke to national Democrats unpopular in parts of Texas, while reminding voters that his likely Democratic opponent “said he was going to come and confiscate your guns.”

“But you don’t have to worry,” Abbott told the San Antonio crowd. “Because I signed 20 laws to protect your Second Amendment rights, including making Texas a constitutional carry state and making Texas a Second Amendment sanctuary state.”

O’Rourke for his part continues to hit Abbott over his handling of the state’s electrical grid collapse during the February 2021 deadly winter storm, and for focusing on issues energizing to his conservative base instead of on challenges facing the state.

Both are likely to dominate their party’s primary elections and cement their status as leaders of their respective state parties, according to recent polling of the race and Texas political watchers.

The Republican primary race for attorney general is a little less certain, with the possibility that incumbent Ken Paxton could be heading to the May 24 runoff if he is unable to cross over the 50% threshold. Even in a runoff, Paxton, who has been indicted for securities fraud since 2015 and is facing a messy FBI probe over abuse of office allegations, is still considered the strong favorite between his three big-name challengers: Land Commissioner George P. Bush, Congressman Louie Gohmert and former Texas Supreme Court Justice Eva Guzman.

Organizations representing the legal and business communities have come out to support Guzman, as have some of the state’s leading editorial boards. But Paxton, who led an unsuccessful lawsuit in an effort to overturn the 2020 presidential election, won over Trump’s coveted endorsement and has been embraced by party loyalists for his numerous legal challenges to Biden administration policies and Big Tech.

Bush, the eldest son of former Florida Governor Jeb Bush and a nephew to former President George W. Bush, is the only member of his family currently in public office. If he does not make it past a primary win, the Bush family political dynasty could come to an end, or at least a temporary pause.

All of Paxton’s challengers have made the attorney general’s years-long legal troubles a central message for why they should replace him as the state’s top law enforcement officer, including the five Democrats running for the seat.

Other elections to watch Tuesday night include congressional races in three districts where national progressive figures have played a large role: Texas' 35th, 30th and 28th Congressional Districts.

Of particular interest is whether U.S. Representative Henry Cuellar can hang on to his border district over a second primary challenge from human rights attorney Jessica Cisneros, who came within 4 percentage points of defeating him in 2020. Cuellar, a conservative Democrat who has represented the Laredo-based 28th congressional district since 2005, was the subject of an FBI raid on his home last month.

The FBI has not disclosed the nature of the investigation and Cuellar has denied any wrongdoing. But the fallout from the raid gave Cisneros’s campaign a boost in fundraising and momentum. She has had heavyweight progressives including Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren and U.S. Representative Alexandra Ocasio Cortez campaign for her in the district, which stretches from the U.S.-Mexico border to the outskirts of San Antonio.

About 10% of Texas voters cast ballots during the state's two-week early voting period, according to preliminary data from the Secretary of State's Office. The full total of Texas primary voters will not be known until after Election Day numbers are added.

Polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Central time.

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