Texas Democratic House Primary Preview
Democratic congressional primaries begin in Texas on Tuesday, March 1st, 2020. These Democratic House Primaries are generally proxy battles between the more progressive and more moderate wings of the party. There are three contests to fill an open seat in Texas after Democratic Incumbents retired or chose to run for another office. Unlike in the Republican Party, there are few Democratic incumbents who face serious primary challenges from well-funded challengers. Texas state rule forces candidates to win over 50% of the vote in these March 1st primaries to win their party’s nomination, leading to a runoff election on May 24th if all candidates are unable to reach this threshold.
TX-15 Democratic Primary
Republicans are targeting TX-15 as a possible district to flip in 2022, and Democrats hope their nominee eventually becomes the congressperson from the 79% Hispanic VAP (Voting Age Population), South Texas district. The district is based in Hidalgo County and includes the cities of McAllen, Mission, and Edinburg. TX-15 has historically been a stronghold for Democrats, with Representative Vicente Gonzalez (D) winning reelection by 21 points as recently as 2018. However, in 2020, TX-15 raced to the right along with the rest of the Rio Grande Valley, But after TX-15 became even more conservative through redistricting, and TX-34 Representative Filemon Vela Jr. retired, Gonzales decided to switch districts. His absence means that TX-15 is an open district. There are a host of Democrats hoping to replace Gonzalez as a congressperson, but all of them will have an uphill battle in the Likely R district this November. There are four Democrats who are the most likely to claim the nomination: Ruben Ramirez, Michelle Vallejo, Elise Alvarado, and John Villarreal Rigney. Vallejo is the most progressive candidate in the race, publicly supporting Medicare for All and a $15 Minimum Wage. Rigney, an attorney, leads candidates in fundraising and is the most notable moderate candidate in the field, listing “Safe Neighborhoods and Law Enforcement” as one of his campaign’s top three key messages. Ramirez is an establishment Democrat and prioritizes the defense of the Affordable Care Act on his website.
Race Rating: Tossup
TX-28 Democratic Primary
The new TX-28 is similar to the old district, stretching from Laredo in the Rio Grande Valley north to the city and suburbs of San Antonio. Biden won the new TX-28 by 7 points in 2020, meaning the district is about 3 points left of the nation and is trending hard to the right. The district is over 70% Hispanic and voted for Hillary Clinton by 19 points in 2016. Leftist attorney Jessica Cisneros challenged Cuellar in 2020 but came up barely short, losing by just 3 points. Cisneros is not only exceptionally progressive—she supports Medicare for All, Congressional Term Limits, and overturning Citizens United—but Cuellar is also extremely moderate, even holding some conservative views. Cuellar’s home was invaded on January 19th, 2022 by the FBI in connection to a federal probe related to Azerbaijan’s “Caviar Diplomacy.” On January 21st, a federal grand jury issued a subpoena for anything Cuellar may have received as a “gift” for supporting Azerbaijani interests in Congress. Cisneros is popular among progressive elected officials and boasts endorsements from Elizabeth Warren, Jamal Bowman, Ayana Pressley, and Alexandria-Ocasio Cortez. Cuellar received endorsements from Nancy Pelosi and the DCCC in 2020 and has already received an endorsement from House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer for 2022. Cuellar has extreme crossover appeal to Trump voters and has an extremely strong electoral record, outperforming Biden by over 15 points in TX-28 in 2020. Polling released before the FBI began its probe into Cuellar indicated that the race was a dead heat, with Cisneros holding a slight 36-35% lead. As the investigation drags on, we expect that Cisneros is likely to gain in polls. But Cuellar’s history and power in South Texas will persist and may keep this district closer than expected after the recent revelations. A third candidate, Tannya Benevides, may prevent both Cuellar and Cisneros from winning a majority of the vote on March 1st. Benevides is progressive, and could siphon off a portion of Cisneros’ supporters, but has effectively no chance to advance to the May 24th Primary Runoff.
Race Rating: Lean Cisneros
TX-30 Democratic Primary
When incumbent Eddie Burnice Johnson (D) declined to run for re-election in 2022, she created a wide-open primary for her replacement. TX-30 is a majority-minority Dallas-based district and is rated Safe D for 2022. State Representative Jasmine Crockett has emerged as a heavy favorite, and could be popular enough to clear the field on March 1st. Crockett received an endorsement from Burnice Johnson but faces some resistance from a variety of other well-funded candidates. Jane Hamilton boasts the largest war chest in the field, as well as endorsement from an array of Texas Democrats. Jessica Mason is the most progressive candidate in the race and won the endorsements of Nina Turner and Democratic Socialists of America (North Texas). Although Crockett is extremely likely to win the plurality of the vote on March 1st, Hamilton and Mason hope to deny her from an outright victory, sending the race to a decisive May 24th runoff.
Race Rating: Likely Crockett
TX-34 Democratic Primary
Vicente Gonzalez (D), the incumbent in TX-15, is running for reelection in the neighboring TX-34 district. TX-34 is an 89% Hispanic district, primarily based in Brownsville, Harlingen, and Pharr in the Eastern portion of the Rio Grande Valley. TX-34 has historically been a stronghold for Democrats, but in 2020, TX-34 raced to the right along with the rest of the Rio Grande Valley. Although the new TX-34 moved 23 points to the right relative to the country as a whole from 2016 to 2020, Biden still carried the district by 16 points. TX-34 was shored up for Democrats through redistricting, but neighboring TX-15 became relatively more conservative. After TX-34 Representative Filemon Vela Jr. retired, Gonzalez decided to switch districts, running for reelection in TX-34. Gonzalez has been criticized in some circles for relocating to a new, safer district in order to increase his chances of winning re-election, hurting Democratic chances to hold TX-15. These criticisms have not transformed into a viable primary challenge for Gonzalez, however, who is widely expected to claim an easy victory in the March 1st primary.
Race Rating: Solid Gonzalez
TX-35 Democratic Primary
TX-35 is a Solid D majority Hispanic district that stretches from eastern Austin to downtown San Antonio, running through San Marcos and Kyle the process. With incumbent representative Lloyd Doggett choosing to run in the new TX-37, a district entirely based in his hometown of Austin, TX-35 is now an open district. Greg Cesar, a progressive Austin City Council member, is certainly favored over the field in the race. Cesar boasts endorsements from Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren as well as Representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Pramila Jayapal, as well as the Congressional Progressive PAC and Justice Democrats. He is primarily opposed by State Representative Eddie Rodriguez, a slightly more moderate self-dubbed “progressive” backed by the majority of the Texas Democratic establishment. Although Cesar released an internal poll showing a massive lead over Rodriguez, other indicators such as fundraising indicate that Rodriguez certainly still has a chance to win the nomination. A third serious candidate, Rebecca Viagran, could end up siphoning off enough of the vote to prevent Cesar and Rodriguez from winning an outright majority on March 1st and has an extremely outside chance to win the nomination herself. But as Viagran’s base is in San Antonio (as opposed to Cesar and Rodriguez’s bases in Austin), she certainly has the upside to qualify over Rodriguez for the May 24th primary runoff election.
Race Rating: Lean Cesar
TX-37 Democratic Primary
TX-37 is one of Texas’ two newly created districts after the 2020 census, concentrated in western Austin and the city’s northern and southern suburbs. Lloyd Doggett previously represented the 35th district, split between Austin and San Antonio. Republicans created a new solid blue TX-37 to shore up four solid red seats in the Austin-Round Rock area, hoping to resist long-term leftward shifts in Texas suburbs. Doggett is mainly running in new territory, as only 10% of the new TX-37 overlaps with his old district. He boasts endorsements from Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), uniting both wings of the party. However, Doggett does face a solid well-funded challenge from Donna Imam. Although Imam is unlikely to defeat the longtime representative, now that he has secured support from leaders of both the progressive and moderate wings of the party, she will earn support from the most committed Grassroot leftists. Doggett is still likely to win a majority of the vote on March 1st.
Race Rating: Solid Doggett