Voters in Texas headed to the polls for the first primaries of the 2018 midterms on Tuesday, following record early voting turnout for Democrats.
In the state’s 15 largest counties, almost 50,000 more Democrats than Republicans had already cast votes before the in-person voting began on Tuesday—up 98 percent from the 2014 midterm cycle. Republican turnout was up just 16 percent. Yet still, the challenge for Democrats to make any gains in Texas will be daunting as Republicans made up ground in vote totals on primary day.
Democrats have specifically targeted three House races in the Houston, San Antonio, and Dallas areas, where Hillary Clinton won in the 2016 presidential election. In all of them, it appeared that the top two candidates were likely to head to a runoff following Tuesday’s vote.
But the first definitive result of the night was for the state’s marquee matchup of the year.
Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-TX) easily won his primary contest with over 60 percent of the vote, defeating two opponents. Incumbent Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) similarly romped in his contest, with nearly 85 percent of the vote. But O'Rourke will have work to do to consolidate Democratic votes throughout the state. And in raw vote totals, Cruz earned over 1.3 million votes while O'Rourke got just over 640,000.
While Cruz is still the odds-on favorite, political observers believe O’Rourke could potentially give him a run for his money in November. The Democrat has raised $2.3 million in the first 45 days of this year alone, triple Cruz’s haul during that time.
Before the results even rolled in on Tuesday night, Cruz issued a stern warning to the Republican Party about the unbridled enthusiasm on the Democratic side.
“If conservatives are complacent, we know that the left is going to show up,” Cruz said on Hugh Hewitt’s radio show. “The extreme left, they’re angry. They’re filled with rage. They hate the president. And mark my words, we are going to see historic turnout from the extreme left in November, which means if conservatives stay home, we have the potential, we could lose both houses of Congress.”
Once the race was set, Cruz was eager to get the campaign started.
He released a radio ad called “If You’re Gonna Run in Texas,” which featured a country song ridiculing O’Rourke.
“Beto wants those open borders and wants to take our guns. Not a chance he’ll get a vote from millions of Texans,” the twangy tune goes.
Down-ballot, many storylines were still developing late into the night. And by the morning, it was clear that voters in Texas had rebuked some of the Democrats' top fundraising earners.
In Texas’ 7th Congressional District, where seven Democrats are racing to replace Rep. John Culberson (R-TX), two candidates are headed for a runoff, with no one earning 50 percent of the vote on their own.
The top two vote earners, are Lizzie Pannill Fletcher, a Houston attorney, and Laura Moser, a progressive activist and former journalist. Fletcher got 29 percent of the vote, while Moser trailed her at 24 percent.
Moser’s presence in the runoff is a big blow to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which released opposition research on her in advance of Tuesday’s primary and blasted her presence in the race. In turn, it may have amplified her.
In Texas’ 32nd Congressional District, another race Democrats have had their eyes on flipping, civil rights attorney and former NFL player Colin Allred came out on top, earning about 39 percent of the vote in the contest to take on Rep. Pete Sessions. Allred will face a runoff against Lillian Salerno. But what was most shocking was that Ed Meier, a former State Department official, who was the top fundraiser in the contest, came in fourth place.
A surprise also developed in Texas’ 23rd Congressional District, where Gina Ortiz Jones, a former U.S. Air Force veteran and an Office of the U.S. Trade Representative official in the Obama administration, handily beat her opponent Jay Hulings, who had been the presumptive frontrunner in a crowded field after receiving endorsements from Julian and Joaquin Castro, the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, and the Blue Dog Coalition. The winner of the runoff contest between Ortiz Jones and and Rick Trevino will go on to face Rep. Will Hurd, who represents a district Clinton won and who only narrowly won his last two races by just over a point.
Finally, Texas is now also in a position to likely send its first Latina representative to Congress.
Veronica Escobar won a Democratic primary in Texas’ 16th Congressional District, a safe Democratic seat that O’Rourke held.
And Sylvia Garcia won her race in the safe Texas’ 29th Congressional District, earning 63 percent of the vote.