Primary Color Battle Begins in Lone Star State

GOP’s and Dems go at it on Tuesday in the first of Texas’ 2014 primaries, which aim to set a precedent for either blue or red in the Battleground State. The following five questions are sure to be answered.

Julia Robinson/Reuters

The first primary election of 2014 will happen in Texas on Tuesday. Lone Star State voters will go to the polls in a series of primaries that will measure Tea Party fervor as well as whether Democrats have made the most basic organizational strides in the state. But the primary may only be the first preliminary election in the state, as Texas law requires a runoff in late May if no candidate obtains an absolute majority of the vote. Here are the five things to consider Tuesday’s primary:

Will Anyone Be Conned By The Stockman Scam?

Congressman Steve Stockman has mounted a long-shot bizarre campaign to unseat Sen. John Cornyn, the No. 2 Republican in the Senate. While Stockman isn’t the only candidate trying to challenge Cornyn from the right, his ethically challenged campaign has overshadowed those of the competition including businessman Dwayne Stovall In the course of his campaign, Stockman has lied about endorsements , disappeared from public view for weeks at a time and possibly violated campaign finance law. While Stockman will almost certainly fall short in his effort to force a runoff against Cornyn, it will be interesting whether his strange campaign, which has avoided both voters and reporters alike, draws any significant support.

Will Any Incumbent Republican Congressmen Lose?

There are two incumbent Republican congressmen who are facing serious primary challenges in Texas. The first is 90-year-old Ralph Hall, who has served in Congress as a Republican since 2004. Prior to that, he had spent 24 years serving as a Democrat. Hall now faces a credible primary challenge for his North Texas primary seat. His strongest opponent, John Ratcliffe, has been endorsed by the Dallas Morning News and would be a threat if he can force a runoff against Hall.

The second congressman, Tea Party activist Katrina Pierson, who has been endorsed by Sarah Palin and Freedom Works, is looking to challenge House Rules Committee Chair Pete Sessions. Pierson has been a lackluster fundraiser but her tally will mark a key test of Tea Party strength in the most serious head-to-head battle between the conservative grassroots and the GOP establishment in a major race on Tuesday.

Will There Be a Run-Off For Lieutenant Governor?

Texas has perhaps the most powerful Lieutenant Governor position in the country and there is a four-way primary for the office as three challengers try to take down incumbent David Dewhurst, who lost the 2012 U.S. Senate primary to Ted Cruz because he was perceived as insufficiently conservative. The latest polling gives Dewhurst a narrow lead against ardent social conservative State Senator Dan Patrick, while two other candidates, Todd Staples, the state Agriculture Commissioner and Jerry Patterson, state Land Commissioner, lag far behind. In a four-way race with very credible candidates, a runoff is almost guaranteed, but what matters is which candidates participate. A Dewhurst v. Patrick matchup would be yet another showdown between social conservatives and the GOP establishment in the Lone Star State and echo Dewhurst’s failed effort against Cruz in 2012. In particular, it will be a key indicator who finishes first. Republican insiders fear that Patrick could be a drag on the rest of the ticket in November but, if Patrick is the lead vote-getter Tuesday, he could be very hard to stop in a runoff.

Will the Dems Continue to Be In Disarray?

The Democratic Party of Texas has already come out openly against one of the frontrunners to win the Democratic nomination for U.S. Senate in Texas. In an email, party chair Gilberto Hinojosa urged Democrats not to vote for Kesha Rogers, writing, “Kesha Rogers is not a Democrat.” While Democrats are almost certain to lose to the Republican nominee for U.S. Senate in the Lone Star State in November regardless of who the nominee is, Rogers would be a disaster. Although she’s running in the Democratic primary, she is a Lyndon LaRouche acolyte who has called for impeaching Barack Obama and displayed a picture of the incumbent president with a Hitler mustache. But, in a low turnout and low information primary where most voters know absolutely nothing about any of the candidates, she could win. (She has twice been the Democratic nominee in a suburban Houston congressional district.)

What Will the Democratic Turnout Be?

Despite few competitive primary races for Democrats on the ballot, political observers will closely track turnout among Democrats on Tuesday as a key yard post of the efficacy of efforts to make the Lone Star State politically competitive again. Battleground Texas, a much vaunted political organizing effort by Dems, has been working across the state to build engagement and register voters in advance of the gubernatorial candidacy of liberal icon Wendy Davis this fall. While the number of engaged Democrats who show up at the polls is not a perfect indicator, it’s the best available to see whether the party has made any gains in its efforts to turn Texas blue.