Texas Primary: What to Watch Today

Photograph by Eric Gay/AP Photo

A worker is surrounded by elections signs as he uses survey equipment at an early voting polling site on Feb. 18, 2014, in San Antonio.

A comeback bid and an effort to unseat history’s oldest U.S. House member top today’s ballots in Texas, the first state to hold primaries ahead of the Nov. 4 general election.

The primary often is more consequential than the general election in Texas, where population trends, redistricting and a rise in party-line voting have minimized two-party competition in most districts. In just one of the 36 districts was the 2012 presidential election decided by fewer than 15 percentage points.

The following identifies some Texas congressional primaries worth watching. Polling stations close at 7 p.m. local time in Texas, most of which is in the central time zone. The western tip of the state is in the mountain time zone. Many voters already cast ballots during the state’s early-voting period from Feb. 18-28, so look for a big batch of vote returns shortly after the polls close.

Republicans, 4th District (northeast; Sherman, Rockwall, Texarkana): Keep an eye on Ralph Hall, 90, the oldest House member in history, whose five primary challengers include wealthy ex-prosecutor John Ratcliffe. Hall took 58 percent of the primary vote in 2012 against two challengers, so it’s possible he’ll be held below 50 percent and be forced into a runoff election in May. Ratcliffe, 48, has put in at least $475,000 of his own money into the race and avoided directly talking about Hall’s age, though one of his campaign commercials promises a “new generation” and “energy” in the office. Hall, who’s seeking an 18th term, says in an ad that he’s still got “room for a few more wrinkles” after fighting Democrats in Washington.

Republicans, 23rd District (San Antonio-to-El Paso): Ex-Rep. Francisco ‘Quico’ Canseco seeks a rematch against Democrat Pete Gallego, who unseated him 16 months ago in a huge district that hugs the Rio Grande. Canseco will first have to get by Will Hurd and Robert Lowry in a rematch of the 2010 Republican contest. Canseco beat Hurd in a runoff four years ago.

Republicans, 32nd District (part of Dallas, most of Garland and Richardson): Rules Committee Chairman Pete Sessions faces Katrina Pierson, who identifies with the Tea Party movement and has support from former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin. Sessions, a former National Republican Congressional Committee chairman, is one of his party’s top fundraisers and should win this race comfortably.

Democrats, 33rd District (parts of Dallas, Fort Worth, Arlington): Freshman Rep. Marc Veasey is airing ads critical of his big-spending opponent Tom Sanchez, a businessman who’s put at least $1.275 million of personal money into the race. The Dallas-Fort Worth-area district is about two-thirds Hispanic, though the Hispanic citizen voting-age population is in the low 40s.

Republicans, 36th District (Baytown, parts of Houston and Pasadena): Twelve Republicans are seeking this strongly Republican district left open by Stockman, who himself emerged from a 12-candidate Republican field two years ago in a runoff. The big Republican field and lack of a dominant front-runner again point to a runoff election. The top candidates include Doug Centilli, Rep. Kevin Brady’s former chief of staff, and three who ran for Congress when the districts were configured differently: Brian Babin, a dentist who’s getting independent help from the American Dental Association’s super-political action committee; Ben Streusand, a wealthy businessman; and John Manlove, the former mayor of Pasadena.

Republicans, U.S. Senate. John Cornyn, the second-ranking Republican senator, is headed for an easy renomination in a primary that includes Rep. Steve Stockman, whose haphazard campaigning, poor fundraising and lack of a statewide political network make him an underwhelming challenger. Cornyn outspent Stockman by an 88-to-1 ratio in the first six weeks of this year.

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