Politics

AP Decision Notes: What to expect in the Texas primary runoffs

WASHINGTON — (AP) — Two prominent Texas Republicans are looking to settle political scores within their own party in the primary runoff elections on Tuesday, when voters will decide nearly three dozen unresolved races from the state’s March 5 primary.

For entirely different reasons, Gov. Greg Abbott and Attorney General Ken Paxton have put the weight of their statewide political organizations behind efforts to unseat Republican state representatives who have crossed them on policy or political grounds. Abbott is focusing on GOP members who helped defeat his 2023 education plan that would have allowed spending taxpayer money on private schools. Paxton has targeted more than 30 incumbents who voted to impeach him last year on corruption charges. He was later acquitted in the state Senate.

The revenge campaigns could push the legislature further to the right in a state where Republicans already have a lock on state government. In recent years, Texas has implemented one of the strictest anti-abortion laws in the country, expanded gun rights and adopted a sweeping immigration enforcement law that is currently tied up in federal court.

Nine Republican state House incumbents were defeated in the March 5 primary, while an additional eight were forced to runoffs. All were targeted by Abbott or Paxton or both.

The highest profile of these state House Republican runoffs is in District 21, where Speaker Dade Phelan faces a challenge from oil and gas consultant and party activist David Covey. Phelan oversaw the effort to impeach Paxton, for which he was censured by the Republican Party of Texas for "lack of fidelity to Republican principles and priorities." Phelan's defeat on Tuesday would be Paxton's biggest prize of the night. Covey has endorsements from Paxton and his biggest ally, former President Donald Trump. He placed first in the March primary with 46% of the vote to 43% for Phelan.

Another notable state House runoff is the Republican contest in District 33, where former Trump campaign adviser and spokesperson Katrina Pierson hopes to unseat state Rep. Justin Holland. Pierson is backed by Abbott and Paxton. She edged out Holland in the March primary, 40% to 39%.

Abbott and Paxton back opposing candidates in five state House runoffs as well as in the Republican contest to replace retiring U.S. Rep. Kay Granger in the 12th Congressional District.

There are also a number of runoffs for U.S. House nominations, the most prominent of which is the Republican race in the 23rd Congressional District, where U.S. Rep. Tony Gonzales seeks a third term in the sprawling, West Texas-based seat. Gonzales has broken with his party on key votes on gun safety, immigration and same-sex marriage, earning him a censure from the state party in 2023. He has Abbott's backing over challenger Brandon Herrera, a gun rights advocate known for his gun-themed YouTube channel, The AK Guy.

In the 28th Congressional District, retired Navy officer Jay Furman and rancher Lazaro Garza compete for the GOP nomination to face Democratic U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar in November. Cuellar and his wife were indicted this month on conspiracy and bribery charges. The couple has denied any wrongdoing. Rosie Cuellar, the congressman's sister, will compete in the Democratic runoff for state House District 80.

Here’s a look at what to expect on Tuesday:

PRIMARY RUNOFF DAY

The Texas primary runoff election will be held Tuesday. All polls close at 7 p.m. local time, but Texas is in the Central and Mountain time zones. This means most of the polls in the state closes at 8 p.m. ET, while polls in El Paso, Hudspeth and parts of Culberson counties in West Texas close at 9 p.m. ET.

WHAT’S ON THE BALLOT

The Associated Press will provide vote results for and determine the winners in 32 races in which no candidate received a majority in the March 5 primary. This includes eight U.S. House, three state Senate, 19 state House and two state Board of Education runoff elections.

WHO GETS TO VOTE

Voters who participated in a party’s primary on March 5 may only vote in runoff elections for that same party. In other words, voters who cast ballots in the Republican primary on March 5 may not vote in a Democratic runoff, and Democratic primary voters can’t vote in a Republican runoff. Registered voters who did not participate in any party’s primary on March 5 may participate in the runoff. All voters must be registered in the district holding the runoff.

DECISION NOTES

Runoffs tend to be lower-turnout events than the initial elections that prompted them. This could slow the race-calling process for a competitive contest, especially in smaller state House districts. In these cases, determining the outcome could rest on a handful of ballots that have yet to be tabulated.

Two contests take place in districts that span both the Central and Mountain time zones: the Republican runoff in the 23rd Congressional District and the Democratic runoff in state House District 77. Winners in those contests won’t be declared until the last polls in the districts close at 9 p.m. ET. Races that take place entirely within the Central time zone could be called during the 8 p.m. ET hour.

The AP does not make projections and will declare a winner only when it’s determined there is no scenario that would allow the trailing candidates to close the gap. If a race has not been called, the AP will continue to cover any newsworthy developments, such as candidate concessions or declarations of victory. In doing so, the AP will make clear that it has not yet declared a winner and explain why.

Texas requires an automatic recount only in cases of a tie vote. Losing candidates may request and pay for a recount if the margin is less than 10% of the leading candidate's vote. The AP may declare a winner in a race that is eligible for a recount if it can determine the lead is too large for a recount or legal challenge to change the outcome.

WHAT DO TURNOUT AND ADVANCE VOTE LOOK LIKE?

As of March, there were 17.9 million registered voters in Texas. Voters in Texas do not register by party.

In March, turnout was nearly 13% of registered voters in the Republican presidential primary and slightly more than 5% in the Democratic primary, according to the Texas secretary of state. About 53% of Republican primary voters and 61% of Democratic primary voters cast their ballots before primary day.

As of Wednesday, a total of 148,477 ballots had already been cast in the Republican runoffs and 89,981 in the Democratic runoffs. Early in-person voting began on Monday and concludes on Friday.

HOW LONG DOES VOTE COUNTING USUALLY TAKE?

In the March 5 presidential primary, the AP first reported results at 8 p.m. ET, right as polls closed in most of the state. The election night tabulation ended at 5:46 a.m. ET with slightly more than 99% of total votes counted.

ARE WE THERE YET?

As of Tuesday, there will be 161 days until the November general election.

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Follow the AP's coverage of the 2024 election at https://apnews.com/hub/election-2024.

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