San Antonio-area races to watch in the 2022 primary runoffs

The Texas primary runoffs are nearly here, with early voting set to begin Monday for all the Democratic and Republican contests in which no candidate received a majority of votes during the first round of voting.

Some of the premier November races have already been set, including the gubernatorial matchup between Republican Gov. Greg Abbott and Democrat Beto O’Rourke, who decisively won their primaries in March. But several other statewide contests have gone into overtime to determine at least one major party nominee, and a handful of San Antonio-area congressional and statehouse primaries remain unsettled.

Ahead of the May 24 runoff election, here are the most notable races that will appear on Democratic and Republican ballots in Bexar County and the surrounding area.

Statewide offices

Attorney general, Democratic and Republican primaries

Widely considered to be Texas’ marquee contest this spring, the Republican primary for attorney general has come down to a runoff between incumbent Ken Paxton and Land Commissioner George P. Bush.

Bush, who opted to forgo a third term in office to challenge Paxton, secured 23 percent of the vote in March, finishing 20 percent points behind Paxton. But Paxton’s two other high-profile challengers – former Texas Supreme Court justice Eva Guzman and US Rep. Louie Gohmert – won enough support to force the incumbent into a showdown with Bush.

Hoping to erode Paxton’s advantage with staunchly conservative voters, Bush has adopted a hard-line stance on border security and framed himself as a fierce defender of law enforcement. But he faces a number of headwinds in the runoff, including Republican skepticism about his family’s conservative credentials; Donald Trump’s endorsement of Paxton; and polling that found that about one-third of primary voters would never choose Bush – roughly triple the number who said the same about Paxton.

On the Democratic side, former ACLU attorney Rochelle Garza easily claimed a first-place finish in the March primary, yet fell several percentage points shy of an outright win. In the runoff, she faces former Galveston mayor Joe Jaworski, who finished less than half a percentage point ahead of civil rights attorney Lee Merritt in the first round. Merritt has thrown his support behind Garza in the runoff.

Lieutenant governor, Democratic primary

With Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick easily securing the Republican nomination for a third term, the race to determine his Democratic opponent is between Mike Collier, an accountant who lost to Patrick by about 5 percentage points in 2018, and state Rep. Michelle Beckley, D-Carrollton.

Collier, a former Republican, argues he stands a better chance of appealing to moderate and rural voters than Beckley, who is considered one of the most liberal members of the Texas House.

Beckley, a small business owner who is serving her second term in Austin, argues she energizes Democratic voters in ways Collier does not, pointing to her win over a Republican incumbent in 2018.

After the runoff was set in March, Beckley wasted no time calling for Collier to drop out of the race – despite finishing 12 points behind him in the first round – because he “does not inspire the base.” Collier declined, and has since been endorsed by a number of Beckley’s colleagues in the House.

Land commissioner, Democratic and Republican primaries

With Bush running for attorney general, a crowded field emerged in the two open primaries for his seat, both of which went into overtime.

On the GOP side, state Sen. Dawn Buckingham, a Lakeway Republican who was viewed as the strong favorite, placed first with 42 percent of the vote. She faces Tim Westley, a pastor, historian for the Texas Republican Party and two-time congressional candidate, on May 24. Westley is aiming to overcome Buckingham’s massive fundraising advantage and her high-powered endorsements from Trump, US Sen. Ted Cruz, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and a slew of other Republican lawmakers.

Meanwhile, mental health counselor Sandra Grace Martinez and conservationist Jay Kleberg are battling for the Democratic nomination. On paper, Kleberg has appeared to have the upper hand, recently winning the endorsement of O’Rourke and outraising Martinez in the first round more than 300-to-1. But it was Martinez who finished first, nearly six points ahead of Kleberg, despite spending only about $ 2,000 on her campaign.

Congressional

28th Congressional District, Democratic primary

The runoff between US Rep. Henry Cuellar and progressive immigration attorney Jessica Cisneros has seen a few dramatic twists in the homestretch of the campaign, including news that the Supreme Court may overturn Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 decision guaranteeing access to abortion nationwide.

Cuellar, a Catholic who has long opposed abortion, was the only House Democrat to vote against a bill last year that would have codified the right to an abortion. He has said he opposes an “outright ban” on abortion and supports exceptions for “rape, incest and danger to the life of the mother.” The top three ranked Democrats in the House, including Speaker Nancy Pelosi, have stuck behind Cuellar despite facing pressure from abortion rights advocates to drop their support for the incumbent.

After narrowly surviving a challenge from Cisneros in 2020, Cuellar was forced into a runoff this year after falling several hundred votes shy of an outright win in March.

The district, newly drawn to include a larger share of San Antonio, runs all the way to the border, including Laredo, the hometown of both Cisneros and Cuellar.

28th Congressional District, Republican primary

Though Cuellar won re-election comfortably in 2020, national Republicans are targeting the moderate Democrat’s seat, sensing opportunity in a potential GOP wave year and the possibility Cuellar could lose the Democratic primary.

The seven-candidate GOP primary has come down to Cassy Garcia, a former staffer for US Sen. Ted Cruz, who is backing Garcia in the primary; and Sandra Whitten, the 2020 GOP nominee for the district. Garcia finished first in the March primary, securing 23.5 percent of the vote, while Whitten drew 18 percent.

Texas Legislature

Texas Senate District 24, Republican primary

In his bid to return to the Texas Senate, Pleasanton Republican Pete Flores placed first in the March primary but failed to avoid a runoff against his main rival, former congressional candidate Raul Reyes. With Flores endorsed by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick – along with a host of other Republican politicians, including former President Donald Trump – Reyes has taken to calling his runoff foe a “lapdog,” suggesting he would be retained to Patrick and Senate leadership. (Flores and Patrick say this is untrue.)

Flores lost re-election in a different district in 2020 and is running for the newly crafted version of Senate District 24, which sweeps around the west side of Bexar County, covering all of Medina County and parts of the Hill Country and Atascosa County.

Texas House District 122, Republican primary

State Rep. Lyle Larson, by some measures the most moderate Republican lawmaker in Austin, announced last year he would retire from the Legislature, then endorsed trucking industry executive Adam Blanchard to succeed him in the Republican primary. But Blanchard finished third in the initial round of voting, which produced a runoff between former San Antonio city councilwoman Elisa Chan and former Bexar County Republican Party chair Mark Dorazio.

Chan, who has led the candidates in spending after lending her campaign more than $ 750,000, won 37 percent of the vote in the March primary, topping the field of four candidates. Dorazio, who has posted more modest fundraising totals but is boosted by endorsements from US Sen. Ted Cruz and former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, finished second with 27 percent.

The conservative-leaning House District 122 covers most of northwest Bexar County under boundaries that were newly configured during last year’s redistricting process.

County offices

Bexar County Judge, Democratic primary

For the first time in more than 20 years, the Democratic nominee for Bexar County’s top elected post will be someone other than Nelson Wolff, the longtime incumbent who decided not to seek re-election.

The three-candidate Democratic primary has been narrowed to a runoff between former district court judge Peter Sakai, who led with 41 percent in the March contest, and state Rep. Ina Minjarez, a former prosecutor in the Bexar County District Attorney’s Office who received 31 percent of the vote in the first round.

The winner will face Republican nominee Trish DeBerry, a former public relations executive who resigned as Precinct 3 commissioner to run for county judge.

jasper.scherer@chron.com

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