Crowded primaries loom in Texas House races

Crowded primaries loom in Texas House races
© Hill Photo Illustration/Garrett Evans

Both parties face crowded primary fields in Texas, which will see the first primaries of the 2018 midterms in less than two months.

Democratic candidates have flooded primaries in the hopes that a midterm wave could boost the party’s hopes in the deep-red state. They’re largely focused on the three GOP-held seats in districts that Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonBernie Sanders: Trump 'so tough' on child separations but not on Putin Anti-Trump protests outside White House continue into fifth night Opera singers perform outside White House during fourth day of protests MORE won in 2016, with candidates making opposition to President TrumpDonald John TrumpWSJ: Trump ignored advice to confront Putin over indictments Trump hotel charging Sean Spicer ,000 as book party venue Bernie Sanders: Trump 'so tough' on child separations but not on Putin MORE a centerpiece of their campaigns.

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In those races, Democrats will be looking for formidable challengers to advance through the crowded primaries to boost the party’s chances in what are likely to be tough general elections.

Meanwhile, an exodus of retiring Texas Republican lawmakers has created open seats for dozens of Republicans interested in higher office.

The early voting period kicks off on Feb. 20, with the primaries on March 6. But given the size of the fields, it’s unlikely candidates in many of these races will be able to win more than 50 percent of the vote — setting up potential runoffs on May 22.

Here are five House primaries in Texas to watch: 

Democratic primary for GOP Rep. Will HurdWilliam Ballard HurdHillicon Valley: Trump's Russia moves demoralize his team | Congress drops effort to block ZTE deal | Rosenstein warns of foreign influence threat | AT&T's latest 5G plans GOP lawmaker: Trump is being manipulated by Putin The Hill's Morning Report — Trump and Congress at odds over Russia MORE’s seat

Hurd’s Hispanic-majority border district has been a perennial target for both parties, and one that Republicans have held since 2015.

Democrats see it as a key opportunity to flip a seat after Clinton won it by more than 3 points. Hurd, a former CIA officer, only carried the district by a little over a point in 2016.

The crowded field features five candidates, but two have emerged as front-runners ahead of the March primary. Jay Hulings, a former federal prosecutor, currently leads in fundraising and is an ally of two brothers who loom large in Texas Democratic circles, Rep. Joaquin CastroJoaquin CastroAnti-Trump protests outside White House continue into fifth night Opera singers perform outside White House during fourth day of protests Protests erupt outside of White House as Trump returns from Putin summit MORE (D-Texas) and former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro.

Gina Ortiz Jones, a former Air Force intelligence officer, has also proven she can fundraise. Jones has also garnered some significant endorsements, most notably from EMILY’s List.

Jones’s residency has come under scrutiny because she has benefited from an out-of-state homestead deduction, but Jones has said she’s lived in the 23rd District since June.

Democratic primary for GOP Rep. Pete SessionsPeter Anderson SessionsHouse GOP refuses to boost funding for election security Nunes leaves in middle of hearing following questions on Russia probe Dem, GOP groups prepare spending blitz for midterms MORE’s seat

Sessions didn’t face a Democratic opponent in 2016, yet Clinton carried his Dallas-area district by nearly 2 points. Now seven Democrats have jumped into the race to try to unseat him.

Three former Obama administration officials are vying for the nomination: Ed Meier, who worked as a State Department aide; Colin Allred, who worked as a lawyer for the Department of Housing and Urban Development; and Lillian Salerno, who worked in the Agriculture Department.

Meier led the pack in fundraising for the last quarter of 2017, though Allred and Salerno weren’t far behind.

The candidates have been highly critical of Trump and are looking to tie the unpopular president around Sessions’s neck. Meier went on the air with his first TV ad on Tuesday, in which he highlighted his opposition to Trump’s support for repealing ObamaCare.

Democratic primary for GOP Rep. John CulbersonJohn Abney CulbersonDem, GOP groups prepare spending blitz for midterms Election Countdown: Family separation policy may haunt GOP in November | Why Republican candidates are bracing for surprises | House Dems rake in record May haul | 'Dumpster fire' ad goes viral Cook Political Report got it wrong: Reps. Sessions and Culberson’s districts are not 'toss-ups' MORE’s seat

Culberson hasn’t faced a competitive challenge in years, but Democrats are feeling emboldened about their prospects in a Houston district that Clinton carried by a razor-thin margin.

When it comes to fundraising, Democrats are already keeping pace with Culberson, with some primary candidates outraising the nine-term incumbent.

Of the eight Democrats running, nonprofit executive Alex Triantaphyllis so far has the most campaign funds and outpaced Culberson in the third fundraising quarter of 2017. Attorney Lizzie Pannill Fletcher, who has been endorsed by EMILY’s List, wasn’t far behind her primary opponent and the GOP congressman.

Culberson’s campaign had gotten off to a slow start. A New York Times story from December highlighted Republican concerns that Culberson might not be taking his campaign seriously enough.

Democratic primary to replace Democratic Rep. Beto O’Rourke

Democrats are expected to keep their grip on the seat held by O’Rourke, who’s giving up the seat to run for Senate. But the battle over who will replace him has drawn ambitious Democrats.

O’Rourke has endorsed former El Paso County Judge Veronica Escobar, who’s also garnered other influential endorsements from groups including EMILY’s List and Democracy for America.

If elected, Escobar would make history as the first Latina from Texas to serve in Congress.

Escobar will still need to get through a contested primary. Her strongest competitor is former El Paso school board president Dori Fenenbock, a strong fundraiser with the ability to self-fund.

The primary also includes attorney Enrique Garcia, public radio executive John Rene Carrillo, former state Rep. Norma Chávez and retired Army Maj. Jerome Tilghman.

Whoever advances from the Democratic primary will be the overwhelming favorite in November. Two Republicans are running in the GOP respective primary.

Republican primary to replace GOP Rep. Lamar SmithLamar Seeligson SmithElection Countdown: Senate, House Dems build cash advantage | 2020 Dems slam Trump over Putin presser | Trump has M in war chest | Republican blasts parents for donating to rival | Ocasio-Cortez, Sanders to campaign in Kansas Greens sue EPA over ‘super-polluting’ truck rule Lawmakers scold NASA for cost overruns MORE

More than a dozen Republicans are running to succeed Smith, who is retiring after being term-limited out of his chairmanship of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee.

Smith’s decision to retire opens up his district for the first time in more than three decades, meaning that many ambitious Republicans in the district have been waiting a long time for a shot at Congress.

Smith’s exit has prompted at least 15 Republicans to jump into the race. The primary includes Chip Roy, the former chief of staff to Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzWashington needs to end hidden inflation tax on our capital gains GOP tax writer introduces bill to reduce capital gains taxes Senators push to clear backlog in testing rape kits MORE (R-Texas); state Rep. Jason Isaac; Robert Stovall, former chairman of the Bexar County GOP; William Negley, a former CIA agent; and former U.S. Rep. Francisco “Quico” Canseco, who represented Hurd’s district from 2011 to 2013.

And some of these candidates have political power players behind them to help them stand out. Brad Parscale, the former digital director for Trump’s campaign, is helping Stovall’s campaign, while Texas GOP mega-donor Red McCombs has backed Negley.

There’s also a crowded Democratic primary, but Democrats will be the underdog in the general election. Trump won the district by 10 points in 2016.