Primary Battles in Texas and Illinois Set Tone For Election 2018

Beto O’Rourke as a 2012 Democratic Primary Election Candidate for the U.S. Congress 16th District of Texas seat, representing El Paso and surrounding areas. (Credit: Beto O'Rourke for Congress Committee / Flickr)

By Michael Covin

While there will likely be greater focus on different states and different congressional races, Texas’ primaries on March 6 provided a mix of results that could be a sign of things to come. From higher Democratic turnout than four years ago to the slate of candidates and stances, there were takeaways and ongoing conversations.

While Illinois’ primaries on March 13 were not as deep, they still provided a few races to watch and turnout too that could carry over into November. One state is usually reliably red and the other is usually is reliably blue. But each’s primary election nights allow for some gauging into other primary election nights as the road to November winds forward.

The primary focus of the election night in Texas in March and going forward in the state will be centered around the U.S. Senate race. Senator Ted Cruz easily won his primary and will be challenged by Congressman Beto O’Rourke. The contest is seen as an outside opportunity for the Democratic Party in their quest to flip control of the U.S. Senate.

Not talked about as much is the governor’s race taking place this year. Gov. Greg Abbott easily won his primary, and on the Democratic side there will be a run-off between Lupe Valdez and Andrew White as neither candidate was able to get a majority of the votes.

The theme of run-offs was a major element of the U.S. House races in Texas and will draw much more attention than this run-off as the state hasn’t elected a Democratic governor in over 25 years. The running mates of the gubernatorial nominees were clearer as Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick and Democratic nominee Mike Collier won their primaries outright.

As mentioned, the U.S. House produced quite a few run-off races. Of the 72 primaries in the 36 congressional districts, 17 of them feature a run-off to determine the nominees for November. Some on the Democratic side have opened up conversations about the viability of flipping a Republican seat in November and the impact leanings of the nominee in the districts could in their chances of winning. With a state like Texas and these districts, that would require an adequate balance for sure.

One of the most talked about Democratic primaries involves the 7th Congressional District where Lizzie Pannill Fletcher is the preferred candidate by most in the party is slated to face outsider Laura Moser in a run-off. The Democratic Party is hoping to defeat Congressman John Culberson (R-TX) in a district that could be favorable in a wave year for the party. But many worry that Moser could lessen those chances even in a favorable year.

Another top target for Democrats is the 23rd Congressional District where Gina Ortiz Jones just missed winning the Democratic nomination outright in March.

The party is looking to defeat Congressman Will Hurd (R-TX), who had tough general election contests in terms of the landscape of the state and where his district lies. She will face Rick Trevino in what in a primary run-off she should win.

Another congressman that has been of expanded focus for Democrats is GOP congressman Pete Sessions in the state’s 32nd district, where there is a Democratic run-off that features Colin Allred and Lillian Salerno. It presents another contest where it causes a split among parts of the Democratic Party.

The 21st Congressional District provides one of the more interesting run-off storylines as both parties will have a run-off election. Mary Wilson and Joseph Kopser will face off for the Democratic nomination, while Chip Roy and Matt McCall will face off for the Republican nomination. Republican congressman Lamar Smith is not running for reelection and could provide an outside pickup opportunity for Democrats.

The run-offs in Texas will take place on May 22.

A week after Texas held their primary elections, Illinois held their primary elections.

Their election night also featured a gubernatorial election and a handful of House races to watch. J.B. Prizker would emerge as the Democratic nominee in a relatively easy primary while incumbent Gov. Bruce Rauner survived a scare from Jeanne Ives, who tapped into the base to boost her turnout. The House primaries would feature a heated Democratic primary that drew national interest and other outcomes that could create close contests in November.

In the 3rd Congressional District, Democratic congressman Dan Lipinski, with a voting record that has featured pro-life votes and not embracing expanded healthcare, found himself in a tough primary fight with Marie Newman, who had many progressive groups working to help her pull the upset.

Despite a close showing, Newman fell short as one of the more moderate Democratic members won his primary and will likely cruise to re-election in November. One of the side stories of this district involves the Republican nominee Arthur Jones who has been very outspoken including being the embodiment of a Nazi in the 21st century.

One of the districts that Democrats are targeting in Illinois is the 6th Congressional District that is represented by Congressman Peter Roskam. Sean Casten emerged from a close primary race as the Democratic nominee.

Another district of focus is the 12th Congressional District where Brendan Kelly easily won the Democratic nomination to challenge Congressman Mike Bost.

The 13th and 14th Congressional Districts represent two of the other main targets for the Democratic Party in a state that could trend bluer. Reps. Rodney Davis and Randy Hultgren are the incumbents in those districts. Betsy Dirksen Londrigan and Lauren Underwood emerged as the Democratic nominees in their respective districts.

Underwood, in particular, drew some late steam among progressive groups and as a woman of color provides a diverse candidate in a year with so many diverse candidates stepping up to run for office. The district is also seen as an outside pickup opportunity and someone with grassroots energy could be the right candidate even in a swing district.

So, typically we might dismiss states like Texas and Illinois when there could more Democratic opportunities for bigger victories in places like California or Pennsylvania or Florida with more pick-up opportunities or closer districts.

But if on November 6, some of these districts in a red state like Texas flip in favor of Democrats, that could tell a larger story. If districts in more conservative parts of Illinois flip and the governor’s seat changes parties that could tell a larger story of this year’s election.

The primary calendar is preparing to heat up and there will be primaries like some of the ones highlighted in Texas that divide the Democratic Party. There could be candidates like Lauren Underwood that emerge in some primaries that provide the right mix that unite and energize the Democratic Party while turning out independent and swing voters.

These conversations will continue throughout the year as the party hopes to have a strong election year. At the same time, Republicans will have some of their own storylines to follow as they look to defend incumbent seats, keep open seats, and limit any type of a wave with both congressional and state races.

Unlike with presidential politics, there aren’t battleground or safe states. There are states with their unique storylines that will altogether shape the 2018 midterm elections.

About Michael Covin 7 Articles
Michael Covin is a graduate of Rutgers University with degrees in political science and history. He has worked on campaigns on multiple levels in multiple states as well as spent time working with a government relations firm in Washington DC, a state legislator in New Jersey, and has written about politics for several years in New Jersey.