Who will control the Texas legislature?

The fallout from this year’s special sessions and impeachment trial will be on full display at the 2024 primary ballot box for the Texas Legislature. There are more axes to grind than a lumber mill, and the epicenter of that will be the Texas House. Speaker Dade Phelan (R-Beaumont) not only has his own re-election to worry about, but also preserving his majority through protecting incumbent members that voted with him on important issues, such as impeachment.

He’ll face headwinds from Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Attorney General Ken Paxton, who is not only backing Phelan’s main opponent David Covey but also wading into primaries against the speaker’s allies in the body. Add to that mix the quagmire that is Defend Texas Liberty (DTL) — the high-spending Phelan antagonist and Paxton ally PAC — following its own scandal involving antisemitic commentator Nick Fuentes.

DTL-backed candidates had mixed but not overtly poor results in the 2022 midterm primaries, and the group will be looking to build on that with an even larger list of targets after this year’s high-profile votes.

Then there’s Gov. Greg Abbott, already well on the path toward retribution against the 16 returning House Republicans who voted to strip education savings accounts from the House’s education omnibus bill in November. Abbott immediately endorsed each House Republican that backed him in the vote and has been trickling out endorsements in open seats and against that group of 16.

Abbott and Paxton are on opposite sides of more than 20 House races so far, in addition to the open Senate District 30 race — a seat currently held by Sen. Drew Springer (R-Muenster), who is not seeking another term. Abbott, along with Patrick, has endorsed Brett Hagenbuch — whose residency in the district is disputed by his opponents, though no court ruling has yet been made on it — while Paxton is behind Carrie de Moor.

On the issue front, the primary could provide a quality potency gauge between school choice and impeachment for GOP voters.

While Republicans command much of the attention, Democrats have their own tantalizing matchups. State Sen. Nathan Johnson (D-Dallas) faces a primary challenge from state Rep. Victoria Neave Criado (D-Dallas), whose main case against the incumbent is that he hasn’t been sufficiently progressive — a contention Johnson had countered with assertions of his progressive and effective legislative record.

In 2018, Democrats flipped 12 seats in the Texas House and have retained nine of them. But after redistricting, the battlegrounds have moved elsewhere. House District (HD) 118 in San Antonio is rated dead even and is still GOP-held, while HD 37 in the valley and HD 112 in Dallas lean ever so slightly blue — and Democrats are eyeing those seats for a flip.

Meanwhile, Republicans have South Texas’ HD 34, Plano’s HD 70, and Uvalde’s HD 80 in their crosshairs for a flip. State Sen. Morgan LaMantia’s (D-South Padre Island) Senate District (SD) 27 really the only upper chamber seat ripe for a flip, and she again faces Republican Adam Hinojosa who narrowly lost to her in 2022.

On the congressional side, former Congresswoman Mayra Flores is back for another go at Congressman Vicente Gonzalez (D-TX-34), who beat her by 8 points in 2022. In another South Texas congressional race, freshman Congresswoman Monica De La Cruz (R-TX-15) will likely again face her 2022 opponent Michelle Vallejo in a seat Democrats have hopes of flipping.

With no statewide races on the ballot and after the presidential and U.S. Senate races, all eyes will be on the litany of legislative seats up for grabs.

Do GOP Gains Continue in South Texas?

While most watching South Texas will key in on the actual legislative seats up for grabs, the other factors to watch are local offices, which Republicans have increasingly taken in the region as well as the electoral shift at the presidential level.

In 2020, nine of the 10 counties across the nation with the biggest swings toward Republicans from 2016 are located in South Texas. With Trump likely again on the ballot, and the mess at the border now a Democratic incumbent’s problem, the signs of that shift continuing are all there. But whether it materializes is an entirely different question.

Will the GOP-held Texas Legislature’s recently passed border priorities, including a hotly contested bill creating a state illegal immigration penalty, buoy Republicans’ support in the region, or hurt it? Abbott performed well in South Texas during last year’s re-election and has been the face of the state’s border response.

The GOP continues to bet on the border and has the gains to show for it. But Democrats remain a force in the area they’ve for so long controlled. 

Unstoppable force, meet immovable object.

The statewide Texas Partisan Index rating — a gauge of partisan leanings based on results from the last two election cycles — shows Republicans’ lead in the state grew by 2 points from 2020 to 2022. Now with a presidential race on the ballot, it’s worthwhile to watch how the only two statewide elections in 2024 will shift that rating come November.

Does a likely Trump-versus-Biden matchup help or hurt Republicans’ grip on the state? 

Then on the more granular level, which way do the battleground seats trend — whether they’re flipped or not — in setting up future clashes and the funneling of electoral resources?

Texas is red, and despite frequent visions of turning it blue, right now that seems to be just a dream for Democrats. Just like Rome wasn’t built in a day, a state can’t be entirely flipped on its head in one cycle. And right now, the foundation has barely been laid.

Dan Butcher

Dan Butcher (aka HP Pundit) is not a Democrat or Republican. He is a free thinking independent bringing you news and commentary with a dose of much needed common sense.

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