Texas-sized primaries including Ted Cruz, Beto O'Rourke mark official start to crucial midterm elections

WASHINGTON — Texas is firing the starting gun on this year's midterm elections Tuesday with a slate of primaries that will offer some of the first hard data on the mood of the electorate under President Donald Trump.

These aren't special elections, like the one Alabama last year, or off-year elections, like the ones in Virginia in November, but the first official time voters get a chance to cast ballots in the 2018 midterms.

Both parties will be watching closely to see what's happening within their base of supporters, and to get a glimpse at the enthusiasm gap that Democrats are hoping to exploit this year.

So far, early voting data suggests that gap is wide. The state's 15 largest counties have seen a surge in the Democratic vote that dramatically exceeds growth on the Republican side.

"The Texas primary election offers the latest, and perhaps strongest evidence to date of an impending Democratic wave that could reach much further into traditionally red states than previously thought," said Tom Bonier, the CEO of TargetSmart, a Democratic data firm.

RELATED: Rising political stars to watch in 2018

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Rising political stars to watch in 2018
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Rising political stars to watch in 2018

Randy Bryce (D)

Bryce made waves earlier this year when he announced he would run against House Speaker Paul Ryan in the 2018 midterm elections. Bryce, a Democrat, is a U.S. Army veteran, cancer survivor and union ironworker.

Rep. Scott Taylor, (R-VA)

A former Navy SEAL, Taylor has represented Virginia's 2nd District since he was elected in 2016. He has branded himself as a Republican lawmaker who is unafraid to speak out against President Trump and members of his own party -- recently calling out Roy Moore for allegations of sexual misconduct.

Rep. Seth Moulton, (D-MA)

39-year-old Seth Moulton has increasingly emerged as a prominent House member and one to watch within the Democratic party. He served four tours of duty in Iraq and notably serves as the. Recently, he has advocated for "a new generation" of Democratic leadership.

Rep. Chris Collins, (R-NY)

Collins was elected to represent New York's 27th district on Capitol Hill in 2012, and has since positioned himself as a vocal right-wing defender within the Republican party. He also came out as one of President Trump's most vocal supporters leading up to an after the 2016 election.

Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-Ill.)

Krishnamoorthi was elected in 2016 -- making him one of the more freshman lawmakers on Capitol Hill. Still, the former lawyer with a past of aiding the Obama administration has played an integral role this year in congressional investigations into the Trump campaign's potential ties to Russia. As a member of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, he has taken many opportunities to speak critically of the clearance aides like Jared Kushner have -- and has firmly positioned himself as a staunch opponent of GOP efforts to repeal and replace Obamacare.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, (R-AK)

As one of 21 women currently serving in the U.S. Senate, Murkowski has positioned herself as a more moderate leader within the Republican party. Murkowski refused to toe the party line on an attempted Obamacare repeal earlier this year, and has since raised skepticism over specific elements of the GOP tax bill and Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore.

Rep. Charlie Crist, (D-Fla.)

Crist is one of the more interesting players currently positioned in the political landscape. Once a Republican, Crist served as both attorney general and governor of Florida -- but then switched to a member of the Independent and eventually Democratic party. In his current House role representing Florida's 13th congressional district, Crist has emerged as a Democrat unafraid to take a middle-ground approach in his policy stances.

Sen. Tom Cotton, (R-AR)

As the youngest U.S. senator, Cotton's political future currently looks very bright. As one of the few Capitol Hill lawmakers that has yet to have a public feud -- on Twitter or otherwise -- with President Trump, Cotton was recently on the shortlist to replace Mike Pompeo as CIA director if Pompeo replaced Rex Tillerson as secretary of state.

Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, (D-NV)

Catherine Cortez Masto is the first Latina ever elected to the U.S. Senate.

Governor-elect Ralph Northam (D-VA)

Northam was elected governor of Virginia in the series of "anti-Trump" Election Day victories Democrats celebrated in Nov. 2017. Northam's victory over Ed Gillespie signaled a potential shift in the oft-fraught over Virginia battleground state -- and Northam's gubernatorial tenure will be one to eye in the context of midterms and the 2020 presidential election.

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D, NY)

Many who watch politics closely have noted Gillibrand as one to watch since she was appointed to Hillary Clinton's former Senate seat in 2009, and then elected in 2012. Early in her Senate career, Gillibrand used her position as a member of the Committee on Armed Services to chalk up a major legislative win by championing the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." Gillibrand has also recently spoken out against sexual harassment allegations stemming from both Democratic and Republican offices -- calling on both Sen. Al Franken and President Trump to resign.

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Historically, primary turnout has not necessarily correlated with general election turnout, but the data has nonetheless encouraged Democrats in a deep red state they've long dreamed of turning blue.

"We need to see the final numbers to be certain," said Texas-based GOP consultant Matt Mackowiak. "But it likely shows high Democratic enthusiasm which should be a concern for the GOP for the midterms."

Some well-known names will appear on the ballot, including Republican Sen. Ted Cruz.

He's expected to cruise through his primary, but Texas Democrats are hoping that Rep. Beto O'Rourke will convince doubters that the challenger — a former punk rocker who has been stumping across the state in his pickup truck — can give Cruz a real run for his money in November.

Meanwhile, a scion of the Bush family, George P. Bush, son of former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, is facing a primary in his bid for another term as Land Commissioner.

Bush is favored over challenger Jerry Patterson, but he may be forced into a May 22nd runoff election if he does not clear the 50 percent threshold Tuesday. Texas has been friendly to the Bushes in the past, but in the Trump era, the family's name may not carry the cache it used to.

In the state's 36 congressional races, both parties are wading through some seriously crowded primaries.

RELATED: High-profile Congressional Republicans

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High-profile Congressional Republicans
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High-profile Congressional Republicans
Senator John McCain (R-AZ)
U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY)
House of Representatives Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy
House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI)
Senator Lindsey Graham
Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY)
Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC)
Senator Richard Burr (R-NC)
U.S. Senator Susan Collins (R-ME)
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL)
Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX)
Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AL)
Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT)
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Some, like an spawling 18-way GOP primary to replace retiring Rep. Lamar Smith, are playing out in safe seats and are unlikely to have much consequence in November.

But others will determine the candidates in some of the nation's top battlegrounds for control of the House.

For Democrats, all eyes will be on the 7th Congressional District, outside Houston, where party officials in Washington have been at war with one of their own candidates.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee sparked outrage on the left when it publicly attacked Democrat Laura Moser with opposition research.

The DCCC concluded Moser, who is well known to activists for her anti-Trump "resistance" work, is deeply flawed as a general election candidate after they discovered a 2014 op-ed she wrote saying she would "sooner have my teeth pulled out without anesthesia" than move to a family ranch in Paris, Texas.

Hillary Clinton won the district, currently held by GOP Rep. John Culberson, so Democrats think they have a strong chance at flipping it.

While Texas gets an early start, primaries will continue all the way through September. Next up is Illinois on March 20.

 

Texas primary races to watch

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