What Texas Could Tell Us About the 2022 Midterm Primaries

Welcome to primary season.  The 2022 midterm primaries officially kicks off today in Texas, where polls are open until 10pm local time this evening.  For those curious about how the primary season will unfold, Texas is the state to watch.  That’s because the results of these races could provide some clues on how some major trends could play out in the upcoming midterms and provide insight on how voters view the political parties.

How Much Influence Does Trump Have Over the GOP?

Ever since Donald Trump’s defeat in the 2020 presidential election, pundits have wondered how much loyalty to Donald Trump will matter to Republican candidates and voters going forward.  Polls have indicated that the former president’s hold on GOP voters is waning – a January 2021 poll found Republican voters were evenly split on whether they considered themselves supporters of Trump or the Republican Party, while a January 2022 found a majority of Republicans said they support the party and not Trump.

In Republican primary races across the nation, pro-Trump candidates are facing off against candidates who signal a stronger loyalty to the GOP, and one Texas race could preview which camp might fare better in the 2022 Republican primaries

Back in 2020, Rep. Van Taylor (R-TX) won his district comprising the norther suburbs of Dallas by a comfortable margin.  At the same time, Trump only narrowly won against Biden in what is officially the 3rd Congressional District of Texas.  But a lot has changed since November 2020.  A few months later, Taylor became one of 35 House Republicans to vote for an independent commission to investigate the January 6th riot at the US Capitol.  Since then, supporters of the former president have criticized this group of Republicans for their lack of loyalty to Trump.  

While Taylor did not go as far as to vote to impeach the former president last year, his vote in support of the January 6th commission still leaves him vulnerable to GOP challengers in the March 1 primary.  While Trump has not endorsed any of Taylor’s challengers, the Texas congressman still faces a few tough opponents, including former Collin County Judge Keith Self and Suzanne Harp, the mother of Rep. Madison Cawthorn’s (R-NC) chief of staff.  How Taylor fares in the March 1 primary could portent the fate of other Republican incumbents who’ve drawn the ire of the party’s pro-Trump faction.

How Will Progressives Fare against Centrists in the Democratic Primaries?

In Democratic primaries across the country, voters are deciding over with whether to support centrist incumbents   or support progressives who are more aligned with the party’s liberal policies.    This battle will be played out on March 1 in the Democratic primary for the 28th Congressional District, which runs from San Antonio to the Rio Grande River.  In 2020, incumbent Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-TX) defeated progressive primary challenger Jessica Cisneros by just four points.

Since the last election, congressional districts in Texas have been redrawn, and the 28th District is now more left leaning than in the previous decade.  In 2022, Cisneros is once again challenging Cuellar for his seat, and this time, she’s secured endorsements from fellow progressives Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT).  Adding interest to the race is the fact that Cuellar’s residence and campaign office were raided by the FBI a few weeks ago

Since the redrawn 28th District is more favorable to Democrats this time around, Cisneros could, in theory, have an advantage on ideological grounds.  However, Mexican-American voters who dominate the Democratic electorate there aren’t particularly warm to progressive ideas, the 2022 Democratic primary for the 28th District is looking just as competitive as it was in 2020.   

How Will New Voting Laws Affect Turnout?

Since the 2020 election, 19 mostly GOP-controlled states like Georgia and Kansas enacted new laws to restrict voting.  States were able to do this thanks to the Supreme Court’s 2013 ruling in Shelby County v. Holder, which struck down an important provision of the Voting Rights Act.  In Texas, new voting laws include ID requirements and limit voting hours from 6am to 10pm local time. 

These new laws might suppress turnout, but the impact is likely to be minimal.  That’s because historically, voter turnout in Texas primary elections is low, as less than 20% of registered voters participate in midterm primaries most years.  Early voting for 2022 in Texas started already on February 14, and results show lower than average turnout so far, although early voting numbers the counties report to the state do not include mail-in ballots.   And traditionally, early voting has not been a good indicator of overall turnout in Texas.   This means we may not know the full impact of new voting laws in Texas until this November’s midterm election.

Could Manchin and Sinema Get Primaried for 2024?

Sens. Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) have torpedoed key Democratic proposals like voting right reform and the Build Back Better Act, which has sparked some lawmakers like Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) to say that he would support primary challengers against both of his Democratic colleagues.  In theory, this would give Democrats an opportunity to replace both Manchin and Sinema with Senators who are more supportive of the party’s legislative agenda.  But what is the likelihood of a Democratic challenger replacing either of them in the Senate?

Joe Manchin

As much as he remains a thorn in the side of many congressional Democrats, Joe Manchin is probably the only Democrat capable of winning a statewide seat in the Mountain State.  That’s because the state leans heavily Republican – in the 2020 presidential election, Donald Trump won West Virginia with nearly 69% of the vote, the second-highest percentage carried by either presidential candidate that year (Wyoming was first, with Trump carrying nearly 70% of the vote). 

Additionally, all winners of statewide races in West Virginia, who are currently holding elected office, are Republicans.  This includes Manchin’s colleague in the Senate, Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), and all five directly elected executive branch officials in West Virginia’s state government including Republican Gov. Jim Justice.

Even if a Democratic candidate were to successfully defeat Manchin in the 2024 primary, they would almost certainly lose the general election.  In 2018, Manchin defeated his Republican opponent by a margin of only 3%, and it’s highly unlikely a Democrat even one iota further to the left would have fared any better.

It is also worth noting Joe Manchin is quite popular among West Virginia voters.  A recent poll by the American First Policy Institute showed 59% percent of voters approve of Manchin – nearly double of President Joe Biden’s approval rating of 30% in the state.  Manchin is also very familiar to West Virginia voters, having severed six years as governor before being elected to the Senate in 2010.  Even though West Virginia isn’t friendly territory for Democrats, Manchin has proven time and time again he’s the only Democrat capable of winning the state.

Kyrsten Sinema

The senior Arizona senator isn’t as immune to a primary challenger, however.  Arizona is a purple state that has been gradually trending blue.  President Joe Biden won the state in the 2020 general election by a razor-thin 0.4% margin, while then-Democratic candidate Mark Kelly defeated Sen. Martha McSally (R-AZ) by a margin of 2.4%.  In theory, this would give a Democratic senator candidate who’s slightly to the left of Sinema – and more supportive of the party’s legislative agenda – at least a somewhat viable shot at winning a statewide race. 

Like Manchin, Sinema is up for reelection in 2024, and while no Democrats have officially announced plans to primary Sinema, Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-AZ) has publicly expressed interest.  The Phoenix-area congressman has been openly critical of Sinema before, and in January 2022, he met with some of Sinema’s donors in New York City.   

More so, Sinema’s popularity has been dropping among Democratic voters in Arizona.  Sinema started 2021 with a 60% approval rating among Arizona Democrats, but since she voiced her opposition to the Build Back Better Act tax provisions and filibuster changes necessary to bring about voting rights reform, her approval rating among the state’s Democrats has dropped to just under 10% in January 2022.  With low approval ratings, a potential formidable challenger, and a state electorate leaning ever so slightly blue, Sinema could face some serious headaches if she seeks an additional Senate term two years from now.

However, a lot can change between now and 2024.  If the Democrats lose their majority in the Senate in the 2022 midterm elections, Manchin and Sinema’s hold on the party’s agenda won’t be quite as noticeable.  Additionally, priorities can change quickly, and Democrats may not be as occupied with sweeping legislative proposals over the next two years.  But at least in the case of Sinema, opportunities for potential primary challenges remain ripe.

2022 Midterm Primaries Feature Incumbents versus Incumbents

Redistricting has made for strange bedfellows. Thanks to population losses reported in the 2020 Census, seven states lost one seat apiece in the US House of Representatives.  Individual states redraw their district boundaries to create a new map of congressional districts, and the states that lost a congressional seat have their own set of unique challenges.  On top of that, several states where one party has a supermajority are using their leverage to redraw district lines to bump out House members from another major party.  Therefore, the results of these newly drawn district lines have made for five strange matchups that involves two incumbents from the same party. 

Lucy McBath (D-GA) versus Carolyn Bourdeaux (D-GA)

Both congresswomen are new to Washington – McBath was elected in 2018, and Bourdeaux in 2020.  On December 30, 2021, Georgia’s Republican Governor Brian Kemp, signed into law a Republican-drawn congressional map that shifts most of McBath’s 6th Congressional District to the exurbs west of Atlanta where Republicans dominate the electorate.  As a result, McBath is now running in the 7th Congressional District, which is currently held by Bourdeaux.  Each congresswoman has her own advantages, so the race is likely to be close.  While McBath has gained national recognition for her story as a gun control advocate and cancer survivor, Bourdeaux’s old district represents most of the new district, and she has repeatedly touted her ties to the district on the campaign trail.

Marie Newman (D-IL) versus Sean Casten (D-IL)

Democrats currently control 13 of Illinois’ 18 congressional seats, and Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed into law in November 2021 a new congressional map that aims to give Democrats a total of 14 seats out of 17 seats since the state will lose one due to a drop in population.  To accomplish this, however, state legislators had to put Rep. Newman and Rep. Chuy Garcia (D-IL) in the same district.  Rather than run against a fellow progressive, Newman has opted to run in the neighboring 6th Congressional District, currently held by Rep. Casten.  While Casten has been touting his work on climate an infrastructure, much of Newman’s old district lies in the new one, and she has been emphasizing her longtime Chicagoland roots to contrast herself with her opponent, who moved to the area as an adult.

Mary Miller (R-IL) versus Rodney Davis (R-IL)

Illinois Democrats’ “sacrifice” of Newman was intended to thin the herd of GOP-held seats.  For instance, the new map puts Rep. Miller’s hometown in a new seat held by Rep. Mike Bost (R-IL) that covers the southern third of the state.  Rather than fight against Bost, Miller opted to seek run against Rep. Davis in the primary, whose central Illinois district contains portions of Miller’s old district.  While Davis has represented his district in Washington for five terms, Miller brings to the table an endorsement from former President Donald Trump, although she recently faced controversy for quoting Hitler.

Andy Levin (D-MI) and Haley Stevens (D-MI)

Michigan lost a congressional seat in 2020 Census.  The state’s new congressional map is the product of an independent commission, and while the commission has been successful in avoiding partisan gerrymandering, it wasn’t enough to stop a race between two incumbents.  Both Rep. Levin and Rep. Stevens could have opted to run in the new 10th Congressional District, which leans slightly Republican and contains suburban communities northeast of Detroit.  But instead, both Democratic incumbents chose to seek reelection in the 11th Congressional District, which features a more Democratic-leaning electorate in the suburbs northwest of Detroit.   While Levin resides in the new district, Stevens’ current district includes much of the new one she’s running in.

David McKinley (R-WV) versus Alex Mooney (R-WV)

West Virginia’s House delegation will shrink from three to two members in the next Congress.  A new congressional map signed into law by Republican Gov. Jim Justice last fall means Rep. McKinley and Rep. Mooney will have to square off to see who will represent the state’s northern 2nd Congressional District next year.  While two-thirds of McKinley’s old district is included in the newly formed district, Mooney is a staunch supporter of former President Trump, meaning whoever wins the May 10th primary is anyone’s guess.

All About PACs

To run a campaign, candidates need money, and with the small exception of publicly financed campaigns, a sizeable portion of this money comes from political action committees (PACs).  By providing for a campaign’s war chest, PACs play a massive role in determining how candidates are elected, and in turn, which kinds of policies are enacted.

Overview

The Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) established the first PAC in 1943 after Congress prohibited unions from directly contributing to political candidates.  Corporations were initially barred from directly contributing to PACs under the Tillman Act of 1907, and the Smith-Connally Act extended this law to include unions in 1943.  Later, a series of campaign laws including the Federal Election Campaign Act (FECA) of 1971 allowed corporations and trade associations to form PACs.  The FECA also notably established the Federal Election Commission (FEC), which enforces PAC laws.

Businesses, organizations, and other entities form PACs as a way to pool resources together to support the candidates they like, and indirectly, oppose candidates they don’t like.  Overall, a PAC’s purpose is to raise money in support of a candidate, to get them elected, and to help defeat candidates they oppose.  Additionally, PACs aren’t limited to candidates for elected office – such as with state ballot measures.   

Types of PACs

There are five types of PACs:

  1. Separate Segregated Funds (SSF).  These are political committees established by labor unions, corporations, membership organizations, or trade associations.  They can only solicit contributions from an individual connected with the sponsoring organization, such as an employee or an association member. 
  2. Nonconnected committees. These entities are not established or sponsored by any particular organization, and unlike separate segregated funds, they can target the general public for solicitation. 
  3. Super PACs.  Created in 2010 after the US Supreme Court rulings for Citizens United v. FEC and SpeechNOW v. FEC , super PACs cannot make contributions to candidates or parties.  However, these PACs do make independent expenditures in federal campaigns, such as running advertisements or sending mail that either supports or opposes a candidate.  Unlike other PACs, there are no limits or restrictions on the sources of funds that can be used for expenditures.  Super PACs are still bound by the rules of other PACs in that they must file regular reports with the FEC.
  4. Hybrid PACs.  Similar to super PACs, hybrid PACs can spend unlimited funds on activities outside a campaign.  What sets hybrid PACs apart, however, is their ability to contribute funds directly to a political party, campaign, or candidate, similar to SSFs and nonconnected committees.
  5. Leadership PACs.  These are committees established by candidates or individuals currently holding federal office.  Both Representatives and Senators can establish leadership PACs to support candidates within their political party.

PAC Rules

PACs must follow numerous rules set out by the FECA and the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002.  For instance, a PAC has 10 days to register with the FEC after its formation.  The FEC also requires politicians and candidates who create a leadership PAC to be listed when submitting the required documentation.  Furthermore, current laws require PACs to meticulously keep records on how they spend their money, which includes salaries, advertisements, supplies, rent, day-to-day expenses, dinners, and more.

The following chart provides an overview of the limitations on how much different types of PACs can spend and receive.

SSFsNonconnected PACsLeadership
PACs
Hybrid PACsSuper PACs
Limits on
contributions

Can contribute no more than:

$5,000 to a
candidate or
candidate
committee for each election
 
$15,000 to a
political party per year, and
 
$5,000 to
another PAC
per year

Can contribute no more than:

$5,000 to a
candidate or
candidate
committee for each election
 
$15,000 to a
political party per year, and
 
$5,000 to
another PAC
per year

Can contribute no more than:

$5,000 to a
candidate or
candidate
committee for each election
 
$15,000 to a
political party per year, and
 
$5,000 to
another PAC
per year


Can contribute no more than:
 
$5,000 to a
candidate or
candidate
committee for each election,
 
$15,000 to a
political party per year, and
 
$5,000 to
another PAC
per year, but
can spend
unlimited
amounts of
money on
non-candidate or campaign-
related
political
activities




Cannot directly contribute to
candidate or
party but can
spend
unlimited
amounts of
money on
non-candidate or campaign-
related
political activities
Limits on
donations
from
individuals
Can accept up to $5,000 per
year
Can accept up to $5,000 per
year
Can accept up to $5,000 per
year
Can accept up to $5,000 per
year
No cap on
donations

PACs and Advocacy

By influencing elections, PACs indirectly play a pivotal role in lobbying and advocacy.  Different businesses, industries, and interests have PACs, and they work to get candidates elected who support those issues or host fundraisers for other candidates in the hopes of attracting them to their cause.  In turn, once those candidates are elected, advocates can target public officials who are more likely to be favorable to their cause.  Thus, by helping to get friendlier candidates elected to public office, PACs show they can play a massive role in moving organizations’ advocacy objectives forward.