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Texas primary election 2014: What to watch for

Voters head to the polls on Tuesday in Texas, where a primary season that began with a roar seems likely to end with a whisper when the dust settles on Wednesday morning.

Several conservative primary challengers that entered the race with an early head of steam are expected to come up short in their bid to unseat entrenched Republican incumbents.

But with some marquee races to watch and some familiar names on the ballot, the results on Tuesday should still produce some fireworks that could shape Texas' political landscape in the November general election and beyond.

Cornyn likely to avoid tea party wrath

When ultra-conservative Rep. Steve Stockman, R-Texas, announced his bid to unseat veteran Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, it looked like 2014's first real battle in the ongoing civil war between the Republican Party's tea party and establishment wings.

That assessment proved short lived. Stockman never quite achieved liftoff, undone by a lack of money, a reputation for intemperate statements, and a curious absence from the campaign trail.

The likely result: Even with the Republican base angry about the debt ceiling and budget deals, or just displeased with Washington generally, Cornyn is on pace to break the 50 percent he needs to avoid a runoff. While there's always room for surprise, team Cornyn is likely breathing easy. If he wins the primary and coasts through the general election, the lesson may be that conservative challengers can't find much room to the right of conservative senators, nor can they easily match the organization and infrastructure of incumbents' campaigns.

Democrats scramble for viable Senate challenger

While whoever emerges from the GOP primary would have a relatively easy path to victory in deep-red Texas, their job has been considerably eased by chaos in the Democratic primary, where party bigwigs are scrambling to derail a surging candidate who has advocated for impeaching President Obama and repealing Obamacare.

Kesha Rogers, a Democratic activist and follower of left-wing conspiracy theorist Lyndon LaRouche, has called for a reinstatement of the Glass-Steagall act to separate commercial banking from investment banking, she's scribbled Hitler mustaches on pictures of the president, and likened the Affordable Care Act to the practices of Nazi doctors, according to The Hill newspaper.

She's also a leading candidate for Texas' Democratic U.S. Senate nomination.

Party officials have largely thrown their support behind dentist David Alameel, whose campaign told The Hill that internal polling shows their candidate doing very well.

But with most eyes on the GOP senate primary and a high-octane gubernatorial race, Texas Democrats remain worried that a low-turnout election (less than ten percent, if history is any guide) could produce an unwelcome surprise. Tuesday's will also be the first primary election held under the state's new voter ID law, throwing another unpredictable variable into the mix.

Would-be governors race ahead to November

Texas state Sen. Wendy Davis, a Democrat, and state Attorney General Greg Abbott, a Republican, are expected to win their respective parties' nominations for governor, teeing up one of the most closely-watched (and most expensive) general elections in the country.

Davis, whose star rose among Democrats in Texas and nationwide with her filibuster of an anti-abortion bill last year, has already posted strong fundraising numbers, bringing in $12.2 million in the second half of 2013. But Abbott has been no slouch in that regard, raising about $11.5 million during the same period. And with Texas' conservative tilt, Davis will still face an uphill slog to claim victory in the general election.

Old guard, new guard

Two veteran House members are facing primary challenges on Tuesday, with one expected to prevail and another in the fight of his life.

Conservative activist Katrina Pierson, boasting endorsements from national tea party groups and former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, launched an initially promising primary campaign last year against Rep. Pete Sessions, R-Texas, but she's seen her bid falter amid financial woes and a 1997 shoplifting arrest, according to Politico. Sessions is expected to win.

Far less certain, however, is the fate of Rep. Ralph Hall, R-Texas, a 90-year old former Democrat with 17 terms in Congress under his belt who's fending off a stiff, well-financed challenger in the primary.

John Ratcliffe, Hall's opponent, is a wealthy former U.S. attorney who's sunk hundreds of thousands of dollars of his own money into his campaign. He's also not running to the right of Hall, but instead taking square aim at the incumbent's age and long time in public life, arguing that Hall's district needs new representation.

And finally, a familiar name makes a return to Texas politics: George P. Bush, son of former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and nephew of former President and Texas Gov. George W. Bush, will face his first test with voters on Tuesday as he seeks the GOP nomination for Texas land commissioner.

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