While most of the attention in the Texas primaries is focused on the races for lieutenant governor and attorney general, there are notable state senate races that will have equally profound effects on public policy decisions in the years to come.
With half the 31-member Texas Senate is up for re-election this year, there are two open-seat races and four Republican primary fights.
The open-seat race is in Senate District 7, in the north side of Harris County. Incumbent Dan Patrick gave up the seat in his bid for lieutenant governor. The race pits former Harris County tax assessor-collector Paul Bettencourt against James Wilson, who unsuccessfully ran for the Texas House in 2012.
As the Houston Chronicle put in their endorsement, “Think of Paul Bettencourt as a good-natured Dan Patrick.”
While there is no public polling available, few observers expect anything but a Bettencourt blowout.
Konni Burton is the tea party favorite in the five-person race for the Tarrant Count SD10 race. While a Republican-leaning district, SD10 was represented by Wendy Davis who had to surrender the seat in her bid for governor.
Other candidates in the GOP primary include Mark Skinner, Jon Schweitzer, Tony Pompa and former State Rep. Mark Shelton.
Burton has the distinction of being the only legislative challenger in the state endorsed by U.S. Senator Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX). Burton has also received support from the area’s insurgent conservative legislators, including Bill Zedler, Matt Krause, Giovanni Capriglione, Pat Fallon and Jonathan Stickland.
Pompa has the most unique story in the race, having been brought to the country illegally at 11-years-old by his grandmother. He currently serves on the Arlington school board.
The race is significant because of the players, but more so because of the geography. Tarrant County has become the most important battleground in the Texas GOP.
Incumbent Sen. John Carona in Dallas County’s SD16 was rated the most liberal member of the Senate’s GOP caucus in a non-partisan study by the chairman of Rice University’s political science department. One of the wealthiest men in the legislature, Carona is being aggressively challenged by real estate developer Don Huffines.
The Huffines name in the Metroplex is powerful one, thanks to a series of prominent family businesses including an auto dealership.
Huffines has garnered strong conservative support from the likes of U.S. Sens. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), while also being endorsed by former Dallas mayor and one-time U.S. senatorial candidate Tom Leppert.
Carona, on the other hand, has been strongly supported by left-leaning Republican State Rep. Jason Villalba and establishment-friendly Republicans like former football player turned businessman Roger Staubach.
Two years ago, tea party favorite Donna Campbell beat liberal Republican Jeff Wentworth in the GOP run-off. Now, she is facing two challengers more closely aligned with the Bexar County political establishment: Elise Chan and Mike Novak.
Both challengers have taken swipes at Campbell, and the incumbent is seen as vulnerable by many Austin insiders.
SD2 and SD31
GOP incumbents Kel Seliger (SD-31, Amarillo) and Bob Deuell (SD-2, Greenville) both face challenges from the right, though neither is presumed to be in danger in this election cycle.
Follow Michael Quinn Sullivan on Twitter @MQSullivan