Republican Governor Greg Abbott will face Democrat Beto O’Rourke after voters in Texas opened what could be a lengthy, bruising primary season poised to reshape political power from state capitals to Washington.
Both candidates comfortably won their party's nominations on Tuesday. Mr Abbott secured 66.6 per cent of the vote in a crowded Republican field while Mr O'Rourke captured more than 90 per cent of Democratic votes, an Associated Press tally showed.
Mr Abbott is now in a commanding position as he seeks a third term, beginning his run with more than $50 million and campaigning on a strongly conservative agenda in America’s largest Republican state. That leaves Mr O’Rourke facing an uphill effort to recapture the magic of his 2018 Senate campaign, when he nearly ousted Ted Cruz.
“This group of people, and then some, are going to make me the first Democrat to be governor of the state of Texas since 1994,” Mr O’Rourke told supporters in Fort Worth, where in 2018 he flipped Texas’s largest Republican county.
“This is on us. This is on all of us.”
Mr Abbott said “Republicans sent a message".
“They want to keep Texas on the extraordinary path of opportunity that we have provided over the past eight years,” his campaign said in a statement.
The Texas primary on Tuesday was expected to be a test of the Republican party's rightward shift.
Former US president Donald Trump endorsed more than a dozen candidates in the state's primary, including Mr Abbott.
Mr Trump's endorsement of State Attorney General Ken Paxton wasn't enough to prevent a run-off election against Texas Land Commissioner George P Bush, the grandson of George HW Bush.
While Mr Paxton won more votes than Mr Bush on Tuesday, his failure to win outright could raise questions about the power of Mr Trump’s endorsement as he seeks to reshape the party in his image in other primaries later this year.
The primary season, which picks up speed in the summer, determines which candidates from each party advance to the fall campaign.
Midterms are typically considered to be referendums on the sitting president and Republicans look poised to win back at least one chamber in US Congress, where Democrats hold a razor-thin majority.
The Texas primary fell on the same night as President Joe Biden's State of the Union address, where he attempted to reset the Democratic Party's agenda after several of his of domestic policies had stalled.
Mr Biden's approval rating sits at only 41 per cent, a recent Gallup poll showed.
Republicans are betting that the Texas primaries will be the first step towards them retaking Congress in November, pointing to Mr Biden’s low approval ratings, inflation and anger about the chaotic withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan. Russia’s war with Ukraine could also have deep political implications.
History would suggest Republicans have a sizeable advantage as well. The Democrats have lost congressional seats in the midterms every year this century, with the exception of 2002 after the September 11 terrorist attacks.
The Associated Press contributed to this report