The battle for the GOP’s future comes to Texas: From the Politics Desk

Welcome to the online version of From the Politics Desk, an evening newsletter that brings you the NBC News Politics team’s latest reporting and analysis from the campaign trail, the White House and Capitol Hill.

In today’s edition, deputy politics editor Adam Wollner previews tonight’s runoff primaries in Texas. Plus, national political correspondent Steve Kornacki breaks down what the polls show about how a guilty verdict in Donald Trump’ trial could alter the 2024 race.

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The battle for the GOP’s future comes to Texas

By Adam Wollner

Texas is hosting a slate of primary runoff elections today that will settle intraparty feuds and shape the future of the GOP in a traditional conservative stronghold.

If no candidate crossed the 50% threshold in the March primary, the top two vote-getters advanced to the runoff, meaning dozens of general election matchups will officially be set after tonight.

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GOP congressman faces backlash from the right: So far, every member of Congress who has sought re-election this cycle has won their primary — with the exception of a Republican primary in Alabama that pitted two incumbents against each other following redistricting. GOP Rep. Tony Gonzales hopes to keep that streak going in Texas’ 23rd District as he faces off against pro-gun YouTuber Brandon Herrera, NBC News’ Alexandra Marquez reports.

Gonzales has faced attacks on the right and was censured by the state GOP for voting for a new gun law in the wake of the 2022 elementary school shooting in Uvalde, which is in his massive U.S.-Mexico border district, and in favor of protecting same-sex marriage.

Herrera has touted himself as a “gun rights advocate” and an ally of former President Donald Trump, who has not endorsed in the primary. Gonzales’ allies have highlighting Herrera’s past comments making light of veteran suicides and about Nazi machine guns. Gonzales won 45% of the vote in March while Herrera took 25%, but today’s contest is still expected to be close.

There are a couple of other congressional primary runoff races worth watching. The race in Texas’ 12th District to replace Rep. Kay Granger has split GOP loyalties, with Gov. Greg Abbott backing state Rep. Craig Goldman and state Attorney General Ken Paxton lining up behind business owner John O’Shea.

And in the 28th District, retired Navy officer Jay Furman and rancher Lazaro Garza are vying for the chance to face Democratic Rep. Henry Cuellar, who was indicted this month on federal charges of bribery and money laundering. The congressman has denied any wrongdoing.

Paxton’s revenge tour: Further down the ballot, Paxton’s primary revenge tour will come to a close as he seeks to knock out Republican state lawmakers who voted to impeach him last year.

His top target is one of the most powerful Republicans in Texas: state House Speaker Dade Phelan, who oversaw the impeachment proceedings against Paxton on corruption charges. The state House impeached Paxton, but the state Senate declined to convict and remove him from office.

Phelan now faces a primary challenge from conservative activist David Covey, who has campaigned heavily on his support from Paxton and Trump. Covey took 46% of the vote in the March primary compared to 43% for Phelan.

Phelan is among the eight GOP state House lawmakers who were forced into runoffs after nine lost their primaries outright two months ago. Many were also targeted for defeat by Paxton or Abbott over opposition to his school voucher program, NBC News’ Jane C. Timm reports.

One other notable example: former Trump campaign spokesperson Katrina Pierson is running with Abbott and Paxton’s support against Republican state Rep. Justin Holland.

Polls show a Trump guilty verdict would boost Biden. Here’s why that’s not a sure thing.

By Steve Kornacki

Hanging over Trump’s Manhattan trial has been the basic question of what impact a verdict will have on the presidential race — or if it will have any impact at all.

And the national pre-verdict polling does seem to point to a clear answer. Our own NBC News poll looked at this in February. In a head-to-head matchup, Trump led Joe Biden 47%-42%. But when voters were asked what they’d do “if Donald Trump is found guilty and convicted this year of a felony,” Biden took the lead, 45%-43%.

More recently, a Yahoo News/YouGov survey last week found Trump and Biden tied at 45%. But when voters were asked how they’d react “if Trump is convicted of a crime in the hush money case,” Biden opened a 7-point lead, 46%-39%.

And this month’s Marquette Law School poll split its respondents into two groups. One was asked how they’d vote “if it turns out that Donald Trump is found guilty in his New York trial.” Biden led 43%-39% on that question. The other group, though, was asked what they’d do “if it turns out that Donald Trump is found not guilty in his New York trial.” They sided with Trump 44%-38%.

So that settles that, right?

This is where a vital caveat comes into play: These findings are all rooted in a hypothetical scenario. Voters have been asked how they would react to a potential conviction or acquittal, but whether this is how they’d actually process a verdict can’t be known until and unless there is one.

After all, events don’t take place in a vacuum. A Trump verdict would presumably unleash a torrent of controversy and highly public posturing from all corners. Absorbing all of this could shape (or reshape) how voters feel about the verdict. And while a verdict would dominate news coverage, plenty of other politically loaded battles will also command the public’s attention between now and November, potentially diluting any impact from this trial.

There’s recent history to consider, too. The past nine years have been marked by periodic explosions of what was thought to be political toxicity involving Trump. Often, these have been accompanied by quick polling drops, as we saw with the release of the “Access Hollywood” tape in 2016 and the Jan. 6 riots in 2021. In these and other instances, though, Trump’s numbers ultimately returned to baseline.

Still, in a race as close as this one, even a slight shift in polling could prove decisive. So if Trump is convicted and if there is a small group of his supporters who defect from his camp and if they don’t eventually come back, the impact could be seismic.

But that’s a lot of “ifs.”

Read more on the closing arguments in today’s Trump trial proceedings →

That’s all from The Politics Desk for now. If you have feedback — likes or dislikes — email us at [email protected]

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