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Texas primary runoffs postponed until July due to coronavirus

CQ-Roll Call — By Bridget Bowman CQ-Roll Call

March 20-- WASHINGTON-Texas Republican Gov. Greg Abbott announced Friday he would push back the state's primary runoffs from May 26 until July 14, joining a growing number of states postponing elections due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The move prolongs primary campaigns in a slew of competitive congressional races, including the Democratic contest to pick a challenger to three-term Republican Sen. John Cornyn. With no candidate receiving more than 50% of the vote in the state's March 3 primary, the top two candidates, Democrats MJ Hegar and Royce West, advanced to the runoff.

Of the nine House races in Texas that Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales rates as a competitive, five feature primary runoffs.

Earlier Friday, the Texas Democratic Party filed a lawsuit seeking to allow all eligible voters to vote by mail-in ballot. The party argued that because mail-in ballots are already available for disabled voters, others concerned about the virus should also be able to receive them.

"We must do everything we can to guarantee access to the ballot box for individuals who are practicing social distancing and self-quarantining," said state party Chairman Gilberto Hinojosa. "Current law says you can vote by mail if you are disabled and we believe COVID-19 puts the health of all of us at risk. This lawsuit will allow any person who does not want to risk their health or that of their family's during this coronavirus pandemic to vote by mail."

The lawsuit is pending.

Hegar, who finished first in the March 3 Democratic primary with 22%, said in a statement that she was "pleased" with the governor's decision, but added, "We must smartly use this time to ensure a smooth and safe election in both the runoff and general election in November."

Hegar also called for Abbott and election officials to expand access to voting by mail and early voting, and to implement "no-excuse absentee voting."

Ahead of Abbott's announcement, primary campaigns were struggling to figure out their runoff strategies, since it was unclear when the election would take place and whether there would be in-person voting or if voters could participate only by mail.

"Right now we're kind of in a holding pattern," Rachel Perry, who is running Democrat Kim Olson's campaign in Texas' 24th District, said earlier Friday. "We just want an answer at this point. There's not much we can do to plan without knowing when the elections going to be."

Olson, a retired Air Force colonel, faces former local school board member Candace Valenzuela in the runoff in the suburban Dallas district, which is one of Democrats' top targets in the Lone Star State. Rep. Kenny Marchant, the district's GOP incumbent, is retiring after only narrowly winning reelection in 2018. The GOP candidate, former Irving Mayor Beth Van Duyne, was able to avoid a runoff.

Geoff Simpson, Valenzuela's campaign manager, also said the campaign was waiting for guidance about when and how the runoff would take place.

"We need to wait until we get more information to make major decisions," Simpson said.

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