Start your midterm engines! The 2014 election will officially begin Tuesday in Texas, the first state to hold primaries this year.
There's a full slate of compelling contests on the ballot, ranging from U.S. Senate race to land commissioner campaign. Texas's runoff law -- if no candidate receives a majority of the vote, the top two vote-getters advance to a runoff -- adds another layer of intrigue and could extend some campaigns into late May.
Here are the five biggest things to watch:
1. John Cornyn's margin
The Senate's second-ranking Republican hasn't been seriously threatened by any of the tea party candidates running against him. Perhaps the surest sign that Cornyn will win the nomination without enduring a runoff comes straight from his mouth. "My goal is to win the election without a runoff, and I think we’ll achieve that goal," he said last week.
Rule No. 1 of politics is not to publicly set a bar you are not sure you can clear. Given the disastrous campaign of Rep. Steve Stockman, who has waged an ineffective bid that has gained no traction since he jumped in at the eleventh hour, Cornyn is probably going to end up clearing the goal he has set publicly. "Stockman, from the day he launched his campaign was a weak candidate. And his candidacy only became weaker and weaker," said Rice University political scientist Mark Jones.
Tea party activists have never been really jazzed about Cornyn, but they never found someone viable to challenge him. They may grouse that Cornyn wasn't fully embraced by the party base if he wins with 55 or 60 percent Tuesday. But that won't change the fact that at this point, they are looking at six more years of him in the Senate.
2. David Dewhurst and the downballot drama
The Senate GOP primary turned out to be a nothing-burger and Attorney General Greg Abbott is expected to cruise to the GOP nomination for governor. But further down the ballot, there is some tea party vs. establishment drama that isn't likely to wrap up neatly Tuesday.
Most observers expect Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst to head to a runoff in the race for his job against a candidate running to his right. The likliest bet to join him is state Sen. Dan Patrick, a conservative radio host. Dewhurst was once viewed as a near-lock to become a U.S. senator. That was before Ted Cruz upset him in 2012.
There are shades of Cruz vs. Dewhurst in the Republican primary for attorney general, a three-way race that also looks to be headed to a runoff. State Sen. Ken Paxton is running as the mold of Cruz (Cruz has praised Paxton but has not officially endorsed him). State Rep. Dan Branch, meanwhile, is more of an establishment Republican in the Dewhurst mold. Also in the mix: Railroad Commission Chairman Barry Smitherman.
3. Will Canseco face a runoff?
Former congressman Francisco "Quico" Canseco (R) lost a competitive race to now-Rep. Pete Gallego (D-Tex.) in 2012; now he is back for another try in the sprawling, majority-Hispanic district. But first, he will have to survive a three-way GOP primary that he entered late. Canseco is the better-known candidate and the front-runner for the GOP nomination, but former CIA officer William Hurd had a head start in the money chase and could make to a runoff with Canseco. If there is a runoff between Hurd and Canseco, it will be a rematch of 2010. Canseco won that showdown.
4. George P. Bush expected to advance
There's a new Bush on the block in 2014. It's George P. Bush, the son of former Florida governor Jeb Bush and nephew of former president George W. Bush. He's expected to win the GOP primary for land commissioner, taking a step closer to statewide office.
Bush has run a very "cautious" campaign and limited his exposure, according to Jones, but he isn't expected to have to sweat Tuesday against his one primary opponent, nor is he expected to face a tough race in the general election given the state's strong conservative tilt. In short, count on seeing a Bush back in office next year. (Side note: The office of land commissioner is pretty powerful in Texas, so it could be a good launching board to higher office for the young scion.)
5. A Democratic drop-off after Wendy Davis
State Sen. Wendy Davis has raised tons of money for her gubernatorial bid and she's ramped up Democratic enthusiasm ahead of the fall campaign. She's set to cruise to her party's nomination Tuesday and resume her underdog bid against Abbott. But beyond Davis, there's not much else for Democrats to get really excited about in the statewide races. They didn't recruit a big-name Senate contender, and they are not expected to put serious pressure on Republicans in most other statewide contests. Plus, Democratic leaders have had to warn voters who not to vote for in a handful of races.
State Sen. Leticia Van de Putte's run for lieutenant governor was seen as a recruiting win for the party. Still, she will face tough odds in the general election. Democrats have begun working to turn the state purple in the coming years but it's not going to happen overnight.