Marilyn Nieves/Getty Images

(WASHINGTON) — One of the biggest Super Tuesday prizes is Texas, with its 161 delegates at stake in the Republican primary. Former President Donald Trump and former U.N. ambassador Nikki Haley have campaigned recently in the state — with Trump visiting the Mexican border last week and Haley rallying in two major cities on Monday.

The sheer size and growth of Texas alone make it noteworthy: The state is the second most populous in the country, second largest by area size and saw the highest population growth in 2023, according to estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau last year.

It is also home to roughly half the U.S.-Mexico border at a time when voters cite immigration as a major issue.

Trump leads Haley in Texas by more than 68 points, according to 538’s polling average, putting the former president in a position to vastly increase his delegate lead: In Texas, a candidate who wins more than half the vote in the primary earns all 161 delegates.

So what else is happening in Texas on March 5? Here are five key down-ballot races to watch:

Race to face Ted Cruz

The race to earn a one-on-one matchup with Sen. Ted Cruz has essentially come down to two Democratic contenders: Rep. Colin Allred from north Dallas and Texas State Sen. Roland Gutierrez from San Antonio.

Allred, a former NFL linebacker who flipped his district blue in 2018, is a formidable fundraiser, outraising Cruz in the latest quarter filing.

While Gutierrez, an immigration lawyer, has raked in much less money than his chief Democratic opponent, he captured national attention after the deadly Uvalde school shooting in 2022, when he outspokenly fought alongside the victims’ families for stricter gun laws both across Texas and in Washington, D.C.

Gutierrez’s congressional district includes Uvalde.

Both Democrats tout their upbringing as central to their approach should they win the nomination.

Allred highlights his underprivileged childhood in his campaign launch video, during speaking engagements, and in his online biographies.

“A fourth generation Texan, Colin was born and raised in Dallas by a single mom, who was a public school teacher and often worked two jobs to make ends meet,” his campaign website reads.

Similarly, Gutierrez, who proudly labels himself a progressive, places emphasis on being the child of Mexican immigrants, and how it informs his priorities.

“The son of Mexican immigrants, Roland has spent his whole life fighting to create real change for communities across Texas — from fixing infrastructure to fighting for stronger education. That’s exactly the kind of fight he’ll bring to the U.S. Senate,” his website says.

The winner of Tuesday’s primary will face a challenge in unseating Cruz, with his two-term incumbency advantage, national name recognition and record of fulfilling a conservative agenda in a historically red state.

Both Allred and Gutierrez have pointed to Cruz’s trip to Cancún during the statewide freeze in 2021 to argue he abandons Texans in times of need.

Each has also cited continued alignment with Trump, despite the insurrection on Jan. 6, to assert that Cruz’s reputation has been marred since his last successful run for Senate.

They note that Cruz re-clenched his seat only narrowly in 2018 against Beto O’Rourke and that the gap has narrowed even more since, to show that the senator’s strength on his seat has weakened.

Publicly, Cruz seldom mentions his challengers by name.

In what Cruz characterized to Fox News during a January interview as “a very tough reelection race in Texas,” he made a fervent appeal for support.

“The only way that we hold on is if the folks watching this show go to right now, go online to, make a contribution of 5, 10, 25, 50, 100 bucks because my race, my support is not from the big money, special interest in Washington, D.C., it is from constitutional conservatives across the country who go to and who help give me the resources to withstand $100 million from these left wing Democrats and Marxists who are trying to invade this country and destroy this country,” he pleaded in the interview.

This admission from Cruz that he believes the Senate race is going to be close could instill confidence in and activate Democratic voters with hopes to flip the seat. But it could very well do the same for Republicans who are fighting to keep the state red.

Not Sheila Jackson Lee’s first rodeo … but will it be her last?

After losing the 2023 Houston mayoral election last November to John Whitmire, Democratic Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee is battling an upstart primary challenger to keep the seat she’s held in Texas’ 18th Congressional District for almost 30 years.

Her competition: Amanda Edwards, a young, Black former Houston Council member, who has a much heftier war chest than Jackson Lee.

Jackson Lee has name recognition, a recent endorsement from President Joe Biden, and a long history of public service. However, she is coming off a landslide loss in the Houston mayor’s race that could give her supporters pause in the primary and help Edwards.

Edwards, for her part, recently ran unsuccessfully for U.S. Senate in 2020.

Edwards is around three decades younger than Jackson Lee, and with age being a hot topic of the presidential election this year, the discrepancy could dissuade some voters from choosing the elder Jackson Lee.

Tuesday will be telling if constituents in Texas’ 18th Congressional District prefer the familiar older candidate with a deep devotion to and history working alongside their community, or the buzzy new face with a fresh perspective on how to brighten the district’s future.

Is the purpling proof in the suburbs?

As Allred vies to win the Democratic nomination to unseat Cruz in the fall, 10 Democratic hopefuls are competing to replace Allred in Texas’ 32nd Congressional District, with Texas Rep. Julie Johnson and Brian Williams, a surgeon, leading the field.

Williams, a former congressional health policy advisor and local activist, has emphasized gun violence prevention and health care access as top issues in his campaign. Johnson, an attorney who has served the Texas House since 2019, is running on similar progressive priorities, such as abortion and LGBTQ+ equality. If Johnson wins, she’d be the first openly gay member of Congress from the American South.

With such a crowded field, this could very well go to a May runoff, which would be triggered if no candidate gets more than half the vote.

Texas’ 32nd Congressional District, which encompasses an area east of Dallas, could give clues to Biden’s strength in the suburbs. Biden made significant gains in the suburbs of Texas in 2020 compared to Hillary Clinton’s 2016 share. According to Pew Research Center, in contrast to Clinton’s 45% of the vote share in 2016, Biden received 54% of the vote in these areas in the last presidential election.

As evidenced by general election data, Texas’ 32nd Congressional District is just one example of gradually purpling suburbs of Texas.

Between factors such as cost of living, quality of life and safety, among others, many residents and recent transplants are heading to the outlying areas of solidly blue cities such as Austin, Houston and Dallas, and as they do so, the partisan makeup of these communities is changing.

How K-12 Texans will learn

Three of the seven State Board of Education members up for election have extreme conservatives running against them who could prioritize furthering a Republican agenda in the state’s education system made up of approximately 5.5 million public school students.

The board is comprised of 15 members who set education standards and curriculum for the entire state.

The panel is already dominated by Republicans, but adding more ultra-conservative members could affect the 2025 agenda item of approving a social studies curriculum.

And the board has a history of wielding its power to make conservative decisions that have widespread influence over K-12 students across the state.

In November 2023, the board rejected multiple proposed textbooks for eighth graders that included climate science. Texas is one of only six states that does not utilize Next Generation Science Standards, which affirms climate change and emphasizes human influence on its severity, to steer its public school science curriculum.

Taking the pulse at the border

The importance of border communities in the ongoing discourse over immigration and security was spotlighted in the week preceding Super Tuesday: both Trump and Biden visited Texas’ border with Mexico. During their visits, Biden petitioned for the passing of a bipartisan immigration bill, inviting Trump to join him in the effort, while Trump supported Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s current stringent border policies and bemoaned the recent homicide of Laken Riley that resulted in a migrant arrest, accusing Biden of having “blood” on his hands.

Republicans have closed the gap in border communities in recent cycles. Biden, for example, won 28 counties along the Texas-Mexico border in 2020 by 17 percentage points, nearly half Clinton’s share in the same counties in 2016.

In 2020, Trump saw success by flipping Zapata County, north of the Rio Grande Valley, by 5 points. The county had been secured by Clinton via a 33-point lead in 2016 and Barack Obama by 43.

Biden did win Maverick County in 2020, but only by 9 points compared to the 56-point lead claimed by Clinton in 2016.

It was undeniable in 2020 that Republicans made gains along the border, narrowing the margin between what was once Democratic dominance. It’s plausible this red momentum seen during the last election could result in flipped counties in 2024.

Copyright © 2024, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.