State Sen. Kel Seliger defeated Mike Canon and Victor Leal in the Republican primary Tuesday, according to the Associated Press.
Seliger narrowly avoided a runoff, unofficial election results showed. He was ahead with 50.5 percent of the vote after 99 percent of precincts reported.
Canon, a former mayor of Midland, had 31.3 percent of the total. Amarillo restaurateur Leal received about 18 percent. Results remain unofficial until canvassed.
The winner of the primary race is favored to win the Senate seat since there is no Democrat running in November’s general election. Senate District 31 includes the Texas Panhandle and winds around Lubbock down to the Permian Basin to scoop up Midland, Odessa and Big Spring.
The race was seen as important for the balance of power in the Republican-controlled state Senate. Seliger, known as a centrist GOP senator, faced challengers aligned more closely with the chamber’s most conservative wing.
Leal and Canon hit the incumbent with negative political advertisements and criticized him as not conservative enough for the Senate district.
“The really important thing about this is you can run a campaign that’s positive,” Seliger told supporters after his campaign declared victory at a watch party at Tacos Garcia in Amarillo.
“You can run a campaign that depends upon what you can do and what you have done, not how much you can tear somebody else down,” he said.
The contest was a rematch for Seliger and Canon, who faced off in 2014. That year, Canon lost by five percentage points.
“We fought the good fight,” Canon told the Midland Reporter-Telegram on Tuesday. “We tried to get our messages out.”
Education was a key issue in the contest, with many public school teachers and superintendents supporting Seliger.
Public school advocates criticized Canon and Leal for their association with conservative groups supportive of voucher programs that let parents use public dollars for a private school education. Critics say the programs divert funds from already underfunded public schools.
Seliger broke with party lines last year to vote against a Senate voucher program, winning praise from educators. He earned similar support from local government officials after another vote that year against a Republican-backed Senate bill restricting how much cities and counties can raise property taxes without voter approval.
Seliger maintained a big advantage in campaign cash in the Senate race, coming into the contest with $1.7 million that he accumulated since he was first elected in 2004.
He also stocked his war chest with an additional $1.8 million between July 1 and Feb. 24.
Seliger currently chairs the Senate Higher Education Committee and sits on other panels including Education and Finance.