While Election Day for Texas's primary is May 29, early voting started on Monday, so I thought I would throw together a preview of some of the state's primaries.
I'm not going to preview every race here: some races aren't interesting at all, either because an incumbent figures to win easily or because the race is ultimately meaningless (i.e. a Republican primary in a safe Democratic seat.)
So, if you haven't heard by now, Texas is having an open-seat Senate race this year. A grand total of nine candidates are running on the Republican side, but the field of serious contenders can be winnowed down to four. But realistically, former NFL player/sportscaster Craig James doesn't have a serious chance at winning the nomination. His unfavorables are high, thanks in large part to his role in getting popular former Texas Tech football coach fired (seriously -- I'd be kind of surprised if he gets any votes in Lubbock County.) Also, James actually proposes that our corporate income tax rate should be zero. Even for a Republican, that's fairly insane (particularly since he doesn't mention whether or not he'd close loopholes that allow some corporations to pay a negative income tax rate.)
That leaves three contenders: Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst, former Solicitor General Ted Cruz, and former Dallas Mayor Tom Leppert. Dewhurst has long been regarded as the frontrunner -- his announcement scared some other contenders out of the race -- but his campaign has been stuck at 40 percent of the vote in basically every public poll of the race since last June. It's a sign that most Republican primary voters long ago made up their minds about him, and a majority really want to support someone else. Dewhurst is, obviously, closely associated with Rick Perry (who recently cut an ad endorsing him), though Texas's Governor and Lieutenant Governor are elected separately. Considering that Perry's job approval numbers are in the crapper, this association is less of a positive than you might think, even in a Republican primary. By the way, I've never really understood why conservatives would dislike Rick Perry -- it's almost as though they're admitting that they don't actually like the policies they advocate once they're put into practice.
Cruz has emerged as the main rival to Dewhurst, and has the backing of the usual far-right suspects: FreedomWorks, Tea Party Express, the Club for Growth, Citizens United. Basically, Cruz's supporters are all the people who think the Perry/Dewhurst model for Texas and the nation is not dystopian enough and want somebody even nuttier. Or they just don't like Dewhurst because he's part of the nebulous "Republican establishment." Cruz has been the main beneficiary of Republicans' reluctance to nominate Dewhurst, rising from low single digits in early 2011 to somewhere around a quarter of the vote. But lately, Dewhurst has begun a series of hard-hitting ads against Cruz. It's not entirely clear why Dewhurst would launch an assault on Cruz: in a fractured primary, Cruz bleeding support does not necessarily mean that those voters will go to Dewhurst.
That leaves Leppert, who could be the beneficiary -- similar to the recent Nebraska primary -- of the war between Cruz and Dewhurst. While Leppert has mostly been polling in the single digits, the most recent public poll (a PPP poll from April, which showed Dewhurst at 38, Cruz at 26, Leppert at 8, and James at 7) is rather stale and it's hard to know if there's been any recent movement. Politico published a leaked memo from the Dewhurst campaign speculating that Leppert had probably moved into second place, though it's not clear what they were basing this on. Leppert has faux moderate stripes and some limited crossover appeal -- he ran fairly well in mostly black South Dallas during his mayoral run (though Democratic voters in DFW will largely be distracted by some heated House primaries.)
I would still say that the most likely scenario here is a runoff between Dewhurst and Cruz. Dewhurst would have the advantage -- although many voters have seemingly made up their minds about him, supporters of the more moderate Leppert might ultimately find Dewhurst to be more palatable than Cruz. Still, two other possibilities -- Dewhurst landing a knockout blow in the initial primary, or Leppert making the runoff -- cannot be ruled out. It's hard to say how a Leppert-Dewhurst runoff would shake out. While Leppert is to the left of Cruz, many of Cruz's core supporters seem to have a very strong dislike for Dewhurst and might actually vote for Leppert or sit out the runoff.
The Democratic primary has been quiet, and for good reason -- purported frontrunner, former state Rep. Paul Sadler, raised just $72k in the first quarter. Most don't expect the Democratic nominee (most likely either Sadler or 31-year-old Sean Hubbard) to have much of a shot at winning in November, though certainly stranger things have happened, and both are solid progressives. It's a good sign that both of the main Democratic candidates are running as progressives rather than Blue Dogs, though that's also a reflection of how liberal the Democratic primary electorate in Texas has become as conservatives have left the party.
Not really much of a race, but it is somewhat noteworthy that longtime Rep. Ralph Hall only raised $12k in the first quarter and reported $58k CoH. Hall has little reason to take his opposition seriously, but the low totals could be an indication that Hall (who turned 89 this month) views the 2012 election as his last. Of course, I'll believe it when I see it. Amazing fact: since 1912, the 4th has had just three Congressmen. (The 23rd has had three in the last decade.)
Did anyone else think it was strange a couple of weeks ago when Smoky Joe Barton was running around touting a (presumably internal) poll showing him with 62 percent of the vote and his three largely unknown challengers in the single digits? It did to me, largely because incumbents who aren't facing a serious primary challenge usually don't even bother polling the primary, much less tout the results of the poll. And, apparently nobody told Barton that, for a 28-year incumbent running in a district that's largely familiar to him, 62 percent in the primary isn't exactly something to brag about. It's fairly easy to figure out why Barton might be vulnerable, if you remember his apology to BP during the hearings on the oil spill in 2010. That ultimately cost Barton the chairmanship of Energy and Commerce. While being Big Oil's main squeeze on Capitol Hill isn't exactly a negative in a Republican primary in Texas (hell, if anything, it's a positive), losing out on chairing Energy is, especially when you lost out because of your own stupidity.
Barton's challengers do leave a lot to be desired. Joe Chow, probably the strongest of the three, is the former Mayor of Addison, but (a) Addison isn't even in the district and (b) Chow's fundraising has been rather tepid. The other two candidates, Itamar Gelbman and Frank Kuchar, are a couple of Some Dudes who haven't raised much money, though Gelbman did loan his campaign a bunch of money (but, oddly, his campaign spending has been in the four figures.) So it would be a minor upset if Barton were forced into a runoff, but there may be enough dissatisfaction with the incumbent that it wouldn't be a complete shock.
A grand total of ten Republicans filed to run in the open primary to replace retiring Rep. Ron Paul, of which four can be considered serious contenders. State Rep. Randy Weber of Pearland is probably the frontrunner, but his fundraising has been rather tepid -- he was outraised in the first quarter by both Beaumont attorney Jay Old and Teabagger Michael Truncale. Still, Weber had $226k CoH at the end of the quarter. Pearland city councilwoman Felicia Harris is also in the running but trails in fundraising. There's not a whole lot of difference between the candidates on the issues, so this figures to be something of a "local" primary, so figure on Old and Truncale splitting the Jefferson County vote while Weber and Harris split the Brazoria County vote -- though Jefferson County has a larger share of voters, Brazoria County will likely have a larger share of Republican primary voters as Jefferson is still a Democratic-leaning county. Figure on a runoff in this one, likely between one of the Pearland candidates and one of the Beaumont candidates.
Former Rep. Nick Lampson is waiting in the wings for the winner. Lampson should dispatch his sole Democratic primary opponent easily. This is a Republican-leaning district, but if any Democrat can win here, it's Lampson.
The bad news for veteran Rep. Ruben Hinojosa? He managed to draw four primary challengers. The good news? All four of them appear to be Some Dudes. It's kind of difficult to figure out why there would be much opposition to Hinojosa: he's generally been a reliable liberal vote, and while he did file for personal bankruptcy in 2011, this seems fairly weaksauce as far as Congress member scandals go. So this primary is worth a look not so much because Hinojosa might actually lose, but more to see if there's any general discontent with the incumbent. If Hinojosa looks weak in the primary, local Democratic pols (of which there are many) might smell blood in the water, and Hinojosa could face a more serious challenge in 2014 (or retire.)
Along with TX-30, this might be the most serious primary challenge to an incumbent in Texas this cycle. Rep. Silvestre Reyes is a veteran in his eighth term in Congress and former chairman of the Intelligence Committee. But, despite representing a safe district (the district, under its new lines, went 64% for Obama and 60% for Bill White), Reyes has long had something of a moderate voting record. Enter Robert "Beto" O'Rourke, a former El Paso City Councilman, who is running a primary challenge to Reyes from the left. O'Rourke is running on a progressive platform, but there are questions: as Burnt Orange Report pointed out in endorsing Reyes, O'Rourke endorsed a Republican challenger to a Democratic state legislator in 2010. Also working against O'Rourke is, well, his name: this district is 80 percent Hispanic, and Reyes has taken to referring to his opponent as Robert O'Rourke (rather than his better-known, and more Spanish-sounding, nickname), likely in a not-so-subtle effort to remind voters of his challenger's ethnicity. This primary figures to be close and could go either way; O'Rourke has kept pace with Reyes in fundraising, but Reyes remains a popular figure in El Paso and certainly will not be easy to unseat. A runoff theoretically is possible, as three other candidates filed in the primary, though none have filed reports with the FEC. Also notable is that O'Rourke has been endorsed by the Campaign for Primary Accountability.
The game of musical chairs in San Antonio wound up with former Rep. Ciro Rodriguez running in his old district. Rodriguez had long planned on a campaign to reclaim his old seat, with state Rep. Joaquin Castro challenging Lloyd Doggett in the new 35th. That would have been a brutal primary -- while Castro is obviously a rising star, Doggett is not exactly a Congressman we want to lose. Then Charlie Gonzalez retired in the central San Antonio 20th, which prompted Castro to move there, and Rodriguez briefly considered running against Doggett in the 35th. (*Castro is unopposed in the Democratic primary in the 20th.) But the final (for now, anyway) map had the 35th becoming a bit more favorable to Doggett, so Rodriguez hopped back across town to the 23rd.
There, Rodriguez faces off against state Rep. Pete Gallego, who has been running in the 23rd the whole time. Gallego hails from the Big Bend country between San Antonio and El Paso and is a proven vote-getter in what's generally a swingy area. Meanwhile, Rodriguez's fundraising has been tepid (just $15k in the first quarter, $84k CoH at the end of the quarter), indicating that Rodriguez is coasting on name rec (which is obviously considerable here.) Gallego has been, by far, the better fundraiser and is the stronger candidate to run against freshman Rep. Quico Canseco. But while Rodriguez hasn't raised much money and is a notoriously weak campaigner, he can't be counted out simply because of his name recognition from having been on the ballot for the last 15 years. Also running is John Bustamante, the son of former Rep. (1984-92) Albert Bustamante, but he has raised little money and doesn't figure on drawing many votes -- though he might draw just enough to force the other two candidates into a runoff. This is an uber-swing district that could go either way in the fall.
Don't confuse the new 25th with the old 25th. The old 25th gladly sent Lloyd Doggett to Congress; the new 25th is so Republican (56% McCain) that Doggett didn't even bother to run here. Basically every Republican from Fort Worth to Austin decided to run in the primary here, leading to an extremely crowded (12 candidates!) primary that could go in any number of directions -- though the most likely direction is a Congressman named Williams. Which Williams? Well, there's Roger Williams, formerly the Secretary of State (not an elected office in Texas), who sat with $1.4 million CoH at the end of the first quarter, but also has the handicap of not living in the district (he lives in Weatherford, which is in Kay Granger's 12th district.) There's also Michael Williams, formerly a State Railroad Commissioner (despite the title, the Railroad Commission regulates the oil and gas industry), who's also raised and spent a lot of money. Of course, Michael Williams only got 53% of the vote in the current 25th in his 2008 race for Railroad Commissioner. But, of course, there are a whole bunch of candidates here of varying political backgrounds and abilities to self-fund, so it's, shall we say, difficult to tell who will connect with the voters and get the votes. One potential surprise candidate: Justin Hewlett, who's the Mayor of Cleburne in Johnson County. Johnson County is the largest county wholly within the 25th. Roger Williams (or Michael Williams, I guess) might land a knockout blow in the initial primary, but the vote figures to be split enough different ways to make a runoff the most likely outcome.
One of the big surprises of 2012 was that accidental Rep. Blake Farenthold -- who happened to be in the right place at the right time when voters in the old 27th decided to dump longtime Rep. Solomon Ortiz -- managed to duck a serious primary challenge. While the new 27th retains Farenthold's base in Corpus Christi, most of the district is new to him. Still, Farenthold is such an unknown quantity in the district that a loss can't be completely ruled out (though I would note that based on 2010, something like half the Republican primary votes here will be cast in Nueces County.) There is also a somewhat interesting Democratic primary going on between Nueces County Democratic Chair Rose Meza Harrison and former Bastrop County Judge Ronnie McDonald (who's African-American), but given the fact that Nueces County is, by a wide margin, the largest county in the district, Meza Harrison must be considered the favorite.
20-year Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson's problems are mostly of her own making. She came under fire largely due to charges of nepotism stemming from scholarships awarded to her relatives from the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation. She's drawn two challengers, state Rep. Barbara Mallory Caraway and attorney Taj Clayton. While many observers assumed Caraway and Clayton were running mostly to increase their stature for a future open-seat race should the 76-year-old Johnson retire in the near future, Clayton has kept pace in fundraising (bringing in $132k in the first quarter) and represents a serious threat to Johnson's tenure (though Caraway has largely fallen by the wayside, ending the first quarter with $1,560 CoH.) This may very well be the most likely primary in Texas to result in the unseating of an incumbent. But this isn't an ideological fight, as Clayton largely shares Johnson's progressive views and would be a reliable Democratic vote if elected. This is an uber-safe district (78% Obama) in which the primary winner will have no worries about winning in November.
This district, one of four new districts in Texas, is -- shall we say -- interesting. It's a patchwork of a bunch of areas that DFW-area Republicans certainly didn't want in their districts -- the heavily African-American east side of Fort Worth and the mostly Hispanic west side of Dallas -- that, as a whole, went 69% for Obama. It's also interesting in another respect: while 66 percent of the district's population is Hispanic, only 40 percent of its citizen voting-age population is. My best guess is that 30 percent of the electorate here is African-American, so it's entirely plausible that a plurality of Democratic primary voters here will be African-American. That certainly benefits state Rep. Marc Veasey. But naturally, in a safe district, the primary is crowded (11 candidates, to be exact.) Former state Rep. Domingo Garcia is generally regarded as the main challenger to Veasey, but Garcia comes with problems: while many Hispanic leaders in DFW would like a Hispanic Congressman in this seat, many of them are lukewarm to Garcia. And there are enough other candidates running to make this one unpredictable: Fort Worth City Councilwoman Kathleen Hicks figures to, at the very least, ciphon some of the African-American vote away from Veasey, while former Dallas City Councilman Steve Salazar figures to do the same to Garcia. There's also attorney Chrysta Castaneda, who was actually fourth in CoH at the end of the first quarter -- behind Garcia, Veasey, and David Alameel, a dentist who's loaned his campaign $2 million. It's not clear what role Alameel will play here, as he's a political newcomer but also appears to be a strong progressive.
This race got quite a curveball in the last couple of weeks, as Cameron County DA Armando Villalobos -- the top fundraiser and purported frontrunner throughout most of 2011 -- was indicted on federal racketeering charges, as part of an ongoing federal investigation that's already resulted in the conviction of a former judge. All I'll say is that it's probably a good thing that this news came out before the primary rather than after -- while this district is decidedly Democratic-leaning (60% Obama), it's probably not Democratic enough to save a clearly flawed nominee. In any case, Villalobos's fundraising slowed down considerably in the first quarter as he raised just $23k and ended the quarter with a paltry $4,332 CoH, so perhaps donors had already gotten wind that the hammer was about to come down. So that means this primary for a new seat (which basically was created as a consolation prize from the old 27th so that freshman Rep. Blake Farenthold could be shored up) is wide open. At this point, there are four major candidates: former Edinburg City Manager Ramiro Garza, attorney Filemon Vela, former Brownsville City Commissioner Anthony Troiani, and Denise Saenz Blanchard, a longtime aide to former Rep. Solomon Ortiz. None of the candidates stand out in terms of fundraising, though Vela might be the favorite, largely because of his name: his name is on the federal courthouse in Brownsville (to be fair, it's named for his father, a former federal judge), and his mother is a former Mayor of Brownsville.
While this district has a Hispanic majority, it probably won't elect a Hispanic Congressman. Lloyd Doggett is running here, and while much of the district is new to him, Doggett is sitting on a $3 million-plus warchest which he's almost assuredly been using to increase his profile in San Antonio. This race could have been far tougher; initially, state Rep. Joaquin Castro was going to run against Doggett until the 20th opened up, and it looked for a time as though former Rep. Ciro Rodriguez might run here. Ultimately, though, two San Antonio candidates with far weaker resumes than those two -- Bexar County Tax Assessor Sylvia Romo and '06 LG nominee Maria Luisa Alvarado -- made the race here, so it looks as though Doggett will survive in spite of Republicans' best efforts (again) to unseat him. It's a testament to how much Texas Republicans hate Doggett (for reminding Texans that white people can be progressives, too, I guess) that they were willing to split Travis County into five districts in an effort to get him out of Congress.
Of the five open seat primaries, this is perhaps the most likely to be settled in the initial primary. State Sen. Mike Jackson has long been regarded as the frontrunner in this district, which includes a slice of suburban Houston to go with some rural counties in southeast Texas. But Jackson's first-quarter fundraising was tepid enough ($25k) that there might be some chance of an upset, though it's not clear who would do the job, as only one other candidate (Seabrook City Councilman Kim Morrell) ended the quarter with more than even $10k CoH. Also, is it ever possible for a former Congressman to be a Some Dude? That description might apply to former Rep. Steve Stockman, who's run for Congress numerous times and just happened to be running against Jack Brooks in the old 9th district in the infamous year of 1994.
While Democrats don't have much hope of recapturing the Legislature in 2012, there's an ideological fight going on for control of the dominant Republican Party between, essentially, conservative Republicans who believe in a (sort of) functioning government and more conservative Republicans who would be perfectly fine if government just went away. Which makes you wonder why they want to be a part of the government, I guess.