(Wanted to publish this earlier, but got caught up in court all day.)
The primary is over. In some races, the winner was decided last night; in others, the field was merely winnowed down, with the top two finishers heading into a nine-week slog for the nomination (and, in a few cases, the election.)
So just what the hell happened?
Well, the biggest news was that an incumbent Congressman lost his primary outright. In numerous open-seat races, nothing was really decided, but there were still some surprises in who was eliminated. And down the ballot, there were some major fights for control of one political party.
All that and more, after the jump.
The big race that everybody had been talking about for the last few weeks was the Republican Senate primary. There weren't any real big surprises: Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst led the initial primary, but couldn't manage to avoid a runoff, having won 45% of the votes. Joining him in the runoff will be former Solicitor General Ted Cruz, the darling of the hard right, running his first race for elective office and scoring second place with 34% of the vote. While there were some indications that former Dallas mayor Tom Leppert might make a late move, he finished a weak third with 13%. None of the other six candidates received more than 4% of the vote.
Geographically, Dewhurst's main area of strength was in rural Texas and in the small towns and cities of the state; basically, Dewhurst cleaned up outside the state's four major media markets (DFW, Houston, San Antonio, and Austin), while Cruz ran well in the big media markets but was far behind in the outstate. It was a three-way race in DFW but Leppert didn't poll very well outside of there.
The best explanation I can come up with was that Cruz, running a media-heavy campaign and relying a lot on outside spending, concentrated largely on the major media markets. Although running advertising in Dallas/Fort Worth and Houston is more expensive than in, say, Amarillo and Tyler, Cruz's anti-government spending message figured to play better than among suburban Republicans than it would out in the country, where the more blue-collar Republican primary voters tend to care more about social issues than spending. Outside of the major media markets, Dewhurst's name recognition and endorsements from people like Rick Perry and Mike Huckabee likely made a bigger difference. The counties that Cruz carried were high-income, well-educated, and suburban -- places like Collin and Denton County north of Dallas and Montgomery County north of Houston.
How does that figure to play in the runoff? While on the surface, Leppert's supporters might be more amenable to Dewhurst, it's worth noting that the areas where Leppert ran well tended to be places where Cruz also ran well. In addition, while Dewhurst draws broad support, his support doesn't seem to be all that deep. Cruz might be able to bank on some of Dewhurst's supporters (many of whom might have been turning out primarily for downballot races) staying home for the runoff, or he might even be able to pick of some marginal Dewhurst supporters in the nine-week runoff. Still, Dewhurst can drop some more of his own money into the race at the drop of a hat and has to be considered at least a slight favorite to prevail in the runoff.
The Democratic side did bring a surprise, though. As expected, Paul Sadler came in first with 35% of the vote. But expected second-place finisher Sean Hubbard finished a weak fourth, with 16%. Joining Sadler in the runoff will be Grady Yarbrough, who managed to take 26% of the vote in spite of not filing with the FEC (which you can do if you don't raise any money) and not even having a campaign website. It's hard to explain what happened here. The best explanation anybody on DKE could come up with last night was that some old-timers thought Yarbrough was related to former Senator (1957-70) Ralph Yarborough. Who knows. Sadler is a strong favorite to prevail in the runoff, though it's a Pyrrhic victory as he's likely to lose in November.
It was, basically, the same story as 2010: a lot of people thought Ralph Hall was either too old or not sufficiently conservative, but there weren't enough of them to force a runoff, much less get old Ralph out of Congress. Hall won perhaps his last election with 58% of the vote and drew only nominal opposition in November. As usual, Hall, who will become the oldest serving member of the House at some point in the next year (he'll be 90 next May!), will be at the top of retirement lists in 2014 -- though I'll believe it when I see it.
Given that the Campaign for Primary Accountability (Term Limits movement in Super PAC form!) intervened in the aforementioned 4th District, where Ralph Hall had a few flaws but wasn't in any real danger, it's a surprise they didn't bother here, where longtime incumbent Joe Barton scored a thoroughly unimpressive 63% win against three largely unknown foes. Interesting side note: of the three counties in the district, Barton's worst performance came in his home county, Ellis. Guess the better you know Barton, the less you like him.
Nothing to see on the Democratic side, where former Rep. Nick Lampson cruised. The Republican primary, as expected, is going to a runoff. Former state Rep. Randy Weber finished first with 28%; he'll face off with second-place finisher, Pearland City Councilwoman Felicia Harris, who got 19%, edging out Michael Truncale and Jay Old, who both finished with 14%. As expected, Harris and Weber split the vote in Brazoria County, while Old and Truncale split Jefferson County, which each cast about the same number of votes. The largest number of votes came from Galveston County -- and there, the two Brazoria-based candidates cleaned up while the two Jefferson candidates barely made any inroads. That made the difference in the initial primary. Weber starts out with the name recognition advantage and is the slight favorite, though the GOP's seeming aversion to experienced candidates means it's up for grabs. Interesting note: Both Weber and Harris live in Pearland... which is, um, in the 22nd District. You have to think Lampson will make an issue out of that one.
Turns out, Ruben Hinojosa was in zero trouble, prevailing with 71% of the vote. The Republicans have a runoff between two Some Dudes in a blue district... who cares?
In the one clear surprise of the night, former El Paso City Councilman Robert "Beto" O'Rourke unseated eight-term incumbent Silvestre Reyes, narrowly dodging a runoff with just over 50% of the vote (Reyes got 44%; three minor candidates split the remainder.) It's unclear just what kind of Congressman O'Rourke will be. While some have considered him a more progressive alternative to Reyes, and it's true that O'Rourke has staked out some notable progressive issue stances (particularly on social issues, where he favors legalizing marijuana), O'Rourke does have some history of supporting Republicans and there are whispers that crossover Republican votes were what pushed him over the top. O'Rourke is a heavy favorite in November against businesswoman Barbara Carrasco.
We were wondering, heading into the primary, whether state Rep. Pete Gallego might land a knockout blow in the initial primary. Instead, we were watching all night to see if former Rep. Ciro Rodriguez would be the one avoiding the runoff! Rodriguez hovered just over 50% for much of the night, but finally came down under it once Gallego's home base in the Big Bend country came in (it was slow to report.) The final tally was 46% for Rodriguez and 40% for Gallego, with John Bustamante drawing just 13%. Geography was the story: Rodriguez ran very well in Bexar County and El Paso County, as well as in Maverick County (which, quite surprisingly, cast more votes than Bexar.) Gallego ran well in his old state House district and in the rest of the sparsely-populated country between San Antonio and El Paso. The runoff becomes a matter of who can turn out their voters again, and whether or not Gallego can make some inroads in San Antonio, particularly among the few Bustamante supporters. This one is anybody's game; unfortunately, nine extra weeks of campaigning is a nine-week headstart for Rep. Quico Canseco, who has a nice warchest to unleash on whomever emerges from the runoff. Gallego is the better fundraiser and campaigner, but Rodriguez has high name recognition from his prior Congressional service and either candidate will be helped by Presidential year turnout in this swing district.
Another surprise came in the 25th. As expected, former Secretary of State Roger Williams finished first in the initial primary -- but given the amount of money he spent on the race, his 25% showing can hardly be called impressive. The surprise second-place finisher was Wes Riddle, a college professor and Tea Party activist who managed to get 15% of the vote, edging out Justin Hewlett and Dave Garrison (who finished with 12% each) and former Railroad Commissioner Michael Williams, who got 10%. Michael Williams' weak performance was the surprise here; we had all assumed he'd be going to the runoff with Roger Williams. But perhaps we overestimated him. While being elected statewide Railroad Commissioner sounds impressive, Williams initially got appointed to the position, won a primary against nominal opposition and then let Texas's general Republican voting habits carry him the rest of the way. And anyway, the fact is that even though Railroad Commissioner is a statewide position, most Texans probably can't even name the three Railroad Commissioners and vote for them based on silly things like, I don't know, their last name (Christi Craddick came in first in an RR Commissioner primary last night, largely by having the good fortune of being Tom Craddick's daughter.) The big difference here in this race was that both Roger Williams and Riddle performed fairly well throughout the district; Hewlett ran strongly at the north end of the district (including a win in his Johnson County home base) but couldn't make any inroads at the southern end of the district, while Garrison and Michael Williams (both based in Austin) had the opposite problem. Given his money advantage, Roger Williams starts as the favorite in the runoff, but Riddle may have another upset in him. The general election here will be no contest.
Many of us here were surprised at the strong showing by longtime Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson, who figured to be in the race of her life against a well-funded and competent challenger (albeit a political newcomer), Taj Clayton. Instead, EBJ won handily, racking up 70% of the vote; Clayton finished in third place behind state Rep. Barbara Mallory Caraway. EBJ is 76 and has to be on the retirement watch in the next few years, but this race shows that there's little reason to think she'll be in jeopardy in a Democratic primary.
In a result that surprised almost no one, state Rep. Marc Veasey heads to a runoff with former state Rep. Domingo Garcia; Veasey led the initial primary 37-25. Garcia racked up a big margin in Dallas County, while Veasey did the same in Tarrant County; given that Tarrant County cast about 4,000 more votes than Dallas County, Veasey must be considered the favorite in the runoff.
First-time candidate and possessor of a well-known name in Brownsville, Filemon Vela had a strong showing in the 8-candidate primary, winning 40% of the vote. That wasn't enough to avoid a runoff, but it was well ahead of the rest of the pack; second-place finisher Denise Saenz Blanchard got 13%, narrowly edging out former Edinburg City Manager Ramiro Garza for the second spot in the runoff. Blanchard, who was formerly the Chief of Staff to ex-Rep. Solomon Ortiz, will need to consolidate the support from the other candidates to prevail against Vela. It's an uphill climb, but there are rumors that Vela is a closet Republican, which is a nice trump card to have in a Democratic Party runoff. I would call Vela a slight favorite in the runoff, however.
This one turned out to be no contest. Memo to the Texas Republican Party: Your efforts to unseat Lloyd Doggett are futile. The latest attempt (well, technically, the map was put in place by the courts) was to give Doggett a more San Antonio-based district, in addition to being a district with a Hispanic majority. But the script played out the same way as it did in 2004, when Republicans gave Doggett a district that stretched from Austin to McAllen. Doggett worked hard to make inroads in San Antonio, and actually wound up winning a slight majority of the vote in Bexar County. Combine that with an eye-popping 93% in Travis County, and Doggett's challengers never had a chance. The basic problem with trying to draw Doggett out of Congress is that if you put Doggett on a Democratic primary ballot anywhere in Travis County, he wins with near-unanimous margins. That, and even if some of the voters are unfamiliar with him, Democratic primary voters tend to like Doggett once they get to know him. Doggett wins with 73% of the vote; give the Bexar County portion of the district a couple of years with him as their Congressman and he'll be winning even more than that.
This one was a pretty big upset. We had long assumed that state Sen. Mike Jackson would, at the very least, earn a spot in the runoff. But Jackson's fundraising turned out to be nothing special and perhaps he was running a bit of a Rose Garden campaign here. While Harris County, which cast a third of the primary vote here, gave Jackson 38% of the vote, that wasn't anywhere close to enough to overcome his poor performance in the rest of the district, and Jackson came in third. The top two finishers, in a virtual tie with 22%, were former Rep. (1994-96) Steve Stockman and wealthy financial adviser Stephen Takach, who quite possibly knocked out Jackson with a late spending spree. Stockman, on the other hand, hardly raised any money but seemed to benefit from residual name recognition from his prior Congressional service (he ran strongest in Hardin and Orange counties; I don't recall if those were in the old 9th District in the 1990s but they're within the orbit of Beaumont, which was the major city in that district.) So, Stockman and Takach go to the runoff, and it's really anybody's game. Perhaps Takach starts as a slight favorite due to his ability to self-finance and the fact that even among Texas Republicans, Stockman is considered something of a lunatic.
While party control of the State Senate is a done deal -- Republicans hold a 19-12 majority and the only genuinely competitive general election is in a Democratic-held district -- there were two more or less ideological primaries going on. SD-9, based in Tarrant County, saw a pair of state Reps. (Kelly Hancock and Todd Smith) looking for a move up after a retirement. Hancock, the more conservative candidate (far-right, if you will) won with 65%. In San Antonio-based SD-25, "moderate" Sen. Jeff Wentworth heads to a runoff with Donna Campbell after being held to just 36%. Wentworth is only a "moderate" by the ridiculous standards of Texas Republicans; this is a man who is pushing a bill that would allow college students to carry concealed handguns on campus. But, hey, he voted against the forced-sonogram law!
In another development, though, David Dewhurst's potential election to the Senate could potentially lead to an interesting fight in early 2013. Under Texas law, if there's a vacancy in the Lieutenant Governor's office, the state Senate elects one of their own to fill the vacancy until the next election. The two contenders most talked about are Dan Patrick (R-Houston) and John Carona (R-Dallas.) At 66% McCain, Patrick's SD-7 is a wasteland for Democrats. But Carona's North Dallas district, which went 55% for McCain, is probably the least Republican of the 19 districts currently held by Republicans, and in a special election might present a slight chance for a Democratic pickup (though Democrats stand little chance of knocking off the popular Carona and, in fact, didn't bother to run anybody against him this time around.)
In the House, there wasn't a whole lot of action on the Democratic side, with most of the contested primaries being open seat races in safe districts. In HD-90, progressive champion Lon Burnam narrowly survived a primary challenge from a Hispanic in a Hispanic-majority Fort Worth district.
But there was, again, plenty of bloodletting on the Republican side, with a grand total of seven Republican incumbents falling to primary challengers, while another four were forced into runoffs. While the easy message is that moderates were dropping like flies, that isn't necessarily the case: Sid Miller (R-Stephenville), pusher of the aforementioned forced-sonogram law, was among the Republican incumbents forced into runoffs. There's no way to spin any of this as good news for "moderate" Speaker Joe Straus (who survived a strong primary challenge himself), since many of the Republicans who went down were supporters of the Speaker and the insurgents replacing them are decidedly not. The trouble came early for Straus, with Rep. Bryan Hughes (R-Mineola) announcing after primary night that he'd challenge Straus for the Speakership.
Still -- Democrats figure to pick up at least a few seats in the state House in November. Republicans currently hold a 102-48 majority in the House, but aside from Craig Eiland (D-Galveston), who sits in a 51% McCain district (albeit one that Bill White carried in 2010), virtually every remaining Democratic member of the House is in a safe district. Assuming Eiland hangs on, Dems are virtually guaranteed a three-seat gain as a result of two newly-formed open seats and a third district, HD-40 in Hidalgo County, a 75% Obama district in which a Democrat-turned-Republican incumbent declined to run. And there are quite a few Republicans sitting in Dem-leaning or swing districts. We'll look into this more in the fall.