It certainly seems as though Texas can't just settle elections and have them done with.
Just a couple of months ago, Texas voters went to the polls for primary elections. But that isn't enough! Now, with early voting all this week and election day next Tuesday, voters will head back to the polls for a runoff in a few races.
Below the fold, some of the runoff elections to watch next Tuesday night.
TX-Sen: There's not a whole lot to write about the Democratic runoff. Former state Rep. Paul Sadler faces off with political unknown Grady Yarbrough, who hasn't made any filings with the FEC and doesn't even have a website, in a race in which Sadler should win pretty handily -- but it's been nearly impossible to get a read on the Texas Democratic primary electorate. (After all, it was a shocker that Yarbrough even made it to the runoff to begin with; most thought that Sean Hubbard would join Sadler in the runoff.)
But, assuming Sadler does win, he's probably going to get swamped in the general election by whomever prevails in the Republican runoff between Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst and former state Solicitor General Ted Cruz. The Dewhurst campaign, in spite of raising and spending $24 million, is showing just how difficult establishment Republican politicians have it these days. Dewhurst is a conservative, no doubt, but to the Teabaggers he's not conservative enough because as Lieutenant Governor, he actually had to get bills passed through the state Senate and couldn't just sit back and vote against anything that included a "tax" or some sort of "government spending." After all, the state of Texas needed to have policies set. Unlike, say, Ted Cruz, who when not serving as Solicitor General has mostly been a private citizen and therefore can say "I've never voted for a tax increase or a spending increase and I never will!" Of course, Ted, you haven't been a part of running the state, so you can just yell about Dewhurst doing the things that are part of running the state because you were never in that position.
In any case, Cruz has pulled into a lead in every recent poll except for Dewhurst's own internals (which also showed Dewhurst winning the initial primary without a runoff, so that shows how reliable Dewhurst's internals are.) There are a few reasons why. For one, even though Dewhurst has never been a Senator before, he's basically a quasi-incumbent here; he's been elected Lieutenant Governor three times, so voters are already familiar with him, and the fact that he couldn't pull 50 percent in the initial primary didn't bode well. Also, while the primary will inevitably attract some low-information voters who vote for the guy they've heard of, runoffs generally are dominated by the diehards, who tend to be better-informed and probably more likely to be "movement conservatives" who really want their guy to win. And that's Cruz. Cruz is now the more likely victor in the runoff, though it should be close.
Should Cruz win, this might be a race where Democrats will be kicking themselves. Although most pundits wrote this race off a long time ago, there's something about Cruz that makes me think that a stronger Democratic candidate could have beaten him. It's not so much that Cruz is too conservative for Texas, but, watching a debate between the two candidates, Cruz comes off as a bit abrasive... like a lot of Teabaggers, now that I think about it, but he seems to be a candidate with zero appeal to anyone who isn't a diehard Republican. Plus, Dewhurst's core supporters seem to almost hate Cruz; a stronger, better-funded Democrat might have been in position for an upset, but I kind of doubt Sadler (who's raised barely into the six figures) is going to pull it off.
TX-14: In the race to replace Ron Paul, state Rep. Randy Weber is favored over Pearland City Councilwoman Felicia Harris. Weber started out the race better known and has outraised his opponent, who shares the same home base with him and is more of a standard-issue conservative than somebody the Tea Party would really get behind. The winner will face former Rep. Nick Lampson in November; Lampson so far has outraised both Republicans in terms of individual and PAC contributions, though both Republicans have some ability to self-fund.
TX-23: Although former Rep. Ciro Rodriguez led the initial primary, I actually think state Rep. Pete Gallego is a slight favorite in the runoff. Why? Well, you're seeing a somewhat similar dynamic as you are in the Senate race (minus the Tea Party elements, this being a Democratic primary and all.) Ciro, who represented a very similar district for two terms (and also represented much of the Bexar County portion of the district from 1998-2004), began the race almost universally known; the fact that he could only pull 46 percent suggests that a lot of voters are just ready for someone new. Plus, in the initial primary, Ciro likely benefitted from low-information voters casting a ballot for the candidate they had heard of. (It's worth noting that in Gallego's old state House district, where both candidates were well known, Gallego cleaned up.) That isn't likely to be the case in the runoff, which will likely attract the diehards, well-informed voters who understand that Gallego represents the better opportunity to beat freshman Rep. Quico Canseco -- important because there really aren't a whole lot of substantive differences between the two Democratic candidates. Given that Gallego has heavily outraised and outspent Ciro leading up to the runoff, I'm expecting him to prevail, though not by a big margin.
TX-25: Here, we had one of two legitimate surprises on primary night -- not because this race went to a runoff, but because of who's in the runoff. Most observers expected former Secretary of State Roger Williams to go to a runoff with former Railroad Commissioner Michael Williams. Well, Roger Williams held up his end of the bargain; but he's joined there by Wes Riddle, a Teabagger and political neophyte who's put up a bit of his own money but otherwise has been a very weak fundraiser. Given Williams's massive financial advantage, he should be considered a strong favorite; but, Riddle, though he seems like a gadfly candidate, could pull off an upset given the general mood of Republican primary voters in the last couple of cycles. Riddle just seems like the kind of guy who Tea Party types will get behind instead of a more-or-less "establishment" Republican; and, similar to the Senate runoff, this is a race that will bring out nothing but the diehards looking for a "true conservative." On the other hand, unlike Ted Cruz, nobody's really heard of Riddle and Roger Williams hasn't taken nearly the beating that David Dewhurst has over not being a "true conservative." Williams is the favorite but, again, I wouldn't rule out a surprise. Should Riddle win, Democrats might kick themselves over this one; the Democratic nominee is Elaine Henderson, a political neophyte who hasn't made a single FEC filing. Given that this isn't an overwhelmingly Republican district (57% McCain) and does contain some sections of Austin, this is a seat where Democrats might have been able to score an upset against a flawed candidate like Riddle (though they probably wouldn't have beaten a more standard conservative like Williams in any case.)
TX-33: In the runoff in this newly-created DFW district, state Rep. Marc Veasey is favored to beat former state Rep. Domingo Garcia. Although this is a Hispanic-majority district on paper, that's a bit misleading as a lot of the Hispanics in this district are not citizens; in practice, the electorate is more or less evenly split between Hispanics and African-Americans, and even the Hispanics who are eligible to vote have typically had poor turnout rates. Garcia has seemed to bank on heavy Hispanic support, but Veasey has shown that he can cut into that, while Garcia has made few inroads outside the Hispanic community. Veasey should win.
TX-34: While this is technically a "new" district, it's really just the old 27th with Rep. Blake Farenthold's Corpus Christi base removed; as such, this is a much more Valley-centric district. Neither of the two candidates in the runoff -- attorney Filemon Vela and former Solomon Ortiz staffer Denise Saenz Blanchard -- have held elective office before, though Vela began the race with a very well-known name. Vela pulled in 40 percent of the vote in the initial primary and is the favorite here, but it is difficult to get a read on this race; most regard Vela as something of a wolf in sheep's clothing, a Republican who's running as a Democrat because a Republican wouldn't get elected here. This is worth a watch.
TX-36: In one of the more bizarre outcomes on primary night, former one-term Rep. Steve Stockman advanced to a runoff against financial adviser and first-time candidate Stephen Takach. Stockman has raised little money, but apparently did have some residual name recognition from his one term in Congress, while Takach has thrown a lot of his own money into the race. Given that, even among Republicans, Stockman is considered a bit out there, Takach is probably the favorite; but, you can't rule out Republicans nominating a completely batshit crazy person. After all, they've done it before. This is an uber-safe Republican district in which the Democratic candidate has raised -- get this -- $237, so whomever prevails on Tuesday can safely start looking for a place in Washington.