On Tuesday, July 31st, Texas will conduct runoffs for its US Senate seat and several Congressional races. The winners of the Senate Republican primary, the GOP primaries in the 25th and 36th Congressional districts, and the Democratic primaries in the 33rd and 34th districts are all expected to easily take the seats in November. Furthermore, the winners of the GOP primary in the 14th district and the Democratic primary in the 23rd district both have good shots to prevail in November. (There are some other runoffs, but Democrats have almost no chance at winning the Senate seat, TX-05, TX-07, or TX-27; the GOP also has next to no chance in TX-15 or TX-34).
Turnout is expected to be very low. Because of a legal dispute over its new Congressional map, Texas had its primary moved, leading to the first July runoff is a very long time. With confusion over the new date, a very hot summer keeping voters indoors or out of the state, and events like the Olympics further distracting people, these runoffs are expected to be decided by a small group of energetic voters.
The Senate runoff between David Dewhurst and Ted Cruz will be one of the most closely watched races to date. First, here's an ad that recently ran to show just how nasty things are getting:
More on this race past the jump!
United States Senate: OPEN.
President: Obama 44%, McCain 55%
Goveronr: White 42%, Perry 55%
Until fairly recently, Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst looked like the strong favorite to win the GOP primary and become the state's next Senator. He had superior name recognition over all his foes, he had a fortune worth at least $121 million, and he was the top vote getter in the May primary. However, former state solicitor general Ted Cruz now looks poised to win on Tuesday. Cruz connects far better with the very conservative voters who are likely to dominate the low turnout runoff: Dewhurst is often seen as too conciliatory, Cruz is popular among Tea Party voters angry at the GOP establishment, and Cruz has been able to appeal to voters with his fiery rhetoric while Dewhurst has often appeared wooden. (Dewhurst was born with a speech impediment so this isn't completely his fault). While Dewhurst's fortune and rich allies give him a cash advantage, Cruz has raised money at a much faster pace and is supported by the well funded and Tea Party friendly Club For Growth, Freedomworks, and Senate Conservatives Fund.
Dewhurst and his allies seem to acknowledge the tough spot they are in, and are working hard to both establish Dewhurst as a solid conservative and tear down Cruz. Dewhurst is running ads attacking President Obama, and has Governor Rick Perry vouching for him as a conservative leader. Meanwhile, Dewhurst's allies recently ran the ad shown at the top of the diary blaming Cruz for defending a for-profit prison, leading to a teen's suicide. Cruz is firing back, calling himself a victim of negative campaigning while at the same time going after Dewhurst's conservative credentials: Cruz is calling Dewhurst a supporter of amnesty for undocumented immigrants and a tax raiser.
A new poll from Public Policy Polling confirms the conventional wisdom that the race is Cruz's to lose. The poll shows Cruz with a 52%-42% edge over Dewhurst leading into Tuesday. The poll finds that Cruz's supporters are far more excited than Dewhurst's to vote, making it likely that Cruz's fans will dominate the low turnout primary. To push back on rumors of their imminent demise, the Dewhurst campaign has produced a poll showing them up five points. A Dewhurst victory may be possible, but only if he turns out unexcited voters who don't identify with the Tea Party and Cruz's anti-establishment message. One estimate says that if between 800,000 to 1 million of the 1.4 million voters who showed up in the May primary vote on Tuesday, Dewhurst may have a chance. If the number is closer to 600,000, even the Dewhurst camp believes that they are doomed. Early voting was relatively strong among Texas Republicans, which may be a sign that Dewhurst still has a chance to produce the turnout he needs. However, PPP found these early voters favor Cruz 55%-40%. Runoffs are very hard to poll and an upset is possible, but for Cruz it looks like everything's coming up Milhouse.
No matter who wins on Tuesday, the GOP is almost completely assured to take this seat in November without much trouble: neither Democratic candidate has anything approaching the money or name recognition to win in a conservative state like Texas. Both a Senator Dewhurst or a Senator Cruz would likely have similar voting records, but Cruz may help the GOP in the long run. Cruz, a Cuban American, gives the GOP some badly needed racial diversity. Cruz also may be charismatic and ambitious enough to seek higher office: while he was born in Canada his parents were American citizens, making him eligible to be President. By contrast, Dewhurst would likely be a fairly conventional and uninteresting Republican Senator. Still, not everyone in the Texas GOP thinks that Cruz is a good long term investment: an influential Republican worried about the Tea Party's influence over Texas politics privately said, “If Ted Cruz wins the Senate race, Texas will be a purple state in four years.” Unless there is a surprise on Tuesday we may see this prediction tested.
Texas's 14th Congressional District: OPEN, Beaumont, Port Arthur, Galveston.
President: Obama 42%, McCain 57%
Governor: White 42%, Perry 56%
State Representative Randy Weber looks like the clear frontrunner to defeat Pearland City Councilwoman Felicia Harris. Weber led Harris 28% to 19% in the primary; since then, he has received the support of retiring Congressman Ron Paul, who remains very popular in the area. Weber also has twice as much cash left after outspending Harris. Neither candidate represents much of the area, so neither has much build in name recognition. (EDIT: This post initially said Weber represented far more of the area in the legislature than he did.) Both candidates are strong conservatives and are trying to run to each others right: Harris is attacking Weber for a vote to raise sales taxes on internet purchases from out of state companies, while Weber is playing up his reputation as one of the legislature's most conservative members.
The winner of the GOP primary will not have much time to rest. The Democrats have recruited former Congressman Nick Lampson, who remains well known in the area. Lampson has attracted the attention of the national Democrats and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee seems excited about him. Lampson also has had the luxury of not needing to spend much money to secure his nomination: he had $344,000 on hand as of July while the runoff has depleted Weber and Harris' war chests. The Republican leaning nature of the district makes the winner of the GOP runoff the frontrunner heading into November, but Lampson looks like he has a chance to pull off an upset.
Texas's 23rd Congressional District: Francisco Canseco (R), Southern San Antonio, Socorro.
President: Obama 50%, McCain 49%
Governor: White 46%, Perry 52%
Democrats are preparing to target freshman Republican Francisco Canseco, but first much choose between former Congressman Ciro Rodriguez (who lost to Canseco in 2010), and State Representative Pete Gallego. Gallego is the preferred choice of national Democrats: he has easily outraised Rodriguez, and has held off Republican attempts to unseat him in his conservative legislative district. However, despite heavily outspending Rodriguez in May, Rodriguez led 46%-41% in the primary helped by his name recognition in San Antonio.
Since May, Gallego has replaced his campaign team and received endorsements from San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro and soon to be Congressman Joaquin Castro; Rodriguez has the support of third place finisher John Bustamante. Gallego has once again heavily outspent Rodriguez: in the first eleven days of July Gallego spent $111,000 to Rodriguez's $16,000, with neither having much money left. Gallego is playing up his electability and called Rodriguez part of a broken system; Rodriguez is emphasizing his experience and seniority.
The runoff looks like it could go to either candidate. Rodriguez enjoys greater name recognition, won more votes despite being heavily outspent in May, and down-ballot runoffs are taking place in areas of the district that voted for Rodriguez in May which could boost turnout for him. However, Gallego may benefit from more high profile support in San Antonio. The victor will need to raise cash very quickly: both candidates are nearly broke while Canseco had over $1 million at the beginning of the month. Gallego likely gives the Democrats a better shot at unseating Canseco, but this race should be hard fought until November no matter what.
Texas's 25th Congressional District: OPEN, Northern Austin, Cleburne, Burleson.
President: Obama 43%, McCain 56%
Governor: White 41%, Perry 55%
Wealthy former Secretary of State Roger Williams faces Tea Partier Wes Riddle in this GOP runoff. Riddle, the surprising second place winner of the crowded May primary, has not exactly distinguished himself in the past. He tried to unseat Congressman John Carter in a GOP primary in 2004 and lost 70%-23%; he also ran a doomed write-in campaign against Rick Perry in 2010. Riddle attracted some attention during the campaign after he called for President Obama's impeachment, saying Obama giving away several Alaskan islands to Russia: those islands were handed off back in 1991 under President George H.W. Bush. Riddle has also mused in his blog that African Americans benefited from slavery. Riddle also is a big fan of the ultra-conservative John Birch society. Riddle has spent very little money and has virtually none left, while Williams has no shortage of funds to use.
Still, Riddle may have a slim chance to win a very low turnout race dominated by Tea Party voters. Riddle has the endorsement of Ron Paul and is hitting Williams as a supporter of the auto-bailout and as a member of the GOP establishment. Williams' performance in the primary may be a warning sign: after heavily outspending a weak field, Williams only won 25% of the vote. However, Williams should still be the heavy favorite to win. There does not seem to be much Tea Party anger directed at Williams, and Riddle is still little known. Either candidate should have no problem taking this seat in November: if Riddle pulls off a miracle and wins this seat, expect him to become one of the GOP leadership's biggest embarrassments in the 113th Congress.
Texas's 33rd Congressional District: OPEN, Eastern Fort Worth, Irving, Grand Prairie, Oak Cliff.
President: Obama 69%, McCain 31%
Governor: White 68%, Perry 30%
State Representative Marc Veasey faces former State Representative Domingo Garcia in a Democratic primary defined by racial and city rivalries. Veasey, an African American from Fort Worth, and Garcia, a Latino from Dallas, are seeking to establish themselves as the true Democrat in the race: Garcia has attacked Veasey for casting a protest vote in the 1996 GOP Presidential primary, while Veasey has labeled Garcia a bad Democrat and distrusted by his former colleagues. The construction of F-35 fighter jets in Fort Worth has emerged as a major issue: Veasey supports the project while Garcia opposes it for costing tax payers money. The candidates' personalities have come into play as well. Veasey is more measured and non-controversial while Garcia is fiery and has the tendency to alienate people, once earning the nickname "one-man leper colony." National Democrats prefer Veasey in this contest: House Democratic leaders Steny Hoyer and James Clyburn have raised cash for him.
Both candidates have cross-racial and cross-city endorsements, but are spending most of their resources maximizing turnout among their base. Demographics strongly favor Veasey: while the district is 67% Latino African Americans have a registration advantage and historically have voted in greater numbers. Additionally, Fort Worth's Tarrant County makes up a greater portion of the district than any other county. Garcia is unlikely to make inroads in Fort Worth: at a debate he said parts of the city look like ghettos, and his opposition to the F-35 will likely not make him many friends in the city. Given Veasey's demographic advantages and Garcia's tendency to offend people, Veasey looks like the clear favorite to win the runoff. The winner should have no problem securing the seat in November.
Texas's 34th Congressional District: OPEN, Harlingen, Brownsville.
President: Obama 60%, McCain 39%
Governor: White 56%, Perry 42%
Filemon Vela looks like the heavy favorite to defeat Denise Saenz Blanchard in the Democratic runoff here. Vela is the son of a famous judge and former Brownsville mayor, outspent Blanchard $48,000 to $18,000 leading up to the primary (both had little left over, but Vela can self fund some), and outpolled Blanchard 40%-13% in May. Vela also likely benefited from a recent visit by President Obama: Vela received some press attention when he helped provide buses for local Democrats to see Obama.
Vela's biggest weakness stems from doubts about his Democratic allegiances. Local GOPers claim Vela was preparing to run for Congress as a Republican until he saw the new Congressional maps, Vela's wife is a Republican judge, and he has supported Republicans in the past. Blanchard, the former chief-of-staff to former Congressman Solomon Ortiz, has used her resources to hit Vela as a closet Republican. If Blanchard can make this attack stick she has a chance to upset Vela. However, given her very limited resources and Vela's superior name recognition, it's hard to see Vela as anything but the clear front-runner. The winner should have no problem here in November.
Texas's 36th Congressional District: OPEN, Baytown, La Porte.
President: Obama 30%, McCain 69%
Governor: White 33%, Perry 65%
The GOP primary here pits a newcomer against a man whose political career was once left for dead. Financial adviser Stephen Takach was the first place winner in May by a small margin, with former Congressman Steve Stockman narrowly edging out presumed frontrunner State Senator Michael Jackson for the runoff spot. Stockman made quite an impression in his brief tenure in Congress from 1995-1997: among many other highlights, he once suggested that Bill Clinton raided the militia compound in Waco to ban assault weapons. After losing in 1996 to Nick Lampson, his 1998 and 2006 attempts at political comebacks failed. However, the runoff may send him back to Washington, where he would likely resume his role as an extremely conservative and controversial Republican.
The race has gotten very nasty. While Stockman has done little traditional campaigning, he has hit Takach with fake tabloids, including "Stephen Takach drove family friend into bankruptcy." Stockman has also put up campaign signs saying, "Re-elect Stockman," a tactic that has angered many. Neither campaign has much money but Stockman has some high profile support from Ted Nugent. Given that the runoff electorate will likely consist of hard-core conservatives, Stockman looks like he has a chance to defeat the still quite conservative Takach. The winner will be heavily favored in November.
Did I make a mistake? Did I leave something out? Please let me know in the comments!
Once again a big shout out to the DK Elections team for compiling the district data!
And for another perspective on these races, see TDDVandy's dairy here.