Texas voters took to the polls Tuesday to choose candidates for the November elections. Mark Jones, fellow in political science, compiled a list of seven takeaways from the primary runoffs.
1. Movement conservative candidates Dan Patrick and Ken Paxton decimated their well-funded establishment conservative rivals (David Dewhurst and Dan Branch) in the lieutenant governor and attorney general races respectively. With 99 percent of precincts reporting, Patrick and Paxton’s margins of victory were 30 percent (65-35) and 28 percent (64-36). These margins are double that achieved by Ted Cruz (14 percent) in his runoff victory over David Dewhurst in the 2012 U.S. Senate primary.
2. Republican primary voters would appear to have rejected the establishment conservative argument that Dewhurst and Branch would perform better than Patrick and Paxton against their Democratic rivals in November. They also seem to have rejected the establishment conventional wisdom that Paxton and especially Patrick would become polarizing forces once they assumed office in January, and in doing so would hasten the bluing of Texas. Instead, Republican primary voters heartily embraced the candidate they considered to be the most conservative and rejected the candidate they viewed as the least conservative in the three statewide races where a sharp establishment conservative vs. movement conservative distinction existed: Patrick over Dewhurst, Paxton over Branch, and Sid Miller over Tommy Merritt in the agriculture commissioner contest.
3. With Patrick’s victory, the lieutenant governor’s race in November will provide a critical test of whether or not Texas has reached a point where the GOP has nominated a candidate whose position and rhetoric on a wide variety of salient public policy issues is sufficiently to the right of those of many November Republicans that it will cause a significant number of normally reliable Republican voters to split their ticket and cast a vote for the Democratic Lt. Gov. nominee, Leticia Van de Putte.
4. Movement conservatives also performed well in the two state Senate runoffs. In Tarrant County’s SD-10, Konni Burton demonstrated why many movement conservatives consider her to be a rising star in the GOP by soundly defeating Mark Shelton by twenty points (60 percent to 40 percent). Burton is moderately favored to defeat Democrat Libby Willis in November, although in contrast to every other state Senate district, either party can win SD-10. Thus, it is still far too early to count out a high-quality and well-funded candidate like Willis. The Burton-Willis faceoff will without question be the marquee state legislative race in the fall. In the other Senate runoff, dark horse candidate Bob Hall narrowly edged out incumbent Robert Deuell by a mere 300 votes (out of 36,160 total). With Deuell’s defeat, only two of the six Republicans who occupied the pragmatic conservative wing of the GOP Senate delegation during the 2013 legislative session will be returning to Austin for the 2015 session. All four of their replacements are expected to be much closer ideologically to the Senate’s most conservative senator in 2013 (Dan Patrick) than to the senator they are replacing.
5. In the race to replace Congressman Steve Stockman in CD-36 — which includes eastern Harris County and eight predominantly rural southeast Texas counties (Chambers, Hardin, Jasper, Liberty, Newton, Orange, Polk and Tyler) — Brian Babin bested Ben Streusand by 16 points (58 percent to 42 percent). Babin, who hails from Woodville (in Tyler County), won every county except Harris County (where Streusand resides; albeit not within the boundaries of CD-36). Republican voters from the district’s rural areas signaled that they preferred to be represented by a fellow rural Southeast Texan who shares their strong conservative values but also best understands their needs. For instance, while Babin possesses Streusand’s enthusiasm for limited government, unlike his rival, he also is cognizant of the positive role government can play in the lives of the district’s rural residents. School districts form the heart and soul of these residents’ communities, and their small hospitals in many cases remain open thanks to extra federal government support.
6. The Texas Democratic Party avoided the tremendous distraction of having Kesha Rogers at the top of the Democratic Party ticket in November as its U.S. Senate candidate. However, in spite of the generally negative coverage of her campaign in the media, the concerted and vocal rejection of her candidacy by virtually all Democratic Party elites, and the Democratic establishment’s preferred candidate’s (David Alameel) notable financial advantage, Rogers did relatively well, garnering more than a quarter (28 percent) of the vote. I suspect this is not the last time we will see Kesha Rogers participating in a Texas Democratic Party primary.
7. Voter turnout was embarrassingly low in the runoffs. In spite of the reality that the state’s next lieutenant governor, attorney general, agriculture commissioner and one of its three railroad commissioners were in all likelihood being selected in the GOP primary, a mere 4 percent of voting age Texans bothered to participate. Barring a campaign error or setback of significant proportions, all four Republicans who were victorious yesterday in these statewide races (Dan Patrick, Ken Paxton, Sid Miller, and railroad commissioner candidate Ryan Sitton) will also be victorious on November 4. Voter participation was even lower in the Democratic primary where far less was at stake statewide. In all, only a little more than 1 percent of voting age Texans cast a Democratic ballot.
Mark P. Jones is the Baker Institute’s fellow in political science as well as the Joseph D. Jamail Chair in Latin American Studies and the chair of the Department of Political Science at Rice University.
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