Rick Santorum’s withdrawal from the presidential race leaves the state Republican party scrambling for primary turnout. The presidential race was the main drawing card for the primary. Early polling showed Santorum running strongly with 45% of the vote. The Senate race will bring out some voters. Dewhurst has name ID, Cruz has a loyal ideological constituency, Leppert has support in the Metroplex, and Craig James has, well, a semi-famous name, but the spotlight isn’t bright enough to drive voters to the polls in large numbers. The only other statewide races involve the Railroad Commission and a handful of judicial races. Competitive legislative races will bring out some voters. But if the primary is small–say, around the 650,000 mark that it used to be in the previous decade–it will be dominated by the Republican base vote, which gives conservative candidates a big advantage. One consultant estimates that the turnout needs to exceed 800,000 for the primary to be “normal.”
Party leaders want a big turnout for primaries because it helps grow the party. First-time voters get added to the party’s database and can be enticed back to the polls in future elections. In a small turnout primary, the turnout doesn’t yield a lot of new names, and the party doesn’t grow.