Primary Day 2014
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Check back here throughout Primary Day and into the night as I provide the latest breaking news and analysis on the 2014 primaries along with my colleagues Erica Grieder and Brian D. Sweany. And don’t forget that you can follow all of us on Twitter: @PaulBurka @EricaGrieder and @Brian_Sweany.
12:46 AM: Reading the Tea Leaves. In an earlier post, I wondered if 2014 would be when the tea party became the mainstream of the Republican party. Tonight we got a pretty clear picture of where the voters are directing their energy. What Ted Cruz started in 2012 came to its full fruition tonight. Short-term analysis is always tricky, but even if we predicted the candidates in the run-off correctly, we often got the order wrong. Patrick beat Dewhurst. Paxton beat Branch. Hegar beat Hilderbran (right now at 49.9%). And so on. The tea party flexed its muscle, and they knew how to win their races. Every single candidate at the top of the statewide ballot endorsed by Empower Texans led his race.
On the Senate side, Bob Hall pushed incumbent Robert Deuell into a runoff. Konni Burton leads Mark Shelton into the runoff. Donald Huffines is leading incumbent John Carona. So far the only Empower Texans-endorsed candidate not to push through is Mike Canon, who lost to Kel Seliger.
As for the House, of the 20 or so key races I was following, the majority of those supportive of the leadership won (some key knockoffs were Linda Harper-Brown, a committee chair, Ralph Sheffield, Bennett Ratliff, and Diane Patrick). Of those incumbents backed by Empower Texans who were being challenged, Jonathan Stickland, Charles Perry, and Matt Schaefer won their races. Stefani Carter is in a runoff after coming in second (and running a poor campaign). Several Empower Texans candidates pulled through in the open seats as well–T.J, Fabby and Ted Seago led their races into the runoff, and Mark Keough won outright.
The implications for the Senate are clear if Patrick beats Dewhurst in May. The House is not so certain. The glare will be even greater on Joe Straus, but the fundamental math behind the speaker’s race remains unchanged. That will drive the tea party crazy, and it will become one of the great pressure points in the 2015 session. — BDS
11:55 PM: Yep, still weird. The results are mostly in now, although ballots are still being counted in a number of races to see if there will be a runoff--in senate district 16, where challenger Don Huffines has a whisker-thin lead over incumbent Republican John Carona, in the comptroller's race, where Glenn Hegar is a few votes shy of the 50% threshhold, and so on. (For the latest results, check the secretary of state's website).
Based on what we know now, though, I gotta say I'm hard-pressed to find a clear result from these elections. A number of far-right or Tea Party-type conservatives outperformed expectations, most notably Dan Patrick, who won the race for lieutenant governor, although not with enough support to avoid a runoff against Dewhurst. If you want to find a clear Tea Party victory, though, you have to look downballot, where incumbents like Jonathan Stickland and Donna Campbell brushed off primary opponents, and where challengers like Konni Burton are heading to runoffs. At the same time, establishment Republicans like Joe Straus and John Cornyn, both of whom have been targeted by Tea Party groups in recent years, easily won their primaries.
It was a good night for Republicans in Texas, as a group, insofar as about twice as many Texans cast their ballots for Republicans rather than Democrats; Democrats didn't have as many contested primaries, but they do have an unusually high-profile ticket. And it's an ominous sign for Wendy Davis that although she is now the official Democratic gubernatorial nominee, she lost several south Texas counties to Ray Madrigal. If not for the relative underperformance of the Democratic ticket, Republicans would have cause for concern over the unusual degree of infighting suggested by this year's primaries. --EG
8:25 PM: Weirdness all around. By the time I finish writing this paragraph, the results may have changed, but at the moment, the results in the Republican primary are pretty weird. As Brian noted, the Tea Party-type candidates are doing better than expected in several statewide races--Dan Patrick is leading the race for lieutenant governor, and Ken Paxton is leading Dan Branch. That trend continues downballot. Konni Burton is leading Mark Shelton in the Republican primary in Wendy Davis's old Senate district; Donna Campbell is looking good, as is my favorite Tea Party freshman, Jonathan Stickland. And yet John Cornyn and Joe Straus won easily, and a number of incumbents who drew primary challenges from the right--Kel Seliger, Bob Deuell, Sarah Davis, JD Sheffield, Jim Keffer, John Otto--leading, and likely to avoid runoffs.
When asked whether they want to repeal the Affordable Care Act, however, 94% of Republicans said yes, according to the returns thus far, so at least that makes sense. We'll keep updating this post, but I'd also recommend following us on Twitter for the next hour or two for immediate reactions to the results as they continue coming in. --EG
7:45 PM: The Return of the Early Returns: The long story short, it appears this could be an ugly night for mainstream Republican candidates. Dan Patrick is leading David Dewhurst, Ken Paxton is leading Dan Branch, Glenn Hegar is close to 50 percent, and Sid Miller is up in the Ag race. Want to follow the returns yourself? Check out the Secretary of State's site or our friends at the Texas Tribune. -- BDS
6:35 PM: Gossip, Idle and Otherwise. With less than thirty minutes to go before most polls close (hello, El Paso and Travis counties), here's some of the more reliable chatter I've been hearing from reliable insiders.
1. Cornyn v. Everyone Else: The talk sounds very confident that Senator Cornyn will win this easily outright, despite the fact that certain elements tried hard to kick him in the shins.
2. Abbott: He worked hard to ensure that he captured the most votes possible, despite the fact that he was always the favorite in the primary. It wasn't for nothing that he did 18 or so GOTV events in the final two weeks. And I think that now that he can separate himself from the heat in the lite guv race and try to put some distance between him and Ted Nugent, he'll shift the campaign back to policy initiatives and stay away from Wendy Davis.
3. Davis: Turnout across the state remains low—in many cases the early vote will clearly indicate the winners based on today's vote totals—so I think the Ds will say they are focusing more on their local races and not the statewide contests, where so many of the candidates are relative unknowns. But I still believe that with all the attention from the media (national and otherwise) and the efforts of Battleground Texas, a lackluster showing hurts Davis's momentum. Turnout is everything, and if the votes aren't there, the rest is window dressing.
4. Lite Guv: Again, given the turnout from the major counties today, the EV will be a key indicator of who places first and second in this contest. That could be good news for Patrick, because that's when the immigration attack happened. That story had a major negative impact on Patrick, but its effects may have been blunted because of the timing. The major polls I've seen, and the internal polls that I've heard whispers about, were taken prior to that, so it's difficult to know what effect, if any, that it had. It's also possible that the negative ads that Patterson and Staples ran also helped Patrick by hurting Dewhurst. There's little doubt that the runoff will come down to Patrick and Dewhurst, and there's little doubt that Dewhurst will be willing to bury Patrick with his own money and spend whatever it takes to gain the advantage. And, of course, Patrick takes the immigration story with him into the runoff.
5. AG: The numbers here have been going crazy since Ted Cruz's "not-so-implied" endorsement of Ken Paxton. The race will definitely be a runoff between the two of them, but Paxton could also catch Branch here at the end. This a race where it appears that Cruz had a huge impact.
6. Loose Ends: I'm hearing that Ralph Hall may not hit 50 percent in CD 4. (He does have five challengers.) On the Democratic side, I'm hearing that the race in CD 33 between Marc Veasey and Tom Sanchez could be very close and end in an upset. Finally, going to back to key races in the Texas House, I'm hearing that Angie Chen Button in HD 112 looks to be in trouble against Jared Patterson, who is backed by Empower Texans. -- BDS
4:40 PM: Meanwhile, in the Democratic primary: A strange result in the aforementioned UT/TT poll is that Kesha Rogers is leading the race to be the Democratic Senate nominee. “Strange” because Rogers has broken with her party on several key issues. She wants to impeach Barack Obama, for example, and recently told the Texas Observer that the environmentalist agenda “should be stopped and destroyed.” As a result of her various heterodox opinions, she has been disavowed several times by mainstream Texas Democrats, including the state party itself, which has explicitly told people not to vote for her.
Part of me wonders if Rogers is being unfairly maligned. Many Texas Democrats are arguably doctrinally unsound, including David Alameel, who is currently polling second in the Senate primary and has been endorsed by Wendy Davis and Leticia Van de Putte, despite the fact that he has, in the past, donated to Republican candidates including John Cornyn, the incumbent, who is running for re-election this year. It’s true that very few Democrats share Rogers’ perspective on the president, but a party that insists on purity tests is a party that risks alienating potential crossover voters, and ultimately marginalizing itself.
In any case, it may not matter whether Rogers wins, because Cornyn is almost certain to win re-election in November (and without wishing to offend Steve Stockman, I am sure he will win his primary today). Still worth pointing out, though, because although polls often have one or two surprises, oddball results are usually comprehensible in retrospect. The fact that Debra Medina is leading the comptroller’s race, for example, startled some observers--but she did earn 19% of the vote in the 2010 gubernatorial primary against Rick Perry and Kay Bailey Hutchison, both of whom are more well-known than Glenn Hegar or Harvey Hildebran, and she has been campaigning tirelessly around the state on a shoestring budget, and she has made a number of reasonable points about how she would approach the office.
Kesha Rogers, though? I have no idea, and I don’t think anyone does. The only things I can suggest are that her previous campaigns for Congress have given her higher name ID than Alameel or Maxey Scherr, the El Paso attorney currently polling third—or perhaps Democrats enthused about Davis and Van de Putte are defaulting to another female candidate without stopping to ask whether she believes in climate change (she doesn’t). Any other theories are welcome in the comments. –EG
3:30 PM: The View From the House. For those folks watching the legislative races in the House carefully, the results tonight will be fascinating. Several committee chairs are gone: Dan Branch, Jim Pitts, Harvey Hilderbran, Allan Ritter, Tryon Lewis, Bill Callegari. So are tea party conservatives who clashed with Joe Straus: Van Taylor, Steve Toth, Brandon Creighton. There are about 19 or so races with incumbents who are friendly to Straus where the ball game will be played tonight to determine the strength of Straus versus the strength of the tea party.
Empower Texans has endorsed 44 candidates, so one of the key measures of the night will be how many of those races succeed—Cullen Crisp v. Jim Keffer, Matt Rinaldi v. Bennett Ratliff, Bonnie Parker v. Sarah Davis, to name a few. (Should I mention Matt Beebe v. Joe Straus?) But even if those candidates have an excellent night, the math is still not there to unseat Straus, whose speaker's chair is the ultimate target. Scott Turner, or anyone else for the matter, doesn't have a path to the required 76 votes as long as the Ds stay with Straus. --BDS
3:15 PM: The two fundamental problems with Dan Patrick. I agree with Burka's comment this morning, that Patrick has had a bit of a surge in the lieutenant governor's race in the past week or so; he will almost certainly end up in the runoff with Dewhurst. I would also say that Patrick isn't all bad; when he goes after something, he really goes for it. It's nice to see that trait in a politician, especially when the cause is a worthy one. Even during what was probably the nadir of the lite guv campaign for everyone involved--the televised debate in Dallas where all four candidates applauded a Fort Worth hospital's effort to keep a legally dead woman on life support for several months--Patrick had a good moment in advocating for public education reform, a priority that has not gotten nearly as much attention on the trail as some of the fringe issues we've heard about ad nauseam.
With that said, I think Dewhurst will ultimately prevail here because Patrick has two fundamental problems. The first is that he's not the kind of candidate who does well in Texas, even in a Republican primary. He's a social conservative with a tendency to crusade, similar to Rick Santorum or Mike Huckabee. There's nothing intrinsically wrong with that, and in theory, such candidates should do well in Texas, where a majority of Republican voters--and most of the statewide officials, for that matter--are socially conservative. The Republicans who win statewide, however, are typically focused on fiscal issues rather than social ones, and more likely to be pragmatic than sanctimonious in their tone. In practice, socially conservative candidates underperform in Texas statewide elections. I don't see that changing; in the most recent UT/TT poll, only 4% of respondents said Santorum would be their choice for president in 2016, if they had to decide today.
The second problem with Patrick is that he's campaigned as a jerk. He's within his rights to challenge an incumbent, obviously, but his attacks on Dewhurst have been overheated--and disproportionate, considering that he endorsed Dewhurst, and campaigned aggressively on his behalf, less than two years ago. Texas Republicans might not love Dewhurst--that's another story--but Patrick's campaign has too often been bullying. --EG
12:30 PM: Another thought about turnout. As Brian noted below, early voting turnout thus far has been roughly on par with recent primaries. Per the secretary of state's office, when early voting ended, on Friday, about 7% of the Texans registered to vote in the state's most populous counties had done so. That's roughly in line with the percentage of Texans who voted early in the 2012 primaries, and slightly above the figure from 2010 (6%). Today will probably be the single biggest day of voting.
With that said, I'm interested to see what the total turnout figure looks like. If overall turnout is slightly lower than in 2010 (the last set of primaries that didn't involve a presidential contest) that would be a potentially ominous sign for the GOP. Weather may be a factor: winter really puts Texans at a disadvantage. There haven't, however, been many reports of problems with the voter ID law or other administrative problems. More Texans have cast ballots in the Republican primary than the Democratic one, as usual, but Democratic party officials are touting higher turnout on their side, in early voting, than in recent cycles. Lower turnout would therefore be a sign of less excitement, especially on the Republican side.
Republicans in Texas, like their counterparts around the country, were unusually animated in 2010 due to the election of Barack Obama as president and the rise of the Tea Party movement. But Texas is the only state that posted a major Tea Party-type victory in 2012--the election of Ted Cruz as US senator. And there are, as noted above and below, a number of high-profile contests in the Republican primary this year, as well as a Democratic gubernatorial candidate with unusually high unfavorables. If Republicans in Texas are underwhelmed, under those conditions, the party should take notice of that. --EG
12:15 PM: Random Thoughts: Remember that voter turnout is expected to be on the same levels of previous primary elections (the fact that this turned into Ice Primary 2014 doesn't help). In 2010 that meant 1.484 million Republicans and 680,000 Democrats. In 2012 that meant 1.449 million Republicans and 590,000 Democrats. For Abbott, it's critical that he post massive numbers to show his dominance. For Davis, it's crucial that she eclipses those previous numbers to give her momentum heading into the general.
It's worth noting that Democrats are not contesting 39 percent of the seats in the House. Republicans are not contesting 30 percent. In the Senate, Ds are not contesting 40 percent of the seats on the ballot. Republicans are not contesting only 1 seat (Kirk Watson's).
Republicans in statewide races continue to have no fear of a backlash in November over statements they are making now (and will continue to make until May 27). Democrats can do very little to change that—and it doesn't help that two of their statewide candidates, Kesha Rogers and Kinky Friedman, have been disavowed by the party.
Finally, it's worth pointing out that Governor Rick Perry, who is not on the statewide ballot for the first time since 1990, is celebrating his 64th birthday today. -- BDS
10:45 AM: Musical chairs: We'll be talking about the individual races throughout the day, but I'd like to start by offering a more general note for any visiting readers who are wondering why the entire #txlege press corps is subsumed by today's primary: at least five of the state's incumbent officials are moving on after this year; Texas is soon to have a new governor, attorney general, comptroller, agriculture commissioner, and land commissioner. And given that it's been 20 years since Democrats last won a top office in Texas, it's likely that the candidates who win the Republican primaries will go on to win in November.
Somewhat anticlimactically, we can expect a couple of runoffs in the high-profile races. Although a candidate can win a general election in Texas on a simple plurality, as Rick Perry famously did in 2006, he or she has to clear 50% in the primary or else face the second-place candidate in a runoff, as David Dewhurst and Ted Cruz did in 2012. Dewhurst, who is running for re-election as lieutenant governor this year, is likely to find himself in a runoff once again, in this case probably with state senator Dan Patrick, who has, as Burka noted below, apparently been surging over the past week or so. Polls also suggest a pending runoff in the AG race, with state representative Dan Branch holding a narrow lead over state senator Ken Paxton and railroad commissioner Barry Smitherman keeping either from breaking 50%. I predict that both Dewhurst and Branch will eventually prevail, but I'll elaborate on that later today --EG
10:40 AM: The Rise of Dan Patrick: I'm hearing from a reliable source that Dan Patrick has surged in the race for lieutenant governor. David Dewhurst has faded. Again. It is hard to imagine the shape of the Senate under Patrick, who has cast himself as a hard-right ideologue. But let me say this about him. He is a great politician. He knows exactly what he wants -- and he knows exactly how to get it. He has had his eye on the lieutenant governor's office since the day he won his Senate seat. I think there is a lot of Bob Bullock in him. He's mean, he's relentless, and he's determined to get what he wants. There has been a lot of loose talk that if Patrick were to become lieutenant governor, the Senate would strip him of his power. I'll believe it when I see it. Patrick would not let that happen. He'll have Democratic allies. If he does upset Dewhurst, it will mean the end of the Senate as we know it -- no more 2/3 rule, and a lot less collegiality. -- PB
( AP Image / Eric Gay )