It’s that time of the primary season that reminds me a lot of the endless run-up to the Super Bowl: One, it goes without saying that I love the game. Two, I can’t stand to read yet another story about the game before it’s actually played. So let’s kick-off already. I’ve reached out to several people inside and outside the Capitol to see what they are looking for on Tuesday, and here are some of the results:
1. It’s all about turnout, see? Of course, it always is, but the Secretary of State’s office told me last week that this cycle’s total voting level is going to be consistent with previous primary turnout. In other words, despite the money and the open seats and the general buzz in the media, new voters aren’t paying much attention. In the 2012 Republican primary, nearly 1.45 million ballots were cast for president. In the 2010 Republican primary, just fewer than 1.5 million ballots were cast for governor. Greg Abbott will be the single-biggest vote getter from any candidate from either party, but he wants to see his number as high as possible to emphasize the story line of inevitability (I remain convinced that at least part of the Ted Nugent strategy on the first day of early voting was connected to this). Wendy Davis, on the other hand, wants to be able to beat the numbers for the 2012 Democratic primary (590,000 votes) or 2010 Democratic primary (680,000 votes), which will help her advance the story line of a resurgence in her party. If her vote totals slip, it shows that nothing has changed in her party. Regardless of the final numbers, however, the difference between the two candidates will be all you need to know going into the general election.
2. Yes, the tea party. The energy from the statewide races has moved almost exclusively in that direction, which leads to highly motivated voters in yet another election with low turnout. With so few voters, it is hard to predict results at the district level, but the tea party wave is expected to push a lot of votes down-ballot, particularly in the House (Jim Keffer, for example, appears to be in a lot of trouble). In any election season, an incumbent or two can get knocked out for various reasons, but the 2014 cycle could see some significant pickups. Those groups who have tried to motivate mainstream Republicans have had zero help at the top of the ticket, and they’ve been outspent in many cases by folks like Tim Dunn.
3. No, there won’t be a speaker’s race. Well, I mean there will be one, but looking at the math, even in a best-case scenario for the tea party, it won’t be competitive. Scott Turner is an ambitious and talented representative, but he’s making the race for reasons that don’t have to do with beating Straus. 1. The tea party conservatives in the House need a leader. Their lack of strategy hurt them last session, and some names are moving on in one form or another: Creighton, Toth, Taylor, etc. 2. Turner is building name ID to position himself to run for Sam Johnson’s congressional seat once he steps down.
4. But that doesn’t mean the 2015 session won’t be tough on Straus. Think of it this way. Abbott will want to prove himself as the conservative he has said he is. Regardless of how the lieutenant governor’s race shakes out, the Senate will be more conservative. That means Straus will be catching a lot of bills that he won’t like. He will have to get creative to keep them from getting out of the lower chamber, and he will be under fire from day one.
5. Which would be more surprising? Debra Medina leading the field in the comptroller’s race, or John Cornyn being pushed into a runoff? And speaking of runoffs, the elections held on May 27 could be fascinating because it will be easier for the candidates on the far right to motivate their base to turn out at the polls. If that happens, wouldn’t it be time to finally refer to the tea party as the mainstream of the Republican party?