This afternoon, Jose Menendez, a Democratic state representative from San Antonio, is being sworn into the Texas Senate as the successor to Leticia Van de Putte. The latter, of course, was the Democratic nominee for lieutenant-governor in 2014, but since she drew a four-year term after the 2012 elections, her senate seat was not open until her decision to retire from the Lege triggered a special election, which was held January 6th, Menendez was the runner-up in that election, and proceeded to win in a runoff against Trey Martinez Fischer, another Democratic state representative who sent a very pointed email to his supporters yesterday about the results of the runoff. As Martinez Fischer noted, he had lost the runoff by 4,253 votes. The explanation, he continued, was that 6.307 Republicans—defined as, people who voted in at least two of the three Republican primaries held in 2010, 2012, or 2014–turned out for the runoff:
What is even more bizarre than 6,307 consistent Republican primary voters getting involved in a race between two Democrats, is that there were 2,000 more votes cast by Republicans in the February runoff than in the January special election when there were actually 2 Republican candidates in the race.
It seems Republicans were really worried about Democrats sending the strongest voice to the State Senate. And that is why the Republican attack group TLR spent over a million dollars attacking me and endorsing my opponent.
This might be a sore-loser thing to do, especially on the eve of the swearing-in ceremony. But Martinez Fischer is making a fair point, and one that Democrats should consider. It’s not necessarily the case that the 6,307 voters mentioned are all Ted Cruz supporters, as Martinez Fischer suggests later in the email. I’d like to think that some of them, at least, are just Texans who’ve cottoned on to the fact that in 2010, 2012, and 2014, the Republican primaries were, for the most part, more important than the corresponding general elections. The circumstantial evidence, however, supports Martinez Fischer’s contention that these voters supported Menendez, by and large. In the House, as political scientist Mark P. Jones explained in December
, Menendez posted a more moderate record than Martinez Fischer, “a quintessential Texas liberal.” Both candidates made an issue of Menendez’s relative centrism during the runoff: Menendez promised to work with the Republican majority, and Martinez Fischer warned that he would. And as Martinez Fischer notes, the number of Republicans who voted in the runoff was greater than the number who voted for the two Republicans who ran in the special election itself.
This doesn’t mean that Menendez’s victory is illegitimate or that he is somehow not a real Democrat. For a Republican voter, faced with a choice between two Democrats, it’s perfectly reasonable to support the more moderate one or the one more commmitted to bipartisanship. (Those are different traits, and the latter may have been more important in this district: Van de Putte was clearly one of the more progressive Democrats in the Lege, but she had a history of working across the aisle, including with Tea Party Republicans). And since the two Republicans in the special election amassed about 5,300 votes between them, that’s probably part of the explanation for Menendez’s victory: the Texas electorate skews to the center, if not to the right.
But the uptick in total turnout among consistent Republican primary voters between the election and the runoff is, as Martinez Fischer says, unusual and suggestive, and it underlines several points that R.G. made in his post about Battleground Texas last week
. It would be perfectly reasonable for partisan Democrats to wish that a more assertive partisan had won, especially with redistricting on the horizon; to put it differently, if Democrats are waiting until conditions favor their candidates in statewide races, they’re missing opportunities to foster such conditions. And the results of this runoff are symptomatic of a more general problem for Texas Democrats. To the extent that the party has infrastructure, Martinez Fischer has access to it. He is one of the least politically apathetic Democrats in the Lege; if he couldn’t marshall the resources to fight off the Republican machine in a Democratic district holding a runoff election between two Democrats, that suggests a problem with the available Democratic infrastructure, rather than a failure of will or focus on his part.