Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Texas Primary Preview

Originally published in Red Racing Horses.


First, a bit on turnout from Ross Ramsey of the Texas Tribune:
Some of the early voting numbers are high, but it's impossible to know until after the election exactly what's going on. Early voting is sometimes a sign of the interest in an election and indicates a bigger overall turnout. Early voting is sometimes a sign that campaigns are really well organized at getting their folks out before Election Day. Sometimes, it means voters have thought about whether they want to wait — in this year's case, until after a three-day weekend — to go to the polls. We won't know until the votes are counted just how many people voted, and how many of those voted early.
You have to wait for the autopsy.

Republican Primary: Not much going on in the presidential race with everybody but Mitt Romney and Ron Paul out. Paul ceased actively campaigning in the state recently, meaning no GOTV effort or advertising from the official campaign. Nevertheless, local Paulites have teamed up with the Liberty for All Super PAC (funded by SFA student John Ramsey) to phonebank and drive Paul's total. Paul's success or lack thereof in being a thorn in Romney's side will depend on turnout, but the presence of a prominent US Senate primary between three well-funded candidates undermines that potentiality. Romney should easily exceed 60%. Much of the action here will take place at the state convention June 7th-9th, where turnout is expected to be lower than normal and LfA is helping organize the Paul effort as well. However, with reportedly strong early voting, don't expect this to be much of a problem.

Democratic Primary: RRH reader ToryGOP is all over the race far better than anything I could write up. Read the full diary here for all of the details, but here is a taste:
In Texas, based on my examination of this year's early voting figures (as well as the relationship between past early voting figures and total participation in past primaries), it appears as though about one-third of Texas primary voters will choose Democratic ballots.  This low figure is good news for President Obama as it suggests that the Democratic primary electorate will be fairly liberal.  It is also good news for President Obama that a large percentage of the Democratic primary turnout in Texas will come from non-whites, who have so far been far less likely to cast a protest vote against him in Democratic primaries.  
Turning now to my regression model, it projects that President Obama will receive 79% of the vote in the Texas Democratic primary.    The model doesn't have anything to say about how the three other candidates will divide up the remaining 21%.  But looking at the primary vote in Louisiana, where these same three candidates were on the ballot, I am guessing that John Wolfe will take 11% of the vote, Bob Ely will take 6%, and Darcy Richardson will take 4%.

With respect to Obama's figure, if participation in the Democratic primary is unexpectedly high, I could see his percentage go as low as 75%.  On the other hand, if participation is unexpectedly low, Obama's percentage could go as high as 83%.    
US Senate

A quick note about Texas races. Excepting President, races in Texas go to a runoff if no candidate reaches 50%. That runoff will be July 31st, so the big question is almost always "will there be a runoff?" when spoiler candidates are also on the ballot in any given race.

Republican Primary: The big race on the ballot here. Three prominent candidates (sorry Craig James, who lacks a major air campaign) are left standing: Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst, former Solicitor General Ted Cruz, and former Dallas Mayor Tom Leppert. All three prepared their ad campaigns early, pouring their resources into making the runoff (or in the case of Dewhurst, winning without it). Dewhurst and Leppert have spent millions of dollars of their own money and that of their allies (legislative interests for Dewhurst, Dallas businessman for Leppert). Leppert has faced few attacks excepting some buys from Dewhurst- he is casting himself as a businessman who created jobs and hopes to ride the heat between the other two to a runoff a la Deb Fischer in Nebraska. The last two polls of the race, before many attack ads against Cruz heated up, had Leppert at 17% (YouGuv) and 15% (PPP).

Ted Cruz has his own set of advantages. He has received significant outside help from a variety of groups: Club For Growth, FreedomWorks, Tea Party Express and the Senate Conservatives Fund stand out with help on the ground and attack ads against Dewhurst. (see the Burnt Orange Report's look at outside money in the race here). He has also consolidated support from a variety of constituencies, including the Pauls, Santorum, DeMint, Palin, prominent Houston talk radio host Michael Berry, and others. PPP has him at 29% and YouGuv 31%.

Finally, Dewhurst is the king in this race. He stands on the precipice of 50% in recent polls (YouGuv 49%, PPP 46%) to avoid a runoff, recently injecting $6 million more of his own money into the race after already putting in millions of his money. He has also received almost $3 milllion in Super PAC help from less-established entities than Cruz. His strategy is two-pronged: bury Cruz with various attacks while building himself up as a strong conservative with a successful record. He also has his own endorsements, most notably Governor Perry.

Craig James, Lela Pittenger, and Glenn Addison are also in the race, but I would not expect them to garner more than high single digits together. The latter two have some support from Paulites, while James is relatively unpopular despite his storied history in college football.
You can find our previous article on Tom Leppert here and Ted Cruz here.

Democratic Primary: The most prominent name is former State Rep. Paul Sadler, but he faces a crowded field including attorney Sean Hubbard. Little money has flowed into this race, so the candidates are relatively anonymous and pose little threat to the eventual Republican nominee.

US House of Representatives

A note about these races from Paul Burka of Texas Monthly:
Close races are the norm in redistricting years because candidates must communicate with large numbers of people they have never represented before. They don’t know their constituents and vice versa. The most effective campaign tool is direct mail, and candidates may not know what their opponents are saying about them and have no way to respond, especially at the last minute. We’re going to see some surprised candidates on Tuesday night.
So without further ado.

TX-4: Octogenarian incumbent Ralph Hall (R) faces two primary challengers. The largely Texan-financed anti-incumbent Super PAC, the Campaign for Primary Accountability (CPA) has spent over $100,000 against Hall. Steve Clark is running again, and he kept Hall under 60% in 2010. With the outside help and another candidate in the race, there is a chance of a runoff. Hall has still healthily outraised his challengers and seems to be one of the safer incumbents in this preview.

TX-6: Rep. Joe Barton (R) faces three primary challengers in a district with a lot of new turf. The most prominent challenger is Joe Chow, fomer Mayor of Addison who is looking to make a runoff. Chow has raised less than $150,000 to Barton sitting on a seven-digit warchest. Barton is taking the threat seriously, running a strong campaign, and has avoided getting the CPA treatment, so he should be safe.

TX-14: My home district. There is no Ron Paul running here to succeed the libertarian standardbearer, and Paul himself has studiously avoided inserting himself into the Republican primary. State Rep. Randy Weber, a staunch social conservative in the State House, is widely considered the frontrunner, with Pearland City Councilor Felicia Harris, self-funding businessman Jay Old, and attorney and SREC [State Republican Executive Committee] member Michael Truncale considered the frontrunners. A variety of lesser-known candidates are also waging active campaigns, including Clear Lake Tea Party founder Robert Gonzales and Dickinson ISD Administrator John Gay. Again, expect a runoff here. Weber will almost certainly be in said runoff. Old and Truncale are both centered on Jefferson County, splitting each other's base. Harris, whose base in Pearland is largely outside of the district, has campaigned aggressively, including in the Republican stronghold of mainland Galveston County. Weber's base, his seat in the State House, is largely outside of the district, and  much of Brazoria County was cut out of the 14th in redistricting. Nevertheless, his campaign and its League City HQ (the largest town in Galveston County) have effectively negated the geographic disadvantage. Former Rep. Nick Lampson (D) will await the Republican nominee in November.

TX-16: A nasty race between El Paso City Councilor Beto O'Rourke (D) and incumbent Rep. Silvestre Reyes. O'Rourke is young, insurgent and campaigning vigorously for the job, and he has gotten an assist with over $200k in attack ads against Reyes courtesy of the CPA. Reyes also has support from Bill Clinton. Reyes has spent over $450k on his race to almost $200k for O'Rourke. With no public polling, this is an unpredictable contest.

TX-21: Rep. Lamar Smith (R) faces two challengers: libertarian sheriff (from Arizona) Richard Mack and software engineer Richard Morgan. Neither has much money, but the Reddit community has made some small buys to target Smith on behalf of both candidates. Further, Mack has an outside libertarian Super PAC helping him with advertising and GOTV (I believe it is Liberty For All, which has been tweeting about the race all day, but I can't find any specific confirmation beyond the presence of the outside help). The real action here is if the race goes close to a runoff, but that seems very unlikely- Lamar Smith has a huge warchest, with or without outside spending in the race.

TX-23: State Rep. Pete Gallego and former Rep. Ciro Rodriguez are duking it out as well. The League of Conservation Voters has spent over $200,000 on ads attacking Rodriguez, who started out with a strong name recognition edge. Gallego has also outraised Rodriguez ~3:1, so provided both have solid GOTV this should be a very competitive primary. With a local attorney running as well, there is a solid chance this race will go to runoff.

TX-25:Williams vs. Williams in this Republican seat stretching from Waco to Fort Worth. 12 Republicans are running in this seat with varying degrees of active campaigns. The two most prominent candidates are former Secretary of State Roger Williams and former Railroad Commission Chairman Michael Williams. Both Williamses have strong fundraising and have been running for something since last year when they were in the US Senate race. Both candidates eventually dropped to congressional races before settling on the 25th when redistricting finally ended. A runoff is likely here with other active campaigns also working the seat.

TX-30: Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson drew two primary challengers: Democratic fundraiser Taj Clayton (who has had predictably strong fundraising) and state Rep. Barbara Mallory Caraway. Johnson has campaigned aggressively to retain the seat and has the help of a former aide's Super PAC attacking Clayton as a Tea Partier. Johnson also has the endorsement of President Obama, making this a tough primary challenge. Johnson should have the edge in any contest, but with three viable candidates a runoff is quite possible. Still, it is hard to see a path to victory for either Caraway or Clayton on July 31st.

TX-33: A crowded race in the Democratic primary in this new Hispanic Democratic seat in Dallas/Fort Worth. 11 candidates are running, but the most prominent are State Rep. Marc Veasey and former State Rep. Domingo Garcia. There is likely going to be a runoff in this race, with Garcia running as a populist attacking sacred cows of the district like Lockheed Martin and GM focusing on building Hispanic turnout, while Veasey is a more traditional candidate who is African American counting on strong primary turnout from that constiuency. Self-funding dentist David Alameel or Fort Worth City Councilor Kathleen Hicks also have outside shots at making the runoff.

TX-34: Everyone kind of forgot about this open Democratic seat in the Rio Grande Valley. One prominent candidate was Cameron County DA Armando Villalobos, but he was recently indicted for bribing a convicted judge. He is carrying on with his campaign, even if fundraising dropped off thereafter. Brownsville attorney Filemon Vela, the daughter of a US district judge and a Mayor of Brownsville, now seems like the frontrunner. With eight candidates, a runoff is very possible.

TX-35: Rep. Lloyd Doggett is now in a Hispanic seat, but strong challengers for the Democratic nod never emerged. The most prominent is Bexar County Tax-Assessor Sylvia Romo. Romo has been massively outspent by Doggett, but she does have the endorsement of the Castro brothers. I would expect Doggett to win outright.

TX-36: From a recent afternoon roundup:
You probably haven't heard much about this race, which is a sleepy affair. The seat is pretty safe for a Republican and lacks a really prominent figure to draw in money- the prohibitive frontrunner, State Senator Mike Jackson, isn't really a bombthrower or power player in the legislature... Baytown businessman Stephen Takach is self-funding, spending $300k to Jackson's $211k. With 12 candidates, the race is expected to go into a runoff. While Seabrook City Councilman Kim Morrell is running a spirited campaign, the real wildcard is former Congressman Steve Stockman. Stockman decided to run here in the end, but he has raised less than $5k and (I have heard) is having some trouble recruiting volunteers. However, he is known as a conservative firebrand and has some loyalty from the Paulites, so residual name recognition could add some uncertainty to the race.
I think Stockman's presence in the race is overrated; his weak GOTV effort and lack of advertising give him a big disadvantage, to the point where I could believe Morrell making a runoff before Stockman. Nevertheless, it seems likely Takach and Jackson will face off in the runoff.

Other Statewide Races

Railroad Commissioners: There are actually two races here- one for the remainder of recently appointed Chairman Barry Smitherman's term, and one for a full term on the commission.Smitherman faces Comal County Commissioner Greg Parker and Elizabeth Murray-Kolb in a surprisingly tight race.

The action is in the crowded second race with two prominent candidates: State Rep. Warren Chisum, a prominent Panhandle conservative who ran for the Speakership against Joe Straus in 2010, and Christi Craddick, daughter of former Speaker Tom Craddick. Also running active campaigns are Roland Sledge and Becky Berger. Nevertheless, Chisum and Craddick have raised the most money and lead the polls.

A recent YouGuv poll found the following:
In one race for a seat on the commission, Christi Craddick leads Rep. Warren Chisum, R-Pampa, with 30 percent of the vote to his 19 percent.
Three other candidates have double-digit support: Joe Cotten, at 14 percent; Becky Berger at 13 percent; and Roland Sledge, with 10 percent. Beryl Burgess got 5 percent in the poll.
They’re running for the seat that had been held by Elizabeth Ames Jones, who is running for the state Senate.

The winner will have a full six-year term on the commission. In the other race, Comal County Commissioner Greg Parker, with 33 percent, leads Railroad Commissioner Barry Smitherman, with 26 percent, and Elizabeth Murray-Kolb, with 25 percent.
Smitherman, appointed to the commission by Gov. Rick Perry after the resignation of Michael Williams, finds himself in a virtual tie for second with Murray-Kolb in a race that could also be destined for a July 31 runoff. Al Lee pulled in 8 percent in that race. Williams left to run for Congress; the winner will serve out the remaining two years of his term.
Whichever Republicans win the two races essentially have the seat: unknown Democrat Dale Lampasas is running for the seat with the competitive primary, while no Democrat even filed for the other. These are very important seats in Texas, managing energy regulation, but voters know little about the job.

The important thing to note in these races, from Ross Ramsey:
Statewide candidates for the Railroad Commission and for the state’s highest courts put themselves up for the approval of voters who, to be charitable, know more about last week’s American Idol contestants. They win, or not, on other cues: gender, race, interesting names, whatever. Incumbents get sent home. Strange candidates win. This is a funny way to apply for a job.
State Board of Education: Arch-conservative David Bradley and the relatively moderate Thomas Ratliff, the latter elected in 2010, are each facing primaries from opposing factions within the party. Remember, the Texas SBOE garnered lots of attention after it changed its curricular standards, so now education groups (for the moderates) and conservative groups (for the conservatives) have actually thrown money into these races. There are also three open seats and other primaries, so it will be worth keeping an eye on if education is a major issue for you.

State House of Representatives

HD-7: Former State Rep. Tommy Merritt (R) wants a rematch with Rep. David Simpson, one of two successful primaries of an incumbent in 2010. Simpson has since become a conservative hero, spearheading anti-TSA legislation in the State House. Much money has poured into helping Simpson, who has also consolidated the support of many precinct chairs and party players looking to be seen backing a strong conservative for their own runs (cough*, Comptroller Susan Combs). Merritt could also get help from crossover Democrats. Merritt was part of the Gang of 11 that installed Rep. Joe Straus as Speaker, so this is very much a primary with clear ideological lines. Another member of the Gang of 11, State Rep. Rob Eissler in HD-15, also faces a prominent primary challenger. You can read about other Straus allies facing primaries here.

HD-43: State Rep. JM Lozano, a recent convert to the Republican Party, faces a challenge to his right in HD 43. It will probably be blown up as an example of conservatives purging the impure if he loses and a new wave in the Republican Party if a Hispanic candidate wins the primary. Either way, it will be overblown.

HD-121: Speaker Joe Straus (R), known for his moderate streak, faces a Tea Party challenge from Matt Beebe. The race has drawn lots of money, but Straus was sitting on millions and has a lot of establishment support. Straus should not have much trouble winning this.

State Senate 

SD-11: State Rep. Larry Taylor (R), an influential legislator who has maintained leadership positions in both the Craddick and Straus Speakerships, is in a proxy war with Democratic financier Steve Mostyn. Mostyn is financing his major opponent, businessman Dave Norman. With outside money pouring into both sides, the race has escalated into the hundreds of thousands. Complicating the race is Daniel McCool, a Tea Party candidate who has run an active campaign and could precipitate a runoff.

SD-25: The maverick Senator Jeff Wentworth (R) who irregularly raises the ire of conservatives for some moderate positions (and then pushes some of their fvorite legislation in turn) faces two prominent candidates.  Donna Campbell, a former congressional candidate who was in the race for a long time is running to Wentworth's right, but former Railroad Commissioner Elizabeth Ames Jones parachuted into the race after her US Senate race failed to catch fire. The race has turned into an expensive, bitter affair, with lawsuits, claims and counter-claims flying from both sides for slander and libel. A runoff appears fairly likely.

Other previews to read:

Texas Tribune
Hotline on Call
Roll Call
Texas Watchdog 

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