After much delay, we have a primary election
Today is Election Day for both the Democratic and Republican primaries. For those candidates who ran during this bizarre primary season, thank you for your perseverance. I can only imagine how trying it has been to get to this point. For the rest of us who finally got to vote, I’m sure it was such a relief to walk into the booth and finally get to cast your vote. While Texas missed the opportunity to have a significant influence in the Republican presidential race, it may be the state that finally locks the nomination in for Mitt Romney. But what about the rest of the races that are on the ballot? How might this epic election shape out today, after all the polls are closed at 7 p.m.?
What should have been the showcase election in Texas is now turning into the closer for the Republican presidential nomination. Had Texas been able to vote back in March on Super Tuesday, the race was still somewhat competitive. Santorum viewed Texas as a way to keep his campaign alive by counting on the votes of tea party and social conservative supporters. Even though Texas is a proportional state, he would have garnered quite a few delegates to signal to the rest of the nation that he was still competitive. Perry even possibly viewed Texas as a last burst of oxygen for his vanity campaign.
But that wasn’t to be the case, thanks to some overreaching by the Republicans in the Texas House who figured they could leverage their supermajority to get all they wanted and more. The problem with that little play was this thing called preclearance under the Voting Rights Act. It was a gamble on their part but it probably didn’t play out much like they had hoped. Several minority groups filed suit against the redistricting maps and the DOJ opted not to preclear the move. That sent the maps into the courts with the best outcome for a 2012 election being some interim maps, forcing the election to be postponed until very late May.
So what does all that mean to today’s primary election? Well, it means that on the Republican side the main draw race, the presidential primary race, was no longer a real competitive race, which probably could have an impact on voter turnout on the Republican side. Still, voter turnout in early voting has been at record levels in some locations but election day totals may stifle an overall record, due to it following the Memorial Day weekend.
US Senate – Republican
The biggest race to watch tonight will be the Republican race for the US Senate seat being vacated by Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison. Even though the race is crowded with nine candidates running, only four candidates are considered marquee level – Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst. State Senator Ted Cruz, former Dallas Mayor Tom Leppert, and ESPN commentator Craig James. Dewhurst is considered the “establishment” Republican and also the favorite in the field and Cruz is considered the tea party candidate, garnering support from the Super PAC Club for Growth, a Jim DeMint backed Super PAC.
While Dewhurst is expected to lead the field with double digit margins, the chances of him avoiding a run-off are diminishing daily. The only tracking poll for this race has been from PPP and has shown Dewhurst climbing but never topping the magic 50%+1 number. Most people are expecting Cruz to end up in a run-off with Dewhurst, provided he can hold off a last minute run by Leppert. Leppert recently refocused his campaign to move from attacking Dewhurst to attacking Cruz, a strategy most 3rd place candidates pull but often too late in the race, as may be the case in this race.
Watching this race tonight, look for the early voting numbers which should be reported around 7:15 – 7:30 p.m. Those typically come in from the urban centers who have much better vote tabulation technology than many of the rural counties. Dewhurst should probably top 50% in those numbers due to the fact that urban areas tend to trend moderate, aka establishment in Republican terms. If Dewhurst is tracking less than 50% then he’s headed to to a run-off easily since the rural vote should trend conservative. There’ll be no way he can make up the distance throughout the night. If Cruz opens up north of 25% then he’ll be in the run-off. Anything less and it’ll be a tight race for that number 2 spot. My prediction is that this race will end in a run-off between Dewhurst and Cruz.
US House 35 – Democrat
Locally, there are several races to watch starting with the newly drawn CD-35 race. Rep. Lloyd Doggett is the top contender in this race, having moved from his current district, CD-25, that was drawn to be less friendly for him. Doggett’s been moved around so much by the Republican legislature I’m surprised he doesn’t have an Airstream for a home. That’s a joke since you don’t have to live in your district to run, based on the Constitution. Doggett has run a strong campaign, visiting about every San Antonio event you could think of. I joked during the campaign that if you held a quinceañera, you could expect Doggett to show up.
All joking aside, Doggett has made every attempt to get to know the new district he could end up representing in Congress. His biggest opponent in the race is Sylvia Romo, Bexar County Tax Assessor, who stayed in the race after the Thanksgiving Shuffle. While there’s a bunch of debate about who was in the race first, thanks to all the shuffling caused by the courts and interim maps, I don’t think it really matters at this point. Romo is hoping to tap into legacy support in Bexar County, which contains 47% of the population of the district. Lose Bexar County and you’ve pretty much lost the district.
So tonight watch the early voting numbers for Bexar County. If Doggett is leading by double digits when the numbers come out you can pretty much hand this race to Doggett. If Doggett’s lead is less than double digits, this race will run to the end of the night. There is a third candidate in the race, Maria Luisa Alvarado, but she hasn’t really been showing any real traction. She could be a spoiler and force a run-off but she would need to draw upwards of 10% to create this situation. My bet is that Doggett wins this race without a run-off.
US House 23 – Democrat
In CD-23 you have former Rep. Ciro Rodriguez in a three man race with State Rep. Pete Gallego (D-Alpine) and patent attorney John Bustamante, son of former Rep. Albert Bustamante, who used to represent the district over two decades ago. Gallego seems to be the lead candidate in this race with over a 7 times the money that Rodriguez has. Gallego is counting on strong support from the rural areas, representing 60% of the district, to carry him to victory. Rodriguez has represented this area at various points in his career but it’s hard to say there’s much allegiance for him in the area. He’ll be depending more on loyalties in Bexar County to push him forward.
However, one factor that could be working against him is something I was detecting at events talking to people I call “Ciro Fatigue.” Some people in Bexar County have reached a point where they think Rodriguez has had his time in the seat and now it’s time to give the seat to some new blood. While there are no numbers on this factor, it is present and could be one of the reasons Rodriguez has had a hard time raising funds for his campaign. One factor that could change the dynamics of this race is the presence of Bustamante, mainly to force a run-off. However, I feel Bustamante will draw more from Rodriguez’s potential voters than Gallego’s.
Watch the early numbers tonight to see how strong Rodriguez is in Bexar County. If he pulls in at least 40-50% in the county he could end up in a run-off with Gallego. Anything less and most likely Bustamante will have created enough drag on his numbers to preclude any chance of a run-off. In the 2010 primary only 31% of the vote for that district came from Bexar County, signifying the level of impact Bexar County has on the district. My prediction is that Gallego wins this race without a run-off.
State Senate 25 – Republican
In local races on the Republican side, there’s the hotly contested race for State Senate District 25. This is Sen. Jeff Wentworth’s current district but he’s drawn two strong conservative challengers, former Railroad Commissioner Elizabeth Ames-Jones and Dr. Donna Campbell. This race has been targeted by state and national conservatives as a must-win to help clean perceived RINOs out of the Republican ranks. Wentworth’s record in the TX State Senate has been a thorn in the side of many conservatives, especially social conservatives who feel his pro-choice stance is an anathema to the party.
This race has been one of those “race to the right” campaigns where the Republican candidates are trying to show just HOW conservative they really are, a recent phenomenon in Republican primary races forced by the tea party. If you put aside the pro-choice issue, there really isn’t a lot that differentiates the candidates, causing the race to take a personal attack position. Ames-Jones residency issue started the personal attacks but the ball just kept rolling between her and Wentworth. Campbell, who might have had a legitimate role in the race, was shoved to the side, possibly because she didn’t have enough baggage. Most likely this one will head to a run-off since I think Campbell has enough support as the untarnished conservative to drop Wentworth below 50%+1. My prediction is a Wentworth/Ames-Jones run-off.
There are some hot state representative races on both the Democratic and Republican sides. I’ll list them out but I haven’t been following them close enough to make any predictive calls on them. Ross Ramsey of the Texas Tribune listed many of the races in a Hot List, using the TSA’s color scheme to rate them. On the Republican side watch HD-121 currently held by Speaker Joe Straus. Matt Beebe, a tea party candidate, is challenging Straus on the same “throw the RINOs out” bandwagon. The Tribune puts this as safe on their Hot List, meaning Straus is projected to win the race. Why I consider it hot is that if Beebe stages a strong opposition to Straus it will undercut Straus’ position as speaker in the Texas House.
In the Democratic side watch for HD-117 on the Democratic side, where the challenger will go against State Rep. John Garza (R-San Antonio) in the general election. It’s a three-way race between Tina Torres, former city councilmember Philip Cortez, and Ken Mireles. Torres is considered the leader here but it could end up in a run-off between her and Cortez. In HD-125, Joaquin Castro’s old district, the race is between two former city councilmembers, Justin Rodriguez and Delicia Herrera (disclaimer: I am a Rodriguez supporter and have contributed to his campaign). My prediction is that Rodriguez will win this race.
So we’ll see how this all turns out. The run-off election date is currently planned for July 31st, put it extremely late in the summer. That gives some candidates almost no time to prepare for the general election. You can check election results tonight at both the Secretary of State’s website or the Bexar County Elections website.