One often hears that newspaper endorsements are not worth much in elections these days. But how much is “not much”? I think we can at least get a data point from this year’s campaign.
There’s a clear bifurcation in the nine statewide races other than the Governor’s race, which is sui generis. Let’s look at them by each group. The first group is the Republican high performers:
U. S. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison REP 2,658,657 61.68% Barbara Ann Radnofsky DEM 1,554,324 36.06% Scott Lanier Jameson LIB 97,582 2.26% Total Votes Cast 4,310,563 Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst REP 2,512,197 58.18% Maria Luisa Alvarado DEM 1,616,945 37.45% Judy Baker LIB 188,956 4.38% Total Votes Cast 4,318,098 Attorney General Greg Abbott REP 2,553,610 59.50% David Van Os DEM 1,598,378 37.25% Jon Roland LIB 139,525 3.25% Total Votes Cast 4,291,513 Comptroller of Public Accounts Susan Combs REP 2,542,917 59.44% Fred Head DEM 1,584,325 37.03% Mike Burris LIB 150,996 3.53% Total Votes Cast 4,278,238
Every GOP candidate here got at least 2.5 million votes, turnout was at least 4,278,000 votes, and every Democrat got less than 38%. These were the highest-profile GOP candidates, all of whom spent money on TV advertising (though I for one never saw a KBH ad; she probably needed to advertise the least, however).
Now let’s look at the other half:
Commissioner of the General Land Office Jerry Patterson REP 2,314,965 55.08% vaLinda Hathcox DEM 1,720,985 40.95% Michael A. French LIB 166,935 3.97% Total Votes Cast 4,202,885 Commissioner of Agriculture Todd Staples REP 2,304,494 54.75% Hank Gilbert DEM 1,759,507 41.80% Clay Woolam LIB 144,970 3.44% Total Votes Cast 4,208,971 Railroad Commissioner Elizabeth Ames Jones REP 2,267,047 54.03% Dale Henry DEM 1,751,844 41.75% Tabitha Serrano LIB 177,315 4.23% Total Votes Cast 4,196,206 Justice, Supreme Court, Place 2 Don Willett REP 2,124,205 50.93% William E. Moody DEM 1,876,845 45.00% Wade Wilson LIB 169,777 4.07% Total Votes Cast 4,170,827 Presiding Judge, Court of Criminal Appeals Sharon Keller REP 2,343,845 56.64% J.R. Molina DEM 1,794,432 43.36% Total Votes Cast 4,138,277
Here, every Democrat exceeds 40%, partly due to getting at least 100,000 more votes than the top performer in the other group, and partly because every Republican gets between 200,000 and 400,000 fewer votes than their counterparts. I’d mostly credit that effect to the lack of TV exposure in these races – nobody was able to get on TV and really persuade some low-information folks to push the button for them. This I think is a better reflection of the base vote for each party. It’s largely on par with the 2004 results, when the downballot statewide races were as obscure.
The two that stand out are JR Molina and Bill Moody. Both were on the ballot in 2002 (and again in ’04 in Molina’s case), so they might have had a bit of name ID advantage over their peers. Molina also benefitted from not having a Libertarian on the ballot to potentially suck up anti-Republican votes.
Then there’s Bill Moody. What’s the one thing he had in this race that nobody else did? A long list of newspaper endorsements from all parts of the state. He wound up with an average of 133,000 more votes than his peers in this group who were also in a three-person race, while Don Willet got 171,000 fewer votes. That’s a 7.5 point swing towards Moody, which you can see in the percentages – he got a bit more than three points more than his peers, and Willet got about four points less than his. Perhaps there were other factors in play here – maybe Moody’s walk across Texas generated more positive press for him than I’m crediting him with – but based on this, given that advertising was not a major factor in this race, I’d say the answer is that all those endorsements were worth about seven points. And that’s not too shabby.