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Some postmortem thoughts

The Trib leads with the obvious.

As the results of Republican primary runoffs began to roll in Tuesday evening, Texas Democrats realized they were getting exactly what they wanted — and exactly what they feared.

The victories of Dan Patrick over incumbent David Dewhurst for lieutenant governor and Ken Paxton over Dan Branch for attorney general were just the most high-profile examples of Republican runoff races in which the candidate widely viewed as farther right prevailed.

The outcome means Democrats will have an easier time contrasting their ticket to the Republican option in November.

“You really can’t have a competitive election that voters pay attention to unless you have a clear contrast between the nominees,” Texas Democratic consultant Harold Cook said. “To the extent you’re going to have a Republican opponent, if that opponent can be just as far to the right as possible, that’s just what any Democratic nominee would want.”

Yet Tuesday’s results also raise the stakes for Democrats, who last won a statewide office in Texas 20 years ago. Most notably, a failure by Democratic state Sen. Leticia Van de Putte to win her bid for lieutenant governor will mean, come January, Patrick will be standing at the Senate dais, gavel in hand, ready to kick off a new legislative session. It’s an outcome that many Democrats fear will lead to the passage of even more conservative legislation on immigration, education and access to abortion, some of which their party’s members have managed to block so far.

“Some Democrats have said they want me to be the nominee,” Patrick said during his victory speech. “Well, they’ve got me, and I’m coming.”

We’ve discussed this before. As I said then, it’s a high-risk, high-reward strategy for Democrats, who as underdogs can’t afford to play it safe. At this point, given the elevated stupidity level of the Senate after Bob Deuell’s loss and Robert Duncan’s retirement, it’s not clear to me that the downside risk is all that great. Sure, Dan Patrick will do things as Lite Gov that David Dewhurst didn’t or wouldn’t, like not name any Democratic committee chairs, but does anyone think Dewhurst would have had the spine to push back on whatever crazy-ass legislation this next Senate is likely to want to pass? I’m not saying Dan Patrick wouldn’t be worse – he most assuredly would be – I’m just saying that the upside is much, much greater than the downside. Whatever the actual odds of the preferred outcome are, you have to like that kind of bet.

As noted yesterday, the anecdotal evidence of Republican crossover support for Leticia Van de Putte against Dan Patrick is already coming in. For sure, she’ll need that in order to win, though first and foremost she needs the base level of Democratic support to rise so that she can be within striking distance. One interesting perspective on this comes from Erica Greider:

A second problem for Texas Republicans in the wake of yesterday’s “conservative” victories is that, as a result of an election in which less than 6% of registered voters in Texas bothered to vote, the party now has several standard bearers that Republicans themselves aren’t exactly crazy about. Some of the nominees aren’t even popular among grassroots activists. You’ll have to take my word for that, because in public, they’re all circling the wagons, but my sense is that the Tea Party establishment is genuinely excited about a couple of candidates, including Konni Burton. They’re tepid about others; there weren’t many tears shed for Wayne Christian last night, and there won’t be many shed for Sid Miller in November when American hero Jim Hogan turns Texas blue with his bare hands. Perhaps most odd is how little sympathy there is between the Patrick and [Ken] Paxton crowds. Those two posted the biggest wins of the night, and apparently drew almost exactly the same voters, but I’ve met very few conservatives who are equally excited about both–and a number of Paxton supporters, in particular, who can barely conceal their disdain for Patrick.

This may be because Patrick and Paxton are temperamentally opposite (Patrick is a showman, and Paxton is very shy). It may be that Cruz supporters are skeptical of Patrick–Patrick attacked Cruz freely on behalf of Dewhurst in 2012, and Paxton would never do such a thing. My own unpopular opinion is that Patrick has the potential to do well as lieutenant-governor, whereas Paxton’s nomination to succeed Greg Abbott as attorney-general is a huge victory for the state’s lesser prairie chickens, who will soon roam free over federally protected habitats, enjoying their newly expanded Medicaid benefits–but that’s a post for another day, perhaps. For now, I’ll conclude by saying this: whatever the cause, the tension within the Tea Party or conservative movement is subdued at the moment. But this year’s Republican nominees, many of whom will be propelled to high office by support from 3 or 4% of the voters in Texas, can’t really afford for any further faultlines to emerge.

First I’ve heard of tension between Patrick and Paxton. Patrick has alienated a number of his Republican colleagues along the way so that’s not too surprising. The question as always is how many of them are good soldiers in November, and how many of them, however secretly, either undervote or cross over. It won’t surprise me if polling in this race winds up being more than a little wonky. Anyone know more about what Greider is saying here?

Frequent Burkablog commenter WURSPH makes an intriguing quantitative observation on Burka’s post lamenting the Tuesday results:

One feature of interest in yesterday’s balloting is the major DROP-OFF in the number of voters who participated in the GOP Run-off. A smaller turnout in the run-off was to be expected especially with it being a Tuesday election right after a holiday. But the drop was significant with total turnout down more than 580,000 from the original primary (748,000 to 1.3 million). And BOTH Patrick and Dewhurst received fewer votes than they did in the first primary (Patrick was down 63,000 and Dewhurst by 114,000).

It looks like this is attributable to two factors:

First, a lot of voters, including a good number who had voted for Patrick and Dewhurst the first time, thought it was effectively all over in March and didn’t bother to come out again.

And, secondly, the Staples-Patterson voters basically stayed home.

I doubt anyone was running exit polls yesterday, but if someone did it would be interesting to see what it says about the percentage of voters who voted for Staples or Patterson who voted this time. If they were turned off by the two other candidates it could have a small impact in November….Being Republicans most of them will probably come back into the fold in the fall, but if any perceptible percentage sit that one out too, it could have some impact on the November elections.

You know me, any time there are numbers to inspect my ears perk right up. Runoffs are tricky beasts to analyze for many reasons, but a look at the 2014 and 2012 Republican runoffs do illustrate what WURSPH is talking about. Here are the numbers for the two races that involved David Dewhurst, the 2012 Senate primary/runoff and the 2014 Lite Guv primary/runoff:

Year Primary Top Two Runoff ====================================== 2014 1,333,896 930,548 749,915 2012 1,406,608 1,108,289 1,111,938

There aren’t any runoffs of interest to look at before 2012, so these are the data points we have. All numbers are from the races that featured David Dewhurst – Dewhurst/Cruz in 2012, Dewhurst/Patrick in 2014. “Primary” is the total number of votes cast in those races, “Top Two” is the number collected by Dewhurst and his eventual runoff opponent, and “Runoff” is of course the total number of votes in that race. WURSPH is on to something here, as at least a few people who didn’t vote for either Dew or Cruz in the first round came out for one of them in overtime, while the total votes for Dew and Patrick dropped by almost 20%. Does that mean anything for November? Eh, I don’t know – maybe, maybe not. Either way, it’s interesting.

Finally, a few words about the Democratic side.

When the Associated Press declared the Dallas-area dentist millionaire David Alameel won, he was described as a “former major GOP donor.”

Here’s a fun fact. We all know about Alameel’s past history of contributions to some GOP officeholders. He stopped doing that in 2008, and the bulk of his activity was in 2002 and 2004. Did you know that when Wendy Davis first announced her candidacy for State Senate in 2008, the then-Chair of the Tarrant County Democratic Party had some harsh words for her based on her vote in the 2006 GOP primary? That happened more than a few days ago, so of course no one remembers it. My point here is simply that there are two ways Democrats can catch up to Republicans. One is the much-heralded demographic wave, in which old white Republicans die off and are replaced in the electorate by young progressive Latinos. That’s happening, but in slow motion, and is not going to be much of a factor this year even with Battleground Texas ginning up Democratic turnout. The other is for people who currently identify as Republicans to start voting for at least some Democrats. Both Wendy Davis and Leticia Van de Putte are basing their campaigns in part on luring crossovers. You can look at Alameel’s history as a negative, as some people once looked at Wendy Davis’ 2006 GOP primary vote as a negative, or you can recognize that we need a lot more people like David Alameel, who spoke in his interview with me about how couldn’t support such a radical, reactionary Republican Party any more, this November.

While Democrats believe they are fielding their strongest gubernatorial and lieutenant gubernatorial candidates in at least a decade, with Sens. Wendy Davis and Leticia Van De Putte, the state party struggled once again to recruit top-tier candidates to fill out the rest of their statewide slate.

Beyond the questionable candidates for U.S. Senate, challenging incumbent John Cornyn, and to run the state’s Department of Agriculture, Democrats also lack a compelling candidate for Texas Attorney General and Republicans just nominated a candidate in Sen. Ken Paxton, who was recently admonished by authorities for violating the state’s securities laws.

What the hell? Sam Houston is a respected and well-qualified attorney who unlike nearly everybody else on both parties’ ballots has actually run statewide before – he got 46% as a candidate for Supreme Court in 2008, which was the highest percentage any Democrat received. I have no idea who Nolan Hicks is talking to or if he just pulled that out of his own posterior, but it’s gratuitous and misinformed. BOR and Texpatriate have more.

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5 Comments

  1. Steven Houston says:

    Patrick is going to easily win this one and while I doubt it will initially be the wake up call many of us hope for, given some of his antics over the years, when he falls it will be hard, fast, and take a chunk of the state out with him. I’m not just talking about all of his many lies, lets be up front here and admit that lying is considered a “must have” character trait for a politician, but his temperament when he doesn’t get his way makes for classic media coverage as does his curiously ill informed stances on a great many issues. As bad as some of the GOP have been, it might just take Patrick in the spotlight to reaffirm why we need to take the party back from the extremists.

  2. “The other is for people who currently identify as Republicans to start voting for at least some Democrats.”

    So we get to vote Democratic, and get Republican activists pushing Republican agendas if we win? What’s the point, then?

  3. Steven Houston says:

    Kris, I think the point is to empower centrists rather than allow small groups of extremists to continually drag GOP candidates further toward the right.

  4. Steven, empowering centrists doesn’t stop the extremists. It merely gives the extremists more slack in the rope, making it easier to pull the state farther to the right.

  5. Ross says:

    So Kris, as a centrist myself, do you want me to vote for van de Putte in the fall, or Patrick? It sounds like you just want extremism in the opposite direction.

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