By Jeff Blaylock – Founder & Senior Editor

MAR. 11 2024

Endangered Incumbents

Incumbents were more than endangered, it turns out. A record nine Republican incumbents fell on Tuesday. Another eight Republicans and one Democrat were forced into runoffs. Coming into this year, only a single Democrat and no Republican incumbents had lost re-election bids in a March primary in the prior two election cycles.

Reps. Steve Allison, Ernest Bailes, Travis Clardy, Jill Dutton, Jacey Jetton, Glenn Rogers, Hugh Shine, Reggie Smith and Kronda Thimesch – all Republicans – were defeated. Speaker Phelan and Republican Reps. DeWayne Burns, Frederick Frazier, Justin Holland, Stephanie Klick, John Kuempel, Lynn Stucky and Gary VanDeaver were forced into runoffs, as was Democratic Rep. Shawn Thierry.

A record 21 House incumbents – 16 Republicans, 5 Democrats – faced multiple primary challengers this cycle. Eight won outright, nine were forced into runoffs and four lost outright. Half the eight winners were Democrats, and all four of the outright losses were suffered by Republicans.

More losses should be expected. Since 1996, just 10 of 38 incumbent legislators forced into runoffs prevailed (26%), including a history-bucking three out of four in 2022. All 10 of those victorious incumbents finished in first place in their respective primary elections. Only two of the nine incumbents forced into runoffs this year finished first: Reps. Stephanie Klick and Gary VanDeaver.

The other seven, including Speaker Phelan, finished in second place. No incumbent legislator who finished in second place in their primary has won a runoff since 1992, when Sen. John Whitmire eked out a 52%-48% victory after finishing second to Roman Martinez by 2.7 percentage points in the primary.

As we have noted previously, this year felt different, at least for Republicans. In prior cycles, Republican primary challengers typically branded the incumbents as RINOs or otherwise insufficiently conservative. This year, there were two specific issues – two specific votes, actually – that seem to be driving many of the challenges. Voting to impeach AG Ken Paxton drew the ire of the conservative base. Voting to remove school choice provisions from an education bill in November drew the ire of Gov. Greg Abbott, who spent more than $6M trying to defeat them.

Seven of the Abbott-backed challengers prevailed, and five more forced runoffs. Just two – Reps. Drew Darby and Stan Lambert – successfully won renomination. Paxton, who cast a broader net with fewer resources to bear, saw seven of his challengers win and seven more force runoffs. Paxton also scored a sweep of the Court of Criminal Appeals primaries. Impeachment wasn’t the issue for the judges – it was their ruling that Paxton’s office lacked original jurisdiction to prosecute election law criminal cases.

Incumbent Legislators Defeated in Primary Elections, 1996-2024

Dueling Endorsements

In at least 18 House races, Abbott and Paxton endorsed different candidates. Abbott, backing mostly incumbents here, prevailed over Paxton in 15 races. Paxton prevailed in two, and each claimed a runoff candidate in the remaining race. In at least four races, they both backed the same challengers, and each prevailed.