Historically, runoff turnout drops precipitously from the primary election, especially in years when primary turnout approaches record levels. One brake on plunging turnout is the presence of local races on the ballot.
For example, the number of voters participating in Cherokee Co.’s 2014 Republican runoff dropped just 9% from the primary thanks to s runoff for County Court at Law Judge. That local judicial race drew 4,438 voters, more than any other race on the ballot, including LTGOV (4,181 votes) and AG (3,998 votes). Two years later, there were no local races on the Republican runoff ballot, and 89% fewer voters came to the polls than for the primary.
Because of these effects on turnout, the presence and absence of local races can give (slight) advantages to some higher-office runoff candidates. Today we look at the runoff for open CD5 between Rep. Lance Gooden (R-Terrell) and Dallas fundraising consultant Bunni Pounds.
Gooden finished first in the primary with 30% of the vote, around 4,600 votes ahead of Pounds (22%). She received about 2,800 votes more than Canton gym owner Sam Deen (17%), who finished third. Former Rep. Kenneth Sheets (R-Mesquite), whose district partially overlaps CD5, finished fourth with 12%. Mineola political field director Jason Wright, who was backed by U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R), finished fifth with 11%. Three other candidates collectively received 7% of the vote.
CD5 includes all of Anderson, Cherokee, Henderson, Kaufman and Van Zandt Cos. and portions of eastern Dallas and western Wood Cos. It includes all of HD4, which Gooden currently represents, and portions of four other House districts.
Gooden won a majority vote in his legislative district, taking 54% in Henderson Co. and 53% in Kaufman Co., his home county.Within HD4, Gooden received 8K more votes than Pounds. In the rest of the district, Pounds received about 3.5K more votes than Gooden. Pounds finished ahead of Gooden in the other five counties, winning won a plurality in Anderson, Cherokee and Wood Cos. Sheets nearly claimed a majority of votes in his Dallas Co., his home, and Deen won a majority in Van Zandt Co., his home.
Runoff races tend to have additive effects on turnout, which makes sense when multiple candidates are herding their supporters to the same polling places. In that regard, Gooden has some particularly good luck. There are multiple runoffs in both counties comprising his current legislative district:
- HD4 runoff between former Rep. Stuart Spitzer (R-Kaufman) and Forney rancher and Forney ISD board president Keith Bell.
- In Henderson Co., runoffs for county commissioner P2 and justice of the peace P5, the latter involving an incumbent.
- In Kaufman Co., runoffs for county judge, two county commissioner precincts (P1 and P4) and justice of the peace P2. The county commissioner P1 race includes the incumbent.
Nowhere else within CD5 does such a concentration of runoff races exist, but there are runoffs in all but one of the other counties within the district, and these could benefit Pounds:
- Anderson Co.: runoff for HD8 between Thomas McNutt and Cody Harris, who is from its county seat, but no local runoffs.
- Cherokee Co.: runoff for county commissioner P4
- Dallas: runoff for HD107 between Deanna Metzger and Joe Ruzicka and a runoff for county commissioner P2, covering 42 of the 100 precincts within CD5.
- Van Zandt Co.: runoff for county commissioner P2.
There are no local or legislative runoffs in Wood Co.
In the portion of Cherokee Co. with a local runoff, Pounds received around 200 more votes than Gooden. In the portions of Dallas Co. with legislative and local runoffs, Pounds received around 1,100 more votes than Gooden. The runoffs that could benefit Gooden cover roughly 37% of primary voters. The runoffs that could benefit Pounds cover roughly 27% of primary voters.
Pounds could benefit from the presence of runoff candidates who are also endorsed by the same movement conservative organizations backing her, such as Texas Right to Life PAC and Texas Values Action. Both groups have endorsed Spitzer in HD4, McNutt in HD8 and Metzger in HD107. Neither group appears to have endorsed locally within CD5. Empower Texans PAC has endorsed the three legislative candidates but not Pounds, at least as of now.
Pounds might also benefit from having four of her former rivals endorse her runoff campaign: Danny Campbell, Charles Lingerfelt, David Williams and Jason Wright, who collectively received 19% of the vote. As far as we can tell, neither Deen (17%) nor Sheets (12%) has endorsed a runoff candidate. In a Facebook post, Sheets wished both “best of luck,” and Deen’s last social media post expressed thanks and pride in “what we were able to accomplish.”
Generally speaking, we find no significant bumps in turnout from having vanquished foes’ endorsements. Their supporters do not typically return to the polls in large numbers to vote for someone else. However, we looked at the combined totals of Gooden and Sheets versus the combined totals of Pounds and her four endorsers to see if there were any shifts in numbers if those candidates’ supporters voted for the candidate either endorsed by, or nearer the political leanings of, their chosen candidate. Doing so tightens the race, which it should, given that the four candidates endorsing Pounds collectively received more of the vote than Sheets. Interestingly, Gooden would also tighten the race in Dallas Co. if he were to pick up a significant share of voters who initially supported Sheets, who nearly carried his former legislative district outright. Dallas Co. provided by far the biggest margin for Pounds over Gooden (+1,900), so any Sheets voters that cut into that number would benefit Gooden.
Of course, there is no guarantee that a person who voted for Sheets would vote for Gooden, just as there is no guarantee that a person who voted for Wright would vote for Pounds. We did not assign Deen’s voters to a runoff candidate but suspect, based on his share of the vote in Van Zandt Co., that they would be more likely to support Pounds than Gooden on balance. Adding his supporters to those of Pounds and the other four candidates endorsing her would give her a majority coalition, if they turned out in similar numbers, which is unlikely.
Suffice it to say, Gooden and Pounds likely already have enough voters to win this runoff based on the historical drop in turnout that can be expected across this district. Over the past four election cycles, turnout has dropped an average of 50% from the primary, which would leave a pool of roughly 29K voters. Gooden received enough votes in the primary to claim a majority, and Pounds would need to add a few thousand to reach a majority.
We expect Gooden to benefit from the array of other runoff races across the district, and we assign to Pounds an advantage in endorsements. The race may come down to Gooden’s margins in his current legislative district and whether he can carve into Pounds’s advantage in Dallas. A strong performance by Cody Harris in the HD8 runoff in Anderson Co. would likely help Gooden as well. The extent to which movement conservative groups include Pounds in their campaign literature could also be a significant factor in the race.
©2018 Texas Election Source LLC