Early voting has begun in Central Texas and San Antonio to fill four legislative vacancies created by two mayoral campaigns, a promotion to the Senate and an invitation to work with a former colleague in the Agriculture Department. Another special election will be required after the winner of the SD26 runoff vacates his House seat.

Some San Antonio voters will have influence on two of those races. In SD26, Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer (43%) faces Rep. Jose Menendez (25%). Part of the district overlaps HD123, where former San Antonio council member Diego Bernal (47%) faces Republican state committee member Nunzio Previtera (21%). Elsewhere, former Austin Co. Judge Carolyn Bilski (43%) faces Caldwell attorney Leighton Schubert (33%) in HD13, and former Caldwell Co. Commissioner John Cyrier (46%) faces Bastrop businessman Brent Golemon (25%) in HD17.

Since 2001, 15 special elections for legislative seats resulted in runoffs. Ten times the first-place finisher from the special election prevailed. In five races, the second-place finisher flipped the result, overcoming an average deficit of 7 points and a maximum deficit of 8 points. None of these four races are within that margin. In three of the five flipped runoffs, the first-round leader won a plurality of votes against multiple candidates of the party with the majority support of the district. In other words, the runoffs restored the district’s partisan balance. Just twice since 2001 have runoffs flipped between two members of the same party.


Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer

Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer

Rep. Jose Menendez

Rep. Jose Menendez

The race to succeed outgoing Sen. Leticia Van de Putte has grown increasingly negative as Election Day approaches. A recent joint television appearance saw the two rivals accusing each other of being too cozy with the payday lending industry. Menendez says voters have the choice between a “work horse or show horse.” Martinez Fischer says Menendez “want[s] to be a partner with [Lt. Gov.] Dan Patrick.”

The candidates present a contrast in styles. Martinez Fischer promises to fight Patrick and the Republican majority in the Senate. Menendez vows to work together to find common ground and compromise. If the SD26 special election were viewed as a “battle of the bases,” then Martinez Fischer has a bigger base, and it turned out more than his opponent’s.

House District Martinez


Menendez Jackson Pedrotti Suarez Total


116 2,058 611 664 174 66 3,573
119 458 296 168 71 87 1,080
120 591 249 521 245 174 1,780
123 2,923 1,577 992 483 183 6,158
124 826 1,187 654 220 71 2,958
125 1,281 785 817 207 54 3,144
Other HDs 94 119 76 27 9 325
Total 8,231 4,824 3,892 1,427 644 19,018

Martinez Fischer carried HD116, his district, with 58% of the vote and received 1,447 votes more than Menendez there. Menendez won a 40% plurality of the vote in HD124, his district, edging Martinez Fischer by 361 votes. Turnout was 21% higher in Martinez Fischer’s district than in HD124. Just looking at the two candidates’ districts, Martinez Fischer received 44% of the vote while Menendez received 28%. The Republicans received 26% of the vote.

The number of votes cast in HD123 nearly equaled the number of votes cast in HD116 and HD124 combined. Martinez Fischer won a plurality in HD123 with 47% of the vote, finishing 1,346 votes ahead of Menendez. The Republicans received 24% of the vote. Including HD123 to the votes in the two candidates’ districts gives Martinez Fischer a 2,432-vote advantage over Menendez (46%-27%). These three House districts comprised two thirds of the overall SD26 vote.

In the districts representing the other third of the vote, Martinez Fischer received about a thousand votes more than Menendez (40%-23%). The two Republicans ran stronger here than elsewhere in SD26. They received 34% of the vote. Turnout was low across the board. District-wide, turnout was just under 5%. Only 5% of registered voters in the HD116 portions of SD26 turned out. Turnout was even lower in HD124. Less than 4% of registered voters in that district cast ballots.

The question is, what happens to the 25% of voters who selected a Republican candidate? If they all returned and all voted for Menendez, then he would stand a very good chance of prevailing in the runoff. However, they are unlikely to do so, because a Republican candidate is on the ballot only in HD123, and he failed to receive all Republican support in the district. Nunzio Previtera received 1,181 votes from SD26 voters, but that was almost 300 fewer votes there than Alma Perez Jackson and Joan Pedrotti combined.

At least one outside interest with a Republican pedigree, Texans for Lawsuit Reform (TLR), has invested heavily in the race to oppose Martinez Fischer. The group spent $175K for the special election, and it reported spending $385K since. Several conservative groups, including Americans for Prosperity, have also complimented Menendez, thanking him for “voting to lessen the tax burden on small businesses.” Menendez’s open pursuit of Republican support has given Martinez Fischer fuel to rile up his Democratic base.

Candidate Runoff Report 2013-15 Cycle
Cash on Hand Contributions Expenditures Contributions Expenditures
Trey Martinez Fischer D $270,731 $512,870 $588,075 $1,389,746 $1,561,812
Jose Menendez D $254,480 $477,606 $269,728 $821,721 $662,465
Loan Principal: none. Telegram Reports: Martinez Fischer none, Menendez $1,500 (2/9). Telegram reports are in addition to the figures above.

Combined the two candidates raised almost $1 million since the special election, bringing their combined total to more than $2.2 million. Since the special election, Martinez Fischer received $250K from the Mostyn Law Firm, $50K from the Texas Trial Lawyers Assoc., at least $64K from other attorneys and law firms and $29K from the One Texas PAC. Collectively, these sources account for three quarters of Martinez Fischer’s contributions.

Since the special election, Menendez received at least $25K each from several San Antonio and Houston business executives, including several who contribute predominantly to Republican candidates and committees. In addition, much of TLR’s direct expenditures are not reflected on Menendez’s report. TLR accounted for $28K of Menendez’s contributions.

Menendez has outraised Martinez Fischer from San Antonio donors, $435K to $107K, and from district zip codes, $264K to $63K. Martinez Fischer has received $461K from Austin-based donors, $393K from Houston, $95K from McAllen and $83K from Dallas. Menendez’s other largest geographic sources of contributions are Austin ($174K) and Houston ($124K).

The candidates are spending heavily on television advertising. According to the San Antonio Express-News’s David Saleh Rauf, Martinez Fischer has spent $418K on it since the last week of January while Menendez has spent $140K and TLR has spent $150K. More is expected from both candidates. Increased advertising budgets and more direct mail may be leading to higher voter interest.

Nearly 1,000 more people voted early on Monday than on the first day of early voting for the special election, an increase of roughly 65%. The most votes were cast at the Crossroads Mall, located just inside HD116 and adjacent to HD123. Other locations with at least 200 voters included Cody Library (HD123, adjacent to HD116), Great Northwest Library (HD124), Lions Field (HD123) and Maury Maverick Library (between HD116 and HD124).

Menendez finished 18 points behind Martinez Fischer. The two Republicans in the race received 28%. It is probably to Menendez’s benefit that some Republican voters will be motivated to the polls, but it is hard to picture Republicans in other House districts turning out in the same numbers as in January. Courting the voters of the other party in what is analogous to a primary runoff is a tightrope of a campaign strategy.

Martinez Fischer demonstrated his Democratic base turns out. The race will hinge on the ability of Menendez to turn out less partisan general election voters and Republican base voters. We expect the runoff will be closer than the special election, but we still expect Martinez Fischer to win the runoff. Either way, a special election will be needed to replace the winner.


Carolyn Bilski

Carolyn Bilski

Leighton Schubert

Leighton Schubert

Five-term Austin Co. Judge Carolyn Bilski just concluded her 20th year leading the fast-growing county, which is now the second-largest in the district. She was previously a Sealy council member. As county judge, Bilski served on several regional commissions and councils, connecting her to community leaders across the district. She won at least a plurality in six of the district’s seven counties on her way to a first-place finish with 43% of the vote.

Caldwell attorney Leighton Schubert is making his first run for public office. He was born in Brenham (Washington Co.) and grew up in Burleson Co., and he has roots in Austin and Fayette Cos. He took 75% of the vote in his home county but finished second or third elsewhere. He made the runoff with 33% of the vote. Democrat Cecil Webster (13%) and geologist Becky Berger (11%) split the rest.

This fairly low-profile race has largely been waged retail-style, where the candidates travel the district, shake hands and speak to small groups. Most Austin-based associations and grassroots conservative groups have not endorsed in the race. Bilski has received endorsements from the Texas Farm Bureau, Texas Medical Assoc. and Texas Parent PAC. Neither candidate’s web site lists local endorsements.

Candidate Runoff Report 2013-15 Cycle
Cash on Hand Contributions Expenditures Contributions Expenditures
Carolyn Bilski R $41,401 $55,499 $43,297 $79,637 $69,159
Leighton Schubert R $15,867 $48,263 $32,396 $95,713 $64,276
Loan Principal: none. Telegram Reports: Bilski none, Schubert $3,000 (2/9). Telegram reports are in addition to the figures above.

Bilski has overcome much of Schubert’s early fundraising advantage, and she has a nearly 3-to-1 advantage in cash on hand. Over the short election cycle, she has a slight advantage in total expenditures but remains slightly behind in total contributions.

However, Schubert has maintained a large lead in contributions from district residents. Since the special election, 92% of Schubert’s contributions came from donors from district zip codes, while just 42% of Bilski’s total contributions have come from the district. Since the race began, Schubert has collected $82K from district zip codes to Bilski’s $29K. Schubert has 139 donations of less than $1K from district residents. Bilski has just 47 such donors.

This continued success in local fundraising demonstrates Schubert’s ability to win over voters from county to county. His Facebook page contains numerous recent posts showing the candidate meeting people as he crisscrosses the seven-county district. Bilski’s page, by comparison, is quiet. These accounts of campaign activity, the lopsided nature of fundraising from the district and the relatively small 10-point margin between them in the special election make this race ripe for a flip.

County Bilski Schubert Webster Berger Total




Washington 1,202 979 371 181 2,733 12%
Austin 1,293 736 145 195 2,369 13%
Fayette 597 374 275 290 1,536 10%
Burleson 78 749 145 28 1,000 9%
Grimes 313 204 182 128 827 5%
Lavaca 371 113 70 203 757 6%
Colorado 465 104 97 51 717 6%
Total 4,319 3,259 1,285 1,076 9,939 9%

Austin and Washington Cos. comprised more than half of the special election vote. Bilski prevailed over Schubert, 49%-34%, in those two counties. If votes cast for Berger and Webster were excluded, then Bilski’s lead over Schubert becomes 59%-41%. For Bilski, repeating those numbers would all but guarantee a victory.

Schubert scored his only win, albeit a decisive one, in Burleson Co., his home county. It is the smallest in the district in terms of population, but it was in the middle in terms of votes cast and turnout for the special election. He received 28% of the vote in the other six counties, topping out at 36% in Washington Co. Since the runoff, Schubert has spent a significant amount of time there.

The number of votes cast in the special election for HD17 last month eclipsed the number of votes cast in the SD18 special election the month before by nearly 1,500 votes (20%). Washington Co. Clerk Beth Rothermel said early voting there was off to a “swift start” on Monday.

The relative lack of outside resources and energy from conservative groups and Austin PACs leaves the candidates largely on their own. Based on campaign activity and local fundraising success, that may give the edge to Schubert. Of the four runoffs, the HD13 race is the likeliest to flip, and we give slightly better than even odds that it does.


John Cyrier

John Cyrier

Brent Golemon

Brent Golemon

A five-way race to succeed former Rep. Tim Kleinschmidt came close to ending without a runoff, but Lockhart businessman John Cyrier (46%) wound up in a runoff against Bastrop businessman Brent Golemon (24%). Independent Linda Curtis (14%) finished ahead of Democrats Ty McDonald (12%) and Shelley Cartier (4%).

Golemon had the theoretical advantage in electoral math. He was the lone Republican from the district’s largest county. His only other Republican opponent hailed from Caldwell Co., which accounts for only about 20% of the vote. He had a name known by the Austin lobby as his father, Kinnan, is a longtime lobbyist. Yet, Cyrier had the most quality endorsements, the most local money, the most support from Austin and, in the end, the most votes.

Candidate Runoff Report 2013-14 Cycle
Cash on Hand Contributions Expenditures Contributions Expenditures
John Cyrier R $11,822 $94,321 $84,352 $202,491 $190,669
Brent Golemon R $26,581 $17,430 $13,836 $52,695 $43,942
Loan Principal: Cyrier $32,615, Golemon none. Telegram Reports: none.

At least on the fundraising front, nothing has changed. Cyrier has a more than 5-to-1 edge in contributions since the special election, stretching his overall lead to nearly 4-to-1. Cyrier continues to hold a significant advantage in endorsements, including several dozen locally elected officials. These include Bastrop Co. Judge Paul Pape and Bastrop Mayor Ken Kesselus.

Bastrop Co. accounted for more than half of the total vote in the special election. Cyrier won a narrow plurality, 34%-31%, over Golemon. Failing to win one’s home county is rarely a formula for success. Cyrier won his home turf, Caldwell Co., outright with 61% of the vote. Cyrier carried the other three counties with 60% of the vote.

County Cyrier Golemon Cartier Curtis McDonald Total
Bastrop 1,394 1,290 151 588 679 4,102
Caldwell 943 269 81 132 127 1,552
Lee 329 103 11 292 19 754
Gonzales 466 139 23 24 52 704
Karnes 388 66 25 10 30 519
Total 3,520 1,867 291 1,046 907 7,631

Cyrier could have avoided a runoff, but he was unable to match his early vote performance in Caldwell Co. because an independent performed unusually well. Cyrier took 69% of the early vote in Caldwell Co. but just 54% of the Election Day vote. That drop was principally the result of Curtis, who took 12% of the Election Day vote after receiving just 3% of the early vote there.

Across the district, 742 people voted early. More than 60% of those votes were cast in Bastrop Co., which saw an increase of roughly 25% over the first day of early voting in the special election. Bastrop Co. is key for Golemon. We do not see a path to victory without a decisive win in this home county.

Cyrier received more votes than Golemon in every county during the special election. Since then, Golemon has stressed conservative credentials. In a candidates forum yesterday, Golemon criticized Cyrier for expressing support for Speaker Straus. “If you’re not friends with the speaker, well, this district’s going to suffer,” Cyrier said. On abortion, Golemon said he supported a strict ban on the procedure without exceptions because “exceptions mean we take a life.”

Yet, Golemon has not drawn the grassroots conservative groups to his side. The Texas Home School Coalition Assoc. has made less than $1K in direct expenditures on robo calls and a mail piece to support Golemon. None of the other groups who were prominent in the last election cycle have contributed in the race. Absent this support, and the energy it spreads to conservative activists, we expect little change from the first round and Cyrier to win the runoff.


Diego Bernal

Diego Bernal

Nunzio Previtera

Nunzio Previtera

In recent general election cycles, HD123 has voted about 63% Democratic. The last time a Republican sought the seat was in 2004. She received 38% against then-Rep. Mike Villarreal. In January, three Democrats split 76% of the vote, providing an opportunity for a Republican to make the runoff. Nunzio Previtera, a member of the State Republican Executive Committee, finished ahead of public relations executive Melissa Aguillon, a Democrat, by 255 votes. He faces, as a decided underdog, former San Antonio council member Diego Bernal, who received more than twice as many votes as Previtera in the first round.

Candidate Runoff Report 2013-14 Cycle
Cash on Hand Contributions Expenditures Contributions Expenditures
Diego Bernal D $19,172 $70,275 $66,314 $162,965 $135,144
Nunzio Previtera R $9,815 $19,278 $8,440 $23,938 $14,222
Loan Principal: Bernal none, Previtera $2,500. Telegram Reports: Bernal $15,000 (2/9), Previtera none. Telegram reports are in addition to the figures above.

Gov. Greg Abbott will appear at a Previtera campaign event tomorrow afternoon. Republicans are working the phones to get out the vote, but there has been little advertising or activity to suggest that an upset is brewing. Bernal retains significant advantages in resources, endorsements and motivated volunteers. Many Democratic Party-aligned groups and labor unions are backing both Bernal and Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer in his concurrent race.

Previtera’s impact on the ballot may do nothing to derail Bernal’s bid for the House, but it might affect Martinez Fischer’s promotion. The better Previtera does, the more help is likely to come to Rep. Jose Menendez. In January, Menendez received 26% of the vote in HD123, 5% more than Previtera. If Previtera can reach 40%, then the Senate race gets a lot closer.