No incumbent legislator seeking re-election has won a runoff after finishing second in the primary since 1992. Rep. Wayne Smith (R-Baytown) is trying to avoid the fate that befell the last nine incumbents who finished in second place. Smith finished 4.4% behind Deer Park attorney and conservative activist Briscoe Cain, who received 48% of the vote and finished 714 votes ahead of Smith (The third candidate, Crosby resident Melody McDaniel, received 8%.).

Smith had not faced a primary opponent since winning a 2002 runoff against La Porte systems analyst Tom Butler by 24 votes. At the time, Smith was 58 years old and Butler was 33. Today, Smith, 72, again faces a young challenger. Cain is 31.

Rep. Wayne Smith’s Primary History

Received 44% (7,660 votes) and advanced to runoff against Briscoe Cain (48%)

Unopposed (6,734 votes)

Unopposed (7,943 votes)

Unopposed (4,922 votes)

Unopposed (4,971 votes)

Unopposed (1,617 votes)

Unopposed (1,848 votes)

Received 44% (1,714 votes) and advanced to runoff against Tom Butler (41%)
Won runoff by 24 votes, 1,675 to 1,651

This is Cain’s second race for the House. In 2014, Cain received 11% to finish fourth in a seven-way primary for the open HD129 seat in 2014. He received 1,243 votes. Conservative groups were largely uninvolved in that race. They are backing Cain in this race.

For his 2014 race, Cain raised $23K and spent less than $20K. For this race, Cain has raised $127K and spent just under $100K. Nearly two thirds of his contributions have come from movement conservative group PACs, including Constituents Focus PAC ($29K) and Empower Texans PAC ($15K), and their largest donors.

Briscoe Cain


Campaign Finance Summary

$12,740 – Cash on Hand

$40,323 – Contributions (1/22-2/20)
$53,962 – Expenditures (1/22-2/20)

$126,993 – Total Contributions (2015-16)
$99,144 – Total Expenditures (2015-16)

$11,020 – Loan Principal

Geographic Sources of Contributions

$32,163 – Midland (25%)
$21,916 – Houston (17%)
$20,386 – Austin (16%)
$6,750 – Dallas (5%)
$6,000 – Odessa (5%)
$5,110 – Deer Park (4%)

$30,887 – Rest of Texas (24%)

$3,244 – Outside Texas (3%)

District Zip Codes

$13,225 – District Zip Codes (10%)
$116 – Average Contribution from District
97 donors in district zip codes giving $1K or less

$113,231 – Outside District (90%)

Top Contributors

$29,174 – Constituents Focus PAC

$15,000 – Empower Texans PAC

$6,000 – Conservative Republicans of Texas, Dick Saulsbury

$5,000 – Monty Bennett, Windi Grimes, Mayes Middleton

$3,500 – Kyle Stallings

$2,500 – Tim Dunn

$2,300 – Battleground Tea Party of Texas PAC

$2,246 – NE Tarrant Tea Party PAC

$2,000 – Robert Bruce, Rex Gore, Juanita Simmons

Rep. Wayne Smith


Campaign Finance Summary

$370,774 – Cash on Hand

$230,320 – Contributions (1/22-2/20)
$205,529 – Expenditures (1/22-2/20)

$556,756 – Total Contributions (2015-16)
$502,928 – Total Expenditures (2015-16)

$0 – Loan Principal

Note: Total Contributions include $48,144 in contributions received after February 20 and reported in daily contribution reports (formerly “telegram” reports).

Geographic Sources of Contributions

$257,689 – Austin (46%)
$111,847 – Houston (20%)
$42,500 – San Antonio (8%)
$25,375 – Baytown (5%)
$20,772 – Dallas (4%)
$10,599 – Pasadena (2%)

$50,974 – Rest of Texas (9%)

$37,000 – Outside Texas (7%)

District Zip Codes

$37,199 – District Zip Codes (7%)
$295 – Average Contribution from District
101 donors in district zip codes giving $1K or less

$519,558 – Outside District (93%)

Top Contributors

$37,888 – Texas Assoc. of Realtors TREPAC

$30,000 – Charles Butt

$29,000 – Texans for Lawsuit Reform PAC

$15,000 – Texas House Leadership Fund

$10,000 – Texans for Education Reform PAC

$9,108 – Beer Alliance of Texas PAC

$8,872 – Texas Automobile Dealers Assoc. PAC

$7,500 – Glazer’s of Texas PAC, PAC for Engineers

$6,500 – Steve Stewart, Texas Beverage Alliance PAC

$6,018 – Texas House Republican Caucus PAC

$5,504 – Texas Alliance for Life PAC

$5,095 – Carroll Smith

$5,022 – Wholesale Beer Distributors of Texas PAC

$5,000 – AT&T Texas PAC, Chickasaw Nation, Jim Ferris, Joe Huggins III, John Nau, Val Peisen, Republic National Distributing Co. PAC, S&B PAC, Texas Society of Professional Surveyors PAC, Richard Weekley

$4,500 – Allen Boone Humphries Robinson LLP, Hillco PAC

$4,185 – Associated Republicans of Texas

$4,000 – Koch Industries PAC, John Rydman, Texas Assoc. of Builders HOMEPAC

Smith has out-raised and out-spent Cain, and Smith held a $371K to $13K advantage in cash on hand a week before the primary. Smith out-raised Cain in the district, $37K to $13K, but they each have about 100 district residents giving them $1K or less.

Republican turnout in the district has increased dramatically since Smith was first elected in 2002. Unopposed in all but his first race, Smith’s vote totals rose with turnout. In 2016, the district, like much of Texas, saw record Republican primary turnout. Cain received more votes in the 2016 primary than Smith has ever received in any single primary. Cain carried 20 of the district’s 35 precincts, including eight of the 10 precincts recording the most votes cast. Smith won 14 precincts. They tied a heavily Democratic precinct at one vote each.

Baytown represented 32% of all votes cast, making it the largest bloc of votes in the district. Smith won all 12 of those precincts with 62% of the vote. He won only two other precincts outside his home town. Cain won the rest of the district with 54% of the vote. Outside Baytown, Smith received just 37% of the vote.

Cain’s Performance by City


  • Baytown 31% 31%
  • Deer Park 59% 59%
  • La Porte 55% 55%
  • Pasadena 54% 54%
  • Rest of HD128 48% 48%

Smith’s Performance by City


  • Baytown 62% 62%
  • Deer Park 34% 34%
  • La Porte 37% 37%
  • Pasadena 36% 36%
  • Rest of HD128 41% 41%

Cain ran stronger in more heavily Republican precincts than Smith. In precincts won by Cain, there were 4.45 Republican primary voters for every Democratic primary voter, and Republican primary turnout was 23.7%. In precincts won by Smith, there were 2.60 Republican primary voters for every Democratic primary voter, and Republican primary turnout was 18.2%. Democratic primary turnout was higher in precincts won by Smith (7.0%) than those won by Cain (5.3%).

As we mentioned, Baytown was the largest single bloc of votes, but it had the lowest turnout of the major cities in the district. Cain’s home of Deer Park had the highest turnout. A similar pattern appears in the 2014 and 2012 Republican runoff elections.

Baytown – 17.4%
Deer Park – 27.0%
La Porte – 19.5%
Pasadena – 26.0%
Rest of HD128 – 21.8%

Baytown – 4.9%
Deer Park – 7.2%
La Porte – 4.7%
Pasadena – 6.8%
Rest of HD128 – 5.8%

Baytown – 8.6%
Deer Park – 12.1%
La Porte – 7.7%
Pasadena – 10.9%
Rest of HD128 – 9.3%

The district’s Republican voters are friendly to conservative candidates, particularly in runoff elections. In 2014, Dan Patrick (78%), Ken Paxton (76%) and congressional candidate Ben Streusand (68%) all won the district easily, but the district also preferred Ryan Sitton over Wayne Christian for RRC. In 2012, 63% of HD128 voters chose Ted Cruz over David Dewhurst in the U.S. Senate runoff.

Runoff turnout tends to drop off from the primary election, and the drop off could be precipitous after a record-breaking turnout this year. Both Cain and Smith already have received enough votes to win the runoff … if their voters return to the polls.

Aside from the statewide runoffs, the only other runoff of interest could very well have an impact on this race. The three-way race for Harris Co. Republican Party Chair was not settled in March. Incumbent Paul Simpson faces Rick Ramos (pronounced RAY-mos).

Ramos, a first-generation Cuban American, is running as “the true conservative” who will “hold Republican elected officials accountable when they fail to represent … conservative values,” according to his web site. A Ramos video claims he will be the “tip of the spear” when it comes to fighting for “our values.” Steven Hotze, his Conservative Republicans of Harris County and the Texas Conservative Review have endorsed Ramos.

Simpson is endorsed by Harris Co. Judge Ed Emmett, most of the current and potentially incoming Republican legislators (but not Smith) and county officials and several local business groups.

HD128 primary voters narrowly preferred Ramos over Simpson, 37%-36%, with the third candidate receiving 26%. Statewide conservative groups have historically stayed out of county chair races, but Hotze can be expected to send mail pieces promoting the candidates he endorses, which in this case would include Ramos for county chair and Cain for HD128.

The last nine incumbent legislators who entered a re-election runoff after a second-place primary finish all lost. The last one to prevail was Sen. John Whitmire (D-Houston) in 1992, who retained his Harris Co. district with a 52%-48% runoff win over a candidate who finished ahead of Whitmire in the primary, 49%-46%. It was a different era, a different party, and a different part of the county than this year’s race in HD128.

Smith’s social media feeds indicate he is working hard to win re-election. Cain also appears to be working the district, and he has a highly motivated set of conservative activists, both within and outside the district, who view his race as a prime opportunity to take out a loyal Speaker Straus lieutenant.

If turnout among the district’s cities reflects recent history, then Smith may need as much as 81% of the Baytown vote to win, assuming he holds Cain to 65% in Deer Park and 60% everywhere else. Even if Baytown turns out in proportion to its share of the district’s registered voters, Smith would need nearly 75% of the Baytown vote assuming the same share of the vote elsewhere. There are other numerical paths to victory, but they are even more decidedly uphill.

The easiest path is for Smith’s primary voters to turn out for the runoff while Cain’s do not. That would be counter to the typical experience in Republican runoffs in Texas, where grassroots conservative voters are usually more motivated, as a group, to vote again than their more moderate counterparts. Barring unforeseen developments, we expect the second-place incumbents’ losing streak to continue.