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We have analyzed historical campaign finance data and election results since 2006 to see how open-seat candidates fared in significant primary races based on their relative fundraising ranks. Unsurprisingly, we found a strong correlation between fundraising rank and electoral success, and that continued this year.

First, the historical perspective:

  • 77% of candidates raising the most money either won outright (26%) or advanced to a runoff (51%)
  • 55% of candidates with the second-highest contribution totals either won outright (6%) or advanced to a runoff (55%)
  • 23% of candidates with the third-highest contribution totals advanced to a runoff – none won outright
  • 12% of candidates with the fourth-highest contribution totals made the runoff – again, none won outright; and
  • Less than 5% of candidates placing fifth or lower in fundraising made a runoff with none winning outright.

Those are the historical success rates for the candidates in 145 open-seat primary races with at least three candidates on the ballot who were seeking the incumbent party’s nomination or the other party’s nod for a potentially competitive general election race.

Chart by Visualizer

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This year, 38 open-seat primary races met our criteria: 1 statewide, 5 Senate, 24 House and 8 Congressional seats.

Applying historical percentages to those candidate counts, we would expect:

  • The top fundraiser to win 10 races and advance to 19 runoffs while 9 would fail to advance
  • The second-best fundraiser to win 2 races and advance to 21 runoffs while 17 lose
  • The third-best fundraiser to advance to 9 runoffs, lose 29 times and not win outright
  • The fourth-best fundraiser to advance to 3 runoffs, lose 23 times and not win outright; and
  • Candidates ranked fifth or lower in fundraising to advance to 2 runoffs with 40 candidates losing.

History has a way of repeating itself. Some of those expectations were right on the money.

Chart by Visualizer

Click here to view the interactive chart.

The candidates with the highest contribution totals fared better, as a group, than they have historically, largely at the expense of the second-place fundraisers. Twelve top fundraisers won outright (+2 over expectation) and 21 advanced to a runoff (+2) yielding an 87% advancement rate (+10%).

The five who either lost outright or failed to advance to a runoff were Abel Longoria (R) in HD23 (where the second-best fundraiser didn’t advance either), Nelson Jarrin (R) in HD52, Charles Gearing (D) in HD114, Adam Blanchard (R) in HD122 and former Rep. Raul Torres (R-Corpus Christi) in SD27.

Just over one out of every three second-place fundraisers advanced (-21%) with one winning outright (-1) and 12 making the runoff (-7). The lone outright winner was Adam Hinojosa (R) in SD27, a race where no one raised more than $25K or spent more than $60K. Second-place fundraisers flopped in races with five or more candidates as only two out of 11 advanced to a runoff: Shelly Barineau (R) in HD133 and Michelle Vallejo (D) in CD15.

We would expect nine candidates with the third-highest total contributions to make a runoff, and 10 advanced. Only one of those ten advanced out of a three-candidate field: Paul Chabot in HD61, who raised $32K and spent $21K less than the second-place fundraiser, who did not advance.

We would expect three candidates with the fourth-highest contribution total to advance, and four did. In HD52, Pat McGuinness (R), who largely self-financed his campaign, raised just $17K but spent nearly $200K. In HD100, perennial candidate and former Dallas council member Sandra Crenshaw (D) finished first in a four-person field where no one raised more than $40K or spent more than $31K. In HD23, Terri Leo-Wilson (R), a former state Board of Education member with an endorsement from Texas Right to Life, finished second, beating out a candidate who raised 10 times as much money. The last third-place fundraiser to advance was Annie’s List endorsee Alexandra Guio (D) in HD114.

We would expect two candidates ranked fifth or lower in contributions to advance, and three did, including Timmy Westley (R), who made the Land Commissioner runoff despite spending just $5K, 75% of which was his filing fee. In HD70, Eric Bowlin (R) self-funded his campaign and led the field in expenditures. In CD28, Sandra Whitten (R) was the 2020 nominee and emerged from a seven-candidate field.

Money may not buy happiness, but it buys a ticket out of the primary more often than not. Where money – campaign contributions, that is – is short, the ability to self-fund or a relatively high name ID can make up for it. But money is better.

©2022 Texas Election Source LLC