Record turnout has to lead off any discussion of the primary election.
Following the record early voting turnout recorded by the state’s 15 most populous counties, even more voters cast ballots on Election Day, driving a new record for participation in the Texas primary. Nearly 4.27 million people in the Republican (2.83 million) or the Democratic (1.43 million) primary, eclipsing the 2008 record by 0.7%. Just short of 30% of registered voters participated in the primary, the highest since 2008 and the second-highest since 1988.
Republican turnout nearly doubled the 2014 record for most voters (1.48 million) and the 19.9% of registered voters participating in its primary shattered the party’s 1988 record (13.1%). More people voted in the 2016 Republican primary than in the 2012 and 2014 Republican primaries combined. It is the fifth straight primary to have at least 1 million voters. There were only three other such primaries prior to 2008 (1988, 1996 and 2000).
That same sentence works for the Democrats, too. While it was less than half of the 2008 record (2.875 million), Democrats’ 2016 turnout was better than the last two primaries combined. The number of Democratic primary voters exceeded 1 million for just the third time since 1996, the year that ended the party’s streak of 25 consecutive primaries with more than 1 million voters.
However, despite setting state records, turnout still lagged behind other states that have held primaries so far this year.
How did last night’s results track with the storylines we were watching entering the day?
Cruz’s Margin. U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz won the Texas primary with nearly 44% of the vote, defeating Donald Trump by 17 points. Marco Rubio finished third, 9 points behind Trump. Only two polls taken since January 1 showed Cruz with a 15-point or better lead over Trump, and only two polls had Cruz north of 40%. Cruz not only out-performed his own 2012 primary race (34%, 10.5 points behind the leader) against David Dewhurst but also out-performed Dan Patrick’s 2014 primary race (41%, 13 points ahead) against Dewhurst.
Down-ballot Drop-off. More than 2.8 million people voted for a Republican presidential candidate, and, consistent with recent history, about a quarter of them did not vote for another person. Without the benefit of precinct-level data, we won’t know how, or even if, this impacted down-ballot races. Anyone who lost a race by a few votes will testify that it hurt them, but the overall impact appeared to be neutral, at least in terms of the battles between the “establishment” and the Tea Party insurgency.
Tea Party Ceiling. If there is a ceiling, we have not yet seen it. Several Tea Party incumbents not only survived but thrived in a larger-turnout arena. In his prior two primary races, Rep. Jonathan Stickland received 7,613 votes in a 30-point 2014 win and 6,332 votes in a 20-point win in 2012. He received 12,095 votes yesterday – 5,448 on Election Day – en route to a 16-point win. All but two Tea Party incumbents (Reps. Stuart Spitzer and Molly White) facing challengers prevailed.
However, the rising tide did not lift all boats. The anti-Straus movement conservatives failed to take out any big targets, as Reps. Byron Cook, Dan Flynn, Charlie Geren, Jason Villalba and the Speaker himself all prevailed. They had to settle for ousting Reps. Marcia Farney and Debbie Riddle plus the potential to defeat Reps. Doug Miller and Wayne Smith in runoffs. Overall, Empower Texans’ endorsed candidates won 21 (11 were unopposed) and lost 18 with nine in runoffs. Nearly two-thirds of the money spent by the group in its 8-day-out report went to candidates who lost or failed to advance to a runoff.
Fallen Incumbents. Four incumbents (Farney, Riddle, Spitzer, White) lost re-election bids last night, which is below the average since 2002, while three incumbents (Miller, Ron Reynolds and Smith) were forced into runoffs, one more than the average since 2002. Several more nearly lost but pulled out victories, some in the final boxes of the night.
Grudge Matches. Primary voters reversed none of the four special election rematches. Sen. Jose Menendez defeated Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, 59%-41%, the same margin as his special runoff election victory. Rep. John Cyrier improved his performance against Brent Golemon. In HD118, Rep. John Lujan and Tomas Uresti once again bested their partisan rivals and will meet to settle the seat’s fate in November.
Former representatives won one and lost two against representatives who defeated them in a prior primary. Former Rep. Lance Gooden reversed the outcome of his 2014 primary against Rep. Stuart Spitzer, but Reps. Matt Rinaldi and Gary VanDeaver both improved their margins of victory over their prior wins. The other four primary rematches were won by the previous winner.
One other former representative won his way back into the House and made a little history in the process. Hugh Shine narrowly defeated Rep. Molly White to all but secure a seat in the next Legislature, his first session after 13 terms away. One has to go back to 1938 to find an instance where voters returned someone to the house after so long away (Samuel Isaacks went on to serve eight terms before he resigned in 1954.). Two comeback attempts of two other former representatives, Jim Landtroop and Chente Quintanilla, ended in defeat.
Congressional Angst. This was a non-story except during a brief moment when U.S. Rep. Kevin Brady dipped just below 50%. All incumbent members of Congress won, handily, including U.S. Rep. Gene Green, who defeated former Harris Co. Sheriff Adrian Garcia by 19 points.
Runoffs Likely. Both parties have statewide runoffs, both have a significant congressional runoff, and runoffs will decide 12 legislative nominations (9 R, 3 D). This latter figure is one less than in 2014 and six fewer than 2012. Lately, runoffs have been a decidedly Republican fad. Since 2008, there have been 47 Republican runoffs for legislative seats compared to 10 Democratic runoffs.
For the second consecutive election cycle, the Democrats ended up with a runoff between its two non-candidates. Former Rep. Lon Burnam failed to make a runoff for Railroad Commissioner, robbing the party of a sounding board for environmental issues in the coming general election. In shades of Jim Hogan’s unlikely nomination for Agriculture Commissioner in 2014, the 2016 RRC nominee will be either Del Valle political consultant Cody Garrett or retired Flint schoolteacher Grady Yarbrough, who is best known for forcing former Rep. Paul Sadler into a 2012 runoff for U.S. Senate.
For the most part, the most money punched a ticket to any runoff. The candidate with the most contributions made 10 of the 12 legislative seat runoffs, and the candidate spending the most money made 11 of 12. Eight of 12 feature the two candidates with the most contributions and the most expenditures. This is consistent with recent election cycles.
To those storylines we add a few additional themes and threads that flowed through yesterday’s results.
Good Night for Team Straus. All-in-all, Speaker Straus has to be considered one of the night’s winners. Despite pounding on him and his lieutenants for months and pouring huge resources into their races, the Speaker’s leadership team remains mostly intact. The Speaker broke 60% against two well-funded opponents (Combined they raised more than $700K, more than all but three incumbents.) and top lieutenants Byron Cook, barely, and Charlie Geren, handily, turned back their challengers.
Of the 19 votes against his re-election as Speaker, five are not returning (Bryan Hughes, David Simpson, Stuart Spitzer, Scott Turner, Molly White). The seats currently belonging to Reps. Marcia Farney, Jim Keffer and Debbie Riddle are likely being filled by anti-Straus conservatives, and several others are alive – and may have the upper hand – in runoffs. On balance, the anti-Straus conservatives may net a few more votes, but they did not score anything resembling the knockout blow they were seeking.
Good Night for Incumbents. All three incumbent Supreme Court justices won their races. Two were facing challengers with strong movement conservative credentials, and the other, Eva Guzman, had a historic night. She became the single highest vote-getter in a Republican primary in state history. Michael Massengale also made some history. He became the first Republican primary candidate to receive 1 million votes in a losing campaign.
Highest All-time Vote Totals in a Republican Primary
1,269,076 – Eva Guzman (2016)
1,239,158 – Ted Cruz (2016)
1,224,014 – Greg Abbott (2014)
1,176,040 – David Dewhurst* (2010)
1,162,545 – Greg Abbott* (2010)
1,145,397 – Susan Combs* (2010)
1,129,961 – Debra Lehrmann (2016)
1,118,787 – Jerry Patterson* (2010)
1,110,353 – Todd Staples* (2010)
1,100,416 – Michael Keasler (2016)
1,077,393 – Paul Green (2016)
1,034,423 – Michael Massengale** (2016)
1,012,935 – Paul Green* (2010)
1,007,133 – Lawrence Meyers* (2010)
1,006,029 – Cheryl Johnson* (2010)
1,002,418 – Sharon Keller* (2012)
1,001,761 – Jeff Boyd* (2014)
1,001,387 – Mitt Romney (2012)
997,475 – Michael Keasler* (2010)
997,216 – John Cornyn (2008)
994,715 – Nathan Hecht* (2012)
991,567 – Rick Green** (2016)
990,127 – Michael Williams* (2008)
986,416 – George W. Bush (2000)
* indicates unopposed for nomination
** indicates lost race
As we mentioned, only four incumbent legislators lost their re-election bids (though three more face runoffs) and all other congressional, statewide and Board of Education incumbents running for re-election advanced to the general election.
Lucky 13. As it stands right now, the runoff for SD1 will be between Rep. Bryan Hughes and Rep. David Simpson. Just 13 votes separated Simpson from third-place finished Red Brown after all the ballots were counted Tuesday night. However, there are 400 or so provisional votes, some of which will count. There may also be ballots from military personnel or other voters stationed overseas, which must be counted if they were postmarked on or before Election Day and received by the county no later than the fifth day after the election. There’s also the high likelihood of a recount.
Election Day Flips. A surge of Election Day voters overturned early voting results in a number of races:
- In CD8, U.S. Rep. Kevin Brady was under 50% in early voting but won outright after taking 56% on Election Day.
- In CD19, Jodey Arrington led Michael Bob Starr by just 251 votes as they fought to make a runoff with Glen Robertson. Arrington won Election Day voting with 27%, enabling him to edge out Starr (19% on ED) and draw closer to Robertson (25% on ED).
- In SD2, Red Brown led David Simpson by 409 votes through early voting only to end up 13 votes behind Simpson, and out of the runoff, after Election Day.
- In HD2, Rep. Dan Flynn lost early voting to Bryan Slaton, 51%-49%, but won 52% on Election Day to win the race.
- In HD8, Rep. Byron Cook received 677 fewer votes than Thomas McNutt in early voting but won Election Day by 899 votes.
- In HD27, Rep. Ron Reynolds would have won without a runoff had he maintained his early voting performance (54%), but he received 45% on Election Day and was forced into a runoff., and
- In HD144, former Rep. Mary Ann Perez was just 21 votes ahead of Cody Wheeler and likely headed to a runoff after early voting. She won 58% of the Election Day vote to win the primary outright.
The harshest flip had to be in HD139. Randy Bates led the four-candidate field with 32% of the vote after early voting. On Election Day, he was the only candidate to receive fewer votes than in early voting. He finished in third place and missed the runoff.
Mixed Day for King, Abilene. Rep. Susan King (R-Abilene) finished first in the six-way SD24 primary with 27%. Nearly 30% of her votes came from Taylor Co., where she received 55% of the vote. She will need another strong showing there if she is to win the runoff, but two races’ outcomes may dampen turnout there. In HD71, Stan Lambert won outright, meaning there will be no runoff for King’s current seat. In CD19, Abilene’s Michael Bob Starr failed to make the runoff against a pair of Lubbock natives, likely reducing local enthusiasm for that race.
Odds & Ends:
- Texas has never sent a Latina to Congress. Dolly Elizondo’s third-place finish in the CD15 primary keeps that statement true.
- Identical twins were among the candidates in the Republican primary for Hopkins Co. Sheriff. Barry Washington retired from the Texas Department of Public Safety after a 25-year career. Harry Washington is a 28-year peace officer and instructor. Neither of them won, but Barry has the family reunion bragging rights. He received 106 more votes than his brother.
- Rod Ponton, the incumbent 83rd District Attorney, lost his re-election bid to Alpine attorney Jaime Escuder, 58%-42%. Those who are fond of the Big Bend region know Ponton prosecuted the murder case of Glenn Felts, the former owner of La Kiva in Terlingua. A Sierra Blanca jury found the defendant not guilty. Ponton appeared on a recently aired quasi-documentary about the trial, Badlands Texas. Both his handling of the case and the TV crew’s activities riled the community. In Brewster Co., where Terlingua is located, Escuder beat Ponton, 65%-35%.