Now that the dust has (almost) settled from the March 1 primary election, we like to go back and look at the storylines we were watching heading into Election Day.
Statewides in Runoff or Runoffs? Turns out, it was runoffs. For the first time since 2002, more than one statewide elected official seeking re-election was forced into a runoff.
Atty. Gen. Ken Paxton (R), who we identified as “the likeliest to be forced into a runoff,” finished first with 43% of the vote. He faces Land Comm. George P. Bush (R), who finished second with 23%. Based on the way Paxton’s campaign went negative on the other two candidates, we mused Paxton “may prefer to face Bush.” If that’s the case, he got who he wanted.
Railroad Comm. Wayne Christian (R) is also headed to a runoff. He finished first with 47% of the vote. Heading into election day, we mused that “he may be pushed into a runoff because of the size of the field.” Christian faced four challengers, and Sarah Stogner (R) claimed the runoff spot with 15% of the vote, less than 1 percentage point ahead of Tom Slocum Jr.
We also mused that Sen. Dawn Buckingham’s (R-Lakeway) fundraising and endorsement advantages “may not be enough to win an 8-way primary outright,” and they weren’t. She received 42% of the vote and faces Tim Westley in the runoff.
Runoff Madness: “This year’s runoffs are likely to feature statewide contests for both parties and a potential record number of contests for legislative and congressional seats,” we said before the election. Yes, and yes.
Three Republican and four Democratic statewide nominations will be settled by runoffs.
A total of 40 legislative and congressional nominations were headed to runoffs as of Election Day, at least one of which will not be required following the withdrawal of one of the candidates (See below). The previous record for combined legislative and congressional races going to runoffs was 32, which was set in 2018 and equaled in 2020. It is the fourth time in six election cycles that at least 30 primary races went to runoffs.
Fallen Incumbents? We were guaranteed at least one incumbent would lose on primary night, but he was the only one. Rep. Art Fierro (D-El Paso) lost to Rep. Claudia Ordaz Perez (D-El Paso), 65%-35%, in HD78 in the only matchup of paired incumbents. At least four incumbents had been defeated in primary elections in every election year between 2002 and 2018, excluding runoffs. Fierro is the only one to fall in the past two primary elections.
Four legislative incumbents were forced into runoffs, which have historically been unkind to incumbents. Three were among the eight races we specifically mentioned as having runoff potential:
- HD12: Rep. Kyle Kacal (47%) faces Ben Bius (41%)
- HD60: Rep. Glenn Rogers (44%) faces Mike Olcott (36%); and
- HD91: Rep. Stephanie Klick (48.96%) faces David Lowe (39%).
The fourth incumbent sent to a runoff was Rep. Phil Stephenson (40%) in HD85. He faced three challengers, of which Stan Kitzman (35%) claimed the second runoff spot.
Since 1996, 34 incumbent legislators have been forced into runoffs, and 27 of them have lost. On the bright side for them, all four legislative incumbents facing runoffs this year finished first in their respective primaries. None of the incumbents who finished second have prevailed since 1996.
Congressional Hot Seat: We flagged the primary rematch in CD28 between the more conservative U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Laredo) and his progressive challenger Jessica Cisneros as the hottest race for Congress in the state. Two years ago, they were head-to-head, which meant the race could not have gone to a runoff. This year, “a third contender, though not likely to garner much support, could get enough votes to send it to a runoff,” we mused. That’s exactly what happened. Tannya Benavides got 5% of the vote, more than enough to send Cuellar (48%) and Cisneros (47%) to a runoff.
While we did not expect any other congressional incumbent to face “a particularly troubling race,” the primary we flagged as the “one race to watch” – CD3 – indeed went to a runoff. Or at least it would have but for U.S. Rep. Van Taylor’s (R-Plano) withdrawal. Taylor finished first with 48.7% of the vote, narrowly missing an outright win, despite public allegations of infidelity a few days before the election. He admitted to an affair and withdrew, handing the nomination to Keith Self, who finished second with 27% of the vote.
Turnout: We’ve covered turnout in some detail already, but here we’ll go over the specific data points we highlighted heading into the election:
- “At least 4M Texans have participated in primary elections three times … and this year probably will not be the fourth.” Indeed, just over 3M Texans voted, making the fourth time combined primary turnout has exceeded 3M – and the first time for a gubernatorial primary election – but far short of 4M.
- “We expect a record number of non-voters will sit this one out.” Indeed, a record 14.2M registered voters did not participate in either primary, breaking the 2018 record by more than 1.5M.
- The number of Republican voters “could cross 2M for just the third time” in state history. Not quite, at least not how we count them. We use the highest number of votes cast for certified candidates in any statewide race as our measuring stick. The total number of votes cast for the Republican gubernatorial candidates was 1.94M, the most of any statewide race. Because of undervotes, overvotes, uncounted provisional ballots and rejected absentee ballots, the total number of people who cast some form of ballot almost certainly exceeded 2M. However, we cannot rely on those figures due to inconsistencies in how they’re reported – if they’re reported at all – by each county.
- The second half of that crossing 2M comment projected the number of Republican voters could “become the highest total participation in a Republican gubernatorial primary election.” Indeed, it was a record by nearly 400K voters over 2018.
- Democrats were looking for the 4th straight primary election with at least 1M voters. They got it.
- “Even if the raw number of voters increases over 2018, the percentage of registered voters going to the polls could drop.” It didn’t. Measured in this way, 2022 turnout was 17.5%, a full half percentage point above 2018, and the highest for a gubernatorial primary since 1994.
So, it was a record-setting year for participation and non-participation at the same time.
Rejected Ballots: We posed three specific questions that we believed were worth watching, even though it was doubtful any of them would be answered on Election Day:
- How many absentee ballots will be rejected under the provisions of recently passed election legislation that won’t be counted?
- What is the partisan split of those ballots?
- Will they play into election challenges?
Well, it’s too soon to tell. We know nearly 19K absentee ballots were rejected across 16 of the state’s 20 counties with the most registered voters, according to a report by the Texas Tribune’s Alexa Ura. The partisan split has not yet been revealed, as far as we can tell, though we know that more Democratic ballots were rejected in Harris Co. than Republican ones. No contests have been filed yet, so the third question is going to take a while to answer.
Trump Endorsements: We didn’t call out this storyline heading into the primary, but every one of former President Trump’s endorsed candidates either won outright or advanced to a runoff.
Comeback Bids: We also didn’t call out this storyline in advance, but five former legislators were seeking returns to the Pink Building. Former Sen. Pete Flores (R-Pleasanton) and former Rep. John Bryant (D-Dallas) advanced to runoffs. Former Reps. George Lavender (R-New Boston), Debbie Riddle (R-Tomball) and Raul Torres (R-Corpus Christi) were not so fortunate. Flores was the most recent of the group to hold office, while Bryant is trying to return to the House after a 40-year absence.
Seeking Other Offices: This was more of a sidenote to another storyline, but it’s worth highlighting here. No sitting state representative had won a statewide race since 1990, and that streak continued when Rep. James White (R-Hillister) lost to Agriculture Comm. Sid Miller (R). One more state representative remains alive to snap the streak. Rep. Michelle Beckley (D-Carrollton) advanced to a runoff for the Democratic nomination to face Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R).
As for the other seven House members running for other offices:
- Phil King (R-Weatherford), Mayes Middleton (R-Wallisville) and Tan Parker (R-Flower Mound) won their Senate primaries.
- Matt Krause (R-Fort Worth) and Ina Minjarez (D-San Antonio) advanced to runoffs for county offices. Both finished in second place, slightly more than 10 points behind their respective rivals.
- Alex Dominguez (D-Brownsville) and Eddie Rodriguez (D-Austin) lost their primaries for state Senate and Congress, respectively.
As we mentioned above, Sen. Buckingham is in the runoff for Land Commissioner. Since 1990, sitting state senators have won four bids for statewide office and lost six.
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