Prior to last week’s runoff election, we discussed several storylines we would we watching as the results came in. Here we revisit those storylines and see if we were on the mark, a bit off or nowhere near the target.
Looking for a Wave: Democratic turnout was the lowest in state history – both in terms of the number of people voting and the percent of registered voters casting ballots – for a runoff to determine its gubernatorial nominee. Former Dallas Co. Sheriff Lupe Valdez is the only gubernatorial nominee in state history, for either major party, to receive fewer votes in a runoff election than in the primary election.
Compared to recent statewide runoff elections, turnout does not look so bad. The number of people voting in the Democratic runoff was up 131% from 2016 and 35% higher than the average number of votes cast in statewide Democratic runoffs since 2000. More people voted in the 2018 runoff than in seven of the last nine runoff elections overall, including 2004 and 2010, for which no statewide office was on the ballot.
Despite not having a statewide race on the ballot, nearly as many Republicans turned out to vote in its party’s runoff elections than cast ballots for Valdez and her opponent Andrew White.
As our publisher Jeff Blaylock told the Dallas Morning News’s Jackie Wang, “If you’re looking at runoff turnout as an indicator of a Democratic wave … [or] an indicator for enthusiasm, that’s not the indicator you’re looking for.” If there is a Democratic wave in November, it will not come from those runoff results.
Incumbents’ Fates: Going into Tuesday, 20 of the last 25 incumbent legislators forced into a runoff did not survive it. Now it’s 22 of the last 27 after Reps. Scott Cosper (R-Killeen) and Rene Oliveira (D-Brownsville) lost their re-election bids to runoff challengers. Overall, primary elections claimed nine incumbents: Reps. Roberto Alonzo (D-Dallas), Diana Arévalo (D-San Antonio), Cosper, Dawnna Dukes (D-Austin), Wayne Faircloth (R-Dickinson), Oliveira, Tomas Uresti (D-San Antonio) and Jason Villalba (R-Dallas).
County incumbents had more success. Not quite half (46%) of county office incumbents on the runoff ballot prevailed. Incumbent county commissioners and justices of the peace (48%) fared better than incumbents elected countywide (35%).
Republican Civil War: House Leadership 5, Movement Conservatives 1.
Empower Texans PAC and Texas Right to Life PAC combined to spend more than $1M on six Republican runoff races. Only one of those candidates, Deanna Metzger in HD107, prevailed. The other five, in whom the PACs invested at least $956K since the primary, lost by an average of 60%-40%. Metzger faces Rep. Victoria Neave (D-Dallas) in November.
For the election cycle to date, Empower Texans PAC spent at least $200K on successful candidates challenging legislative incumbents and open-seat legislative candidates. It spent at least $2.1M on unsuccessful challengers and open-seat candidates (Another $741K in direct mail and polling expenditures made before the primary were not allocated to candidates in the PAC’s 8-day-out campaign finance report.). The PAC also spent at least $850K defending incumbents from primary challengers, which marked the group’s greatest successes of the cycle.
Between 2010 and 2014, 78% of statewide and legislative runoff candidates endorsed by Empower Texans PAC prevailed. In 2016, the group’s endorsed candidates won five out of 10 runoff races. This year, just one out of six prevailed. Between 2010 and 2014, 63% of the primary challengers and open-seat candidates the group endorsed won their primary or runoff races. Since then, just 30% have prevailed, including just eight out of 30 this year.
Been enjoying the projection by the Austin crony lobby & their sycophants on the Empower Texans PAC spending. They spend for access. We spend to fight and define. Winning isn’t determined in a single night of elections, but in the arc of policy and expansion of liberty.
— Michael Q Sullivan (@MQSullivan) May 25, 2018
Empower Texans, other groups in its orbit and the House Freedom Caucus successfully defended their incumbents, added to their ranks and bagged a couple of trophies. However, their success rate was far lower than in past election cycles, despite a significant boost in spending, and several incumbents and candidates face stiff general election contests.
Year of the (Democratic) Women: During the primary, women won or advanced to a runoff in 92% of the Democratic primary races in which at least one man and one woman was running, and no incumbent was in the race. Women won five the 11 (45%) Democratic runoffs against male candidates. Republican women were less successful in both the primary (44%) and in the runoff. Just one out of four Republican women defeated their male opponent: Deanna Metzger in HD107.
Declining Turnout: In the pregame analysis, we focused on candidates’ abilities and inabilities to match their primary vote totals. In that sense, the runoff was a mixed bag, especially for congressional candidates emerging from large fields. The real storyline was the historic low turnout for a Democratic gubernatorial runoff, which was nearly matched by the number of Republican voters participating in scattered runoffs in just over half the state’s counties.
©2018 Texas Election Source LLC