Updated March 15 at 5 p.m. to provide link to Christian’s March 15 announcement of conservative group and legislator runoffs.
History does not favor former Rep. Wayne Christian (R-Center) in his runoff against Richmond real estate investor Gary Gates, whose personal electoral history likewise is unkind. Though there have not been many runoffs for Railroad Commissioner in recent history, almost every aspect of those races goes against Christian. The support of Tea Party voters and conservative groups can overcome such disadvantages, and Christian must rely on these if he is to win a race in which he will be badly outspent.
There have been four Republican runoffs for Railroad Commissioner since 1994, three of which occurred in the last two election cycles. Christian is the only candidate to finish first in the primary and lose the runoff. A 2008 Democratic runoff for Railroad Commissioner was also won by the first-place finisher.
Republican RRC Runoffs Since 1994
2014 – Ryan Sitton defeated Wayne Christian, 57%-43% (699K votes cast) – Christian led, 43%-31%, in primary
2012 – Christi Craddick defeated Warren Chisum, 60%-40% (991K votes cast) – Craddick led, 36%-27%, in primary
2012 – Comm. Barry Smitherman defeated Greg Parker, 62%-38% (939K votes cast) – Smitherman led, 44%-28%, in primary
2004 – Comm. Victor Carrillo defeated Robert Butler, 63%-37% (224K votes cast) – Carrillo led, 49.6%-24%, in primary
In all four Republican runoffs, the victorious candidate outspent the losing candidate. In 2014, Sitton outspent Christian by more than $1 million ($1.26 million to $221K). Craddick outspent Chisum by nearly $250K, while Smitherman outspent Parker by $825K in 2012, and Carrillo outspent Butler by $300K in 2004. In 2016, Gates is all but certain to outspend Christian, and likely by much more than $1 million.
His self-funded campaign has already spent nearly $2 million, which represented 86% of all expenditure made by all candidates in the race. Gates finished first in the seven-way primary with 28% of the vote. Christian received just under 20% of the vote to make the runoff.
In 2014, Christian entered the runoff as the first-place finisher. He received 43% of the vote out of a four-person field, 12 points ahead of second-place finisher Ryan Sitton. He lost to Sitton, 57%-43. Christian was the only movement conservative-supported candidate among the statewide runoff candidates who did not win. Dan Patrick (65%), Ken Paxton (63%) and Sid Miller (53%) prevailed in part because of the support of conservative activist groups and their leaders.
Sitton’s campaign benefitted from oil and gas industry support, and his dominant win in Harris Co. provided nearly 40% of his statewide margin of victory. Sitton also scored decisive wins in Bexar, Dallas, Fort Bend, Galveston and Midland Cos. Harris Co. has sided with the winner of each of the last four Republican RRC runoffs. In the 2016 primary, Gates won a plurality but not a majority in Harris Co., where he received almost 80K more votes than Christian, who finished fifth.
Harris Co. Results for RRC Runoffs
2016 – TBD
Primary: Gates 42, Christian 9 (+79,993)
2014 – Sitton 73, Christian 27 (+40,998)
Primary: Sitton 38, Christian 33 (+5,921)
2012 – Craddick 62, Chisum 38 (+30,201)
Primary: Craddick 48, Chisum 29 (+25,865)
2012 – Smitherman 74, Parker 26 (+57,562)
Primary: Smitherman 67, Parker 15 (+71,070)
2004 – Carrillo 76, Buter 24 (+11,861)
Primary: Carrillo 73, Butler 14 (+41,872)
History also suggests that candidates running for the same office for a second time after an unsuccessful run – particularly in consecutive election cycles – tend to see an erosion of support from their first run. Christian’s performance in the 2016 primary fits that storyline, despite the presence of more than double the number of voters as in 2014. Christian received nearly 100K fewer votes in 2016 than he did in 2014, and his share of the overall vote dropped from 43% in 2014 to less than 20% in 2016. He was one of just four Republicans to receive fewer votes in 2016 than during their runs for the same or similar federal, statewide or legislative office in 2014.
Wayne Christian (RRC)
Timothy Delasandro (HD12)
Donald May (CD19)
Craig McMichael (CD8)
The map displays the change in Christian’s total votes in each county from 2014 to 2016. He lost at least one third of his votes in 100 counties. He received more votes in 2016 than in 2014 in 59 counties mostly in Southeast Texas and South Texas. He improved in Bexar, Galveston, Montgomery and Travis Cos., but lost 36% of his support in Collin Co., 45% in Dallas Co., 30% in Denton Co. and 48% in Harris Co., all significant sources of runoff votes.
Christian suspended his campaign in December to tend to a family illness. He returned to the campaign trail a few weeks later. He has raised just $36K as of February 20, well less than the $218K he raised prior to the 2014 primary. His 2014 campaign was also supported by a $1 million loan from David Chadwick, a Center banker. He has reported no such loan this year.
Gates also has to buck history to win the runoff. This is his second runoff, and fifth race for legislative or statewide office, since 2002. He has lost all of his previous races, all for legislative seats, despite spending nearly $3.3 million on those contests. Overall, he has spent more than $5 million on his own campaigns.
Gary Gates' Election History
HD28 open primary: Glenn Hegar 30%, Gary Gates 28%
HD28 open runoff: Glenn Hegar 58%, Gary Gates 42%
Gates spent $327,209
HD28 primary: Rep. Glenn Hegar 61%, Gary Gates 39%
SD18 open primary: Rep. Glenn Hegar 55%, Gary Gates 36%
SD18 special: Rep. Lois Kolkhorst 56%, Gary Gates 34%
RRC open primary: Gary Gates 28%, Wayne Christian 20%
Spent $1,918,559 as of February 20
Looking solely at the history they most overcome, Gates has an easier path to breaking his electoral losing streak than Christian has in reversing his 2014 runoff outcome and 2016 drop-off in support.
We expect turnout to drop dramatically from the record-breaking primary. A key for Christian will be his ability to retain the votes he received in the primary. In 2014, Christian lost 40 support of his voters between the primary and runoff while Sitton gained 11%. With no marquee runoffs driving turnout, we believe Christian already has enough votes to win this runoff, if (and it’s a big if) they all return to the polls.
We expect the movement conservative groups will back Christian. Texans for Fiscal Responsibility/Empower Texans, Young Conservatives of Texas and Wallbuilders’ David Barton have already endorsed him. Christian has also been endorsed by Agriculture Comm. Sid Miller, Sen. Donna Campbell (R-New Braunfels), Sen. Charles Perry (R-Lubbock), Rep. Phil King (R-Weatherford), Rep. Bill Zedler (R-Arlington) and other legislators. He has also been endorsed by former rival John Greytok, who received 6% of the vote in the primary. On March 15, Christian released a list of new and reaffirmed endorsements from conservative groups and elected officials.
If the oil and gas industry were to get behind Christian, then his path to the commission becomes a bit clearer, but there is still the matter of Gates’ ability to self-finance his campaign. Gates has never been realistically this close to winning an election since his initial run for office in 2002. He is in first place after a primary for the first time, and he should be expected to spend a significant amount of money to cement that first-place finish. He will certainly be able to air advertising in the state’s largest markets, which make up a large part of the runoff electorate.
Christian has to be competitive in the state’s largest counties and win convincingly in Tea Party-favorable counties and his old East Texas base to win this race.