Election Day for the primary runoff and special elections is tomorrow (Tuesday). We’ll have live coverage beginning at 7 p.m. CDT. Here are the storylines we’ll be watching as votes are counted.
Incumbents vs. History: Six legislative incumbents were forced into runoffs when a majority of primary voters did not choose them back in March.
- SD27 (D): Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr. (49.8%) vs. Sara Stapleton Barrera (36%)
- HD2 (R): Rep. Dan Flynn (45%) vs. Bryan Slaton (36%)
- HD59 (R): Shelby Slawson (46%) vs. Rep. J.D. Sheffield (30%)
- HD100 (D): Rep. Lorraine Birabil (29%) vs. Jasmine Crockett (26%)
- HD142 (D): Rep. Harold Dutton (45%) vs. Jerry Davis (25%)
- HD148 (D): Rep. Anna Eastman (42%) vs. Penny Morales Shaw (22%)
Since 1996, 28 incumbent legislators have been forced into runoffs, and 23 of them have lost. All five who prevailed finished first in the primary election, and four of those finished at least 17 points ahead of their opponent in the primary election. This year, that would include Dutton and Eastman, who respectively have the third and fourth largest margin in the primary over their runoff opponent in 24 years.
The last incumbent to prevail in a runoff after finishing second in the primary was Sen. John Whitmire (D-Houston) in 1992. Sheffield is the only similarly situated incumbent in this year’s field, and his 15.7% primary deficit is the largest faced by any incumbent since 1996.
The last three sitting state senators forced into runoffs lost: Michael Galloway (R-Magnolia) in 2002, Jeff Wentworth (R-San Antonio) in 2012 and Bob Deuell (R-Greenville) in 2014.
Turnout: More than 1M Texans have participated in runoff elections for just the third time since 1990 (2012, 2014). The number of Democratic runoff voters will almost certainly eclipse the 747K who voted in 1994 to become the highest total since 1990, when 1.1M voted in the gubernatorial runoff. Despite not having a statewide race, the number of Republican runoff voters is expected to be the third highest in state history, trailing only 2014 (1.4M) and 2012 (1.1M).
We expect a record number of mail ballots to be cast during a runoff election, but the percentage of runoff voters casting absentee ballots is not expected to reach record levels. We discuss absentee turnout in more detail here.
Those Other Senate Races: Rep. Roland Gutierrez (D-San Antonio) finished second to Xochil Peña Rodriguez in the Democratic primary for SD19 in his second attempt for the seat. Gutierrez missed a runoff in the 2018 special election, which was ultimately won by Sen. Pete Flores (R-Pleasanton). Unlike that race, a loss here ends Gutierrez’s legislative service.
Sen. Royce West (D-Dallas) faces M.J. Hegar in the Democratic runoff to challenge U.S. Sen. John Cornyn (R). West would remain in the state Senate if he lost to either Hegar or Cornyn.
And voters in Bastrop and much of Travis Cos. will select former Sen. Kirk Watson’s (D-Austin) successor – or at least send two candidates to a runoff – in a special election. The top contenders are former Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhardt (D) and Rep. Eddie Rodriguez (D-Austin). Rodrigues is the Democratic nominee for another term in the House if voters do not promote him to the Senate.
Empower Texans’ Shadow: For several election cycles, Texans for Fiscal Responsibility/Empower Texans has cast a long but not entirely successful shadow across Republican primaries. This year, the group has been largely on the sidelines, but some of its biggest donors have contributed to two runoff candidates:
- Bryan Slaton in HD2 – $225K from Midland oil executive Tim Dunn, 75K from Cisco executive Farris Wilks and 25K from the Odessa-based Saulsbury family, accounting collective for 93% of his total contributions
- Jon Francis in HD60 – the Wilks family has contributed nearly $1.2M to Farris Wilks’s son-in-law, accounting for 83% of his total contributions.
Gov. Greg Abbott (R), who was ridiculed by a pair of Empower Texans’s leaders during an off-the-cuff recording, has endorsed both of their opponents, Rep. Dan Flynn (R-Van) and Glenn Rogers, respectively. Rep. J.D. Sheffield’s (R-Gatesville) campaign has tried to tie his opponent, Shelby Slawson, to the group, but Empower Texans has not endorsed her, and the group’s largest contributors have largely stayed away from this race.
Trump vs. Cruz: In the CD23 runoff, President Trump backed first-place finisher Tony Gonzales II over Raul Reyes Jr., who was endorsed by U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R) last week. The Trump campaign has issued a cease-and-desist letter to Reyes’s campaign, alleging that Reyes is using imagery implying Trump’s support in campaign materials.
Trump’s endorsement magic is also on the line in CD13, where he has wholeheartedly endorsed Ronny Jackson, who finished second in the primary to Josh Winegarner. The race has attracted nearly $1.5M in independent expenditures, about two thirds of which backs Jackson.
The $2M+ Club: In addition to CD13, the CD10 Democratic runoff between Pritesh Gandhi and Mike Siegel has seen the candidates raise $2.1M combined to challenge U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Austin), while Kim Olson and Candace Valenzuela have raised $2.6M between them in open CD24. Kathaleen Wall’s second self-funded campaign for a congressional seat – $14.3M combined – will end either in a loss to Fort Bend Co. Sheriff Troy Nehls or an expensive general election contest against Sri Kulkarni.
Republican Convention: The State Republican Executive Committee voted, 53-4, to move the state convention into an online setting after a pair of legal defeats ended the prospect of an in-person convention at the George R. Brown Convention Center in Houston.
“The facility is no longer available due to the rulings in the Harris County District Court and the Texas Supreme Court today,” said state party General Counsel Wade Emmert.
Agreeing with the Solicitor General, the Texas Supreme Court denied the state Republican Party’s petition for mandamus for lack of jurisdiction. The party was seeking the high court’s immediate action on a district judge’s decision to deny its application to compel the Houston First Corporation to permit the party to hold its in-person state convention this week. The Court instead referred the matter back to the district court, which held an evidentiary hearing on the matter today (Monday).
“The Party argues it has constitutional rights to hold a convention and engage in electoral activities, and that is unquestionably true. But those rights do not allow it to simply commandeer use” of the George R. Brown Convention Center,” said the per curiam opinion (pdf).
Justice John Devine (R) filed a dissenting opinion, and Justice Jeff Boyd (R) did not participate in the otherwise unanimous decision.
A district court also ruled against the party later in the day.
SEN: The campaign of U.S. Sen. John Cornyn (R) announced he raised $3.5M during the second quarter and will report having $14.5M on hand.
CD32: The campaign of Republican challenger Genevieve Collins said she raised more than $985K during the second quarter, including a $235K personal loan, and will report having $1.1M on hand.
©2020 Texas Election Source LLC