Sen.-elect Charles Perry convincingly won Tuesday’s special election, earning 53% of the nearly 43,000 cast across this sprawling West Texas district.

Sen.-elect Charles Perry

Sen.-elect Charles Perry

Turnout was the highest for a Senate special election not coinciding with a general election since 2004 but was nonetheless 25% lower than the SD28 special runoff election in 1996. Early voting represented 64% of all votes cast.

Perry’s quest to win without a runoff was aided by the underperformance of Democrat Greg Wortham and the inability of the bottom three candidates to generate any tangible support. As a percentage, Wortham received just over half the support that Barack Obama got in 2012. Wortham won pluralities in three counties. Delwin Jones, who was hospitalized for much of the campaign’s final two weeks, received just over 1.5% of the vote. Libertarian Kerry McKennon and Republican Eppie Garza received 0.8% each.

Collectively, the bottom four candidates accounted for 16% of the vote, leaving the contest an essentially two-person race. Considering the short timeframe of the election, Jodey Arrington’s 30% should have been enough to force a runoff out of a six-person field. However, Perry finished first in 45 counties – 41 of them with a clear majority vote – and comfortably avoided a runoff election.

His head-to-head performance against Arrington was similar to his 2014 primary victory over Lubbock ISD board president Steve Massengale.

Candidate 8-day-out Report 2013-14 Cycle
Cash on Hand Contributions Expenditures Contributions Expenditures
Jodey Arrington R $141,033 $266,751 $327,934 $538,781 $380,300
Eppie Garza R $0 $50 $90 $50 $90
Delwin Jones R $68,750 $0 $0 $0 $1,250
Charles Perry R $286,851 $326,609 $326,500 $823,371 $581,699
Greg Wortham D $3,791 $33,184 $21,347 $38,459 $23,425
Kerry McKennon L $0 $500 $1,250 $1,555 $1,706
Loan Principal: Arrington none, Garza none, Jones $70,000, Perry none, Wortham none, McKennon none.

Telegram Reports: Arrington $25,500, Perry $18,700. Telegram reports are not included in the totals above.

In March, Perry took 73% of the vote over Massengale. In yesterday’s special election, Perry won 64% of the vote head-to-head over Arrington, 67% within HD83.

Perry did a better job than Arrington when it came to connecting with the district’s far-flung communities. During the past month, Perry visited all 51 counties in the district, and he has received campaign contributions from most of them. Perry avoided the trap of taking most of his campaign cash from Austin and other out-of-district donors. Nearly half of his funds raised in the campaign’s final month came from inside the district, and he nearly doubled his total number of small donations (less than $1,000) from district residents.

Perry's Vote Percentage by County

Perry’s Vote Percentage by County

His investment in campaigning in every county and their residents’ investment in him are obvious when looking at the map. His county-level percentages resemble West Texas speed limit signs.

The pink-shaded areas are the two counties where Arrington finished first:

  • Hale Co. (64%-28%), and
  • Tom Green Co. (40%-38%).

The blue-shaded areas are the three counties where Wortham finished ahead of Perry. Arrington was a second-place finisher in one of those counties.

Within his house district, Perry received 59% of the vote.

Arrington performed somewhat stronger against Perry in the two largest counties, but there wasn’t much overall difference between those two counties and the rest of the district. Lubbock and Tom Green Cos. represented 63% of all votes cast. In those two counties, Perry defeated Arrington, 51%-32%, and Wortham received 13%. In the other 49 counties, Perry defeated Arrington, 57%-27%, and Wortham received 13%.

We anticipated a runoff between Perry and Arrington, though we expected Perry to be far ahead and close to 50%. We also anticipated the other four candidates – particularly Wortham – would have higher vote totals. Battleground Texas expended some GOTV resources here, and state party chairman Gilberto Hinojosa whipped up the faithful at a Lubbock rally last month. Those efforts resulted in very little, as Wortham received barely half the support enjoyed by Barack Obama in 2012. It appears one of the reddest areas of the state has gotten even redder. With virtually no Democrats on the ballot here below the statewide level, we expect record straight-ticket Republican voting for a gubernatorial election cycle in this district.

Arrington and Perry ran on nearly identical issues. According to his web site, Arrington’s top issues were:

  • Securing the border
  • Keeping taxes low and creating jobs
  • Securing the area’s water needs
  • Improving public and higher education
  • Protecting private property and promoting agriculture
  • Defending 2nd Amendment rights and pro-life values, and
  • Fighting for states’ rights and against Obamacare.

The list is virtually identical to Perry’s top issues, according to his web site. Perry lists, in order:

  • Securing the border
  • Reducing taxes
  • Defending the unborn
  • Protecting 2nd Amendment rights
  • Improving education, and
  • Protecting rural issues (water, private property, agriculture).

Fighting Obamacare is less prominent on Perry’s list of issues, where it is included under reducing taxes.

Arrington tried to use water as a wedge issue, but he was not successful. Perry’s stronger set of conservative and grassroots group endorsements – and his resolve to campaign in every county – proved too much to overcome in a short campaign.

Perry becomes the latest Empower Texans-backed candidate to win a Senate seat, concluding a highly successful primary season for the conservative grassroots group. He joins Bob Hall and Don Huffines, who defeated Republican incumbents, along with open-seat victors Paul Bettencourt and Van Taylor as new members. The group also backs Sen. Donna Campbell, who is likely to win her re-election bid, and Konni Burton, who is running to succeed Sen. Wendy Davis for the state’s only competitive seat.

Perry’s win also scored another victory for Texas Right to Life (TRL) over the Texas Alliance for Life (TAL). The latter sent a mailer to district residents declaring Arrington the “pro-life candidate.” It received loud criticism from a variety of conservative groups backing Perry, including TRL, the Texas Home School Coalition and Empower Texans.

This election was for the remainder of an unexpired term. Perry will be on the ballot in 2016, when he would presumably seek a full four-year term. His predecessor, Robert Duncan, faced largely token opposition – including not a single Democrat – following his special election triumph. Perry’s pair of convincing victories over business-establishment conservatives in 2014 suggests he may not face a strong primary challenger.

SD28 Special Election Recap PDF