Tomorrow (Tuesday) is the primary election in Texas. Our live coverage of results and analysis will begin at about 7 p.m. CT and can be found at https://txelects.com/live/.
Here are some of the storylines we’re watching.
Fallen incumbents? At least five incumbent legislators have been defeated in primary elections (not counting runoffs) in every election year since 2002, except for 2016, when only four fell on primary night. Twenty Republican legislators and six Democrats have lost their battles for re-nomination on primary night since 2012.
This year feels different. For one, the scorecard conservative groups and donors that have poured millions into contested Republican primaries have largely stood down this cycle. Empower Texans PAC made no reportable expenditures during the 8-day-out campaign finance period. It spent $1.4M during this period for 2018, up from $1.0M in 2016 and $708K in 2014. The group has also endorsed far fewer state candidates this year than in recent years. It endorsed in just six House races, down from 39 in 2018.
Four of the most endangered incumbents could end up in runoffs. Reps. Harold Dutton (D-Houston), Dan Flynn (R-Van) and J.D. Sheffield (R-Gatesville) have multiple challengers each, as does Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr. (D-Brownsville). These were the only five-star legislative races this cycle. Freshman Rep. Alex Dominguez (D-Brownsville), who ousted a longtime incumbent two years ago in the Democratic runoff, faces former Cameron Co. party chair Amber Medina in the only four-star race involving an incumbent. Newly sworn in Reps. Lorraine Birabil (D-Dallas) and Anna Eastman (D-Houston) each face multiple rivals, many of whom ran in their respective special elections, and could also end up in runoffs. Our other three-star races involving legislative incumbents earned those ratings because of multiple opponents, so the real danger is being forced into a runoff against an underfunded challenger.
Since 1996, the smallest number of incumbents to lose on primary night was two in 1998. Because of the prospects of runoffs, we would not be surprised if no incumbent legislators were defeated outright.
Turning our attention to Congress, there are only two incumbents in any real danger, and each is head-to-head against one challenger. U.S. Rep. Kay Granger (R-Fort Worth) faces a well- and self-funded challenger to her right, and U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Laredo) faces a nationally supported progressive to his left. Since 1996, just three Congressional incumbents have lost primary races, and all three occurred immediately after a redrawing of districts.
Open Seat Madness: Since 2006, there have been just seven open-seat races with at least 10 candidates. This year, there are four:
- CD11 has 10 Republicans seeking to succeed U.S. Rep. Mike Conaway (R-Midland)
- CD13 has 15 Republicans seeking to succeed U.S. Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Clarendon)
- CD17 has 12 Republicans seeking to succeed U.S. Rep. Bill Flores (R-Bryan); and
- CD22 has 15 Republicans seeking to succeed U.S. Rep. Pete Olson (R-Sugar Land).
Open CD23 has nine Republican seeking to succeed U.S. Rep. Will Hurd (R-San Antonio), and, while not technically open, there are 12 Democrats seeking to challenge U.S. Sen. John Cornyn (R). All are expected to go to runoffs. No open-seat candidate has won outright in fields larger than seven candidates since 2006.
Larger fields tend to wash out financial advantages as candidates with pre-existing name ID, regional advantage or, absent any of that, luck, push aside better-funded (and self-funded) candidates.
Expect some surprises in the smaller fields as well, especially for Congress, and expect a lot of runoffs. There were 32 runoffs (including incumbent races) for congressional and legislative offices in 2018, topping the recent peak of 31 in 2012. There have been at least 20 runoffs four times since 1996.
Prior to 2018, the lowest vote percentage to make a runoff in a statewide, legislative or congressional race since 1992 was 18%, set by Debra Lehrmann in a six-way race for a Supreme Court seat in 2010. Matt McCall broke that mark, making the runoff for open CD21 with just under 17% of the vote. He finished second out of 18 candidates behind eventual winner Chip Roy.
There has been at least one Democratic statewide runoff in four straight election cycles. The Republican streak of four straight was snapped in 2018.
Turnout. Both parties had at least 1M people vote in their primaries statewide during the early voting period. We expect Election Day turnout to be higher than early voting, so we might see the first-ever primary election with at least 2M people voting in each party’s primary. We are particularly interested in the age composition of the electorate. In the 30 largest counties, four out of every five voters under 40 cast a Democratic ballot.
Presidential Vote. Given that several candidates dropped out during early voting, which Democratic candidates picked up larger slices of the Election Day pie?
SD14 open: Austin council member Greg Casar established a campaign committee for a potential run for the seat being vacated by Sen. Kirk Watson (D-Austin).
PRES: Former presidential candidates Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar endorsed Joe Biden at a rally in Dallas. Former U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-El Paso) also endorsed Biden, as did Austin Mayor Steve Adler, a former Buttigieg endorsee. The Houston Chronicle, which previously endorsed Klobuchar, endorsed Biden.
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