Texas primaries 2012
Runoff season hasn’t been this much fun in a long time.
Usually reserved for a couple of low-key contests, and generally taking place months earlier, this year’s Round Two of the Texas primaries has a blockbuster lineup that should offer some sizzle to a normally tepid election-year summer.
For the Texas Legislature, Tuesday’s elections saw the downfall of some longtime incumbents in the Texas Legislature, an early promise of a Speaker race next session, forecasts for another enormous freshman class and a potential shift to the right for the Texas Senate.
But while the outright wins and losses offered some good headlines for the local districts, some of the best stories won’t be told for another couple of months. Candidates usually take the summer off, letting their donors replenish their pocketbooks before picking them again and giving voters some time off to avoid campaign fatigue.
Those of us who get bored during the notoriously dead election-year summers — even in a presidential campaign year — will have something to watch other than the Tour de France. And the luckiest among us are those who don't work the campaigns at all, because we won't be pounding the pavement in 110-degree heat and swatting mosquitoes at sweaty political rallies.
But we will be watching.
The star of the show in the July 31 runoff is the battle for U.S. Senate, in which former solicitor general (and tea party favorite) Ted Cruz forced Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst (branded as a moderate in an race clearly prone to hyperbole) into a runoff for the GOP nomination.
This state hasn’t elected a statewide Republican since 1994, so these guys are motivated by the very real chance that whoever wins the runoff gets to take retiring Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison’s seat in D.C. in November.
And Cruz clearly benefitted from the protracted redistricting battle that delayed the primary process and gave him a few more months to build name recognition over Dewhurst — always a plus for upstarts, never a good thing for incumbents.
On the flip side of that ballot, former state Rep. Paul Sadler and educator Grady Yarbrough are headed for a runoff to secure the Democratic nomination for that U.S. Senate seat.
Sadler, who was House Public Education Committee Chairman in the late 90s when Dems ran the Texas Legislature, complained that his runoff was caused by the media ignoring his race — and if we’re being honest, he’s probably right. The Dewhurst-Cruz show was clearly regarded as the only game in town, as the media rarely likes to spend its sparse resources on a race that in the long run is viewed (correctly or otherwise) as inconsequential.
With a few exceptions, statewide Dems can’t seem to break percentages in the 30s, and the media knows this, creating a vicious cycle that leaves the Dems without the earned media coverage they need to complement the expensive attempt to win over the entire state. Not that being Democrat isn't enough of a handicap in the Lone Star State.
The race to fill a new Congressional seat in North Texas, drawn for a minority Democrat, continues into the summer heat with a runoff between former state Rep. Marc Veasey and former state Rep. Domingo Garcia. That contest was marked by, among other things, some racial tensions that drew fire from some Ds in the Texas House who had worked with both.
The Texas Senate should show us a fun time this summer, too, as GOP Sen. Jeff Wentworth of San Antonio battles to keep his seat over Donna Campbell, an ER doc who lost her bid for a Congressional nomination two years ago.
If Campbell wins, she’ll signal a shift to the right for the upper chamber, where a handful of new Republicans joining the ranks are certain to help the conservative cause — including former Texas House Republican Caucus Chairman Larry Taylor, who marked last session by using parliamentary rules to help push through hotly contested tort reform and election laws championed by the tea party.
The victory of former state Rep. Kelly Hancock over Todd Smith, another former state rep, for the GOP nomination to an open Texas Senate seat supports the strengthening conservative ideology in that chamber as well.
And finally, the Texas Railroad Commission will see a runoff for the wonkiest among us: Christi Craddick, the daughter for former House Speaker Tom Craddick, is heading into a runoff against former House Appropriations Chair (and Craddick lieutenant) Warren Chisum of Pampa.
Fifteen Texas House seats are going into a runoff as well, which includes three incumbents.
As for the outright wins and losses, there are certainly some notables — particularly in the Republican-dominated Texas House.
- House Speaker Joe Straus, a San Antonio Republican, handily beat challenger Matt Beebe with more than 60 percent of the vote - but heads into a challenge for his Texas House leadership role in January, when Mineola Republican Bryan Hughes plans to race him for the top spot in that chamber.
- Three House chairs (and Straus lieutenants) lost their seats to primary challenges: Public Education Chairman Rob Eissler, R-The Woodlands, (no doubt suffering the consequences of $4 billion in education cuts pushed by the GOP leadership last session); Pensions, Investments and Financial Services Chairwoman Vicki Truitt, R-Southlake, and Licensing and Administrative Procedures Chairman Mike “Tuffy” Hamilton, R-Lumberton.
- But if the affable Straus lost some of his backers, he also lost a thorn in his side. Rep. Leo Berman, the Tyler Republican whose agenda was heavy with immigration reform, lost to Matt Schaefer, another conservative. Berman frequently fussed at the Republican leadership for not passing strong enough immigration laws, including a bill he proposed that would challenge birthright citizenship (and which never saw the light of day).
- And finally, in one of the more odd races in Texas, former state Rep. Barbara Mallory Caraway lost her challenge to unseat Democratic Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson in Dallas. Why is this one odd? Because Caraway chose to run at all: The barely-there legislator won her seat a few sessions ago on the promise that she would so more for her minority Dallas district than the previous rep - only to become known not for any legislation that she passed (not that there was much), but instead for a highly publicized incident last year in which she allegedly threatened her husband with a knife. Her husband, who was running for Dallas mayor at the time of the revelations, was caught on tape telling police that she was dangerous and certifiable. And yet, she still thought she could win against a popular and powerful incumbent. Observers found this odd. The only thing more strange would have been had she won.
Oh, and Mitt Romney is the Republican presidential nominee after Texas chose him over Ron Paul last night. But you knew that already.
For a comprehensive rundown of the election and a helpful bracket you can use to keep track of all this, check out the Texas Tribune’s coverage right here.