Runoff Strategy Depends on Race and Money, Analysts Say

As the dust settles after Texas’ primary election, candidates who couldn’t manage to break the 50 percent threshold are left with two more months of campaigning to try to get to the general election.

The game plan to find success in the July 31 runoff can vary, depending on the size of the race, the money left in a candidate’s coffers and what — if any — local races might affect voter turnout, according to campaign consultants and lobbyists in the state.

The contest that will grab the most headlines is the GOP battle between Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and former Solicitor General Ted Cruz to replace U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison.

Although the rivals don’t have the luxury of focusing on November, they do have something that most other runoff participants lack: ample financial resources.

Because of that, said Craig Murphy, a political consultant with Republican strategist group Murphy Turner, Cruz and Dewhurst probably wouldn’t need to dramatically change strategy from the primary — unlike most other runoff races.

 

“They will probably both be broad and buy statewide [media spots],” he said. “They are probably going to do everything they did last time. They are not going to cut corners.”

That does not, however, mean Dewhurst and Cruz won’t drill down and place non-statewide races under a microscope to determine where voter turnout in a specific district could help or hinder their efforts. Campaigning with slightly more vigor in certain areas is only common sense if a candidate has the resources to do so, Murphy said.

“There are going to be people that are more enthusiastic about a local situation than about a statewide one,” he said, adding that candidates would be smart to make themselves known to those voters. “You want to become somebody you want them to vote for [also].”

The game plan is usually the same for Democrats, said political consultant Jeff Crosby.

“In places where there is no [local] runoff of any significance, the voters will likely go to sleep,” Crosby said. “Where are you going to spend your money? Where you get the most bang for your buck. So this whole business of targeting and building things where turnout is going to be is very important.”

Like the GOP, the Democrats are having a runoff to determine their candidate in the U.S. Senate race. Former state Rep. Paul Sadler will take on educator Grady Yarbrough.

Other notable Democratic runoffs include two hotly contested congressional races: Congressional District 23, where state Rep. Pete Gallego, D-Alpine, faces former U.S. Rep. Ciro Rodriguez, D-San Antonio, and CD-33, where state Rep. Marc Veasey, D-Fort Worth, faces former state Rep. Domingo Garcia of Dallas.

Murphy and Crosby agreed however, that campaigns with fewer financial resources — including some statewide contests — mean a more focused target area, depending on what locals may turn out for.

 

“For the other less-known races [like] the Railroad Commission, they have to” target areas, Murphy said. “They have to spend precious resources, and they don’t want to spend it where there won’t be a turnout, so the wise ones will use those, even a sheriff’s race, if it’s a place where people really care.”

In most cases with runoffs, however, Murphy said the rules are different than with the primary elections.

“It’s totally different from the primary," he said. "The old rule is if you can get the people that came out to vote for you the first time back out, you win."

The anomaly this time around, according to Crosby, is a runoff election at the end of  July.

“The scheduling stuff, everything is all topsy-turvy in terms of the dates,” he said. “It has a negative effect on turnout, so sitting here on May 30 trying to estimate turnout for a July 31 runoff, something that’s never happened around here, is going to be a roll of the dice.”

Tuesday’s primary election witnessed the second-lowest voter turnout in a presidential election year since 1992, according to the Texas secretary of state’s office. About 15.5 percent of registered voters turned out to cast a ballot this year, compared with 33.2 percent in 2008, when the Democratic presidential contest between Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton was still undecided and John McCain was on the verge of clinching the GOP nomination. The only presidential-year primary with a lower turnout than Tuesday’s was 2004, when 12.4 percent of registered voters cast ballots.

Rene Ramirez, a registered lobbyist and former chief of staff for state Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, agreed that this year’s late primary makes the runoff unpredictable. But he said local races in the Rio Grande Valley would probably depend on the basic grass-roots campaigning traditionally used in the that part of Texas.

There are notable runoffs for state House races in the Valley, including HD-40, where lawyers Terry Canales and Agustin Hernandez Jr. were the top vote-getters, and HD-43, where Rep. J.M. Lozano, R-Kingsville, and Bill T. Wilson II will face off.

“You look at the voters who came out [during the primary], go block walking,” Ramirez said. “When early votes come out, you cross-reference, [find] people who didn’t come out, call them, get your precinct captains to call them.”

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