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A Fling or a Trend?

Texas Republicans have never had a primary like this one. They got a quarter of a million more voters to the polls this year than they did in the presidential primaries four years ago.

Texas Republicans have never had a primary like this one. They got a quarter of a million more voters to the polls this year than they did in the presidential primaries four years ago.

And they weren't the big story.

Texas Democrats haven't voted in these numbers since the days when their primary was a de facto general election. The last time more than two million people voted in a Texas Democratic primary was 1972 — when the state had presidential and gubernatorial candidates on the same ticket. This year — the first time Texas was an important part of the primary map for Democratic presidential candidates since the days of LBJ — 2.9 million people voted.

Altogether, the two parties followed their record early voting by turning out 4,252,386 voters — just under the number that voted in the 2006 general election that gave Gov. Rick Perry a second full term.

Who are these people?

Not everyone answers that the same way. Pollster Daron Shaw, a political science prof at the University of Texas at Austin, said 15 to 20 percent of the people voting in the Democratic primary had some Republican voting history, so there was some crossover.

But he and others say it wasn't out of line with some past elections. Pollster Mike Baselice puts the number lower, at 9 to 15 percent, but sees some crossover. Another Republican pollster, Bryan Eppstein of Fort Worth, puts that crossover number in the same range and thinks most of the "new" voters in the two primaries were borrowed from November. They're new to the primaries, but not to the polls. And he concludes that the turnout boom is a fling and not a trend — and that November's numbers won't be as far out of line as the primary numbers were.

Leland Beatty, a Democratic number-cruncher, was most interested in exit polling that showed women over 40 holding onto their share of the primary vote — 46 to 48 percent — in spite of the growth in the number of voters. They still made up more than two-fifths of the vote, just as they usually do, and that helped Hillary Clinton stave off Barack Obama. Latinos also held onto their share of the Democratic primary vote, he says, further bolstering Clinton.

Baselice says the Hispanics came late, partly accounting for the differences in early voting — Obama won — and Election Day voting, which went strongly toward Clinton.

A Four-Day Flip

Barack Obama won the early voting in Texas, but lost that lead and then some on Election Day. Several things went right for Hillary Clinton and wrong for her rival.

• She successfully dominated the conversation during the last five days of the contest, combining words on the trail (and more importantly, in the endlessly repeating news cycle on the Internet, cable and broadcast TV and radio, and newspapers) with her "3 a.m." commercials raising doubts about Obama's experience.

• Obama didn't close the deal, opening a new front in this political war before locking things up in Texas. He was still battling with Clinton when he began taking on Republican John McCain. Had that worked, we'd all be talking about what a nice job of positioning he'd done to move her out of the spotlight and convince voters it was a two-person contest. Instead, McCain's response to Obama's nudging reinforced Clinton's attacks on Obama's experience.

• Obama, who was well behind Clinton in most mid-February polls, appeared to catch up. He narrowly won the state's early vote, but her strong close — and the fact that some of her voters waited until Election Day — put him away.

People who made their decisions in the last three days went her way 64-36 percent, according to exit polling. That's with both candidates working the state, but Clinton and her gang running a particularly tough schedule. She won in more than a dozen counties where he'd taken the early vote. More importantly, she widened her margins in several counties where she led the early voting.

When the votes were tallied, Obama won in just 24 of the state's 254 counties. But that small number hides some big counties: Collin, Dallas, Denton, Fort Bend, Harris, Tarrant, and Williamson. (One county, Coryell, landed the tennis ball right on top of the net: 2,434 people voted for Clinton, and 2,434 voted for Obama, according to the Texas Secretary of State.)

Clinton ended up winning in 15 counties where she was behind in early voting. Obama didn't flip any counties from her early vote win column to his side on Election Day.

And to improve her numbers at the end, she had to win big on Election Day; in fact, she got 53.4 percent of that day's vote (her final overall number was 50.9 percent). And even in counties where she ultimately lost, she cut into Obama's numbers.

A big, fat example: Clinton only got 43.3 percent of the Harris County vote, but in early voting, she got 37.4 percent, and on Election Day, she got 47.9 percent. She lost the county, and not by a little. But that change brought almost 24,000 votes into her column; when all the votes were counted, she beat Obama by 101,029, with almost a quarter of the margin attributable to the Harris County turnaround between Friday, when early voting ended, and Tuesday, when the polls opened for political business. That happened, on a smaller scale, in counties across the state.

Obama arguably ran a better race on the ground. The answer to that will come, officially, at the end of the month when Democratic county and senatorial district conventions produce the first solid look at delegate counts. Clinton won the delegates distributed by primary voting (65-61); Obama's supporters expect to win those distributed according to raucous caucuses held after the polls closed this week. That second group is a better measure of the campaigns' ground troops.

One observer — Democratic numbers wiz Leland Beatty — said Obama "didn't go after that part of Texas that is like Kansas," ignoring a huge swath of West Texas that behaves, politically, like large sections of Kansas where Obama beat Clinton in earlier contests. Another — Republican pollster Mike Baselice — thought late voting by Hispanics and other groups important to Clinton helped turn the result. GOP pollster Daron Shaw says it might be simpler than that: "I think we're overanalyzing this a little bit. Obama had his first bad week in months, and that played in."

Election Night Notebook

John McCain and Hillary Clinton got the headlines. Incumbents had a pretty good night. Eight House incumbents were defeated and a ninth faces a runoff. But legislators in both parties held off well-financed attacks. And what about Battle Craddick — the fight over votes for House Speaker Tom Craddick? It was a mixed bag, but by our count, he picked up a couple of votes.

Democrats

Rick Noriega got just enough votes to avoid a runoff in his U.S. Senate bid against non-dancer Gene Kelly... U.S. Rep. Silvestre Reyes of El Paso cruised to an easy win... Mark Thompson had a wide lead in the race for Railroad Commission, but not wide enough to avoid a runoff with Dale Henry... Sam Houston beat Baltazar Cruz in the race for Supreme Court (7); Linda Reyna Yañez eked out a two-point win over Susan Criss in the race for Place 8 on that court... Mary Helen Berlanga won reelection to the State Board of Education... Joe Jaworski easily defeated Bryan Hermann in the first step of a challenge to state Sen. Mike Jackson, R-La Porte... Sen. Judith Zaffirini won easily over Rene Barrientos, who has 21.4 percent of the vote in spite of the fact that he didn't campaign.

In state House contests, Donnie Dippel easily won the race to replace Rep. Robby Cook, who isn't seeking reelection... Rep. Doro Olivo held onto a very narrow lead over Ron Reynolds, who tromped her in the early voting. She won by 187 votes... Rep. Kino Flores managed a four-point win over Sandra Rodriguez... Rep. Rene Oliveira won easily... Rep. Aaron Peña beat challenger Eddie Saenz by about five points after a nasty rematch... Rep. Juan Escobar lost by almost eight points to Tara Rios Ybarra... Rep. Dawnna Dukes coasted to reelection after a pitched political fight with Brian Thompson... Rep. Paul Moreno, with 48.4 percent, lost to Marisa Marquez, after winning the early vote... Rep. Roberto Alonzo won easily... Rep. Kevin Bailey lost to Armando Lucio Walle by a wide margin... Carol Alvarado easily won the primary race to replace Rick Noriega in the state Legislature... Rep. Borris Miles fell hard to former Rep. Al Edwards, who lost their last contest in 2006. Edwards had 61.1 percent... and Reps. Garnet Coleman and Jessica Farrar both won easily.

Republicans

John McCain, with 51.2 percent, won Texas and clinched the National GOP nomination, while Mike Huckabee, with 37.8 percent, quit the race and endorsed McCain. Former hot ticket Ron Paul got 5.1 percent... U.S. Sen. John Cornyn won easily, with challenger Larry Kilgore mustering 18.5 percent... U.S. Reps. Sam Johnson, Ralph Hall, and Ron Paul walloped their challengers... The winners in the free-for-all in CD-10 — a ten-candidate race for the seat once held by Tom DeLay — are Shelley Sekula Gibbs, at 29.7 percent, who briefly held the spot before losing to U.S. Rep. Nick Lampson, a Democrat, and Pete Olson, at 20.7 percent. There will be a runoff... Lyle Larson finished well ahead of Quico Canseco in CD-23; he'll face U.S. Rep. Ciro Rodriguez, D-San Antonio... Court of Criminal Appeals Judge Paul Womack beat back a GOP challenger by a 2-to-1 margin... State Board of Education Member Pat Hardy won with an 18-point cushion over her challenger... Two state senators — Tommy Williams of The Woodlands and Craig Estes of Wichita Falls, both won their primaries without breaking a sweat.

In Texas House races, Rep. Betty Brown beat Wade Gent by 635 votes... Rep. Byron Cook won by almost 3-to-1... Rep. Charlie Howard, with two opponents, got 64.6 percent... Randy Weber won the three-man race to replace Rep. Mike O'Day of Pearland without a runoff... In HD-52, where incumbent Rep. Mike Krusee isn't running for reelection, there will be a runoff: Dee Hobbs finished first, with 31.8 percent, followed by Bryan Daniel and John Gordon, who were just 83 votes apart... In the race to replace Rep. Dianne White Delisi, R-Temple, Martha Tyroch finished first and Ralph Sheffield was second. There will be a runoff there... Rep. Charles "Doc" Anderson easily held off Jonathan Sibley in Waco, getting 63.5 percent... Rep. Phil King easily defeated former Weatherford Mayor Joe Tison after a noisy race where both candidates pulled in thousands of dollars from outside the district. King got 65.5 percent to Tison's 34.5 percent... Rep. Jerry Madden survived a challenge from Jon Cole... Rep. Nathan Macias lost by 38 votes — out of 29,324 cast — to Doug Miller. That's a recount candidate... Rep. Pat Haggerty lost badly to Dee Margo, who got 56.6 percent... Rep. Buddy West faces a runoff after finishing second to Tryon Lewis. The challenger got 44 percent; West got 38.4 percent... Rep. Delwin Jones won easily in Lubbock, as did Rep. Bill Zedler in Arlington... Mark Shelton landed far ahead of the pack in the Fort Worth race for a full term in the seat formerly held by Anna Mowery... Rep. Charlie Geren easily defeated Tom Annunziato... Rep. Thomas Latham lost to former Mesquite Mayor Mike Anderson... Angie Chen Button was first in the race to replace Rep. Fred Hill of Richardson, but she faces a runoff against former Garland City Councilman Randy Dunning... Rep. Frank Corte won easily... Rep. Joe Crabb got 55 percent against two challengers... Rep. John Davis won his race 2-to-1... Allen Fletcher knocked off Rep. Corbin Van Arsdale, winning by about five points... And Ken Legler and Fred Roberts led the race to replace Rep. Robert Talton, who gave up his spot to run for Congress. That's going to a runoff.

Game Over

This week's winners include a number of folks who are, for all intents and purposes, done for the year because they have no major party opposition. [A list of what's on the November ballot is available here or in our Files section at TexasWeekly.com]

In Congress, it's a list of one: U.S. Rep. Silvestre Reyes, D-El Paso.

In the state Senate, it's two Republicans: Sens. Tommy Williams of The Woodlands and Craig Estes of Wichita Falls.

In the House, the Republican list includes Reps. Byron Cook of Corsicana, Charlie Howard of Sugar Land, Charles "Doc" Anderson of Waco, Jerry Madden of Richardson, Delwin Jones of Lubbock, and a new guy, Allen Fletcher of Tomball, who defeated Rep. Corbin Van Arsdale.

The House's list of Democrats with missions accomplished: Reps. Kino Flores of Palmview, Rene Oliveira of Brownsville, Aaron Peña of Edinburg, Dawnna Dukes of Austin, and Roberto Alonzo of Dallas. Several newbies are on the Democratic list of representatives-nearly-elect: Tara Rios Ybarra of South Padre Island, Marisa Marquez of El Paso, and Armando Lucio Walle and former Rep. Al Edwards of Houston. Each knocked off an incumbent, respectively: Juan Escobar, Paul Moreno, Kevin Bailey, and Borris Miles.

Dud

Making an issue of House Speaker Tom Craddick turned out to be a nonstarter in most parts of the state, both for opponents of the speaker and for people who argued that he needs more support. This sort of thing can work: former U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay got blamed for some losses after he became politically radioactive. But in this election, Craddick didn't set off the Geiger counters in the same way, among either opponents or supporters.

That wasn't the only good news for the speaker. He picked up one or two votes on Tuesday, depending on how you count and on which candidate promises you think will last until the next election of a speaker in January 2009.

Eight House members got beat this week. Nine more who served during the last legislative session either resigned or decided not to seek reelection. A number of legislators from both parties still face tough fights in November.

The short version is that the primaries didn't answer the question of who'll be speaker next session. Craddick's still in it but doesn't have anything locked up.

The speaker issue could heat up in the general election, when Democrats can be rallied against Republican management and Republicans can be rallied in favor of it. And a new federal court ruling will let outsiders play in the speaker's race — through political action committees and other guises — for the first time.

It'll be tight, no matter what. There are 79 Republicans and 71 Democrats in the Texas House right now. When Craddick won his first term, breaking the century-old Democratic hold on the seat, there were 88 Republicans. It takes 76 votes to become speaker, and more support than that to comfortably hold that job.

Elimination Round: The Runoffs

Tuesday's primary produced a handful of runoff races. The drill: Early voting starts March 31 and runs for five days. Election Day is April 8.

Five of the tiebreakers are for open statehouse seats. One's an incumbent fighting for another term. And one features the two survivors of a 10-way contest for the chance to challenge an incumbent Democratic congressman. All of those contests are on the Republican side.

The Democratic primary produced only one state race runoff: Mark Thompson of Hamilton didn't get quite enough votes to avoid another month of work in his bid for Texas Railroad Commission. Now he faces a runoff with Dale Henry of Lampasas, who previously ran for that post as a Republican. Henry, if he makes it into the general election, will be the first candidate to run against each of the three members of a sitting Railroad Commission. He's already lost to Victor Carrillo and Elizabeth Ames Jones; Republican Michael Williams is the incumbent seeking reelection this time.

The herd of elephants in CD-22 is down to two — Dr. Shelley Sekula Gibbs, with 29.7 percent of the primary votes, and Pete Olson, with 20.7 percent.

Olson put out a press release calling for five debates with his opponent — one in each county in the district and one on a local radio station. "We're going to start talking about something different — the specific issues," Olson said.

"Shelley thinks that's a brilliant idea," said C.B. Currier with the Sekula Gibbs campaign. Currier said they'd pull back from big media ads and focus on the small community of voters likely to stay in the game until April.

"They have a lot of work to do," said Kevyn Bazzy. "But in a way it's easier because if you don't get a good vibe from a voter, you can mark that one off and move on." Bazzy, who received less than two percent in the primary, said Olson's military experience has a chance of standing out now that the other military men — Brian Klock, Ryan Rowley and Bazzy himself — are out.

"I'm excited for the voters that they have two good choices," said Jim Squier, who ended up with 1.8 percent on Election Day. He wouldn't name a favorite.

It's a double-edged sword for Sekula Gibbs and Olson. A one-on-one race is more intense, but easier on candidates and voters — the two will try to win new support but won't have to do it from a ten-candidate crowd. Sekula Gibbs ran before, losing a write-in campaign to Democrat Nick Lampson; that and her short-but-turbulent tenure finishing Tom DeLay's term could draw institutional opposition to her from other politicians. Watch the endorsements.

It was a tight race in HD-52, where Rep. Mike Krusee, R-Round Rock, decided not to seek reelection. The work isn't done for prosecutor Dee Hobbs, who got 31.8 percent, and insurance executive Bryan Daniel, with 30 percent. John Gordon was 83 votes behind, with 29.2 percent (and says he won't seek a recount).

"There were three of us spending a lot of money, and we were all three working real hard," said Gordon. "One of us three was going to come up short." He said he hasn't decided who he'll endorse or even who has the best chance to win in April — but he's certain they'll throw in a lot of cash over the next few weeks.

Hobbs and Daniel seem to be friendly foes.

"I wasn't sure what kind of campaign we were going to have," Hobbs said. "It's been a very friendly race."

"I'm very pleased with the outcome," said Daniel. "I'm ready to move forward and I hope we continue to campaign on the issues."

Neither candidate is changing their campaign strategy. Both say it's time to focus on keeping the voters energized for another round.

Martha Tyroch and Ralph Sheffield have another month of campaigning ahead in HD-55. She led with 36.1 percent; he ended up with 31.1 percent.

After finishing with 20.4 percent, Mike Pearce sent a personal thank-you to his supporters and said he'll endorse Sheffield. "He is a good man, and we need him to win this race, as the alternative would be deleterious to District 55," Pearce said in the e-mail.

"It was very obvious that there would be a runoff and we were prepared," said Tyroch, a former member of the Temple City Council. "We are ready, I'm not tired at all."

John Alaniz, who ended up with 12.4 percent, said both candidates have asked for his endorsement, but he's still wavering.

"I'm not surprised at the outcome... at the end of the day, it was who had the most money," Alaniz said. "I think the two strongest conservatives were the two that had the least money."

Tyroch raised $145,557 so far. Sheffield raised $69,713 and loaned his campaign another $88,546. They both spent a lot on ads and start Round Two with about equal standing.

Rep. Buddy West of Odessa made his own pickle, telling the full House at the end of last session that he'd enjoyed his eight terms in office but that, for health reasons, he was moving on and wouldn't seek reelection. By the time his health improved and his mind was changed, the pickle was sour — he'd attracted the attention of other Republicans in HD-81. Now he's fighting for his life. He finished second in a four-way race on Tuesday with 38.4 percent — enough to make the runoff with front-running Tryon Lewis, an attorney and former judge who won the support of 44 percent of the voters.

Angie Chen Button and Randy Dunning are headed for a runoff in the HD-112. She led with 37.9 percent to his 35 percent. Jim Shepherd wasn't that far behind with 27.1 percent.

"It was a very nice campaign in the first round," said Button's consultant Craig Murphy. "But [Dunning] started attacking at the very end. We're not going to let him get away with that now." Murphy said he thought Shepherd was the stronger opponent, but he just got a late start and didn't run a negative campaign.

"It's a classic runoff between someone who's got a proven conservative record and someone who does not," said Kevin Brannon, Dunning's consultant. That campaign is zeroing in on political contributions Button, a former DART board member, made to Dallas Democrats, including U.S. Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson, state Rep. Terri Hodge and Sen. Royce West.

Shepherd had the endorsement of incumbent Fred Hill – now Shepherd is deciding who he'll back for the runoff. He said he's taking a few days to figure it out. "I know that an amazing amount of money will be spent over the next few weeks, because a lot has already been spent," Shepherd said.

Sidebar: A local blog in the district— suziblitz.com — backs Dunning, but they got pranked by an anonymous computer wiz who pasted ads against dunning all over their website. That's been cured now, they think.

District 144 is heading for a run-off between Ken Legler and Fred Roberts. Legler led Round One with 45.9 percent of the votes to Roberts' 39.5 percent. John Hughey got 14.6 percent.

Incumbent Robert Talton ran (unsuccessfully) in CD-22 and the statehouse seat is open. He's backing Roberts.

"On a one to ten scale, I'm a seven right now," said Roberts, a Pasadena school board trustee. "I'd be a ten if I won by 51 percent, but I fell a little short."

Allen Blakemore is consulting for Legler, a businessman who served on the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality and is now chairman of the EPA's national advisory board. Blakemore said Roberts got a lot of the "school crowd" to the polls.

"My attitude toward runoffs is turnout, turnout, turnout," Blakemore said. "It's usually pretty low, so you're back to the party faithful. We know who our people are."

Legler has big business support. PACs from Chevron, AT&T and Valero contributed to his campaign.

But the third-place finisher isn't a fan. "Mr. Legler is totally unqualified," Hughey said. "I have a feeling he's not going to win. He's a tool of the lobbies and they will spend a lot of money to try and get him elected."

He's still deciding whether he'll back Roberts: "It all depends on how various people act in the upcoming days."

by Karie Meltzer

Political People, Political Notes

Roland Gutierrez was the only candidate who filed to run for the rest of Rep. Robert Puente's term in office, making a formality of that special election. He's also the only candidate on the ballot for a full term next fall. Unless something truly weird develops, the former San Antonio City councilman, a Democrat, will be the new representative from HD-119.

Kenneth Besserman joins the Comptroller's office as an assistant general counsel. He left Sen. Rodney Ellis' employ late last year.

Fresh meat at the Texas Youth Commission: Alfonso Royal, criminal justice advisor to Gov. Rick Perry, is the new chief of staff at TYC. He'll report to Richard Nedelkoff, the conservator of that agency.

Spin cycle: U.S. Rep. Nick Lampson, D-Stafford, got more votes in his uncontested Democratic primary than his ten challengers altogether got in their noisy primary. He doesn't mention the race at the top of the ticket, which drew the numbers he's boasting about. He'll face the winner of a runoff between Pete Olson and Shelley Sekula Gibbs.

In the Democratic primary, some big counties produced more than half of their total turnout during the 11 days of early voting. Among them: Bexar, Brazoria, Collin, Denton, Hidalgo, Lubbock, Travis, and Webb. On the GOP side, the biggies included Brazoria, El Paso, Hidalgo, Lubbock, and Webb. On a statewide level, 40.4 percent of Republicans voted early as against 44.8 percent of Democrats.

Quotes of the Week

Former Texas Secretary of State Jack Rains, reacting in the Austin American-Statesman to John McCain's ascendancy: "It's kind of like when your daughter shows up with a boy she says she's going to marry. You'd better find a way to like him, even if you don't, even if he's funny looking, because he's it."

Former Texas Democratic Party Chairman Charles Soechting, quoted by The Dallas Morning News about perennial candidate Gene Kelly: "He's like a cockroach; he just makes a mess wherever he goes. He's not beneficial to anyone."

Eli Davis, a Democratic caucus chairman in Dallas, telling The Wall Street Journal that more than 1,000 people showed up there on Election Night: "I've been trying to get to 100 for 30 years."

U.S. Rep. Sam Johnson, R-Plano, endorsing his former fellow POW John McCain and describing their relationship to The Dallas Morning News: "We talk, but we're not that close... He's a senator and I'm a congressman, that's part of the problem. And you know, we don't always agree."

State Rep. Pat Haggerty, R-El Paso, quoted in the El Paso Times on his disagreements with GOP leaders before losing his reelection bid on Tuesday: "I wasn't elected to be a Republican. I was elected to represent my district."


Texas Weekly: Volume 25, Issue 10, 10 March 2008. Ross Ramsey, Editor. Copyright 2008 by Printing Production Systems, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part without written permission from the publisher is prohibited. One-year online subscription: $250. For information about your subscription, call (512) 302-5703 or email biz@texasweekly.com. For news, email ramsey@texasweekly.com, or call (512) 288-6598.

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