Skip to main content


Not every race turned out the way political insiders — or the candidates themselves — anticipated. Here are a dozen primary races that defied conventional wisdom, stunned the incumbents and shocked the longshots.

Lead image for this article

Not every race turned out the way political insiders — or the candidates themselves — anticipated. Here are a dozen primary races that defied conventional wisdom, stunned incumbents and shocked long-shot contenders.  

Railroad Commissioner

Republican incumbent Victor Carrillo got his race handed to him by challenger David Porter, losing by more than 20 percentage points. Gov. Rick Perry hand picked the petroleum geophysicist for the commission in 2003 — replacing Tony Garza, who was named U.S. Ambassador to Mexico by George W. Bush — and helped elect him to a six-year term in 2004. He spent far more money than Porter, a Midland accountant: $620,960 vs. $33,684 since Jan. 1, 2009, according to the eight-day-out reports filed with the Texas Ethics Commission. His loss fuels a theory that he and others are propagating: that Republican primary voters are less likely to vote for people with Hispanic surnames.


Rep. Betty Brown, R-Terrell, fell 108 votes short of her primary challenger, Lance Gooden, a relatively unknown insurance consultant who used to work for her as an aide. The ten-year incumbent gained notoriety last legislative session for suggesting that Asians change their names to something “easier for Americans to deal with.” Her loss was unexpected, but maybe it shouldn’t have been — she narrowly won her GOP primary two years ago. The race is likely headed for a recount.


No one was more surprised about Rep. Tommy Merritt’s upset than Merritt himself. The Longview Republican lost to former Avinger Mayor David Simpson by just over 5 percentage points, despite raising more money than his Tea Party-backed opponent. Though he’s a 13-year incumbent, Merritt has had a target on his back in past primaries too — largely because of his independent voting streak. "I just got caught up in the business of 'let's get rid of the incumbent,'" Merritt said Tuesday night. "It was a total surprise."


Everyone would’ve understood if Chuck Hopson had lost, or at a minimum, gone to a run-off. Switching parties doesn’t generally endear a candidate to primary voters. But in his first race as a Republican, Hopson won against two opponents with more than 61 percent of the vote in his Jacksonville district — a wider span than he achieved in his last two elections as a Democrat.


The race to replace retiring Rep. Dan Gattis, R-Georgetown, seemed destined for a runoff. But Dr. Charles Schwertner, an orthopedic surgeon, won a solid 55 percent of the vote. Two of his three challengers — former Legislative Council chief Milton Rister and former Cedar Park councilmember Stephen Thomas — had pretty high name ID. But Schwertner outspent them four to one, an investment that helped him avoid a runoff.


Fort Bend Democratic Rep. Dora Olivo, an 11-year incumbent, lost to challenger Ron Reynolds — who she beat two years ago. But it wasn’t just a narrow upset; Reynolds, an attorney, won by more than 15 percentage points. This is a race not too many folks were watching, which made the turnover unexpected.


Everyone knew Rep. Tara Rios Ybarra was vulnerable; everyone thought her election could be a squeaker. The race had been nasty, with references to her alleged extramarital affair with a South Padre Island developer, who also donated to her campaign. But no one expected Kingsville businessman J.M. Lozano to wallop her by more than 13 percentage points, ending her career in the Legislature after one term. Lozano won despite Rios Ybarra’s best financial efforts; she outspent him by about $115,000.


First Republican Rep. Burt Solomons drew an unexpected primary opponent. Then the influential House State Affairs chairman with a hefty warchest had an election night win that was too close for comfort. Solomons defeated Tea Party-backed former congressional candidate Mike Murphy, pulling in just 53 percent of the vote in his Carrollton district. Murphy, a 36-year-old political consultant, was a formidable contender, honing in on immigration and voter ID measures.


The fact that longtime Lubbock Rep. Delwin Jones is headed for a Republican runoff is no surprise — but his opponent is. Jones will face accountant Charles Perry and not Zach Brady, a well-funded, well-connected attorney who insiders expected would make the cut in the three-way race. Jones received 39 percent of the vote, well short of the 50-percent mark needed to avoid a runoff. Perry got 32 percent, compared to Brady’s 29 percent, despite the fact that Brady raised a hefty quarter-million dollars for the race.


Legislative observers had been prepping Tarrant County Republican Rep. Todd Smith’s political obituary for weeks. But he came out strong on Tuesday night, defeating former Bedford city councilmember Jeff Cason with nearly 60 percent of the vote. Smith won handily despite Cason’s strong financial backing and high-profile endorsements; the Tarrant County Republican Party chair endorsed Cason. And though Cason and his allies alleged that Smith was responsible for "stalling" controversial voter ID legislation last session, it didn't affect the outcome of the race. 


Southlake Rep. Vicki Truitt pleasantly surprised her supporters on Tuesday night, winning a solid 52 percent of the vote in a four-way Republican primary that many believed was headed for a runoff. Truitt has won easily since claiming the seat after a 1998 GOP runoff. But she feared this race would be different because of a burgeoning Tea Party movement and strong anti-incumbent sentiment in her district.


The only person shocked about attorney Eric Johnson’s win over embattled incumbent Rep. Terri Hodge is the Dallas County Democratic Party chair, who predicted Hodge’s longtime allies would vote for her despite — or maybe because of — her guilty plea in a citywide corruption scandal. But Johnson, an inner-city kid turned Ivy League lawyer, won by a much wider margin than anyone predicted, with 75 percent of the vote. Though Hodge backed out of the race in February, it was too late to take her name off of the ballot, meaning Johnson had to continue to campaign so voters didn’t inadvertently elect the disgraced incumbent.


When a tennis ball lands on a net, it’s always a surprise. Former Rep. Borris Miles’ race against current incumbent Rep. Al Edwards is no exception. Miles leads Edwards by an 11-vote margin in the 10,000-vote Democratic primary race, which will almost certainly end with a recount. The men are no strangers to rivalry, having competed to represent the mostly minority Houston district twice before. Edwards won the seat in 1979 and has held it ever since, aside from a two-year period between 2006 and 2008 in which Miles dislodged him.


The shocker in State Board of Education member Ken Mercer’s race? That it was hardly a race at all. Though challenger Tim Tuggey had a stacked lineup of support in San Antonio’s Republican community — including auto magnate Red McCombs and HEB Chairman and CEO Charles Butt — Mercer won handily with 69 percent of the vote. Mercer is a member of the SBOE’s social conservative voting bloc, though the bloc’s future is fragile in light of other election night outcomes.


Talk about an upset. Longtime North Texas SBOE member Geraldine “Tincy” Miller was narrowly defeated by political unknown George Clayton in a race that almost no one had been watching. Miller, who has been on the board for more than a quarter century, spent more than 30 times more money than Clayton did. But Clayton, whose platform includes sending all curriculum proposals to school district teachers for a vote, won with nearly 52 percent.

Texans need truth. Help us report it.

Support independent Texas news

Become a member. Join today.

Donate now

Explore related story topics

2010 elections