The governor's race is just what you expected: Republican Rick Perry and Democrat Bill White. Perry starts with the power of incumbency and the state's 16-year-old preference for Republicans over Democrats in statewide office. White starts with the advantage of non-incumbency — don't snort at that — and the ability to run a more serious and well-financed campaign than anyone in his party has run in some time. Five independents have signed up, and the Libertarians will choose their candidate in June.
Lt. Gov.: Republican David Dewhurst v. Democrat Linda Chavez-Thompson. Dewhurst is the incumbent and is rich enough to finance a big campaign even if donors weren't willing to give to a sitting Lite Guv. Chavez-Thompson is a first-timer on the ballot. Her career was in the labor movement, which could help, and Democrats hope her gender and ethnicity will help the ticket. Add a Libertarian to be named later.
Attorney General: Incumbent Republican Greg Abbott v. Democrat Barbara Ann Radnofsky. Abbott had his eyes on a promotion, but it was based on Kay Bailey Hutchison's sketchy plans to resign, freeing up a horde of pols from all parties to run for her office or for the offices emptied by people running for her office. She hasn't quit. Nothing has opened up. Radnofsky, who lost to Hutchison four years ago, is making her first bid for A.G. Libertarian Jon Roland and independent Ruben Torres are also going to be on the ballot.
Comptroller: Republican Susan Combs, without major party opposition. The comptroller is one of the five state officials on the Legislative Redistricting Board, a panel that rises out of dormancy every ten years to draw the political maps the Legislature almost always fails to complete. Even so, the Democrats didn't field a challenger. Libertarian Mary Ruwart will also be on the ballot in November.
Land Commissioner: Incumbent Republican Jerry Patterson v. Democrat Hector Uribe. This is another of those LRB seats (lieutenant governor, House speaker, and attorney general are the others) and is far enough down the ballot that the outcome often has more to do with the political mood of the state than with the candidates themselves. James Holder is the Libertarian in this one.
Agriculture Commissioner: Incumbent Republican Todd Staples v. Democrat Hank Gilbert. A rematch. Staples got 55 percent last time to Gilbert's 42 percent; Libertarian Clay Woolam got the rest. At the starting gate, the financing of the two candidates is lopsided in Staples' favor. The Libertarians will chose from two candidates in June.
Railroad Commissioner: Republican David Porter v. Democrat Jeff Weems. Both parties are paying close attention to this race all of a sudden, after the Republican incumbent, Victor Carrillo, lost a somnambulant campaign for reelection and turned this into an open seat. The Libertarian in this contest is Roger Gary.
Supreme Court: Republican incumbents Paul Green and Eva Guzman will face Democrats Bill Moody and Blake Bailey, respectively. Democrat Jim Sharp will face the winner of a runoff between former lawmaker Rick Green and Fort Worth family court Judge Debra Lehrmann.
Court of Criminal Appeals: Michael Keasler, the incumbent Republican, will face Democrat Keith Hampton in the only race where both the Ds and Rs have candidates.
Congress: Nobody in the Texas delegation even got nervous on Election Night. The worst performance of the night by an incumbent was U.S. Rep. Ralph Hall, who pulled 57.3 percent of the vote with five people running against him. Seven of the challenger races — those with candidates who seek to challenge incumbents in November — are headed for runoffs.
Texas Senate: Only eight Texas senators will face opponents in November. And the only two who had real primaries this time — Kip Averitt in SD-22 and Steve Ogden in SD-5 — won easily. Averitt has said he doesn't want another term; the details of that (read below) are still being worked out. El Paso Sen. Eliot Shapleigh isn't seeking reelection in SD-29; former El Paso County Attorney Jose Rodriguez won a three-way primary and will face Republican Dan Chavez in November.
Texas House: Eight members didn't seek reelection. Five more lost their reelection bids. And three more have to win runoffs to survive to the November round.
In the open seats: Dr. Charles Schwertner won the Republican primary to replace Rep. Dan Gattis, R-Georgetown, in HD-20. Sergio Muñoz Jr. won the Democratic primary to replace Rep. Ismael "Kino" Flores, D-Palmview, in HD-36. The race to replace Rep. Brian McCall, R-Plano, in HD-66, will go to a runoff between Mabrie Griffith Jackson and Van Taylor. Former Wichita Falls Mayor Lanham Lyne won the GOP primary to replace Rep. David Farabee, D-Wichita Falls, in HD-69. In the HD-84 race to replace Carl Isett, R-Lubbock, Mark Griffin and John Frullo will meet in a Republican primary runoff next month. Walter "Four" Price won the Republican primary to replace Rep. David Swinford, R-Dumas, in HD-87. Former Bexar County Commissioner Lyle Larson easily won the Republican primary to succeed Rep. Frank Corte, R-San Antonio, in HD-122. What started as a four-way Republican contest to replace Rep. Joe Crabb, R-Atascocita, in HD-127, is now a two-way between Dan Huberty and Dr. Susan Curling.
The five who lost: Lance Gooden beat his former boss, Rep. Betty Brown, D-Terrell, by 183 votes in HD-4. Ron Reynolds defeated Rep. Doro Olivo, D-Rosenberg, in a Democratic primary rematch in HD-27. She won in 2008 by fewer than 200 votes. Rep. Tommy Merritt, R-Longview, lost decisively to David Simpson in HD-7. Merritt, one of the Republicans who helped replace House Speaker Tom Craddick with Joe Straus, has been fending off primary challengers for year and seemed genuinely surprised to lose. In HD-43, freshman Rep. Tara Rios Ybarra, D-South Padre Island, fell to Jose Manuel Lozano in a contest closely watched and heavily financed by lawyers and tort reformers. The latter group was on the losing side. Rep. Al Edwards lost a rematch against former Rep. Borris Miles in a Houston Democratic primary, but that's probably not over: Only 11 votes separated the two in HD-146.
The three on life support: Rep. Fred Brown, R-Bryan, only got 44 percent in the first round of his reelection bid and will have to claw his way out of a runoff with Gerald "Buddy" Winn in HD-14. Rep. Delwin Jones, R-Lubbock, finished first but not first enough; he's got an HD-83 runoff with Charles Perry next month. Rep. Norma Chavez, D-El Paso, finished second in her primary but stayed alive for a runoff against Naomi Gonzalez in HD-76.
Challengers in a couple of closely watched primaries are heading for runoffs. In HD-47, Paul Workman and Holly Turner face off next month; the winner will face Rep. Valinda Bolton, D-Austin, in November. John Gordon and Larry Gonzales have a runoff in HD-52, with Democratic Rep. Diana Maldonado of Round Rock waiting for the winner.
Scary, but okay after all: Rep. Chuck Hopson of Jacksonville easily won his first election as a Republican in HD-11. He switched parties in November, drew two GOP challengers, and got 61 percent of the vote. Rep. Burt Solomons, R-Carrollton, almost got mugged by Mike Murphy, a self- identified Tea party candidate who came within a few hundred votes of an upset in HD-65. Solomons got out with 53 percent of the vote. Rep. Vicki Truitt, R-Southlake, held off three challengers in HD-98 and won without a runoff.
Eight Months Out
The real gift to Gov. Rick Perry on Tuesday wasn't the win over Kay Bailey Hutchison and Debra Medina in the GOP primary, which was foretold in the polls. It was the quick win. A runoff would have gobbled six weeks and something like $10 million and might have left the winner bruised on the way into a battle with Democrat Bill White, a serious opponent who easily bested six others in his party's primary.
So how does the November election shape up?
"We've been targeted since day one on general election issues," says Dave Carney, Perry's chief political consultant.
Todd Olsen, a fellow Republican who worked for Hutchison for a short period last year, chimes in: "He'll just say, 'I'm running a great campaign. Why change anything?'"
White must introduce himself to Texans before Perry has the opportunity to do it for him. He's well known in the Houston media market — the state's biggest — but he's a cipher most everyplace else. People in the hinterlands don't have any impression of him at all; his job is to make sure it's a positive one. Perry's job is the opposite of that, to turn him into what Carney described in a recently leaked strategy memo as "a big city trial lawyer, anti gun, sanctuary city promoting, Clinton protégé DC politician."
White has to be ready. "He has to distance himself from Obama and Washington Democrats," says Matthew Dowd, a former George W. Bush strategist and now a founding partner in the Austin-based ViaNovo consultancy. "He needs to cut them off as quickly as he can. ... That's going to give him the only shot, I think, to win this race."
It'll be harder for White to attack Perry. The governor has been defending himself politically for 20 years and is pretty much a known quantity to voters. It's hard to redraw that picture, and White, like Hutchison before him, will have to find a way to get through Perry's defenses. "It's silly to think this is going to be any more competitive than Chris Bell," Carney says, citing the Democrat who lost to Perry in 2006.
Texas is a Republican state, and that's the single biggest obstacle to a Democrat seeking statewide office, much less the statewide office that gets all of the attention in election years. The next biggest is that voters are in a national frame of mind, meaning they're focused on national issues, and partisan fights at the federal level. In Texas, generally speaking, that's a bad environment for Democrats — especially when the Democrats are in charge. Barack Obama didn't win here. Health care reform, as explained in the public square, isn't popular here, even if the state ranks highest in the percentage of its citizens who are uninsured. Nobody likes deficits.
Perry's the best campaigner in the state. You don't have to like that to see it: He's undefeated, having just won his eleventh statewide race in a row, and he's beat a roster of middle- and heavyweights that includes Jim Hightower, John Sharp, Tony Sanchez, Carole Keeton Strayhorn, Bell, Kinky Friedman, and Hutchison. The guy's got chops.
Then again, White is the first Democrat in a while who has the potential to spend the same amount of money on the race Perry will spend. Call it a draw on resources.
The governor has been able to whistle past it so far, but this isn't a great time to be an incumbent. White's not in office now, and as Houston mayor, a non-partisan job, he was able to attract and keep the support of Republicans in that city. Some of them, he's hoping, will stay on board for his first state race. He hasn't run statewide, but was the chairman of the Texas Democratic Party and can tap into a political network with connections far beyond his home city.
Perry has said repeatedly that he doesn't want to run for president, though suspicions and speculations abound. That might help White attract out-of-state money from people who are weary of presidents wearing Western boots, and from people who want to block Perry. It's easier and cheaper to beat him now, the theory goes, than to wait around while he gathers political power and strength. Perry got the attention of the folks in Washington with his win over Hutchison, who's a known quantity there and was high in the Senate Republican leadership before the race for governor. Beating her, like an unranked team beating a ranked one, moves him up in their estimation.
Hutchison did Perry a favor on the way out with a healing gesture in her concession speech. "He ran the race he needed to run, and she exited stage right in a graceful way, saying we should united behind the governor," Olsen notes.
As for Hutchison's own campaign, the trailer was a lot better than the movie. What was originally billed as a blockbuster rivaling the 1990 Democratic primary for governor turned out to be a dud, with Perry leading in all but one poll from June 2008 until Election Day.
Hutchison's critical troubles included things of her own making and things she couldn't control:
Dithering over whether to quit the Senate or not. "Will She or Won't She?" became a major theme of her campaign story, and that wasn't an advantage for Hutchison from any angle. It culminated in a commercial featuring Hutchison sitting in a living room explaining why she wasn't quitting the Senate, opening with this clunker: "I'm going to do everything I can to stop the government takeover of health care. And it's why I'm staying in the Senate through the primary, at risk to my political future."
Wasting the first half of 2009, a period when Perry was completely and fully employed by the legislative session and barred by law from raising money for his campaign during the session itself, the month before, and the weeks after.
Using roughly a third of her media budget for commercials attacking Perry for toll roads, for roads built by foreign contractors, and for proposing a now-mothballed road system called the Trans Texas Corridor. The TTC was a prominent subject in the 2006 race for governor — Strayhorn tried to pour that concrete around Perry's feet — that didn't work as a political issue then and was even weaker in 2010. With the economy and jobs foremost in voters' minds, Hutchison's campaign was trying to attract support with the wrong lure.
Running in a year when it was bad to be an incumbent and worse to be an incumbent from Washington. Hutchison complained that the political environment forced her to run into a headwind, and that's right. Perry positioned himself — as he has in previous elections — as a populist. That's not Hutchison's nature in the first place, and this wasn't a good year to be a leader on a pedestal. And he defined her as a Washington politician, sticking her with a label her campaign was unable to overcome. A year ago, the conventional wisdom was that a bigger turnout in the GOP primary would transform that very conservative forum, helping Hutchison by bringing in more moderate Republicans and hurting Perry by diluting his base. But the turnout in the GOP primary was the biggest ever, and as we now know, Perry was the beneficiary.
Running after 16 years in federal office. Those recorded votes in the U.S. Senate are murder in state elections, whether you're a Republican or a Democrat, a Texan or something else. And the Washington tradition of bringing home the bacon for your state is out of style right now; pork's off the political diet.
Hutchison didn't look like she wanted the job. Voters get to play employer and the candidates present their virtues, point out the flaws of their competitors, smile, chew breath mints, and look like they really are ready to hit the ground running. Perry did. Hutchison didn't. And where his pitch was focused on the economy, the condition of the state, and how to beat back Washington's encroachment, she spent more time talking about his deficiencies than her own strengths.
That 1990 Democratic race — the primary that set the mark for bloody inside fights — ended with a runoff that gave Ann Richards the nomination. She was in such awful political shape that April that only a series of mistakes by Clayton Williams and a revival in her own campaign saved her and got her elected governor.
This year's Republican primary didn't come out looking like that 1990 race, and Perry didn't suffer the chips in his paint job that Richards had 20 years ago. Democrats are hoping the state is coming full circle, that this general election will run more like that earlier one. Claytie Williams lost that year, but he and U.S. Sen. Phil Gramm pulled enough Republican voters to the polls to sneak a couple of their own into statewide offices, agriculture commissioner and state treasurer, that had been held by the Democrats for decades. Their names were Rick Perry and Kay Bailey Hutchison.
They Came, They Voted, They Split
Sure, turnout was big, but it was a lot bigger in the marquee race than the stuff that followed. On the GOP side, 1,484,111 people voted in the race for governor. The drop was precipitous after that: 1,175,608 in the lieutenant governor race, 1,165,646 in the attorney general race, and so on. It jumped back to 1,206,988 for the competitive Railroad Commission race, and to 1,123,575 for a six-way race for the Texas Supreme Court before beginning to lag again. Competitive races were more popular than those with only one candidate. The last statewide race on the GOP ballot — an uncontested primary for the Court of Criminal Appeals, attracted only 997,270 voters — a drop of 485,841 from the top statewide contest.
On the Democratic side, the numbers were smaller, but the trend was the same. In the race for governor, 679,877 people voted; 592,149 voted in the next contest, for Lite Guv, and it fell and rose with the contested and uncontested races from there. That last CCA contest drew 469,223 people — a drop of 210,654 from the race for governor.
Early voting on the GOP side of the governor's race totaled 598,854, or 40.4 percent of the overall vote. In the Democratic primary for governor, 294,577 people voted early — 43.3 percent of the total vote.
Republicans got more votes out of their top ten counties than Democrats got out of the entire state. And they got half of their statewide vote out of just 12 counties: Harris, Tarrant, Dallas, Bexar, Collin, Travis, Denton, Montgomery, Williamson, Fort Bend, Lubbock, and Brazoria.
The first 50 percent of the Democratic primary vote involved just eight counties: Harris, Dallas, Bexar, Travis, Hidalgo, El Paso, Webb, and Tarrant.
More than two-thirds of the 2,163,988 people who voted — 68.6 percent — voted in the Republican primary.
Bill White won the Democratic nomination in his home county, getting more votes in Harris County than the next nearest candidate — Farouk Shami — got statewide.
Democrats out-voted Republicans in only four of the state's top 20 counties (measured by voter registrations): El Paso, Hidalgo, Cameron and Jefferson.
Forgive us our wonkiness on this one. The biggest vote-producers for the GOP, in terms of turnout advantage over the Democrats, were, in order: Tarrant, Harris, Collin, Dallas, Denton, Montgomery, Lubbock, Williamson, Bexar, and Brazoria. On the other end, Democrats netted more votes in these counties than Republicans: Hidalgo, Webb, El Paso, Cameron, Jefferson, Maverick, Starr, Duval, Jim Wells, and Zapata. Overall, more Republicans than Democrats voted in 189 counties.
Perry's five highest vote counts came in Harris, Tarrant, Dallas, Bexar, and Collin counties. White's were Harris, Dallas, Travis, Bexar, and Hidalgo. The governor got 50 percent of the vote or more in 113 of the state's 254 counties. His stinker was Carson County, where he got 109 of the 1,057 votes cast (Debra Medina got 557 votes and Hutchison got 391). White, who had a less competitive primary, got less than 50 percent in only 17 counties. His worst showing was in Montague County, where 19 of the 294 voters went for him (and 255 went for Alma Aguado).
Trouble at Home
Kinky Friedman got flushed by Hank Gilbert in the Democratic primary for agriculture commissioner and the biggest single contributor to Gilbert's margin was Travis County — Friedman's hometown, home of the state Capitol and heart of the Hill Country where Friedman made his name. The Kinkster lost this latest race by 27,513 votes. Travis County contributed a net 9,821 to Gilbert. Harris County was good for another 7,685.
What's in a Name?
You're free to argue about whether it's a disadvantage in a Republican primary or an advantage in a Democratic primary to have an Hispanic surname, but this is true: If you don't run an effective campaign, something other than your charms will decide the thing.
Victor Carrillo, chairman of the Texas Railroad Commission, blamed Republican voters for his upset loss, issuing a press release saying, in effect, that his name lost him the race.
He didn't say, but maybe should have, that he left to chance a reelection contest that was his to lose. His funding was paltry by statewide standards — he spent less than candidates often spend in congressional and Senate races that involve much smaller numbers of voters.
Former state Sen. David Sibley, R-Waco, is talking to people about getting back into the Legislature when Sen. Kip Averitt, R-Waco, gets out.
Averitt decided after filing for reelection that he wants to do something else, but it was too late to get off of the ballot and without any effort, he won the GOP nomination Tuesday night for a job he no longer wants.
He's got two decisions to make. He's the GOP candidate until he withdraws his name from consideration. And he's a state senator until he resigns or his term ends.
If and when he withdraws his name from consideration for reelection, the chairs of the ten county Republican parties in SD-22 will vote to choose a successor to put on the ballot. Darren Yancy, who lost to Averitt on Tuesday, would like to get that support, but Sibley is working the chairs, too.
Averitt could resign from office, setting up a special election, before he takes his name off of the ballot. The local party people wouldn't be required to give the November ballot spot to the winner of that special election, but the results could sway their decision. Averitt has to resign by the first week of April to force a May election; after that, Gov. Rick Perry would have the option of calling an election immediately or waiting until the next election date, in November.
Reached on the phone after the election, Averitt said he's not ready to make a comment about his plans, other than repeating his desire to leave: "I am out of here."
Political People and Their Moves
Frank Sturzl, who is retiring from the Texas Municipal League after 31 years, will land at HillCo Partners when he's done at TML. He'll head the municipal practice, naturally enough, at that lobbying and public affairs firm.
State Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, joins the Cantey Hanger law firm as Of Counsel " with an emphasis on assisting clients in regulatory, public policy and legislative issues," the firm says in a press release. She'll work in a division led by Brian Newby, former chief of staff to Gov. Rick Perry.
Daniela Santoni is joining the Texas Democratic Party as deputy communications director heading up their Spanish language press efforts. She was most recently an organizer for Southwest Workers Union and previously worked in the Texas House.
Austin native Corbin Casteel, a former finance director at the Republican Party of Texas, is joining forces with fellow Republican political operative Ryan Erwin to form a national political consulting firm, Casteel, Erwin & Associates. Casteel recently ran Texas Railroad Commissioner Michael William's reelection campaign and continues to advise Williams in his bid for U.S. Senate.
Press Corps Moves: Clay Robison, longtime Houston Chronicle bureau chief, joined the Texas State Teacher's Association as a communications specialist. He will be the media contact for TSTA and will write news releases and articles for the TSTA web page and Advocate magazine. Most recently, Robison did the press work for Democrat Tom Schieffer's aborted gubernatorial bid.
Quotes of the Week
Gov. Rick Perry, accepting the GOP's nomination on Election Night: "I think the message is pretty clear. Conservatism has never been stronger than it is today. We're taking our country back, one vote at a time, one election at a time."
Democrat Bill White, doing the same on the other side: "It's time we moved this state forward, don't you think?"
The Cook Political Report senior editor Jennifer Duffy, designating the Texas gubernatorial race a toss-up: "White is probably the strongest gubernatorial candidate Democrats have nominated since Ann Richards was the party's standard bearer in 1990."
Political analyst Peck Young on a Republican's chances of winning in left-leaning Travis County: "You've got to be running against Dracula."
SBOE incumbent Don McLeroy on Election Night with what turned out to be a correct projection: "I think I lost... but I'm not conceding."
Rep. Tommy Merritt, R-Longview, on losing to Tea Party candidate David Simpson: "The Tea Party people were just out for a scalp on a stick."
Incumbent Republican Railroad Commissioner Victor Carrillo, in a letter to supporters on why he lost his primary bid for reelection: "Given the choice between 'Porter' and 'Carrillo' — unfortunately, the Hispanic-surname was a serious setback from which I could never recover."
Democratic senatorial candidate John Sharp in a press release on Washington pols for trying to talk someone out of resigning early for a job he himself wants: "A lot of partisan politicians in Washington are asking Kay Bailey Hutchison to do what is best for her political party instead of what may be best for her family or Texas."
Farouk Shami, when his electoral hopes were still alive and well, on his vision of holding office: "When I'm the governor, you're the governor! Everybody is the governor!"
Texas Weekly: Volume 27, Issue 9, 8 March 2010. Ross Ramsey, Editor. Copyright 2010 by The Texas Tribune. 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) 716-8600 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. For news, email email@example.com, or call (512) 716-8611.