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What to Watch for When Primary Results Come

The long-delayed Texas primaries finally arrive Tuesday, and the results should offer a peek into the current political climate and a forecast of the state's politics over the next two years.

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Tuesday’s long-delayed Texas primary won’t decide the Republican presidential nomination. That would have been in play during the regularly scheduled March primary, but redistricting litigation moved the date back, and the thrill is gone. But the primary will decide legislative and other nominations, and it could answer some questions that aren’t even on the ballot.

Who wins the establishment-versus-insurgent battle in the Republican Party?
The Tea Party snuck up and walloped so many legislators in 2010 that the idea of a battle for the soul of the Republican Party has become unshakable. It is the question of the year, which means it was a big deal in the last election and makes for easy — if sometimes flaky — analysis. Texas voters will get several swings at this, starting with the Republican race for United States Senate.

Will new redistricting maps cost any incumbents their seats?
Watch state Rep. Wayne Christian, R-Center, who is running in a six-county district with four counties he has never represented. Or state Rep. James White, R-Hillister, who has four new counties in his district and a fellow incumbent running against him. Or state Rep. Chuck Hopson, R-Jacksonville, whose district’s newest county has enough people in it to serve as a serious geographic threat to his continued service. Or U.S. Reps. Kenny Marchant and Joe Barton, both of the Dallas area, who face insurgent challengers in redrawn districts. Redistricting protects some incumbents and political parties from harm while putting others on the hit list.

What kinds of candidates win in open seats?
A variation on the Republican-versus-Republican idea, but it is not always about party. The new Congressional District 33 sprawls across the Dallas-Tarrant county line. That is a geographical divide of historical significance. The district, whose population has voted strongly for Democrats in the last two statewide elections, has large black and Hispanic populations — another divide. The field is big, with state Rep. Marc Veasey of Fort Worth and former state Rep. Domingo Garcia of Dallas the perceived front-runners among 15 candidates, and a runoff is nearly certain. Another example: in CD-25, Republicans are battling over a remarkable splotch on the map that runs from south of Austin north to Fort Worth. It is another geographic battle, another likely runoff and another lens into what is going on inside the political parties in 2012.

Does Gov. Rick Perry’s busy endorsement tour put anyone over the top? Does it bury anyone?
The political adage is that endorsements do more for the endorsers than the endorsees, but they make the endorsees feel better. Is that so? Do the governor’s post-presidential campaign words of support still offer comfort or attract supporters?

Do the four Republican open seats in the state Senate go to movement conservatives?
Four Republican senators decided not to seek re-election this year, and the races to replace them feature all varieties of conservatives. It is possible the new folks will be more conservative than the senators they are replacing. It is possible they will not. The answer will help determine what the next Texas Senate is like.

How about the nobodies?
They are on the ballot. Near the top, even. But their fates are largely out of their hands. Statewide candidates for the Railroad Commission and for the state’s highest courts put themselves up for the approval of voters who, to be charitable, know more about last week’s American Idol contestants. They win, or not, on other cues: gender, race, interesting names, whatever. Incumbents get sent home. Strange candidates win. This is a funny way to apply for a job.

Who will show up?
Will older Texans — the ones who vote in every bond, school board, city council and constitutional amendment election — own the day? Or will this election fall under the influence of activists? Then there is the geography of the election. Dallas and Fort Worth and the areas around them have a disproportionate number of competitive local races that could draw more voters and give the area a disproportionate voice in statewide contests.

What about the Democrats? Is there life on the other side of the political ledger?
Texas Democrats have compiled a dismal record that renders them easy to ignore in most state races. Once upon a time, that was the story of Texas Republicans, and they eventually came out of it. The primaries won’t necessarily tell the story of whether the Democrats can do the same, but they might reveal a decent candidate here and there, and maybe even someone who can take a Republican in November, if circumstances are right.

How do the rich folks do?
Texas is wide open when it comes to campaign finance. In state races, anybody can give as much as they want to any candidate, so long as it is correctly reported. Corporate and union money is restricted, but there are also ways to work that money into the equation. Now the federal races are catching up, with Super PACs playing heavily in the race for U.S. Senate and in some of the state’s congressional races. All that is left to sort out if — and how — the big money changed things this year.

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