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What Surprised Pundits and Pollsters on Primary Night

Primary night always provides some surprises, particularly when the election is later than usual. But some races caught even the best predictors off-guard. Here’s a look at the races where some pundits and pollsters got fooled.

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Primary night can be unpredictable — no surprise there — and a later-than-usual election can be full of even more surprises. But some races caught even the best prognosticators off-guard. Here’s a look at races, from Congress to the Texas Legislature, where some pundits and pollsters got fooled.

— Everyone thought state Sen. Jeff Wentworth, R-San Antonio, was headed for a runoff in SD-25 — but the money was on well-funded former Railroad Commissioner Elizabeth Ames Jones to go with him. Instead, it was emergency room doctor Donna Campbell who pushed Wentworth into extra innings. In Travis County alone, Campbell and her low-budget bid outpaced Wentworth and Jones, snatching 45 percent of the vote. 

— Former El Paso City Council member Beto O’Rourke avoided a highly anticipated runoff election in CD-16, narrowly defeating incumbent U.S. Rep. Silvestre Reyes by about 2,800 votes. Reyes, who had received President Obama’s endorsement and got former President Bill Clinton to campaign for him, was the sixth U.S. House incumbent knocked out this election cycle.    

— Two longtime Democratic members of Congress – CD-30’s Eddie Bernice Johnson and CD-35’s Lloyd Doggett — sailed to victory with little trouble, despite facing what were perceived to be tougher-than-usual primary challengers. Doggett, forced into a new district that was largely Hispanic and centered in San Antonio, defeated Sylvia Romo by a 71 percent-23 percent margin. Earning 70 percent of the vote, Johnson made quick work of former state Rep. Barbara Mallory Caraway and Harvard-educated lawyer Taj Clayton. Despite a slick ad and a campaign manager who was Obama’s 2008 national field director, Clayton only received 12 percent of the vote; Caraway, who has higher name ID, got 18 percent.

— Lots of people thought state Rep. Rob Eissler, R-The Woodlands, was in for a fight in HD-15; he'd been targeted by Tea Party supporters who believed he wasn't conservative enough. But few thought the influential House Public Education Committee chairman would lose to social conservative challenger Steve Toth without depleting his campaign cash; eight days before the election, Eissler still had more than $650,000 sitting in the bank.

— In the Democratic primary for U.S. Senate, the money was on Sean Hubbard, a former sales and billing clerk, to follow former state Rep. Paul Sadler into the runoff. Instead, Hubbard finished last, and little-known San Antonio educator Grady Yarbrough will join Sadler in the runoff. The finish seemed to take even Yarbrough by surprise.

— Judge Sharon Keller, the Republican Court of Criminal Appeals incumbent who ran unopposed, received 997,077 votes — the most votes out of all candidates running in Texas. She even outpaced presidential contender Mitt Romney, who picked up 995,949 votes in Texas and clinched the Republican nomination.

— Despite the Fort Bend County Democratic Party's desperate (and highly unusual) endorsement of K.P. George in the CD-22 primary, Kesha Rogers — a devotee of Lyndon LaRouche who has called for the impeachment of President Obama — was again the victor. (Of the three counties in the district, Fort Bend was the only one where she didn't get a majority of the vote.) She’s unlikely to win in the general election against U.S. Rep. Pete Olson, R-Sugar Land; Democrats won’t campaign for her, and the district is heavily Republican. 

— Many thought state Sen. Mike Jackson was headed for a runoff in the new CD-36 in southeast Texas — but he couldn't swing it. He ended up coming in third in the Republican primary, after Steve Stockman and Stephen Takach.

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2012 elections