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Notes on a Runoff

The high points and the low ones. Lessons learned and earlier lessons that were forgotten. Low turnout, unfortunate incumbents, successful climbers, the Hispanic Thing, the races ahead, the turnover and some things to help understand what happened on Tuesday.

Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst on July 31, 2012, in Houston addressing the crowd at a watch party following the announcement that he lost the U.S. Senate runoff to Ted Cruz.

1. Grassroots plus money beats money alone. Ted Cruz out-retailed Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and in a very low turnout election (maybe even in a big one, but that's untested), that retail matters. Cruz connected with voters and Dewhurst didn't. His apparent distance from the electorate was especially dangerous in a year when voters were out to get the establishment. Rick Perry won his last race for governor by overcoming his incumbency and convincing voters he was listening and that Kay Bailey Hutchison was not. (Throw Debra Medina in there, too; she finished third in the race but showed everybody else that there was a rich populist vein in the electorate.) Dewhurst didn't take the lesson, but Cruz — a conservative intellectual and Harvard lawyer who makes for a very unlikely everyman — did. The populist, entrepreneurial candidate beat the patrician organization man.

2. It wasn't about the Tea Party, but grabbed that movement's sensibilities. Dewhurst and Cruz are Exhibit A: Lots of differences on style and approach and the ability to connect. Not much difference on position. Donna Campbell, a bona fide Tea Party candidate, beat Sen. Jeff Wentworth of San Antonio with the unsolicited help of Texans for Lawsuit Reform and San Antonio Republicans who wanted to change horses. Wes Riddle, a Tea Party favorite in CD-25, got beat by former Secretary of State Roger Williams. On a night with mixed messages with voters, it was clear that acting like a member of the ruling class was risky.

3. It doesn't take many people to win a summer runoff. The Republican primary for U.S. Senate drew 1,111,481 voters; 555,741 was enough to win. Democrats drew 235,895 for their top race, which means 117,948 was enough for a ticket to November. There are 13.1 million registered voters in the state, and more than 18 million people of voting age. They invested their power in 673,689 of their fellow citizens.

4. Voters are attracted to a fight, if they know about it. See the Republican vs. Democratic turnout above.

5. Incumbents had a lousy night. Wentworth, Supreme Court Justice David Medina, and state Reps. Chuck Hopson, Jim Landtroop and Sid Miller all got whacked. Railroad Commissioner Barry Smitherman and Rep. J.M. Lozano got out alive.

6. Climbers did a little better. State Reps. Pete Gallego, Marc Veasey and Randy Weber all won nominations for congressional seats. Dewhurst and state Rep. Warren Chisum lost their races for Senate and Railroad Commission.

7. Democrats tapped San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro to deliver the keynote at their national convention, a move that will underscore differences between the parties for the Latino voters they covet. The announcement came on the same day Republicans turned their eyes to Texas, where Cruz was and is getting national attention in the U.S. Senate race. On the state level, Justice David Medina was on the ballot in what some (but not all) see as a test of how Texas Republicans regard Hispanic surnames on their primary ballots. GOP voters presented a good argument and not only in the Senate race, nominating Jason Villalba to a Dallas House seat and advancing Rep. J.M. Lozano of Kingsville to the general election after his switch from the Democrats to the Republicans last year.

8. Looking for competition in November? Both major parties have candidates in the U.S. Senate race, one Railroad Commission race and a couple of statewide judicial races. There are only a couple of competitive congressional races apparent from this distance, only one Senate race, and only about a dozen House races. Most of the table was set in the primaries.

9. As is normal in redistricting years, the turnover is high. So far, it's known that three members of the congressional delegation won't be back, that five senators are gone and that 40 House members either moved on or were moved out by voters. So far.

10. We won't repeat our other work, but you can poke through the details of the election at these links:

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2012 elections