From The Woodlands to Beaumont, voters go to the polls on Tuesday to select a new state senator. Their options in the runoff contest run the gamut from conservative Republican state Rep. Brandon Creighton to conservative Republican state Rep. Steve Toth.
The race, then, to fill the vacant seat does not offer much of a clear-cut contrast between the two candidates. In other words, the race could turn on a couple of questions:
• What will turnout be like?
• How does the Tea Party break down?
Turnout is often the wild card in special elections. It would seem no less an X-factor here because of the race’s low visibility — both because of the lack of other races and the timing of the contest for the middle of the summer.
The first round of the SD-4 special election on May 10 drew 30,348 voters, about two-thirds of that total coming from Montgomery County, the GOP stronghold that is also home turf for Creighton of Conroe and Toth of The Woodlands.
Creighton is the better funded of the two candidates and in May came the closest among the four-man field to breaking the 50 percent mark to win outright. He took 45.2 percent of the vote, compared with Toth's 23.7 percent.
The general rule of thumb in this scenario is that bigger turnout helps the front-runner. Montgomery County GOP Chairman Wally Wilkerson — who is neutral in the race — said, “The only way for Toth to win is with miserable turnout.”
He said his county’s elections administrator described turnout during early voting as “satisfactory.” Still, Wilkerson was expecting turnout to be down significantly from the first round, estimating it could top out at 15,000 to 20,000 votes before revising that figure afterward to 20,000 or 25,000.
He also expected the majority of votes to come again from Montgomery County.
Both candidates claim significant Tea Party credentials. Toth won success in the first round of the special election despite his relative lack of funding because of his popularity among the grassroots Tea Party voters, to whom he is a hero for knocking off House Public Education Chairman Rob Eissler in the 2012 Republican primary.
Creighton was chairman of the House GOP Caucus and has made defending Texas’ prerogatives under the 10th Amendment a major part of his legislative agenda throughout his tenure. His campaign has also assiduously announced endorsements from local Tea Party groups in recent weeks.
Wilkerson said he took note when the area’s established Tea Party group, the Texas Patriots PAC, endorsed Creighton in the runoff. In the first round, it had recommended three of the four candidates — Creighton, Toth and The Woodlands Township Director Gordy Bunch.
A breakaway Tea Party group, the Montgomery County Tea Party, endorsed Toth, Wilkerson said. Trying to figure out who the Tea Party candidate is in Montgomery County with the proliferation of Tea Party groups as well as the number of candidates who identify themselves as Tea Party-backed is proving a challenge.
“It is a confusing mess for the voters,” said Wilkerson, who this year celebrated his 50th year as county chairman.
Early voting ends today ahead of the Tuesday election.
The seat has been empty since late October, when Tommy Williams resigned to take a job with the Texas A&M University System.