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Analysis: Tuesday Aside, It Was All Over in March

If you want to know how the officeholders you elected on Tuesday will govern, look at how they ran and what the voters responded to.

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The election produced few competitive contests, but Tuesday’s results answered some questions about the direction of the state.

The Democrats’ notion that Republicans had taken things too far to the right and that voters would deliver some corrective instructions was repudiated. Instead, voters ratified many of the ideas that animated the conservative wave in 2010.

For clues about how the newly elected will govern when they take office in January, look to how they got there in the first place.

Voters were clear about their wishes. As in 2010, they were concerned about the border and immigration. They remain wary of the federal government, particularly the Democrat in the White House. And they seem to think things are going just fine in Texas, which in politics means most incumbents are safe.

They also rejected the notion that the state could use a little more blue in its political palette.

This year’s mandates come as much from the Republican primaries of last spring as the general election. For most of the statewide winners, the primaries were much more difficult, with more debates, forums and policy differences than the general election contests.

Lt. Gov.-elect Dan Patrick only debated once with his Democratic opponent, state Sen. Leticia Van de Putte. The primary was different, pitting him against three statewide officials and featuring debates and arguments over issues like Senate rules, abortion laws, immigration and the state’s duties on the border. Patrick ran to the right during the primary, pushing the other candidates into a conversation about who was the most conservative — and winning the support of voters along the way.

The significance of that: Patrick made few adjustments when it came time to debate Van de Putte. Instead of softening his positions to attract more moderate voters, Patrick stayed the course, talking up the same positions that he had taken in a Republican primary dominated by the state’s most conservative voters.

He had it right, according to this week’s election results. Turnout was abysmal — even lower than in 2010 — but voters’ choice was clear: Patrick won by nearly 20 percentage points. Republicans swept the statewide offices as they have done every year since 1996. The party’s candidates won in the only congressional and state Senate races deemed competitive, and added three seats in the state House, bringing them to within two of a supermajority.

Greg Abbott’s winning margin in the governor’s race was even larger than Patrick’s, surpassing Gov. Rick Perry’s re-election numbers in 2010 as Wendy Davis, a Democrat, fell well short of the mark set by Bill White that year.

Abbott said in one TV ad that a vote for Davis was essentially a vote for President Obama. It even featured a nameplate on an official-looking desk: Gov. Barack Obama. That was the current variation on 2010’s catching melody of Texas vs. Washington, and it was popular. That theme gives the winners the opportunity to operate the state the way Republican primary voters would like to see it run, without worrying that general election voters might disagree.

After all, voters handed them a lopsided endorsement. Abbott, announcing his transition plans the day after the election, laid out a wish list that included job creation, “elevating our schools,” and building the state’s transportation and water infrastructure. He maintained the distance he created during the campaign between his view of state business incentive funds and Perry’s view, saying the programs need evaluation and some overhaul. And he picked up the federalism cudgel again.

“Americans want people in office to address their priorities,” he said. “It wasn’t just in Texas. They want to see government officials at all levels doing all they can to secure the border. They want government to get out of their lives as much as possible, let the private sector create jobs.” He added that Americans want the government “to focus on the issues that will genuinely improve people’s lives.”

Given Tuesday’s results, and the results of those Republican primaries last spring, his agenda — and the Texas Legislature’s — will be seasoned with other issues, like immigration, border security and a testy relationship with the federal government.

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