Lawmakers considering re-election next year will get their first test with the semiannual campaign finance reports out next month.
Under state law, those lawmakers can’t begin fundraising until Monday, the day after the veto deadline for Gov. Greg Abbott, giving them just over a week before the June 30 filing period cutoff. And in that period, some might try to haul in as much money as they can to try to scare challengers off when the reports start to come out July 15.
“It’s a sign that there’s planning going on, that there’s enough support that’s going to be there,” said Democratic consultant James Aldrete. “And it does send an important message. There’s no doubt.”
Still, Aldrete and other consultants say, the reports are just a small indicator of support a candidate might see as the race progresses. As GOP consultant Corbin Casteel said, those numbers are “a snapshot of today,” for both incumbents looking to overpower challengers and for candidates hoping to stick out in a crowded primary.
“Obviously, financial strength is a big part of the campaign, but it’s not indicative of what it takes to win or lose, that’s for sure,” Casteel said. “But you’d rather have money than not.”
A handful of primaries are already taking shape, particularly for those allied with House Speaker Joe Straus. State Reps. Byron Cook and Charlie Geren got primary challenges before the close of the legislative session; so did state Rep. Jim Keffer, R-Eastland, who announced this week he won’t seek re-election.
Cook, R-Corsicana, faces a challenge from Thomas NcNutt, whose family manages the Collin Street Bakery, famous for its mail order fruitcakes. Geren, R-Fort Worth, faces Bo French, who was the COO of Craft International, the company that the late Navy SEAL sniper Chris Kyle founded.
But massive campaign warchests — either this early on or later in the race — don’t decide the winner, consultants say. Just look at David Dewhurst’s primary election loss against Lt Gov. Dan Patrick — or Dewhurst’s early fundraising advantage over U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz in 2012.
Those dynamics can also play out in non-statewide races.
“There are plenty of underdog candidates that pull things off with much smaller bank accounts,” GOP consultant Jennifer Naedler said.
The Democratic side will likely see significantly fewer party primaries, Aldrete said, with the party focused on knocking off Republican lawmakers, particularly those in districts where demographics are changing to favor Democrats.
One potential primary could be a rematch between state Sen. José Menéndez and state Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, both San Antonio Democrats. Menéndez trounced Martinez Fischer in a special election earlier this year for the Senate seat.
Aldrete worked on the Martinez Fischer campaign during that race and emphasized he hasn’t heard from Martinez Fischer on whether he will run for the Senate seat again. But Aldrete noted the low turnout in the special election meant typical Democratic voters — especially ones who only vote during presidential years — didn’t show up to the polls.
“Democratic primary voters haven’t had a say in that race,” Aldrete said.