Analysis: The Winner-Take-Some Texas Primaries

Texans cast their ballots at the Highland Mall mega-center voting site on Nov. 4, 2014.
Texans cast their ballots at the Highland Mall mega-center voting site on Nov. 4, 2014.

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Every presidential candidate wants to win in Texas, but the state’s major parties will also be rewarding second- and even third-place finishers in this year’s primaries.

It’s not a winner-take-all state unless a winner proves to be extravagantly popular with Texas voters.

In all likelihood, the Republicans and the Democrats will be awarding delegates to the top candidates in proportion to the votes they receive. Winning just one vote in five might sound bad in the headlines, but it could add to the all-important delegate tallies that will ultimately determine the party nominees.

The two parties allocate their delegates differently, but with the same idea in mind: sending a delegation to the national conventions that reflects the voting for top candidates here.

 

The Republican Party of Texas has a winner-take-all provision in its primary, and the chances any candidate will get all of that party’s Texas delegates are very small. That candidate would have to win more than 50 percent of the vote statewide, and also in each of the state’s 36 congressional districts, to run the table.

It would be even harder for a Democrat to get all of the delegates on March 1. That would require winning 85 percent of the vote statewide and in each of Texas’ 31 state Senate districts.

Both are theoretically possible, but with so many candidates, unlikely. Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders are the best-known Democrats in the race, but there are eight presidential candidates on that party’s ballot. And the list of Republicans includes the people still on the debate stages — Jeb Bush, Ben Carson, Ted Cruz, John Kasich, Marco Rubio and Donald Trump — along with seven others who are either less well-known or who have stopped campaigning.

It’s a mob scene — the kind of race where it would be difficult to win a clear majority. That’s why second- and third-place finishes could be valuable. Here are the rules.

Republicans

The Republicans have 2,472 national delegates, including 155 from Texas. It’ll take 1,237 to win.

The state GOP doles out delegates in two batches: 47 of them are awarded based on statewide results, and 108 are awarded based on the results in each of the state’s 36 congressional districts.

How many a candidate gets depends on how well the candidate does. Winning more than half of the state votes gets a candidate all of the 47 delegates at stake. If the top candidate has fewer than half of the votes, the delegates are assigned on a proportional basis, but there is a nuance there, too. If the lead candidate is the only one with more than 20 percent of the vote, that candidate splits delegates on a proportional basis with the second-place finisher. Nobody else gets any delegates. If more than one candidate gets 20 percent or more, each of them gets delegates on a proportional basis. And if no candidate gets more than 20 percent, all of the candidates win delegates based on each one’s proportion of the vote.

 

At the congressional district level, 108 delegates are at stake — three in each of the state’s 36 districts. The rules are similar to those for divvying up statewide delegates. A candidate with more than half of the votes in a district gets all three of that district’s delegates. If at least one breaks 20 percent (but not 50), the top finisher gets two delegates and the second-place finisher gets one. If no candidate breaks 20 percent in a district, each of the top three finishers gets one delegate.

Democrats

The Democrats have 4,763 national delegates, meaning it will take 2,382 to win the nomination. Of that total, 252 will come from Texas. That number includes 30 “superdelegates” from Texas, a term that refers to unpledged delegates who are not bound to a particular candidate except by their own choice. The group includes members of Congress from Texas, Democratic National Committee members and other party nobles in Texas.

Of the 222 delegates without that “super” label, 145 come out of the state’s 31 state Senate districts. The number available from each district is based on average Democratic voter turnout in the most recent general elections for president and governor. It ranges from a high of 10 delegates in Austin’s Senate District 14 to a low of two delegates in Senate District 31, which ranges from the Texas Panhandle down to the Permian Basin.

Candidates have to get at least 15 percent of the vote to get any delegates; those who meet that mark get delegates on a proportional basis.

The final 77 delegates are apportioned according to the statewide votes for the candidates. Again, anyone with at least 15 percent of the vote gets some delegates, and delegates are handed out proportionately to everyone above that mark.

The superdelegates are not bound by the primary vote; they can go with the candidate of their choice no matter how Texans vote. That makes them attractive targets for the candidates, who can win superdelegate votes with personal politicking off the campaign trail.

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