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Analysis: Notes on a Texas Primary Election

This year’s political upheaval is nearly complete, at least in Texas. Most of what the state’s voters were going to get done in this election cycle got done on Tuesday.

People stand in line to vote for the primaries at the Flawn Academic Center on the University of Texas campus on March 1, 2016.

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This year’s political upheaval is nearly complete, at least in Texas. Most of what the state’s voters were going to get done in this election cycle got done on Tuesday.

They had their say on presidential nominees. About two-thirds of them kept voting after they were finished with that race, opting to keep all but four of the incumbents who were seeking reelection to state office and setting the table for a general election in which most of the races were predetermined when elected politicians drew the state's political maps.

Some highlights:

• Turnout was huge. In fact, it was almost exactly the same as in 2008 — the last time the presidential candidates got to Texas before the nominations were locked up. The parties were flipped this time, though.

In 2008, when Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton were still battling for the nomination, more than 2.8 million Democrats and about 1.4 million Republicans voted in the primaries. This year, it was 2.8 million Republicans and 1.4 million Democrats. The total both years was just more than 4.2 million.

That’s 22.3 percent of the state’s current voting age population; 30 percent of the state’s registered voters.

• Voter falloff was huge, too. One third of the Republicans and slightly fewer Democrats who voted in the top statewide race — the one for president — didn’t vote in the bottom race for one of three slots on the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. That’s about normal for Texas primary elections; lots of voters come for the race they know most about and skip the rest.

How many people walked away? A total of nearly 1.4 million voters, including 897,140 Republicans and 476,665 Democrats.

• Twenty-two primary races — six on the Democratic side and 16 on the Republican — will be settled in May 24 runoffs, since no candidate got 50 percent or more of the vote.

Only three runoffs — all in Texas House contests — involve incumbents. State Reps. Doug Miller, R-New Braunfels, Ron Reynolds, D-Missouri City, and Wayne Smith, R-Baytown, could still lose to someone from their own political party.

Three more runoffs will determine who gets to face an incumbent in the November general election: one each for a seat in Congress, on the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals and on the State Board of Education.

• Unless Texans are ready to put a Libertarian, a Green or an Independent in office, voters have already decided on 10 congressional races, four of the eight State Board of Education races on this year’s ballots, 12 of the 16 state Senate spots up for election, and 97 of the 150 contests for spots in the Texas House.

You can safely tell your friends and family that the Texas House will have at least 59 Republicans and 38 Democrats when members are sworn in next January, and that at least six Democrats and six Republicans are joining the 15 senators already seated.

The current 36-member Texas congressional delegation has 11 Democrats; eight of the Democrats on the ballot are already assured seats in the next Congress, along with two Republicans.

If the current political districts remain as predictable in the general election as they have proven to be in the last few elections, most of the candidates still on the ballot face opponents who have only slim chances of winning. Only one of the state’s congressional districts — the 23rd, which stretches from El Paso to San Antonio and includes most of the state’s border with Mexico — is considered competitive in a general election. The rest are lopsided in favor of the Democrats (11 districts) or the Republicans (24 districts).

The state Senate maps are similarly tilted. Unless somebody slips on a banana peel, the Texas Senate will have a few new faces but the same party mix: 11 Democrats and 20 Republicans.

There’s a little more play in the Texas House, where the mix during last year’s regular session was 98 Republicans and 52 Democrats. In the 2014 elections, the major-party statewide candidates were separated, on average, by less than 10 percentage points in only nine House districts. In 96 districts, the Republican candidates beat the Democratic candidates by more than that.

Most of the changes in the state’s political roster take place in primaries, and for all but a small number of candidates, the year’s races have effectively ended.

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