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Analysis: To Every Wing, There is a Season

The primaries and runoffs are out of the way. The state conventions are over. The hot arguments that produced the state party platforms have cooled. And the power of the most partisan Republicans and Democrats is ebbing with the season.

Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump are facing off in the 2016 presidential election.

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Political clout varies with the seasons, and for the Republican Party’s right wing, the peak season is ending.

The primaries and runoffs are out of the way. The state convention is over. The hot arguments that produced a state party platform have cooled.

If Republicans had a normal candidate for president, this is when the party's attention would be turning a bit to the left, away from devout conservatives already in the fold and toward the moderates who could make the difference between winning or losing in November’s general election.

The same is true for the Texas Democratic Party’s left wing, but as a political minority of a political minority, it doesn’t really have a high season. Texas Democrats can run as far to the left as Democratic voters can stand — with little effect on the general election outcomes. In statewide races, neither liberal nor conservative Democrats have been competitive in some time. And in all but a few congressional and legislative races, the partisanship of political districts is so entrenched that Democrats hold little sway at any point in the process.

The many red districts elect Republicans. The few blue ones elect Democrats. Simple as that.

The primaries were the party battlegrounds, where moderates and purists had their battles, and the winners have moved on to the largely predictable next round.

It’s harder for the purists to win when the parties are competitive. Think of Goldilocks and the not-too-hot-not-too-cold formula. A just-right candidate is the one who can remain with their party while not moving uncomfortably far from the middle of the spectrum, where some of the voters are.

Extremists usually don’t win races when there's legitimate two-party competition, but they’re safe in the other districts and their best season comes during the primaries. Wing-tip candidates in both parties have their best shots in the intra-party fights.

That’s out of the way, and the game changes now to the voters who could support either a Democrat or a Republican, depending on the subject matter of the elections.

Here’s how to tell if you’re in a competitive state. Are your incumbent officeholders more likely to face a credible challenge in the first part of the year or the second? If it’s the first part — the primaries — you’re in a non-competitive state. If the big fights lead up to November, you’re in a competitive state.

For politicians who’ve done battle with factions within their parties — thinking of Republicans like House Speaker Joe Straus of San Antonio or state Reps. Byron Cook of Corsicana and Wayne Smith of Baytown — the fights were in the early part of the year. Straus won easily. He’s as close as a politician can get to having a lock on a fifth term as speaker. Cook won in a squeaker. He’ll remember this as a tough year, but he won’t be thinking about November when that memory comes around. Smith lost his runoff to Briscoe Cain, a newcomer who doesn’t even have a Democratic opponent in the fall.

Texas is not a competitive state.

Another way to tell: The Republican nominee for president didn’t make an appearance at the GOP’s state convention last month in Dallas. And you didn’t see anybody but Texas politicians at the Democratic convention in San Antonio last weekend.

The fight is somewhere else.

The many red districts elect Republicans. The few blue ones elect Democrats. Simple as that.

Unless you’re in El Paso, you probably won’t see any of the coming television war between Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump. They’ll be spending their money in states where outcomes are uncertain. El Paso gets to watch because New Mexico is in play, and El Paso television reaches a lot of households in Las Cruces and other parts of southern New Mexico.

Both of the candidates have been to Texas and will stop here again, but they’ll be mining for money, not for votes. Barring a big change in political behavior — a phrase that would cover voter turnout, changed minds or both — Texas will remain in the Republican column.

Democrats have some distance to go before they change that. Meanwhile, the Republicans who’d like a more conservative state government than the one in place have already had their chance to change the direction. March was their opportunity to turn things to the right, the time when their voices were loudest.

That’s over now. The few remaining competitive races will likely go to candidates steering toward the middle of the road.

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Politics 2016 elections