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MARCH 2, 2016
2016 Primary Election Recap

by Jim Dow

Statewide Results

More than 4.2 million Texans cast ballots in yesterday’s primary. A tiny number of precincts still haven’t reported, but when the dust settles, total participation will fall in at 30%. For the sake of historical comparison, voter engagement was actually higher in 2008 when 33% of Texans cast ballots. Otherwise, 2016 looks like 2008 turned on its head. Republican participation in yesterday’s election almost exactly doubled Democratic turnout, 2.8M Rs to 1.4M Ds. 2008’s turnout went >2:1 the other way, 2.9M Ds to 1.3M Rs.

2016 Turnout

  • Democrat 1.4M
  • Republican 2.8M

2008 Turnout

  • Democrat 2.9M
  • Republican 1.3M

These numbers in and of themselves don’t mean that much. We all know how the apparent enthusiasm for the Democratic contest in 2008 has (NOT) borne out over time. High turnout primary elections, though, do mean a great deal to data collectors. Identifying willing partisans through primary participation can be a great boon to smart consultants. So, the operative question of today is this: What will the respective parties and their operatives make of this new data set?

Based on the down ballot results—pretty good overall for incumbent/establishment/recognizably-named Republicans, in my view—the new voter file from last night’s election could be a game changing asset to the status quo team. The side with the best voter list has had a lot of success in the past few (lower turnout) statewide primary elections and huge success in the super low turnout runoffs that follow. Witness the 2014 Republican primary runoffs wherein the team that could call out their voters by name ran the table. I believe this is the boring, untold secret of Texas politics today: Lists really matter.

I believe this is the boring, untold secret of Texas politics today: Lists really matter.

Combine last night’s huge new list of 2.8M names with all of the consumer data and voter modeling that exists today and the result could be power-shifting. Who is actually willing to do that work and whether it gets done at all is the overriding question, in my mind. Data analytics is the worst kind of grinding, unsexy work to many in the consulting class—a group that generally favors their mouths and keyboards over granular data and spreadsheets. Again, we’ve already seen what great hay the Democrats made of 2008’s data dump. But maybe mainline Texas Republicans will get it right this time.


Gary Gates leads into the runoff for the Republican nomination for the Railroad Commission. Former State Representative Wayne Christian over-performed a lot of expectations after running what can only be described as a “low energy” campaign.

Former State Representative, and erstwhile unregistered lobbyist, Lon Burnam surprised many by running a distant third in the Democratic nominating contest for the Railroad Commission, failing to make the runoff. The eventual Democratic nominee will lose to whomever the Republicans place on November’s ballot.

Justice Eva Guzman, formerly appointed, has finally put to rest the sad storyline that candidates with Hispanic surnames lose by default in statewide Republican primaries. She won by nearly 20%, no less.

Texas House Races

Speaker Straus had a good night. The math for a real Speaker’s race has never existed since Straus took the office, but last night’s primary should help put that discussion finally to bed. (Though it won’t, unfortunately.)

The big surprise of the night was Chairman Byron Cook’s come from behind win. Early voting looked bleak for Cook, but election day turnout carried him to a 222 vote win, early this morning. The anti-Straus coalition went all in against him and the prevailing wisdom in the lobby went that they were going to get that win. They didn’t, and the the symbolic victory of the night went to House leadership instead.

A few incumbents did lose. Freshman Stuart Spitzer in East Texas; Marsha Farney from Georgetown; Freshman Molly White from Belton; and Debbie Riddle from Harris County.

The big surprise on the Democratic side was Gina Hinojosa’s outright win in Austin’s House District 49. This was a seven person field, with several other good candidates in the fray.

As things stand today, there will be 20 freshmen in the House class of 2017. Barring a national political meltdown—which you shouldn’t—it seems likely to me that the Democrats will pick up at least 3 seats in the fall. If things get really crazy, that number might go as high as 6. This matters very little as it would still leave their numbers in the 50s in the 150-person House.


On the Republican side, Chairman Wayne Smith of Baytown and Chairman Doug Miller of New Braunfels have both been forced into runoffs. There will be open seat runoffs in Districts 5 (East Texas), 18 (East Texas), 33 (Frisco), 54 (Killeen), and 64 (Denton).

On the Democratic side, Ron Reynolds of Missouri City is now facing a runoff in addition to his indictment on charges of barratry. There will be open seat runoffs in District 120 (San Antonio) and 139 (Houston).

Texas Senate Races

In Bexar County, Senator Carlos Uresti ran 3 to 1 over Helen Madla. This race was never in doubt, but Uresti took the opportunity to shore up his district in an impressive way.

In East Texas’ SD 1, Bryan Hughes nearly ran over 50% in a four person field. Election day voters brought him down to 48%. State Representative David Simpson looks to be headed into the runoff with a 13 vote lead over third place finisher General Red Brown. That will likely lead to a recount. Fighting over the difference between 21.25% and 21.26% of the vote is not an auspicious place to begin your come from behind narrative heading into the runoff.

Dr. Dawn Buckingham and State Representative Susan King are headed for a runoff in the sprawling Central to West Texas Senate District 24. Ms. King surprised many by leading into the runoff with 27% of the vote. Dr. Buckingham trailed two points behind. If recent history in Republican runoffs is any fair indicator, Dr. Buckingham is the likely frontrunner going forward.

There will be no competitive Senate races in the Fall.


Senator Jose Menendez crushed State Representative Trey Martinez Fischer in a race that everyone, including the candidates themselves, thought would be much closer than it was. This was a good outcome for the body of the Senate. Senator Menendez’s peaceful demeanor has been popular with his peers.

Presidential Race Update

For what it’s worth, and it’s not much, I believe the general view of the Presidential race is too small right now. The narrative of today—ie. “Nothing will ever stick to Donald Trump. NOTHING! AAAGH!”—is too much informed by what’s going on in the Republican contest at this instant. Notwithstanding Marco Rubio’s recent brutal attacks, the field and the establishment really haven’t laid a glove on him yet. When he settles in as the nominee, which seems very likely at this point, consider how the Democrats will do things differently. They will joyfully spend hundreds of millions dollars attacking him, without fear of offending the part of the electorate that might take offense. Those paid attacks will annihilate him with independents, especially women (read: the people who decide Presidential elections). They could also substantially drive hispanic turnout. Finally, I’m skeptical of a proud billionaire’s ability to maintain the mantle of populist champion in the face of the onslaught he’s about to see.

This race isn’t going to shape up as a positive referendum on who we want leading America.

I’ll concede that Hillary Clinton is a flawed candidate in many ways, but she’s a fully vetted flawed candidate. This race isn’t going to shape up as a positive referendum on who we want leading America. It’s going to be the ugliest of my lifetime and I fail to see how it stays close when it slimes its way onto the big stage.

That will have huge implications down ballot. There are so few competitive districts in Texas that it won’t bear out much here, although it will mean a lot in a few places. Nationally, it could completely derail Republicans chances of holding the Senate where they’re working with a tough map in the first place.

Smarter people than me have told me I’m underestimating Hillary’s downside. Others have real fears of nightmare scenarios involving ISIS or economic calamity that would fundamentally change the dialogue. But if all things remain equal, we should just burrow in and get ready for Act II of the most depressing election season ever.


House Ways and Means Chairman Kevin Brady escaped a runoff earning 53% of the vote. This was the good news of the night for Texas.

Pete Gallego won the Democratic nomination for CD23. That will be rematch with Republican Congressman Will Hurd. That district leans Democratic in Presidential years. But this is a weird Presidential year.

CD19 will be settled after a Republican runoff between Jodey Arrington and Glen Robertson.

CD15 will be settled after a Democratic runoff between Sonny Palacios and Vicente Gonzalez. Gonzalez leads substantially going in.