Monday marks the start of a five-day period of early voting for the May 22 primary runoffs, with Democratic and Republican voters returning to the polls to determine who advances to November’s general elections in a number of statewide and local races.
One million Democrats cast ballots in the Texas primaries on March 6, a significant jump from the approximately 560,000 who voted in the 2014 Democratic primaries. But the total number of Texas Republicans casting votes was still bigger in both primaries – 1.5 million this past March, and 1.3 million in 2014.
Historically, however, turnout for runoff elections is sharply lower than turnout for primaries, which in March was just 16 percent statewide.
But runoffs for the right to face Gov. Greg Abbott and some compelling Congressional contests, such as the 21st District’s open seat, may prompt more voter enthusiasm, said David Crockett, Trinity University’s political science department chair.
“Certainly the possibility that you have, for example, a contested Democratic runoff at the gubernatorial level will help bring some people out,” Crockett said.
“[It’s] the same way … in my congressional district, the race in 21, but even there you’ll have fewer people show up than who showed up for the original primary. They do have that contested race at the governorship, and that may draw them out. The question is whether they’ll stick with the ballot all the way down.”
Municipal runoff elections, like last summer’s mayoral showdown between Ron Nirenberg and Ivy Taylor, tend to lure more voters because more locals are engaged in such high-profile contests, said local political consultant Christian Archer.
State and federal runoffs, however, usually are not as compelling to voters, Archer said.
“I predict a fairly lackluster response to the runoffs,” he said. “I think people feel confident in who will win in the runoffs, which doesn’t bode well for the turnout.”
Democratic voters in Bexar County will be deciding on five races, including one judicial runoff, while Republicans will vote on six races, including three judicial contests. Voters who cast primary ballots in March are required to cast ballots in the same party’s runoff election in which they voted previously.
Most polls and political observers predict Abbott will have little trouble defeating either Democrat in the gubernatorial runoff – Houston businessman Andrew White or former Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez.
Although Valdez was the top vote-getter in the Democratic primary with almost 43 percent of the vote, she has embraced the role of a progressive underdog, leading a grassroots campaign against White’s more moderate, better-funded campaign.
Christy Woodward Kaupert, political science program coordinator at San Antonio College, said that if Valdez were to win, she could attract more Hispanic voters in November. Abbott is already treating Valdez as the presumptive Democratic nominee.
But, Kaupert added, many state Democrats feel White and other establishment candidates across the state have the money and political connections to win their runoffs: “Their heart maybe with Lupe, but their mind is with White.”
21st Congressional District
The race to succeed the retiring U.S. Rep. Lamar Smith (R-San Antonio) drew such a crowded field of candidates that both parties need runoffs to determine their nominees.
Republicans Matt McCall, a Boerne businessman, and Chip Roy, a former chief of staff for U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) who lives in Dripping Springs, have positioned themselves as constitutional conservatives who favor limited government, a strong military, improved border security, gun rights, and restrictions on abortion.
McCall describes himself as an outsider and Roy as a well-funded establishment insider. The well-funded Roy is backed by Smith, and by his previous bosses, Cruz and former Gov. Rick Perry.
The Democratic runoff between two first-time political candidates, Austin businessman and Army veteran Joseph Kopser and Austin educator-turned-minister Mary Street Wilson, is a match of practicality versus principles, according to political observers.
Kopser has run a moderate, well-funded campaign, focusing on enhancing public education, improving health care access, common-sense gun regulation, and tax reform. Wilson, who placed first in the March primary, has won over many liberals with her views on education, health care, economic justice, women’s rights, and the environment.
Archer supports the pragmatic Kopser, but is impressed by Wilson’s performance and idealistic stances.
“But I’d be surprised if [Kopser] didn’t turn out the vote and win,” Archer said.
23rd Congressional District
Seeking re-election to his third term, U.S. Rep. Will Hurd (R-Helotes) awaits the victor in a Democratic runoff between Air Force veteran Gina Ortiz Jones and educator Rick Treviño, both of San Antonio.
Ortiz Jones nabbed 41 percent of the vote in the Democratic primary – way ahead of Trevino’s 17 percentage haul. A former Obama administration official, Ortiz Jones has gotten endorsements and financial backing from local and national Democrats, including Emily’s List.
Treviño was a convention delegate for Bernie Sanders in 2016 and a 2017 San Antonio City Council candidate who has said he can better lead the vast swing district that stretches from parts of Bexar County west along the border to El Paso.
Regardless of who wins the Democratic runoff, both Kaupert and Archer said the usually hotly contested District 23 race could indicate how well Democrats do statewide and nationwide this November.
“I think Gina will win the primary, but I don’t take anything away from Rick,” Archer said. “He’s a fighter.”
“District 23 will be the canary in the coal mine,” Kaupert said.
Texas House District 121
Businessman Matt Beebe faces Steve Allison, a former VIA Metropolitan Transit trustee and former Alamo Heights school board member, in the GOP runoff for retiring House Speaker Joe Straus’ open seat. The winner in the Republican-leaning district will meet Democrat Celina Montoya in November.
While Allison, whom Straus has endorsed, has championed public education and opposed school vouchers, Beebe has espoused a more conservative, grassroots view on school choice, gun control, and tax reform.
County Commissioner, Precinct 2
Commissioner Paul Elizondo, a Marine veteran and former state lawmaker, is campaigning on his more than 30 years of Commissioners Court experience and his focus on issues such as flood control, road maintenance, healthcare access, and helping vulnerable local populations.
His challenger Queta Rodriguez is herself a military veteran who now serves as the County’s veterans service officer. Rodriguez has said Precinct 2 needs a new voice on Commissioners Court. The daughter of former City Councilwoman Lourdes Galvan, Rodriguez has focused on economic development, transparency, and accountability in County government, and improving quality of life.
The winner will meet Republican attorney Theresa Connolly in November.
Bexar County Republican Chair
Marketing consultant Cynthia Brehm, who unsuccessfully ran for City Council in District 8 in 2017, and realtor Jo Ann Ponce Gonzalez, a former educator and university administrator, are vying to lead county Republicans after Robert Stovall stepped down to pursue what proved to be an unsuccessful run for Congress.
Brehm is active with conservative groups such as Empower Texans, a Tea Party group that has backed candidates seeking to unseat established Republicans. Gonzalez is supported by such local Republican business leaders as B.J. “Red” McCombs.