Texas election results reveal what mattered to GOP, Dems
AUSTIN — Republican voters mostly valued pragmatism and experience, especially in down-ballot races, after they’d validated their “Trumpy” ticket topper, Attorney General Ken Paxton. Democrats culled some higher-risk unknowns from their statewide slate — and loosened clenched jaws after it became clear Rochelle Garza will face Paxton this fall, and there won’t be three white males at the top of their ticket. As the dust from Tuesday’s runoff election settles, there were two other, highly nuanced takeaways: The state’s GOP establishment protected incumbents, even if a few hard-right insurgents captured open Texas House seats. Still, resurgence of the gun-control debate — after Tuesday’s Uvalde school-shooting horror and the risk that legal abortion could be a thing of the past in Texas — may force GOP candidates to tread gingerly, experts said. “Democrats are trying to turn their sails to harness an issue landscape that rallies their base and nets them crossover votes against the headwinds of a generally lousy year considering an unpopular president and a sour economy,” University of Houston political scientist Brandon Rottinghaus said. “Republicans were pretty cautious in their nominee picks, going primarily with known quantities up and down the ballot,” he said. According to Texas Secretary of State John Scott’s office, just 8. On the Democratic side, Garza, daughter of a Brownsville teacher-turned-lawyer, had a 63%-37% advantage over former Galveston mayor Joe Jaworski, grandson of Watergate prosecutor Leon Jaworski. “There doesn’t appear to be a very optimistic scenario for George P. Democrats probably fielded their most competitive slate for the fall, he said. “Garza and Jaworski are both strong candidates, but for a Democratic Party to have three white males at the top of the ticket would not have been a good look,” Jones said.
In GOP runoffs for Texas House, incumbents such as Fort Worth’s Stephanie Klick, Palo Pinto County’s Glenn Rogers and College Station’s Kyle Kacal prevailed. That was a big deal for Speaker Dade Phelan, R-Beaumont, and Gov. Defend Texas Liberty, the far-right political action committee bankrolled by Midland oilman Tim Dunn and Cisco fracking billionaire Farris Wilks, failed to knock off any of the GOP establishment’s favored incumbents, Rice’s Jones noted. Before the runoff election, former Dallas GOP congressional candidate Genevieve Collins highlighted four North Texas GOP runoffs for state representative in which she said a staunchly conservative “outsider” was pitted against a more pragmatic candidate quite familiar to those who closely track government and politics in Dallas-Fort Worth. Her hunch? After the coronavirus pandemic, war in Ukraine and economic uncertainty, Republican voters in 2022 would want “consistency and experience. In the four races, three of the experienced candidates won, Collins noted Tuesday. However, former Southlake Mayor Laura Hill got clobbered by newcomer and former pastor Nate Schatzline, 65%-35%. “At a time when our Texas values are being challenged everywhere, we need a man like Nate,” Patrick tweeted. Klick, whom Phelan tapped to head the House Public Health Committee, bested disabled military veteran David Lowe by 8 percentage points in another Tarrant County district. In a Collin County race, Jamee Jolly, executive director of the Plano ISD Education Foundation, edged Eric Bowlin, a veteran and investment professional, 52%-48%. The “negativity” of ads and mailers by many of the most staunchly conservative House hopefuls was a turnoff to voters, said Collins, who unsuccessfully challenged Democratic U.
“Broadly speaking, people are yearning for consistency and experience,” she said. Shifts on once-reliable hot-button issues could force Texas Republicans this year to revise if not toss old attack lines, according to one Democratic analyst. “It’s always about guns and abortion in Texas, and Republicans make it about guns and abortion,” said Ed Espinoza, who heads Progress Texas, a left-leaning Democratic group. Rice’s agreed with only half of Espinoza’s assessment: GOP candidates will be forced to talk about abortion rights differently, Jones said. “Republicans probably will not want to highlight it in the same way they did in prior elections because they no longer have the safety net of Roe v. On assault rifles and background checks, though, Republicans won’t back up, Jones said. “If past predicts present, and El Paso and Sutherland Springs and Santa Fe didn’t change attitudes towards guns in Texas, Uvalde won’t — especially five months from now, when we’re actually starting to really think seriously about voting,” he said. Though some recent developments could help O’Rourke and the Democratic slate, conditions still favor the Texas GOP, said UH’s Rottinghaus. “Built-in advantages like big war chests, name identification and a pumped-up base give Republicans a 50-yard head start in the 400 meter dash,” he said. “Overcoming that early jump requires Democrats to raise big money and turn key issues into crossover votes.
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