Texas election law prevented a clear-cut outcome for many of the most heavily contested primary elections in the state on Tuesday, the start of the national primary season.
That’s because in Texas primaries, if no one candidate wins more than 50 percent of the vote, the top two vote-getters in the race then proceed to a runoff (which this year will take place on May 22). So there were two winners rather than one for nominations in several key races that will help determine control of the US House of Representatives.
Still, from a national perspective, there were a few races in which some relatively clear winners and losers emerged.
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) failed to block its least favorite candidate, Laura Moser, from advancing to the runoff. Beto O’Rourke won the Democratic Senate nomination outright, but not by a stunning amount considering his hype. George Soros helped sway a local district attorney Democratic primary. And the heir to the Bush dynasty kept his political career alive.
Loser: the DCCC
House Democrats’ national campaign arm didn’t endorse any one primary candidate in the Seventh Congressional District to challenge Republican Rep. John Culberson. But they knew who they didn’t want to win: Laura Moser, who they fear will be sure to lose in the general election.
Indeed, the DCCC went nuclear against Moser in the weeks before the election, posting an opposition research document on her online and criticizing her aggressively. “She is a Washington insider, who begrudgingly moved to Houston to run for Congress,” the document read. “In fact, she wrote in the Washingtonian magazine, ‘I’d rather have my teeth pulled out without anesthesia’ than live in Texas.” (Moser’s article specifically referred to “Paris, Texas,” not Texas generally — you can read the whole thing at the end of the post at this link.)
But this intervention didn’t stop Moser from advancing to the runoff. Now, she didn’t perform spectacularly — at press time she had about 24 percent of the vote, putting her about 5 points behind the first-place candidate, Lizzie Pannill Fletcher. Moser did do well enough to keep her campaign alive, though, and this divisive feud among national factions of Democrats will get another two and a half month of airtime as a result.
Loser (sort of): Beto O’Rourke
It’s true that Rep. Beto O’Rourke — Democrats’ great hope for taking on Ted Cruz in Texas’s Senate race this fall — had never run for statewide office before. From that perspective, clinching the nomination and avoiding a runoff with about 61.8 percent of the vote (at press time) isn’t so bad.
Yet O’Rourke has received a tremendous amount of hype, gotten fawning national press, and faced no opponents who got any significant amount of attention in the primary. Considering that, the fact that more than a third of Democratic voters opted for relative unknowns rather than backing him seems a bit disappointing.
Now O’Rourke will face a tough road ahead in a state that’s getting more purple but may not be quite there yet. And there may be some more skepticism about his chances after Tuesday’s results than there was beforehand. Happily for O’Rourke, it’s not really that big a deal. He has the nomination anyway, and could well prove the doubters wrong when he has a real opponent — Cruz — to run against.
Winners: science (and Soros)
The Democratic primary for Bexar County district attorney wasn’t exactly at the top of the national agenda. But the incumbent DA, Nico LaHood, had conspiratorial leanings and some deeply conservative views — and he was a Democrat. Jay Michaelson profiled him for the Daily Beast earlier this year and rounded up some of his comments, which include, “Vaccines can and do cause autism.” LaHood has also been accused of misconduct involving a prosecution.
Though he doesn’t live in Texas, billionaire George Soros seems to have taken note of LaHood’s unusual views and poured money into this relatively low-profile local race to help his primary challenger, Joe Gonzales. Soros himself and a Soros-backed PAC together contributed about $1 million to Gonzales. Republican Gov. Greg Abbott tried to stir up outrage over this, even though Soros was spending in a Democratic primary for a Democrat-held office.
But in the end, Gonzales won the race easily, finishing with north of 50 percent of the vote. It’s a victory for the Democratic mainstream. And while Soros of course shouldn’t get all the credit, a million dollars isn’t nothing, and his unusual-for-a-liberal-billionaire strategy of spending big bucks on a particular very low-profile race proved effective.
Winner: the Bush family
Jeb Bush’s once-high hopes for the presidency may have been demolished by Donald Trump, but the Son of Jeb isn’t going anywhere. Incumbent Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush emerged triumphant in the GOP primary with more than 50 percent of the vote, enough to avoid the runoff and give him the nomination.
That didn’t seem to be a sure thing. As the Texas Tribune has written, George P. had faced some criticism over a controversial plan for oversight over the Alamo released during his first term. So former Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson and two other Republicans challenged him during the GOP primary. But George P. got the coveted presidential tweetdorsement and cruised to victory. You can’t keep a good dynasty down.