What to Watch in Texas, Georgia Primaries

Posted July 30, 2012 at 6:29pm

Primary voters head to the polls today in Georgia and Texas, with Republicans in the Lone Star State set to decide a contentious Senate runoff that could have lasting implications on Capitol Hill.

Texas Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, the establishment favorite and originally the frontrunner in this unusually late contest, is in danger of falling to former state Solicitor General Ted Cruz. Underfunded early on, Cruz has been carried financially by Washington, D.C.’s tea party class, with conservative activist groups advertising heavily on his behalf. Since finishing second in the May 29 primary, Cruz has caught on with voters and many polls showed him ahead.

Among the handful of Texas House runoffs, the one to watch is the Democratic contest in the 23rd district, where former Rep. Ciro Rodriguez is battling state Rep. Pete Gallego. This district is Democrats’ best, and probably only, opportunity to flip a seat in Texas this year.

Gallego is the establishment favorite, as Democrats doubt the chronically underfunded Rodriguez’s ability to oust freshman Rep. Francisco “Quico” Canseco (R). But Rodriguez has exceeded expectations, leaving the outcome of this race in doubt.

In Georgia, the two GOP primaries to watch are in the 9th and 12th districts.

The winner of the 9th district contest is all but assured of joining the ranks of the 113th Congress. But in the 12th district, the victor will first have to get past Rep. John Barrow. The Peach State Democrat is vulnerable, but this wouldn’t be the first time he appeared endangered only to hold off a tough challenge in the fall.

At least in the 12th district, where four Republicans are running legitimate campaigns, an Aug. 21 runoff is likely.

Texas House Runoffs

Republican Races

14th District

The winner of the runoff is likely to win the general election this fall and succeed retiring Rep. Ron Paul (R) in the 113th Congress. But the runoff itself is a tossup, with Texas insiders split on whether state Rep. Randy Weber, who finished first in the May 29 primary, will defeat Pearland City Councilwoman Felicia Harris.

Some operatives say Weber’s name identification will put him over the top, while others say Harris has racked up enough influential endorsements to make her the favorite.

Whoever wins will face former Rep. Nick Lampson (D), who previously represented the Beaumont portion of the 14th district. Though it’s a likely GOP hold, Democrats insist the race is winnable, particularly with Lampson as their nominee.

25th District

Former Texas Secretary of State Roger Williams (R) spent most of the cycle looking for a place to run, and after redistricting was finalized, he landed in the 25th.

Retired Army officer Wes Riddle (R) emerged out of nowhere and pushed the primary into a runoff. Williams has family money and has put about $500,000 into his campaign. He also has connections and the backing of many prominent Texas Republicans.

This district stretches from west Austin up through a string of rural areas and into the outer Fort Worth suburbs.

36th District

In his hunt to return to Congress, former Rep. Steve Stockman narrowly came in second to financial adviser Stephen Takach in the primary.

Stockman’s campaign has consisted mainly of saturating the district with “fake tabloid newspapers emblazoned” with opposition research on Takach, according to the Beaumont Enterprise.

Takach has run the more conventional campaign, and Republicans are divided over who the nominee will be. However, the winner appears to be a shoo-in to become this seat’s next Member of Congress.

Democratic Races

23rd District

No other fall race in Texas has more riding on a primary than the contest in the 23rd district, and the Democratic runoff has defied political convention.

Perhaps the only prize available to Texas Democrats this fall is the prospect of defeating Republican Rep. Francisco “Quico” Canseco.

State Rep. Pete Gallego was a big recruiting score for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. He proved to be a capable fundraiser and earned support from outside groups. Standing in his way was poorly funded ex-Rep. Ciro Rodriguez. Rodriguez ran a bare bones campaign but actually earned more votes than Gallego in the primary.

In the wake of that disappointment, Gallego put a new campaign team in place in an effort to re-energize his campaign. But Democrats remain uncertain about who will win the runoff. A source in the Gallego campaign expressed “cautious optimism.”

Nearly all state and national Democrats continue to insist he is the most viable candidate to beat Canseco in the fall.

33rd District

The Democratic primary has stoked a dormant regional rivalry, pitting Cowtown against Big D.

Even though the Dallas candidate, former state Rep. Domingo Garcia, has had a larger television presence, most are betting that Fort Worth-based state Rep. Marc Veasey will come out ahead.

With a few exceptions, Fort Worth political players are supporting Veasey. However, Dallas’ Garcia appears to have less support from his home base, with many expressing reservations about his ability to bring people together.

Veasey came in first place in the primary and is expected to win the runoff as well. Regardless of who wins this primary, the victor will be coming to Congress in January. This district was drawn specifically to send a minority Democrat to the House.

34th District

Attorney Filemon Vela came in first in the primary with 40 percent of the vote. But in an eight-
person field, the rest of the votes fractured, and he was pushed into a runoff with former Congressional staffer Denise Saenz Blanchard. Sources say Vela has the name identification and that Blanchard lacks momentum.

Blanchard brought in only about a third of the votes as Vela in the May 29 primary and as result is the underdog in this race. The winner will almost certainly be going to Congress in the fall.

Texas Senate Runoff


For years, nearly a dozen would-be Senators waited in the wings for Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R) to retire. But the free-for-all primary of ambitious Texas Republicans never materialized, as many cowered in the face of Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst’s (R) personal fortune, pervasive name identification and presumed popularity.

However, Dewhurst could ultimately fall to the previously unknown and poorly funded Ted Cruz, the former state solicitor general. It is an astonishing turn of events.

Plausible paths to victory remain for both candidates. But in the waning days of the GOP primary runoff campaign, most Texas Republican insiders, including Dewhurst backers, gave Cruz the edge.

The Dewhurst campaign’s closing pitch attempted to portray the race as Texas versus Washington. “The race has boiled down to Texas conservatives supporting David Dewhurst against D.C. special interests supporting Ted Cruz. At the end of the day, Texans are not interested in having D.C. special interests come to Texas trying to handpick the next U.S. Senator,” Dewhurst spokesman Matt Hirsch said.

But it was not Texas versus Washington so much as the Texas political class versus national tea party celebrities such as former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), who made last-minute get-out-the-vote appearances on Cruz’s behalf. As Cruz gained momentum, the Austin clique scrambled to support Dewhurst, led by Gov. Rick Perry, who has generally been a favorite of conservative activists since he defeated Hutchison in the 2010 gubernatorial primary.

But conservative groups such as the Club for Growth and DeMint’s Senate Conservatives Fund countered Dewhurst’s war chest, helping to lift Cruz to a position where many now consider him today’s frontrunner. “Our voters are very excited and motivated,” Cruz communications director James Bernsen said.

Texas primary elections are usually held in early March with runoffs in April. But legal disputes over redistricting pushed the primary to late May and the runoff to today — later than anyone can remember such contests occurring in Texas. Consequently, reliable pollsters have disagreed over how to determine which voters will be motivated enough to turn out in 100-degree temperatures during the height of the summer vacation season.


Many were surprised when former state Rep. Paul Sadler was pushed into a runoff by a complete political unknown: retired educator Grady Yarbrough. Democrats are confident Sadler will cruise to the nomination in today’s runoff, but he appears all but certain to lose the general election to the GOP nominee in November.

Georgia Primaries

9th District

The top two competitors in this Republican primary race are radio talk-show host Martha Zoller and state Rep. Doug Collins. Collins is close with Gov. Nathan Deal (R) and has the support of the Atlanta GOP establishment. Zoller has pulled local and national tea party support, including an endorsement from former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin (R). Former Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) and Palin have done robocalls for Zoller in recent days.

Collins didn’t have real success at fundraising during the course of the campaign, and Zoller had even more trouble raising money — she had less than $8,000 in the bank as of July 11. That made for a very low-budget race.

Unaligned GOP insiders in Georgia see Zoller coming out on top, buoyed by the fact that many voters are familiar with her from her radio show, which broadcasts across the district.

“I think Martha’s going to pull it out,” one unaligned strategist said. “She’s just so well-known.”

Regardless of whether Zoller or Collins comes out on top (and the final vote is likely to be close), the question is whether a third candidate in the race — Roger D. Fitzpatrick, who has no chance of winning — can keep the top vote-getter below the 50 percent threshold and send the race to an Aug. 21 runoff.

If that happens, it’s probably a tossup between Collins and Zoller in the runoff.

The GOP nominee will cruise to victory in the November election in this very conservative district. This is Georgia’s new district, allotted in reapportionment, and it was drawn to be anchored in Hall County in the northeast.

12th District

There are four GOP candidates vying to take on Rep. John Barrow (D) in this reconfigured district that tilts Republican. Insiders expect state Rep. Lee Anderson, a farmer, to come in first, boosted by his base and his name ID as an elected official. He’ll likely head to a runoff with another one of the candidates, either businessman Rick Allen or attorney and retired Navy fighter pilot Wright McLeod.

Allen, a successful construction company executive, loaned at least $250,000 of his own money to his campaign.

McLeod, for his part, is charismatic in person and said to be a potent speaker on the stump, but he appears to have been damaged by a series of campaign missteps throughout his run.

Attorney Maria Sheffield, who has some grass-roots support, is not expected to make the runoff.