Tuesday’s Primary Action is Down-Ballot

Georgia and Texas voters go the polls for congressional primaries

Westmoreland's retirement opened up a crowded GOP field to take his safe Republican seat. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Westmoreland's retirement opened up a crowded GOP field to take his safe Republican seat. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Posted May 24, 2016 at 5:00am

For much of this year, if it’s Tuesday, it’s been a primary day.  

The only presidential primary scheduled for this week is in Washington state. That’s a GOP primary, and most folks are pretty sure how that will turn out. The more exciting activity is at the congressional level.  

Texas has two open seats — one that likely will go to a Republican and the other to a Democrat. And Georgia has a safe Republican seat open. So voters in those states may be all but deciding who’s going to Congress.  

Texas held its congressional primaries  in March. Three of those primaries are advancing to runoffs on Tuesday in the 15th, 18th and 19th Districts.  

Georgians are selecting nominees for the open 3rd District. The crowded GOP race is almost guaranteed to go to a runoff in July. 

Peach State politics


Georgia’s 3rd District seat opened up in January when six-term Rep. Lynn Westmoreland announced he would not run for re-election .  

“I believe it is time to pass the torch to our next conservative voice,” he said at the time.  

The clamoring to become that next voice started almost immediately. Seven Republicans are on the ballot.  

Two Democrats are running, but given the strong Republican make up of this seat, it’s the GOP primary that’s the main event. (Westmoreland carried this seat with 100 percent of the vote in 2014).    

The primary has turned into a three-way race among state Sen. Mike Crane, West Point Mayor Drew Ferguson and businessman Jim Pace.   

And it’s expected to be close.
“The difference between first and third could be five percentage points,” said Chip Lake, a Georgia political consultant and former chief of staff to Westmoreland. The race has been slow to develop, Lake said, in part because of how close to the filing deadline Westmoreland retired. Also, GOP activists in the district were more focused on the race between Donald Trump and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, as has been the case around the country.  

The Club for Growth’s PAC has invested about $75,000 in Crane so far, mostly in mail. Over the weekend, the PAC launched a cable TV ad  calling him “the real deal.”  

Crane’s fundraising has been lackluster compared to the other two competitive candidates. He ended the first quarter with $77,000, but the outside assistance has helped get his name out.  

“We’ve put in what we think will make the difference so that he finishes in the top or second place,” Club for Growth Communications Director Doug Sachtleben said Monday. Crane began this race looking like an early front-runner with campaign experience.  

He ran for Congress once before, losing in a Democratic district to Democratic Rep. David Scott in 2010. And as a state legislator, he has a base of support and grassroots campaign operations. As a conservative with outsider appeal (and FreedomWorks PAC  backing), Crane also has what Lake called “flavor of the day credentials.”
But Crane may have gotten himself into some trouble along the way. During a candidate meet-and-greet breakfast in April, Crane made a comment about shooting police officers if they executed a “no-knock warrant” at his house.  

“You come to my house, kick down my door and I have an opportunity, I will shoot you dead. And every one of you should do the same,” he told the crowd.  

Ferguson, the mayor of West Point, is a dentist and has been backed by the Dental Association PAC .  

But he comes from a small town outside the district’s main population centers, which are rooted closer to the Atlanta suburbs. He ended the first quarter with $120,000 in the bank.  

As a businessman, Pace has access to money. He co-founded a real estate and construction business. He ended the first quarter with $330,000 after kicking nearly $270,000 of his own money into his campaign.   

Regardless of who finishes in first place, it’s likely to take a runoff on July 26 to decide who the next member of Congress from the 3rd District will be.

Texas runoffs


Runoffs in Texas Tuesday will determine the next members of Congress from the Lone Star State.   

Ten-term Democratic Rep. Rubén Hinojosa announced he was retiring in November, opening up his 15th District seat, safe Democratic territory .  

Vicente Gonzalez, an attorney, finished with 42 percent of the vote on March 1. He’ll face off against attorney and school board member Juan “Sonny” Palacios Jr., who received 19 percent on the vote in the primary.  

On the Republican side, Ruben O. Villarreal, who won 32 percent of the vote, is taking on Tim Westley, who won 45 percent of the vote.  

GOP Rep. Randy Neugebauer, another long-time member of the Texas delegation, also announced his retirement last year, opening up his safe Republican 19th District.  

Nine Republicans ran for his seat in the primary, with a single point separating the top two vote-getters: former Texas Tech University Vice Chancellor Jodey Arrington and Lubbock Mayor Glen Robertson.   

As the Texas Tribune’s Abby Livingston notes , the race has taken on added significance as a test between the sway of the GOP establishment in Texas and the power of a self-funded candidate.   

Republicans will also vote in an 18th District primary to select a nominee to take on Democratic Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee in her safe Democratic seat .   

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