Looking ahead after Super Tuesday: ‘It really all comes down to turnout’

The primaries are behind us. Now candidates prepare for runoffs, or look ahead to November.

By Sean SaldanaMarch 6, 2024 1:05 pm,

With Super Tuesday 2024 in the rearview, candidates across the Lone Star State are either licking their wounds and picking up yard signs or gearing up for runoff elections in May.

Last night, Texas state Sen. Roland Gutierrez was pushed out of the U.S. Senate race by U.S. Congressman Colin Allred, Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan was sent into a runoff for his seat, and Donald Trump was all but confirmed as the Republican nominee for president.

Like all primary elections, the results can be thought of as a bellwether for what’s to come during the general elections in November.

Natasha Altema-McNeely is an associate professor of political science at the University of Texas – Rio Grande Valley who joined Texas Standard to offer some analysis of the results. Listen to the interview above or read the transcript below.

This transcript has been edited lightly for clarity:

Texas Standard: Any big surprises you saw last night?

Well, some of the surprises, for those who are observing, would include the runoffs among Republican candidates famong the U.S. House elections. So for districts 23, 32 and then at the state level.

So as you mentioned with Dane Phelan, that’s not a surprise given his position on the impeachment attempt of Ken Paxton. But it’ll be interesting to see the outcome of that race as well as the outcome of the runoff among the Republican candidates for Texas Senate. 

So you mentioned that district 21 race. This is Dade Phelan, headed to a runoff against David Covey. What’s the distinction between the two that you think could make a difference in the runoff? 

I think the main distinction for voters and what both sets of candidates will attempt to show is how conservative they are and among both candidates, which is the true conservative. Because, again, this is an attempt to show how conservative and how not conservative enough one is given his position on the impeachment and some other areas. So that’s going to be the main deciding factor for voters. 

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This is what folks within the Republican Party talk about when they say a “Republican in name only.” It’s become a kind of epithet, where critics, in this case including Ken Paxton and Gov. Greg Abbott, want to defeat some of those “RINOs,” as they call them.

But what I’m pretty fascinated by in this particular race – just over 25,000 people voted in the primary election for what many consider to be the most important race in the state. I mean, do you political scientists view the level of turnout as a problem? 

Yes. But within our discipline, a lot of the existing and current research continues to show that turnout, especially for primary elections and for other elections that aren’t the general election – even going down to the state and local level – tend to have a very low turnout.

Most people are more familiar with the general election in November, and that’s when the levels tend to increase. 

Very interesting. Now what I’m curious about is what this means for the political landscape writ large. Republicans have been in charge in Texas for a couple of decades now. And I’m wondering whether this move to the right will have any effect of perhaps galvanizing Democrats. 

That’s the expectation and the hope among Democratic operatives and their party activists.

However, it really will come down to how well they are able to mobilize potential constituents to make the effort to come out and vote and how well they’re going to be able to show their constituents that there are ways to overcome the challenges that have been set with recent changes to the election laws here in the state of Texas. 

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Any clues from last night? I know we’re talking about primaries, and that there are clear distinctions between primary races and general elections. But any clues as to how or to what extent or whether we’re going to see any major changes in Texas politics as a result of what we saw last night?

It really all comes down to turnout. But then also what I’d like to add is it really comes down to the messages that the candidates on both sides of the aisle, across all of these respective races, how well they portrayed their messages and and express their messages to potential voters – especially to voters who may have a candidate that they favor but may not want to turn out for various reasons.

So it really all comes down to the messaging and then how well they’re able to mobilize people to turn out.

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