There’s not much more politicking left in the 2018 Texas primary elections. The mailers have been sent, the town halls have been held, the donations have been deposited. There’s not much left to do but wait for the returns – and vote on Tuesday, if you haven’t yet. You can be sure that political journalists across Texas are already writing outlines for Wednesday’s news, gaming out possible outcomes and wondering about what it all means.
But right now, in this brief calm before the storm, there’s a moment to look back at the primary campaigns and figure out what it tells us about Texas politics. Brandon Rottinghaus, a political science professor at the University of Houston, says that early voting data reveals one important trend – that more Democrats are voting this year.
“There’s a clear enthusiasm gap,” he says. “The Democrats have at least doubled their turnout from four years ago, whereas the Republicans increased their turnout, but not quite by as much.”
Still, he says that doesn’t necessarily tell you much about the general election outcomes.
“Although it may not be the case that this translates to wins in November,” Rottinghaus says, “it certainly means that there’s more attention to the Democratic Party.”
Another important trend has been the amount of money in the races.
“This is going to be a high spending year, in part because you’ve got a lot of open seats and you’ve got many seats where you’ve got a perceived vulnerable incumbent,” he says. “You’ve got Empower Texans and the Texas Right to Life who have spent themselves at least $5 million. You’ve got some senate races that are reaching potentially $2 million, which is near historic highs.”
One race that hasn’t attracted a lot of funding, though, is the Democratic primary for governor.
“Lupe Valdez has only raised a fraction of what Andrew White has been able to put together,” he says, “mostly through loans to himself.”
In the Republican primary, Rottinghaus says, candidates have embraced President Donald Trump and focused on issues like immigration and property taxes.
Even without significant primary challengers of their own, Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov.
Dan Patrick have been highly involved in other primary races this year.
“Both Abbott and Patrick have acted like the general manager of a baseball team,” Rottinghaus says. “They’re trying to pick their own players, which is a good strategy but one in Texas that has not been done before. So this is really unprecedented. Both Abbott and Patrick had some resistance and obstacles in the last legislative session on specific issues, and they definitely see that coming in the next session, so they have looked to solidify their support and to amplify their influence. They’re both institutionally very strong, but those offices are both only as strong as those individuals make them.”
Looking ahead, Rottinghaus predicts the ideological divide within the Texas GOP isn’t likely to disappear any time soon.
“The Republicans have many challengers, both from the moderate side and from the movement side,” he says, “so that definitely suggests that the civil war in the Republican Party’s going to continue and it’s unlikely to end even at the point where we have elections and Tuesday comes and goes.”
Written by Jen Rice.