Not Done Yet: July Run-offs

A rundown of the July 31 run-offs

Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst's deep pockets were expected to help him win the GOP race for U.S. Senate; instead, he'll face former Solicitor General Ted Cruz in a July run-off.
Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst's deep pockets were expected to help him win the GOP race for U.S. Senate; instead, he'll face former Solicitor General Ted Cruz in a July run-off.
Photo by Jana Birchum

The election is over! Long live the election! Run-offs for the long-delayed May 29 primary are scheduled for July 31.

The situation places the Texas political process in new and unpredictable territory: In a normal year, the primaries are over and done with by mid-April. The combination of this year's late date, low turnout, and the ongoing turf war between the Texas GOP political establishment and their tea party critics has left much of the GOP slate in flux, with three statewide offices and the U.S. Senate seat still to be determined. Travis County Democrats face a simpler ballot, needing to decide only their own Senate nomination, plus the Precinct 2 constable seat.

The first round was a logistical nightmare for election officials. "I was worried," said Travis County Clerk Dana DeBeauvoir. "Getting enough election judges and alternate judges was nip-and-tuck, but once we got there, everything was fabulous." Not that the process was seamless – courtesy of redistricting, many voters found themselves in new precincts or whole new districts. And coming the day after Memorial Day, "This holiday election was never a friendly time," said DeBeauvoir.

The problems raised by the three-day weekend are now amplified by a late summer run-off. Second rounds are normally blighted by low turnout, but with July being the height of vacation season, campaigns may further struggle to find and educate voters, even those within their party bases. There will only be five days of early voting – July 23-27 – and some voters may find their precincts disrupted again. DeBeauvoir said, "My biggest worry right now is that a lot of the schools that we use for election day voting need to be closed for repairs and construction." With several sites unavailable, she will be consolidating polling places, and there will be a major voter education push. But with a whole new set of election officials, she is confident she'll be able to find enough staff. "I'm a little less worried about it than I was for the first election," she said. "Still worried, but a little less."

Democratic Run-offs

U.S. Senate: Paul Sadler (35.1%) vs. Grady Yarbrough (25.8%)

Name recognition is a treacherous thing. As a six-term state rep (1991-2003) and former House Public Education Committee chair, Sadler should have, in theory, won easily. Instead, he finds himself in a run-off against a 75-year-old retired teacher from San Antonio with three failed election runs under his belt: two for Republican Land Com­missioner and one for Democratic State Treasurer. Speculation is that Yarbrough owes his success (and his pretensions to office) to his last name, almost the same (less a vowel) as former U.S. Senator Ralph Yarborough and ex-Texas Supreme Justice Don Yarborough (the two had similar political perspectives, but were unrelated).

Constable, Precinct 2: Adan Ballesteros* (41.6%) vs. Michael Cargill (31.5%)

It seems the "cocaine constable" smears worked, at least to a degree. Cargill attacked Ballesteros over old claims that he was ineffective at stopping drugs crossing the border when he worked for the Texas Depart­ment of Public Safety – and his attack ads were sufficiently vitriolic that Ballesteros sued for libel. The libertarian super PAC Liberty for All has poured money behind gun-dealer Cargill, and local gun-happy libertarians have rallied to the cause. Another backstory is that Cargill is allied with Republican Precinct 2 Justice of the Peace Glen Bass, who has been locked in a bitter feud with Ballesteros.

Republican Run-offs

U.S. Senate: David Dewhurst (44.6%) vs. Ted Cruz (34.2%)

In the battle of rival establishments, Lite Guv Dewhurst was expected to win easily, due to his bottomless personal coffers, but former Solicitor General Cruz is no political neophyte, though he presents himself as the grassroots, right-populist candidate. Cruz is employed as a policy expert at the influential conservative think tank the Texas Pu­blic Policy Foun­da­tion and has Freedom­Works for America – the AstroTurfing super PAC underwriting the tea party – in his corner.

U.S. Congress, District 25: Roger Williams (25.1%) vs. Wes Riddle (14.6%)

All the smart money was on a "Williams vs Williams" run-off, with former Secretary of State Roger against former Railroad Commissioner Michael. Instead, it was tea party radical Riddle who sneaked in second, which suggests quite a bit about Texas GOP primary voters. Williams' deep pockets will be difficult for Riddle to overcome.

Railroad Commission: Christi Craddick (35.9%) vs. Warren Chisum (27.3%); Barry Smitherman* (44.2%) vs. Greg Parker (27.7%)

Neither of these two races was decided. Former Public Utility Commissioner Smith­er­man was appointed to the seat vacated by failed Congressional hopeful Michael Wil­liams by Gov. Rick Perry last year, and elected chair by his fellow commissioners. That was not enough to prevent a challenge from Parker, a tea partier and climate change denier. The hunt to replace the resigning Elizabeth Ames Jones (who failed in her challenge to state Sen. Jeff Went­worth) carries legislative echoes: GOP state rep Chisum ran because his old Pampa district was redrawn, but now faces Craddick – daughter of former House Speaker Tom Craddick, R-Midland.

Supreme Court Justice, Place 4: David Medina* (39%) vs. John Devine (32.2%)

In a battle between two former Harris County jurists, Medina has both incumbency and tenure on his side, having been appointed to the court by Gov. Perry in 2004. Devine is touting himself as the "Ten Commandments Judge," but his political career to date scarcely seems blessed, with four prior primary failures on his scorecard: two for Congress, one for the Texas House, and one for the 221st District Court in Montgomery County.

State Board of Education, District 10: Tom Maynard (42.9%) vs. Rebecca Osborne (41.9%)

It's rare that a race in the heavily politicized SBOE sees two educators going head-to-head. Osborne lost a primary for the same seat to Marsha Farney in 2010, but with Farney headed to the state House, the Round Rock teacher faces a second round against former high school agriculture teacher and Florence ISD School Board trustee Maynard.

State Senate District 25: Jeff Wentworth* (35.8%) vs. Donna Campbell (33.7%)

The local GOP legislative run-off sees veteran incumbent Wentworth in the political fight of his life. The first round results reflect a heavily split district, ideologically and geographically. Wentworth, a moderate by Texas GOP standards, was shored up by a solid, if unimpressive, turnout in his home Bexar County, but Campbell took a major victory in Travis (45%–38%) and she expects to have the backing of the third candidate, former Railroad Commissioner Elizabeth Ames Jones.

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