The big political race this week was the Republican primary in Texas for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Kay Bailey Hutchison. Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, endorsed by most Texas Republican politicians including Gov. Rick Perry, led with 45% of the vote to 34% for former Texas Solicitor General Ted Cruz, who had support from tea party types in Texas and around the nation. Former Dallas Mayor Tom Leppert got 14%. There will be a runoff July 31.
Who is favored? Well, it has often been the case that lesser known candidates who finish a reasonably close second in first primaries end up winning the runoff. That’s how Florida Govs. Reubin Askew and Sen. Lawton Chiles won Democratic nominations in 1970, for example. In Texas we can get a idea of who had the momentum because the secretary of state separately tabulates the 48% of voters who cast early ballots. Among those who cast early ballots Dewhurst had a large 48%-30% lead. But among those voting on election day Dewhurst led Cruz by only 41%-38%. That suggests that Cruz has a good chance to prevail in the runoff.
In the last weeks of the campaign, Dewhurst, who raised a lot of money and loaned $12 million of his own to the campaign, put up ads attacking the third candidate Leppert, who was running best in his home territory in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex. Those ads seem to have backfired: a classic case of a three-way race in which candidate A’s attack on candidate B hurts both B and A and helps candidate C. In early voting in the four largest Metroplex counties (Tarrant, Dallas, Collin, Denton) Dewhurst led Cruz and Leppert 35%-29%-30%; election day voting was (with the candidates in the same order) 31%-38%-25%. In the four largest counties in metro Houston (Harris, Montgomery, Fort Bend, Brazoria), we see a similar effect. Early voting was 50%-38% Dewhurst and election day voting was 39%-49% Cruz. (Leppert was not a serious factor: evidently Houston area voters don’t think much of mayors of Dallas.) The response was similar in San Antonio’s Bexar County. Early voting was 43%-36% Dewhurst and election day voting was 38%-43% Cruz. So Cruz led Dewhurst in the state’s three biggest metro areas in election day voting and closed much of the gap in smaller counties. Cruz has some basis for feeling the momentum is with him. But there is an unusually long time between the primary and runoff in Texas, and many things could happen.