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Texas election analysis: Incumbents and conservatives win in Texas primary

March 4, 2014 at 9:02 p.m.
Updated March 3, 2014 at 9:04 p.m.


AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Republicans voted for tried-and-true incumbents and fire-breathing conservatives Tuesday during the Texas primary elections, while Democrats learned they still have a lot of building to do if they hope to compete in November.

Tea party conservatives proved their strength in the GOP primary, putting their candidates in the lead going into runoffs for many of the state's top jobs. Even long-serving Republicans such as U.S. Sen. John Cornyn and U.S. Rep. Pete Sessions felt compelled to prove their conservative credentials in the largest reliably Republican state in the nation.

Since runoffs usually only draw a party's most faithful and motivated voters, expect the next three months of campaigning to push candidates even farther to the right.

The biggest surprise of the night was in the GOP lieutenant governor's race where rightwing radio host Dan Patrick gathered the most votes and forced a runoff with incumbent David Dewhurst. Patrick's pledge to be a Christian first, a conservative second and a Republican third resonated with primary voters over Dewhurst's more staid personality and conventional fiscal conservatism.

In the race for attorney general, tea party favorite Ken Paxton came in first place after airing television commercials with Ted Cruz praising his conservatism. He faces a runoff with Dan Branch, a former committee chairman in the Texas Legislature once considered the front-runner.

All the way down the ballot, tea party conservatives came out on top in the vote count, though they often failed to win the 50 percent plus one vote needed to win outright. Since the two most conservative candidates made it into most of the runoffs, voters will have to split hairs to determine who should go onto the general election.

Winning the Republican nomination has been tantamount to winning statewide elections in Texas since 1994, the last time a Democrat won. Last year, Democrats looked at the state's growing minority population and other demographics and decided the state should be more competitive.

Despite a year of organizing through a political action committee called Battleground Texas, and having a charismatic candidate for governor in Wendy Davis, Democrats failed to improve turnout in their primary Tuesday. Voting was largely on par with 2010 and 2012, despite Battleground Texas signing up 12,000 volunteers and launching voter registration drives.

Democrats are quick to point out that competitive races drive turnout in the primaries — and the Democratic primary was largely quiet — experts agree that voting is a habit that parties need to encourage to be competitive.

About twice as many Republicans than Democrats voted Tuesday, and about three times as many voters cast ballots for Greg Abbott, the Republican nominee to replace retiring Gov. Rick Perry. Democrats have a long way to go in order to compete in November.

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