Previewing the Texas House Primaries
Texas voters head to the polls on Tuesday to choose party nominees for seats in the House of Representatives in districts ranging from urban to rural, lily-white to majority-minority, and the Gulf Coast to the borders with New Mexico and Oklahoma. Nearly every seat has one thing in common, though: It probably won't have a competitive general election.
The Lone Star State's 36 congressional districts make up one of the country's most polarized delegations. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., won at least 55 percent of the 2008 presidential vote in all 24 districts that lean solidly Republican. In the 11 solidly Democratic districts, President Obama never fell below 57 percent. Only the 23rd District, which stretches from the San Antonio suburbs through West Texas to El Paso and where Obama edged McCain 49.9 to 49.3 percent, remains truly competitive, and three Democrats are vying there for the right to oppose freshman GOP Rep. Quico Canseco in the fall.
State Rep. Pete Gallego, the favored candidate of national Democrats, and former Rep. Ciro Rodriguez, whom Canseco defeated in 2010, are the main contenders. But San Antonio attorney John Bustamante, the third Democrat in the 23rd District primary, could end up drawing enough votes to force the contest into a runoff, which would take place July 31 if no candidate reaches 50 percent on Tuesday.
Rodriguez has built-in name identification - he represented about 70 percent of the new district when he was in Congress - but Gallego had outspent Rodriguez almost three-to-one by the pre-primary reporting deadline, and Gallego's superior fundraising has continued apace since then while Rodriguez has continued to lag, according to Federal Election Commission filings.
Gallego has gotten a big assist from the League of Conservation Voters, which has spent almost $200,000 on TV time and direct mail hitting Rodriguez for opposing cap and trade legislation in 2009. While fundraising observations are not perfect campaign indicators, they are unusually telling in primaries without incumbents, like this one.
Throughout the rest of the state, Democratic and Republican candidates are competing for a surer seat in Congress, and many contests have gotten nasty with that prize on the line. In El Paso, former city representative Beto O'Rourke is challenging Rep. Silvestre Reyes for the 16th District Democratic nomination, and charges about misuse of funds, corruption, and drugs and alcohol have flown back and forth for months. Reyes got an endorsement and a visit from Bill Clinton, while O'Rourke has air cover from the anti-incumbent Campaign for Primary Accountability super PAC.