The Texas primary election of March 2 revealed a continuing Republican shift to the right while Democrats positioned themselves as the “big tent” party of diversity for the general election in November.
Rick Perry, the victor in the Republican race for governor, benefited from incumbency, negative campaigning, and big money. Texans viewed almost hourly TV messages tying his main opponent, Senator Kay Bailey Hutchinson, to everything bad about Washington, DC. Outright jingoism was the theme, as Hutchinson was tarred for having lived and worked in the U.S. capital. A third candidate, Debra Medina, managed to make away with many of Hutchinson’s women voters, but it made little difference because Rick Perry trounced them both with a clear majority of the GOP’s record-setting 1,484,111 votes at the top of the ticket.
Analysts at the Lone Star Project pointed out that non-white Republican hopefuls lost drastically at the polls. Even the incumbents went down to lily-white challengers. They write, “…Texas Republicans have adopted the more cynical tactic of moving even further to the extreme right, hoping to motivate and mobilize the most ideologically and politically extreme elements in their party.”
The bad news for Democrats was that the big money and the media’s focus on the Republican side of the primaries resulted in 11% of the electorate voting Republican. Even though Republicans have won all statewide races recently, the Democrats could usually out-poll them in primary elections. Only 5% of this year’s Texas voters chose the Democratic side, where the governor’s race was considered predictable. Democrat Bill White of Houston took 76% of the Democratic votes against 5 opponents.
Texas unionists were ecstatic that former AFL-CIO top leader Linda Chavez-Thompson won the primary for Lieutenant Governor outright with 53% of the vote against two very popular opponents. Chavez and Land Commissioner candidate Hector Uribe, who also won outright, are expected to draw a lot of Spanish-speaking voters to the polls in November. It is worth noting that the Spanish speaking counties along the Mexican border voted Democratic at much higher levels than the rest of the state. Urban areas like Dallas, even though considered a Democratic bastion, only delivered 5% of their electorate for Democrats. The Rio Grande Valley counties all voted Democratic by over 9%. Webb County, which includes Laredo, had 26% of their total electorate turning out for the primary election. If they turn out again in November, they won’t be voting for Spanish speaking Republicans, because there are hardly any left!
Although Democrats were able to raise at least as much money as ever before, the Republican coffers dwarfed them. If money were the only variable in predicting November outcomes, and the recent Supreme Court decision has taken the limits off corporate campaign spending, then Texas would be doomed to even more right-wing domination in 2011 and beyond. Consider the race for the very powerful position of Lieutenant Governor. Linda Chavez-Thompson raised $223,000, according to the Texas AFL-CIO. She had to spend almost all of it to win the primary. Her November opponent, Republican incumbent David Dewhurst, spent much less because he had no opponent in the primary. He retains $1.7 million of $2.8 million raised, and his personal resources are estimated to be almost limitless!
If, however, elections are still won by candidates with the broadest voter appeal, things may be looking up for working people in the Lone Star state.