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34 Days to Election Day: Texas

The most important event in Texas politics in 2012 is the 2010 census which awarded the state an additional four seats in the House. Making this even more important is that this traditionally conservative, Republican state is now rich in electoral votes and should be for the next decade. What California is to the Democratic Party, Texas is to the GOP. Therefore, one can safely assume that Mitt Romney will reap a windfall of 38 electoral votes this year.

The Senate race to succeed retiring Republican incumbent Kaye Bailey Hutchison has been a wild roller coaster ride on both sides. For the Democrats, they originally thought they had the perfect candidate in retired Army General Ricardo Sanchez. Here was a candidate who was Hispanic to appeal to the large Latino population, with military experience in a state with a large military presence, and who had name recognition throughout the state. Unfortunately, citing the loss of his home to a fire, Sanchez withdrew from the race. However, the more likely reason for his withdrawal was his lack of fundraising acumen. Democrats then tried to recruit Houston Mayor Bill White who declined, probably still smarting from his 2010 loss in the Governor’s race against Rick Perry. That left former state legislator Paul Sadler and businessman Sean Hubbard as the only viable candidates. To illustrate the utter disarray among Democrats, a retired unknown teacher, Grady Yarbrough forced Sadler into a run off. Sadler eventually won and will be the Democratic candidate.

On the Republican side, four viable candidates emerged early- the former Mayor of Dallas Tom Leppert, Lt. Governor David Dewhurst, former state solicitor Ted Cruz, and Railroad Commissioner Elizabeth Ames Jones. Jones, however, withdrew from the race to run for state senator. Meanwhile, Leppert never gained much traction statewide and it became obvious that this was a two-horse race between the establishment favorite in Dewhurst and the insurgent Tea Party-backed Cruz with Leppert playing spoiler in the primary thus forcing a likely runoff. In that runoff, Cruz cruised to victory on the wings of momentum which dealt the Texas GOP establishment a serious blow and put them on notice for future elections.

The final analysis in the general election match up between Cruz and Sadler is that Ted Cruz will be the next GOP Senator from Texas thus keeping the seat in GOP hands. Thus far, nothing Cruz or Sadler have done has changed that analysis and Cruz, for his part, has not burnt bridges with the Republican establishment in Texas.

When you are awarded four seats in the House, it necessarily causes a major redistricting of the state. This was a complicated process for Texas this year made even more complicated by the fact they needed federal clearance since the entire state falls under Section 5 of the Voter Rights Act of 1965. After the state legislature drew up a map that almost assured that three of the four new seats would be Republican and one that further weakened the district held by Democrat Lloyd Doggett, several groups, mainly Hispanic, sued in federal court in San Antonio. In the meantime, under a growing deadline due to the established primary date, the state sought expedited federal review in district court in Washington for approval of the new districts. The court in San Antonio threw out the map drawn by the legislature and replaced it with its own. This prompted an expedited review by the US Supreme Court at the request of Texas. The Court ruled that the district court overstepped its bounds by ignoring totally the map drawn by the legislature. The result is that compromise was finally reached between the court’s map and the legislature’s map, primaries were held later, and districts were established. The court drama over this Texas situation is likely to carry on after the elections are completed in November. To summarize, it would appear that of the four new seats, two will go to Democrats and two to Republicans.

Of the 36 districts, candidates are running unopposed in 5 of them. Four of the five are Republican-held seats. Three more seats are open races. In the 14th, Ron Paul is retiring and will likely be replaced by Republican Randy Weber against his Democratic opponent, Nick Lampson. Democrat Silvestre Reyes lost his primary battle against Beto O’Rourke in the 16th District, but O’Rourke will keep it in Democratic hands against GOP candidate Barbara Carrasco. Finally, Democrat Charlie Gonzalez is retiring from the San Antonio area-based 20th District seat and should be replaced by Joaquin Castro, the twin brother of the San Antonio mayor, Juan Castro, who gave the keynote speech at the DNC 2012 convention in Charlotte. Hence, of the open seats, they all should remain in the hands of the incumbent party.

That brings us to the only two races of real interest and intrigue in Texas this year- one Democrat and one Republican. The 35th District was created to increase Hispanic representation. That would come at the expense of the liberal, white Lloyd Doggett. He survived a primary challenge from Hispanic Bexar county tax assessor Sylvia Romo. He will go up against Republican candidate Susan Narvaiz. She is new to national politics after three times being elected Mayor of San Marcos. Republicans are hoping the Spanish surname will resonate with voters in this Hispanic opportunity district. Still, one has to give the nod to Doggett.

The Republican district of interest is the 23rd where incumbent Quico Canseco faces a serious challenge in the form of Democrat Pete Gallego. Attempts were made to change the boundaries of the district to draw in the more Republican precincts of San Antonio, but as part of the compromise maps, the boundaries were shifted back and he will run in basically the same district as he did in 2010. Then, he defeated Democratic incumbent Ciro Rodriguez in a somewhat surprising result. However, he benefitted from the Tea Party wave that washed over Texas politics in 2010 and is somewhat more muted this time out. It should also be remembered that the 23rd is basically a Democratic district. That is what gives the Democratic Party hopes of winning this seat back in 2012. Gallego is a Hispanic state legislator who defeated the aforementioned Rodriguez in the Democratic primary and resulting runoff. Rodriguez was seeking a rematch against Canseco in 2012. Most likely, this district will result to form if for no other reasons than the fact it is basically Democratic in make-up and Canseco won in 2010 with less than 50% of the vote.

There are no questions on the Texas ballot.

In conclusion: Mitt Romney will take 38 electoral votes out of Texas while Ted Cruz will win the Senate race over Paul Sadler keeping the seat in Republican hands. The current House delegation favors Republicans 23-9. After Election Day, the delegation will likely be 24-12.

Running totals thus far: Obama leads in the electoral count 108-81 while Republicans control the Senate 20-14 after analysis of 17 states. In the House, Republicans now lead 78-77 in seats.

Next: Louisiana

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