The PJ Tatler

Texas Primary Pushed Back to April 3

Thanks to the Obama Justice Department’s challenge to Texas’ new congressional map, the Lone Star State has had to move its 2012 primary back by nearly a full month. Texas gained four new congressional seats as a result of the 2010 census, but the DoJ’s challenge has created chaos. Texas has held its primary on the Republican side, and its two-step primary/caucus on the Democratic side, on Super Tuesday in March over the past few election cycles.

The April 3 date avoids the possibility of splitting the primary between Super Tuesday for the presidential and statewide office votes, and a later date for district level and local offices. But it comes at the price of pushing the Texas presidential primary back by a month, possibly rendering it less influential than it might otherwise have been. Presidential primary races have tended to be over by the time of the Texas primary, though in 2008, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama split Texas’ delegates after Clinton won the primary and Obama won the caucus. Clinton had hoped a victory in Texas would revive her hopes of defeating Obama; the split verdict served Obama’s interests.

For the Republican presidential primary, the April 3 date could end up helping Gov. Rick Perry. By the time April 3 comes around, the GOP primary field is likely to have been winnowed down considerably. A few victories or strong places in the 10 Super Tuesday states, March 6, could set Perry up to claim a big victory in his home state on April 3. States that have held their primaries before April 1 will allocate their delegates proportionally to the primary vote (except Florida, which loses half of its delegates because it jumped up to an early date, but will be winner-take-all). Proportional delegation makes it more difficult for any candidate to score a knockout in the early contests. Florida’s halved delegate total potentially reduces the impact of winning there. A candidate with a large war chest could finish in the top three or four in the early states, see less funded candidates fall away and support among the remaining candidates shuffle, and then do well enough on Super Tuesday to justify staying in for the long haul. And them comes Texas, which gets its full allotment of 155 delegates and votes on April 3. The State Republican Executive Committee recently decided that Texas will allot its delegates proportionally. But Perry is expected to do well, and in a less crowded field, could rake in a huge number of delegates in his home state.

The change probably also helps challengers down the ballot. In the Senate race, Ted Cruz probably benefits from having an extra month to raise money and increase name recognition in his race against Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst for the open seat. Other challengers in that race include former Dallas Mayor Tom Leppert and Craig James, who recently resigned from his job as a sports analyst at ESPN to file to run in the Senate race. But James is starting late, and may face blowback in the Lubbock area for his role in the firing of Texas Tech football coach Mike Leach. Lubbock is very strong Republican territory, in an overall strongly Republican state.

On the Democratic side, it’s probably time to look ahead to 2014. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez has dropped out of the Democratic Senate primary, leaving the field wide open but without any major candidate at all. That Sanchez, who became a national figure largely due to his role in the Abu Ghraib scandal, was the Democrats’ best hope says much about the state of that party. In 2014, the Texas Democrats may no longer have an unpopular incumbent in the White House to drag them down, and perhaps they will have moderated the liberal policies that have helped render them irrelevant in Texas statewide politics. And perhaps they can find a credible candidate to run against the popular two-term Republican Sen. John Cornyn.

And perhaps the Easter Bunny will have turned out to be real.