Take a look at Politico’s map of Tuesday’s Texas gubernatorial primary results. One thing should jump out immediately: Democrat Wendy Davis racked up far, far fewer votes than Republican Greg Abbott. Both easily won their party’s nominations, but Davis only earned 432,025 votes to Abbott’s 1,219,831 votes. That’s nearly a 3 to 1 margin. Even adding in Davis’ challenger’s total doesn’t close much of the gap.
But that doesn’t even tell the whole story. Four years ago, the Democrats’ nominee racked up more than 517,000 votes. Bill White was arguably a stronger overall candidate for the Texas Democrats in 2010. He had been mayor of Houston, the state’s largest city, and had a business background to cite and business contacts to lean on for support. He had joined up with Mike Bloomberg’s Mayors Against Illegal Guns, but otherwise presented a liberal but non-radical candidacy.
In 2010, Gov. Rick Perry had already been governor for a decade and was already Texas’ longest serving governor by a mile. Some fatigue with him had set in. Perry still defeated White easily.
In 2014, state Attorney General Greg Abbott is arguably in a stronger position than Perry was four years ago. There is no fatigue with him. He is an inspiring and popular figure known for defending Texas in court against the unpopular Obama administration. Davis, a state Senator with no major legislative record to speak of, is mainly known through media hype for filibustering a popular abortion law. Her allies in that fight resorted to tactics that were, frankly, disgusting and embarrassing, and brought dishonor on the state.
For Davis, it gets worse. If she has any hope of winning in the fall, she must have enthusiastic support and turnout in regions of the state where Democrats are strongest. Based on Tuesday’s results, though, she will not have that, at least not without some major ground game work between now and November. Go back to Politico’s map and click on the counties in south Texas and along the border. You’ll see that Davis did not win most of those counties. Democrats there voted for Ray Madrigal, a little known and poorly financed candidate. Madrigal beat Davis in Hidalgo County, Webb County and several other counties in the Rio Grande Valley. That region is heavily Hispanic and heavily Catholic. Davis’ very public support for late-term abortion may not be sitting well with the largely pro-life voters in a region in which she cannot afford to have any weakness or enthusiasm gap at all. Her poor showing in the Valley is ominous for her and the Democrats, according to Rice University political scientist Mark Jones, quoted today in the Austin American-Statesman:
Davis’ especially weak performance in the border counties stretching from Cameron County to Webb County should be setting off the fire alarms in Fort Worth tonight. To be competitive in November she needs Hispanic Democrats in those counties to turn out in record numbers, and to vote for her, not Abbott. These results suggest she has some real work to do down in south Texas. Bill White did better than this, and he faced six other candidates, including two Hispanics as well as Farouk Shami, who dropped $11 million on his primary bid.
Farouk was on fire. Wendy Davis is not.
To be sure, Davis will have some help from state Sen. Leticia Van De Putte, the Democrats’ lieutenant governor candidate, who is Hispanic. But after Tuesday’s poor results for her and strong results for Abbott on the GOP side, that is very unlikely to be enough to make any difference. Van De Putte will face off in the fall against the winner of the GOP’s lite gov runoff, either incumbent David Dewhurst or state Sen. Dan Patrick, who came in first Tuesday. Both have proven they can run statewide and win; either one will retain the seat for Republicans, and Abbott is unlikely to be threatened by Davis. The Republicans will have 37-year-old military veteran George P. Bush, scion of that family and Hispanic, running as the GOP nominee for Land Commissioner (he only racked up 73% or so in the primary Tuesday). The Texas GOP overall does better with Hispanic voters than other state parties.
Tuesday’s results show that Texas is not turning purple or blue anytime soon. It’s still a Tea Party friendly state that votes much more enthusiastically on the red side up and down the ballot, to keep Texas government lean and mean.
Hyping Wendy Davis atop their ticket may prove to be a serious setback for the state’s already weak and reeling Democrats.