Both the March Republican primaries and May’s runoff elections hosted a wave of victories for conservatives, with a handful of traditionally strong incumbents losing bids for their own re-election, or for higher positions.
Michael Quinn Sullivan cited the unprecedented number of statewide officials that won’t be returning; Lt. Governor David Dewhurst, Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson, Railroad Commissioner Barry Smitherman and Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples.
In contested House seats, this cycle has seen huge gains for conservatives. Nothing was lost, and ground has been gained.
The run-offs gave Texans another legislative victory in Senate District 2. Grassroots-leader-turned-citizen-candidate, Bob Hall, defeated liberal leaning Republican incumbent, Bob Deuell. (This race marked the second TFR challenger to defeat an incumbent senator this cycle; the third in two years!)
Deuell was ranked as one of the most liberal members of the state Senate. Likewise, Konni Burton won the open-seat SD10 runoff and is well on her way to winning in November—replacing Wendy Davis.
Texans are beginning to realize our problems in government are often non-partisan.
As a result, undesirable incumbents are being challenged in their own party’s primaries. In addition to the conservative movement gaining traction in our state’s elections, the defeat of Ralph Hall and Eric Cantor are perfect illustrations of this awakening nationwide.
As we previously noted, Hall’s loss marked the first election in which a sitting Republican U.S. Representative from Texas failed to obtain his party’s re-nomination…in state history!
In other words, Ratcliffe’s victory over Hall was the first time that any sitting Republican incumbent in the House was defeated in a primary, after 257 unsuccessful attempts.
Furthermore, Hall’s own ascendance to federal office can be attributed more to retirement and death than to him challenging sitting incumbents in either party. Since the 4th district was created in 1903, only four men have occupied the congressional seat over a 111 year period (all Democrats including Hall, until he switched in 2004), despite being elected to two-year terms.
It was Sam Rayburn’s death and Ray Robert’s retirement, not competitive primaries against incumbents, that cleared the way for Hall and determined who would serve the constituents of Congressional District 4 for over 80 years….until John Ratcliffe in 2014.
Eric Cantor’s story is similar in nature…ascension to higher office with little to no primary competition.
Cantor was first elected in an unopposed race to the Virginia House of Delegates in 1991. Following his freshman term, he didn’t draw a primary challenger, and easily defeated an Independent candidate in the general, garnering 80% of the vote.
In 2000, he ran and won in a bid for an open Congressional seat vacated by 20-year incumbent Republican Tom Bliley, edging out his primary challenger by only 263 votes.
For the next twelve years (six terms), Cantor would not face another primary challenger until 2012 when he defeated his opponent with 58 percent of the vote, and this year’s race, where he was decisively beaten by economics professor, Dave Brat.
As with Hall, retirement, not primary challengers to sitting incumbents, determined who represented Virginians both at the state and federal level. Remember, gerrymandering and other demographic factors make the majority of general elections between opposing parties effectively noncompetitive.
Media pundits and political strategists are both devastated and perplexed by Brat’s primary defeat of Cantor. After all, Cantor’s loss also made history.
It’s the first time a sitting House majority leader lost a primary since the position was created in 1899!
Conservative voters in Texas aren’t as surprised. For years, they’ve listened to “Re-purp-lican” legislators deliver tireless rhetoric espousing conservative reforms, only to watch them go to Austin and vote in contradictory fashion. The results of this year’s election cycle are encouraging evidence that Texans are willing to fight for what’s right!
To the chagrin of the political class, what happens in Austin, no longer stays in Austin. But we must stay vigilant at all levels of government.
Aside from encouraging a competitive primary process, the next best remedy to the insidious problem of incumbency is for voters to reengage at the state, county and local level. After all, your Mayor, County Judge or Commissioner will likely find their way to state-wide office or Washington D.C.
Imagine how impactful a greater degree of county and local activism will be in building a grassroots army of future conservative leaders?
As stated in a newsletter celebrating Battleground Texas’ one-year anniversary, the progressive left has already pledged to challenge every public office, from your City Council to the White House.
Will conservatives in Texas continue to meet that challenge, or end up like California and Colorado, whose progressive, big-government minorities overwhelmed the conservative majority?