Candidates reach deadline for May 29 primary

March 9, 2012 2:56:37 PM PST
The Texas primary elections took a big step toward finally happening Friday as politicians and their challengers filed candidacy paperwork to meet the evening deadline.

Legal challenges to the state's new political maps delayed the elections from March 6 to May 29, and left some candidates unsure about what districts they could run in or who they might be running against. Now that court-ordered maps are in place, candidates have until 6 p.m. to file the proper paperwork with their respective parties.

The redistricting battle did not affect the biggest race in the state to replace retiring U.S. Rep. Kay Bailey Hutchison. The candidates for that seat include several Republicans, with Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, former Mayor Tom Leppert, former Texas Solicitor General Ted Cruz and former football analyst Craig James leading the race. On the Democratic side, veteran lawmaker Paul Sadler faces newcomer Sean Hubbard.

Because of Texas' fast-growing population over the last decade, the state has four additional congressional seats this election. Minorities make up the majority of voters in two of those new districts, and Democrats are expected to win both seats.

In the Dallas-Fort Worth area, the new 33rd District stretches across inner-city Dallas to Fort Worth, where the majority of the constituents live. Tarrant County State Rep. Marc Veasey, Fort Worth City Councilwoman Kathleen Hicks, Manuel Valdez and Ken Sanders have filed paperwork for the Democratic primary. Three Republicans have filed for that race.

The new 35th District is centered on east San Antonio and runs up Interstate 35 to east Austin, where U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett lives. Doggett has filed for re-election in the district but will face major competition from fellow Democrats including former U.S. Rep. Ciro Rodriguez and Bexar County Tax Assessor Sylvia Romo, who are from San Antonio.

The new political map also creates a new 34th District in the Rio Grande Valley, centered on Brownsville. There are four Republicans and three Democrats vying for the chance to compete in the general election for that seat.

Doggett's old 25th District was redrawn to elect a Republican candidate by stretching from downtown Austin to the northwest. The Republican primary race for that seat has attracted eight candidates, including tea party activist and former Railroad Commissioner Michael Williams and former Texas Secretary of State Roger Williams.

There will be greater than usual turnover in the Legislature in 2013, with at least four out of 31 senators retiring and at least 19 out of 150 representatives not running for re-election. All of the departing senators and 11 of the House members departing are Republicans.

One of the fiercest primary races will likely be to replace state Sen. Chris Harris in a district that spans northern Forth Worth and the Mid-Cities, because it will pit three Republican House members against one another. State Reps. Kelly Hancock, Rodney Anderson and Todd Smith have all filed to compete in the primary and Texas law prevents them from simultaneously running for their House seats.

Republicans currently make up a 102-48 super majority in the Texas House, but that likely will change under the new maps. Republicans can count on retaining at least 85 seats and Democrats appear to have 50 sewn up, leaving 15 seats in play. A super majority, which requires that one party control two-thirds of the House, allows that party to operate and pass laws without the minority party even showing up.

One important factor will be the role of the tea party and conservative activists in the Republican primary. Groups such as the Conservative Texans Political Action Conference, Texans for Fiscal Responsibility and Americans for Prosperity have endorsed conservative challengers to incumbents they feel are not conservative enough, including House Speaker Joe Straus.

The Republicans won a supermajority in 2010, riding on the tea party wave. Because the new primary date is the day after Memorial Day, and any run-offs will be held on July 31, experts predict a very low turnout.

That means party activists, which by definition make up only a small portion of the party, will likely have a stronger voice when less committed voters don't turn out. That leaves some incumbents facing a tough race against the conservative challengers.