Super Tuesday is next week and Texas, with its 155 delegates, is the largest prize for the GOP presidential candidates. As the home state of Senator Ted Cruz, Texas is an important source of support as well as having symbolic importance. The polls in Texas produced different results although all have shown Senator Cruz leading in his home state (see here, here, here, and here). Yesterday Boris noted that Senator Rubio has moved into the lead in terms of endorsements from state legislators as well as national legislators. The Texas contest is also the first time that the presidential contest will not be the only election on the ballot for voters and that may well have consequences.
In Texas, 44 delegates are awarded on the basis of the statewide presidential vote and 108 delegates are awarded on the basis of the results in each of the 36 congressional districts (Josh Putnam has a great explanation here). There is a 20% threshold both statewide and in each of the congressional districts in order to win delegates. First I will describe the current state of play with regard to endorsements and then explain why the election in Texas differs a bit from the other states and why these endorsements might be helpful.
Looking at the big picture in terms of endorsements, Senator Ted Cruz holds a dominant advantage among members currently serving in the Texas Legislature. In terms of percentages, 53.5% of the GOP members of the Texas House have endorsed compared with 53.2% of GOP members in the U.S. House of Representatives (including endorsements for candidates who have left the race). Within the Texas congressional delegation, Senator Cruz has received endorsements from 8/24 members (only 11 have endorsed and notably the senior senator from Texas, John Cornyn has not endorsed). To date, Senator Cruz has 43 endorsements from the 99 Republican members of the Texas House as well as the endorsements of 12 of the 20 GOP senators. Senator Rubio has earned the endorsements of 8 GOP members of the Texas House and no members of the Texas Senate. No Texas legislators have endorsed Donald Trump, John Kasich, or Ben Carson.
The advantage Senator Cruz has over Senator Rubio is less pronounced when including the endorsements from retired members of the state legislature. Senator Rubio has received 13 endorsements including a 4 former state senators. Senator Cruz, on the other hand, has received no endorsements from former members of the Texas Legislature.
Texas is likely to continue the trend of record turnout in GOP primaries and according to data compiled from the Texas Election Project (@TXElects), turnout in early voting is ahead of both 2008 and 2012. It is possible that turnout will break the Republican record in a presidential primary, which was set in 1988 when 1,767,045 Republicans went to the polls (far outpacing the famed 1976 and 1980 races). The early speculation surrounding the increased GOP turnout is Donald Trump and that conjecture may well be correct, but it is impossible to tell from the early voting numbers. Another plausible scenario is that Texas is conducting congressional and state primary elections in addition to the presidential primary on March 1st.
Unlike previous states, many of the state legislators who have endorsed one of the GOP candidates for president are actively running their own campaigns for office so there might be more mobilization and activation of voters. The Texas GOP is in the midst of a civil war over the definition of conservatism and support for Speaker Joe Straus (see Mark Jones here). Speaker Straus (HD121) had supported Jeb Bush while key Straus allies Byron Cook (HD08) and Charlie Geren (HD99) have not endorsed in the 2016 presidential contest nor have some well-respected members who are retiring like John Otto (HD18) or Jimmie Don Aycock (HD54). Using the ideal points from Mark Jones or those from Boris Shor, many of Senator Rubio’s endorsements come from House members near the Republican median or to the left of it while Senator Cruz has broad based support among GOP members of the Texas House.
One other factor shaping the GOP race is that each congressional district in Texas receives 3 delegates. If a candidate receives 50% of the vote in the district, he collects all 3 delegates, but anything less and the delegates are awarded proportionally. Mark Jones noted that there are likely to be substantial differences in turnout in congressional districts and in some cases create “rotten boroughs” where there are many fewer GOP voters and some of those districts will also be less conservative than the Texas GOP average. The endorsements Senator Rubio has received could be especially beneficial in cracking the 20% threshold in some of these districts such as the 29th Congressional District (endorsement from State Representative Gilbert Pena), the 35th Congressional District (endorsement from State Representative Rick Galindo) and the 5th and 32nd Congressional Districts (endorsement from State Representative Jason Villalba) that are less conservative than the GOP average.
As the race in Texas draws to a close, it seems likely that Senator Cruz will win his home state, but the question is whether the support from a broad network of political allies can boost him past the critical 50% threshold to win more delegates than his opponents. It will also be fascinating to watch the turnout numbers in districts that are much less Republican and see what kind of effect that has on the distribution of the race. One final note, while the presidential circus will be leaving town, it may have a long-term effect as some candidates who “win” on March 1st may face a runoff election on May 24, 2016.