Rick Perry's big win in Texas 

The conventional wisdom had it that the Republican gubernatorial primary in Texas would be a battle between challenger Kay Bailey Hutchison’s sophisticated urban base versus incumbent Rick Perry’s yahooing rural base.

The election results—incomplete as I write past midnight Eastern time—tell a different story.

Perry has won the Republican nomination without a runoff, with (as I write) 51% of the votes to 30% for Hutchison and 18% for Debra Medina (the candidate who got scrubbed from serious contention when she told Glenn Beck that she wasn’t sure the U.S. government wasn’t behind the September 11 attacks). That’s with 6,341 of 8,236 precincts reporting. Perry's margin is likely to increase as the final numbers come in.

The Texas secretary of state’s exemplary website shows separately the early voting results and the total results for each county. As the returns were coming in, it was apparent to me as I looked at counties with all precincts reporting that there wasn’t much difference between the early voting percentages and the total percentages when all the precincts were counted.

To get a sense of where the candidates were getting their strongest support, I added up the early voting totals for the four major metro areas as most recently defined, the 12-county Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex, the 10-county Houston metro area, the 8-county San Antonion metro area (in which Medina County reported no votes cast in the Republican primary) and the 5-county Austin metro area. Subtracting from that left the 219 counties in the rest of the state. I didn’t separate out the heavily Hispanic counties along the Rio Grande Valley, because they cast relatively few (in some cases zero) votes in the Republican primary. I’ll round off the numbers to the nearest thousand in the following table, showing the number of votes and percentages for Hutchison, Medina and Perry and the total number of votes cast.

             Hutchison   Medina   Perry      Total

TEXAS      183 31      97 16    313 53    593

DFW          46 30      21 20      74 49    151

Houston     32 27      14 12      72 61    118

San Ant.     17 34       7 14      26 51      52

Austin         11 27      8 19      22 54      41

Remainder  77 33     37 16    118 51     231

Conclusions:

(1) Perry won this not in rural and small town Texas but in metro Houston. This bodes well for him in the general election, since it indicates strength in the home base of the well regarded Democratic nominee, former Houston Mayor Bill White, who was nominated by an overwhelming margin.

(2) Medina, the candidate who wouldn’t disrespect the truthers, did best in the supposedly most sophisticated part of Texas, the Metroplex. Go figure.

(3) Hutchison, supposedly the candidate of urban sophisticates, did best in metro San Antonio and rural Texas. She held Perry below the 50% level needed to avoid a runoff in approximately half of Texas’s 254 counties; unfortunately for her, those counties didn’t give her nearly a big enough margin to offset Perry’s advantage in metro Houston.

We don’t know the overall turnout numbers yet, but they have some significance in a state which does not have party registration and in which voters can choose to participate in either party’s primary.

Indications as I write are that 595,000 early voters chose to vote in the Republican primary, a little more than twice the 268,000 early voters who chose to vote in the Democratic primary. This probably overstates the Republican advantage, since for months it has been apparent that the Republicans had a seriously contested primary which, until the late entry of Bill White, seemed sure to determine who the next governor would be, while the Democratic party seemed inconsequential until White’s entry and seemed sure to be won by White after he entered.

Nevertheless, there’s a huge contrast here with the 2008 presidential primaries, in which 2,874,000 Texans chose to vote in the hotly contested primary between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama and only 1,362,000 Texans chose to vote in the Republican primary at a point when John McCain seemed assured of the nomination but Mike Huckabee was still campaigning actively. It looks like total Republican turnout this year will be over 1.5 million while overall Democratic turnout will be about 700,000. That’s a huge contrast with the results the last time Texas had seriously contested primaries for governor in both parties, way back in 1990. Then 855,000 Texans voted in the Republican primary and 1,487,000 voted in the Democratic primary.

In November 1990 Democrat Ann Richards was elected governor, but Republicans broke through and won downballot state offices—Kay Bailey Hutchison was elected state treasurer and Rick Perry state agriculture commissioner. George W. Bush, with his father in the White House, wasn’t an active factor in Texas politics.

Now Bush is living in retirement in Dallas, Richards is unfortunately no longer alive, and Perry has beaten Hutchison in a battle of the titans for the Republican gubernatorial nomination. White should be regarded as a serious candidate for the governorship, but the numbers do say that Texas—the nation’s second largest state, and on track to gain 4 more U.S. House seats in the apportionment following the 2010 Census, the only state likely to gain more than 1 seat—is heavily tilted toward the Republican party. I may have more to say as the final numbers come in.

Update: 3/3 3:17 PM (EST) The numbers are in: Click to read my second piece on the Texas election results

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Michael Barone

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