Why Primary Season Is Where The Real Political Action Is

Although it may seem to some that we just got through a long election season, another one is about to get interesting. In six weeks, early voting begins for the March 4th primary election. Political observers say much of the real action in this election is in the primary, not in November.


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There are a number of high-profile, statewide offices up for grabs this year. The list starts with the Governor’s race and includes Lt. Governor, Attorney General, Agriculture Commissioner, Land Commissioner and Comptroller. Many primary candidates have spent the last few months reaching out to activists and donors behind the scenes, but now begin the public phase of their campaigns. University of Houston associate professor of political science Brandon Rottinghaus says it’s a critical period.

“This is a very important phase for candidates because they are often in a position where they have to introduce themselves, or re-introduce themselves to the Texans and voters are often very inattentive during the holiday season, so this is a time for candidates to start anew and begin to define themselves and define their opponents.”

Rottinghaus says part of that “getting to know me” phase includes several key strategies for candidates.

“The first is to make sure that your positives are very high. So you want voters to know the best things about you right away. But you also want your voters to know the worst things about your opponent right away. So, you have to have an ad campaign, you have to have a message that enhances the things that you do well and also highlights the things that your opponent does poorly. And so, they’re going to have to find a way to do this without being too negative and too aggressive this early in the season.”

Mark Jones is the chair of the department of political science at Rice University and says most of the action in Texas takes place in the March primaries and May run-offs.

“The November election is almost an afterthought in that most of our elected officials are de facto elected in the primary, and that’s both statewide, because in November, unless there’s some sort of Black Swan type event, we’re going to see all the Republican statewide candidates be elected. And therefore, the March primaries and subsequent May run-offs, are going to be the key elections that determine who holds major offices.”

The exception is likely the Governor’s race, where both Democratic favorite Wendy Davis and Republican frontrunner Greg Abbott are collecting money and supporters for what will likely be a competitive November election. Jones says both Davis and Abbott, despite no serious primary competition, still have objectives leading up to March.

“Greg Abbott is going to use this as an opportunity to reach out to both Republican voters, but also to not do anything that would alienate voters who participate in November. Wendy Davis has a competitor in the primary. What both she and Abbott are going to try to do is to win a sufficiently large share of the vote that the storyline the next day isn’t about the weak performance of either Davis or Abbott in their respective primary.”

Jones says the most interesting primary contest is the race for Lt. Governor, with four well-known GOP candidates fighting for a spot in a May run-off. Early voting in the primary beings February 18th.

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