U.S. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison (R, TX) has officially announced that she will be retiring at the end of her term in January, 2013, and therefore will not be seeking re-election. Because she has held that post since 1993, when she participated in a special election for the open seat, and won re-election in 1994, 2000, and 2006, the race for that open Senate seat has been ripped wide open in Texas, and though few people have officially declared their candidacy, much speculation has been made about who could replace her in the 2012 General Election. Because of timing (being that the election is about a year and a half away), most of this speculation is just that, and will turn up to be nothing more. However, one cannot disqualify a candidate that declares this early, as they have the potential to gain the advantage with the extra face time and fundraising. The following will discuss the political scene in Texas, starting with the political shift of the 1960s and going through recent elections, turn to 2012 and the speculations and declarations that have been made thus far, and finally, using that information, will make a prediction for 2012 on which of the four men mentioned will be chosen to fill Kay Bailey Hutchison’s heels. Of course, the more interesting part would be to see one of these men don those heels.
Initially, we must examine the party shift. After voting strongly for Democrat Lyndon Baines Johnson in the 1964 Presidential Election, Republicans finally began to present a really challenge to Democrats. In the 1980s, the Republican party began to dominate the political scene, highlighted by the metro areas Dallas-Fort Worth and Houston making the silent declaration of a full shift toward the Republican party. This sparked a trend that leaked into the 1990s, where major Texas cities began to wax Republican, leading the smaller counties in Texas to do the same. Interestingly, by the 2000s, the metro areas of Dallas-Fort Worth, Houston, and Austin had all shifted back toward the Democratic party, along with most of the border counties, due to the expanding populations of the Hispanic and African-American minorities in these areas. Granted, the remaining 203 counties have stayed Republican, being considered the Republican remnant of Texas, but they are beginning to diminish in value as they have not grown nearly as much as the metros and borders, percentage-wise. Currently, Republicans hold all 29 statewide-elected offices (including both U.S. Senate seats) and all nine seats on the Supreme Court. They have won all but one gubernatorial race since 1986 and every U.S. Senate race since 1990. Lately, however, this dominance has been rumored to be in peril due to two major causes, one of which is demographics. Pundits are calling an imminent increase in Latino voters, who mostly sway Democratic. Though Rick Perry and junior Senator John Cornyn (R, TX) have found limited success with Latinos, however, this could very well be non-issue, as former President George W. Bush and Senator Hutchison both won the Latino vote in their elections. All that future Republicans must do is follow their example. The second rumored cause is the visible and often controversial control of the state exerted by Republicans. This control has been held long enough for the party to have garnered much political baggage. This, however, could also be non-issue for the Republicans, as the most scandalous actions occurred in 2003 and the Republicans are still in control.
The 2008 Presidential Election saw Republican John McCain taking the majority in Texas, with 55% of the vote compared to Democrat Barack Obama’s 44%. McCain was able to carry the Dallas-Fort Worth metro area with 55%, Houston with 54%, and San Antonio with 52%, losing Austin to Obama 58%-42%. Heavily Hispanic border counties voted 65%-35% for Obama, but the rest of the state voted mostly for McCain. Similarly, the 2004 Presidential Election saw incumbent Republican George W. Bush beat out Democrat John Kerry by a margin of 61%-38%. Bush carried Dallas with 62% and Houston with 58% of the vote, while Kerry held on to the border counties 52%-48%. This was almost a mirror of the 2000 Presidential Election, in which Bush beat Gore 59%-38%. Bush was able to carry all of the metro areas and win the state, even though Gore carried the deep south counties and most of the border counties. This goes to show that Texas is a good place in which to be a Republican.
As stated before, incumbent Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison is retiring, meaning that the probability for a primary on either side of the fence is very high, definite on the Republican side since it looks like a very easy win. The primaries in Texas, however, may very well affect the General Election because Texas has an open primary system. This means that voters switching parties in Texas is all too common and easy, as you can do so in every primary (but in the event of a runoff, you must stick with the party for which you voted in the primary). It could happen once again that the party with more votes in the primary loses the election. In the 2008 primaries, less Republicans voted in the Republican primary, but McCain won the state in the General Election.
When Kay Bailey Hutchison won her third full term in 2006, things were different. Since 2006, the U.S. Economy has taken a nosedive. However, though this sparked the nationalized nature of the 2008 Presidential Election, the recession has been almost nonexistent in Texas. In 2006, Rick Perry won his re-election with only 39% of the vote, but in 2010, Perry won more convincingly, with 55% of the vote. The Hispanic population has also begun to rise quickly across the state, but the majority of Hispanics still voted for Hutchison in 2006. The fact that 2012 is a Presidential Election year will mean that a higher voter turnout is very likely, especially among the growing Hispanic population, but since Hutchison did very well with the Hispanics, that fact could still very well benefit the Republican party in the very Republican state. The polarization of Texas has stopped many elections from becoming nationalized, and even if Obama improves his image, the Republican spirit has been burned into the Texan image.
As stated before, the primary picture is wide open in Texas on both sides, and because of speculations and declarations, a primary is inevitable for both major parties. The following will describe two likely frontrunners from both parties. Interestingly, two of the frontrunners described below have yet to officially declare.
On the Republican side, the frontrunners are Tom Leppert, the former Dallas mayor, and current Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst. Tom Leppert was mayor of Dallas between June 2007 and February 2011, resigning simply because, according to him, he had accomplished what he set out to accomplish in Dallas. What makes him a frontrunner on the Republican side is the fact that he has declared and raised over $2.6 million as of April 27, 2011. David Dewhurst, however, is considered the frontrunner of the Republican race (and the election) should he officially declare. Though, as of yet, he has only hired an exploration committee, the second-term Lieutenant General has garnered heavy support from the state Republican Party as well as the entire state itself, winning the separate Lieutenant Governor election with 61% of the vote in 2010. Polls have identified him as the clear winner of the Republican Primary and winning the Senate seat by the highest margin in the General Election, no matter who opposes him.
On the Democratic side, two frontrunners have emerged, and neither one was the first to declare his candidacy. The first frontrunner is considered the Marco Rubio of Texas Democrats, even though he has not declared his candidacy as of yet. Julian Castro, the sitting Mayor of San Antonio, has been quite the rising star in Texas politics, and is considered the spark needed to supercharge the Latino vote in Texas. The other frontrunner is former Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez. Not only could he excite the Latinos in Texas before Castro even enters the race, but as a veteran of Project Desert Storm and Project Iraqi Freedom, Sanchez could easily garner support from the rest of Texas.
Based upon past elections, the political stance of the state of Texas, and the steadiness of Republican popularity, one can reasonably assume that Kay Bailey Hutchison will be succeeded by Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst. The truth is, his exploration committee will return with positive results similar to the previously-mentioned polls. His recent victories over his opponents for Lieutenant Governor have given him the patience and the political know-how to not only mount a successful campaign, but to withstand the length of time if he declares before the end of 2011. Unfortunately for the Democrats, this election will leave them in the dust and establish Texas as a Republican force to be reckoned with on a national scale.