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The Libertarian effect on the House

So to follow up on the whole Libertarian/Speaker thing from last week, I listened to the brief interview RG Ratcliffe did with Texas LP Chair Wes Benedict, who among other things spoke about the LP’s growing influence on Legislative races over the past few cycles. That sounded like something quantifiable, so I went back through the election results since 2000, to see how often an LP candidate ran in a race with both a Dem and an R, and how often that LP candidate’s presence had an effect.

First things first, between 2000 and 2004, there were a grand total of 24 LP candidates in races that had both major parties, with 2004 being a low point; only three three-way races that year. Of course, one of them was in HD50, where now-Rep. Mark Strama knocked off freshman Republican Jack Stick with less than 50% of the vote. Strama went on to win re-election in 2006 with over 60% in a straight-up two-way race. I think it’s safe to say that he’d be in the House today one way or another.

2006 was a completely different story: A grand total of 46 races, nearly twice as many as the previous three cycles combined, featured a D, an R, and an L. Now, most of these races were not particularly close – the average winner had over 58% of the vote, and won by nearly 20 points. By my lights, 20 of these races could be considered close. Let’s take a look at them, starting with the ones in which the winner achieved a majority of the vote:

Dist Winner PCT Margin Lib ======================================== 11 Hopson 50.99 4.88 Y 12 McReynolds 55.58 13.51 N 35 Toureilles 52.69 10.72 N 47 Bolton 50.24 4.71 N 52 Krusee 50.44 6.24 Y 96 Zedler 52.46 8.17 Y 97 Mowery 55.93 15.11 Y 102 Goolsby 51.93 6.08 N 105 Harper-Brown 55.08 13.98 Y 107 Vaught 50.10 3.41 Y 114 Hartnett 55.58 13.28 N 133 Murphy 55.77 14.04 N 134 Cohen 54.53 11.27 Y 144 Talton 56.59 15.73 N

“PCT” is the percentage of the vote the winner got, “Margin” is by how much they won, and “Lib” refers to whether or not there is a Libertarian Party candidate this year. Some of these races aren’t on anyone’s radar as being potentially competitive now, such as HDs 105, 114, and 134. Yvonne Gonzalez Toureilles in HD35 is unopposed. The Lone Star Project identifies Hopson (HD11), Bolton (HD47), and Vaught (HD107) as Democratic incumbents to watch, along with Dan Barrett in HD97, who won a special election last year after Anna Mowery retired, but not McReynolds in HD12. The others – HDs 52, 96, 102, 133, and 144 – are all hot races.

The more interesting case is the races where the winner had less than a majority. There were six of these in 2006:

Dist Winner PCT Margin Needed Lib =============================================== 17 Cook 48.91 1.03 33.90 Y 32 Garcia 48.25 2.10 31.21 Y 85 Heflin 49.01 0.74 36.32 N 93 Pierson 49.60 2.66 11.33 Y 106 England 49.16 1.11 30.12 Y 118 Farias 48.24 3.96 23.57 Y

Here, “Needed” means the percentage of the Libertarian Party candidate’s vote the winner needed to get a majority. By this measure, it’s hard to say that Paula Pierson or Joe Farias were significantly helped by the LP candidate. Kirk England has switched to the Democrats. Pierson is on the Lone Star Project’s watch list, but her opponent has little money. Neither Farias nor England are considered endangered. The others are all hot races, and along with Barrett’s HD97 probably represent the top four Republican takeover targets. I’d say Joe Heflin, who had the closest win, and Juan Garcia, in whose race the LP candidate won 5.58% of the vote, were genuinely helped by the presence of the third-party candidate, the others not so much.

The most interesting thing to me, though, is which of these races have LP candidates and which don’t. I confess, I’m at a loss to explain why Suzanna Hupp would call the hopefuls in HDs 9 and 64 to ask them to stand down, but not HD17’s Alan Duesterhoft or HD32’s Lenard Nelson, just to name two. Maybe she hadn’t gotten around to them by the time that story broke, I don’t know. It just looks like a strange way to prioritize to me.

One last thing: The 24 LP candidates from 2000 to 2004 averaged 2.68% of the vote in these races, while the 2006 candidates garnered 3.56%. By that measure, I have to agree with Benedict’s statement about their growing influence, though I think a combination of anti-Republican-but-not-yet-pro-Democratic feeling that year helped as well. My suspicion is that the Democratic candidates will do a better job this year of converting anti-R votes into actual votes for them. As with the Caucus endorsement backlash hypothesis, I’ll be checking that later this year.

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6 Comments

  1. Ron in Houston says:

    I love it when you do this type of analysis. Then again, maybe I’m a nerd.

  2. blank says:

    In any close race that has a Libertarian candidate, the Libertarians could have an impact that helps Democrats. That seems to include HDs 11, 17, 32, 52, 93, 96, 97, and 107.

    On other points in your post, I smiled a little with this sentence:

    Some of these races aren’t on anyone’s radar as being potentially competitive now, such as HDs 105, 114, and 134.

    I seem to recall a certain blogger creating an “8 in 08” post on targeting 105 and 114, so these two might actually be on at least someone’s radar 😉

    Pierson is on the Lone Star Project’s watch list, but her opponent has little money.

    I recall that Burch put in a lot of his own wealth in his Arlington Council race (maybe $40K-$50K?). I suspect he’ll do it again here too, so his cofers could grow considerably in short period of time.

  3. I seem to recall a certain blogger creating an “8 in 08” post on targeting 105 and 114, so these two might actually be on at least someone’s radar 😉

    Yeah, that was my wish list back then. sigh It kills me to say 105 isn’t on the radar, because Harper Brown is so egregious, but there it is. Maybe next time.

  4. Scott S. Floyd says:

    But without Harper Brown, who would make all of those Parliamentary Procedure objections while not even being on the House floor? Craddick would have to learn a new name. Then again, let’s hope we are learning a new speaker name instead.

  5. blank says:

    Yeah, that was my wish list back then. sigh It kills me to say 105 isn’t on the radar, because Harper Brown is so egregious, but there it is. Maybe next time.

    I’m in that group of folks who want to see Harper Brown gone. (I used to live in 105 too.) It’s also a very good area to target. The neighboring areas like Grand Prairie and East Arlington are trending Democratic, and Oak Cliff is solidly Democratic. So, a push in Irving could create a friendly Democratic area to anchor a CD or SD in decade redistricting.

    But, DFW already has a pretty large slate races that it is targeting/defending, so 105 will probably be a next cycle race.

  6. Call me after the election.
    It will be a good story if I win.
    Kenneth D. Franks
    Democratic Candidate
    Texas House District 9