Followup on the Libertarian effect in the House

In addition to the possible HGLBT endorsement backlash effect, another thing I talked about before the election that I said I’d look at again afterward was the Libertarian effect on the State House. You may recall that an emissary for Tom Craddick spoke to a couple of Libertarian Party candidates to encourage them to drop out of their State House races, on the theory that this would give the GOP better odds of winning those races and thus maintaining Craddick’s stranglehold on power. How did that play out in practice?

Well, as noted before, between 2000 and 2004, there were a grand total of 24 LP candidates in State House races that had both major parties. Those 24 candidates averaged 2.68% of the vote. In 2006, there was a huge jump, to 46 Lib candidates in three-way races, and they collected 3.56% per race. This year, there were 44 such candidates, and by my calculation their mean level of support was 2.75%. In other words, back to historic norms, and evidence for my suspicion that Democrats would do a better job of converting anti-R votes into actual Democratic votes.

(Further evidence: In the seven statewide campaigns this year excluding the Presidential race that were three-ways, the Libertarians got 3.01%. In 2006, in eight races with a Lib – not counting the Governor’s race where there were other more viable options for a nonstandard vote – the Libs took 3.62%.)

In 2006, there were six House candidates who won with less than a majority of the vote. This year, despite the near-equal number of Libs running, there were only two such races. They are:

State Representative District 11 Brian K. Walker REP 13,928 48.78% 25,928 49.07% Chuck Hopson DEM 14,191 49.71% 26,030 49.27% Paul Bryan LIB 428 1.49% 872 1.65%

That was the second-closest race overall, with only the weird HD105 contest in Dallas being narrower. It would be easy to say that the Libertarian candidate helped incumbent Rep. Chuck Hopson escape with his razor-thin win here. For what it’s worth, I think Libs tend to hurt incumbent Republicans and Republican candidates in open seat races, but I think that effect is minimized in races with incumbent Democrats. I just think that if you’re casting a “protest” votes, that protest is aimed at the party in power more than the challenging party. I could be wrong about this – it’s just a hunch, I have no data to back this up – but that’s how I see it.

Of course, in any race with a Libertarian, that Libertarian is going to get some votes on his own merits. In Harris County, 4017 people, or about 161 per State House district, cast straight-party Libertarian ballots. 6783 people voted for the Bob Barr/Wayne Root Presidential ticket; if you assume those folks who weren’t straight-party voters nonethless pushed the L button when that was an option, that’s 271 votes per district. Point being, some of the people who voted for Paul Bryan in HD10 would have always voted for him, and if there had been no Libertarian option, some of them would have skipped the race. As close as this one was, Hopson might have won it regardless of Bryan’s presence.

The other House race:

State Representative District 52 Bryan Daniel REP 23,110 46.43% 33,821 47.42% Diana Maldonado DEM 24,993 50.21% 34,668 48.61% Lillian Simmons LIB 1,670 3.35% 2,825 3.96%

That’s a result more like what we saw in some key races in 2006, and it’s much easier to see the L vote here in this formerly-Republican held seat as a non-vote for Bryan Daniel. Maldonado would have needed about 35% of Lillian Simmons’ total to break 50%. I think she’d have been a favorite regardless, but it certainly didn’t hurt her to have Simmons in the race.

As it happens, there was one more race that featured a Libertarian candidate and a non-majority winner:

State Senator, District 10 Kim Brimer REP 102,185 46.58% 140,613 47.54% Wendy R. Davis DEM 112,504 51.29% 147,561 49.89% Richard Cross LIB 4,656 2.12% 7,584 2.56%

As it only would have required Davis to take 319 of Cross’ votes to move over 50%, I think it’s safe to say she had this won under any scenario. I present it here in the interest of completeness.

Finally, what about the three races in which the GOP tried to get the Libertarian candidate to drop out? They succeeded in HD47, where first-term Rep. Valinda Bolton wound up winning by a 2000 vote margin, 51.2% to 48.8%. The two races where they tried and failed were HDs 09, where Republican incumbent Wayne Christian cruised to re-election by a 62.7-35.4 margin, and 64, where Rep. Myra Crownover won 56.0 to 38.7. In the latter case, the Libertarian candidate got over 5% of the vote, which I’d probably chalk up to Republican dissatisfaction. Hopefully some day those votes will be pro-Dem and not just anti-GOP.

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One Response to Followup on the Libertarian effect in the House

  1. blank says:

    As it only would have required Davis to take 319 of Cross’ votes to move over 50%, I think it’s safe to say she had this won under any scenario.

    For what it is worth, I recall Cross saying that he was a former McGovernite, and based on how he presented himself, it wouldn’t shock me if he actually pulled more votes from Wendy Davis than from Kim Brimer. Brimer lost because he couldn’t get top of the ticket McCain voters to meet him down ballot.

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