Texas Could Be Kingmaker in 2016 GOP Primary

ted cruz rick perry texas
AP Photos
Austin, TX

Texas is poised to have a major influence on the 2016 presidential race, not just because of the many candidates with connections to the Lone Star State, but because for the first time in decades, Texas’ primary election may actually have a decisive impact on the Republican presidential primary results.

The 2008 presidential primary was a game changer in the battle between Democratic contenders Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, but Texas Republicans have not seen a competitive primary since 1976, as the Dallas Morning News noted.

As in past years, Iowa (February 1 caucuses), New Hampshire (February 9 primary), South Carolina (February 20 primary), and Nevada (February 23 caucuses), will get to cast their votes first. Normally, by the time the presidential primary is held in Texas, the race is all but decided.

This year, however, Texas will join eleven other states on a “Super Tuesday” primary on March 1. With fifteen-and-counting Republicans in the race, the chances that the field would significantly narrow with just the first four states are very low.

“Texas is the reddest of the red states, and unfortunately, in previous cycles our primary hasn’t mattered much,” Texas GOP chairman Tom Mechler told the Morning News, sharing his satisfaction that in 2016, Texas Republicans would “have a say in who is the next Republican nominee for president.”

The stakes for Texas’ delegates seem to be even higher because the crowded Republican field is rich with Texas roots. There are the obvious two Texans, former Gov. Rick Perry (R-TX), who was born in Paint Creek and graduated from Texas A&M University, and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), whose parents both attended college in Texas and previously served as the state’s Solicitor General.

Former Gov. Jeb Bush (R-FL) was born in Midland, graduated from the University of Texas at Austin, and is the father of Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush. Both of the previous Presidents Bush have retired to Texas, Bush’s father George H.W. Bush in Houston and his brother George W. Bush in Dallas.

Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) grew up in Houston as the son of former Congressman Ron Paul (R-TX) and attended Baylor University. Former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina was born in Austin and joined Abbott on the campaign trail in his race for governor last year. Former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA) has a faith-based film company in North Texas.

Even Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), who does not have any direct Texas ties personally, has made numerous appearances in the state and some of his top donors are Texans. A release earlier this week from Rubio’s campaign noted that his top five states for highest number of donors included Florida, California, New York, Georgia…and Texas.

In other words, out of the fifteen current Republican candidates, almost half have some kind of tie to Texas. Due to the unique way Texas will dole out their 155 delegates, these candidates have a strong incentive to campaign in Texas, even if they aren’t expected to be the frontrunner.

As National Review‘s Joel Gehrke explained:

Seventy percent of [Texas’] 155 delegates will be allocated based on the March 1 election results, following a winner-take-all by congressional district formula: If a candidate fails to earn more than 50 percent of the votes in a given congressional district, the delegates will be divided two-to-one between the first-place and second-place finishers. The remaining 30 percent will be awarded by a caucus at the state convention in May.

This system means that a candidate who has a base of support in any geographic area of Texas, like the many candidates with roots in Houston, or among any specific constituency, like Paul’s libertarian network or Cruz’s support in the tea party movement, will probably find it worthwhile to invest some time and resources into Texas so they can pick up a few votes.

Houston will host one of the presidential debates on February 26, 2016. What was most likely a must-watch event no matter what will gain even more significance coming only a few days before the Texas primary.

Follow Sarah Rumpf on Twitter @rumpfshaker.