March 17, 2020

Abbott Eyes Belated Runoff Vote in Coronavirus Fight
in Twist that Could Affect the Endings in Target Races

By Mike Hailey
Capitol Inside Editor

Governor Greg Abbott could be leaning toward the shuffling of the Texas primary runoff election from May 26 to a later date in a coronavirus-fueled decision that could change the political dynamics and possible outcomes of overtime fights that have the potential to be close.

The Republican governor's call could depend on the answers to some complex legal issues that he has Attorney General Ken Paxton pursuing with time in short supply for a potential move that would require substantial advance warning with cities and counties around the state set to stage their elections May 2.

While Abbott is still looking into the authority that he has in the regulation of local elections during emergencies, he might have given a glimpse on when they could be when he moved a special Texas Senate election from May 2 to July 14. But Abbott has the power to have the primary runoff vote delayed and the ability to order a mail-ballot only election at the current date or one he would choose.

Abbott also has been considering a switch to an overtime vote that's conducted exclusively by mail - a proposal that the Texas Democratic Party has endorsed as a way to ensure that older people and others who are more vulnerable to COVID-19 aren't afraid to go to the polls for the runoff out of fear for their safety.

It isn't clear, however, what the next backup plan would be for the special Senate District 14 election if the Centers for Disease Control extends the time line on a proposed prohibition on large public gatherings for the next couple of months. State Rep. Eddie Rodiguez of Austin and former Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhardt are competing for the seat the Democratic State Senator Kirk Watson is relinquishing at the end of April.

The Texas primary elections and runoffs have gone as planned in every cycle since a federal court forced the state to delay them in 2012 in the wake of a ruling in the legal battle over redistricting. With the primary and runoff rescheduled for May 29 and July 31 respectively - almost two months later than original calendar dates - the judicial delay helped buy U.S. Senator Ted Cruz time that he desperately needed in his first bid for the federal post.

Cruz rallied from a distant second in the first round to an overtime win with almost 57 percent of the vote in a fight with David Dewhurst - a wealthy Republican who'd been the lieutenant governor while running for the U.S. Senate eight years ago. The elongated primary process had been widely considered to be the key to the runoff victory for Cruz.

There will be a lot at stake in the primary runoff with 17 congressional races on the OT ballot in Texas including a half-dozen in swing districts that Republicans control and Democrats are targeting this fall. Fifteen primary nominations in Texas House races will be up for grabs in the runoff as well. Overtime votes will determine who major party nominees in three second-round elections for House seats that Democrats have a chance to flip in November. Republicans will be doing battle in runoffs in two other House districts that the GOP will attempt to reclaim in the general election after having them washed by a blue wave in 2018.

Veteran Democratic State Senator Eddie Lucio Jr. will be attempting to stave off a challenge from Sara Stapleton-Barrera in a runoff in the Rio Grande Valley while San Antonio Democrats Xochil Peña Rodriguez and State Rep. Roland Gutierrez compete for a ticket to a fall showdown with GOP State Senator Pete Flores of Pleasanton.

The Democratic runoff ballot in Texas will be crowned with a duel between MJ Hegar and State Senator Royce West of Dallas for the right to challenge Republican U.S. Senator John Cornyn in November. A pair of Dallas Democrats - Chrysta Castaneda and former state lawmaker Roberto Alonzo Democrats are squaring off in overtime in a race for the Texas Railroad Commission seat that opened up when Jim Ryan unseated incumbent Ryan Sitton in the GOP primary election this month.

Abbott weighed the unprecedented electoral dilemmas that the coronavirus has created as Republican governors in Ohio and Maryland shifted primary elections to June 2. The first-round election in Ohio had been set for today before Governor Mike DeWine announced that voters there couldn't go to the poll in person until June 2. The Maryland primary had been scheduled for April 28.


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