March 13, 2018
Best Incumbent Campaign
Best Texas Senate Campaign
Best Open Race Campaign
Best Democratic Campaign
Best Primary Team Effort
State Rep. Pat Fallon of Frisco isn't the pick for the top performance by a challenger in the 2018 Texas primary election because he ran a great campaign or charmed the socks off the voters as a candidate in a bid for a promotion across the rotunda. One of the reasons that the third-term House Republican is being honored here is the simple fact that he really had little competition in this particular category in one of the most pro-incumbent elections in the modern history of the Lone Star State.
The only two Republican House hopefuls who unseated incumbents in round one - Lisa Luby Ryan of Dallas and Mayes Middleton of Wallisville - weren't really candidates for this award as a result of unique circumstances of their individual races. Middleton ran hard to the right and won with a war chest that was more than five times the size of the campaign kitty that State Rep. Wayne Faircloth of Galveston had for a re-election bid this year. While Ryan ran an impressive campaign en route to a victory over State Rep. Jason Villalba with 53 percent of the vote, the primary results in that Dallas County district could boost the odds there for a partisan turnover this fall with Democrat John Turner as a potential early favorite. Democratic State Rep. Tomas Uresti of San Antonio was a victim of his senator brother's criminal and personal tribulations in a round one battle that Leo Pacheco won by default - and Alamo City Democrat Trey Martinez Fischer prevailed in a comeback campaign against freshman State Rep. Diana Arevalo in a race that he'd been expected to win by a much larger margin.
Dallas Democrat Jessica Gonzalez proved to be Fallon's only real competitor in the challenger campaign derby in the wake of a surprisingly easy victory over longtime State Rep. Roberto Alonzo in this month's vote. But this won't be the last time that you read about Gonzalez as Capitol Inside rolls out the Best of the Primary Electon awards this week.
But Fallon is the winner here by virtue - first and foremost - of the shocking margin of victory that he posted at the ballot box last week in a field of three candidates that included veteran GOP State Senator Craig Estes who finished almost 40 points behind the victor as the runner-up in Senate District 30. With less than 23 percent of the prmary vote, Estes only had 7 points more than political unknown Craig Carter -- a Nocona investor who'd appeared to be strong enough to force his two foes into a runoff.
Fallon couldn't have crushed Estes as badly as he did exclusively on the strength of a distinct advantage that he'd enjoyed as a candidate from the fast-growing suburbs on the northern outskirts of the Dallas-Fort Worth area. Estes had managed to hold the SD 31 seat for more than 16 years as a Wichita Falls resident in a district that had been a rural West Texas outpost until now.
Fallon didn't annihilate the opposition simply because he'd been willing to gamble nearly $2 million in personal funds on a Senate race that the incumbent chose to run solely on other people's money despite his own considerable wealth. Fallon didn't beat the living daylight of Estes on a surge of conservative support as a Denton County product who's based in the heart of the Texas tea party universe - even though that helped. While Fallon was the consensus conservative in a battle with an incumbent who had the establishment in his corner predictably, he hadn't been viewed as an extremist as a legislator who'd opposed GOP Speaker Joe Straus in 2015 before declining the opportunity to join the Texas Freedom Caucus that a dozen tea party colleagues had conceived a year ago.
Fallon's massive money and residential location probably were probably significantly bigger factors in the SD 31 primary outcome than his status as the conservative alternative. But Fallon apparently had the foresight to realize that Estes would be vulnerable as a lawmaker who'd been his own worst enemy at times as a result of his inability to play both sides of the fence like he seemed to be trying to do in recent years. Estes' lead role on an open carry gun rights measure three years ago had been one of his few major accomplishments as a bill sponsor on a marquee issue. Estes had undercut his ability to move up the power chain when he'd sided with Senate Democrats in opposition to the elimination of the two-thirds rule in 2015 in a move that landed him in the Lieutenant Governor Dan Patick doghouse at the start of the Senate president's first session in the statewide post. Estes had appeared to be on the verge of getting out on good behavior several months later when he likened a sanctuary cities ban that had been a pet Patrick proposal to Nazi tactics after teaming with a GOP colleague to block a vote on the plan. Estes' refusal to march lockstep on some of Patrick's highest priorities made it possible for less experienced Senate Republicans to leapfrog him on the upper chamber hierarchy chart.
After staying out of the SD 31 race officially, Patrick jumped at the opportunity to abandon the sidelines while riding to Fallon's defense in the immediate wake of a television attack ad that the incumbent ran in an attempt to portray the challenger as a candidate who voters couldn't trust. The spot had a fictional version of Fallon, who's a Catholic, making confessions to a priest in a way that gives the impression that the state representative had been untruthful during the campaign. Patrick and conservatives used the commercial as a stage to accuse Estes of religious bigotry amid the allegation that he'd been mocking Catholicism. Fallon put icing on the cake with U.S. Senator Ted Cruz's official endorsement - and that was all she wrote for the incumbent in SD 31.
The Best of the Election selections for 2018 Texas primary contests will be unveiled this month in separate installments for several different categories.