March 11, 2018
Best Challenger Campaign
Best Texas Senate Campaign
Best Open Race Campaign
Best Democratic Campaign
Best Primary Team Effort
Texas Primary MVP
State Rep. Sarah Davis - as far as the official record is concerned - defeated Susanna Dokupil in the Republican primary election in 2018. But Dokupil turned out to be just another name on the ballot in House District 134 where the fourth-term lawmaker from Houston beat Governor Greg Abbott for all practical purposes in spectacular fashion in a primary fight for the ages. The Davis double-digit victory margin makes it look like that she would have won at the polls this week if Abbott had been on the ballot himself instead as the challenger in HD 134 in round one on the critical House battlefield.
The Republican governor rallied behind three House challengers in GOP primary showdowns in a highly rare move that backfired in a way that prompted some predictable spin on how the outcome of the HD 134 contest was nothing more than a box score stat. Abbott casually dismissed primary wins that targeted State Rep. Lyle Larson of San Antonio and Davis secured as the only two setbacks in 29 House districts where he'd taken sides in a sharp break with GOP tradition in Texas and the Ronald Reagan 11th Commandment that warned against internal partisan cannibalism. Abbott neglected to point out that the only House challenger who emerged victorious this week with his official support had a massive war chest that had been filled with the kind of personal funds that any opponent would find it hard if not all but impossible to overcome. With the exception of Sarah Davis of course.
An excellent fundraiser who's a maestro in the art of the retail campaign, Davis staved off a gargantuan challenge from the Abbott-Dokupil ticket first and foremost because she knows her district better than anyone who lives inside inside or outside of it. Davis and HD 134 are a match made in political heaven in an affluent part of the state's largest city that's as unique in nature as the incumbent has proven to be as the Legislature's most fearless and independent member who never wavers on personal and political convictions that are tantamount to heresy in the eyes of the hard right in some cases.
The HD 134 primary duel to some degree was a popularity contest that pit GOP Speaker Joe Straus against Abbott in a district where the House's top leader came to the defense of an incumbent who'd been a high-ranking lieutenant as a major budget player and the General Investigating & Ethics Committee chair. But Straus' central message beyond a $50,000 contribution to Davis from his own campaign account was that outsiders like himself and Abbott had no business trying to tell the voters in a legislative district who would be a better representative for them in Austin. Abbott pumped almost a quarter-million dollars into television attack ads that chastised Davis as the lone pro-choice Republican at the statehouse - and the governor cited her opposition to a landmark abortion restrictions package several years ago as an example of how she'd been a liberal behind a Republican mask. Abbott had appeared initially to be backing Dokupil on the grounds that she'd done an admirable job as an assistant attorney general back when he was the state's top lawyer. Dokupil also appeared to have U.S. Senator Ted Cruz in her corner as an unofficial supporter. Cruz had headed up the division at the AG's office where the HD 134 challenger had worked when he was the solicitor general under Abbott. But Davis shifted her focus to Abbott in the closing stages of the race in a way that seemed to push Dokupil off to the side. And Davis turned the rhetorical assaults from the governor into a potent weapon by having the guts to portray him as a weak and greedy leader who was out of touch with her constituents in a swing district where she'd always been completely in sync with them.
Davis didn't waste a lot of time attempting to defend herself in the face of a highly questionable Abbott claim about her role in a fight on a provision that would have slashed disaster relief funding right about the time Hurricane Harvey buried her hometown in record floodwaters. But Davis had the business establishment and the Austin lobby firmly in her corner despite the potential for Abbott payback. And she made a succinct and poignant point on how the Democrats were probably going to reclaim the HD 134 seat that she'd wrested from them in 2010 if a tea party darling like Dokupil turned out to be the GOP nominee there. The voters in the final analysis trusted Davis a lot more than Abbott when it came to their individual needs - and she not only crushed her opponent with more than 56 percent of the primary vote but handed the governor the first significant setback of a historic career that's still unblemished as a candidate in light of an easy primary victory in his own re-election race in a field of nobodys.
The Best of the Election selections for 2018 Texas primary contests will be unveiled this month in separate installments for several different categories.