Ted Cruz forced David Dewhurst into a runoff last night in Texas, but trailed the frontrunner by a little more than ten points. Dewhurst’s 44.6 percent is closer to a majority than Cruz’ 34.2 percent. Dewhurst could also conceivably pick up more votes from former Dallas Mayor Tom Leppert (13.3 percent) than Cruz could from Craig James (3.6 percent), though there’s no guarantee of how those will break down.
So what kind of chances does Ted Cruz have? Let’s look at past Texas runoffs. In 1998, Barry Williamson beat John Cornyn 38 percent to 32 percent in the first round of balloting for attorney general. Cornyn came back and beat Williamson 58 percent to 42 percent in the runoff. Two years earlier, recent party switcher Greg Laughlin beat Ron Paul in the first round of the GOP congressional primary by 42 percent to 32 percent. Paul came back and beat Laughlin 56 percent to 44 percent in the runoff.
Political scientist Eric Ostermeier writes, “Nearly 40 percent of Lone Star State Democratic primaries for U.S. Senate have gone to a runoff since 1916 with the second place candidate winning in more than half of the runoff elections.” Republicans have had two Senate runoffs, one being won by the first-place finisher in the initial round (George H.W. Bush, incidentally), the other by the second-place finisher.
But we do know that results can vary from the first round to the runoff. Turnout is expected to be lower, especially without any presidential race atop the ballot. The question is whether this means a more conservative electorate to boost Cruz or whether Dewhurst just tacks on the few extra points he needs.