Part 1: How key is the Key City of Abilene? Where will Starr voters go? How will voter fatigue factor in the runoff?
THE TEXAS 19th CONGRESSIONAL District primary is over (and details are chronicled here). Now, Lubbock Mayor Glen Robertson and former Texas Tech University Vice Chancellor Jodey Arrington will vie for the fifth open seat in the district’s history. The following factors, the first of a two-part series, help set the stage for the runoff.
THE KEY CITY OF ABILENE: For the first time since 2003, Abilene has significant congressional leverage. The most leverage it’s had since then-House Majority Leader Tom DeLay’s redistricting lines pitted then-U.S. Rep Charlie Stenholm (D, TX-17) against former Lubbock city councilman Randy Neugebauer in the last open seat for the 19th Congressional District.
Out-populated by Lubbock County 2-to-1, Abilene’s Taylor County accounted for 20-percent of total primary voting, compared to Lubbock County’s 39. Political intuition says runoff turnout will be 60 percent of the primary; however, turnout in and around Taylor will likely be proportionally higher than counties on the western side of the district. Including Lubbock.
Abilene, as well as West Texas, stands to gain a state senator if state Rep. Susan King (R – Abilene) wins a heated Senate District 24 runoff. CD-19 and SD-24 overlap in three-quarters of Taylor, including most of Abilene. What’s more, ads broadcast from Big Country towers don’t stop at SD-24 and CD-19 lines; peripheral counties, like Jones, Young and Stephens counties, each engaged in sheriff runoffs, will be further engaged.
So it’s understandable Abilene leaders are presently taking stock of both their power and their needs, some long neglected, as they prepare to pick Robertson or Arrington.
Moreover, there’s a $15 million Texas Tech Health Sciences Center being constructed right before Abilenian eyes at present. The former Texas Tech vice chancellor’s record could have plenty to say about the city’s newest asset.
The Lubbock mayor’s record could have plenty to say to Abilenians interested in budgetary needs-versus-wants, say, a jeopardized city water testing versus a potential $2.3 million city investment in a youth sports facility.
STARR: Speaking of Abilene, where will Ret. Col. Michael Bob Starr’s 48-percent of Taylor County primary votes for go in the runoff? Robertson’s 3,458 Taylor votes bested Arrington’s 2,816, but Starr crushed both with 9,877.
As runoff hindsight is 20-20, what’s most clear is that Robertson never empirically had the “clear front-runner” status Lubbock operatives peddled. Robertson’s mid-February decision to launch a runoff-style attack against both Starr and Arrington was apparently a campaign calculation to survive for the runoff. That calculation worked in the short-term; Robertson won the primary by 811 votes, less than one percent of 103,951 total votes cast. But that calculation could prove costly in the runoff.
As Abilene Reporter-News columnist Greg Jaklewicz told AM 580 Lubbock’s West Texas Drive three days after the primary, regarding Abilenian sentiment about negative Robertson primary ads, “I can’t imagine Abilene going for Robertson at this point.”
“I can’t imagine Abilene going for Robertson at this point.” – Greg Jaklewicz, Abilene Reporter-News columnist
Imagine is a strong word. What Jaklewicz and folks outside of Lubbock’s Loop 289 might not imagine is how politically competent Robertson can be— and if Robertson considers Abilene numbers crucial to his 19th victory equation, he needs to exert a great deal of competence there soon. Because it appears Arrington holds the keys to the Key City going forward.
And what of Starr’s Lubbock support? Insiders see Starr’s 6,400 Lubbock County votes as comprised around a handful of Lubbock business leaders, Lubbock super delegates, if you will, who compile big voting blocs. Many of these leaders intentionally passed on both Arrington and Robertson initially. Now, some are none-too-happy about the mayor’s attack ads on Starr and, more particularly, the attacks on Arrington. Not because the latter hit Arrington, but because they were perceived to implicate Texas Tech in fiduciary negligence. Others, however, are either discontent with Arrington, 44, in general or they’re reticent to see him (or anyone post-Neugebauer) potentially become a multi-decade congressman.
If Starr’s Lubbock voting bloc turns in solidarity, and to whom it turns, is a big question going forward. Early signs are that the bloc will most likely split evenly
VOTER FATIGUE: If there is fatigue, it’s most likely to occur in Lubbock County, where voters have been politicked since January. They early voted Feb. 16 through Feb. 26 and March 1.
On March 2, another barrage opened with municipal and school elections, which include two city council seats and a big four-way mayoral race (in which Robertson is far more likely to become a campaign subject than Arrington). Municipal and school ballots will be cast April 26 through May 3 and on May 7, leading into CD-19 runoff voting May 16 through May 20 and on May 24. But how will Lubbock voters react to voting for the better part of a month in a four-month span, in the midst of graduation season, leading into Memorial Day weekend?
Taylor County has the same election schedule, sans an Abilene mayoral, but possesses a regional political incentive for May 24 that it’s not had for 13 years or more.
About the author: Jay Leeson can be heard on West Texas Drive on KRFE AM 580 Lubbock, weekdays from 4:30-6:30pm. He is also founder and publisher of MakeWestTexasGreatAgain.com. Follow him on Twitter at @jayleeson.