A real say in GOP race has Texas voters eager to turn out

logoBy Peggy Fikac, Houston Chronicle

920x1240Patsy Taylor hasn’t yet settled on her pick for the Republican presidential nomination, but the retired nurse is glad Texas will have a real voice this year in deciding who will lead the GOP into the general election battle for the White House.

“We have gotten kind of tired of being ruled by all the smaller states,” the 69-year-old, who is leaning toward U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, said before a meeting of Bexar County Republican precinct chairs.

The turbulent race for the Republican nomination and the early March 1 primary are spurring predictions that turnout among Republicans in Harris and Bexar counties could almost double. “They’re expecting the biggest primary we’ve ever had on the Republican side, because this will be the first time I guess in modern memory that Texas will make a difference in the Republican primary,” said Harris County Republican Party Chairman Paul Simpson, where Republican turnout is expected to near 300,000, up from 161,250 in 2012.

A total of 595 Republican delegates will be awarded on March 1 by 11 states, according to the Republican National Committee, nearly half the 1,236 needed for the nomination. Other states also are voting, but their delegates will be awarded later.

FACT BOX

Here’s how the parties will allocate delegates

Democrats:

-Most of Texas’ 252 Democratic delegates will be allotted on a proportional basis based on the primary vote.

-The bulk of them, 145, will be distributed by the vote in each the 31 Senate districts.

-Another 77 will be allotted based on the statewide vote.

-A candidate must get at least 15 percent of the vote to receive any of these delegates.

-The remaining 30 are members of the Democratic National Committee and Congress and are unpledged, meaning they can vote for whichever candidate they choose

Republicans:

-Texas’ 155 Republican delegates will be awarded in a “graduated proportional” method.

-The vasty majority, 108, will be allocated through the 36 congressional districts, with three per district.

-Another 47 are allocated based on the statewide vote.

– The process of allocating delegates favors those who get at least 20 percent of the vote. Here’s how:

By congressional districts: If at least one candidate meets the 20 percent threshold, the candidate with the most votes gets two delegates and the next highest vote-getter receives one delegate. If no one gets 20 percent, the top three vote-getters each get a delegate.

Statewide: If only one candidate gets at least 20 percent of the vote, then only the top two vote-getters get delegates, allocated proportionally. If more than one candidate gets 20 percent, then only candidates exceeding that threshold get delegates. If no one gets 20 percent, the delegates are allocated proportionately.

A candidate topping 50 percent of the vote gets all the delegates in a geographic region, whether in a district or statewide.

Texas is the big enchilada, with 155 GOP delegates up for grabs, more than any other state on Super Tuesday. Texas alone has more GOP delegates than the 133 decided by the four early states – Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada.

“We’re kind of the 900-pound gorilla on March 1,” Texas Republican Chairman Tom Mechler.

Cruz expected to win

Early voting starts in the Lone Star State on Feb. 16, before the South Carolina primary on Feb. 20 and the Nevada vote on Feb. 23.

The last time the GOP primary race was so close when it hit Texas was perhaps the 1976 fight between Gerald Ford and Ronald Reagan, said Rice University political scientist Mark Jones

Donald Trump and U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz have led in early polls of Texas Republican primary voters, who are notably conservative and picked Cruz for the Senate over Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst in 2012.

The state is crucial for Cruz, who as Texas’ favorite son is expected to win it big. If he does, it could further propel his campaign; if he doesn’t do as well as anticipated, it’ll be a blow.

But other candidates still standing after the early states will woo Texas, including former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, whose father and brother are former presidents who call the Lone Star State home and whose son is state land commissioner. A super PAC supporting Bush already has reserved nearly $5 million in television air time.

“Texas could be a major embarrassment for Bush given his strong ties to the state” if he makes a poor showing in keeping with his lackluster performance thus far, Jones said.

Democrats haven’t seen the crowded primary to which Republicans have been treated, but the Hillary Clinton-Bernie Sanders contest has been hotter than many expected. The fight is chipping away at Clinton’s aura of inevitability.

“In politics, there are no foregone conclusions by any stretch of the imagination,” said Harris County Democratic Party Chairman Lane Lewis. “Look at 2008. Everyone thought she was a foregone conclusion, then we ended up calling Barack Obama president.”

Manny Garcia, deputy executive director of the state Democratic Party, said it’s clear that his party’s candidates see the importance of Texas, which is “the biggest prize on Super Tuesday” on that side of the aisle too.

While not predicting a repeat of the blowout 2008 Democratic primary featuring the battle between Obama and Clinton, Garcia said, “If the primary remains competitive, we would expect turnout to surpass the 2010, 2012, and 2014 primaries.”

Harris County Clerk Stan Stanart expects just under 2,500 more Democrats to vote in his county than in 2012.

Lewis said Democratic primary numbers could be affected if Democrats decide to cross over and vote in the GOP primary to try to defeat Trump, whose comments veer more wildly each day from conventional political discourse.

Allocating votes

The delegate allocation process has several layers that make the race as much a series of mini-campaigns as one statewide battle.

Democrats have changed their process from the one used in 2008, the so-called Texas Two-Step that awarded delegates through the primary vote and caucuses. Clinton won the popular vote, but Obama organized his supporters to attend caucuses and won more delegates.

This time, most of Texas’ 252 Democratic delegates will be allotted on a proportional basis based on the primary vote. The bulk of them, 145, will be distributed by the vote in each of the 31 Senate districts. Another 77 will be allotted based on the statewide vote. Thirty are members of the Democratic National Committee and Congress and can vote for whichever candidate they choose.

On the Republican side, delegates similarly will be awarded in a “graduated proportional” method. The biggest number, 108, will be allocated through the 36 congressional districts, with three per district. Another 47 are allocated based on the statewide vote. The process of allocating GOP delegates favors those who get at least 20 percent of the vote.

To get a piece of the March 1 action, voters have to register by Feb. 1.

“It’s all up to the voters,” Stanart said.

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