David Dewhurst led the May 2012 Texas Republican primary for the U.S. Senate with 45 percent of the vote; his campaign then said that history is on Dewhurst’s side in the July 31 runoff against second-place finisher Ted Cruz, who drew 34 percent in the primary, according to nearly complete returns.
A memo from Dewhurst pollster Mike Baselice, issued at 11 p.m. May 29, 2012, says: "While we should expect a normal post-election tightening of numbers, history demonstrates why Dewhurst is in a strong position to become U.S. senator: every Republican candidate with over 43 percent going into a statewide runoff during the last 20 years has gone on to win."
Dewhurst’s spokesman, Matt Hirsch, provided us with a spreadsheet he described as listing every statewide Republican primary since 1992 resulting in a runoff. Runoffs occur when no candidate draws more than 50 percent of the primary vote.
Hirsch said the information on Dewhurst’s spreadsheet was drawn from historical election returns kept by the state.
According to Dewhurst’s spreadsheet, 13 statewide GOP Texas primaries led to runoffs from 1998 through 2010. By phone, Hirsch told us the party had no statewide runoffs in 1992, 1994 or 1996, though we later confirmed there were runoffs in 1996.
And of the statewide Republican primaries that led to runoffs, four fit the Dewhurst campaign’s conditions, according to the spreadsheet. That is, three judicial primaries and a primary for a seat on the Texas Railroad Commission involved candidates garnering more than 43 percent of the primary vote who later won their runoffs.
In four of the other GOP primaries resulting in runoffs, the candidate who led the primary won the runoff, according to the spreadsheet. Yet five GOP primary leaders -- including 1998 attorney general hopeful Barry Williamson -- lost their runoff. Two eventual losers carried 38 percent of the primary vote and one drew nearly 43 percent – not quite the "over 43 percent" figure aired in the Dewhurst campaign’s memo. Dewhurst’s spreadsheet shows that in a 2002 Texas Supreme Court primary, Elizabeth Ray drew nearly 42.92 percent of the vote to Dale Wainwright’s 31 percent. Ray lost the runoff, however, drawing 45 percent to Wainwright’s 55 percent.
Online recaps posted by the Texas secretary of state, which oversees election returns, confirmed the campaign’s examples of runoffs won by individuals who earlier drew over 43 percent of the primary vote. Specifically, Paul Womack, running for a spot on the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, drew nearly 45 percent of the 2002 primary vote and won the runoff with nearly 57 percent. Also that year, Tom Price drew 47 percent in the primary and 57 percent in the runoff. In 2004, Victor Carrillo, running for the railroad commission, carried nearly 50 percent of the primary vote, 63 percent in his runoff. And in 2006, Charles Holcomb won 45 percent of the primary vote for a Court of Criminal Appeals seat, drawing 54 percent in the runoff.
Our review of each primary since 1992 unearthed three 1996 Court of Criminal Appeals runoffs not on Dewhurst’s spreadsheet. One of these runoff winners, Price, prevailed after barely trailing -- by 30.53 percent to 30.35 percent -- in the primary.
Bottom line: Four primaries resulting in runoffs neatly match up with the Dewhurst camp’s conditions.In contrast, a dozen primaries resulting in runoffs do not perfectly fit the parameters because the leader in the primary carried 43 percent or less of the vote, meaning he or she fared worse than Dewhurst in the 2012 primary -- and half of these other primary winners won the runoff, while half lost.
We are not judging the predictive value of Dewhurst’s claim, which would be speculative beyond the bounds of a backward-looking fact check.
For instance, skeptics might stress that only four of the 16 GOP statewide primary-runoff combinations from 1992 through 2010 fully support Dewhurst's claim. Half of the remaining dozen primary leaders lost the runoffs.
Put another way, however, there are no instances since 1992 of a Texas Republican candidate for statewide office drawing more than 43 percent of the primary vote and losing the runoff, which is Dewhurst’s point.
We rate the claim as True.