Some Democrats are voting in the Texas GOP primaries. Will it make a difference?
Texas voters who go to the polls Tuesday will be asked in which primary they want to participate – the Republican or the Democratic? Texas has an open primary system, so voters are free to choose. But what happens if someone votes in the other party’s primary in order to be a spoiler?
“I'm gonna vote in the GOP primary for that very reason," said K. Monroe, a lifelong Democrat living in Austin. "Let's get these guys to a primary runoff. Let's make them burn their war chest money before they face the Democrats in November”.
She admits crossing over to vote in the Republican primary to be an agent of chaos.
“Well, I'm not alone. I can't say that I was the one that had this thought," Monroe said. "A friend of mine shared her strategy with me. And I acted on it, and I don't think I'm alone.”
She said she has no misgivings about voting in bad faith in the GOP primary because she thinks the Republican Party is acting in bad faith with voter restrictions.
“I think the Texas GOP threw ethics out the window long, long ago," Monroe said. "So I think it's perfectly ethical for me to do what I did in the primary.”
Tom Whitehurst is an independent but said he’s voted in the past in Republican primaries to be able to cast a meaningful vote, which isn’t always the case in the lopsided general elections in Texas.
"All of the action is in the Republican primaries with contested races and such. With politics being what it is right now, you can have one crazy loon Republican running against somebody that might be an okay person," Whitehurst said. "If you’re gonna vote for your party, you maybe only have an uncontested Democrat running for that — and you can still vote for them in November — but at least you had a say in that primary,”
Whitehurst, a retired opinion page editor for the Corpus Christi Caller-Times, said there was a time — about 50 years ago — when the Democrats were dominating Texas, and it was the Republican voters who were crossing over.
“Fast forward to now, a Democrat might want to vote in the Republican primary to vote for — let's say — Louie Gohmert for attorney general or Don Huffines for governor," Whitehurst said. "Now they don't want those either of those people to actually win the general election, but they do wanna throw a monkey wrench into Greg Abbott's and Ken Paxton's campaigns.”
Harvey Kronberg, the founding editor of the Quorum Report, said he’s noticed more people doing just that.
"I'm when I say that I'm speaking in the dozens, either are independent, have no loyalty and want to weigh in because they object to some of the culture wars of the Republicans, or, Democrats who would anything they can do to ding Gov. Abbott or put Gen. Paxton into a runoff makes it worthwhile for them to do it.”
But are there enough crossover Democrats to make a difference and actually have an impact on the outcome of the Republican primary?
Mark Jones, a political scientist at Rice University, said in a typical primary – no. But he said this year, it’s possible.
“There are a relatively small share of the primary electorate on the Republican side at most 5% who are doing that. And some are doing it for sincere reasons that is they want to participate and elect the more moderate candidate, others are doing it more for strategic reasons trying to elect the most extreme candidate.“
Jones said in the tight GOP primary for attorney general, that could be the difference maker in sending Paxton into a run-off.
But establishment Democrats say don’t do it.
“That's incredibly misguided in my opinion,” said Lana Hansen, executive director of Texas Blue Action Democrats. She said it might be tempting but in the long run this hurts the Democratic Party.
“In the primaries, we cannot afford to have people block voting just so that they can be agents of chaos or because they think that it might help them win in November," Hansen said. "It just doesn't work like that.”
Hansen said fewer people voting in the Democratic primary makes it look like the party is weak, and that makes it harder to raise money. It just hurts candidates if they don’t see support at the polls.
"Vote blue all the way through. We're already in enough chaos in Texas, right? Let's use the system in the way it was meant to be used. And Democrats need to show up and vote for Democrats and Republicans need to show up and vote for Republicans," she said.
Hansen recommends people save that energy for November and vote for the platform they believe in.