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GOP Sweeps Jungle Primary; Final Five Ramifications

Updated: Jan 18, 2023

Saturday a Texas jungle primary assured Republicans of a Congressional win in a district won narrowly by President Trump (51% to 48%). This result, covered in Larry Sabato's Crystal Ball (see forwarded email below) makes an interesting case study for proponents of moving to a "Final 5" system to elect candidates.

Instant Runoffs. Assuming you never heard of Final 5, the system has two parts. To go out of order, the second part is an instant runoff, supported by both Take Back Our Republic and Take Back Action Fund for years. By allowing people to choose between the top candidates if their first choice does not make the cut, this solution guards against; 1) the potential of electing a candidate with 35 percent of the vote when 65 percent wanted any candidate EXCEPT that candidate; 2) a spoiler candidate being funded by supporters of one major party just to peel off votes from the other major party; or 3) requiring a traditional runoff to continue a campaign for another month or two after the first election.

Georgia recently passed House Bill 59 to allow military overseas to use instant runoff ballots as part of an omnibus bill, and 19 localities in Utah adopted a similar system after the Utah legislature passed House Bill 75 to make it easier to choose that option.

Jungle Primary. More recently, some members across the country suggested coupling instant runoffs with a "jungle" primary, the system that has elected many Republicans in Louisiana and Georgia and now guarantees a Republican Congressional member Saturday in Texas. For an explanation of how the two could be combined into a Final 5 system, see this RealClear Politics story two weeks ago that reference the support for the system by officials such as Cong. Mike Gallagher, R-WI.

At first glance, some Republican leaders might view opening up a primary as running contrary to the push to close Republican primaries in some states so only people who have been registered as a member of a party for at least a year can vote in that party's primary. In my days of running partisan campaigns, I shared this concern about "cross-over" votes, that is Democrats voting in a Republican primary in order to pick a weaker Republican as the nominee. And to be fair, when working in my first political job for George Allen, R-VA, we all talked openly about how crossing over to vote for a weaker candidate in the Democratic primary helped elect Virginia's first Republican Governor since Reconstruction.

However, the risk of cross-over votes in a partisan primary is not an issue if you hold a jungle primary. To give an example, let's say that in a red state like Idaho, the minority Democrats were able to cross over in sufficient numbers to nominate a Republican who was so weak they might lose to the Democratic nominee picked in their primary, especially if Democratic funders also were able to get a Libertarian and a pro-life candidate on the same ballot. (If you are a Democrat use the example of Republicans electing a weaker Democrat and then also funding a Green Party and Socialist candidate to peel off votes.) In that case, the minority party could use cross-over voting and supporting spoiler candidates to split the Republican vote from a weaker GOP nominee and perhaps the Democrat wins 42% to 41% with other conservative candidates pulling the rest of the conservative vote.

A Final 5 proposal starting with a jungle primary and then using an instant runoff in the General Election, assures that the ultimate winner needs to be supported by 50%+1 to be elected. Good luck if you are an Idaho Democrat trying to elect a US Senator - in 2020 Paulette Jordan certainly could have made the runoff but would have no chance of improving her 33.2 percent to 50%. Likewise good luck to a Massachusetts Republican electing a US Senator through Final 5 with a majority of votes - personally I believe Geoff Diehl was a great candidate but he could not have increased his 36.2 percent to 50 percent.

While we would like to see the jungle primary result in more than two finalists for an instant runoff election, the Republican domination of the Texas jungle primary Saturday makes for an interesting case study when considering Final 5.

John Pudner, Executive Director

Take Back Our Republic

165 E. Magnolia Street, Suite 203

Auburn, AL 36830

---------- Forwarded message --------- From: Larry J. Sabato <> Date: Mon, May 3, 2021 at 12:43 PM Subject: Sabato's Crystal Ball - Notes on the State of Politics - Vol. 19, Iss. 21 To: <> IN THIS ISSUE: - Notes on the State of Politics: May 3, 2021Notes on the State of Politics: May 3, 2021 Republicans finish ahead in TX-6; Bustos announces retirement; polarization thriving in the American electorate By J. Miles Coleman and Kyle Kondik Sabato's Crystal Ball Dear Readers: This is the latest edition of the Crystal Ball’s “Notes on the State of Politics,” which features short updates on elections and politics.-- The EditorsTX-6: Democrats locked out of runoff

In the Dallas area this weekend, a somewhat unexpected -- but not entirely surprising -- result will induce a Crystal Ball ratings change.

On Saturday, Texans in the state’s 6th District went to the polls to decide who should replace the late Rep. Ron Wright (R, TX-6). Sadly, Wright died of COVID-19 in February. On paper, TX-6 had potential to be a competitive district -- Trump carried it 51%-48% last year, which was considerably closer than his 12-point margin there in 2016. About 70% of the district’s votes typically come from a blue-trending portion of Fort Worth’s Tarrant County, while the rest is from two much redder counties to the south.

In Texas, though, special elections are held under Louisiana-style jungle primary rules: all candidates, regardless of party, appear on the same ballot and a runoff is triggered if no one clears 50% -- this turned out to be key.

In a field that featured nearly two-dozen contenders, Democrats didn’t consolidate behind a single candidate, while Susan Wright, the late congressman’s widow, emerged as something of a frontrunner. Another Republican, Jake Ellzey, a state legislator with a base in exurban Ellis County, also fared well on Saturday. As a result, Wright took first place, with 19.2%, while Ellzey placed second, with 13.9% (a Democrat finished third, about 350 votes behind Ellzey). So a runoff -- which Gov. Greg Abbott (R-TX) has yet to set a date for -- will feature two Republicans.

Though former President Donald Trump has been out of office for months, he weighed in on this race -- and in a very typical style. Even as last year’s NV-3 Republican nominee, Dan Rodimer, carpetbagged to the district and claimed Trump’s support, Trump got behind Wright late in the game. In the final stretch of the primary, Wright appeared increasingly favored for a runoff spot regardless. The former president likes to support winners, after all. Rodimer finished with less than 3% of the vote.

There was evidence the Trump endorsement helped Wright on Election Day: she netted roughly 4,000 votes over Ellzey with voters who cast ballots the day of, while the two were about tied in the early vote.

For its part, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee steered clear of the race. Perhaps the DCCC was trying to avert a situation like the 2017 special election in Georgia’s 6th District, where they suffered a close, but stinging, loss in a seat that had narrowly supported Trump the previous year.

The looming redistricting process may have also impacted the DCCC’s calculus. With Republicans drawing the lines, TX-6 seems likely to get redder, and it could have been hard for Democrats to hold further down the line. Redistricting expectations have occasionally factored into special election results.

In 2011, when Nevada’s Reno-based 2nd District became open, Democrats landed a quality candidate in Kate Marshall -- now the state’s lieutenant governor, she was then its treasurer. But with the state set to gain another district after the 2010 census, it was expected that Democrats would pick up that new seat the next cycle anyway. The version of NV-2 in place at the time had very narrowly voted for McCain in 2008, and to this day, the district has only elected Republicans -- so even with Marshall, Democrats’ long-term prospects there were not especially promising. So as the DCCC largely passed on that race, state analyst Jon Ralston joked that Democrats would win the race only “When Jupiter aligns with Mars...” In the end, Marshall lost by over 20% to now-Rep. Mark Amodei (R, NV-2).

Still, whether it was strategic or not, getting shut out of the TX-6 runoff didn’t exactly project Democratic strength, nor did the lopsided 62%-37% Republican edge in the aggregate vote. This is just one special election, but it was definitely a better showing for Republicans than Democrats.


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