Tuesday night’s runoff elections exhibited a clear pattern: the candidate who most convincingly wore the mantel of Tea Party conservatism won the night on the Republican side. But in the race for a seat on the Railroad Commission, the agency that regulates the oil and gas industry, the outcome was not so simple.
Wayne Christian, a former state lawmaker, lost that race even though he ran a campaign trying to “out-conservative” his opponent. Ryan Sitton, who owns an oil and gas engineering consulting firm, won.
That left many political reporters and pundits scratching their heads. Texas Observer politics writer Christopher Hooks summed it up in nicely when he tweeted: “Wonder why Wayne Christian is getting crushed tonight.”
We may have some answers:
1) The oil and gas industry is a good friend to have in Texas politics.
“Sitton benefited from widespread support from donors who have interest in the energy industry and therefore he was able to mount a much more robust campaign statewide than Christian, with several pieces of direct mail sent to Republican primary voters.” Mark Jones, the chair of Rice University’s Political Science Department, told KUT’s Ben Philpott in an interview.
2) The Tea Party is not monolithic.
“If anything [the race] means that where the Tea Party has the most money and influence in the state, Harris County, is also where the Tea Party has maybe fully integrated into the Republican party as a whole,” says KUT’s Philpott. “Tea Party groups in Harris County and Republican groups in Harris County probably don’t have a lot of space between them anymore.”
3) Sitton won Harris County, and Harris County is crucial to winning the state.
“Sitton won by 100,000 votes over Wayne Christian,” says Philpott. “Forty percent of that victory came from Harris County.”
4) There was no clear “establishment” candidate to rail against.
While Christian “was a Tea Party or movement conservative candidate, Ryan Sitton was not viewed necessarily as an establishment candidate,” according to Jones of Rice University.
That made him a more viable candidate for voters who otherwise wanted to ‘throw the bums out.’
5) Sitton did receive some Tea Party support.
“He had the support of the establishment, but he also had the considerable support of Tea Party activists, and those two things combined, as well as his strong base in Harris County, helped propel him to victory” Jones says.