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05/14/18

Race to Raise: Largent vs. Lang

To understand the dynamics at play in the Largent vs. Lang race for House District 60, think back for a moment to the 2016 primary elections. At that time, skirmishes between the liberal and conservative factions inside the Republican Party were brewing into a full scale civil war. HD 60 was home to one of the most powerful liberal Republican lawmakers in Texas, former State Representative Jim Keffer. Keffer had become a top target for the party’s conservative faction. When Keffer decided to step down, conservative State Representative Mike Lang prevailed over Keffer’s chosen successor in an open race.

The 2018 race was Round Two of a Keffer-backed successor vs. Lang. Jim Largent, superintendent of Granbury ISD, was openly supported by Keffer and many of Texas’ more liberal Republican advocacy groups. Largent, Keffer, and these outside groups were ultimately unsuccessful as Lang easily won reelection.

 

Here’s a quick look at the numbers:

Texas House District 60 – By The Numbers
 Mike Lang (I)  Jim Largent 
Total Money Raised $417,531 $125,638
Total Number of Donations 353  206
Average Donation Amount $1,182.87 $609.89
Total Money Raised In-District $119,378.61 $69,856
Total Number of Donations In-District  274  150
Percent of All Money Raised From In-District 28.59% 55.6%
Total Money Raised Outside District $298,151.9 $55,782.49
Total Number of Donations Outside District  79  55
Percent of All Money Raised From Outside District 71.41% 44.4%
Total Expenditures $418,463 $104,726
Total Votes 15,900 10,479
Cost Per Vote $26.32 $9.99

 

This race was a marquee bout in the 2018 Republican Primary between the conservative and liberal wings of the party. Historically, once lawmakers get to Austin, they become reluctant to buck the moderate/liberal status-quo, fearing they will garner a primary opponent who receives money from the lobby. By all accounts Lang is  one of the most conservative legislators in the Texas House. His strong reelection will signal to many conservatives that it is now safe to follow through on campaign promises without fear.

Key Takeaways from the HD 60 race:

  1. Freedom Caucus vs. Public Education crowd.
    HD 60 saw a  head-to-head stand-off between the liberal and conservative factions of the Texas Republican Party. Lang was a founding member of the Texas House Freedom Caucus, a group aiming to move Texas to the right who collectively believe public education needs more transparency and competition. Largent, on the other hand, was supported by advocacy groups who wish to increase spending for public schools, including the Texas State Teachers Association, Texas Parent PAC, labor union Texas AFT, and more. These groups’ modus operandi this cycle was straightforward: paint anyone who doesn’t want to increase spending as wanting to dismantle public education. Clearly, parents and teachers in HD 60 weren’t buying it.
  2. Cost per vote.
    Typically, incumbents raise more money, have more individual donors, and have a lower cost-per vote. While Lang out-raised Largent and had more individual donors, his cost-per-vote, $26.32, was much higher than Largent’s, $9.99. Since Lang won so handily, one wonders if he really needed to outspend his opponent by more than 4:1.  That said, Largent certainly performed well in cost-per-vote as a challenger.
  3. Both Candidates Showed Solid In-district Financial Support
    More often than not in a race for Texas House, one candidate will have strong financial support from inside the district while the other will not. The race for HD 60 was different as both candidates were able to rely on strong in-district support. This likely means both candidates were well known, and each had constituency group(s) within the district passionate about their candidacy. Despite this fact, if Largent chooses to challenge Lang again in the future, he’ll likely need to raise far more than he did this time to have a real chance.

Before you go…

It’s not unusual for a sitting Texas House Speaker to donate funds to various candidates running for state representative. But what happens when there’s no sitting Speaker? A look at Lang’s donor list reveals he received contributions from several other incumbent lawmakers who may be interested in becoming Speaker, most notably $2,500 from State Representative James Frank, $2,000 from State Representative Ron Simmons, and $1,000 from State Representative Phil King. King has filed paperwork for the job, and Frank and Simmons are rumored to be interested in the position. Were these gifts merely lawmakers helping a colleague, or were they contributions with the hopes of possible future support for Speaker?

 

Our Race to Raise series takes a deeper look at the most high-profile races of the election cycle, focusing specifically on money raised by those seeking to serve in public office. Stay tuned for the next installment.

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