HOUSTON—Texas missed a big chance to play a major role in selecting the 2012 Republican presidential candidate. But the state could still become a kingmaker. Or not.
That’s just one of the confusing consequences of the confusing political fallout from the state’s prolonged fight over redistricting. Voters won’t receive their registration cards until next month, Harris County taxpayers will have to fork over an estimated $80,000 in extra expenses and turnout will almost certainly be low.
"It’s been a lot of work," said Stan Stanart, the Harris County clerk, whose staff is now drilling down into the details of new precinct maps for the upcoming election.
Remember all those nasty commercials airing on Houston television back during the primary season of 2008, when Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton fought it out for the Democratic presidential nomination? Both Obama and Clinton spent a lot of time and money courting Texas voters because their unexpectedly long primary fight made this state an important player in that year’s presidential politics.
Flash forward to 2012. Unlike Obama, Mitt Romney has not held a rally in the Toyota Center.
Unlike Clinton, Rick Santorum has not saturated the airwaves with television commercials.
Unlike 2008, Texas doesn’t matter – yet.
On Super Tuesday next week, voters in 10 states will cast ballots in presidential primaries. Texas would have been one of them, but the prolonged fight over redistricting delayed the state’s primary until late May.
But if the campaign for the Republican nomination drags on another couple of months, it’s possible Texas could still play a huge role in the contest. As the nation’s second most populous state, it could become a prize for the GOP presidential candidates.
"Texas is one of the largest troves of delegates," said Bob Stein, the Rice University professor and KHOU political analyst.
The late primaries would play to the strengths of especially conservative candidates, Stein predicts.The primary date, May 29, is the day after the Memorial Day weekend and the runoff date is July 31. Both dates are likely to severely diminish voter turnout, according to Stein.
"It’s not inconceivable that the Republicans will have a low turnout, very conservative turnout," Stein says. "They will nominate not only more conservative candidates, but in some cases they may actually defeat incumbents."
Another curious impact of the late primaries: Voting officials throughout the state will ask school districts to reopen buildings closed for the summer vacation. In Harris County, that’s expected to cost taxpayers about $80,000.
"Our schools are closed," Stanart said. "They’ll let us use the facilities, but they want us to pay for the air conditioning. They want us to pay for the janitorial services and whoever has to be there to open and close the schools."
And yet, for all the trouble, comparatively few Texans are expected to cast ballots in the strange summer primary season of 2012.