Does spending the most money during a campaign win elections? Historically, Texas has shown a strong correlation between a candidate’s ability to outspend their opponent(s) and victory on Election Day.
In 2020, Texas experienced a remarkably expensive election cycle, with almost $536 million spent in Texas state-level campaign finance as of the most recently available reports. Combined with state election results, these numbers allow us to analyze just how strong a predictor campaign finance continues to be for success at the polls.
According to our data, 119 legislative races on Texas general election ballots this year had more than one candidate, with 14 of those races being for seats in the Texas Senate, and the remaining 105 races being for seats in the Texas House.
In total, there were 11 races where candidates who spent less were able to defeat opponents who spent more money. That’s just over a 9 percent success rate for the financial underdogs. Put the other way, 108 candidates, roughly 91 percent, of the general election winners in the Texas Legislature were candidates who outspent their opponents.
There are many variables that influence why some candidates are able to spend more than others. Visibility, national interest, personal wealth, to name a few. A huge one is incumbency. We’ve covered why incumbents are so successful before, but some reasons include name recognition and special interest groups interested in supporting people in power. Essentially, it’s a “people — and their money — follow winners” mentality.
Notably, seven of the candidates who were able to win while spending less money than their challengers this cycle were incumbents. Two others were running for open seats, and the final two were running against incumbents.
|Race||Incumbent||Incumbent Running?||Winning Candidate|
|Texas Senate District 19||Pete Flores (R)||Yes||Roland Gutierrez (D)|
|Texas House District 47||Vikki Goodwin (D)||Yes||Vikki Goodwin (D)|
|Texas House District 54||Brad Buckley (R)||Yes||Brad Buckley (R)|
|Texas House District 67||Jeff Leach (R)||Yes||Jeff Leach (R)|
|Texas House District 96||Bill Zedler (R)||No||David Cook (R)|
|Texas House District 102||Ana-Maria Ramos (D)||Yes||Ana-Maria Ramos (D)|
|Texas House District 112||Angie Chen Button (R)||Yes||Angie Chen Button (R)|
|Texas House District 121||Steve Allison (R)||Yes||Steve Allison (R)|
|Texas House District 126||E. Sam Harless (R)||Yes||E. Sam Harless (R)|
|Texas House District 132||Gina Calanni (R)||Yes||Mike Schofield (R)|
|Texas House District 138||Dwayne Bohac (R)||No||Lacey Hull (R)|
Of the three incumbents who lost re-election, only one was outspent by their opponent. In House District 134, Democrat Ann Johnson outspent Republican incumbent Sarah Davis and won with 52 percent of the vote.
Candidates who were the bigger spenders also fared better in contests for open seats, where those spending more than their opponents claimed eight open seats in the Texas House and one open seat in the Texas Senate. Meanwhile, just two open seats were won by candidates who spent less than their opponents.
|District||Top Spender||Other Candidate(s)||Winner|
|Texas Senate District 29||Cesar J. Blanco (D)||Bethany Hatch (R), David Marino (L)||Cesar J. Blanco (D)|
|Texas House District 2||Bryan Slaton (R)||Bill Brannon (D)||Bryan Slaton (R)|
|Texas House District 10||J.K. “Jake” Ellzey (R)||Matthias Savino (L)||J.K. “Jake” Ellzey (R)|
|Texas House District 25||Cody Thane Vasut (R)||Patrick Henry (D)||Cody Thane Vasut (R)|
|Texas House District 26||Jacey Jetton (R)||L. Sarah DeMerchant (D)||Jacey Jetton (R)|
|Texas House District 74||Eddie Morales Jr. (D)||Ruben Falcon (R)||Eddie Morales Jr. (D)|
|Texas House District 92||Jeff Cason (R)*||Jeff Whitfield (D), Chris Hibbard (L), Brody-Andrew Mulligan (G)||Jeff Cason (R)|
|Texas House District 96||Joe Drago (D)*||David Cook (R), Nelson Range (L)||David Cook (R)|
|Texas House District 119||Elizabeth Campos (D)||George Garza (R), Antonio Padron (G), Arthur Thomas (L)||Elizabeth Campos (D)|
|Texas House District 138||Akilah Bacy (D)*||Lacey Hull (R)||Lacey Hull (R)|
|Texas House District 148||Penny Morales Shaw (D)||Luis LaRotta (R)||Penny Morales Shaw (D)|
It turns out campaign finance spending is still a good predictor of who is likely to win in Texas state politics. The results of the 2020 election demonstrate that defeating a well-funded candidate — particularly when they are an incumbent politician — is still a long shot.