The Libertarian Party by state law does not hold primaries, it nominates its candidates by convention set by state law after the primaries are over. Voters must choose each cycle to vote in a Republican or Democratic primary or wait and vote in a Libertarian or Green Party convention.
This week the libertarian Party held its precinct convention as by law on Tuesday, and main county conventions on Saturday in 70 counties across the state. A core delegate base of around 1,000 members statewide meets every two years to set rules, elect officers, and nominate candidates for the November general election ballot. This convention process has a huge impact on Texas elections, even though the exclusion from primaries leaves it out of sight of many Texas voters. The Green Party held its conventions as well, though only 13 candidates were running, none were contested and it holds conventions in only 8 counties.
In 2018 Libertarian Nominees likely impacted the outcome in a number of races including in the razor thin key Harris County Judge Race, where Democrat Lena Hidalgo edged long time Republican Judge Ed Emmett, and threatened for months to cost Ted Cruz the US Senate race to Beto O'Rourke before falling short in the final hours. An estimated 1.85 mm voters cast votes for Libertarian Nominees in 2018. In general about 40% of Texas voters have cast votes for Libertarian Nominees in the last 3 elections. In 2018 10 counties particularly in the Rio Grande Valley and West Texas, saw the LP's strongest candidate, Court of Criminal Appeals candidate Mark Ash, receive over 40% of the vote, with Ash winning outright in West Texas battleground Presidio County, and almost winning in Travis, with Dallas County and Jim Hogg just barely missing the 40% mark. All major population centers including Harris, Dallas, San Antonio, Fort Worth, El Paso, Austin were above average in this race for the first time ever.
The result of this 2018 impact was a new state law passed pushed through by Republican leadership putting the Green Party back on the ballot at the historical expense of Libertarian and Democratic candidates, and adding a new first ever general election ballot access fee exclusively for Libertarian and Green Party nominees, in a bid to reduce Libertarian candidate numbers and blunt the impact on the Democrat push to turn Texas purple. That general election ballot access fee has been challenged in court by Libertarian plaintiffs, who won an injunction against the Secretary of State in November on Texas and Federal constitutional grounds. It is currently on appeal.
However, in 2020 Libertarian Precinct Convention delegate count fell across the board, with every major county down 20-60%, except for lone bright spot in Houston in Texas' largest county, Harris, which was up 20% setting what records indicate was likely a record turnout for a county convention in the party's 40 year Texas history. Turnout results from smaller counties was mixed, and final numbers are not yet available, but appears to have held up somewhat better than the large metropolitan counties. Some county leaders in the affected counties attributed this to factors including a drop from the unusually high delegate turnout in 2018 driven by a contentious 4 way race for the Governor's nomination, movement of the 2020 state convention to hard to reach McAllen, TX reducing delegate interest, and possible coronavirus impacts.
But the party nominated over a 100 candidates, up about 20% from 2018, on the back of the lawsuit injunction as Libertarian candidates reacted to the state interference in its privately funded internal nominee election process. Several of the nominations remain to be done at district conventions on March 21 or the state convention.
The nominations include nominees in almost every battleground Texas House and Congressional Districts, indicating the 2020 LP convention results are positioned to potentially have a material impact on the efforts of Republicans to hold off broad Democratic challenges in the Texas legislative and Congressional races.
Kory Watkins, who barely lost the 2018 Governor's nomination by 6 votes, lost his Texas House District 150 nomination race to newcomer criminal defense attorney Jesse Herrera.
Robertson County Party Chair Cindy Welch was nominated for County Tax Assessor, the first time a Libertarian has stood for local office in Robertson, one of Texas' oldest counties.
2018 District 2 Congressional Nominee Patrick Gunnels who lost to Republican Dan Crenshaw, beat newcomer Pete Salas in a contested race, but failed to win enough votes to secure the nomination over None of the Above, leaving the HD 126 race empty, after a contentious challenge from a portion of the delegate base over Gunnel's public support for President Trump over the Libertarian Nominee. Longtime party watchers described it as a case of two candidates who were too far to the right and left to win a majority of the delegate support.
The District 2 Nomination to challenge Crenshaw in 2020 was won by local party activist Elliott Scheirman, who secured the Houston GLBT Political Caucus primary endorsement, beating newcomer Laura Antoniou after a third candidate who serves on the state executive committee threw her support behind Scheirman on the convention floor. CD 2 is a longtime Republican leaning district with freshman incumbent tied closely to Donald Trump that is a 2020 Democratic target to flip, and currently in a runoff.
Most of the county level party leadership in the major counties stayed intact.
Party activist Shawn Huckabay won the Bexar County Chair in reportedly a unanimous vote, as prior chair Bekah Congdon stepped down to run for state party office.
In Harris County, longtime county chair and former Governor candidate Kathie Glass won a factional challenge with 2/3rds vote of a record delegate count. Delegates then through their support behind her challenger, Jacob Harper, an engineer who works at NASA, for Vice Chair winning in a 3 way race against two well respected party insiders with candidate experience who split the vote. Kathie Glass is the attorney of record in the ballot access fee lawsuit. Ms. Glass said "I appreciative that the delegates gave me another term, and I am glad that Jacob has a role in the county leadership. We had a very deep bench of volunteer talent this year."
Chris Clemence won the chair race in Fort Bend County, Joseph Duncan in Franklin County, and Matt Savino in Henderson County.
According to party candidate coordinator Ted Brown, several nomination fights are left for the district and state conventions including CD 11 Brian Holk from Llano and Wacey Cody from Tom Green County, Dallas area CD 32 between Ken Ashby vs Christy Mowrey, and in CD 23 a key Republican and Democrat West Texas battleground district that lies in the strongest Libertarian voting stronghold in Texas, between party insiders Beto Villela and Tim Martinez.
At statewide level, two main contested races remain, US Senate, and Texas Railroad Commission between Houston based professional engineer Charles Stevens, and oil industry analyst Austin based Matt Sterett. This race gained statewide implications after the primaries when unknown and poorly funded Jim Wright somehow beat long time incumbent Ryan Sitton, making it an open race with no incumbent on the general election ballot.
And for US Senate, a so far low key intra-party race in a high profile bid to play spoiler against John Cornyn has emerged between popular former Lt. Governor nominee and party County Chair Coordinator Kerry McKennon, and Wes Benedict, the former executive director of both the Libertarian National Committee, and prior to that Libertarian Party of Texas.