On Tuesday, a little-known candidate who won a couple thousand votes in the Texas primaries has stretched out an already bitter Democratic race by more than two months.
In Texas, candidates have to win at least 50 percent of the vote to win their party nomination. If no one gets at least 50 percent, the top two vote-getters advance to a runoff. On Tuesday, Representative Henry Cuellar, a longtime South Texas Democrat, received the most votes in his primary but fell short of the 50-percent threshold, pushing him into a runoff against Jessica Cisneros, a progressive immigration lawyer.
As of Thursday afternoon, Cuellar had won 48.4 percent of the vote and Cisneros had 46.9 percent. A third liberal candidate, Tannya Benavides, had 4.7 percent. Attempts to reach Benavides were unsuccessful. She wasn’t anywhere near qualifying for the runoff in May, but she received just enough votes to prevent either candidate from winning the primary outright.
They’re called spoiler candidates, but it’s not necessarily a fair descriptor.
Major-party candidates who fail to win enough support are in many ways just as responsible for their losses as little-known candidates who earn a mere fraction of the vote. But spoiler candidates have helped shape American politics for better or for worse. One third-party candidate in Georgia told us that he has been a target of Republican ire — even death threats — for running in the 2020 Senate race.
The candidate, Shane Hazel, a Libertarian, received 2.3 percent of the vote in the November general election in Georgia in 2020.
David Perdue, who was the incumbent Republican senator, came less than half a percentage point shy of the 50 percent mark. Jon Ossoff, a Democrat, advanced to the runoff as well — and won the Senate seat. Ossoff’s victory, alongside Raphael Warnock’s, a fellow Georgia Democrat, gave their party control of the Senate.
While Hazel and his supporters were thrilled that a scrappy campaign had influenced a marquee Senate race, he doesn’t call himself a spoiler. He might have angered Republicans for helping to thwart a Perdue victory, but he said his intention was to give voice to voters, not to simply send a race to a runoff.