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July 10th, 2018:

What the prognosticators are saying about Texas

I’ve covered some of this before, but with Daily Kos releasing their initial House race rankings, let’s see how the national prognosticators are classifying Texas Congressional races.

Daily Kos Elections

Tossup – CD23
Lean R – CD07, CD32
Likely R – CD21, CD31

Cook Political Report

Republican Tossup – CD07, CD32
Lean R – CD23
Likely R – CD21, CD31

Real Clear Politics

Tossup – CD07, CD23, CD32
Likely R – CD21

Sabato’s Crystal Ball

Tossup – CD23
Lean R – CD07, CD32
Likely R – CD21

The Crosstab

Likely D – CD23
Tossup – CD07, CD32
Lean R – CD24
Likely R – CD02, CD06, CD10, CD21, CD22, CD25, CD31

A few notes: This is an updated list from Sabato; last time I looked I only found a set of rankings from January. I’m sure that was my oversight. Cook has “Republican Tossup” and “Democratic Tossup” rather than the plain old ordinary “Tossup”. I don’t know how he distinguishes them. The Crosstab doesn’t do categories, as it provides a probability for a Democratic win for each district. These rankings are based on my interpretation of those probabilities as of the most recent update on June 25, so “Likely D” represents at least a 75% chance of a Dem win, “Tossup” is a 40 to 60 percent chance, “Lean R” is a 25 to 40 percent chance, and “Likely R” is 10 to 25 percent.

No real surprises here. CD23 is the hottest race, though for reasons unclear to me Cook sees it as less competitive than CD07 and CD32. Those two are the next tier, with CD21 a consensus lower-chance race and CD31 on some radars but not others. The Crosstab stands alone, both by including CD24 – which strictly on the basis of 2016 performance makes sense; it likely gets overlooked due to having a lower-profile candidate who hasn’t raised much money – and by including a bunch of other races as secondary and tertiary targets. His is a quant approach while the others use subjective factors, but one wonders how far off some of those races are from the other rankings.

How much does any of this matter? In the grand scheme of things, not very much. You don’t really need Charlie Cook to tell you that CD23 is a competitive district. Rankings like these are one part validation, one part early warning system, and one part bullet point for fundraising pitches. The reasons why a given race is ranked (or not) are interesting and provide some insight into the larger national picture, but to some extent it’s like a mock draft for the NFL. It’s a good way to provide content and generate interest as we wait for a thing to happen, and we’ll all forget about it five seconds after the thing finally does happen.

Three more Dems top $1 million in Q2

In the morning there was Gina Ortiz Jones.

Gina Ortiz Jones

Gina Ortiz Jones, the Democrat running against U.S. Rep. Will Hurd, R-Helotes, raised more than $1.2 million over the last three months, a huge haul that far outpaces the fundraising by her party’s previous nominees in Texas’ most competitive congressional district.

Jones’ campaign, announcing the figure this morning, also said she has about $1.1 million cash on hand.

Hurd hasn’t shared his fundraising numbers for the second quarter yet but faces a Sunday deadline to report them to the Federal Election Commission. He reported having $1.6 million cash on hand after the first quarter, when he took in $395,000.

Jones’ second-quarter haul means she has now raked in $2.2 million since entering the race — already more than the 2016 Democratic nominee, Pete Gallego, raised from start to finish. By comparison, Gallego pulled in $327,000 during the same period of the 2016 cycle, which put his total raised at that point at roughly $1.3 million.

Ortiz Jones joins Lizzie Fletcher in the million-dollar-quarter club. In her press release, she notes that no Democratic candidate has raised more than $2.7 million for CD23 since the district was redrawn in 2006. I think it’s safe to say she will surpass that amount. And she may not be the only one who does.

Then in the afternoon we got MJ Hegar.

MJ Hegar

In the 10 days after long shot Democratic candidate and veteran MJ Hegar published her widely praised viral video, her campaign to unseat U.S. Rep. John Carter, R-Round Rock, raised $750,000. It’s only the latest large fundraising figure reported by a Democratic U.S. House candidate from Texas, but it shows a stunning surge of interest in Hegar’s candidacy.

Hegar will report raising $1.1 million in the second fundraising quarter of the year, her campaign told the Tribune. Most of that came about from the attention drawn to her candidacy by her biographical ad, “Doors,” which has been viewed more than 2.5 million times.

The Hegar news came amid a cascade of robust fundraising numbers from Democrats vying to unseat Texas Republicans in Congress.

[…]

If past is precedent, these candidates will deploy much of this money in fall television ad wars.

Hurd is a perennially strong fundraiser and Sessions is the former chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee – a position that entails raising hundreds of millions of dollars for the national GOP House campaign. Culberson has improved his fundraising over the last year as the viability of the Democratic offensive in his district has taken form. None of these incumbents have released their second quarter numbers. Fundraising reports are due on July 15.

Hegar, however, is in a different category. Her race encompasses conservative areas along Interstate-35 and in the northern Austin suburbs. Carter, the incumbent, was first elected in 2002 and has never faced a serious general election campaign.

But $1 million hauls for individual House campaigns isn’t the status quo in American politics. In past cycles, candidates who raised $300,000-$400,000 were considered top fundraising performers.

Wow. I figured Hegar had a good shot at topping $1 million, but I assumed that would be by the end of the cycle. I didn’t expect her to hit that mark in a single cycle, but then that was one amazing ad. I don’t know how much her haul changes this race – it’s still a considerably redder district than the top tier – but it’s safe to say that CD31 is not a district the Republicans can take for granted. Not this year.

And finally in the evening there was Colin Allred.

Colin Allred

Texas Democratic candidates in four House races are reporting large fundraising hauls for the second quarter of this year, including Colin Allred, who is challenging Dallas Republican Rep. Pete Sessions.

Allred’s campaign said it would report raising almost $1.1 million between April 1 and June 30 for his run for the 5th Congressional District, leaving him with $900,000 cash on hand. Sessions has not yet released his contributions. The filing deadline is Sunday.

The second quarter marked a dramatic increase in Allred’s fundraising. During the first quarter, Allred reported raising $395,286 with $219,627 cash on hand. Allred’s fundraising began to pick up steam after he finished first in the March primary among seven candidates. He defeated Lillian Salerno in the May runoff.

During that period, Sessions reported $605,730 in contributions and $1.5 million cash on hand, according to federal filings.

Remember how I said that Democratic fundraising was way up from 2014, even if that wasn’t apparent from the non-Beto statewide candidates? (We haven’t heard from any of them yet, so that story line could change as well.) I trust my point has been sufficiently illuminated. We also haven’t heard from Joseph Kopser or Todd Litton yet, not to mention Dayna Steele, Jana Sanchez, Sri Kulkarni, Lorie Burch, and Mike Siegel. Fundraising isn’t destiny, but it sure is nice for our candidates to have the resources they need to compete.

Back to the barbecue battle

Once again, Sid Miller makes us pay attention to something we shouldn’t have to.

Sid Miller

Sid Miller

Texas’ barbecue culture is sacred. But some pitmasters are catching heat from a former rodeo cowboy overseeing the state Department of Agriculture.

Commissioner Sid Miller is slapping fines on their small businesses despite a warning from the attorney general that his reasoning may be illegal. The department issued at least 13 citations to barbecue joints for failing to register their meat scales since September, despite a 2017 state law requiring the commissioner to leave such establishments alone. In a case of unlikely bedfellows, Miller’s commission issued nine scale-related fines to yogurt shops, too.

The department has no plans to stop.

The citations are part of a running feud between restaurant owners and Miller, a white-cowboy-hat-wearing commissioner who made it his mission to ensure the state register all scales that weigh food for customers. But the state’s restaurant association is warning the food fight could land the commissioner in court.

[…]

When you order a quarter-pound of brisket, Miller insists the meat-slinger should set it on a state-registered scale where you can read the weight. Restaurants must also pay a yearly $35 fee for each of their scales. But strictly enforcing the law could force some of Texas’ most storied smokehouses to completely change the layout of their kitchens, incurring huge remodeling costs.

It’s “patently absurd,” said Kenneth Besserman, general counsel for the Texas Restaurant Association. Some pitmasters scrambled to rewrite their menus to serve less specific amounts of meat but found that created confusion for customers, he said.

Besserman and the restaurant lobby quickly convinced the Legislature to rewrite the law, nicknaming their effort the “Barbecue Bill.” Lawmakers in 2017 almost unanimously agreed to exempt scales “exclusively used to weigh food sold for immediate consumption,” largely pertaining to barbecue restaurants, yogurt shops and certain salad bars. The governor was sold.

Nevertheless, Miller persisted. Once the bill became law, Miller used his authority to add three additional words: “on the premises.” That meant any establishment selling food to-go — as the vast majority of barbecue restaurants do — had to follow the scale laws and regulations, essentially undoing the new law.

See here and here for the background. AG Paxton has opined that Miller’s interpretation is out of bounds, and the TRA is threatening to sue. I have expressed my reluctant agreement with Miller on the merits of the 2017 law, but it is the law and a public official’s role is to obey and uphold the law, outside of situations where the law is obviously immoral or unjust. This doesn’t meet that standard, in which case Miller should be lobbying for the law to be changed, or to work to un-elect the legislators who passed it. It’s also fair to point out, as Miller’s Democratic opponent Kim Olson does in the story, that the AG ought to have other priorities than this, as there have been almost no complaints made in recent years about inaccurate barbecue scales. Of course, given the sorts of things Miller tends to do when he has a bit of free time, this is at least not horribly embarrassing. Silver linings, I suppose.