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September 11th, 2018:

On negative ads and name recognition

I confess, I’m amused by this.

U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz is going after Democrat Beto O’Rourke for cursing during some of his campaign speeches.

The Cruz campaign released a digital ad on social media that shows O’Rourke cursing at various campaign events over the last year.

“So he’s showing up across Texas sharing his wit, his wisdom and his character,” an unidentified narrator says as clips of O’Rourke cursing are bleeped out.

The ad closes by saying O’Rourke is “showing the #@%* up.”

That’s…bad? Doesn’t that imply that Ted Cruz isn’t “showing the #@%* up”? I’m not exactly sure what I’m supposed to make of that, but then it seems that Ted Cruz isn’t very good at negative ads. Maybe if he had some accomplishments he could tout or something like that. I’m just spitballing here. What does it say about an incumbent when all his first moves out of the gate are to attack his opponent rather than brag about his record?

It’s clear that it’s going to be all mud from here on out, not just from Cruz but also from the big money outside agitators that prop him up as well. All of which leads to a bit of musing from RG Ratcliffe on the state of the race.

The increased attention that O’Rourke’s growing celebrity is drawing has some Democratic stalwarts worried that O’Rourke has not built a campaign that has the ability to quickly trade jab for jab. This may be problematic because poll after poll—which show the race for Senate is close—suggests that a large number of voters still do not know O’Rourke. This low voter ID allows Cruz and his allies to help define his opponent leading into Election Day.

You might want to put in a mouth guard to prevent injury as you grind your teeth at the quotes from unnamed “Democratic operatives”, but never mind that for now. My first inclination in times like these is always to look to the data, so I went through all the recent polls to see what I could find about Beto O’Rourke’s favorability and name recognition. Here’s what I got:

UT/Trib, June 25 – 16% Neutral, 24% Don’t Know

Quinnipiac, July 31 – 43% “Haven’t heard enough”

PPP, August 1 – “O’Rourke’s name recognition has grown since January as well as his favorability. In January, only 39% of voters had an opinion of him, and his favorability was 20% while 19% had an unfavorable opinion of him. Now 57% have an opinion of him with 31% having a favorable and 26% having an unfavorable opinion.”

NBC News, August 22 – 36% Unsure/Never heard among RVs

ECPS, Aug 27 – 27% Neutral, 11% Never heard

Not all polls asked about Beto’s favorability (though they nearly always asked about Cruz’s, and nearly everyone has an opinion on him), and those that did were not consistent in their question wording or their categorizations. Still, even with the variability, it’s clear that a decent number of people don’t have a firm opinion about Beto O’Rourke, and thus we get the pearl-clutching.

And to be fair, it’s a very reasonable point to make. If you don’t already have an opinion about a candidate – maybe even if you do – that means your perception is up for grabs. If you’re a politician with plenty of money – and while O’Rourke has greatly outraised Cruz, he still has lots of dough and his buddies in the conservative PAC business have bottomless coffers – you can have an effect on that. Thus the old adage about defining yourself before your opponent does it for you.

That said, I think it’s also worth contemplating how much effect negative ads, even competent ones, may have this year, especially on a high-charisma candidate like Beto O’Rourke. For one thing, as we have recently observed, not all candidates are vulnerable to negative information about them. For another, people who dislike Ted Cruz (of which there are many) and are undecided about Beto O’Rourke may be less likely to believe or be swayed by an attack on O’Rourke by Cruz. Most of all, in a year where so many people are highly motivated to deliver a message to Donald Trump, negative ads just may not mean much to them.

I’m not saying that Cruz’s barrage can’t or won’t have an effect. It probably will, though at this point it’s impossible to say how much of an effect it may have. I am saying that this is a weird year, with unusual dynamics, and it’s worth thinking this sort of thing through. I do hope Beto has a strategy for weathering the attacks, even if that strategy is “keep on keeping on”. We’re sure to get a lot more polling data over the next two months, so whatever effect there is, I’m sure we’ll see it.

Speed kills

Good long read from the Chron about our dangerous roads and highways. There’s too much to cover here, so I just want to focus on the why we all speed so much.

Houston drivers likely speed, at least in part, because they believe no one with authority is paying attention.

A Chronicle analysis of municipal court data shows that Houston-area law enforcement’s largest agencies are deploying fewer officers for road enforcement and ticketing fewer drivers, even as fatalities increased in the past two years and the area grows in population.

Houston police officers ticketed 41 percent fewer drivers in 2017 than they did in 2012, even as the number of vehicle miles traveled in Houston grew 23 percent.

That reflects a national trend of less traffic enforcement, according to Hersman, the former chairwoman of the NTSB. Federal statistics show that the share of people coming into contact with police through a traffic stop dropped about 11 percentage points from 2002 to 2011.

“We certainly understand what law enforcement is being asked to do and what they deal with, but the reality is fatalities are going up on our roadways,” Hersman said. “What we are seeing nationwide is law enforcement is not doing traffic enforcement.”

Harris County sheriff’s deputies, for example, issued 28 percent fewer speeding tickets in 2017 than they did in 2015, even though the county gained 100,000 people during that period. Houston police officers issued 16 percent fewer speeding tickets in 2017 than in 2015. Texas Department of Public Safety Troopers operating within the greater Houston region are the exception; they issued 11 percent more tickets for speeding than they did in 2015.

I mostly travel on I-10 these days, and I do see (usually unmarked) patrol cars on the shoulders, and occasionally a pulled-over vehicle getting cited. But this is the exception, and there’s nothing quite like the joy of being tailgated when you’re already doing over 70 on a road with a speed limit of 60. I don’t have any solutions to offer here – we could reduce speeding and the mayhem that accompanies it with higher levels of patrol, but of course that’s going to require more patrol officers, and that’s not in the cards. I just miss working in a part of town where I didn’t have to take highways to get to the office.

Early voting has begun for SD19 special election runoff

Don’t lose sight of this election.

Pete Gallego

A strong yet unsuccessful showing in 2016 against incumbent Carlos Uresti was enough to convince Pete Flores to take another shot at Uresti’s State Senate seat, this time in a special election to complete the former senator’s term.

With early voting beginning Monday for the Sept. 18 runoff, Flores faces Democrat and former Congressman Pete Gallego in Democratic-leaning District 19, which covers all or parts of 17 counties from Bexar to the Mexican border and the Big Bend country. But Flores was the top vote-getter in July’s first round of voting and is banking on his grassroots campaign to send him to Austin.

“Special elections are a different animal,” Flores said. “All assumptions get thrown out the window.”

[…]

When Flores challenged Uresti in 2016, he got 40 percent of the vote. “That’s a pretty good chunk of votes in Southwest Texas,” Flores said.

[…]

Ahead of the runoff, Gallego spoke with the Rivard Report at his Southside campaign office before block-walking with more than 20 volunteers and supporters, including Bexar County Sheriff Javier Salazar and County Democratic Chair Monica Alcantara.

“Opportunity means jobs, the economy, education,” he said. “It means making sure everyone has the opportunity to live out what I call the American dream.

“I also want to make sure we live up to promises made to the people to whom we owe a great deal of obligation – our seniors who built our country and made it what it is, and veterans who’ve done the same.”

Gallego is confident that Democrats will get out and vote on Sept. 18. He described District 19 as a “60/40 district,” with Democratic voters making up the majority.

“In an emergency special election, it may be a little tighter, but if at the end of the day we do what we need to do, we’ll win,” he said.

Flores did indeed get 40% in 2016 against the disgraced Carlos Uresti, though that was actually a bit below what other Republicans did in the district. He also got 34.35% in the July election, and while that was enough to lead the field, it was still a notch down from his 2016 performance. The four Dems in the race combined for 59.6%, to the three Republicans’ 39.4%, or right about where Gallego estimated the partisan ratio is. I’d call that a bit on the high end, as Dems won by about ten points pretty consistently in both 2012 and 2016. As such, the July performance for Dems was above the baseline by several points, more or less in line with other elections over the past year and a half. That said, special elections and runoffs are their own thing, and nothing should be taken for granted. Gallego got the Express News endorsement, and as far as I can tell is doing the kind of campaigning one needs to do in this kind of race. If you live in the district or know someone who does, you have till Friday to vote early, and Tuesday the 18th to vote at a precinct location. Don’t miss out.