One of Santa’s election elves came by on Friday with a delivery of Harris County precinct data for the 2011 runoff elections. You can guess how I spent some of my weekend. Before I launch into the numbers, here are a few caveats about them. First and foremost, this is the first election under the new Council districts, so comparisons to prior elections are dicey propositions. That won’t stop me from making them, of course, just remember that the districts in question are different now, so be even more careful about the inferences you draw. Unlike the 2009 runoffs, the spreadsheet I got did not indicate what district the precincts were in. I had to figure that out as best I could by fitting that sheet next to the regular election data, for which I must first filter out the non-Houston precincts. I got it maybe 98 or 99 percent lined up, but I know it’s off a little because the numbers derived from the districts don’t total up exactly. And of course, this is all draft data, meaning it hasn’t been officially canvassed and may not include provisional ballots that will count later. Oh, and it’s Harris County only, too. In short, take all this as an approximation of the truth, as best I can put it together.
With all that said, here’s how the numbers look for the At Large #2 race between CM-elect Andrew Burks and Kristi Thibaut. Thibaut won the Harris County portion of the city by a small margin, but lost the Fort Bend portion by a slightly larger margin, making Burks the winner. Since Burks was also in a runoff in 2009 for this seat against outgoing incumbent CM Sue Lovell, I thought I’d put those numbers in as well.
Dist Thibaut Burks Thib% Burks% Lovell Burks Lovell% Burks% ================================================================== A 2,535 2,180 53.8 46.2 8,953 5,571 61.6 38.4 B 1,703 4,042 29.4 70.4 3,128 7,773 28.7 71.3 C 5,834 2,922 66.6 33.4 12,427 5,962 67.6 32.4 D 2,183 4,802 32.2 68.8 8,015 11,974 40.1 59.9 E 2,478 2,370 51.1 48.9 7,659 6,834 52.9 47.1 F 851 655 56.5 43.5 3,967 2,966 57.2 42.8 G 4,441 3,696 54.6 45.4 12,963 8,770 59.7 40.3 H 1,385 1,214 53.3 46.7 7,235 3,721 66.0 34.0 I 981 775 55.9 44.1 3,625 3,036 54.4 45.6 J 957 617 60.8 39.2 K 2,192 2,248 49.4 50.6
Bearing in mind that these districts are different, the results aren’t all that different. The main exception is District H, where Lovell nearly doubled up Burks while Thibaut squeaked past him. I wish I had an easy way of knowing which precincts were in the old districts, but not only are the districts different, there are differences in the individual precincts as well. Nonetheless, that one comparison stands out like a sore thumb.
Looking at these numbers, there’s not much there to change my mind about how this election played out. Burks did just well enough in the African-American districts to outweigh Thibaut’s advantage everywhere else. Alternately, you could say Thibaut did not do well enough outside the African-American districts to overcome Burks’ lead there, even though she did reasonably well in them; you’ll get a clearer picture of that when I show you the At Large #5 data. Robert Miller wrote on Friday about how Burks was finally able to win on a coalition of African-Americans and westside Republicans, which was visible to him at a fundraiser held for Burks at the home of Republican Fred Zeidman:
In attendance were Democratic elected stalwarts Judge Zinetta Burney, Constable May Walker and State Rep. Ron Reynolds; and Republicans Harris County District Clerk Chris Daniel and former Judge Levi Benton (Burk’s treasurer). Mayor Annise Parker was the Special Guest. Burks announced that he had hired Sandra Strachan from the Greater Houston Partnership as his Chief of Staff, and former Council Member Mark Goldberg as an Executive Advisor — two strong hires.
I’m curious to know what Burks’ supporters here think of that. Is this the Council member you thought you were getting? I personally will be eagerly awaiting Burks’ January finance report, to see who has hopped on the late train for him.
Be that as it may, the question is whether this coalition can be successful in a normal-turnout election, or if it’s an artifact of the unique conditions that a runoff like this one entails. I continue to believe that Burks will be vulnerable in 2013 in a way that freshman Council member usually aren’t, but I have no more history or precedent to go on than anyone else does.
One other interesting aspect of this race was the undervote, which was considerably higher than the undervote in At Large #5. That’s not surprising, since clearly AL5 was the marquee race, but I’ve heard several disappointed Thibaut supporters grumble about how that affected the outcome. Here’s how the non-votes went by district, for both At Large runoffs:
Dist Thibaut Burks Under Under% AL5 UV AL5 UV% =================================================== A 2,535 2,180 826 14.9 152 2.7 B 1,703 4,042 622 9.8 112 1.8 C 5,834 2,922 623 6.6 58 0.6 D 2,183 4,802 641 8.4 51 0.6 E 2,478 2,370 450 8.5 31 0.6 F 851 655 101 6.3 19 1.2 G 4,441 3,696 800 9.0 36 0.4 H 1,385 1,214 196 7.0 34 1.2 I 981 775 145 7.6 15 0.8 J 957 617 108 6.4 25 1.5 K 2,192 2,248 332 7.0 42 0.9
Clearly, Thibaut left some votes on the table in District C, but then so did Burks in Districts B and D. Again, this was the pattern for him from 2009 – far fewer people vote for him in the African-American districts than for Jolanda Jones, or any other such candidate. I think that may hurt him in a normal election, assuming he doesn’t gain some polish and add a professional campaign to address these shortcomings, but it’s hard to say that the dropoff in voting helped or hurt either candidate in this race. I don’t think you can make assumptions about who the non-voters in the Republican districts would have chosen if they had bothered to do so. I’m certain quite a few of them made the deliberate “none of the above” choice. Will those voters, presumably mostly Republicans, be part of a Burks coalition in 2013? His re-election likely gets a lot harder if they aren’t. On the other hand, if he does enough to merit their support (and keep out a Helena Brown type from his race), how much does he lose from the Democratic side? It’s going to be fun to watch, that’s for sure.
In any close race, it’s easy to point at this factor or that as a key to the outcome. I think it’s equally fair to say that if Thibaut had done a better job driving turnout in the Anglo Dem areas she could have won as it is to say that if Burks had run an actual campaign he’d have won more comfortably. After all this time, and with the precinct data in hand, I still don’t know what to make of this race. Greg has more.