The Statesman asks the question whether the newly-drawn HD48 in Travis County might be easier for a Republican challenger to win, then never gets around to providing the simplest answer to that question.
Starting in April and carrying on through the dog days of summer, Republican Robert Thomas has worn out the soles of his shoes block-walking in his campaign to represent House District 48 in West and South Austin. Thomas is counting on more than hard work and sweat, though. There’s a wild card in this election that could level the playing field.
Even though incumbent Democrat Donna Howard has a bigger campaign, better name recognition and more legislative experience, redistricting has thrown her a curveball. She has represented District 48 for six years, but most of the residents she now represents have never voted for her.
“Sixty percent of the constituency in this district is brand new. We aren’t taking anything for granted,” Howard said at a campaign house party in late September at the two-story Mount Bonnell home of a longtime supporter. About 50 supporters, including 427th Criminal District Court Judge Jim Coronado and Travis County Precinct 5 Constable Bruce Elfant, dropped by and enjoyed refreshments and hors d’oeuvres.
Thomas had about $33,000 in political contributions compared with Howard’s $71,000 through June, according to Texas Ethics Commission reports. The latest reports are due Tuesday, but both campaigns say their fundraising and spending have ballooned since summer.
Neither the size of Howard’s campaign nor her incumbent status seem to worry Thomas. He points to the district’s history and the latest district maps as reasons to be optimistic.
For the past 20 years, District 48 has been predominantly Democratic. The district has swung into Republican hands once since 1992 when Todd Baxter won by about 7 percentage points 10 years ago. Howard won a special election when Baxter left prematurely before the 2006 general election.
Howard barely won re-election in 2010. In that race, she edged out her Republican challenger by 12 votes out of 51,553 votes cast — or by two-hundredths of a percentage point.
“This district has historically … been a contestable swing district,” Thomas said. “I think it plays in my favor. … This is effectively an open seat. A large number of the new constituents are independent.”
What the story never bothers to mention is simply this: The numbers in HD48 are more favorable now to a Democrat than they were before.
District McCain Obama Wainwright Houston =============================================== Old HD48 45.5% 53.0% 45.7% 48.9% New HD48 37.5% 60.8% 37.5% 56.7%
The 2008 numbers for the new HD48, under the interim map, are here (Excel spreadsheet), and the 2008 numbers for the pre-redistricting HD48 are here. The dropoff in each case comes from a higher level of undervoting on the Democratic side, and a larger share of the vote going to the Libertarian candidate in the Supreme Court race. There is absolutely nothing surprising or mysterious about this. The Republicans quite reasonably wanted to shore up HD47, the district of freshman Rep. Paul Workman – remember, HD47 was won by Democrat Valinda Bolton in 2006 and 2008. All those extra Democratic voters had to go somewhere, and Howard and Rep. Mark Strama were the beneficiaries. So while it is accurate to say that many of the voters in HD48 are new to Rep. Howard, it is also the case that they are mostly Democrats. Which map would you rather have? I grant that Rep. Howard’s newness to the majority of her constituents is a factor, but this is a pretty significant one, too. It needed to be mentioned. Of course, there wouldn’t have been much of a story if it had been, so there you go. More from Rep. Howard herself on her Facebook page.