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A Republican view of 2014 in Harris County

Big Jolly is feeling pessimistic about his team’s chances in Harris County next year.

Now let’s look at who will be on the playing field for us. There will be a lot of statewide action, with unknown Dems – let’s ignore them for now. Sen. John Cornyn is a good conservative senator but at this point, I don’t see anyone rushing out to vote for him. Abbott in the governor slot will draw a few people out but Harris County isn’t his base and remember that the Dem won Harris County in 2010. Who knows with Lt. Gov., but again, I don’t see any excitement.

So drop down to county races. Once again, it will be up to Harris County Judge Ed Emmett to carry the load and pull a terrible field with him. Problem is, there is a large faction (let’s call them the SD7 bunch for now) that are begging people to run against him in a primary. And frankly, if they get the right candidate, Ed’s in trouble. As we saw this year when Mike Anderson damaged the party by defeating Pat Lykos, it is difficult to recover from a nasty primary at the top of the ticket. If Ed survives the primary, he’ll be fine in November but not able to carry the field with him. If he doesn’t survive the primary, say hello to County Judge Democrat.

County Clerk Stan Stanart has had problems running the office and the people he’s hired are suspect. I’ve heard rumors that former District Clerk Charles Bacarisse will challenge him in the primary – if so, that would certainly make for a stronger ticket but those are just rumors. Personally, I’d like to see former candidate for State Rep 149 candidate Jack Lee take a crack at it. If Stan is on the ballot again, he’ll go down.

District Clerk Chris Daniel has done a good job and is out in the county every day talking up the office. That hasn’t stopped people talking about challenging him in a primary. The most prominent name I’ve heard is former HCRP Executive Director, now some sort of communications guy for Commissioner Steve Radack, and miracle survivor of a plane crash, Court Koenning. Regardless of the candidate, this office will probably switch to the D’s.

Then, you have a problem with some gosh awful incumbent judges (who will cost some very good incumbent judges their bench). I, and many of us in the party, will not push a “Vote Straight R” message unless these judges are upset via the primary, which is a very difficult thing to do. The Straight R campaign has been the bedrock of the last two campaigns – without it, we’re going to lose a few points and certainly increase the down ballot undervotes. Imagine a Harris County judicial system 75% in the control of Democrats because that is what it will look like after 2014.

Combine all this and BAM!, Harris County Republicans have got a real problem. Just a little straight talk for your weekend.

As I see it, the Republicans have three advantages going into 2014, and three disadvantages. On the plus side:

1. All those non-habitual off-year voters who came out for them in 2010 must now be considered to be likely voters. Voting is a habit, and all those people now have a track record of voting in non-Presidential years. Even with some amount of dropoff, that’s huge. They can all be identified and targeted by Republican campaigns, which will make GOTV efforts that much easier and more accurate. As I said before, we can’t know for sure how many people were responding to a unique political environment, but the simple fact is that the political universe expanded, and that’s going to have an effect going forward. Any discussion of 2014 needs to take this into account.

2. Ed Emmett has the best political brand in the county. He’s established a reputation for being a low-drama get-things-done type who works well with others, and he still has the luster of his performance during Hurricane Ike. Only Sheriff Garcia is in his class for attracting crossover support. As I said in my early look at 2014, I’d consider him a favorite in any scenario outside of a 2010-style wave for the Democrats. If I were a Republican running for county office in 2014, I’d grab onto Judge Emmett with both hands.

3. It remains the case that Republicans start out with a turnout advantage in off years. 2010 was the extreme edge of this, but even under normal conditions they have the edge in likely voters. That won’t last forever – one can argue that it already won’t be the case in Harris County in 2014 – but until demonstrated otherwise, this is how it is.

So they have those things going for them, which is nice. On the down side:

1. Demography, demography, demography. The GOP is the party of white people, and white people are shrinking as a share of population in Harris County. Remember, Democrats had decent turnout in 2010, and despite a perceived advantage in enthusiasm last year, Republicans still lost most of the judicial races and had a countywide incumbent get knocked off. If the HCDP has a decent turnout plan, and if there’s anything to all that talk about a national investment in Texas Democrats, the Harris County GOP could well be in deep trouble.

2. Infighting and personality conflicts are always a problem, but I think the Republicans have bigger issues here than the Democrats do. This is partly because they’d been in control for so long – if your opponent can’t put up a decent fight, you’ll eventually start fighting among yourselves – and partly because of the same forces that have riven the Republican Party around the country. Big Jolly is more in tune with that than I am, so I’ll just say that primarying Emmett would be nuts. Jolly is right – if the GOP wants to hand that office over, go right ahead and take Emmett out next March.

3. Fears of contested primaries, even acrimonious ones, holding down turnout in November are generally overrated. Elaine Palmer won a nasty, divisive primary against Judge Steve Kirkland last year, but that didn’t stop her from winning in November. That said, Republicans tend to have higher rates of undervoting in downballot elections – 2010 was the exception to this – so they are more vulnerable to these issues. With the exception of the two HCDE At Large offices that are on the ballot plus Judge Jim Sharp, the Republicans are playing defense up and down the ballot, and that’s harder to do. It’s hard to know what the national mood will be like in another eighteen months, but a repeat of 2010 sure seems unlikely. Anger is a strong motivator, but it burns out after awhile. Again, I think Jolly puts his finger on the issue – what exactly will motivate Republicans to go to the polls next year? The scenario to ponder is not 2010 but 2006, when GOP turnout lagged statewide. That could have some interesting implications, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Point is, I can think of lots of things that may wind up driving Dems to the polls next year. That’s something for the GOP here to be concerned about.

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3 Comments

  1. WS says:

    There are a lot of questionable assumptions here. Stanart and Daniel may end up in colorful primaries, but can anybody reasonably argue that they’ll affect general election voting? Daniel himself is Exhibit A of straight ticket voting. And this the only person I know praising Daniel’s work. He’s a good self-promoter, but he’s gotten in trouble for illegally taking it upon himself to not levy state mandated bail fees, and his reputation in the legal community is below the barrels. And does Jolly really think it makes a difference if he won’t push Straight R?

    I’ve also found in dealing with him that Jolly has some personal agendas that he usually doesn’t disclose in his writing. When he pushes somebody, like Daniel or Lee, you can bet there is a personal connection.

  2. Mainstream says:

    I was not a supporter of Daniel at first, but my observation is that he has done a decent job and deserves re-election. He seems to grasp the breadth of the job, and seems to search for creative solutions to problems, like lack of diversity in those showing up for jury service.

  3. Yvonne Larsen says:

    A public debate about the reasons why over 150,000 individuals have moved out of the City of Houston over the past 2-3 years is a debate worth having within both parties. If that trend continues, what will be the net population loss of the COH? THAT is an issue for all Harris County residents, regardless of Party affiliation.

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