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Opinions differ about Congressional prospects

I’m gonna boil this one down a bit.

Todd Litton

Moments before the polls closed in Virginia’s Democratic sweep, Houston-area Republican Ted Poe, across the Potomac River on Capitol Hill, announced his retirement in 2018 after 14 years in Congress.

Poe cast his move Tuesday night as a personal decision: “You know when it’s time to go,” he told the Chronicle. “And it’s time to go, and go back to Texas on a full-time basis.”

But a wave of retirement announcements from Texas Republicans in both Congress and the Legislature already had sparked a lot of speculation that the pendulum of power might swing against the GOP, even possibly to some degree in a deep red state like Texas.

Poe and other Republicans dismissed that notion, arguing that their prospects in 2018 are strong, particularly in the Senate, where 10 Democratic incumbents face the voters in states won by President Donald Trump.

Democrats, however, celebrated Ralph Northam’s victory over Republican Ed Gillespie in Virginia’s hard-fought governor’s race as the start of an anti-Trump wave that could only grow as the president’s approval ratings continue to sink.

However coincidental, Poe’s announcement – following those of Texas U.S. Reps. Lamar Smith, Jeb Hensarling and Sam Johnson – seemed to add to the buzz.

[…]

Democratic hopeful Todd Litton, a nonprofit executive in Poe’s district, has raised more than $256,000 for the race, outpacing Poe’s fundraising in the three-month period between April and June.

Poe, however, called the suggestion that he is running away from a tough reelection “nonsense.” He noted that he won reelection last year with 61 percent of the vote, a substantially better showing than Trump, who won 52 percent of the district’s vote for president.

“I don’t appeal to people on the party label,” said Poe, a former teacher, prosecutor and judge. “I appeal based on who I am.”

[…]

David Crockett, a political scientist at San Antonio’s Trinity University, said the question lingering after Virginia’s election results: Is this the beginning of something different?

“Texas is still pretty red, but the result of all these retirements could be opportunity for a Democrat in the right circumstances,” he said. “It’s always easier for an opposition party to pick off an open seat … but I still think we’re a decade away from any significant change.”

Texas Democrats, for the most part, have their sights set on Hurd, Sessions and Culberson, whose districts went to Clinton in 2016. Recent internal polling also has bolstered their hopes of flipping the suburban San Antonio district where Smith is retiring.

Around Houston, it would take a pretty big wave for Poe’s 2nd Congressional District to fall into the Democratic column, but in the current political climate, some analysts say, who knows?

“I wouldn’t go to Las Vegas and bet on it,” said Craig Goodman, a political scientist at the University of Houston in Victoria. “But every election cycle, there’s always one or two districts where you’re like, ‘Wow, how did that happen?’ Maybe the 2nd would be that district.”

CDs 02 and 21 were more Democratic in 2016 than they were in 2012, and the retirements of Ted Poe and Lamar Smith will make them at least a little harder to defend in 2018 than they would have been. They’re not in the same class as CDs 07, 23, and 32, but a sufficient wave could make them competitive. Another factor to keep in mind is who wins the Republican primaries to try to hold them? Some candidates will be tougher than others, and in this day and age it’s hardly out of the question that the winner in one of these primaries could be some frothing Trump-or-die type that no one has heard of who might have trouble raising money and turn voters off.

There’s another point to consider, which is that some of the candidates who run for these now-open Congressional seats may themselves be holding seats that would be more vulnerable without an incumbent to defend them. For instance, State Rep. Jason Issac has announced his candidacy in CD21. Isaac’s HD45 went for Trump by less than five points and with under 50% of the vote; it was typically more Republican at the downballot level, but still shifted a bit towards the Dems from 2012 to 2016. Erin Zwiener is the Democratic challenger in HD45. As for CD02, it is my understanding that State Rep. Kevin Roberts, the incumbent in HD126, is looking at CD02. HD126 was about as Republican in 2016 as CD02 was, so if Roberts changes races that will open up another Republican-favored-but-not-solid seat. We’ll know more when the filings come in, but that’s what I’d keep my eye on. Candidates matter, and the Dems have been rounding them up for months now. Republicans are just getting started in these districts. They have less margin for error.

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One Comment

  1. Mainstream says:

    Significant portions of CD 2 and CD 7 overlap with HD 134, and the interplay of turnout and the uncertainly about who will be the GOP candidates could make all these seats more competitive in 2018.

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