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Where CD02 and CD07 stand

The race in CD02 gets a little attention from the Chron.

Todd Litton

The demographic elements that make the 7th Congressional District in Houston one of the hottest midterm elections in the nation also run through a neighboring area that has some Democrats dreaming of picking up not one, but two Republican-held congressional seats in Harris County this year.

While the 2nd Congressional District has not received anywhere near the focus of national Republicans or Democrats as the neighboring 7th, the similarities in the districts’ changing demographics – particular the growth of non-white and college educated voters – has Democrats optimistic as they anticipate a national wave election that could sweep Democrats back into power on Capitol Hill.

Both districts have slightly more women then men, nearly identical median ages (35) and median household incomes ($72,000). According to U.S. Census data, both have about 98,000 black residents and about 245,000 Hispanic residents.

But there is one big factor so far keeping the 2nd from becoming a hot race like the battle between Democrat Lizzie Pinnell Fletcher and Rep. John Culberson, a Houston Republican, in the 7th District: Trump.

In 2016, both the 7th and 2nd saw less support for President Donald Trump than what Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney received four years earlier. Romney won over 60 percent of the vote in both districts against President Barack Obama in 2012. But in 2016, Trump won 52 percent in the 2nd Congressional District and just 47 percent of the vote in the 7th, where Culberson has faced few serious challengers.

Those 5 percentage points mean everything to national forecasters who say Trump’s performance in the 7th revealed a major problem for Republicans. There are 20 seats in the House held by Republicans that Clinton won in 2016.

It is true that the difference in performance from 2016 has the forecasted odds for a Democratic win in CD02 lower than they are in CD07. It’s a similar story elsewhere – Cook Political Report and Real Clear Politics have CD07 as a tossup, while Sabato’s somewhat outdated Crystal Ball has CD07 as Lean R. None of them have CD02 on the board. I think that slightly underestimates the chances in CD02. The Morris model puts Litton’s odds at roughly one in six, which seems reasonable. If the wave is high enough, and if Harris County has shifted more than people think, it’s in play. Frankly, the fact that we’re even talking about it is kind of amazing.

Litton has the advantage over Lizzie Fletcher in that CD02 is an open seat. Ted Poe has generally been a more congenial member of Congress, which to some extent may just be a function of having had fewer general election opponents, but it’s fair to say this race would be farther off the radar if Poe were running for re-election. On the other hand, Fletcher gets to run against John Culberson’s record on health care, gun control, flood mitigation, Donald Trump, and so on, all in a year when being an incumbent may not provide the edge it usually does, while Litton will have to work to define Crenshaw before Crenshaw can establish his own identity. Crenshaw and Fletcher had to survive runoffs while Litton and Culberson have been able to focus on the fall since March, but the lengthened campaigns gave the former more exposure to their voters. Litton has the cash on hand advantage over Crenshaw for now, though I don’t expect that to last for long. Fletcher trails Culberson in the money race, but the total raised by Dems in CD07 has far exceeded Culberson’s haul, and now Fletcher isn’t competing with three other high-profile candidates. She will have to deal with outside money attacking her, while if the national groups have engaged in CD02 it’s surely a sign of great things for the Dems and a large helping of doom for the GOP. Overall you’d rather be in Lizzie Fletcher’s position because of the 2016 performance and the general makeup of the districts, but being Todd Litton has its advantages as well.

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