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Harvey and the Congressional races

This was from a couple of days ago.

Dayna Steele

A year ago this week, Dayna Steele was standing in 29 inches of water inside her Seabrook home. Her family had already made it through Hurricane Ike in 2008, when the water in her home had come up even higher. Nearly nine years later, Hurricane Harvey would once again force Steele to rebuild.

But this time around, Steele was also a candidate for Congress. She had filed months earlier as a Democrat to challenge U.S. Rep. Brian Babin, R-Woodville, in a historically Republican district that stretches northwest from Houston across eight counties. In the days and weeks after the storm, as she heard about the worry and confusion from others in the region, Steele found it amplified her desire to represent her community in Congress.

“We still have entirely too many blue tarps, empty homes,” said Steele, who still sees local residents living in trailers parked in the driveways of their damaged homes. “It’s still a big issue.”

A year after one of the worst storms in the state’s history, Steele is one of several Texas congressional candidates emphasizing Harvey as a key issue heading into November, honing in on the details of its aftermath, the region’s long-term recovery and whether enough is being done to prepare for when the next major hurricane arrives.

Steele’s opponent, Babin, was also personally impacted by Harvey. For a few hours, he and his family were stuck in their Woodville home due to flooding in their neighborhood. Three months later, Babin was a part of a group of Texans in Congress who teamed up to secure more Harvey relief after an initial proposal put forth by the White House was criticized as too small by many Texans.

Steele said when she travels around the district, she hears from voters that they either don’t know who Babin is or say they never saw him in the aftermath of the storm.

Babin, who didn’t respond to a request for comment, has tweeted multiple timesabout his push to send additional federal aid to Texas. Recently Babin, along with other Houston-area congressional members, met with Mick Mulvaney, director of the Office of Management and Budget at the White House, to discuss giving more money to the Army Corps for “future flood mitigation.” The congressman also tweeted that he toured disaster areas with U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan in the storm’s immediate aftermath.

A similar back and forth — challengers accusing the incumbent of not being physically present after the storm or fighting hard enough for relief funding and the incumbent insisting otherwise — is emerging in multiple races in Harvey-impacted districts.

“The lack of response from our representative is visceral,” said Sri Kulkarni, a Democrat vying to unseat U.S. Rep. Pete Olson, R-Sugar Land. The prevailing sentiment from constituents in the Republican-leaning 22nd Congressional District, Kulkarni argued, is that “Pete Olson was absent on Harvey.”

That recent Atlantic story on CD07 covered this in the context of Lizzie Fletcher’s campaign. She and Todd Litton in CD02 have different challenges in their races; Fletcher is attacking John Culberson for basically doing nothing before Harvey to help with flood mitigation, while Litton has not incumbent to run against. As I said in that post, it makes sense to make Harvey response and recovery a campaign issue. The Republicans were in charge of the government when Harvey happened, so what happened after that is on them. How effective that will be is not clear. I’d love to see some polling data on that, but even if we never get to see such numbers, I’d bet that the candidates themselves have explored the question.

We ultimately may or may not ever know what if any effect the Harvey issue has. If an incumbent gets knocked off, there may be some followup reporting that sheds light on it, but if a race is just closer than one might have expected – Dayna Steele, running in a 70% Trump district, has a lot of room to gain ground without winning, for instance – we may never get an examination of why. Most likely the best we’ll be able to do is draw our own conclusions from the data that we get to see.

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