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Two possible straws in the wind

Ken Paxton seems a little nervous.

Best mugshot ever

Less than 36 hours before Election Day, the race for attorney general is showing signs of competition that have been absent in just about every other statewide contest.

Republican incumbent Ken Paxton, who was indicted more than three years ago on felony securities fraud charges, has been running a relatively quiet campaign with the comfortable advantage of a GOP incumbent in a state that has not elected a Democrat statewide in more than two decades.

But now he is firing back at his Democratic challenger, Justin Nelson, with a new attack ad — the first one from Paxton that addresses the indictment — and getting a fresh influx of high-dollar campaign donations, signals that Republicans are not taking anything for granted in the race for Texas’ top lawyer.

Nelson, a prominent Austin attorney, has made Paxton’s legal troubles the basis of his campaign and the main focus of much of his advertising — posting billboards around the state featuring Paxton’s mugshot, commissioning a rolling billboard he calls the “Mugshot Mobile” and even sending campaign staffers dressed as Paxton in prisoner garb to frolic on the Capitol grounds in a Halloween stunt. Yet most consequentially, Nelson has spent significantly to air TV ads informing voters all over the state that their attorney general is under indictment.

The anti-Nelson push from Paxton’s campaign suggests that the Democrat’s jabs have been successful in getting something most other Democratic statewide candidates have been aching for: the GOP’s attention. Except for the blockbuster U.S. Senate battle between incumbent Ted Cruz and Democratic challenger Beto O’Rourke, Republican statewide officials have largely ignored their Democratic challengers, let alone gone negative on TV against them.

“Nelson has successfully raised the profile of the race to a level where Republicans began to be nervous that people who vote straight-ticket Republican may cross over in this race as they learn more about Ken Paxton,” said Mark Jones, a political science professor at Rice University. “While they’re still counting on it, they don’t have 100 percent confidence.”

Paxton also got a cash injection from Greg Abbott. As I said before, this may just be an abundance of caution on Paxton’s part. The official reason, asserted by the political scientists, is that Paxton doesn’t want to win by a wimpy single-digit score. And maybe that is all it is. But I feel pretty confident saying he wouldn’t be asking for handouts from Greg Abbott if he didn’t think he needed the help.

Meanwhile, there’s Democratic money coming in, too.

A Democratic super PAC focused on state legislative races has injected $2.2 million into a slew of Texas House contests in their closing days.

The group, Forward Majority, is using the money to help 32 Democratic candidates, many of them challengers in GOP-held districts who have not been able to match the financial backing of the incumbents. A large majority of the funds are going toward digital ads targeting the Republicans as beholden to big donors and corporate interests, with a couple of spots tailored to specific lawmakers.

“We are staging this late intervention because we believe there is a unique window of opportunity for first time candidates to take down several entrenched Republican incumbents on Tuesday,” said Ben Wexler-Waite, a spokesman for Forward Majority.

[…]

Forward Majority was launched last year by alumni of Barack Obama’s campaigns with the goal of retaking state legislatures across the country before the next round of redistricting in 2021. Texas is one of six states the group is targeting this cycle as part of a nearly $9 million push.

In Texas, Forward Majority began seriously spending in its targeted races just a couple weeks ago. Its latest filing with the Texas Ethics Commission, which covered Sept. 28 through Oct. 27, shows the group spent $1.1 million. The rest of the $2.2 million has come since then, Wexler-Waite said.

Forward Majority is not the only seven-figure force for Democrats in Texas House races this cycle. The House Democratic Campaign Committee has raised $1.1 million this cycle, fueled by six-figure donations from the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, the group led by former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder. The HDCC is currently waging an $800,000 digital ad campaign in the most competitive seats.

The list of races in which this PAC is spending money follows. It ranges from the ones that have been the focus of attention all along, to those that should have had more attention all along, to the stretch goals and the more speculative investments. I couldn’t tell you the last time we did something like this – pretty sure it wasn’t this redistricting cycle – so I’m just happy to see it happen. We’ll see how sound an investment this turns out to be.

Six questions for the runoffs

Six questions that I can think of, anyway.

1. What will Peter do?

Will Peter Brown endorse someone in the runoff? If so, how vigorously does he support that person? He’s in a position to have an effect on the outcome if he chooses to do so. What will he do?

His won’t be the only endorsement that will be sought out and may make a difference. As you know, I don’t think Roy’s voters will be inclined to come back out in December, but I could be wrong about that. It is worth wondering what, if anything, Roy will do at this point. Beyond that, will Pam Holm pick a side in the Controller’s runoff? So far she hasn’t, but that could certainly change. Will the Democrats who sided with Herman Litt or Rick Rodriguez reposition themselves in At Large #1? Will Linda Toyota back a candidate in HISD I? Not all endorsements matter, and of those that do, some count for more than others. I believe these count for something, and I expect there’s a lot of inter-campaign conversation going on right now.

2. Where’s the money?

Gene Locke reported $391,969.75 on hand in his eight days out report. Parker had $83,229.73. I strongly suspect both of them are running lower than that now, and needless to say neither can write their own check. How much fundraising can they do over the next (say) three weeks, and which one can get back on the air first? What’s their plan to get their voters out if they can’t afford airtime?

3. What about the Republicans?

I estimate Roy won something like 55-60% of the Republican vote in this election, based on the fact that folks with a Republican primary history made up about 31% of early voters, and that Roy did better on Election Day (22.86%) than he did in early voting (15.37%). That’s a significant bloc if they decide they have a preference for one or the other remaining candidates. It doesn’t come without risk, however – there are still way more Democratic voters in this city, and a high-profile embrace of Roy might turn some of them off. There have been rumors for a couple of weeks that the likes of Steven Hotze and Dan Patrick will stump for Locke. I have no idea if there’s any truth to that, but it would very much be a double-edged sword for him. I can’t think of a better way to fire up Parker’s supporters than that.

Republicans may aim a little lower and try to win the Controller’s office, while knocking off incumbent Council member Jolanda Jones. Both are doable, though I don’t think either will be easy. They may also work to hold MJ Khan’s District F seat by supporting Al Hoang against Mike Laster. I consider Brenda Stardig the favorite to win against Lane Lewis in District A, but if there’s little Republican interest at the top of the ticket, Lewis may get some coattails from the dual Democratic Mayoral campaigns.

4. How negative are things going to get?

Hard to say. While all of the Mayoral candidates attacked each other, the main image I have of negativity is Brown’s ad campaign against Locke. You figure Parker and Locke have to attack each other, it’s just a question of how and how much. I will say this, since several people have asked me about it: I don’t expect Parker’s sexuality to be any more of an issue in the runoff than it was in the general. For one, that’s not who Gene Locke is, and for two, I don’t think it would be a successful strategy.

Similarly in the Controller’s race, the main source of attack ads is now out. Does Khan pick up the theme from Holm, or does he decide she didn’t gain anything from it and stick to his “I’m the most qualified” theme? For that matter, does Green bring up the residency issue against Khan? I think if the one happens then the other does, but it’s not clear if the one happens, or which campaign shoots first.

I definitely expect some negativity in the Council races, where a last minute attack on Sue Lovell may have helped keep her below 50%. If Jack Christie, or someone on his behalf, doesn’t send out at least one mailer attacking Jolanda Jones, I’ll be shocked.

Finally, remember that negativity doesn’t mean lower turnout. If this election doesn’t drive a stake in the heart of the notion that voters are turned off by negative campaigns and prefer nice, quiet, issues-oriented ones, I don’t know what would.

5. Who will the Chron endorse?

Time to get off the fence, fellas. Who’s it gonna be, Parker or Locke, and how long will you make us wait? Will any other endorsing entity that declined to pick a side in the first go-round commit to one candidate or the other in overtime? My guess on the latter question is No, but surely the Chron won’t weasel out again. Or maybe they will, if their editorial board is sufficiently divided. I can’t wait to see what they do.

6. What will early voting look like?

As noted, 31% of all votes in Houston were cast early, which is a significant uptick from previous city elections. My guess is that an increasing number of the more habitual voters, who needless to say were the bulk of this electorate, have shifted their habits towards early voting. I would guess that a similar share of the runoff vote, perhaps more, will vote early.

Those are my questions. Prof. Murray has a few as well. What are yours?

UPDATE: I get some answers to one of my questions via press release from Karen Derr:

Candidate Karen Derr for Houston City Council At-Large Position 1 has received mounting support from a broad base of organizations and elected officials. Karen Derr has gained the endorsement of the Houston GLBT Political Caucus, Democracy for Houston, and the Houston AFL-CIO. In addition, Karen Derr has also received the endorsements from State Representatives Garnet Coleman and Ana Hernandez.

The HGLBT Political Caucus endorsed Herman Litt in the first go-round; I’m not sure about the other groups offhand. But this is a pretty clear sign to me that much of Litt’s support will transfer to Derr.

Locke v. Brown

So here’s the new Gene Locke ad:

Everybody noticed the pause, right? Hey, if the electorate isn’t paying close attention to the details, you may as well make the most of it where you can.

And here’s the Chron story about Locke taking to the radio to attack Peter Brown:

The 60-second spot, the first paid negative advertising in the campaign, makes a direct appeal for black voters to choose Locke, the only African-American in the race.

“Peter Brown is spending millions of dollars in this mayor’s race because he can’t match Gene’s longtime record of service,” former City Councilman Jew Don Boney, associate director of the Mickey Leland Center for World Hunger at Texas Southern University, says in the ad. “But our community is not for sale.”

You can listen to the ad here (MP3 file). Two things I’ll add to this. One, whether or not you believe that Chron poll – Dr. Murray expresses his skepticism about it – I think it’s safe to say that Locke believes he is either behind Brown, or not ahead of him by enough to feel comfortable about it.

Two, I disagree with what is written here:

The ad underscores Locke’s surprisingly tenuous place among one of the most formidable blocs of voters in the city less than two weeks before the Nov. 3 election. Former Mayor Lee P. Brown is widely credited with winning three elections based on his strength in areas with high African-American populations. Some analysts have cited state Rep. Sylvester Turner’s failure to win a similarly high amount of voters as a key factor in his 2003 loss to Mayor Bill White and Orlando Sanchez.

I don’t know which analysts Olsen and Snyder have talked to, but that’s the first I’ve ever heard it suggested that Sylvester Turner did not get enough of the black vote to win in 2003. Taking a look in the wayback machine, here’s George Strong gaming out how the vote that year might go:

Assumption: 300,000 voters in first election. 25 % are African-American, 15 % are Hispanics and of the remaining 60% Anglos, a third of those are Democrats, Gays, Labor, etc.

African Americans: A Total of 75000 votes. Tuner would get 75% or 56250 votes. The remaining 25% (18750) would be split with White getting 75% of that vote or 14062 votes and Orlando the remainder or 4688 votes

Hispanics: A Total of 45000 votes. Orlando would get 60% or 27000. Of the remaining 18000 votes the White would get 80% or 14400 votes and Turner the rest 3600

Anglos: A total of 180,000 votes. Orlando would get 50% of the Anglo vote or 90000. Of the remaining 90000 votes Bill White would get 70% or 63000 votes and Turner would get 27000.

In this scenario Orlando would have 121,688. White would come in second with 91462 votes and be in a runoff with Orlando. Turner would trail with 86850 votes.

Strong overestimated Sanchez’s strength and underestimated White’s but he sure did nail Sylvester Turner’s number. And after the fact, he printed this analysis from Dr. Murray. It’s a little hard to read, but here’s the crucial bit:

Table 3 shows White got some votes in all racial/ethnic groups in the first round, and had very broad and substantial support in the runoff. His voter coalition was the broadest of any winning mayor since Kathy Whitmire’s in 1981.

Table 3. Estimated Vote Share in Different Voter Precinct Groupings in 2003 General Election Runoff White% Sanchez% Turner% White% Sanchez% Racial/Ethnic Anglos…………………. 46% 48% 6% 48% 52% Blacks……………………18% 1% 81% 96% 4% Hispanics………………..46% 47% 7% 56% 44% Asians………………… ..70% 25% 5% 72% 28%

Murray pegged Turner’s level of support among African-Americans in the November election at 81%. That’s from looking at the actual canvass, not from a pre-game estimate. Turner’s problem wasn’t the black vote, it was the non-black vote – six percent of Anglos, seven percent of Hispanics, five percent of Asians. I have no idea who suggested otherwise, but whoever it was, I’d like to know how exactly he or she arrived at that conclusion.

Anyway. Since then, the Brown campaign has responded with some comments from various African-American leaders, and Locke has responded as well – one of his supporters who wanted to clarify what he said in the Chron story, actually. The releases are beneath the fold. I’m thinking they’re not exactly unhappy about this turn of events at Annise Parker headquarters. Miya and Martha have an interesting takes on this as well.

UPDATE: It’s probably not a coincidence that Parker picked this moment to announce the endorsement of State Rep. Garnet Coleman. I’ve put her press release beneath the fold as well.

UPDATE: Brown responds with a radio ad featuring the Rev. James Dixon. It’s very effective, so give it a listen.

UPDATE: The press release war continues. Whoever said that Friday afternoon was a time for dumping news you hope will go unnoticed? Brown is calling a press release Sunday with numerous supporters in Acres Homes. Locke announces his own list of 100 clergymen. As Nancy Sims remarks, now things have gotten interesting. Must have been that Houston Press cover that did it.

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