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Battleground Texas

Framing the 2018 question

This Chron story asks the question “what might it take for a Democrat to win statewide in Texas in 2018, then never actually engages it.

At the five-top table in the corner at Russell’s Bakery, a northwest Austin restaurant and coffee bar, the conversation among the five women, all self-described as “recovering Republicans,” veered from the signature cinnamon rolls and traffic to President Donald Trump and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick.

“I have two questions I’d like to know the answer to: Is there any way for a Democrat to win a state office next year, and what would it take for some Republicans to lose in this state?” Chrys Langer, a 47-year-old tech consultant and mother of three, asked a reporter sitting at a nearby table. “Politics has taken a turn for the worse, in my opinion, in Austin with the bathroom bill and all kinds of other conservative-male nonsense and in the White House with – well, with Trump being Trump.”

[…]

In interviews with voters of both parties, from Houston to suburban San Antonio to Dallas to Austin, the question comes up time and time again, as does an underlying frustration with governments in both Washington and Austin.

Despite that, more than a dozen political scientists and consultants interviewed by the Chronicle said they see almost no chance that Republicans will lose hold of their 23-year grip on statewide elective offices during next year’s elections, despite the fact that Democrats made notable inroads in Dallas and Houston a year ago when Trump won Texas by just nine percentage points – down from previous double-digit support of Republican presidential candidates.

“There isn’t any way Democrats can win statewide office in Texas, short of some astounding collapse of the Republicans in Washington or Austin,” said Cal Jillson, a political scientist at Southern Methodist University. “Winning is a habit, and so is losing. The Democrats right now have no well-known candidate, no bench, their funding has evaporated, and they have no experience in their volunteer base. The Republicans have all of that.

“And at the end of the day, the Republicans who say they’re not satisfied with things will vote for a Republican because, with the polarization of the political process in recent years, Democrats are now seen as enemies of the state, and they won’t jump across and vote for them.”

Jillson’s sentiments echoed those of all the others, even with the so-called “Trump Factor” that Democrats are touting as a key to some unexpected victories in the November 2018 elections.

“Trump’s approval rating would have to drop into the teens where it might hurt Abbott and Patrick and the other Republicans on the ballot in Texas, and even then I doubt the effect would be significant,” said Brandon Rottinghaus, a political scientist at the University of Houston. “Even though the Democrats will try to tie Abbott and Patrick as close to Trump as they can, every time they get a chance, they can distance themselves from Trump because Texas voters in a midterm election pay more attention to state issues than Washington.”

Let me begin by saying that Rottinghaus’ statement about midterm elections is not at all in line with the results of at least the last four midterms, at least as far as Republican turnout goes. If you don’t think Texas is reflective of the national climate, I’m not sure what to tell you.

That’s the first thing to think about when considering possibilities for 2018: What will Republican turnout look like? On the one end, we have 2006, where statewide Republican vote totals ranged from 2,135,612 to 2,661,789. On the other end, there’s 2010 where the low was 2,737,481 and the high was 3,151,064 (I’m skipping races where there was no Democratic challenger, such as Comptroller in 2010). In between is 2014, with a range from 2,691,417 to 2,827,584. Which of those years will 2018 most closely resemble? Obviously, a 2006-style year makes for a more competitive environment for Democrats, but it’s not something Dems have control over. What are the factors that might lead one to expect a 2006 versus a 2014 or a 2010? Polls, fundraising, tone of rhetoric and advertising, Presidential popularity, some combination, something else? Put those PhDs to use and give me your thoughts on that.

Then there’s Democratic turnout, which as I’ve noted ad nauseum has remained stubbornly flat since 2002. The high end, with a few exceptions, has been around 1.8 million. If Dems could boost their base turnout by about 600K votes – that is, roughly the boost Republicans got from 2006 to 2010 – they’d be at 2.4 million, which would have been enough to capture the three Commissioner races and two contested judicial seats in 2006. Two point four million represents about two-thirds of the 2016 overall turnout for Dems, which again is about what Republicans achieved in 2010 over 2008. What factors might make a political science professor think such an achievement was possible? We know that the key in Harris County in 2016 was a big increase in voter registration, which in turn led to a much larger pool of Democratic-aligned voters. Dems may not have the infrastructure Republicans have enjoyed, but there are now multiple grassroots organizations – Pantsuit Nation, Indivisible, Our Revolution, the scaled-down version of Battleground Texas – that are out there engaging and registering and doing the things Dems should have been doing all along. Multiple Democratic Congressional candidates continue to excel at fundraising. Again, what do the people that the newsies reach out to for comment think of all that? What if anything might make them think there’s something happening here?

Picking the Republicans to hold serve again is very likely to be accurate, but it’s not very interesting. It doesn’t address the obvious fact that the climate is very different now, so it doesn’t give us any way to think about how that might change what could happen in 13 months – or five months, if you want to ask the same question about the primaries. It will be much harder to answer these questions than it was for me to ask them, and those answers may well change over the next year and a month, but surely we should be asking them anyway. I’d like to think I’m not the only one thinking along these lines.

Beto on the road

A great chance to meet our Senate nominee, if you haven’t already.

Rep. Beto O’Rourke

Looking to overcome the long odds in his U.S. Senate campaign, U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke, D-El Paso, has hit the road for an aggressive 34-day tour of Texas.

O’Rourke launched the trip without much fanfare at the end of last month, when he flew to San Antonio and bought a new truck for the trip. He does not plan to return home to El Paso until Aug. 31, when he’s due for a monthly town hall with his constituents. No other candidate is currently campaigning across Texas quite as aggressively.

“I want to do this as hard as I can and make every effort to meet every Texan as possible,” O’Rourke said in an interview Thursday. In a state as large as Texas, he added, such an itinerary is the “only way you’re going to have any hope of meeting the people that you want to represent.”

O’Rourke’s campaign has a name for the trip: “Town Hauling Across Texas.”

The trip, much of which O’Rourke has been livestreaming on his Facebook page, has already taken him to the Rio Grande Valley, Far West Texas and the Panhandle. In those places, he has held traditional campaign events such as town halls and meet and greets, as well as less-formal activities — such as block walking Thursday in Wichita Falls.

Over the next week, he’s set to hit North Texas and East Texas, with stops planned after that in Houston, College Station, Waco, Victoria, LaGrange, San Angelo, Midland, Odessa and Abilene.

Beto was in and around Houston this weekend, and I got to see and hear him speak at an event on Friday night. He’s got charisma and is an engaging speaker. I’m sure that the people who are going to hear him will come away impressed and ready to support him. O’Rourke name-checked a lot of towns and counties that he’s been to in places where there aren’t a lot of Dems – in the Panhandle, in East Texas, and more. He’s apparently been drawing some good crowds, which is encouraging. There’s only so many people that even the most energetic candidate can meet via live events, but the intent is to activate volunteers to proselytize to friends and neighbors. Which is to say, the Battleground Texas model, which was never really employed in 2014. Along the same lines, they plan to work on college students, in the same less-common places as well as the usual ones. How well it will all work remains to be seen, but it’s a sound plan and a good person to try and make it happen. But don’t take my word for it, take advantage of an opportunity this time or another time – there will surely be one – to see Beto yourself and make your own judgment.

Trib overview of the Pasadena elections

Good stuff.

Pasadena City Council

When voters head to the polls here Saturday, their city council and mayoral picks could have repercussions well beyond this working-class Houston suburb.

It will be the first election since a federal judge struck down the city’s 2013 redistricting plan as discriminatory, paving the way for a new balance of power at City Hall.

It comes as Texas Democrats redouble their efforts on the local level after a 2016 election that gave them ample reason to be optimistic about their future, especially in Harris County.

And it could offer a gauge of just how far down the ballot President Donald Trump, unpopular in even a deep-red state like Texas, is energizing Democrats.

For Pasadena, a city whose representation has long lagged its majority-Hispanic population — much like Texas writ large — it could actually be the “new day” that multiple candidates are promising.

“You have racial discord undergirding partisan politics,” said Brandon Rottinghaus, a political science professor at the University of Houston. “You’ve got one side trying to use the rules of the vote to change the structure of elections. And the other side is using the legal process … to fight the electoral damage that might result.”

“That,” Rottinghaus added, “sets the stage for Pasadena as an important part of the story in Texas’ transition to a new racial electorate.”

[…]

The Texas Democratic Party has endorsed five city council candidates in Pasadena — more than it has endorsed in any other municipality for the May 6 elections. Other Democratic groups are on the ground in the city, including Battleground Texas, which has been working to make the state more competitive for Democrats since the 2014 election cycle.

Much of their efforts are focused on two council races — in District A and District B — that are considered key to ushering in a new Democratic, predominantly Hispanic majority at City Hall. Battleground Texas is specifically working with District A candidate Felipe Villarreal and District B candidate Steve Halvorson, husband of Area 5 Democrats President Jennifer Halvorson, the only instances this election cycle where the group has directly partnered with candidates.

In those districts, which cover the heavily Hispanic north side of Pasadena, Democrats face a test similar to the one they face statewide: turnout.

“Those two districts — they vote overwhelmingly Democratic in November elections,” Jennifer Halvorson said. “Those voters don’t typically vote in May elections.”

See here for those endorsed candidates, among others. I’ll have one more look at early voting turnout tomorrow, though it will be limited in that I can’t tell you where the voters are coming from. Republicans are paying attention to the Pasadena elections as well, and the chair of the Harris County GOP, which as we know had such a stellar showing last year, says they are fully engaged. I don’t want to put too much emphasis on one election, but this is our first chance to vote in the Trump era, and it will tell us something one way or another. In the meantime, if you live in Pasadena or know someone who does, make sure you and they get out to vote on Saturday.

Early voting starts today

From the inbox:

EarlyVoting

Harris County Clerk Stan Stanart announced today that 46 locations will be open Monday, October 24 to Friday, November 4 where voters in the third largest County in the nation may cast ballots during the early voting period for the November 8, 2016 Election.  The total is approximately 25 percent more than the number of early voting locations available in the County during the previous presidential election.

“Since the 2012 Election, nine additional early voting locations have been added. Additionally, the time to vote during the first week of early voting has been extended to 6:00 pm,” said Stanart, the chief election official of the County.

“I expect approximately 800,000 voters will choose to vote during the early voting period for this election.  Preparedness on the part of the County Clerk’s Election Division, as well as voters,  is key to a successful election,” added Stanart.

To ensure the voting process is a pleasant experience, the chief election officer of the County  has a few suggestions for voters heading to the polls:

1.   Voters should confirm voter registration status. A voter registration search can be performed athttp://www.hctax.net/voter/search;

2.   Voters should study a sample ballot, mark it, and take it to the poll. Voters can download a voter-specific ballot at www.HarrisVotes.com;

3.   Voters should identify the nearest or most convenient early voting location. Voters can vote at any one of the 46 early voting locations;

4.   Voters should find out what photo identification is acceptable to vote at the poll, what other identification options are now available to vote a regular ballot, and what identification expedites the qualification process. The voter identification guidelines are available at www.HarrisVotes.com;

5.   Voters should NOT wear clothing or paraphernalia that promotes a party, a candidate or a proposition to the poll;

6.   Voters should be aware that the use of electronic devices is prohibited inside the poll. The right to cast a secret ballot must be respected;

7.   Voters should not wait until the last minute to vote early. During peak voting hours, the wait time could be  longer than we wish.

“Don’t procrastinate. Do your homework.  Then, go vote early,” summed up Stanart. “For voters in Harris County, voting early is the simplest and easiest method of voting. ”

To obtain the early voting schedule, a list of acceptable credentials to vote at the polling location and other election information, voters may visit the Harris County Clerk’s website at www.HarrisVotes.com or call 713.755.6965.

Early Voting Days and Hours

October 24 – October 28: 8:00 a.m. – 6:00 p.m.

October 29: 7:00 a.m. – 7:00 p.m.

October 30: 1:00 p.m. – 6:00 p.m.

October 31 – November 4: 7:00 a.m. – 7:00 p.m.

November 8, 2016 Early Voting Locations, Harris County, Texas
Location Address City Zip
Harris County Administration Building 1001 Preston Street Houston 77002
Champion Forest Baptist Church 4840 Strack Road Houston 77069
Prairie View A&M University Northwest 9449 Grant Road Houston 77070
Baldwin Boettcher Branch Library 22248 Aldine Westfield Road Humble 77338
Kingwood Branch Library 4400 Bens View Lane Kingwood 77345
Lone Star College Atascocita Center 15903 West Lake Houston Parkway Houston 77044
Crosby Branch Library 135 Hare Road Crosby 77532
Kyle Chapman Activity Center 7340 Spencer Highway Pasadena 77505
Freeman Branch Library 16616 Diana Lane Houston 77062
Harris County Scarsdale Annex* 10851 Scarsdale Boulevard Houston 77089
Juergen’s Hall Community Center 26026 Hempstead Highway Cypress 77429
Tomball Public Works Building 501B James Street Tomball 77375
Hiram Clarke Multi Service Center 3810 West Fuqua Street Houston 77045
Katy Branch Library* 5414 Franz Rd Katy 77493
Lone Star College Cypress Center 19710 Clay Road Katy 77449
Harris County MUD 81 805 Hidden Canyon Road Katy 77450
Nottingham Park 926 Country Place Drive Houston 77079
Harris County Public Health Environmental Services 2223 West Loop South Freeway Houston 77027
Metropolitan Multi Service Center 1475 West Gray Street Houston 77019
City of Jersey Village City Hall 16327 Lakeview Drive Jersey Village 77040
Richard & Meg Weekley Community Center 8440 Greenhouse Road Cypress 77433
Bayland Park Community Center 6400 Bissonnet Street Houston 77074
Tracy Gee Community Center 3599 Westcenter Drive Houston 77042
Bear Creek Park Community Center 3055 Bear Creek Drive Houston 77084
Trini Mendenhall Community Center 1414 Wirt Road Houston 77055
Acres Homes Multi Service Center 6719 West Montgomery Road Houston 77091
Fallbrook Church 12512 Walters Road Houston 77014
Lone Star College Victory Center 4141 Victory Drive Houston 77088
Hardy Senior Center 11901 West Hardy Road Houston 77076
Northeast Multi Service Center 9720 Spaulding Street, Building 4 Houston 77016
Octavia Fields Branch Library 1503 South Houston Avenue Humble 77338
Kashmere Multi Service Center 4802 Lockwood Drive Houston 77026
North Channel Branch Library 15741 Wallisville Road Houston 77049
Alvin D. Baggett Community Center 1302 Keene Street Galena Park 77547
Ripley House Neighborhood Center 4410 Navigation Boulevard Houston 77011
Baytown Community Center 2407 Market Street Baytown 77520
John Phelps Courthouse 101 North Richey Street Pasadena 77506
HCCS Southeast College 6960 Rustic Street, Parking Garage Houston 77087
Fiesta Mart 8130 Kirby Drive Houston 77054
Sunnyside Multi-Purpose Center 9314 Cullen Boulevard Houston 77033
Palm Center 5300 Griggs Road Houston 77021
Moody Park Community Center 3725 Fulton Street Houston 77009
SPJST Lodge 88 1435 Beall Street Houston 77008
Alief ISD Administration Building 4250 Cook Road Houston 77072
Champion Life Centre 3031 FM 2920 Road Spring 77388
Lone Star College – Creekside Center 8747 West New Harmony Trail Tomball 77375
* Indicates New Location

www.HarrisVotes.com

That of course is for Harris County. Early voting information for some other counties of interest:

Fort Bend
Brazoria
Galveston
Montgomery

Check your local county clerk or election administrator if you are elsewhere.

Battleground Texas reminds you what form of ID is acceptable:

The state of Texas has made it easier for more Texans to vote in this election by expanding the types of identification that a voter can present at the polls!

If you don’t have a photo ID (reminder of the accepted forms of photo ID here), you’ll just need to fill out a short form stating the reason why you haven’t been able to get one and swearing that you are who you say you are.

Then you can present any government document that lists your name and address. A copy of the document will do, unless it has a photo, in which case be sure to bring the original. Poll workers cannot question or challenge you regarding your lack of a photo ID.

If you don’t have a photo ID, bring one of these documents to the polls:

  • Voter registration certificate (the card mailed to you shortly after you register to vote)
  • Certified birth certificate (original)
  • Current utility bill (copy or original)
  • Bank statement (copy or original)
  • Government check (copy or original)
  • Paycheck (copy or original)

Election poll workers are prohibited by law from challenging your reason for being unable to obtain a photo ID. If you experience any issues at the polls, call our Voter Protection Hotline at 1-844-TXVOTES, and we can help.

Voters with a disability may apply with the county voter registrar for a permanent exemption to showing ID at the polls.

And here’s a guide as to what poll watchers may and may not do.

Poll watchers may look on as voters cast ballots or as officials count them. They can also observe inspection of voting machines. But they can’t talk to voters or election officials unless they are reporting an irregularity to an election officer. They also can’t make audio or video recordings or take photos inside a polling place.

The Texas Election Code includes several other rules governing poll watchers:

  • They must be eligible to vote in the county where they they are serving (or in elections limited to a smaller jurisdictions, they must be eligible to vote in those communities).
  • They must present a “certificate of appointment” to the election judge at a polling station and the certificate must come from the political party, candidate or ballot measure group that appointed them (Groups of registered voters may also appoint poll watchers on behalf of certain write-in candidates.).
  • They may not access a voting station while someone is casting a ballot.
  • State law also prohibits poll watchers — or any voter, for that matter— from wearing a badge, insignia or emblem related to a candidate, measure or party on the ballot within 100 feet of a polling place’s door.

Here are two other relevant rules:

  • Parties, candidates and campaigns may not appoint more than two watchers at each precinct polling spot, early voting ballot board meeting or central counting station. They may appoint as many as seven watchers to each early voting polling location, but no more than two may serve at the same time.
  • Candidates on the ballot may not serve as poll watchers during their own elections. State law also bars from the following from serving: current public office holders, close relatives of election judges at the polling place and people convicted of election-related offenses.

Bottom Line: Poll watching is a common practice in Texas elections, but those who do it must follow plenty of rules.

Here’s a Chron story about poll watchers and the Trump-inspired hysteria that has boosted their numbers. Make no mistake, some number of them will be up to no good and should be closely watched themselves. On the plus side, there will be no Russian poll watchers, which is a sentence I never thought I’d type. If you see poll watchers engaging in activities they shouldn’t be, I strongly urge you to call your elections administrator and county party. I haven’t seen an announcement that the HCDP has set up a hotline for such complaints, but their main number is 713-802-0085 if you need it. Now go forth and vote. I expect it will be a busy early voting period.

What should the goals for 2016 be for Texas Dems?

Given that carrying the state is highly unlikely, what else is there to aim for this year?

So will Democrats make a presidential play for Texas or not?

Presumptive nominee Hillary Clinton stoked the issue last month by saying she could win the Lone Star State. Texas Republicans responded with ridicule, pointing to their party’s longstanding dominance at the state level.

And on Tuesday, some key Democrats took a more measured approach.

“We’re not a battleground state,” said Garry Mauro, a former state land commissioner who’s a top leader in Clinton’s Texas campaign. “You won’t see the Democratic Party or Hillary Clinton spend a hundred million dollars in Texas.”

But, Mauro and others said, the bellicose talk of GOP nominee Donald Trump has presented Texas Democrats with opening – if they are willing to seize it.

“We’re going to have to do it ourselves,” interjected Jacob Limon, the Texas director for Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign.

[…]

So does that include a real Democratic push this fall in Texas, where Democrats haven’t won statewide since 1994? Mauro insisted that Trump’s comments about minorities – and the state’s demographic mix – could make it difficult for him to carry Texas.

Crystal Perkins, the Texas Democratic Party’s executive director, didn’t disagree. But she also made sure to point to the future.

“We’re thinking about 2018 and 2020,” she said. “We have big priorities in Texas.”

I certainly agree with that last sentence, and the more we can tie Donald Trump to the state leadership, the better. Regardless of anything else, the main goal here should be to increase turnout over 2012, ideally over 2008. The conditions are right to bring a bunch of new voters to the polls, and then maybe – just maybe – a few of them will be persuaded to come out again in two years’ time. It’s nice to think, isn’t it? The first step needs to be taken before that can happen, and that’s voting this year. What’s a good number to set as a goal? I’ll let a Republican make a suggestion.

The last time a Democratic presidential candidate lost to a Republican by only single digits in Texas was the 1996 Bill Clinton-Bob Dole race, and Ross Perot that year got nearly 7 percent of the vote.

“It’s hard for me to see how Hillary breaks a 45 percent ceiling,” said Republican consultant Matt Mackowiak. “I would tend to respect Garry Mauro’s expert opinion about Texas a hell of a lot more than I would respect Hillary’s.”

Forty-five percent may sound daunting – you can count on your fingers the number of Dems who have reached that level since 2002 – but it’s not that far off. Obama got 43.68% in 2008, after all. To reach 45% would mean Hillary Clinton would need to collect 3.8 million votes if the total number of Republican and others remains the same – in other words, a 500,000 vote increase (15%) on 2012’s mark of 3.3 million. If Clinton can steal votes from Trump, or if he has the effect of depressing Republican turnout, then fewer votes are needed. Clinton would have to reach 3.6 million if total turnout remains at 8 million as it was 2012. That’s a 300,000 vote increase, or 9% higher than it was in 2012. I wouldn’t suggest that either of these targets will be easy to hit, but they’re hardly insurmountable.

The prize for this is twofold. One, an overall increase in turnout means an increase in places where it will swing elections, like Harris County, maybe Fort Bend County, CD23, the attainable competitive legislative districts, et cetera. Beyond that is the change of narrative that will come if Texas is not a double-digit win for the Rs as it has been and as they are confident it will continue to be. Even a nine-point gap will make people think “hey, that’s not THAT much”. If we want to get to the point where it does seem reasonable for a Presidential campaign to pump a few million bucks into the state, that’s the cover charge. Is this likely? It would be nice to know that there’s a plan in place with the strategy and resources to achieve it – I’ll say again, for whatever it’s worth, this was the original idea behind Battleground Texas – rather than just point to the Trump dumpster fire and hope it’s enough to move the needle. Is it doable? I certainly believe so. In the meantime, and until we finally get some polling for the state, let’s keep up the pressure on Trump’s local lackeys. In addition everything else, that’s fun.

Checking in on Battleground Texas

They’re still here.

So where does [Lon] Burnam see Battleground Texas in his plan to be the first Texas Democrat elected to a statewide office since 1994?

“No comment,” he said, before adding as he walked away, “In 20 years of public service, that’s the first time I’ve ever said that.”

Burnam’s response echoed that of many of the longtime liberal activists in the room and around Texas, underscoring the complicated feelings many Democrats have toward Battleground Texas. Many declined to comment for this story. Others were careful to avoid either actively criticizing the group or offering strong praise of it.

“They’re pretty easy to set up as a piñata,” said state Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, a San Antonio Democrat running for state Senate, at a recent Texas Tribune event. “I mean, at a bare minimum, they’re trying, and sometimes that’s just half the battle. Whether they’re set up for this, whether they are doing this the right way, I don’t have any way to judge.”

[…]

After feeling that the group sought excessive attention in 2014, now many activists see the opposite problem: Battleground Texas seems to be hibernating. The group has scaled down its paid staff operation and will likely only do some field work in a few priority House races this year, according to sources close to the party.

In the meantime, Battleground is ignoring an important opportunity by not being more engaged in the current election cycle, argues Christian Archer, a veteran Texas campaign strategist based in San Antonio.

“We want to be able to harness the energy of right now and use it in future elections,” Archer said. “You’re never going to get the level of engagement that you do in a presidential, so there’s no better time to get involved than today. And yet I haven’t even heard the name Battleground in six months.”

I still get emails from them, but I agree that the volume is considerably lower right now. BGTX does not currently have an executive director, which I suspect is part of why that is. Most of the people quoted in the story seem willing to put the past behind us and focus on working together to do some good in this year’s election. So at least the next ED of BGTX won’t have to do too much groveling as part of the job. What I want to see in the next generation of leadership at BGTX is a full accounting of what went wrong in 2014 – I feel like we’ve barely scratched the surface of that story – what we learned from it, and what will be different this time. Some specific goals for this year would be nice, in particular targets for registering new voters and turning them out at the polls. In an alternate universe, this would be the year that BGTX was gearing up to Do Big Things, as their original intent was to focus on Presidential year turnout. They’ve taken a very different path to get where they are now, one that has inflicted some painful lessons on us all. Surely BGTX and everyone else can make something of that brutal experience. We’ll be the better for it if we can.

BGTX 2.0

They will have a lot to prove, let’s just leave it at that.

Battleground Texas, nearly a year after it and Wendy Davis were crushed in an uphill governor’s race, officially has launched an effort to re-brand itself in light of new — and some old — challenges. The group aimed at breaking Republican dominance in Texas announced this week “strategic shifts that will allow us to expand on the work of the last two and a half years.”

The leadership and staff changes, which touch some of its most senior jobs, are an undeniable acknowledgement that Battleground Texas wants to re-focus. Nothing will match the hype it saw during its first few months of operation, when veterans from Barack Obama’s 2012 campaign and senior Texas Democratic strategists teamed up to transform the state. Battleground Texas obviously is not the same organization, and plenty of people are glad that is so, but this marks the best chance yet for a meaningful pivot.

To start, the changes include a new advisory board whose membership is a nod to the support it needs from Democratic constituencies and politicos across the state, from the Brownsville mayor to a labor leader, from community activists to a well-heeled angel investor.

A few big names in state Democratic politics also are joining the board, including former Dallas mayor Ron Kirk and U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro. Some original backers are staying with the organization, such as Houston lawyer Amber Mostyn and Jeremy Bird, the Obama 2012 field chief. The founding executive director, Jenn Brown, also an Obama loyalist, will become the board’s chairman, traveling to Texas periodically even as she takes a new job in Washington, D.C.

[…]

Whomever is chosen to replace Brown will have one of the hardest jobs in Texas politics: set a new vision, work with a new advisory board, keep existing talent and ramp up recruitment efforts. The structure, or what’s left of it after 2014, remains, but the new executive director has the opportunity to start relatively from scratch. That is a tall order for anyone, which makes it even more difficult to see how someone without roots in Texas Democratic politics, who is willing to be there for years, is worthy of the job at this crucial moment.

What also matters now, in a positive sense for Battleground, is that the staff shuffle includes the promotion of several folks who started as volunteers and organizers. Many of them have Texas ties, or they have worked in state politics since 2013. An El Paso native is the new political director, for example, while the training director who worked through the 2014 gubernatorial race will be the new field director.

That is the kind of long term, bench-building effort the group’s founders have said inspired them to launch the outfit.

I’ve seen plenty of commentary on this elsewhere, and I will leave it at that. My point in posting about this is simply that the original vision of BGTX was to increase Democratic turnout in Presidential years to the point where Texas would competitive – a battleground state, if you will. It would be nice if someone were to put some effort into that for next year. I don’t care who – BGTX, the TDP, the Clinton/Sanders/Biden campaign, anyone else – just that someone works to make it happen. See, for all the dominance that Republicans have had in this state, the little secret is that their turnout level in Presidential years has been basically flat since 2004:

StateTurnout

The same is true if we just look at Harris County:

HarrisCountyTurnout

There was that big jump in 2008 for the Dems, then a slight backslide in 2012 (it was smaller in Harris County), while GOP turnout dipped a bit in 2008 then rebounded to 2004 levels in 2012. I’m convinced some of that is because President Obama drew a non-trivial number of crossover votes in 2008 – if you combed through the precinct and county data like I did, it was easy to spot – but not in 2012. Even with that interpretation, however, Democrats at best broke even in 2012. A 2008-style improvement is highly unrealistic, but some kind of bump would be nice to see. It won’t make the state competitive, but it would at least suggest we may be on the right path, and it would greatly help with reclaiming the legislative seats we lost in 2014 and with turning Harris County blue. Again, and I can’t stress this enough, I don’t care who would get the credit for that. I just care that there would be credit to claim, and not fingers to point.

SOS to review motor voter complaints

I hope this amounts to more than lip service.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

The Texas Secretary of State has agreed to study why thousands of Texans have complained over the past year and a half that they had problems registering to vote despite a federal law that requires all states to offer voter registration in offices where citizens apply for a driver’s license.

The state began its review only after Battleground Texas, a nonprofit voter registration aligned with the Democratic Party, said it might take legal action on behalf of individual Texans who have claimed they were disenfranchised because voter applications filed at driver’s licensing offices were not promptly processed, according to correspondence the Houston Chronicle obtained through public information requests.

In all, 4,600 individuals complained online between September 2013 and February 2015 about processing issues they experienced at motor vehicle offices run by the Department of Public Safety, public records show.

“Texas is failing to comply with the law and voters are being disenfranchised,” Mimi Marziani, legal director of Battleground Texas, wrote in a letter to the state. The fact that so many Texas voters complained through a relatively obscure online “portal” provided by the state, she said, indicates that the problem is likely much more common.

Alicia Phillips Pierce, communications director for the Secretary of State, told the Chronicle the office “is committed to fully complying with all State and federal law, and to safeguarding the voting rights of all Texans.”

“Our office is currently investigating the allegations in Battleground Texas’ letter, and, accordingly, is not in a position at this time to confirm or deny any of the allegations or characterizations contained therein,” she added.

[…]

One of the most common complaints is that driver’s licensing employees failed to process voters’ requests to register. Only if that voter later complained online or by contacting a county election official would state officials review scanned files to determine whether an individual had checked “yes” on a voter application. If that “yes” was verified, the individual was then registered to vote.

Other voters got confused when trying to update their Texas addresses on a Department of Public Safety website, which they wrongly assumed would simultaneously update their driver’s license file and their voter registration record. In fact, the Texas Secretary of State does not allow Texas voters to update their voter registration addresses online. Voters must do that separately by printing out and mailing in a new application.

Battleground Texas has argued that both of those glitches in Texas’ motor voter process violate the National Voter Registration Act. “Under the NVRA, every time an eligible resident obtains, renews or updates his or her driver’s license with DPS, DPS must simultaneously register that person to vote or update that person’s voter registration file. … There is considerable evidence that (Texas) is violating these mandates on an ongoing and continuing basis,” Marziani of Battleground Texas wrote in her letter.

Good for BGTX for pursuing this. Registering voters is tricky enough in Texas, and there’s no help on the way from the Legislature. The least we can do is make sure the registrations we do get don’t get screwed up.

Keeping up with Team Hillary

Just checking in, but this story does address a question I’ve been wondering about.

The dozen or so Hillary Clinton supporters gathered here late Tuesday had no illusions that ruby-red Texas would play a key role in electing the next Democratic president. They acknowledged they may get sent to other states to phone bank and block walk, and they were told — repeatedly — not to expect Clinton’s campaign to open a brick-and-mortar outpost in the Lone Star State anytime soon.

Yet they held out hope that the former secretary of state could put up a fight in Texas, where Democrats are desperately looking for a boost after devastating losses in last year’s statewide elections.

“She may not win this state,” said Terry Adkins, a former union official who recalls registering voters with the Clintons decades ago in the Rio Grande Valley. “But I do believe she’s going to really scare some Republicans.”

The meeting at the back of the Llano Public Library — held on a dreary evening in the heart of the Hill Country, 90 minutes outside Texas’ liberal refuge of Austin — highlighted the Clinton campaign’s first public efforts to build an organization in a state that rejected President Barack Obama by double-digit margins in 2008 and 2012. The campaign is decisively concentrating on the primary in Texas and elsewhere, reflective of a humble approach to a presidential race in which Clinton has long been presumed as the Democratic nominee.

Still, as they rally donors and volunteers, some Texas Democrats cannot help but imagine a general election in which Clinton shakes the party out of its statewide slump.

“I’m not giving up on the general election in Texas because I think she’s the kind of candidate who could build on the work Battleground Texas and other groups have done and make a credible showing,” said Carrin Patman, a Houston trial lawyer who is helping raise money for the campaign. “It may sound quixotic, but I wouldn’t rule out her putting Texas in play in 2016.”

[…]

For Texas Democrats, it remains an open question how the campaign will mesh with the network of state-level groups working to turn the state blue, especially as those groups find their footing after getting crushed up and down the ballot in 2014. Battleground Texas Executive Director Jenn Brown said in a statement Tuesday that it is “too soon to tell what things will look like in Texas in 2016 or how Battleground Texas and its supporters will interact with the president campaign.”

Clinton’s fans in Texas nonetheless see Battleground as an eventual partner for the campaign. Some believe the benefits of its work last year will not be evident until a presidential election cycle, when Democrats tend to turn out more than they do in midterm elections.

See here and here for the background. This is the first explicit mention of BGTx I’ve seen in one of these stories, though we still don’t know how they will interact with Team Hillary. All I know is that whatever it turns out to be, if it works well we need to keep it going from there. We need for 2018 to be a lot better than 2014 and 2010 were.

More on Hillary Clinton’s 50-state strategy

Again, I like what I’m hearing so far.

Hillary Clinton had a message to relay in private meetings with state and local Democrats during her highly-choreographed swings through Iowa and New Hampshire this month: let me help you.

The implication? She’ll fix the party infrastructure that withered under President Barack Obama.

The Democratic front-runner has stressed the importance of bolstering — and in the case of Iowa, rebuilding — the state parties from the ground up, as they received scant national attention since 2008. Some Democrats even pin the blame on the president himself.

[…]

“What typically happens is when a president comes in, the national [party] committee becomes a presidential re-elect, and that hollows out the local parties,” says former Vermont Governor and Democratic National Committee chair Howard Dean, who ran for president in 2004. The result, as outlined in the party’s February midterm autopsy report, has been sweeping losses for Democrats at every level during the Obama era, from statehouses to the U.S. House and Senate.

Without blaming the president by name, Clinton’s team is telling early state officials and activists that they feel their pain — and that they’re here to help.

“For the last eight years there were a large number of people who were attracted to be involved in campaigns because of Barack Obama, and that didn’t necessarily translate into those folks being party activists for other candidates, which is what you’ve been seeing in the off-year elections,” said New Hampshire Democratic Party chairman Raymond Buckley, who saw Clinton last week. “We really need to be able to build something that is a permanent infrastructure, right from the precinct level.”

The story focuses on Iowa and New Hampshire. which isn’t of much interest to me, but the principle involved is good and important and would be applied to Texas as well, in some form. Lots of questions remain about what that form looks like. How many resources will they put into Texas? What are the goals for the state, in 2016 and beyond? How, if at all, does Battleground Texas fit in, and how does Team Hillary avoid the mistakes they made in dealing with the locals? How do they handle the fiefdoms, factions, and would-be kingmakers our party is full of? For now it’s good to know that they plan to do something, because Lord knows we need it. I’m just very interested in knowing what that something will be. Link via dKos.

Hillary Clinton’s Texas staffer

Here he is.

Hillary Clinton is dispatching a full-time organizer to Texas, part of a 50-state strategy to build support for her presidential bid.

Manfred Mecoy, the Texas grassroots organizer, is a Fort Worth native and University of Texas at Austin graduate. He has worked as a Democratic organizer in North Carolina last year, and in Ohio in 2010 and 2012.

He’ll be based in the Dallas area, and will travel statewide, a Clinton campaign aide said.

The “Ramp Up Grassroots Organizing Program” includes one paid campaign staffer in every state, with more in the four states with the earliest contests in 2016 – Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada.

They’ll recruit and train volunteers, at least through the end of May.

Obvious question #1: What role, if any, does Battleground Texas play in this? We know there’s a connection between BGTX and Ready for Hillary, but where does Manfred Mecoy fit in? How does it all work together? As of Friday afternoon when that item hit the web, I had not received a press release from either organization. Maybe someone will say something on Monday, I don’t know.

Obvious question #2: What’s the goal here? Having an organization in place just in case it’s needed in a contested primary? Continuing to carry on the original mission of BGTX, which despite the 2014 debacle was about boosting turnout in Presidential elections? Checking off the “implement a 50-state strategy” box on their to do list? Leading us to believe we’ll be putting in effort to organize in Texas but really looking for people who will make GOTV calls to Florida and Ohio next year? It would be nice to know.

BGTX’s self-assessment

Texas Monthly has a good overview of where Battleground Texas stands – and where the people inside it think they stand – two years and one electoral beatdown into their existence.

Still, it’s the winners who write the history books. In the meantime, the losers have some explaining to do. With that in mind, last week I traveled to Austin and spent two days in the company of Battleground Texas’s senior staff: Bird, Brown, Lucio, communications director Erica Sackin, political director Cliff Walker, digital director Christina Gomez, legal director Mimi Marziani, and fundraising director Adrienne Donato. I had interviewed most of them in Battleground’s earlier, happier times. As a species, field organizers tend to be sunny, even gratingly so (where political journalists are uniformly sullen), and that remained in force at their new offices on 1519 E. Cesar Chavez. The disaster in November has not caused them to second-guess the group’s core premise that Texas can one day turn blue. “The fundamental underlying demographics of Texas, people who are unregistered, the number of Democrats who voted in previous elections but not this one—taken together, it’s enough to win,” Jenn Brown told me. The theory that increased turnout in Texas will help its minority party would seem to be confirmed by the ruling party’s determination to make voting in Texas more difficult than elsewhere in America (about which more later).

Nonetheless, I could detect a whiff of humility among the group, albeit one mingled with defiance. In the first two years of its life, Battleground had received about $10 million in donations. Post-defeat, it would now have to get by with a fraction of that sum. It was in that somewhat wounded posture that the group discussed with me those areas where they must improve in order to have any relevance in future election

It’s a good read, and I encourage you to check it out. I came away from it with a fair amount of optimism that the hard-won lessons of 2014 were in fact learned, and future efforts will yield better results. A lot of things went wrong last year, some due to circumstance, some to inexperience, some to too many people who should be working together working instead at cross purposes. I’m glad they’re sticking it out for the longer term. Someone has to, and besides as I’ve said before, there are still plenty of opportunities to get involved this year and make a difference in local elections. Pasadena is one, but it’s far from the only one. There will be plenty of opportunities to make gains at the local level next year as well. BGTX has some work to do to mend fences and prove that they’ve learned from last year’s debacle – as the Trib reported last month, they spent a lot of time going around talking to volunteers and donors and whoever else would listen about those thing. But it’s not all on them. Ben Franklin’s words about hanging together or hanging separately ring as true now as ever. We are all on the same team. We should act like it. Trail Blazers has more.

On playing small ball

Campos reacts to Mayor Parker’s future statewide plans.

SmallBall

And here again is my small ball take from a few weeks ago:

It is time for small ball instead of the big inning.

In baseball, small ball is a strategy where you manufacture runs by utilizing the bunt, stealing bases, the hit and run, walks, hitting behind the runner, and contact hitting. You have to use this strategy if your offense is short of bashers. The big inning is a strategy where you rely heavily on the extra base hit, the walks, dingers, and have the capability of scoring a lot of runs in an inning. You need to have a lineup that includes a few power hitters and fence swingers.

Moving forward, Dems in the Lone Star State should consider utilizing the small ball strategy. We need to look at where we can pick up a run here and there. Let’s look at the map and see here we have a shot at a legislative seat, a county commissioner, county judgeship, district judgeship, county clerk, JP, constable – you get the picture. In a state with 254 counties, don’t tell me there are not any opportunities.

We are not ready for big inning play and I am not talking about a lack of quality statewide candidates. We had a good slate this past go-around. We just didn’t have the weapons to swing for the fences – a solid, organized, and energetic base. We build the base by playing small ball and picking up a run here and there. That’s how you manufacture some Ws.

Maybe the Mayor is thinking the statewide political environment will dramatically be altered in two or four years. Maybe she thinks the GOP in charge of our state government will run our state into the ground and the voters will be ready for the Mayor’s leadership. Of course, the GOP has been running the state for ten years now and they have only gotten more votes. Or maybe she has the confidence she can put together a big inning style campaign. I don’t know about that. Maybe she just wants to make sure that her name stays out there in the mix along with all the other politicos that have gotten previous statewide potential mention.

All I can say is get on out to places like Lufkin, Brownwood, Raymondville, Sherman, and Odessa and see if folks are interested.

Three thoughts:

1. I agree that there needs to be an increased focus on local elections, and have said so previously. I would simply note that there’s no need to wait until 2016 for this. There are plenty of elections this year that need attention, and anything we can do to get our people into a habit of voting outside of Presidential years will be a good thing. The May elections in Pasadena and Plano, where I’m sure some Council members will need defending, will require involvement. It would also be nice to see a worthy successor elected to fill Diego Bernal’s Council seat in San Antonio. Here in Houston, CM Richard Nguyen in District F made a courageous vote in favor of the HERO last year, and will be running for re-election having come out as a Democrat in a district that hasn’t elected anyone of the Democratic persuasion in my memory. He deserves our support, and if we’re not rallying to his side then there’s something wrong with us. The two open At Large seats – three if CM Christie decides to run for Mayor – are opportunities to elect strong progressive voices. If we want to act locally, there’s no time like the present.

2. As far as 2016 goes, if we are interested in trying to gain some ground at the county level, I would note that that is what the Texas County Democratic Campaign Committee (TCDCC) was created to do. I don’t know where things stand with that now – I suspect they got lost in the shuffle last year – but the point is that some work in identifying potential downballot targets has already been done. If there’s nothing left of the TCDCC to speak of, then frankly this is a place where Battleground Texas could step in and do some good. Crunch the numbers, identify some opportunities, share the information, and work with the locals to find and support good candidates. And if not the TCDCC or BGTX, then I don’t know who else. It’s easy to talk about this stuff. Actually doing it is a lot harder.

Here in Harris County, there are a few elections of interest for 2016. Winning back HD144, hopefully with a plan to not fumble it away again in 2018, is a priority. I still believe there is ground to be gained in HDs 132 and 135, perhaps more as a long-term investment. Countywide, we’ll have Ogg v. Anderson 2.0 for DA, someone to run for Tax Assessor, and depending on what Adrian Garcia decides to do, possibly a Sheriff’s office to win back or hold. If we want to think big – and I see no reason why playing small ball means thinking small – there’s Steve Radack’s seat on Commissioners Court. Precinct 4 was about 60-40 red in 2012, but if we’re serious about growing the vote here, that’s where a lot of untapped voters are going to be. We can wait around until he decides to retire, whenever that may be, or we can take a shot at it. You tell me what you would prefer.

3. As a reminder, there are no statewide elections in 2016 other than one Railroad Commissioner spot and the judicial races. As was the case last year, there won’t be much action in the legislative races, even with more attention on HD144. District Attorney, maybe Sheriff, and at a lower level Tax Assessor are the only countywide races that will draw interest, though perhaps if someone steps up to run against Steve Radack that will make a bit of noise. Obviously, there’s the Presidential race, and it is always the main driver of turnout, but what I’m saying is that as things stand right now, that will be even more the case in 2016. Barring anything unexpected, that means Team Hillary, which in turn means Battleground Texas, since the two are so closely intertwined. I don’t know what is going to happen to BGTX, and I don’t know how people are going to feel about them in another 18 or 20 months. What I do know is that we will have a better outcome, here and elsewhere in the state, if we – all of us, everyone – can find some way to work together rather than work at cross purposes. I personally don’t care who’s in charge, or who gets the credit when there is credit to be had. As Benjamin Franklin once said, if we do not hang together we will surely hang separately. It’s up to us what path we take.

We need to understand why our voters didn’t vote

So now we know that Battleground Texas wasn’t pursuing a base turnout-increase model for the 2014 election, for reasons that have not yet been adequately explored. I’m mad about that, but I don’t want to get bogged down in that. I want to learn from what happened and I want to move forward, in whatever form. I refuse to accept that the way things are now is the way they will always be. It’s just ten years ago that much (mostly virtual) ink was spilled about how hard it is for Democrats to win the Presidency, what with Republicans having such a lock on the Electoral College. Things are a bit different today, and I daresay they will continue to evolve, usually as a result of things most of us (though not all of us) didn’t see coming.

Basically, at a national level we have had two elections in which that “Emerging Democratic Majority” has held sway, and two in which they stayed home. Here in Texas, Democratic turnout was significantly higher in 2008 and 2012 than it was in 2004, but turnout in 2010 and 2014 was basically indistinguishable from 2002. Here’s that chart again from my previous post:

County 2002 GOP 2002 Dem 2010 GOP 2010 Dem 2014 GOP 2014 Dem ===================================================================== Harris 330,801 272,032 423,275 334,098 358,425 299,255 Dallas 218,496 198,499 196,103 209,001 179,014 206,546 Bexar 133,733 124,129 161,443 131,397 156,144 134,876 Tarrant 195,384 125,416 208,976 123,200 213,812 138,944 Travis 93,524 110,026 95,431 127,803 91,372 155,335 County 2002 GOP 2002 Dem 2010 GOP 2010 Dem 2014 GOP 2014 Dem ===================================================================== Harris 17.64% 14.50% 22.05% 17.42% 17.53% 14.64% Dallas 18.08% 16.43% 17.13% 18.25% 14.83% 17.11% Bexar 15.14% 14.05% 17.88% 14.55% 16.27% 14.06% Tarrant 22.42% 14.39% 22.30% 13.15% 21.37% 13.89% Travis 17.18% 20.22% 15.80% 21.16% 14.00% 23.81%

We can argue all we want about why Travis County is “different” and whether or not Battleground Texas had anything to do with it, but the fact remains that Travis is the only county to improve performance over 2002 and 2010. Harris County saw a huge improvement in Democratic turnout in 2010, and then it basically disappeared in 2014. What I want to know – what I hope everyone would want to know – is why this happened.

Look at those numbers. Some 35,000 people that voted Democratic in 2010 did not turn out at all in 2014. Forget the Presidential year/off year conundrum for a moment. What happened to those voters? Why didn’t they vote last year? Maybe it would be a good idea to take a sample of 400 or 500 of those didn’t-show-up voters, and call them and ask them that question. Why didn’t you vote this year? What if anything could we have done differently to have gotten you to vote? I don’t know about you, but I’d sure like to know the answer to those questions.

And why stop there? Nearly half of the people who generally voted Democratic in 2012 didn’t show up in 2014. That’s true in Harris County, and it’s true in the state of Texas as a whole. Maybe instead of cursing our fate we could contact some of those people and ask them why they didn’t vote this year. We probably won’t like a lot of the answers we’d get. Some will be nonsensical, some will be deeply frustrating, some will be of the “shit happens” variety. But at least if we knew what those answers were, maybe we could do better the next time. We might also check on some of those brand-newly registered voters, and as those that voted why they did, and those that didn’t why they didn’t. Wouldn’t that be nice to know?

As I see it, we can accept that our turnout sucks in non-Presidential years, as it has done in the entire history of the United States going all the way back to 2010, or we can try to understand it and maybe do something about it. I don’t care who tries to find out the answers to these questions – this isn’t a scientific poll, it shouldn’t be a big expense; hell, a half dozen or so volunteers could probably make the 500 calls needed to get a decent sample of answers in fairly short order – as long as they share the answers they get. We can try to learn about what happened, or we can just give up and nominate Jim Hogan for Governor in 2018 and save us all a lot of heartache. I know which choice I prefer.

On BGTX, Wendy Davis, and the future

This has been a pretty busy Christmas break, as far as blog-worthy news has gone, so in order to preserve the small illusion that I’m taking a breather and recharging my batteries, I’m just going to give three quick thoughts on this Observer postmortem of the 2014 election and Battleground Texas, which you really should read.

1. I can’t tell you how stunned and disillusioned I am to read that their strategy for 2014 was a swing voter/crossover strategy, and not the base-building one that it sure sounded like they were going to do, and which was screamingly obvious we needed. I mean, even the most cursory review of election data for the past few cycles should have made this clear. The only semi-optimistic thing I can say about this is that I hope it proves, once and for all and beyond any semblance of a doubt, that nothing else matters in Democratic campaigning until we get our base turnout up. We had a huge leap forward from 2004 to 2008, then regressed a bit in 2012, but at least we made progress in Presidential years. Non-Presidential years have been a flat-lined albatross since 2002. I thought BGTX had figured this ridiculously easy insight out and was working on a plan to combat it. I can only hope they’ve figured it out now.

2. Much of the story is about friction between BGTX and the local and state Democratic parties and other organizations. I can’t speak to any of that – I get why the folks that were here first felt steamrolled, and I get why BGTX thought they could do things better – but I will say this: The story notes that in Travis County, there was a formal agreement between BGTX and the locals to work together. Well, if there was one honest success story in terms of performance in Texas in 2014, it was in Travis County. Here’s some data I’d collected for a post that I may or may not ever get around to finishing, about off-year turnout patterns in the five biggest urban counties:

County 2002 GOP 2002 Dem 2010 GOP 2010 Dem 2014 GOP 2014 Dem ===================================================================== Harris 330,801 272,032 423,275 334,098 358,425 299,255 Dallas 218,496 198,499 196,103 209,001 179,014 206,546 Bexar 133,733 124,129 161,443 131,397 156,144 134,876 Tarrant 195,384 125,416 208,976 123,200 213,812 138,944 Travis 93,524 110,026 95,431 127,803 91,372 155,335 County 2002 GOP 2002 Dem 2010 GOP 2010 Dem 2014 GOP 2014 Dem ===================================================================== Harris 17.64% 14.50% 22.05% 17.42% 17.53% 14.64% Dallas 18.08% 16.43% 17.13% 18.25% 14.83% 17.11% Bexar 15.14% 14.05% 17.88% 14.55% 16.27% 14.06% Tarrant 22.42% 14.39% 22.30% 13.15% 21.37% 13.89% Travis 17.18% 20.22% 15.80% 21.16% 14.00% 23.81%

The numbers in question are (for the top chart) the average vote totals for judicial candidates (*) in each year and for each party (I skipped 2006 because it was such an atypical down year for Republicans), and (for the bottom chart) the percentage of registered voters that each of those totals represents. As you can see, the only county with consistent growth, in terms of total numbers and share of registered voters, is Travis County. The Dallas County miracle is largely the result of the bottoming out of the Republican vote there; the Dem vote has grown somewhat, but not that much, and it backslid from 2010. Harris and Bexar are stuck in the mud, while Tarrant is still catching up to 2002. Whatever happened elsewhere in the state and with the Wendy Davis campaign, what happened in Travis County worked. We should learn from that.

(*) – These totals are from contested races only, for which there are a limited supply in Travis and Tarrant. I used statewide and circuit appeals court races in those counties in addition to the rare contested local judicial election; in Harris and Dallas I used district court races, and in Bexar I used district and county court races.

3. If I see any indication that BGTX plans to direct Texas volunteer effort and/or contributions to other states in 2016, I’m going to be very seriously pissed off. That’s not what we were promised, it’s not what anyone signed up for, and it’s not what we deserve. I don’t want to ever have to discuss this again.

As far as the story about Wendy Davis contemplating her political future, which I have not gotten around to reading yet but which Campos has, I see no reason why she can’t run again, whether it’s for SD10 in 2018 (she’d have as good a shot at it as anyone) or statewide again. Remember when we were all calling Rick Perry “Governor 39%”? Everyone had forgotten about that by the time 2010 rolled around. The public has a very short memory. As for Davis, if she has learned the lessons that should have been learned before this year, she might be a much stronger candidate next time out. Bottom line, she was a really good State Senator who won two tough races and served her district very well, and she’s only 51. I see no reason why she can’t have a second act.

Re-deputizing registrars

Did you undergo the training to become a deputy voter registrar this year, perhaps at the urging of Battleground Texas? Well, you’re going to have to do it again if you want to register people for 2015 and/or 2016.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

A decades-old part of Texas’ election code is receiving new attention as Democrats look to chart a path forward and maintain their ranks of volunteers qualified to register voters.

Perhaps no organization is expected to feel the effect more than Battleground Texas, whose thousands of deputy voter registrars will lose their certification Dec. 31, and will have to go through training before they can earn it back in the new year.

“This is wildly burdensome,” said Mimi Marziani, voter protection director at Battleground Texas. “The only logical explanation is that all of those things are aimed at the same goal, which is making it much harder to vote.”

Under state election law, deputy volunteer registrars serve two-year terms that expire at the end of even-numbered years. While the provision has been on the books since the 1980s, Democrats predict this year will bring its most far-reaching consequences yet because the number of deputy volunteer registrars has ballooned in just two years.

Activists cite a trio of bills passed in 2011 that toughened the provision. The new laws narrowed the qualifications to be a registrar, made it a crime for registrars to be compensated on the basis of how many voters they sign up, and ordered the secretary of state’s office to set up a training program for registrars.

Activists especially are frustrated with the training requirement, which they say is yet another impediment to building a stable community of registrars. It is one more hurdle the Democrats say they must overcome if they want to bounce back from their worse-than-expected losses in November.

State Rep. Jim Murphy, R-Houston, sponsored House Bill 1570, which requires training for volunteer deputy registrars. He said the legislation may set up another hurdle for groups like Battleground Texas, but it is worth ensuring the registrars know what they are doing.

“It takes away the defense of ‘I didn’t know I couldn’t do that,'” Murphy said. “Clearly, I would agree it’s additional work, but so is having insurance for your house if it burns down.”

In a statement, Battleground Texas spokeswoman Erica Sackin said the group’s volunteers already are signing up to get re-deputized in 2015. Texas’ tough election laws “may have kept away other voter registration organizations, but they can’t stop our volunteers,” Sackin added.

For what it’s worth, I’m a fire warden at my office. I’m officially certified in high-rise fire safety. That means I attended a training session given by a Houston Fire Department captain, along with a couple hundred other people, and I passed an online test related to this training. That certification was good for five years, and as that five years expired a few months ago, I had to take an online review and re-pass the test. I didn’t have to undergo the four hour, in-person training class, I just had to demonstrate via this online test that I still knew what I was supposed to do. It’s not like anything has changed with the procedures in the interim, though I presume that if something had changed the building operations folks with whom we interact would have let us know about it, and it would have been reflected in the recertification test.

My point is that if this sort of process is good enough to be a city of Houston fire warden, it ought to be good enough to be a deputy vote registrar. I doubt anything has changed in how one goes about registering voters this year, and I’m sure local election admins have better things to do that to retrain a bunch of folks who already know the material. Sure, registrars should kow what they’re doing and what is required of them, but an online certification test would accomplish that, at a lower cost and with less inconvenience for all than making everyone trudge down to an office to be lectured at. You tell me what the purpose of all that is. A statement from Battleground Texas is beneath the fold.

(more…)

Ty McDonald for HD17

Ty McDonald

As you know, the special election to replace Rep. Tim Kleinschmidt in HD17 has been set for January 6, with early voting to begin on December 29. This is the same schedule as the elections in HD123 and SD26. As you also know, I have been an advocate for running a Democrat in HD17, on the grounds that in a low-turnout election unpredictable things can happen, and with a bit of a GOTV push the Dems could steal a seat, even if it would only be a one-term rental.

Given all that, you will be as pleased as I am to see that there is a Dem running in HD17, and that Dem is Ty McDonald, wife of former Bastrop County Judge Ronnie McDonald and a former school board trustee in Bastrop. As had her husband, who eventually made an unsuccessful bid for the Democratic nomination for CD27 in 2012, Ty McDonald considered running for HD17 last year before deciding instead to try to succeed her husband as Bastrop County Judge. She lost that race in a year that wasn’t friendly to Democrats in Bastrop or elsewhere, and has now decided to toss her hat into this ring. With the filing deadline on Monday the 22nd, there are at least two announced Republican candidates (see the comments here), so at the very least she ought to have a decent shot at making it to a runoff.

I don’t know what Battleground Texas is doing now that it’s completed its post-election explanation tour of the state, but my reason for championing this special election, other than it being a free shot at a pickup, is that it just doesn’t take that many votes to win, or at least advance. Here are the vote totals from the last three State House special elections, plus two runoff elections:

Date Dist Votes Win ========================== 12/10 044 11,036 5,518 11/11 014 13,519 6,760 12/11 014 6,736 3,368 11/13 050 14,936 7,468 01/14 050 10,520 5,260

Note that the specials in HDs 14 and 50 took place in November of 2011 and 2013, so they got a bit of an artificial boost in turnout, though probably not that much. I skipped the special elections in HDs 16 (from this November) and 84 (in 2010) precisely because they coincided with high-turnout general elections and thus would extreme outliers on this list. My guess is that turnout for this race is more likely to resemble the HD14 runoff, from December 2011, than anything else. That suggests an electorate of between (say) 6,000 and 10,000 voters, meaning that to win outright you’d need between 3,000 and 5,000 votes.

Now then. There were 35,196 total votes cast in 2014 general in HD17. Democratic candidate Carolyn Banks received 12,459 votes of them. Obviously, a lot of those folks are November-only types. If we want to narrow it down to just the hardcore Dems, the kind of people that might be receptive to a “Hey! We have a special election and we need your vote!” campaign, there were 4,492 votes cast in HD17 in the 2014 primary, and 5,259 votes in the 2012 primary. It shouldn’t be that hard to figure out who those people are and send them some mail, and maybe follow it up with a phone call or two.

That’s assuming that we want to try to win, of course, and if there’s someone to underwrite this expense. I’d assume sending mail to five thousand or so voters in this district would run in the low to medium five figures, not exactly a back-breaking expense for a campaign, and I feel reasonably confident that if BGTX put out a call for volunteers to do some phone banking they’d get a decent response from people who’d love a chance to put the taste of this November behind them. The odds are that this won’t work – HD17 was drawn to elect a Republican, and they have plenty of their own voters to contact – but again, what is there to lose? Not doing anything here would be a much bigger loss, in my opinion, than trying and coming up short. We have a race, we have a candidate, we have a win number, and we have a reasonable idea of how to achieve it. What else do we need?

Art Murillo

Congratulations to Art Murillo, the first person of color elected to the Lone Star College Board of Trustees. Need I mention that it took a lawsuit for this to happen?

Art Murillo

Murillo, who is Latino, at one time might have seemed a long shot to win a seat on the Lone Star College board of trustees. But he was running in a newly drawn majority-Latino district, the result of a lawsuit that challenged the LSC’s “at-large” system of representation. On Tuesday, Murillo was elected the only Latino member of the nine-member board.

[…]

Lone Star College officials created the new district after a lawsuit alleged that the old election system – where all voters in the community college district could vote for each candidate – disenfranchised minorities because whites across the district would reject minority candidates.

The district currently has about 83,000 students enrolled in college credit courses.

Starting this year, that system is gone, and the college system isn’t alone in tackling the voting rights issue.

“As to the suburban areas, because of the white flight that this country experienced for half a century, those districts have been exceedingly Anglo for so long that at-large districts didn’t really commit a great deal of harm on minority citizens,” said Chad Dunn, who represented the group that sued Lone Star last year and specializes in litigation involving such systems.

“What is uniquely going on now, and about the last decade as the city center has redeveloped, the suburbs are becoming much more mixed-race,” Dunn said.

Latinos make up about 32 percent of people living in the Lone Star College district, which spans north Harris and Montgomery counties, according to the most recent census figures. African-Americans make up 15 percent.

Advocates argue that the new single-member districts that have a majority of minority voters will ensure they have a voice in college affairs.

“There’s not a lot of Hispanic leadership at all,” Murillo told another resident as they discussed Hispanic participation in local elections.

Two points to note here. One is that no matter what the Supreme Court may think there is still a lot of work to be done to ensure that minority communities have something resembling a proportionate amount of representation in government. Single member districts, for city councils and school boards and the like, are often the best, or at least the fastest, way to make this happen. It’s not a panacea, and some problems could be alleviated by higher rates of voter participation, but you can run into a chicken-and-egg problem there. It’s hard to convince someone to run for an office they don’t see a way to win. The plaintiffs in the LSC single-member litigation couldn’t do a proper comparison of how white and non-white candidates did in these elections in the past because there weren’t any non-white candidates running.

The other point is that those of us that would like to see more diverse representation in elected offices need to pay more attention to local races like this one. Your future legislators and Congressfolk and whatnot often get their start in places like the Lone Star College Board of Trustees; Harris County Clerk Chris Daniel is one example. The potential to change outcomes by increasing voter participation is great as well. Frankly, if Battleground Texas wants to regain some ground, and some credibility, between now and 2016 I’d strongly advise them to look around at the various municipal and school board elections that will happen in 2015, identify some targets and some candidates, and work to get them elected. Doing so would help keep the kind of voters they want to target engaged, it would help put some future candidates for other offices in place to start doing good and building a record, and it give them a chance to apply whatever lessons they learned from this election while maybe claiming a victory or three to build on for 2016. Honestly, the conservative movement figured this out thirty or forty year ago. Isn’t it time we catch up a bit?

The Battleground effect in legislative races

So here’s a crazy idea. Rather than judge Battleground Texas by our own beliefs about how things should have gone, what say we take a look at the actual numbers of a few races and see what they tell us? In particular, let’s look at the numbers in the Blue Star Project races, which were legislative elections in which BGTX engaged directly. There was SD10 and eight State House races; I’m going to throw in CD23 as well even though BGTX did not specifically get involved there. I’m going to compare the performance of the Democratic candidates with those of Bill White, since everyone is obsessing about the White numbers even though about 15% of his vote total came from Republicans, and with Lt. Gov. candidate Linda Chavez-Thompson, since I believe her totals are a more accurate reflection of what the base Democratic turnout was in 2010. Here’s what I’ve got:

Dist Candidate Votes Pct White Pct LCT Pct Needed ================================================================== CD23 Gallego 55,436 47.7 55,762 45.6 47,950 40.2 57,902 SD10 Willis 80,806 44.7 76,920 44.6 66,783 38.8 95,485 023 Criss 14,716 45.4 19,224 50.1 15,866 41.8 17,703 043 Gonzalez 10,847 38.6 14,049 45.8 12,635 41.7 17,274 105 Motley 10,469 42.7 11,766 43.8 9,793 36.7 13,588 107 Donovan 13,803 45.0 14,878 46.3 11,936 37.5 16,880 108 Bailey 16,170 39.3 17,401 42.0 12,859 31.3 24,954 113 Whitley 12,044 40.6 13,483 44.8 11,575 38.7 17,639 117 Cortez 11,519 47.3 10,247 48.0 8,829 42.2 12,832 144 Perez 5,854 49.3 8,411 52.7 7,273 46.0 6,010

It’s a mixed bag. The best performances came from Libby Willis in SD10 and Phillip Cortez (one of two incumbents on BGTX’s list) in HD117. Both exceeded White’s totals and far surpassed Chavez-Thompson’s. This is partly a reflection of what happened in Tarrant and Bexar Counties, respectively. In Tarrant, not only did Wendy Davis beat Bill White’s numbers in her backyard, so too did Leticia Van de Putte and Sam Houston, with Mike Collier just behind. White and Van de Putte were the only ones to carry Bexar for the Dems, with VdP being the high scorer, but Davis came close to White’s number and downballot Dems improved by about 20,000 votes. Willis and Cortez both beat the spread, but not by enough.

Gallego, who again was not directly assisted by BGTX, and the four Dallas County candidates all fell short of White but exceeded, in some cases by a lot, Chavez-Thompson. As I said above, I think topping LCT’s totals represents an improvement in base turnout from 2010, and again that’s consistent with what we saw in Dallas overall, as White was the standard-bearer while the top four Dems all surpassed Chavez-Thompson. Gallego did about as well in Bexar as Ciro Rodriguez did in 2010, and there’s no one place where he did worse, though he could have used more turnout in Maverick County.

The other three results are just bad. Turncoat Dem Lozano carried Jim Wells and Kleberg counties even as all the statewide Dems won in Jim Wells and most of them carried Kleberg despite generally losing it in 2010. Davis didn’t win Kleberg, and she scored lower in Jim Wells than several other Dems. That may have been a contributing factor, but on the whole it was fairly marginal. Still, that needs to be understood more fully, and someone needs to come up with a strategy to keep Dems from crossing over for Lozano if we want to make that seat competitive again.

Criss had a tough assignment, as HD23 has been trending away as places like Friendswood have made Galveston County and that district more Republican. Unlike the other two Dem-held State Rep seats that were lost, HD23 isn’t going to flip to “lean Dem” in 2016. Turnout by both parties was down in HD23 from 2010, and it’s probably the case that White was a boost there four years ago. Better turnout could have gotten her closer, but Susan Criss was always going to have to persuade some Rs to support her to win. I will be very interested to see what the Legislative Council report on this one looks like when it comes out.

The loss by Mary Ann Perez was the worst of the bunch, partly because it looked like she was up in early voting and partly because Harris was alone among the five largest counties in not improving Dem turnout. You can ding BGTX or whoever you like as much as you want for the latter, but the candidate herself has to take some responsibility, too. Winning this seat back needs to be a priority in 2016, and making sure it stays won needs to be a bigger priority after that.

So like I said, a mixed bag. The 2010 numbers were pretty brutal overall in these districts, and where there were improvements it was encouraging, and offers hope for 2016. Where there wasn’t improvement was disappointing, and needs to be examined thoroughly to understand what happened. I’d give the project a final grade of C – there’s some promise going forward and some lessons to be learned, but while improvements are nice, results are necessary.

First impressions of the 2014 results

My initial thoughts, for what they are worth.

– Let me begin by saying that for all the criticism I had of the UT/Texas Trib’s polling and the skepticism of Internet-sample methodology, they were fairly accurate in the end. In particular, the last YouGov result just about nailed it. I still think what they do is more alchemy than anything else, and their subsample results often look ridiculous, but however they did it, they got it right and they deserve credit for it.

– I’m sure we’re about to be deluged with critical stories about Battleground Texas and public doubts about their future viability – the Trib and the Observer are already on it – but I have to ask, given the way this election went nationally, why they are more deserving of scorn than anyone else. In particular, how did they do any worse than the DCCC, DSCC, and DGA? The DSCC’s fabled “Bannock Street Project”, which was supposed to save the Senate by increasing Democratic turnout in battleground states, was a spectacular dud. Democratic candidates for Governor lost in such deep red states as Illinois and Maryland. Hell, the chair of the DGA, Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin, who pooped on Wendy Davis’ campaign a few months ago, failed to get a majority of the votes in his own election. BGTX doesn’t have much to brag about today, and I have no doubt they could have done plenty of things better. But I know a lot of people – friends of mine – who worked their tails off for BGTX and the Davis campaign, and I will not demean the work they did. If you want to criticize them, go right ahead, but please be specific about your complaints. I’m not going to pay attention to any generalized rants.

– Davis didn’t come close to matching Bill White’s vote total, and no statewide Dem reached 40% of the vote. That’s the harsh truth, and there’s no sugarcoating it. The funny thing is, though, for all the talk about turnout being down, it wasn’t actually Democratic turnout that was down. Here’s a comparison of the vote totals for the Democrats running for the top four offices over the last four non-Presidential cycles:

2002 2006 2010 2014 ======================================================= Governor 1,819,798 1,310,337 2,106,395 1,832,254 Lt Gov 2,082,281 1,617,490 1,719,202 1,810,720 Atty Gen 1,841,359 1,599,069 1,655,859 1,769,943 Comptroller 1,476,976 1,585,362 N/A 1,739,308

Davis didn’t peel crossover votes away from Abbott the way White did from Rick Perry, but beyond that I don’t see a step back. If anything, it’s an inch or two forward, though of course that still leaves a thousand miles to go. Where turnout did decline was on the Republican side. Greg Abbott received about 360,000 fewer votes than he did in 2010. Given the whipping that Republicans were laying on Dems across the country, one might wonder how it is they didn’t do any better than they did here.

One thing I’m seeing, and I’ll have more to say about this tomorrow, is that some people seem to think that because Davis got about 265K fewer votes than Bill White that means that overall Democratic turnout was down by that amount. In a word, this is baloney. White drew the votes of some 300K people that otherwise voted Republican. Their presence in his tally was nice for him, and would have been critical in a different year, but they had nothing to do with Democratic turnout. I am at a loss for why people are making that claim, and why they are overlooking or ignoring the gains in the races just below the Governor’s race, where a coordinated turnout effort would have an effect. Like I said, more about this tomorrow.

– Harris County wasn’t any prettier than the state was, and here in Harris there were declines in the vote totals of both parties. I’ve been looking at the statewide results more closely to see where the gains and losses were, and my initial impression is that the other big counties did move forward in ways Harris did not. The mail program was a success, but it seems clear that it mostly shifted behavior. If there was a net gain, in terms of votes we wouldn’t have had at all without the mail program, it means that in person turnout efforts were that much less successful. If we’re going to be introspective, that’s the place to start.

– All that said, if I’m newly-elected Harris County DA Devon Anderson, I’d take a few minutes to be concerned about the fact that I have to be on the ballot again in 2016. Consider this: By my calculation, the average Republican judicial candidate who had a Democratic opponent received 359,759 votes. The average Dem judicial candidate got 297,311. Anderson received 354,098 while Kim Ogg got 311,094. To put it another way, Ogg got crossover votes, which stands both her and Anderson in contrast to Pat Lykos in 2008 and Mike Anderson in 2012. Frankly, if she’s up for it, I’d tell Kim Ogg to keep running and start fundraising now for 2016. Assuming the patterns from the last two Presidential years hold here, she’d have a real shot at it.

– Along the same lines, of the five legislative seats the Dems lost (three in the House, one each in Congress and the Senate), HDs 117 and 144 should flip back in 2016, and if I were Pete Gallego I’d keep running for CD23 as well. (If he doesn’t want to run any more, allow me to be the first to hop on the Mary González bandwagon.) If Susan Criss can’t win HD23, which had been trending red for some time, I doubt anyone can. As for SD10, it’s not up again till 2018, but for the record, Libby Willis basically hit the Bill White number, which suggests she drew a non-trivial number of crossovers. Someone ought to take another crack at that one next time around but bear in mind this was always going to be a tough hold. I strongly suspect that if Wendy Davis had decided to run for re-election instead that we’d still be mourning her defeat.

– One prize Dems did claim was knocking off longtime Bexar County DA Susan Reed. Republicans claimed a victory over DA Craig Watkins in Dallas, where he was his own worst enemy. I refer you to Grits for more on that.

– Other results of interest: You already know about the Denton fracking ban. The Katy and Lone Star College bond initiatives passed. Austin Council Member Council Member Mike Martinez and attorney Steve Adler are in a runoff for Mayor; other Council race results, the first single member district elections in Austin, are here. And finally, Old Town Tomball repealed its ban on alcohol sales. Pour one out, y’all.

– Finally, a word on the matter of the efficacy of campaign ads, in particular negative ads. Yesterday morning after we dropped off the kids at school, Tiffany mentioned to me that Olivia’s understanding of the Governor’s race was that if Abbott won, there would be more standardized tests, which did not please her. “He wants to test four-year-olds!” she said. “That’s just wack!” I will simply note that at no time this year did I ever discuss the Abbott and Davis pre-k plans with her, and leave it at that.

Two in Tarrant to watch

Tarrant County isn’t often an electoral battleground, but this time it is, at least in two legislative races.

Libby Willis

[HD94 Republican nominee Tony] Tinderholt’s race is one of two legislative contests in Tarrant County where Democrats are pinning their hopes on Republican voters soured by the most conservative elements of their party.

The second is a race to fill the Senate seat left open by Democratic gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis. There, in a district dominated by Republicans until Davis’ election, Democrat Libby Willis faces Konni Burton, a grassroots activist from Colleyville who touts the rare endorsement of U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz.

Like Tinderholt, who ousted Diane Patrick, an eight-year incumbent, in a primary upset, Burton sailed to GOP victory by questioning the conservative credentials of other Republicans. Now, in the general election, both candidates are under fire from their opponents for positions on abortion, gun rights and illegal immigration that Democrats say are out of sync with mainstream voters.

“I’m looking for those people who just don’t care about the partisan nonsense,” said Cole Ballweg, the Arlington businessman running against Tinderholt. “I’m looking for those people who’re more like me, who say, ‘What is really going to move the needle for my community, for my schools, for my kids?’ And there’s actually a lot of them out there.”

[…]

Ballweg acknowledged that it would take a “miracle” for a Democrat to carry Arlington’s staunchly Republican House District 94.

“I understand that so many of these people are still going to vote against me,” Ballweg said. “But you know what, they’re a lot more reasonable than a lot of people give them credit. They don’t want rifles in their streets; they don’t want angry, off-the-rails rhetoric about the border or anything else.”

The contest for the state Senate seat is closer. With advertising buys still rolling in, Willis and Burton have each spent over $1 million getting their message to Tarrant County voters since May, according to Texas Ethics Commission data.

Burton has raked in high-dollar donations from prominent conservative backers, including $100,000 from Midland oil and gas developer Tim Dunn and Texans for Lawsuit Reform, which has spent more than $300,000 on last-minute direct mail and television ads on her behalf.

Willis has received substantial sums from Democratic donors, including Houston trial lawyer Steve Mostyn, who has contributed a combined $850,000 to her campaign through his law firm and Back to Basics, the political action committee he funds. She has also received support from Planned Parenthood, the Democratic organizing group Battleground Texas and Annie’s List, which helps Democratic female candidates run for office.

But in her run for the high-profile swing district, Willis has also made inroads with groups otherwise supporting a slate of primarily Republican candidates, like the Texas Medical Association and the statewide law enforcement association known as CLEAT.

The former teacher and past president of the Fort Worth League of Neighborhood Associations has attempted to draw a sharp contrast with her opponent, billing herself as a coalition builder and Burton as a partisan.

“I have so many Republicans saying, ‘I am not a Tea Party person, I am not extreme, I am just not that far out there.’ And they are voting for me,” Willis said. “A lot of them are voting for a Democrat for the first time in their lives, and they are voting for me.”

I’ve written about the SD10 race before, both as a benchmark of success and an example of what else Battleground Texas is doing. I continue to believe that Libby Willis has at least as good a chance to hold this seat with Wendy Davis running for Governor as Davis would have with a mystery candidate for Governor. Early voting was up in Tarrant County, and one presumes these races as well as the Governor’s race were the driving forces behind that. As for the HD94 race, it would be nice to think that Republicans would be “soured by the most conservative elements of their party”, but one expects that if they were then Tinderholt would have lost in the primary to Rep. Diane Patrick, who had a solid reputation and was on Tom Craddick’s leadership team. I’ll hope for the best here, and I won’t be surprised if Cole Ballweg exceeds the partisan norm, but I’m not expecting more than that.

Final 2014 EV thoughts

Here’s the Chron story about how early voting went.

EarlyVoting

“Each (side) is emphasizing areas of comparative advantage, but the overall pattern seems to be unimpressive in terms of overall turnout,” said Jim Henson, who directs the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas at Austin. “I don’t see anything in the voting numbers as we have them so far to suggest a disruption in the normal pattern.”

Based on numbers kept by the secretary of state’s office, nearly 1.5 million people had voted early through Thursday in Texas’ 15 biggest counties, barely topping the same number at this point in 2010. The early voting turnout rate was down more than 7 percent.

“The numbers for early voting in this 2014 election cycle are comparable to what we saw in 2010,” said Alicia Pierce, a spokeswoman for the office, echoing not only Republicans but also independent experts who have been crunching the numbers on their own.

Polling stations in Harris County experienced a surge on Friday, the last day to cast a ballot in-person before Election Day on Nov. 4. Workers processed 51,628 voters – the highest daily number of the early-voting period.

But overall, early turnout in Harris County dropped 16 percent compared to the midterm count four years ago, from 444,648 to 375,247 this cycle.

In-person voters numbered 307,280 for the dozen days of early voting, compared to the final early number in 2010 – 392,536.

Still, more mail-in ballots were returned this cycle, 67,967 compared to 52,112 in 2010, which may suggest that efforts to get more people to vote using that method worked.

Harris County Clerk Stan Stanart said he expects a non-record-breaking turnout of about 300,000 voters on Tuesday. “Voters, they do their own thing,” he said, adding that state and national moods appear to influence turnouts.

The analysis of Friday’s batch of votes was that it was a good day for the Democrats, which brought the projected Dem share of the overall early vote in Harris County to 46.7%. That happens to be a very conducive number for some back-of-the-envelope math. With turnout so far at 375K, this puts Democrats down about 25K votes, 200K to 175K. That’s without taking into account the Greens and Libs, the extra mail ballots that will arrive by Tuesday, and undervotes, but it’s close enough for these purposes. If we accept Stan Stanart’s guess of 300K turnout for Tuesday, that means Dems need a win of 162,500 to 137,500 for a 50-50 county. That’s roughly a 54.2-45.8 spread for the Ds, or an improvement of 7.5 points over EV. In 2010, Dems improved by about 7 points from EV to E-Day (39% to 46%). So it’s doable, though obviously a bit of a stretch.

One thing to note from this is that if this projection is accurate, Dem turnout in Harris County will be up a smidge from 2010 – could be a slightly larger smidge if the projection underestimates the Dems, or it could be that there is no smidge if it’s an overestimate – while Republican turnout is down considerably. That shouldn’t be a big surprise – 2010 was fueled by a huge wave of previously Presidential-year-only Republican voters. I’ve said all along that while we ought to expect some of them to show up this year, it’s unlikely they all would. It stands to reason that a lack of these surge voters would have an effect. I suspect that this pattern will hold around the state, with perhaps some local variations here and there, like in Bexar County, but I have no data to verify this. What this means for final state totals remains to be seen. Let’s assume that the Rs have something like 2002 turnout, which is to say between 2.7 million and 2.8 million. If Dems can reach or edge past the Bill White line – say 2.1 or 2.2 million – that puts them at 43 or 44 percent, more or less. If that’s true for the whole ticket and not just one Bill White-like candidate, I’d count that as solid progress, if perhaps a bit short of my fonder hopes. It would also still be a double-digit loss, likely between 12 and 14 points. You can close a lot of the gap from 2010 and still have a lot more gap left to close. If however we’re looking at no more than an “up a smidge” situation statewide, so that Dems are still in the 1.8 million range, we’re looking at a 20-point loss. I’d be hard pressed to find anything positive about that regardless of what else might have happened.

None of this should be taken as gospel. I’m extrapolating from a limited data set. It would have been awesome to have seen some clear evidence of a Democratic surge, but I don’t. There is room to make up ground on Election Day, though, so keep at it till the final bell rings. Remember also that when BGTX first arrived, back when no Democrats were running for Governor, they were talking about a multi-year process, with a target date of 2020. Whatever does happen, we have to build on it. Move forward or get left behind.

Finally, a small point of disagreement with my friend PDiddie. If Susan Criss holds HD23, I see no way the Dems lose any seats in the Lege. The most likely outcomes range from -1 to +3 for the Dems, depending on HD23, those two Dallas districts, and HD43. There are Dem incumbents that would have to sweat it out in a year more like 2010, but there’s no evidence to suggest we have that kind of year.

Fort Bend’s electoral future

Fort Bend County isn’t what it used to be politically, but it’s also not what it ought to be headed for yet.

It has been more than two decades since a Democrat won countywide office in Fort Bend, but swift growth and shifting demographics are prompting the party to take a second look at the traditionally red county west of Houston and forcing Republicans to adapt.

The number of registered voters in Fort Bend has increased by a third since 2008, and non-Hispanic whites no longer comprise a majority.

The Fort Bend County Democratic Party is using digital analysis to target a narrow segment of likely liberal voters. The effort is being bolstered by paid staff from Battleground Texas, a political action committee formed to make Texas competitive for Democrats.

By fielding a candidate to oppose Fort Bend’s longtime Republican district attorney – another first – Democrats hope to test their new strategies.

Also seeking to capitalize on the area’s growth, the Fort Bend County Republican Party has opened its first field office in Katy.

“My goal is to prove that (Battleground Texas) was wasted money,” county GOP Chairman Mike Gibson said. “But am I taking it lightly? No. We’re going to run like we’re 20 points behind with an outside organization trying to influence it.”

Political analysts still place Fort Bend solidly in the GOP column, but say the margin of victory in Fort Bend elections could signal the health of the dominant Republican party and the odds of Democrats keeping their promise to turn Texas blue.

To Donald Bankston, the Fort Bend Democratic chairman, it’s inevitable that his party will regain dominance.

“There’s been a seismic shift in the demographics,” he said. “If this was a highly voting county, this county would be reliably Democratic.”

The share of the population that is non-Hispanic white shrunk from 54 percent in 1990 to 36 percent in 2013, according to Census figures. Because Latino, African-American and Asian voters tend to lean liberal, Bankston hopes to convince them to turn out at the polls as reliably as their white counterparts, giving Democrats a fighting chance.

Rice University political scientist Mark Jones said the equation for taking over Fort Bend is not so simple.

“Minority doesn’t equal Democrat,” Jones said. “Minorities on average tend to vote Democrat significantly more than Republican, but that varies notably among some groups.”

True, but not that big a factor in this case. It’s about turnout and engagement. Democrats can’t take for granted that turnout among populations friendly to them will continue to rise as their share of the overall population increases, they can’t assume that people who have been turned off by Republicans’ harsh and often racist rhetoric will necessarily flock to them, and they can’t assume that Republican rhetoric will remain that toxic forever. Republicans can’t assume that Asians and Latinos “just don’t know yet” that they’re really Republicans, and sooner or later they really are going to have to figure out how to tame the dominant but shrinking enraged nihilist faction of their party. I have considered Fort Bend to be like Harris politically, just maybe a step or two behind. FB came close to being blue in 2008, and like Harris took a bit of a step backward in 2012 when the excitement wasn’t quit as high as it had been then. In between was 2010, and the less said about that, the better. There are some good candidates running under the Fort Bend Democratic Party banner this year, but sometimes outside forces are too big for that. No matter what happens, there should be plenty of lessons to learn from this election.

2014 first week EV totals

EarlyVoting

Here they are, and here are the full 2010 EV totals. Democrats still have a lot of work to do, at least in Harris County. I sure hope it happens, that’s all I can say.

We’re already seeing postmortems for this election – I guess some people like to be ahead of the game – and so we have this effort from yesterday’s op-ed pages. Author William Thorburn makes some valid points, but I think he’s reaching a bit here:

Battleground Texas, with its commitment to expanding the Democratic base by registering more voters and turning them out, had its first test with the 2014 Democratic primary. This year, 555,000 Texans cast a ballot in the Democratic primary, a total that for the third straight election year has been decreasing rather than increasing. In fact, this year’s total of Democratic primary voters is lower than in any year since 1920 when 450,000 voted. In 1920, however, the state’s total population was only 4,723,000, as contrasted with a current population of 26 million plus.

Having failed to recruit candidates for many county and state legislative offices, with no one willing to conduct a primary in 22 counties, and the lowest primary turnout in more than 90 years, the remaining test for Battleground Texas and the state Democratic Party is the performance of its statewide candidates next week. Should this year’s slate of candidates fail to do much better than those in recent elections, one must wonder whether Democratic big-dollar donors will continue to pour money into Battleground Texas or move their contributions and resources to more favorable territory.

I don’t recall candidate recruitment being part of BGTX’s mission statement. In fact, I’m pretty sure the county parties would have resented it like hell if they had tried. Be that as it may, his point about primary turnout is a bit weak. In 2002, with hot races for Governor and US Senate, Dem primary turnout topped one million; in 2006, with snoozers across the board, it was half that; and in 2010, with Bill White duking it out with Farouk Shami, it about 700K. Yet as we know, base Democratic turnout in each year was about the same. In 2008, during the most exciting Democratic primary in at least a generation, turnout was 2.8 million. In 2012, it was less than one fifth of that. In each case, November turnout was about the same. I don’t dispute his larger points, but there’s no correlation here.

Anyway. It’s the last five days of early voting. No time to lose. Let’s hope the numbers improve.

More on the voter registration numbers

Wayne Slater has a contrarian perspective on the voter registration numbers.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Getting new voters begins with registering new people. When the secretary of state last week announced a record-high 14 million Texans are registered to vote, Battleground Texas trumpeted that number as evidence their efforts are working. Not so much, it turns out, according to the actual numbers.

For example, voter-registration in the top five Democratic-rich South Texas counties where Davis expects to do well is up 5.8 percent from the last time there was a governor’s race – slightly better than the average statewide. But voter registration in five top GOP-rich suburban counties is up a whopping 13.8 percent.

The Davis camp hopes for a good showing in Dallas County and Harris County, especially among Democratic-leaning black and Hispanic voters. Dallas County voter registration is up about 5 percent from four years ago. Harris County is up over 6 percent. And voter registration in Travis County where Battleground Texas has a strong presence is up 8.4 percent.

But the real voter-registration increases this election are in suburban GOP strongholds like Fort Bend County (17.5 percent), Collin County (14.3 percent), Rockwall County (12.9 percent), Denton County (11.6 percent) and Williamson County (14.2 percent).

Does that mean Battleground Texas has failed to deliver on its much-ballyhooed promise to register new voters? Not necessarily. In the big South Texas counties they say they’ve targeted, the increase in registered voters is a lot better this year than four years earlier. For example, in Hidalgo County, voter registration is up 7.5 percent from 2010. Four years earlier, when Democrat Bill White was on the ballot, voter registration grew 5.9 percent in from 2006 to 2010. The same thing for Cameron County, where voter registration this time has grown twice as much as it did between 2006 and 2010, the last governor’s race.

Three things here:

1. Comparing percentage increases can be misleading, because things that are smaller to begin with can have sizable percentage increases without actually increasing all that much. Rockwall County, for example has 51,787 registered voters in it. That’s an increase of 5,944 over their 2010 number of 45,843. That doesn’t crack the top 20 total increases as I noted in my previous post, and the total number of registered voters in Rockwall County is less than the increase in registered voters in Dallas County, which grew by 58,086.

2. We can argue over the numbers all we want, or at least until we start seeing some data about who actually voted, but who was registered matters at least as much as how many of them were. As I’ve said before, some of the increase in voter registration is the natural result of population growth. We know that Battleground Texas has focused a lot of resources on voter registration. One presumes they’re smart enough to target people that will be likely to go Democratic if they vote. There may have been some concerted Republican effort to register like-minded voters – I don’t know, and the story Slater links to doesn’t address the question – but again, one would think that if there were something comparable on the GOP side it might have warranted some attention from the press. Be that as it may, we don’t have to guess, or at least we don’t have to guess blindly on insufficient data. The various county clerks and elections administrators could provide, if asked by a professional reporter, more detailed information about where those new voters came from – what precincts, for example, whose more fine-grained electoral information might provide a richer illustration – and about their racial and ethnic composition. We don’t have enough information here to base a judgment on this, but that doesn’t mean that information doesn’t exist. It’s there if a professional political reporter wants to find out about it.

3. All that said, the burden of proof remains with BGTX. They are trying to do something that hasn’t been done before, and some level of skepticism is warranted until we see evidence of success in the results. A lot of those heavily GOP counties Slater cites have been slowly trending Democratic in Presidential years, but outside of Fort Bend the increase in Democratic votes from 2006 to 2010 failed to keep up with the growth in registered voters. That’s the challenge, and that’s what it will take to move the needle in the GOP strongholds. The good news is that we should have some idea of how this is going as soon as we have data about who is voting early. Whether the good news continues from there, that’s the question.

Voter registration numbers top 14 million

Sweet.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

More than 14 millions Texans have registered to vote in the November elections, the secretary of state’s office announced Thursday, calling the number a record high.

The total marks an increase of 2.8 percent since the most recent presidential contest and 5.7 percent since the last time candidates for governor were on the ballot.

More attention than usual is being paid to voter registration this year. Groups such as Battleground Texas have been working to “expand the electorate” to make the state competitive for Democrats.

Oct. 6 was the last day to register to vote. Early voting begins Monday for the elections on Nov. 4.

Far as I can tell, that’s based on this tweet from the Secretary of State’s office. They have not yet updated their Turnout and Voter Registration Figures page, but we do have this page, which gives the total enrollment number as 14,025,441, as well as suspense file numbers and a county-by-county breakdown. I’ll get to the latter in a second, but first here’s a look at the numbers over time:

Date Reg voters % of VAP ============================== Mar 06 12,722,671 76.47 Nov 06 13,074,279 78.58 Mar 08 12,752,417 71.90 Nov 08 13,575,062 76.54 Mar 10 13,023,358 69.31 Nov 10 13,269,233 71.00 Mar 12 13,065,425 71.47 Nov 12 13,646,226 74.65 Mar 14 13,601,324 71.91 Nov 14 14,025,441 74.15

So the number of registered voters is up about a million from this time in 2010. That’s five times the growth from November 2006 to November 2010. Not too shabby. How it translates into turnout and what that turnout looks like is of course still to be determined. But as noted, this was one of the key pillars of the Battleground Texas plan. It’s encouraging to see that this part of it has worked as well as it has so far.

And because I can never leave it at that, here are the 20 counties that saw the greatest increase in registrations since 2010:

County 2014 Voter Reg 2010 Voter Reg Reg Diff ================================================== HARRIS 2,062,792 1,937,850 124,942 TARRANT 999,687 936,735 62,952 COLLIN 485,406 424,672 60,734 DALLAS 1,203,513 1,145,427 58,086 FORT BEND 363,147 309,026 54,121 BEXAR 957,110 905,859 51,251 TRAVIS 655,056 604,374 50,682 DENTON 407,040 364,593 42,447 WILLIAMSON 271,612 237,763 33,849 MONTGOMERY 281,496 249,954 31,542 EL PASO 403,979 379,727 24,252 HIDALGO 318,772 296,510 22,262 BELL 168,877 154,566 14,311 BRAZORIA 183,488 170,784 12,704 CAMERON 186,563 174,188 12,375 GUADALUPE 84,076 74,783 9,293 GALVESTON 191,961 182,802 9,159 COMAL 82,137 73,750 8,387 HAYS 106,581 98,210 8,371 ELLIS 93,126 84,991 8,135

Some of that is the effect of plain old population growth, but it’s still pretty impressive. Note this doesn’t take into account the effect of the suspense files – go here and click on the “I don’t remember seeing my certificate lately. Is that a problem? Don’t I just stay registered?” question for details – but I don’t know how to factor that in, so I’ll just go with this. We’ll have some idea of the turnout effect beginning Monday. In the meantime, make sure you and everyone you know will be voting.

Sameena Karmally

Meet Sameena Karmally, whose race against Jodie Laubenbeg is important not for if she wins or loses but for what she represents.

Sameena Karmally

If Democrats are going to turn Texas purple, they need to do a lot of work at the local level. Long-hidden voters need to be identified, and organizational abilities need to be strengthened. To do that, Democrats need good candidates to run in local elections. Even if they don’t win, they’ll do their bit to put calcium back in the Democratic Party’s old bones. They might run in red districts with little chance of victory, but they’ll pave the way for future contenders.

But standing for election is hell—it’s costly, and it exacts an enormous personal and professional toll. Most people won’t do it if they don’t have a decent chance of success—and there aren’t many places in Texas these days where a Democrat has that chance. So big pockets of the state don’t have any Democrats of significance running locally, which further alienates ordinary people from Democratic politics. It’s a tenacious feedback loop that’s going to be difficult to break.

Some Democrats, though, are doing their part. Take Sameena Karmally, who’s been waging a long-shot effort in heavily Republican House District 89, which covers an area north and east of Plano. In a different context, Karmally would make a star candidate. She’s a lawyer and mother of two who grew up in the Metroplex. She’s smart and thoughtful, and has a compelling personal story: She’s the daughter of Indian Muslim immigrants, and worked her tail off to get to UT School of Law. This is one of those races that seems to embody the clash of the old Texas and new Texas, particularly because she’s running against state Rep. Jodie Laubenberg (R-Parker).

If you know Laubenberg for one thing, it’s that she became the public face of the coalition backing last summer’s abortion restrictions. Laubenberg sponsored House Bill 2, the legislation that Wendy Davis filibustered. During debate on the bill, Laubenberg famously said that a rape exception for abortion restrictions was unnecessary because hospitals “have what’s called rape kits,” so “the woman can get cleaned out.”

That remark earned her international notoriety, but at home, Laubenberg cruises from re-election to re-election. She hasn’t had a primary opponent since 2002, and hasn’t had to run against a Democrat since 2006. She has perfect scores of 100 from Phyllis Schlafly’s Eagle Forum and Michael Quinn Sullivan’s Texans for Fiscal Responsibility, wins awards from groups like the Young Conservatives of Texas, and is lauded by the NRA and pro-life groups. She’s the state chair of the influential American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), which writes bills for conservative state legislators.

When Laubenberg first won her seat, it was a predominantly rural district. But the Metroplex has experienced explosive growth, and the nature of her district has changed. The last bout of redistricting cut off Laubenberg from the most rural areas, and now HD 89 is heavily suburban, with a growing immigrant population. Many of the district’s residents work for tech companies. The district is less Republican than it used to be, but on paper, it’s still looks prohibitive for Democrats. In 2004, every member of the Republican slate won more than 75 percent of the vote—in 2012, Mitt Romney won just under two-thirds.

The Texas Observer met Karmally in Plano to talk about her race.

Go read the whole thing, it’s worth your time. The point Karmally makes more than once is that the district is very different than it used to be – where it was once mostly rural, it’s now mostly suburban, with a lot of new residents – and that the biggest hurdle she or any Democrat in the district faces is that no one really knows who the Democratic voters out there are, or how many of them there are. They all have that “I thought I was the only Democrat here” reaction typical to such places when they meet Karmally or get invited to a Dem event. That’s what organizing is all about, and places like this, in Collin County – around here it would be places like Montgomery and Brazoria Counties, plus the fast-growing parts of western and northwestern Harris County; think HDs 126, 130, 132, and 135 – and it’s job one for Battleground Texas.

To put some numbers to this, since that’s what I’m all about, here are the last three off-year Railroad Commissioner results from HD89:

Year R candidate R votes R Pct D Candidate D votes D Pct =============================================================== 2002 Williams 17,281 75.0 Broyles 5,767 25.0 2006 Jones 19,498 69.1 Henry 8,706 30.9 2010 Porter 23,923 69.5 Weems 9,014 26.2

There were third party candidates in the RRC race in 2010 but not in 2002 or 2006, so that’s why the 2010 totals don’t add up to 100%. Note that the increase in Dem voters from 2002 to 2006 was greater than the increase in R voters in that period, but the increase in R voters in the tsunami year of 2010 was more than ten times as much as the increase in D voters that year. Needless to say, that pattern can’t continue. I don’t know what a realistic goal is for this district, but if you assume a modest bump in R voters to 25,000 total, then Dems need a boost of 6,000 voters – more than the total number of votes they got in 2002 – just to get to 40%. I say that not to rain on Sameena Karmally’s parade – she’s a terrific candidate, endorsed by the DMN, doing great work in a place where it’s desperately needed – but to add some perspective for when we see the final numbers. Adding six thousand votes here would be a super accomplishment. Dems will need to duplicate that kind of result all over the state to make a difference. It’s about the big picture as much as it is about any one race.

Voter registration numbers are up

Some good news here.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

The number of Texans registered to vote in the state’s five largest counties increased by 2 percent since 2012, a reversal of the decline in total voter registrations that was seen before the last midterm election.

Nearly 150,000 more Texans in these counties are eligible to vote in November’s election between Greg Abbott and Wendy Davis than could vote in the 2012 presidential election, according to tallies released by Harris, Dallas, Tarrant, Bexar and Travis counties midday Monday, the last day to register.

The new registrations, however, did not outpace population growth in these counties, which are expected to have grown by 2.6 percent since 2012. But population growth has not always meant growth in voter registration totals: Following the registration push that helped elect Barack Obama in 2008, voter registration in these counties declined by 140,000, a 2.5 percent drop ahead of the 2010 midterm election.

Ahead of this midterm cycle, where Republicans are again favored up-and-down the ticket, that trend seems to have been flipped as 2.2 percent more Texans are registered to vote following Obama’s second campaign in these counties. Roughly 5.9 million Texans can vote in November’s races in these counties, where more than a third of Texans live.

Voter registration groups hailed the uptick in registration before a midterm election, which traditionally sees much lower turnout than during presidential years, as evidence that their efforts to register low-propensity voters had paid off. Five percent of those voting in Harris County are new registrants.

“The community has grown tired of promises and now we’re willing to rely on our own efforts,” said Carlos Duerte, state director of Mi Familia Vota, which said it registered more than 15,000, mostly Hispanic voters in Texas. “This is a huge jump even though it’s only 2 percent.”

[…]

Jim Henson, who directs the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas at Austin, cautioned against reading too much into voter registration numbers, especially as they relate to the success of Battleground Texas. The group has made clear it views its work as long term.

“Registration was certainly one of the benchmarks Battleground Texas set for themselves as part of their contact and mobilization strategy,” Henson said. “It’s going to be something that people are going to be tempted to look at as the leading indicator, but until we see what actual turnout looks like, any predictions based on that are going to have to be taken with a grain of salt.”

I’ll stipulate that we should wait till voting actually starts before we begin to draw inferences, let alone conclusions, but come on. Battleground Texas made increased voter registration a key part of their strategy, and the numbers bear them out. Lord knows, if the totals had shown the typical dropoff from a Presidential year everyone would be lining up to throw rocks at them, with the likes of Jim Henson being right at the front of the line. They did what they said they were going to do, so credit where credit is due.

In fact, if you compare voter registration totals from this year to 2010, which as a non-Presidential year is the true benchmark, the totals are even more impressive. I did my own research, and this is what I found:

County 2008 voters 2010 voters 2012 voters 2014 voters 10-14 Diff ====================================================================== Bexar 931,028 903,068 920,277 953,000 50,000 Dallas 1,206,797 1,145,107 1,182,432 1,201,478 55,000 El Paso 387,146 378,899 376,267 403,716 25,000 Harris 1,892,656 1,917,534 1,942,566 2,052,550 135,000 Tarrant 966,474 936,966 975,385 998,091 62,000 Travis 609,230 603,964 635,300 649,984 46,000

All past year figures are taken from the respective county elections websites. Kudos to the Dallas and El Paso elections admins for having up-to-date registration totals right there on their homepages. The Harris numbers for 2014 are taken from last week’s press release, so they may be a tad low. The 2014 Bexar number came from this KSAT story. As for Travis and Tarrant, I called and asked. Any or all of the 2014 numbers may change between now and Election Day for a variety of reasons, but ballpark figures are more than adequate for my purposes, which is why I rounded off the “difference” numbers in the last column.

I went back three election cycles so you could see more clearly the difference between this year and 2010. Note how in each county except Harris – where as we know there had been a concerted effort to register voters, until Greg Abbott crushed it – the numbers declined, in some cases precipitously, from 2008. In Bexar, Dallas, and El Paso the numbers were still down from 2008 for the 2012 election. In all cases except Dallas, registration totals have surpassed 2008, and the gains over 2010 are substantial. Sure, the overall population in these counties is up as well, but as you can see that has not correlated to voter registration totals. You can make of this what you want to, and I readily agree that it’s the turnout numbers that will really matter (*). But this is yet another piece of evidence to suggest that this year is different than 2010. We don’t know what the final effect will be, and if it falls short of expectations that will be more grist for the postmortem mill. However you want to slice it, these are the numbers we have.

(*) It’s an interesting question, what kind of turnout we should expect from newly-registered voters. I’ve heard it said that voters who register for a specific election turn out at rates that are at least commensurate with the voting population at large, but a cursory Google search hasn’t turned up any definitive info on that. Perhaps this would be a good topic for a professional political scientist like Jim Henson to research, with this election serving as a juicy case study. Who knows, maybe he’ll learn something that might lead him to refine his polling methodology.

Saving SD10 and other benchmarks

The Observer looks at the race to succeed Wendy Davis in SD10.

Sen. Wendy Davis

Sen. Wendy Davis

It’s a steamy, hot summer morning in the Metroplex, and at the Dixie House, a Southern-style diner in east Ft. Worth where gravy flows like water, Libby Willis can’t find a moment to dig into her eggs and hash. She’s too excited about her campaign. Willis, the Democratic nominee in Senate District 10, is running in one of the state’s most important races for Democrats this cycle. It’s fallen to her—a first-time candidate with solid credentials—to defend Wendy Davis’ soon-to-be-former seat against Konni Burton, a fiery tea-party organizer who’d likely be one of the chamber’s most conservative senators.

Willis acknowledges that her odds are long in this Republican-leaning district. But the path to victory, she says, is simple enough. “We just got to get our people out to vote. That’s all there is to it,” Willis says. “This is not a sleepy year.”

Democrats faced a tough task holding onto the district even before Davis decided to try her hand at the governor’s race. Davis squeaked by in 2008 and 2012, when Barack Obama was at the top of the ticket and Democratic turnout was comparatively high. (Though Obama lost Tarrant County both times, Davis held on anyway.) But the last round of redistricting forced an early election in SD 10—the district now elects its senator in midterm years, when Democrats tend to falter in Texas. To hold the seat for Democrats, Willis will need luck, skillful positioning, a troubled opponent and an impressive field operation. That last part, Democrats hope, is where Battleground Texas comes in.

Battleground, the group started by former Obama campaign staffers with the aim of making Texas politically competitive, is spending most of its time and resources in the rocky terrain of the governor’s race these days. But down the ballot, the organization is trying to put muscle behind a dozen legislative candidates, running in marginal districts that should be fertile ground for Democrats. Dubbed the Blue Star Project, the effort aims to focus the group’s technical expertise and organizing ability on legislative races, with the help of a “coordinated field program and a full arsenal of data, digital, and communications expertise.”

What that means, in short, is that the group hopes to take the special sauce decanted from the Obama campaign’s field operation and drizzle it on legislative races here, where it might make more of a difference than it will against Greg Abbott, who has a 3-to-1 cash advantage over Davis. The most important of the races is SD 10. In the process, Battleground hopes to stake a claim to a continued future in the state.

Democrats everywhere hope this cycle will be more like a presidential year than, say, 2010, and if it is, Battleground could be part of the reason why. Willis says the organization is part of a longer push. “This is a multi-year effort. This is not one and done,” she says. “This is not, ‘Hey, we’re finished at midnight on November 4th.’ They are committed to continuing the work, which is fantastic. And really important.”

I basically agree with this, though as I’ve said before, SD10 in a Presidential year is no cakewalk, either. I feel pretty confident saying that Wendy Davis considered the odds of her holding onto SD10 versus her odds of being elected Governor when she was making her decision. At this point it seems clear to me that the Dems’ odds of holding SD10 are better with Wendy Davis at the top of the ticket than they would be with Wendy Davis running for re-election and essentially nobody at the top of the ticket. I mean seriously, who would our nominee for Governor be right now if Wendy Davis hadn’t taken the plunge? Ray Madrigal? Kinky Friedman? Gene Kelly? It’s pretty brutal when you think about it, especially when you add in the fact that Leticia Van de Putte would also not be running for Lite Gov if Wendy hadn’t led the way. I’ve heard some people complain that by raising people’s hopes in what is likely to be a losing cause, Davis and her candidacy could cause some major blowback and infighting after the election. I don’t doubt the possibility, but it’s hard for me to see how giving up and rolling over as Greg Abbott and Dan Patrick waltz to power was the better alternative.

The big picture also gets discussed.

Battleground Texas debuted in February 2013 to enormous fanfare. Democrats had just come off a spectacularly successful presidential election year: The blue portion of the electoral map had swelled in a way that made some gains seem semi-permanent. Formerly red states like Virginia, Colorado and Nevada had flipped, for reasons that included both shifting ideological coalitions and demographic changes. Other states, like Georgia, seemed to be in reach. Then there was Texas, the beating, blood-red heart of GOP electoral viability.

If the national Republican Party is a vampire, Battleground is intended to be the wooden stake. Founded by Jeremy Bird, the national field director for Obama’s 2012 campaign, and armed with the newest technology, techniques and tactics, the organization says it would do what the Texas Democratic Party couldn’t—or wouldn’t. Even if the group’s fresh-faced organizers don’t make a clean kill, softening Texas would mean national Republicans would have to spend time and money here. They’d win for losing. In a column for The New York Times, political reporter Thomas Edsall wrote a few months after Battleground’s launch that the group had “put the fear of God into the Texas Republican Party.”

If that fear was ever real, you can be sure that it’s dissipated a bit. Battleground has had a challenging first year and a half and its future is uncertain. Wendy Davis’ filibuster gave the Democrats what seemed like a viable shot at the governor’s mansion, so Battleground, which started as a long-term organizing project, wedded the group’s efforts to hers. Battleground handles the work in the field, and Davis’ campaign handles strategy and messaging. The two groups even share a bank account, called, promisingly, the Texas Victory Committee.

If Davis does well, Battleground has a chance to move up the clock on the state’s purple-fication. But if she doesn’t, Battleground stands to suffer along with her. The story of the 2014 election isn’t done yet, but Davis’ odds of victory seem slim. Even if she doesn’t win, Abbott’s margin over Davis matters quite a bit: If she outperforms expectations, Battleground—and the Democratic coalition more generally—will have something to show to donors and supporters come 2015. It’ll serve as a proof of concept.

If she does badly—if she ends up in Bill White territory, as seems possible—the whole thing will be a wash and Dems, having spent a hell of a lot of time and money for little in return, will be left asking themselves very tough questions about how best to organize themselves next cycle. A good deal of the enthusiasm that’s built up in the last year will fall apart. Battleground insists it’s here for the long term—but to make that a reality, the group needs to keep its raison d’être, and its appeal to big-money donors, intact. It’s an expensive operation to run. And some close to the state Democratic Party—which, mind you, doesn’t have a great track record of success itself—would like to see the party take on Battleground’s local organizing functions itself.

[…]

That’s one reason the Blue Star Project is important to the group—if Battleground can pick off a number of legislative races this year, it gives them a plausible claim to a future in Texas. None of the twelve races Battleground is assisting in are really “reach” districts, but Texas Democrats have had trouble pinning them down. If a couple of them flip blue in November, Jeremy Bird’s young group will argue it’s brought home enough trophies to justify another hunting trip.

The 2016 election cycle will likely see Clinton at the top of the ticket driving high turnout among the Democratic base, which means it could be a good year for Dems in legislative races here. In 2008, Democrats in Texas rode the coattails of Barack Obama’s popularity to win 74 of the state’s 150 House seats. It’s not realistic to hope for that again—not least because the state had another round of gerrymandering in between then and now—but it could be a more comfortable climate, and Battleground’s experience this cycle in down-ballot races could prove useful.

I’ve discussed the question of what a consolation prize might look like in the event the losing streak by Dems in statewide races continues. With the caveat that “expectations” and whether or not one has beaten them tend to be set by the chattering classes after the election and not before it when we might have argued about them, let me suggest a couple of bars for BGTX and Wendy Davis to clear.

The Bill White Line: This one is explicitly mentioned in the Observer story. White got 42.29% with 2,106,395 total votes, and I think it’s fair to say that these are minimum totals for any reasonable “success” story to be spun. More to the point, recall that White ran a campaign that was largely geared towards peeling votes away from Rick Perry. He was actually quite successful at that, as I have noted before, but in a world where the base Democratic vote remained at between 1.7 and 1.8 million for a third consecutive off-year election, it didn’t matter. For Battleground Texas to claim success in its goal of boosting turnout, we need to see all statewide Democrats collect at least 2 million votes. I thought that was a worthwhile and achievable goal even before Davis’ famous filibuster put her on the map. It’s surely on the low end of what we should aim for now.

The John Sharp Line: John Sharp scored 46.03% of the vote when he ran for Lite Gov in 2002. No Democrat has topped 46% statewide since. Sharp did this with slightly fewer votes than White – 2,082,281 to be exact – thanks in part to lower Republican turnout that year and a higher third-party vote total. I’d estimate the Davis campaign would need to reach the 2.3 million vote mark to get to 46%, which if she does achieve would also mean that the margin was less than ten percent. I don’t think there’s any question that crossing these lines would be the mark of clear and substantial progress, and by all rights should change the narrative from “Dems haven’t won since the 90s” to “Dems came closer than they have in any election since the 90s”.

Hold the line in the Lege: The story is about SD10, and it also mentions HD23. Both of those seats, as well as CD23, have the distinction of being held by Democrats but having been carried by Mitt Romney in 2012. (There are no Republican-held seats in the Lege or in Congress that were carried by President Obama in 2012.) Holding those seats, especially with SD10 and HD23 being open, would be a very nice thing to do regardless of what happens anywhere else.

Gain ground in the Lege: The next level up involves picking up a seat or two (or more) in the Lege, where as the story notes there are a few that could be attained with a focused turnout effort. The story covers most of the basics and I’ve blogged about the Blue Star Project before, so I’ll leave it at that. Suffice to say that any pickups, all of which would also be in districts that had been carried by Mitt Romney, would be a feather in the cap and another sign of real progress.

Win Harris County. Bill White carried Harris County in 2010, but that came with an asterisk next to it. No other Dem came close as the Republicans swept the county races again, as they had every year since 1998, a year that I trust sounds familiar. Dems increased turnout significantly in Harris County in 2010, but lost ground overall compared to 2006 due to the GOP tidal wave that year. We can’t do anything about that, but there’s plenty of room to grow the Democratic vote more, and in the absence of another GOP tsunami, winning Harris County and the substantial prizes that would come with it – the first Democratic DA in who knows how long, ousting the likes of Stan Stanart and Orlando Sanchez, maintaining the Democratic majority on the HCDE – would be sweet.

Win Fort Bend, advance elsewhere. Fort Bend County has trended the same was as Harris has, but a few points behind. Winning Harris County in a non-Presidential year would be a shot across the bow, while winning Fort Bend would be a brick with a note tied to it crashing through the window. Beyond that, pick your favorite red county and a reasonable goal. Thirty-five percent in Collin and Denton? Forty percent in Williamson? Forty-five percent in Tarrant? Go to the SOS webpage, use the Railroad Commission race as the benchmark, and go from there.

You get the idea. I don’t think you need a fancy Poli Sci degree to realize that these events are not independent of each other. It’s hard to imagine falling short of the Bill White Line while achieving the other goals, and it’s hard to imagine clearing the John Sharp Line without achieving at least some of them. Still, there will be some variation based on local conditions and candidate quality, and one hopes that the promised exit polls will give us some more dimensions to measure. I definitely agree with author Christopher Hooks that one way or another there will be a long discussion about the level of success of the tactics used in this campaign. I hope this has provided a starting point for discussing what those levels might look like.

Texans Together asks for Justice Department investigation of AG and Harris County

From the inbox:

Hello Friends:

We recently made a formal, written request to the U.S. Justice Department to immediately investigate Texas and Harris County officials for voter suppression in Harris County (see letter here). We are asking for a federal investigation of not only the Texas Attorney General’s Office, but also Harris County election officials for their long history of impeding minority voter registration and voting.

We believe the Harris County Tax Assessor-Collector should be investigated thoroughly for their many years of wrongful registration denials and delays as well as their incompetent processing of registration applicants. We also are seeking an investigation that the Justice Department look at the apparent politicization of the Harris County Clerk’s election administration.

As for the Texas Attorney General’s Office (AG), our letter points out that the AG falsely accused Houston Votes of “voter fraud” and effectively shut down our voter registration drive in 2010. The AG’s theory was that our voter registration drive was engaged in felony identity fraud, for simply keeping records of the people we registered to ensure that County authorities properly registered them and so that we could remind them to vote. No wonder after raiding us with six officers with guns and flak jackets, and investigating for 11 months, the AG dropped their oppressive investigation without ever notifying us. Under its absurd theory, every voter registration and turnout drive in the country would be a criminal enterprise.

Again, you can view our letter here, or visit texanstogether.org for more information.

— Fred Lewis

See here for the background. Texas’ Congressional Democrats have also called for a federal probe of this. I don’t know what the odds are of this, especially given that there isn’t a US Attorney General right now, but I would certainly like to see a closer examination of this. One need only look at the dirt that was uncovered during the redistricting and voter ID litigation to understand that there are undoubtedly a few surprises yet to be discovered. We will definitely keep an eye on this.

Meanwhile, also from the Inbox, the Wendy Davis campaign is taking some steps to ensure that everyone who wants to vote can do so.

In the first of its kind effort in Texas, today the Wendy Davis Campaign is launching a new website, MyTexasVotes.com, as a digital hub for the campaign’s get out the vote efforts which will provide answers to questions voters may have about casting their ballots. On the site, Texans will be able to find out how to register to vote, commit to vote, find details about what to bring to the polls, find information on voting by mail and soon to be added, information to help voters find their polling place.

This unique digital push will be another tool in the unprecedented Davis grassroots campaign complimenting an extraordinary field effort to turn out voters, reaching them both online and in their neighborhoods.

“I am committed to ensuring all Texas voters are able to make their voice heard in this election,” Wendy Davis said. “MyTexasVotes.com marks the first one-stop site in the state to coordinate our unprecedented digital campaign with our strong ground game creating a get out the vote effort unlike Texas has ever seen.”

In addition to the website, for the first time ever, Texans will have access to a statewide voter protection hotline by calling 1-844-TXVOTES to have their voting questions answered by legal experts. The launch of MyTexasVotes.com comes about a week before voter registration ends on October 6.

Two weeks after Monday’s voter registration deadline is when early voting begins. That’s when the rubber really hits the road. You’ve heard me blather on incessantly about the Democratic turnout efforts that can and will have an effect on this year’s election. Well, one way to blunt that effect is to put up obstacles to voting. Everyone needs to keep an eye out for efforts to prevent people from voting. Here’s another way to help with that, from yet another email:

Protect the Vote 2014

This election is the first major statewide election with the controversial voter photo ID in place at the polls. Did you know that not all election workers are required to go through training?

This election is also the first major statewide election after the Shelby Supreme Court decision which removed a key provision of the Voting Rights Act, a landmark piece of Civil Rights legislation that men and women fought hard to achieve.

What can you do?

Become a Part of our Paid Poll Monitor Team in Harris County.

  • Assist and engage voters with commonly encountered problems at the polls
  • Report, document and prevent voter disenfranchisement
  • Make sure every eligible voter is able to vote free from harassment, intimidation or misinformation.

Stipends are available, up to $120 per day for shifts during Early Vote and Election Day.

The poll monitor program is non-partisan and fundamentally about protecting the right to vote for all people. All poll monitors must go through an election protection training. To sign up for a training, click here: ElectionProtection

See training schedule below. If you would like to request a private training for your organization or group or have any other questions, please contact cctexas@commoncause.org.

The schedule, which is all for events in Harris County, is beneath the fold. For many reasons this year is more important than ever, but one of those reasons is because it looks like those voter registration efforts are paying off. According to a press release I received from the Harris County Tax Assessor, Harris County currently has 2,052,550 registered voters, of which 113,467 were registered this year. That’s as of September 30, which is to say six days before the voter reg deadline. As a point of comparison, the reg voter total cited in the November 2010 election was 1,917,534. That’s a pretty significant difference, and you can thank the efforts of BGTX and the HCDP for boosting that total. I look forward to seeing what the statewide numbers will look like. If they have a similar boost, I consider that a positive sign for November. We need everyone to do their part, not just to vote but to make sure everyone else can.

(more…)

Lyceum: Abbott 49, Davis 40

Pretty decent result that will hopefully put the “double digit lead” narrative out to pasture.

Sen. Wendy Davis

Sen. Wendy Davis

Republican gubernatorial candidate Greg Abbott leads Democratic opponent Wendy Davis by 9 percentage points, 49 percent to 40 percent, according to the latest Texas Lyceum poll, released Wednesday.

The poll showed Davis, a state senator from Fort Worth, held a “clear lead” among Hispanics, by 36 points, and African Americans, by 80 points, while Abbott, the state attorney general, held a “slight lead” with independent voters, by 6 points, and women, by 2 points.

“Davis is running slightly ahead of other Democrats on the ballot and over- performs compared to Democrats from recent statewide races,” University of Texas Professor Daron Shaw, who conducted the poll, said in a statement. “But the number of candidates who have made up this kind of deficit in the last month, in a state where party ID favors the other side so consistently, is close to zero.”

Immediately following the release of the poll, Abbott sent out a press release noting his campaign had $30.1 million on hand for the “final push” of the race, raising $7.8 million since July. In July, Abbott had $35.6 million on hand, the largest amount ever recorded in the state, while Davis had $8.8 million.

The poll showed that in the lieutenant governor’s race, state Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, was ahead of state Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, D-San Antonio, by 14 percentage points, 47 percent to 33 percent. Van de Putte led with African Americans by 64 points and Hispanics by 24 points, but did not perform as well as Davis with either group.

The Lyceum did actually poll this race before, last September. Most likely the reason you (and I) hadn’t heard of that poll before now is because fully half the voters who responded had no opinion. Abbott led 29-21 among the rest.

The Lyceum’s index page for their 2014 polls is here. Their press release, on which just about all of the coverage I’ve seen has been based, is here, and the Executive Summary is here. Questions and toplines are here, and crosstabs are here. You have to be a little careful in reading their summaries (and therefore the coverage), because they don’t always specify when they are talking about likely voters (LVs) instead of registered voters (RVs). Scroll down to page 111 of the crosstabs to see where the raw numbers are. I’ve summarized below:

Governor RV tot RV pct LV tot LV pct =========================================== Abbott 362 43.04 265 48.89 Davis 314 37.34 215 39.67 Glass 32 3.80 12 2.21 Parmer 20 2.38 9 1.66 Lt Gov RV tot RV pct LV tot LV pct =========================================== Patrick 330 39.29 256 47.23 Van de Putte 289 34.40 177 32.66 Butler 32 3.81 18 3.32 Courtney 28 3.33 12 2.21

There are also Senate numbers, which I’ll get to in a minute. The point here is to notice that the RV numbers are much tighter than the LV numbers – indeed, the Lt Gov race is close to being within the margin of error for the RV numbers. This is the clearest illustration of what the effect of turnout may be, and it’s why I’ve been so critical of the polling we’ve seen to date. I don’t think previous public polls have considered the question of turnout and the Battleground Texas effect at all so far. Sure, not all of these registered voters will show up, but you can see the potential here. The contrast in the Lite Guv race, where for reasons I don’t comprehend they’ve decided there are a lot fewer “likely” voters, is especially stark. If you need a reason to believe in what BGTX is doing, this is it, right here.

One other point to note is in the reporting of female voters, where the topline shows a lead for Abbott. The crosstabs tell a slightly different story, however:

Governor Male Male % Female Female % ============================================== Abbott 198 46.48 164 39.42 Davis 142 33.33 173 41.59 Glass 18 4.23 15 3.61 Parmer 12 2.82 7 1.68 Lt Gov Male Male % Female Female % ============================================== Patrick 181 42.49 149 35.99 Van de Putte 129 30.28 160 38.65 Butler 21 4.93 11 2.66 Courtney 20 4.69 8 1.93

Yes, I noticed the one-vote discrepancies for Davis, Glass, and Parmer, and no, I don’t know what’s up with that. My point is that the press release is apparently giving LV totals for female voters, but they don’t break out those numbers in the crosstabs. We don’t therefore know what the exact RV/LV gap is there, but we know there is one. Like the single digit/double digit distinction, this would change the narrative if anyone other than me were to notice it. It’s also where the rubber meets the road for BGTX, given the heavy Democratic lean that exists for single women and women of color along with their lesser propensity as a rule to show up. If the final result winds up being more Democratic than what the polls have suggested so far, the first place to look for an explanation in the exit polls will be among female voters.

As for those Senate numbers:

Senate RV tot RV pct LV tot LV pct =========================================== Cornyn 358 42.62 263 48.43 Alameel 237 28.21 163 30.02 Paddock 33 3.93 20 3.68 Sanchez 63 7.50 22 4.05

Here I would submit that Alameel’s poorer numbers are one part much lower name recognition, and one part “Spicybrown” Sanchez getting a disproportionate share of the total. Third party candidates tend to poll higher than their final totals, and that’s what I expect is happening here. In the end, it is likely that most of Spicybrown’s supporters (who, if you check the crosstabs, are disproportionately Latino) will wind up voting D anyway. It won’t shock me if she does better than the average Green statewide candidate, but her ceiling is maybe five percent, probably lower. PDiddie, Texas Politics, and TRail Blazers have more.

A thought about the stealth campaign

Forrest Wilder writes about the un-campaigns being run by most statewide Republicans.

“Oozing charm from every pore I oiled my way around the floor”

But now comes a new twist: the art of the non-campaign. The candidate who doesn’t even bother to put on a show, doesn’t even pretend to reach the broad middle of the citizenry and instead appears behind closed doors to small groups of like-minded voters, if he or she appears in public at all.

That’s the kind of campaign that some Texas Republicans are now running, in particular Ken Paxton, who’s favored to become attorney general, and Dan Patrick, who’s the frontrunner for lieutenant governor. Their campaigns are marked by a general refusal to speak with reporters, engage with their opponents, hold press conferences, meet with newspaper editorial boards, publicly announce events in advance, or even run TV ads.

Instead, the two men are running “stealth” campaigns—as the Houston Chronicle recently put it—speaking to tea party gatherings or events closed to the press.

A talk-radio show host not known for his reticence, Patrick ran a boisterous campaign against his three rivals during the GOP lieutenant governor primary and later in a head-to-head runoff against Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst. Now, he’s like the chupacabra: rumored but rarely seen in the flesh.

[…]

Ted Delisi, a GOP consultant quoted in the Chronicle, acknowledged that it’s “not the typical campaigning” but then implausibly tried to coin the approach as not being “covert,” but rather “the new overt.”

If anything, state Sen. Ken Paxton is even more covertly overt. Paxton is the overwhelming favorite to be the next attorney general—he faces an underfunded Democratic attorney with the somewhat helpful name Sam Houston. The highlight of Paxton’s resume so far is that he’s admitted to violating state securities law by accepting kickbacks from an investment firm without disclosing that relationship to regulators or his clients. And apparently he’s not eager to talk about it: Paxton has been almost completely AWOL.

I can find precisely one news account of a public appearance in the last month. On Sept. 8, he was the special guest of honor at a San Jacinto County Republican Party event, where he told the crowd that Obamacare would be “obliterated” if unspecified lawsuits were successful.

This isn’t news, of course. I’ve said before and I’ll say again here, Patrick and Paxton and the other Republican statewides (not counting Greg Abbott) simply aren’t interested in talking to anyone who isn’t a Republican primary voter. They don’t care about them, they’re not going to represent them, so why bother? They’ve already won the races that matter to them, the rest is a mere formality.

Again, none of this is new. But it got me to wondering: What if this lack of overt campaigning has a negative effect on turnout for Republicans?

We all know that the Democratic strategy for this year is based in large part on the unprecedented organizing efforts of Battleground Texas and other groups, with a healthy dose of energy from the Davis and Van de Putte campaigns and a general “had enough” feeling among the faithful. We also know that just as Democratic turnout had been flat for three elections running, Republican turnout had varied. In the landslide of 2010, some 500,000 Republican voters showed up that hadn’t voted in 2006; the vote total was also about 300,000 higher than it was in 2002. The big question – to me, at least – has always been “will those non-habitual 2010 voters show up again in 2014?” Clearly, if they do, then Patrick and Paxton and the rest are indeed on easy street, and they may as well start measuring the drapes and hiring staff. Polling models sure seem to think this is the case, which may be where those gaudy leads for Greg Abbott et al are coming from. Battleground Texas is doing great work, but it would take more than a miracle for Dems to be competitive if the Republican base vote is going to top three million as it did four years ago. If this is the expectation, then Patrick and Paxton’s behavior makes perfect sense even without taking into effect Patrick’s poisonous personality and Paxton’s equally toxic ethics issues.

But what if this isn’t the case? Voting tends to be a habit, which is why pollsters (among others) are so enamored with “likely” voters. Why would we assume that the first-time Republican voters of 2010 will be back for more in 2014? Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure some of them will. I don’t know how big a number that “some” is, but I’m pretty sure it’s not going to be 500,000. Suppose instead that their base number is about 2.7 million, or about what they had in 2002. Now things maybe aren’t such a slam dunk for Patrick and Paxton. Let’s say the efforts of BGTX are enough to boost Democratic base turnout to 2.3 million or so, an ambitious and impressive total given the starting point, but hardly out of the question. That brings the GOP’s polling lead down to eight points – right in line with that Wendy Davis internal poll, in other words – and you can imagine the potential to peel away a few more votes from those that might find Patrick and/or Paxton unacceptable. How likely is that? I don’t know, but it’s greater than zero. It’s a very different scenario from the 2010 turnout possibility.

Now I know, turnout is mostly driven by the top of the ticket. But Greg Abbott is running a very different campaign than Rick Perry did in 2010. Where Perry was his usual swaggering self, Abbott has been trying to put a softer face on the same kind of hard-right politics. He’s all about madrinas and overcoming adversity, and has arguably spent more time wooing Democratic voters than any other bloc. That may pay off for him, but there’s no reason to believe that such a voter would continue on to vote for Patrick and Paxton and so forth. More to the point, he’s not running the kind of base-revving campaign that Perry ran in 2010, at least not visibly. There may be stuff going on covertly that I’m not tuned in to, but surely we agree that Perry 2010 and Abbott 2014 are two different beasts. I don’t know how to compare them quantitatively. Maybe they will perform about the same in the end. I just know they’re different, and I wonder what the implications are. If we’re assuming that these previously unlikely Republican voters are going to turn out in droves again this year, and we see that Abbott is running a different campaign than Rick Perry did – whether Abbott’s campaign is different because 2014 is different, or 2014 is different because Abbott’s campaign is different is a rabbit hole I don’t care to climb down – then what else might be driving these people to vote this year?

The obvious answer to that question is “President Obama”, and the Republicans’ unrelenting animosity towards him. I can’t deny the strong possibility of that, but I will offer two points. One is that when given the chance to vote against him in 2012, Republicans turned out at about the same level as they did in 2008, and 2004 for that matter. That’s a different voter universe, of course, but it at least suggests to me that there are some limits to this as a motivating factor. The other is mixed into that chicken-or-egg question I posed above, which is simply that 2014 is different than 2010. The campaigns are different, the candidates are different – remember, outside of the judicial candidates not a single Republican is running for re-election statewide, and only Greg Abbott has been on most people’s ballots before – the issues are different, the economy is in much stronger shape…you get the idea. The end result may well look the same, but right now this election doesn’t resemble 2010 at all. Why should we assume that it will?

And that’s my main point here. A lot of what we’re seeing in this campaign seems to be based on the assumption that this election will be like the 2010 election, despite all of the obvious differences. Maybe it will and maybe it won’t – maybe these differences won’t amount to much – but I’d at least like to see it acknowledged that the assumption is being made.

On polls and turnout

Sen. Wendy Davis

Sen. Wendy Davis

So as you know, the latest YouGov poll came out on Friday, and it was ugly for Wendy Davis, showing an 18-point lead for Greg Abbott. PDiddie was despondent, EoW was trying to keep the faith, and Texpatriate was somewhere in between. I didn’t have a chance to say much about this poll in my discussion of the Davis internal poll, so let me put my thoughts here. I intend this more as a thought exercise than a deep analysis, so let’s see where this takes us.

1. If this is an accurate result, and assuming that the third party candidates collect about two percent of the vote, it suggests that Abbott is headed for a 58-40 win over Davis. That’s about the margin that Rick Perry defeated Tony Sanchez by in 2002. Do you think Wendy Davis will do no better than Tony Sanchez did? I have a hard time believing that.

2. With the same assumptions as above, if total turnout is about five million votes – basically the same as it was in 2010 – it suggests that Abbott will get 2.9 million votes while Davis gets 2 million, with the rest getting 100,000. Not many Texas Democrats have gotten two million votes in off year elections – John Sharp in 2002, and Bill White in 2010. White got just over 2.1 million in 2010. Do you think Wendy Davis will fail to get as many votes as Bill White? I have a hard time believing that, too.

3. White ran a different campaign than Davis did, aiming more at peeling votes away from Rick Perry. He was quite successful at that as we have discussed, but it ultimately didn’t matter since base turnout was too low. As we have also discussed before, Democratic base turnout in off year elections hasn’t changed since 2002. Davis, in conjunction with Battleground Texas, is working hard on raising base turnout. How successful will that effort be? I really have no idea. With the likely exception of that Davis internal poll, none of the polls we have seen published so far have given any suggestion that they have tried to measure this effect. YouGov, which uses a static sample and applies whatever model it assumes for the election to it, certainly doesn’t. This effort could be hugely successful yet fall well short of victory. The Chron story that Texpatriate cites quotes one expert that suggests this is about a ten-point race. Again giving two percent to third parties, that’s a 54-44 win for Abbott, or 2.7 million votes to 2.2 million in a five million voter turnout scenario. Assuming Davis doesn’t have a significant number of crossover votes – assuming, therefore, that the rest of the Democratic ticket has about that same number of votes as well – that would mean that BGTX’s efforts were worth a boost of about 400,000 or 500,000 over past elections. That’s a lot and ought to be seen as a big step forward and a solid foundation going into 2016 and 2018, but as noted it would not be nearly enough to pull out a win. Is that a reasonable expectation? Again, I don’t know. I really wish we’d get a little bit of reporting on this and less on what the same assortment of political scientists think about the same poll results on the same samples from the same pollsters.

I’m not going to say that Davis is winning, certainly not if her own poll numbers don’t say so. I don’t think the polls that we have seen are an accurate reflection of the race, but I have no evidence to back that up. I really have no idea what to expect, but I do know this much: The more we work on turning out our voters, especially voters the pollsters do not consider “likely” voters, the more wrong we’ll be able to say the polls were. That only happens if we do that work.

Davis’ internal poll

I had been wondering if Wendy Davis was going to release one of these.

Sen. Wendy Davis

Sen. Wendy Davis

Democratic gubernatorial nominee Wendy Davis is trailing Republican opponent Greg Abbott by single digits for the first time this year in her campaign’s internal polling, according to a copy of it obtained by the Chronicle.

The Davis campaign’s latest survey, which was conducted last week, shows her taking 38 percent of the vote to Abbott’s 46 percent. A Rasmussen poll released last month also found Davis down by 8 percentage points.

Davis has narrowed Abbott’s lead by nearly two-thirds since January, when her campaign’s internal survey showed him up by 23 points. He led her by 11 in May and 12 in August, according to her campaign’s private polling.

The September survey is the first one Davis’ campaign did since launching a series of TV ads attacking Abbott. The first commercial, which started airing Aug. 8, has drawn the most attention, accusing Abbott of “siding with a corporation over a victim of rape” as a state Supreme Court justice.

A document summarizing the Davis campaign’s internal numbers this year shows the January survey is the only one in which Abbott garnered more than half the vote. The document’s headline reads, ”Davis Chipping Away At Abbott Vote As He Falls Below Critical 50% Mark.”

The Davis campaign’s internal poll suggests a much closer race than a private survey done by Abbott’s people during the last week of August. The Abbott campaign’s internal numbers, which were shared with donors earlier this month, had him beating Davis by 18 points. Most public polls this year have found Abbott leading Davis by double digits.

As with that other poll, which we heard about first from the Ken Paxton campaign, there’s no data or poll questions to examine (not even a polling memo in this case), so I can’t offer any kind of objective analysis. The lack of further information about this poll actually makes it sound a bit more credible to me than the one Abbott touted simply because it makes no claims about subsamples that are hard to reconcile with the overall data. It also fits with my own perceptions about the race, and who doesn’t love a little confirmation bias? Beyond that, take it with the amount of salt with which all internal polls should be taken.

You may wonder why Davis would bother to release an internal poll showing her to be down by eight. Countering that Wilson Perkins poll was surely part of the calculus here. More broadly, this is to try to establish a “she’s gaining momentum” narrative, hopefully to replace the “she’s trailing by double digits” narrative that has pervaded the coverage of the campaign. The Rasmussen poll from last month helped with that, but it’s only one result. With the release of the Abbott internal poll and now the release of another YouGov poll that’s more of the same from their static sample, a different perspective was a good idea. (YouGov also shows Sen. John Cornyn leading David Alameel by 20 points; for a good discussion of how to interpret their overall numbers, see Steve Singiser.)

You may also wonder why her campaign would release a poll showing her at 38 percent. Clearly, the key here was Abbott being under 50, at 46 percent, which was a change from their earlier results and a suggestion that the campaign is having an effect. For what it’s worth, in the large majority of polls that include crosstabs that I’ve seen in recent years, the lion’s share of “undecided” voters come from populations that are generally Dem-friendly, specifically African Americans and Latinos. I presume the same thing is going on in this poll, but of course I don’t have the data, so who really knows.

What would truly be of interest here would be to know how the population Davis is sampling differs from the others we have seen, which I strongly suspect bear a close resemblance to the 2010 electorate. Determining what the electorate will look like is a guessing game that all pollsters must engage in, and when there is a clear failure to accurately predict an election result (think Gallup in 2012), the culprit is often a wrong view of who will be voting. This is one area in which an internal poll can be more accurate than a third party poll, since any viable campaign ought to have a fairly clear view of their voter universe. My favorite example of this was the 2009 Mayor’s race here, where two polls of registered voters gave a lead to Peter Brown (who had been doing a lot of TV advertising) but an internal poll of Annise Parker’s that had a tighter (and in my opinion, more appropriate for that kind of race) voter screen had her leading instead. We know how that turned out. Of course, this can easily turn into an exercise in wishful thinking for a candidate that needs some good news. That’s why election forecasters that use poll averages tend to discount internal polls in some way, since they often represent something like a best case scenario. What makes this particular poll interesting, and why it would no doubt be enlightening to know how its demography compares to other polls, is precisely that there is an unprecedented effort by the Davis campaign and Battleground Texas to boost turnout among less frequent voters. Everyone agrees that will have some effect on the election, but no one knows how much. Knowing what kind of population the Davis team sampled would give us some insight into how they think it’s going. Without that, we’re left with waiting to see the final numbers, as we were before.