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Bill White

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.

2014 Day 11 Early Vote totals

But first, a little Republican angst.

EarlyVoting

The Republican Party of Bexar County has issued a series of desperate pleas to conservative voters, saying “the Democrats are beating us on base turnout,” but two of the Texas party’s biggest names converged on San Antonio to get any complacent GOP voters off their couches.

U.S. Sen. John Cornyn and gubernatorial candidate Greg Abbott rallied supporters on Wednesday at Alamo Café, echoing concerns of local GOP leaders that loyalists who usually vote early aren’t all doing so.

“It’s a risk when people feel you’re going to win. They feel ‘why bother?’ That’s why events like this are so important, to encourage people to vote,” Cornyn said.

“We noticed that our base is sagging a bit,” said Bexar County GOP Chairman Robert Stovall.

“For the first time, I hope Republicans are right,” quipped his Democratic counterpart, Manuel Medina.

Both parties are armed with overnight data from early voting that ends Friday. While Republicans are anxious about their turnout numbers, Democrats are buoyed by theirs.

I have no insight into Bexar County, and it’s often difficult to distinguish between truth and bluff in this kind of story, but I like the sound of this anyway. It is credible to me that Bexar could be overperforming thanks to the presence of Leticia Van de Putte, as Tarrant appears to be doing for Wendy Davis and Harris did in 2010 for Bill White. Be that as it may, I think we can take this at face value.

And then there’s this from the Quorum Report, via email from the Davis campaign:

As we’ve said from time to time at Buzz Central, if Texas is a battleground, Harris County is ground zero. Perhaps never before has that seemed so true. Conservative activists, including the local GOP’s new and old leadership, are said to be waging all-out war to try to keep Sen. Wendy Davis’ performance in Harris County from affecting their down ballot candidates. There has been much grumbling in recent weeks from local Republican judicial candidates who feel that not enough has been done to turn out the GOP vote.

Longtime conservative activist and donor Dr. Steve Hotze – a major financial contributor to Sen.Dan Patrick – recently sent out mailers and emails pleading for Christian conservatives to get out the vote.

In offering what he called a “Contract with Texas,” Hotze said “Republicans are in trouble in Harris County. For the first time in over two decades the Democrats have matched the Republicans in Early Ballots by Mail which Republicans historically have led by a 2 to 1 margin.”

Hotze went on to explain that he’s seen polling that shows Attorney General Greg Abbott running behind Sen. Davis by just 1 percent in Harris County. Some reliable sources tell QR they have seen similar polling.

“This adversely affects the down ballot races,” Hotze wrote. “Republican District Attorney Devon Anderson is in a dead heat with Democrat challenger Kim Ogg,” he said.

“The Republican judges are running neck in neck with the liberal Democrat judicial candidates. Obama’s Battleground Texashas registered over 1,000,000 new voters in Texas.”

And with that, here are your Day 11 EV totals, and here are the full 2010 EV totals. In this case, skepticism is warranted. The evidence we have is that Republicans have an eight or nine point lead, which is smaller than what they’re used to for off year elections, but still nothing to sneeze at. Whatever the polls say – the KHOU poll is the only Harris County-specific public data of which I am aware – the actual vote rosters tell us more. The good news, from the Dem perspective, is that we have more base voters left to motivate. The bad news is that there ain’t much time left to do that, and I’m not sure anyone knows why the numbers haven’t been higher. But hey, at least you know that we’re not the only ones that have been sweating.

First steps in Montgomery County

You can’t win a race if you don’t have a candidate.

Michael Hayles

Democrat Michael Hayles says Montgomery County’s poor have to balance some tough choices, and he extends his arms in a rocking motion to make the point.

“Do I get cars fixed or do I buy food for my family?” Hayles said.

Hayles has been working with the poor for years and now hopes to take that experience to Austin. A candidate for the state legislature, Hayles, 58, is the only Democrat running for office in Montgomery County, one of the most conservative regions in the country.

He is also the first candidate to run against a Republican in the county in six years. No Democrat has beaten a Republican in more than two decades.

While Conroe native Will Metcalf said he is confident he can build on the momentum of his May primary victory and maintain the GOP’s winning streak, Hayles hopes to defy experts, history and fundraising barriers by getting more of those in need to vote.

“They’ve been ignored enough by local politicians,” Hayles said.

The 16th state House district, which is just north of The Woodlands and encompasses the cities of Conroe and Montgomery and communities as far east as Cut and Shoot, was represented by Brandon Creighton, who was elected to the state Senate in a special election last August.

Hayles said he plans to meet with community groups in poorer, outlying areas of the district like Dobbin and Deerwood. He tells residents that he’ll look after their interests.

The Democrat said he will focus on enabling those in need to get jobs through education and also use public dollars to invest in the area’s infrastructure. Texas’s budget surplus needs to be invested in education instead of tax breaks, he said.

Running for office at any level and in any geographic entity is difficult, but some races are tougher than others. To put this race into perspective, Bill White scored 22.48% in HD16 in 2010. Farther down the ballot, Hector Uribe, the Democratic candidate for Land Commissioner, scored 15.40%. Let’s just say this is a long-term project and go from there. Still, the first step on this thousand-mile journey is finding good people to take on this thankless task, and have them find and talk to the people that have been left out by the dominant political culture. I’m sure the vast majority of the people he talks to, however many of them he does get to, will not have had that experience before. That’s important, and it’s something that candidates and groups like Battleground Texas and the Texas Organizing Project can build on. I’ll be interested to see how Hayles does in comparison to that benchmark.

Like I said, Step One is to engage the people that live there and work to turn them into voters. This Chron story from a couple of weeks ago gave another peek into that in Montgomery County.

As accordion-heavy music played in the background, Lucia Mendez hunched over an electronic voting machine under a canopy, learning about the displays and controls she would see on Election Day.

Mendez, 19, said she had never voted before. But on Sunday, at a festival put on by the Montgomery County Democratic Party geared toward the region’s growing Latino population, Mendez registered to vote for the first time.

“If you want something to change you’ve got to be part of it,” Mendez said at the Conroe park where the event was held.

In one of the most conservative regions in the country, where whites dominate most political offices, community leaders say that Hispanics such as Mendez have felt perpetually disenfranchised even though they now make up one-fifth of the population.

Both major parties are trying to tap into the potential Latino voter base, with Democrats hoping they can tip the scale in a county that has been red for decades and Republicans looking to strengthen their supremacy.

Mendez said she wouldn’t commit to a party. But for Democrats in Montgomery County, just recruiting Hispanic voters like Mendez, who lives in Willis and feels strongly about immigration issues, to register is a victory.

“We want them all to come out and vote,” said Bruce Barnes, the county’s Democratic Party chairman.

Over the last 15 years, the Hispanic population in the county has nearly tripled, from around 37,000 in 2000 to more than 100,000 people in 2013, according to U.S. Census Bureau estimates. People of Hispanic or Latino origin make up more than 20 percent of the county of 500,000, up from 13 percent in 2000, according to the most recent estimates.

Texas will be Massachusetts by the time Montgomery becomes a swing county, but that doesn’t mean efforts like these aren’t important. Turning Montgomery from a 75% GOP county to a 65% county would be a big step forward. Going back to the 2010 Governor’s race, if Bill White had lost by a 65-35 margin there, he would have netted a bit more than 25,000 extra votes. At that less hopeless level, you can seriously talk about winning municipal races, and build a bit of a bench with an eye towards a State Rep seat or a County Commissioner post. This is what the Republicans were doing all over the state forty and fifty years ago. No time like the present for the Democrats to be doing it as well.

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.

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.

If you read just one more story about Wendy Davis’ campaign

I would recommend you read this one, by Andrea Grimes.

Sen. Wendy Davis

Sen. Wendy Davis

In four months, Texans are guaranteed to elect a new governor for the first time in 14 years, and Davis’ battle stance is appropo: She’s been under attack from naysayers, pundits, and even members of her own party since before she announced her candidacy for Texas governor back in October. Today, she continues to fall well behind her Republican opponent, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, in statewide polls, though the most recent financial reports show that Davis out-raised Abbott in the last fundraising period, and she often boasts about a grassroots base that she says puts Abbott’s small but monied good-ole-boy network to shame.

But politicos on both sides of the aisle have worried that Davis, who took her Fort Worth, Texas, Senate seat in 2008 and held on to it in a hard-fought battle in 2012, has skyrocketed to fame too quickly, taking on the burden of running for statewide office before she, or the State of Texas, is ready. Following her filibuster of an omnibus anti-abortion bill that is expected to shutter all but a handful of abortion providers in Texas, even one of her fellow Democrats situated Davis as being unable to break away from accusations that she’s a one-issue candidate who peaked on a summer night in 2013.

And the national media has expressed a singular fascination with Davis’ footwear, cooing over the pink Mizuno sneakers she wore on the floor of the Texas Senate on June 25, 2013. That day, Davis stood for 13 hours, reading Texans’ abortion stories and unheard testimony from citizens who had, days earlier, been shut out of a committee hearing by a Republican lawmaker who called their concerns about reducing access to reproductive health care “repetitive.”

That bill eventually passed in a second special legislative session, with pro-choice Democrats and Republicans roundly outnumbered by their anti-choice colleagues. A Republican pundit quickly gave Davis the glib and sexist nickname “Abortion Barbie,” and conservatives have worked hard to try and make it stick.

But Davis’ policy bench goes deep, as does her bipartisan record: the Harvard-educated lawyer served on the Fort Worth City Council for nine years, overseeing remarkable economic development initiatives and voting in Republican primaries, even donating to Republican campaigns. When she ran for state senate as a conservative Democrat in 2008, she took the office from a Republican incumbent and later held on to the seat in a costly and combative race against Tea Partier Mark Shelton in 2012. In 2011, Davis filibustered in the state senate for the first time, opposing a $4-billion cut to education funding and forcing Gov. Rick Perry into a special legislative session. In 2013, she shepherded through a Texas version of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act with nigh-unprecedented bipartisan support, only to see it vetoed by Gov. Rick Perry.

If, despite this record, Davis is considered a one-trick pony in pink sneakers, what must we make of her opponent, Greg Abbott? Abbott frequently describes, only half-jokingly, most of his 12 years on the job as attorney general thusly: “I go into the office in the morning, I sue Barack Obama, and then I go home.”

[…]

Despite the fact that both parties are running very different, very big-personality candidates, Davis has almost exclusively borne the brunt of both legitimate and bad-faith criticism, and she has been the primary subject of an outsized share of the 2014 Texas statewide race coverage, perhaps because of her novelty as a viable Democrat—and a woman, at that.

And yet the strengths that make Davis a potential winner are, simultaneously, the very weaknesses that seem to bring her down. It all depends on who you ask.

To the anti-choice talk-radio crowd, Davis continues to be “Abortion Barbie,” too blonde and not nearly matronly enough to garner anything but outright misogynistic derision from Erick Erickson, Rush Limbaugh, and their ilk. To the national media, Davis is the sneaker-wearing—never, never forget the pink sneakers—underdog about whom a steady stream of “Can she or can’t she?” stories must be written until election day. To Texas political wonks, she’s a charismatic leader playing a losing hand as poll after poll shows her trailing Greg Abbott by double digits. To Texas’ long-beleaguered liberal media, she’s Moses without a map.

And Davis is also under tremendous political pressure to appeal to a wide array of moderate, liberal, and progressive voters that an ever-rightward leaning Texas GOP has long left behind.

To those who would or could support her, she variously: talks too much about abortion, doesn’t talk enough about abortion, secretly wants to militarize the border, wants to give all immigrants citizenship starting tomorrow, is an out-of-touch capitol insider, needs more experience in the capitol, should focus on Medicaid expansion, should get tougher on environmental concerns, should spend more time in the Rio Grande Valley, should stop pandering to people in the Rio Grande Valley, needs to recapture that filibuster spirit, should stop relying on the filibuster to carry her through November, and so-on and so-forth, and lo, the list lengthens as November 4 grows closer.

Wendy Davis just can’t seem to do anything right, and nobody on either side of the aisle seems to mind weighing in on the nuances of why, and how, she’s setting herself—and by extension, all Texas Democrats—up to fail this November.

Meanwhile, Greg Abbott—whose Republican party just weeks ago recommended “reparative therapy” for gay people and called for easing foster parents’ ability to use corporal punishment on their wards—is taking tens of thousands of dollars in campaign donations from Koch chemical companies before handing down favorable AG rulings that lessen the corporate behemoth’s public safety obligations, and all folks seem to want to know is what he’s thinking for the window treatments in that big, pretty governor’s mansion at 11th and Lavaca in downtown Austin.

If things look a little off to you, you’re not the only one who thinks so.

Grimes’ story is by far the best one I’ve read about the campaign, and it gets at a number of things I’ve thought about but haven’t been able to express nearly as well as she has done. It’s the first story I’ve seen that does more than just writes about what’s right in front of someone’s nose, or which complains about the campaign not doing the things that the writer wants the campaign to do.

I can’t begin to tell you how frustrated I’ve been at the lack of coverage and analysis on Battleground Texas and the Davis ground game. We’ve never seen anything like it before, and while I get plenty of email from BGTX telling me how awesome it’s all going, it would be nice to get an objective evaluation now and again. Yet one critic of Davis and her campaign after another, from Lisa Falkenberg to Bob Ray Sanders to Paul Burka write as if Davis is acting in a vacuum. (Forrest Wilder has been the exception to this.) Davis and BGTX clearly understand that she can’t win – hell, she can’t really compete – with the same Democratic electorate and turnout levels that we’ve seen since 2002, but no one analyze the polls beyond the headline numbers. How effective a job is BGTX, which wasn’t originally intended to be a force in 2014, doing? What are their targets, realistic and reach, for this year? How are they doing in high-growth, generally red suburban areas like Collin and Williamson, how are they doing in places Democrats have long abandoned like West Texas, and how are they doing in the critical Dem-heavy but turnout-light places in South Texas and the Valley? Do the Team Obama methods translate from Ohio and Florida, where voters are used to being harassed frequently contacted by campaigns, to a (shall we say) more laissez-faire state like Texas? How do the BGTX foot soldiers feel about the bad polls for Davis? So many questions, so little interest in the media in exploring any of them.

Actually, I’ve been saying all along that the Davis/BGTX ground game effort has never been seen before in Texas, but is that really true? The Bill White campaign had a lot going on, and Lord knows the Tony Sanchez campaign spent money like it was going out of style. What had they been doing by this point in the campaign? What is Davis/BGTX doing that they didn’t, and vice versa? I’m sure there’s a great story to be told there, if someone cared to look into it.

I honestly have no idea what to expect from the BGTX effort. I believe they’re having an effect, and I believe that effect will show up on Election Day, but I have no clue how much of an effect. One can certainly criticize the choices the Davis campaign has made in its messaging, and one can certainly believe that emphasizing various themes differently could put Davis in a better position to succeed – Grimes does so with gusto – but there’s no way to know. Nate Silver can simulate a thousand elections based on exogenous factors like the economy and various approval ratings and the accuracy of polls, but I don’t know how to predict the efficacy of a turnout operation, even one with the pedigree of Team Obama and its BGTX founders. They could be wildly successful at boosting base turnout from the recent anemic levels yet still fall well short of victory for Davis and the rest of the statewide Democratic ticket. The post mortem will have plenty of evidence to dissect, but until then we’re all talking out of our nether regions.

Anyway. Go read the whole thing and see what you think.

The bricks of Freedmen’s Town

Surely we can do something about this.

Most in the Fourth Ward community know the lore – that freed slaves and descendants first laid the bricks on the streets 100 years ago.

Now most agree the roads need repairs, but residents and preservationists worry a recently approved city plan to remove the bricks to fix piping underneath will ruin the original streets, a key element of Freedmen’s Town designation as a National Historic District. Some activists also say the process to approve the project violated federal laws intended to preserve national historic districts.

“I’m appalled that the mayor wants to disturb those bricks like that,” resident Terrance Williams said.

More than 100 years ago, Fourth Ward residents paid $1 per brick to have the streets paved in front of their houses, said Catherine Roberts, co-founder of the Rutherford B.H. Yates Museum in Freedmen’s Town, and a major force for the area’s conservation. Not only are the bricks themselves significant, but the patterns they form tell a story. The designs at some intersections can be traced back to African crossroads – which pointed the way to safehouses for the black community – or religious traditions of the Yoruba people of West Africa.

“This is an in-the-ground cultural resource,” Roberts said. “You don’t take them out.”

Their inability to stop construction has made the community feel powerless – a community once considered the heartbeat of black Houston. Doctors, lawyers, dentists and ministers populated the area until the 1920s, when the Third and Fifth wards became more popular.

[…]

After decades of discussion and planning to install new utilities in the neighborhood, City Council approved a $5 million plan this month to repipe portions of Andrews and Wilson streets. Work is scheduled to start by early August, said Mike Cordova, project manager for the city.

Water and sewer pipes will be replaced, and then the salvageable bricks – estimated to be just one-third of those there now – will be cleaned and put back, but likely not in their original designs.

Texas Department of Transportation architect Mario Sanchez said the bricks will be regrouped at intersections rather than in their original locations. “It was determined infeasible to re-install them in their original locations, specifically because there would be a lack of continuity based on the number of salvageable bricks,” Sanchez wrote in the email to the Houston Chronicle.

That’s heartbreaking news to residents and historians, who believed that years ago they had reached a solution on upgrading the Freedmen’s Town streets. They pleaded with the city to tunnel underneath the bricks instead of moving them, and in 2007 former Mayor Bill White reached an agreement with U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee to do just that.

In a letter sent to the Chronicle from Jackson Lee to White, the congresswoman discusses the agreed-upon plan: using a combination of trenching and tunneling to put the water and sewer lines beneath the sidewalks instead of under the bricks, leaving them undisturbed.

City officials now say the streets are too narrow for tunneling, and construction costs could quadruple.

“It just wasn’t a practical way to move forward,” said council member Ellen Cohen, whose district includes Freedmen’s Town.

It always comes down to money, doesn’t it? There’s a lot more in the story about the historic preservation process and whether it’s being followed correctly, and you should read the whole thing. What it comes down to is that these bricks and these streets are a unique and very important piece of culture and history in a neighborhood that has lost so much of that culture and history to the demands of modern times. We really need to find a way to improve these streets without losing or damaging what they’re all about.

On defining success

It depends on what your goals are.

Suppose you were a Texas Democrat and a realist.

You want your candidates to win in November and to break the spirit-killing string of losses that started after the statewide elections in 1994.

But you have been scratching for reasons that this year will be different, from the two women at the top of the Democratic ticket to the Battleground Texas organizing efforts to the current Republican tilt to the right that — to Democrats, anyway — seems out of step with mainstream voters.

But the realist within is thinking about Nov. 5, and how to keep the embers going on the day after an election that — unless there is an upset — will mark another set of Republican victories.

Short of winning a statewide election, what would constitute good news for Texas Democrats in November?

Jeremy Bird, a founder of the Battleground Texas effort to build a Democratic grassroots organization in the state, has his eyes on volunteers, energized activists and the sorts of activity that could expand through 2016 and 2018. His group started a little over a year ago with talk of a six-year plan to make Democrats competitive in Texas. The somewhat unexpected rise of state Sens. Wendy Davis and Leticia Van de Putte as political candidates could accelerate that effort, even if neither takes office. His measure of a win, short of a victory: “Better than Bill White.”

White, a former Houston mayor, was the Democratic candidate for governor in 2010. He received 42.3 percent of the vote — better than any Democratic candidate for governor since Ann Richards’ loss in 1994, when she received 45.9 percent.

“Closing the margin is important; getting back to the Ann Richards numbers in 1994,” said Richard Murray, a political science professor at the University of Houston. “There’s not much opportunity for pickups in the Legislature, but closing the margin would help set the table for 2016.”

Glenn Smith, who managed part of Richards’ first campaign for governor in 1990, is not a fan of this kind of thinking.

“It’s my extremely strong opinion that you play every contest to win,” said Smith, who now runs the Progress Texas PAC, which supports Democratic candidates and causes. “You set everything on winning. There is nothing else. If you start even mentally thinking that we’re okay at 46, then you might end up at 42. You can’t get in that mind-set. It’s true in sports, in every competitive walk of life — you have to set a course to win. You can’t begin cutting the goal to something short of winning, or your plans will suck.”

I’ll settle this: They’re all right.

Look, there’s no question that winning is always the goal and that losing is failure. There are no consolation prizes, no moral victories, and no partial credit. Greg Abbott will govern the same way whether he wins by one vote or one million votes, just as Rick Perry did when we were all calling him “Governor 39%”. So will Dan Patrick, and so will the rest of them. Another shutout means another four years of the same old shit we’ve had since George Bush was first elected.

That doesn’t mean all losses are created equal, however. Democrats haven’t just lost every statewide election since 1996, we’ve lost them badly. Here are the top five statewide Democrats by percentage of the vote in the Rick Perry era:

Year Candidate Office Pct ===================================== 2002 Sharp Lt Gov 46.03 2002 Mirabal Sup Ct 45.90 2008 Houston Sup Ct 45.88 2008 Strawn CCA 45.53 2006 Moody Sup Ct 44.88

It’s about changing the perception almost as much as it is about winning. Winning obviously does that splendidly, and it comes with a heaping helping of other benefits, but after all this losing, coming close will mean something, too. Going from “Democrats last won a statewide election in 1994” to “Democrats came closer to winning statewide than they had in any election since 1998” matters. It will make recruiting and fundraising a lot easier, and not just for the star candidate or two at the top but for candidates up and down the ballot. It virtually guarantees that Hillary Clinton contests the state in 2016. It puts Ted Cruz squarely in the crosshairs for 2018.

As such, I respectfully disagree with Jeremy Bird. Doing better than Bill White isn’t progress. We need to do better than John Sharp. I’ve been reluctant to say stuff like this out loud – it’s not my place to set expectations – but the question was going to come up sooner or later. It’s not just about vote percentage, either, but also about turnout, since that’s what Battleground Texas’ mission is. I’ve talked at length about turnout and how Democratic levels of turnout have been flat in the last three off-year elections. I can’t say offhand what a minimally-acceptable level of improvement in that looks like to me, but I feel confident saying that if we’re achieving Sharp levels of vote percent, we’re doing fine on turnout.

Let’s also acknowledge that the original mission of Battleground Texas was to make Texas competitive in future Presidential elections, and that when they first showed up Wendy Davis was just another State Senator and we were all (okay, I was all) doing fantasy candidate recruitment for Governor. Davis’ arrival on the scene and BGTx’s integration with her campaign changed their focus, but they were never supposed to be about 2014. The whole point was that unlike traditional campaign machines, BGTx would stick around and keep working for the next election and the one after that. Obviously, having serious candidates that have generated real excitement at the top of the ticket has jumpstarted BGTx’s efforts, but it’s reasonable to expect that BGTx has their own metrics and their own timeline.

So yeah, they’re all right. And just because I’ve drawn a line somewhere doesn’t obligate anyone to recognize or respect it. We all agree that winning >>> losing, but beyond that it’s all open to interpretation.

Of course some people will split their votes

It’s just a matter of how many of them do so, and if the races in question are close enough for it to matter.

Sen. Leticia Van de Putte

Sen. Leticia Van de Putte

Democrats are hoping the Republicans will eventually make some of the mistakes Democrats themselves made back when they were on top and the GOP was trying to break down the doors of power. They ran candidates — particularly at the national level — who were too liberal for conservative Texas Democrats to stomach. They developed a split between conservatives and liberals that made it possible for Republicans to peel away the conservatives and form the beginnings of what is now a solid Republican majority.

The notion behind the current Van de Putte proposition is that — to Democrats — Patrick is so extreme that even some Republicans will rebel and vote for the Democrat. In a debate with Patrick this year, San Antonio Mayor Julián Castro said the Houston Republican would be the Democrats’ “meal ticket” in November.

The differences between the two top candidates (there are also a Libertarian, a Green and an independent in the race) are stark: gender, ethnicity, party, ideology, roots. She is likely to attack his positions on immigration, health care, abortion, equal pay and education. He is likely to attack her positions on some of those same things, characterizing her as a liberal who wants to expand government and poisoning his darts with the unpopularity of the Democratic president.

To be the only Democratic statewide winner in November, Van de Putte would need to make sure Patrick doesn’t perform as well as Greg Abbott. And that requires one to imagine the voter who will vote for Abbott and then turn and vote for Van de Putte — who will vote against Wendy Davis for governor and against Patrick for lieutenant governor. Republicans are betting there won’t be many of those. Democrats are hoping that women and minorities will have an allergic reaction to his rhetoric and positions, creating an opportunity for their candidate.

It happened before, but this was a different state when voters elected George W. Bush, a Republican, and Bob Bullock, a Democrat, to the top two positions on the ballot. It nearly happened again four years later, when Bush won re-election against Garry Mauro by 37 percentage points and Republican Rick Perry beat Democrat John Sharp by less than 2 points in the race for lieutenant governor.

It’s true you have to go back to 1994 to find an example of a party split at the top of state government, but you don’t have to go back nearly that far to find a significant split in how people voted for those two offices. Just in 2010, more than 300,000 people voted for Bill White and David Dewhurst. That always gets overlooked because the races were not close in 2010, making White’s effort little more than a footnote, but the point is simply that people – many people – can and will split their vote in the right set of circumstances.

We also saw plenty of examples of this in 2012, though not at the statewide level. Congressman Pete Gallego, State Rep. Craig Eiland, and *ahem* State Sen. Wendy Davis all won races in districts that voted majority Republican otherwise. In Harris County, some 40,000 people voted for Mitt Romney and Adrian Garcia, while in the other direction another fifteen or twenty thousand voted for Barack Obama and Mike Anderson. In all of these cases, those ticket splitters very much did matter – the first three could not have won without them, while the latter two could have gone either way, as Harris County was basically 50-50 that year. This is why the efforts of Battleground Texas mean so much. Democrats have to get their base vote up, or else it won’t matter how much crossover appeal Leticia Van de Putte – or Wendy Davis, or Sam Houston, or Mike Collier – may have. It’s not either-or, it’s both or nothing.

Why revenue caps suck

I’ve been expecting this.

Mayor Annise Parker

Mayor Annise Parker

Despite a booming economy that is the envy of much of the nation, the city of Houston could face hundreds of layoffs and cuts in service next year as it runs headlong into a revenue cap put in place by voters a decade ago.

Mayor Annise Parker sounded the alarm Thursday as she rolled out her plan for a $5.2 billion overall budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1. Driven by soaring pension costs, contractual raises for employees and the increased cost of servicing the city’s debt, the proposed budget envisions an 8 percent increase in the general fund, which is fed chiefly by property and sales taxes and funds most basic city services.

The spending plan would expand single-stream recycling to all households, add $10 million for pothole and street repairs in addition to what will be spent through the ReBuild Houston program, and provide a $2.6 million increase for the city’s Bureau of Animal Regulation and Care.

The real challenges, Parker and others said, await next year, with the fiscal year 2016 budget and beyond.

The hot economy is, in some sense, to blame, as sprinting increases in property values are expected to run the city smack into the decade-old, voter-approved cap on revenues that would force a cut in the property tax rate, carving millions of dollars from the budget.

Combined with weaknesses that have lurked on the balance sheet for years, primarily soaring pension payments and a spike in servicing the city’s debt over the next four years, Parker said conversations with the council and public on how to address the shortfall must begin now.

“I’ll be very clear: If the cap stays in and there are no other sources of revenue, there will be layoffs,” Parker said. “The Houston economy is going to continue to grow. We have held the line on taxes, and yet, there’s a forced tax rollback just when there’s more and more demand for services. The options are raise revenue, cut spending, both, or go to the voters in 2015 and amend the charter.”

The cap holds city property tax revenues to the combined rates of inflation and population increases.

If voters reject any changes – such as raising the cap for public safety spending, as former Mayor Bill White did – Parker said cuts could be nearly as drastic as when 776 workers were let go during the recession in 2010.

You can see the expenditure summary here and the Mayor’s press release here. I’ve been fearing this problem for some time now. Back in 2010, when Mayor Parker was grappling with the giant budget shortfall that resulted from the depressed economy, her team put out a graphic “balance the budget” tool that allowed you to decide how to apportion the shortfall. It did have an option built in to raise revenues, but as the tool was constructed you could only fill in part of the hole by raising taxes or whatever. The reason for that is the revenue cap, passed in 2004, that limits annual increases in property tax revenue and water and sewer rates to the combined increases of population and inflation for Houston or 4.5 percent, whichever is lower. Are you experiencing bad times and need more revenue to avoid cutting staff and programs? Too bad. Are you in good times and would like to invest in infrastructure or pay down long-term debt with the bundles of extra property tax revenue rolling in? Too bad, you have to cut the tax rate. If that forces cuts elsewhere because costs increased faster than the artificial limit you imposed on revenue growth, too bad. Is this a great idea or what?

City Finance Department Director Kelly Dowe said he will order departments to seek efficiencies, but that will not bridge the gap; nor will fee increases. The city cannot fix its pensions or the revenue cap by itself, he added, leaving only cuts to services or extending debt payments to a future’s mayor’s term, which Parker won’t do.

Just such a debt bubble, created by past refinancings, is coming due over the next four years. General obligation debt payments will jump from $297 million this fiscal year to $355 million by fiscal 2018 before falling.

White’s 2006 maneuver to increase the original 2004 revenue cap by $90 million for public safety spending simply “delayed the day of reckoning,” Dowe said.

“Here we are, public safety costs have gone up $90 million over the 2006 to 2014 time frame,” he said. “It’s going to be up to everyone to decide whether what seemed like a good idea in 2004 is really a good idea in 2014.”

Yeah, well, some of us thought this was a lousy idea back in 2004. The projection of what may be to come in 2015 was entirely predictable in 2004. We’re likely to get sidetracked from here into another squabble over the firefighters’ pension fund. I don’t have the patience to adjudicate this again, I just care about dealing with that stupid revenue cap. I’m glad to see Mayor Parker bring it up, and I hope she does turn her attention to it one we pass the NDO and get past the Uber/Lyft battle.

Why isn’t Ken Paxton releasing his tax returns?

This DMN story is actually about how Sen. Ken Paxton, currently in a runoff for the GOP nomination for Attorney General after leading the field in March, has done pretty well for himself as a lawyer since his initial election to the Legislature, but I kind of got hung up on the bit about his tax returns.

Sen. Ken Paxton

Ken Paxton was a small-town lawyer with no other business interests or sources of income before he was elected to the Legislature.

But since he joined the House in 2003, Paxton — now a Republican McKinney state senator running for attorney general — has started or become part of 28 business ventures, state records show.

They range from a cellphone tower company to an outfit that puts cameras in police cars. And his companies frequently trade in real estate.

Paxton, like other members of the Legislature, has voted on measures that could affect his personal holdings. State ethics law requires only that lawmakers avoid a direct conflict that affects their business. Many vote on measures affecting their broad industries.

Paxton said he’s become more active in trying to make money — not because he was a lawmaker, but because his family finally had the resources to invest.

“As many young professionals with children find, it’s their late 30s or early 40s before they are able to start meaningful savings for their retirement,” said Paxton spokesman Anthony Holm. “The Paxtons were this age in 2002 and were advised by one of their retirement counselors to begin one or two investments each year to allow them to responsibly plan for long-term financial security.”

Records show Paxton has a penchant for joining deals with other elected officials, usually friends in the Legislature or on the Collin County political scene. Those business opportunities with other lawmakers have had varying results. At least one went bust, costing Paxton and others more than $2 million.

Paxton has declined to say how much his net worth has grown since he joined the Legislature, and he’s refused to release copies of his federal tax returns. The state requires officeholders to list only broad ranges that their income and investments fall in, so it’s difficult to say how extensive Paxton’s business holdings are.

Wait a minute. Didn’t we spend almost the entire 2010 campaign debating whether or not Bill White needed to release every tax return he’d ever filed in his life and not just the ones he’d filed as Houston Mayor? Given Paxton’s disclosure issues and his susceptibility to getting fleeced by “Christian” con artists, you’d think he’d want to put his tax returns out there to head off questions like the ones being raised in this very story. Unless of course his tax returns would raise even more questions about his behavior, in which case the real question is why hasn’t Dan Branch made more of a fuss about this? To get a fuller idea of just how ethically compromised Paxton is, you should read Erica Greider’s devastating overview of his career. Here’s how she sums it up:

In running for attorney general, however, Paxton has continued to tout himself as a reformer. His campaign website lists “Protecting Taxpayers” as a priority issues, and elaborates: “The Attorney General plays a lead role in protecting taxpayers through investigating waste, fraud, and abuse, by reviewing and approving local bond packages, and through reviewing large state contracts.”

That would be nice. Unfortunately, there’s no reason to think Paxton would be well placed to do so if he wins. Looking over his record, he’s either surprisingly uninformed about what the state’s laws are, or surprisingly unconcerned about following them himself.

Go read the whole thing to see how she arrived at that conclusion. For an otherwise nondescript legislator who had people calling on Branch to clear the field for him after the March results were in, he’s sure got some issues.

On a side note, can someone please clarify for me what the unwritten rules are for statewide candidates and their tax returns? Sen. Leticia Van de Putte has released hers, while her fellow Senator and prospective opponent in the Lite Gov race, Dan Patrick is being criticized for not releasing his. My thought is that every statewide candidate ought to at least release a couple of years’ worth, for some value of “a couple of years”. If Democratic AG candidate Sam Houston hasn’t released a few of his tax returns I’d recommend he do so, and if he has or if he does I’d recommend he start bashing Ken Paxton about not releasing his. There’s clearly some material to work with here. BOR has more.

PPP: Abbott 51, Davis 37

Another discouraging poll from PPP.

Sen. Wendy Davis

Sen. Wendy Davis

In the Governor’s race Greg Abbott’s at 51% to 37% for Wendy Davis. Those numbers are largely unchanged from our last poll of the state in early November when Abbott had a 50/35 advantage. Davis had a 39/29 favorability rating right after her famous filibuster last June, but since then voters in the state have mostly moved toward having negative opinions about her and now she’s at a 33/47 spread. Davis’ name recognition is actually 12 points higher than Abbott’s, but his reviews break down favorably with 40% having a positive view of him to 27% with a negative one.

One thing that may be working to Abbott’s benefit is that for the first time ever in PPP’s Texas polling Rick Perry has a positive approval rating, with 48% of voters approving of him to 44% who disapprove. Perry’s net approval has improved 18 points from where it was 2 years ago at this time in the wake of his failed Presidential bid, when only 39% of voters gave him good marks with 53% disapproving.

There’s been some thought that Democratic prospects might be better in the race for Lieutenant Governor but Leticia Van de Putte actually trails by slightly more than Davis, regardless of who her Republican opponent ends up being. Dan Patrick leads her by 16 points at 51/35 and incumbent David Dewhurst leads her by 18 points at 50/32. Even with a divisive Republican nomination fight between Patrick and Dewhurst there doesn’t appear to be much risk of the party failing to unify before the fall- they lead 83/9 and 82/5 respectively with GOP voters in the general election.

Although it hasn’t really been on anyone’s radar screen the likely US Senate match up between John Cornyn and David Alameel is actually just about as competitive as the state races. Cornyn leads the contest 49/32. Cornyn is not particularly popular, sporting a 31/40 approval rating. That’s largely because Republican voters are pretty tepid toward him- a 46/27 spread- he’s lucky that he got Steve Stockman instead of a more serious challenger in the GOP primary last month.
We also looked at the race for Land Commissioner and it looks like the Bushes should be back in statewide office in Texas- George P. Bush leads Democratic opponent John Cook 50/32.

Last November, PPP had Abbott up 50-35, so this represents little change since then. You can see the full poll memo here. There are two things I want to note here, the first of which was captured by Michael Li on Facebook, which is that there are a lot more undecided voters among Hispanic and African-American voters than there are among Anglo voters, which suggests this poll is underestimating Davis’ true level of support. Another way of looking at this is to compare this poll with the PPP polls from June 2010, which had Bill White tied with Rick Perry at 43-43, and from October 2010, which had White losing 53-44, not far off from the final result. I’ll throw in the November result as well. I’m going to highlight the results by race and by partisan ID:

Candidate Anglo Hispanic Af-Am Dem Rep Ind ========================================================= Perry 6/10 55 21 7 10 74 36 White 6/10 35 55 70 76 15 42 Undecided 10 24 23 14 11 22 Perry 10/10 65 38 11 11 88 44 White 10/10 34 55 85 87 11 50 Undecided 1 7 4 3 1 6 Abbott 11/13 60 43 12 18 81 44 Davis 11/13 28 38 62 65 6 44 Undecided 12 19 26 17 14 13 Abbott 4/14 65 33 11 14 84 40 Davis 4/14 27 43 72 74 8 40 Undecided 8 24 17 12 8 20

By these results, Davis has a fair amount of room to grow among her own voters, and she has already done so to some extent from November. Other Dems had basically the same breakdowns as Davis, so the diagnosis I’d give is “it’s too early for a lot of folks to be thinking about this”. I don’t want to read too much into the variations among small subsamples, but I think it’s reasonable to say that a sizable majority of the undecided voters are those that would lean towards her. So just as the June 2010 poll underestimated Rick Perry’s support, based on the Anglo and Republican numbers, I suggest this poll underestimates Davis’ true level.

Of course, she would need more than that to make up this gap, which is where point #2 comes in. Point #2 is, of course, turnout. As we’ve discussed ad infinitum, Republican turnout has varied wildly over the past three off-year elections, while Dem turnout has been consistently and depressingly flat. This year, Battleground Texas is in operation, doing the sort of grassroots GOTV work that we haven’t seen for Dems in forever and which the Republicans are doing their best to unskew. Turnout models matter a lot for this kind of election, and this year especially they’re anybody’s guess. We won’t know how well BGTX has done until the votes are counted, and for something like this it’s pure speculation to assign it a value. I’ll say this much – they could add 500,000 base Democratic votes to the bottom line, which would be about a 30% increase in base turnout and one hell of an impressive achievement, but it would still fall below Republican base turnout even for a low tide year like 2006. They could do better than that, and the candidates like Davis and Van de Putte can work to pick off voters from their opponents, but BGTX could also easily fall short of this, and the other side can make their case to our voters, too. We just don’t know. What I do know is there’s still a lot of work to be done, so don’t go flinging yourself out any windows, and keep those gloom and doom predictions to a minimum. BOR and EoW have more.

A grassroots fighting force of extraordinary magnitude

At least, I hope it is.

Sen. Wendy Davis

Sen. Wendy Davis

Addressing hundreds of volunteers on Saturday, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis highlighted her efforts to mobilize Texas voters and once again attacked her Republican opponent, Attorney General Greg Abbott, for being what she called a political “insider.”

Davis also talked gender equality in the workplace — which she’s made a centerpiece of her campaign — and reaffirmed her stance on making pre-K accessible to Texas children.

“The real priority of Texas is to make sure our kids, every child, gets an opportunity to be a part of 21st century education,” she said.

The crowd at Davis’ event on Saturday was made up of the campaign’s neighborhood team leaders — the top layer of her grassroots campaign. Polls show Abbott is leading Davis, who faces a steep uphill climb to win in a state that hasn’t seen a Democrat elected governor in decades.

The statewide volunteers had traveled to Austin Community College for an all-day summit on how to mobilize voters. The event was preparation for next Saturday, when Davis’ campaign officially kicks off its door-to-door canvassing. Davis campaign spokeswoman Rebecca Acuña said volunteers would head out in their own neighborhoods to provide a “local emphasis.”

“You’ve recruited an army the likes of which Texas has never seen,” Davis said to a boisterous crowd, many of whom she identified in her speech as being public school teachers.

The Davis campaign says it currently has 14,225 volunteers, and that the number is climbing. It has the sizeable support of Battleground Texas, a PAC founded by former Obama campaign field director Jeremy Bird and devoted to optimizing the blue vote in Texas by targeting eligible minority voters who are not registered.

This all sounds fantastic, and as with LVdP, I really want to believe. I want to believe it can and will make a difference this November. But what I need is the answer to some questions:

– How is the Wendy Davis campaign different than the Bill White campaign? White was well-funded and invested a lot in GOTV activities. For all the scorn he’s gotten in some quarters, he did draw hundreds of thousands of votes away from Rick Perry. In a less terrible year for Democrats overall, he could have won. How does Wendy’s campaign compare to his?

– That volunteer figure is awesome, but I’d like some context to it. How many volunteers did BGTX think they’d need for this campaign? How many voters do they think they can reach with this number?

– We all know BGTX is an outgrowth of Team Obama’s legendary organizing in states like Florida and Ohio. How does what BGTX is doing compare to what was done in those states, or any others? What learnings from Florida and Ohio were implemented here? What did they have to completely un-learn and do differently? What did they find here that was brand new to them?

I don’t expect to see these answers in my newspaper anytime soon, of course. Maybe someone will publish a memoir in 2015 or so, in time for the ramp-up to Hillary Clinton’s Presidential campaign, with some of the answers. Even without these answers, I don’t doubt we’re seeing something new, and that it has the potential to be transformative. The one thing I’d caution about is that we’re unlikely to see any effect of this in the polls, at least early on. If the goal is to bring out people that aren’t in the habit of voting in off-year elections, then by definition they’re going to be caught in pollsters’ “likely voter” screens. It will be noticed at some point if there is a real effect, but it may not be till late and it may only be one pollster. None of the public polls really captured the 2010 dynamic, after all. BOR has more.

No love for Dan

Here’s one vote he won’t get.

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

Whether incumbent Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst can make up for a big primary night loss to challenger Dan Patrick in a May runoff may depend on if he can successfully court the supporters of his two former opponents.

But in interviews on Tuesday, neither Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples nor Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson, who earned a combined 30 percent of the vote in the March GOP primary for lieutenant governor, were ready to come out in favor of Dewhurst.

Staples said outright that he had decided not to give a nod in the race.

Patterson said he was still making up his mind about whether to endorse Dewhurst, but forcefully attacked Patrick, saying the Houston state senator would take the state backward as lieutenant governor.

“He will wholly be bad for Texas, bad for the Republican Party,” Patterson said of Patrick. “We have two choices, and I will categorically tell you I’m not voting for Dan Patrick either in the primary or the general election. I’ll vote Libertarian in November if I have to.”

I’ve noted before how Democrats are rooting for Patrick to win the runoff since he is viewed as being more beatable in November. Some people have expressed skepticism of this, partly on the belief that there are no ticket-splitters any more. I get that, but there are plenty of such people left in Texas. We saw a great example of it in 2010. Bill White received over 387,000 more votes than Democratic Lt. Governor candidate Linda Chavez-Thompson, while Rick Perry collected over 311,000 fewer votes than David Dewhurst. That’s nearly a 700,000 vote swing towards White. People often don’t realize how big the swing was towards White because the Republican tidal wave of 2010 was too big for it to matter, but in a more normal year, 700,000 votes is more than enough to make a difference.

Consider this scenario: Turnout in November is 4.9 million voters – a bit less than 2010, but more than any other off year. The average statewide Republican wins with a 57-43 margin, which I think we can agree is healthy enough to invite plenty of post-electoral scoffing at Battleground Texas and any thought of a blue state in the foreseeable future. Well, in this scenario a Bill White-sized swing is just about what it would take to tip an election, since the average vote tally would be 2.8 million to 2.1 million. If there’s any Republican candidate capable of inspiring that kind of disloyalty among his fellow Republicans, it’s Dan Patrick.

Maybe you think my scenario is too optimistic, maybe you think Leticia Van de Putte won’t have the resources to compete the way White did (you know you have the power to help with that, right?), or maybe you have some other reason to be skeptical. I’m just saying we’ve seen the kind of crossover voting needed to make a VdP win happen in very recent memory, so don’t say it can’t happen because it already has.

Comparing Davis and White

In 2010, Bill White received 517,487 votes in the Democratic primary, for 76.0% of the vote. Wendy Davis just received 432,065 votes, for 79.1% of the total but 85,422 fewer votes than White. As is always the case, the change was not distributed uniformly. Davis picked up more votes than White in some counties, and lost votes against his total in others. Here are the top 20 counties for net vote increase by Davis:

County Davis Davis% White White% D-W =================================================== TARRANT 38,560 94.02% 19,857 85.53% 18,703 DALLAS 59,649 92.43% 43,430 80.37% 16,219 TRAVIS 43,414 95.75% 34,426 90.17% 8,988 COLLIN 9,030 95.65% 5,023 82.75% 4,007 BEXAR 35,578 85.39% 32,126 76.25% 3,452 DENTON 6,757 95.45% 3,968 85.54% 2,789 VAL VERDE 2,899 51.87% 1,638 59.28% 1,261 LUBBOCK 3,191 81.30% 2,283 53.62% 908 ELLIS 1,897 91.55% 1,389 86.01% 508 WILLIAMSON 6,849 95.44% 6,383 89.98% 466 GREGG 1,744 89.30% 1,344 78.60% 400 ROBERTSON 1,195 74.73% 806 78.25% 389 MAVERICK 2,067 54.67% 1,714 31.33% 353 ROCKWALL 912 94.21% 590 82.06% 322 DIMMIT 1,060 48.47% 810 49.69% 250 COMAL 1,516 92.10% 1,369 87.98% 147 JEFF DAVIS 268 65.37% 137 74.86% 131 ECTOR 907 68.71% 780 59.05% 127 WILBARGER 351 69.09% 237 83.16% 114 PARKER 1,273 93.33% 1,163 88.85% 110

While Davis had a higher percentage of the vote than White in 15 of these 20 counties, the main driver of her gains was higher turnout in the given counties. In particular, there was higher turnout in her home county of Tarrant, which you’d hope would be the case, with contested primaries in SD10 and CD33 also helping. As discussed before, busy county elections in Bexar, Dallas, and Travis helped push those totals up. For those who have been freaking out about the South Texas results, I would like to point out the significant increases in Collin and Denton counties, neither of which had even a single contested local race on the Democratic Party ballot. Not only was Democratic turnout up in these counties from 2010 (6,770 to 9,441 votes in Collin, 4,639 to 7,079 in Denton), it was down in the Republican primary (56,934 to 44,621 in Collin, 42,261 to 37,657 in Denton). Of course there were still a lot more R votes in these counties than D votes, but the goal isn’t to win them in November it’s to cut into the margin. Maybe this is worthy of a fraction of the attention paid to Wendy Davis’ percentages in South Texas.

That’s as good a segue to the counties in which she lost votes compared to White as any. There were only a handful of gainers for her beyond those 20 above. Most of the ones in which she lost votes were small amounts, largely due to the overall turnout decline. Here are the bottom 20 for Davis, the counties in which she lost the most votes from White’s 2010 totals:

County Davis Davis% White White% W-D =================================================== LAMAR 522 87.44% 1,743 87.24% 1,221 MATAGORDA 975 74.37% 2,234 83.83% 1,259 ZAPATA 535 34.92% 1,803 56.40% 1,268 LIBERTY 501 88.99% 2,030 88.84% 1,529 HARDIN 423 87.58% 1,953 78.03% 1,530 NUECES 5,411 70.38% 6,954 65.66% 1,543 CASS 514 79.57% 2,170 82.32% 1,656 MONTGOMERY 2,345 93.80% 4,056 90.43% 1,711 HAYS 2,954 94.35% 4,733 85.03% 1,779 TRINITY 327 85.83% 2,176 83.31% 1,849 ANGELINA 789 86.99% 2,768 88.15% 1,979 BRAZORIA 2,601 91.62% 4,683 90.44% 2,082 ORANGE 1,141 85.40% 3,562 81.81% 2,421 BOWIE 260 86.67% 3,349 79.44% 3,089 JEFFERSON 9,322 87.75% 12,600 75.92% 3,278 GALVESTON 3,969 91.71% 7,398 89.55% 3,429 HIDALGO 16,994 47.34% 21,353 60.04% 4,359 WEBB 10,446 44.18% 15,732 56.82% 5,286 FORT BEND 7,745 92.97% 13,272 90.59% 5,527 HARRIS 47,372 92.17% 89,378 90.02% 42,006

Harris County accounts for almost one half of her decline all by itself, not surprising given that turnout overall in Harris was down by about half. Note that Davis did better in vote percentage in Harris, as was the case in the big counties where she gained. White had to campaign for his primary win, and he did what he needed to in terms of driving turnout in his own backyard. Fort Bend, Galveston, Montgomery, Liberty, Brazoria, even Angelina Counties would be part of that same effect. Jefferson and Orange are less Democratic and less populated than they were in 2010. Hays County had no contested local primaries; I can’t tell what else may have gone on in 2010 because their crappy county elections page has no past election results on it at this time, but according to the Secretary of State page, then-Rep. Patrick Rose had a primary challenger in 2010, so that probably helped drive some turnout. As for Webb and Hidlago, you already know the story there. Note as I said before that White didn’t exactly kill it in those counties, and overall turnout was the same in 2014 in Hidalgo as it was in 2010; it was down from 27K to 23K in Webb.

Anyway. You can make of these numbers what you will. I just like to have them all in front of me whenever possible.

Davis and South Texas

I have three things to say about this.

Sen. Wendy Davis

Sen. Wendy Davis

Democrats are banking on the Hispanic vote as a key part of their strategy for finding a way back into state office, but Sen. Wendy Davis lost several heavily Latino South Texas counties to a little-known rival on her way to securing the Democratic nod for governor.

Republicans fighting for the Hispanic vote were quick to crow over Davis’ second-place showing to Ray Madrigal of Corpus Christi in select counties in and near the Rio Grande Valley.

Democrats, meanwhile, stressed that Davis got more than four times as many total votes in those counties as Attorney General Greg Abbott, the GOP nominee, even though he did better than his primary rivals. She also bested Madrigal in one of the larger Valley counties, Cameron.

Davis and other Democrats said voters will see a sharp distinction that will work to their favor in the November general election.

[…]

Experts differed on how much the primary election results should worry Democrats.

In five South Texas counties taken together, Davis did worse overall than Democrat Bill White, the former Houston mayor, did in a larger primary field in 2010, Rice University political scientist Mark P. Jones said.

White, whose opponents included foes with Hispanic surnames, received 58 percent of the vote in the five border counties – Cameron, Hidalgo, Starr, Webb and Zapata – in the 2010 Democratic primary. Davis got 47 percent in those five counties Tuesday, coming in ahead of Madrigal in Cameron and behind him in the rest.

“Davis was facing a candidate who did nothing more than pay his filing fee, for all intents and purposes,” Jones said. White’s foes included two with Hispanic surnames and big-spending hair-care magnate Farouk Shami.

Still, Davis got nearly 38,000 total votes in those five counties, while lower GOP turnout meant Abbott got less than 8,900 altogether – with zero votes recorded in Starr and Zapata counties on the secretary of state’s website.

“I don’t think Abbott can claim he did especially well in South Texas,” Jones said. “It’s more that for Wendy Davis to mount anything approaching a competitive campaign in November, she needs voters in the Valley to turn out in higher-than-normal numbers and to vote for her. What these results show is she has quite a bit of work to still do in South Texas.”

University of Texas-Pan American political scientist Jerry Polinard did not see a big problem in the results for Davis, suggesting Madrigal’s surname was part of it: “He certainly didn’t spend money to get the vote out.”

Polinard suggested the results probably would move Davis and her surrogates “to spend a lot of time in South Texas try to generate that vote.”

1. When I saw the headline I got all prepared to do a bunch of number crunching, but the story hits the high points of what I was going to say. I’ll add that while Bill White did better overall in these counties, he didn’t do all that well, generally getting in the 50-60% range, and in a couple of counties like Maverick he did worse than Davis (31% for White, 55% for Davis). As for Abbott, in many South Texas and Rio Grande Valley counties overall turnout in the GOP primary declined from 2010; Hidalgo was the main exception. So it’s not like he has anything to brag about.

2. It should also be noted that White, who unlike Davis was in a competitive primary against an opponent that was spending millions of dollars, spent a lot of money campaigning for the primary. His eight day report from 2010 shows he spent $2.7 million. Davis, who has been focused on Greg Abbott and November pretty much since Day One, wasn’t spending money on GOTV activities. Add up her Senate account, her Governor account, and her Victory Committee account, and it’s less than $1 million. Throw in Battleground Texas, and it’s a bit more than $1.2 million, still less than half of what White spent. He needed to focus on the March race and she didn’t. It’s not that complicated.

3. As Campos notes, Latino voters do exist elsewhere in Texas. We don’t have precinct or State Rep district data yet, so I can’t do that level of analysis, but I will note that in the big urban counties where a lot of Latinos live – Harris (Davis got 92%), Dallas (92%), Bexar (85%), and Tarrant (94%) – she did pretty well. El Paso (69%) was on the lower end, but still a solid majority. Obviously, no vote or voter should be taken for granted, and I’m sure she and her team will do a ton of work in South Texas and the Valley, but that work is for November. I don’t think March has any lessons for us that we haven’t already learned. See also this Trib story and Texpatriate.

What the Trib’s pollsters miss about their own polls

Having published their poll results, Jim Henson goes back and analyzes their gubernatorial poll, pronouncing it all a big success.

Sen. Wendy Davis

Sen. Wendy Davis

The partisan responses to the poll results have been similarly predictable. The Republican chorus is singing I-told-you-so, chalking up Davis’ position to the impact of the media pack reporting of her biographical fudges. The Democratic peanut gallery has pointed to the fact that the poll was in the field before Ted Nugent did a double live gonzo on Abbott’s thus far business-as-usual campaign.

The partisan responses are simultaneously more or less plausible, but in both cases frequently overstated – not a shocking state of affairs since we are, after all, in the middle of an election year. But these latest results reflect factors that are much more deeply rooted than the low-hanging fruit making headlines and feeding campaign emails: Abbot’s 11-point pre-Nugent advantage emerged from the relatively static underlying pattern of partisan identification in the state and the dynamics of candidate name recognition ­– both of which still add up to a significant disadvantage for Democrats.

None of which is to say that Davis’ campaign has collapsed, as some critics, both friendly and hostile, have suggested. These new numbers are less a sign of the decay of the Davis candidacy than a reversion toward the mean ­– that is, a return to the expected steady state. Davis’ 6-point deficit in the October 2013 UT/TT poll reflected the final dance of her very public coming out party as the excitement that propelled her into the race in the first place receded into the realities of day-to-day campaigning. At the time, Davis was in a unique position for a Texas Democrat, known by a greater share of the electorate than her Republican counterpart.

Davis now finds herself trailing by 11 points, but this current state reflects the underlying partisan composition of the electorate – not some major, event-driven shift in sentiment.

Maybe I’m the only person fixating on this, but as I said before, the problem with comparing the two polls is that in the first one they asked about three candidates – Davis, Abbott, and Libertarian Kathie Glass, who drew five percent – but in the second one they only asked about two. It seems likely to me that Glass would have drawn a few points away from Abbott, but even if you think the effect would have been more or less evenly distributed, the fact remains that Davis and Abbott likely would have had different numbers in a two-person matchup than they did in the three-person race that was polled. I say that makes the two polls not directly comparable, and I fail to understand why in two different articles so far neither Henson nor Daron Shaw has even mentioned this difference, if only to dismiss it as the useless obsession of some punk blogger. It’s a small thing, but I really don’t think I’m asking for too much for them to acknowledge the difference.

That may be a small thing, but this isn’t:

While Davis needs to both mobilize large groups of Democratic voters in an off-year election and persuade no small number of Republicans to defect, the task is becoming harder by the day. Among key groups that Davis might hope to court, Abbott looks stronger – at least so far. On the trial ballot, Abbott leads Davis 42 percent to 40 percent among suburban women;among Hispanics, favorable attitudes toward Abbott have increased from 21 percent in June 2013 to 30 percent in October to 39 percent in our most recent poll. Add to this that most of the Texas electorate, especially in non-presidential years, tends to be white — where Abbott leads Davis 57 percent to 32 percent — and Davis’ challenge only grows.

Maybe you looked at that 57-32 lead Abbott holds with Anglo voters in this poll and said “Huh, that’s a pretty big lead” and didn’t give it another thought. Or maybe you were curious enough to wonder how that might compare to other recent poll results in Texas, since putting a number in context always makes it more useful than not putting it in context. If only there were date from previous polls to which that could be compared.

Well, of course, such data does exist, as Jim Henson well knows since some of that data is his own. See those Texas poll results there on my sidebar? Let’s click through a few of the recent ones to see what they tell us about Anglo voter preferences in our fair state in the last election.

YouGov, Oct 31 – Nov 3: Romney 70, Obama 25

Texas Lyceum, Oct 2012 (page 422): Romney 67, Obama 28

UT/TT, Oct 2012 (page 112): Romney 67, Obama 24

In other words, according three different polls, one of which was Jim Henson’s own UT/Texas Trib poll, Mitt Romney was leading President Obama by a range of 39 to 45 points among Anglo voters, which is considerably more than Greg Abbott’s relatively puny 25-point lead with them over Wendy Davis. In fact, if you substitute the 57-32 numbers they found in favor of Abbott for the 67-24 numbers they had for Romney and recalculate the raw totals based on that, Romney’s lead drops from 14 points (53.88 to 39.75) to three points (47.38 to 44.5). And Henson wants us to believe this represents a “growing challenge” to Wendy Davis? Henson didn’t just bury the lede in his story, he first strangled it with a lamp cord, then covered up the grave with loose vegetation to throw off the searchers.

Well, sure, you say, but everybody knows that the makeup of the 2012 electorate was less Anglo than the electorate in a non-Presidential year like 2010 or 2014 would be. I’d agree with that, but guess what? We have 2010 poll data to look at, too, including a result from – you guessed it – Jim Henson:

Texas Lyceum, Oct 2010: Abbott 66, Radnofsky 20

UT/TT, Oct 2010 (page 62): Perry 60, White 30; (page 73): Abbott 63, Radnofsky 24

For some bizarre reason, the Lyceum poll has no breakdown by race of the 2010 gubernatorial election. They have it for other races, but not Perry versus White. I’m sure that’s an inadvertent omission in the publication of the crosstabs, but go figure anyway. Once you get past that, the first thing you might notice, if you compare the crosstabs from 2010 to the crosstabs from 2012 for the UT/TT poll is that the racial makeup of each sample is identical, with roughly 65% of the total being Anglo. Henson and Shaw then take the raw totals backstage and do their proprietary statistical mumbo-jumbo on them to produce the result they then write about. That’s the basis (via PDiddie) of RG Ratcliffe’s complaint about Trib polls. But putting that aside, Henson’s own polling shows that Abbott went from a 39-point lead among Anglo voters in 2010 against Barbara Radnofsky to a 25-point lead among Anglo voters in 2014 against Wendy Davis. The drop is smaller in the Governor’s race poll, where Bill White trailed Rick Perry by 30, but that’s still a five point improvement for Wendy Davis. Why isn’t this precipitous drop in support among Anglo voters for Republicans the story? What am I missing here?

By the way, if you do the same math for the Abbott-Radnofsky numbers that I did for the Romney-Obama numbers, Abbott winds up better off – he still leads BAR by a 50.3 to 39.7 mark, which is pretty close to the lead Henson reports Abbott having over Davis, though down quite a bit from the 20-point lead they actually showed him with in 2010. The difference here is due to Abbott being in a near-tie among Hispanic voters with BAR; Rick Perry had the same result against Bill White in that poll. While Henson says Abbott’s favorability numbers among Hispanic voters are trending up he doesn’t say anything about the horserace numbers among Hispanic voters. For reasons I don’t understand, the Trib doesn’t include the crosstabs of their own polls when they report on them. You have to go to Henson and Shaw’s other home, the Texas Politics Project, to find them. Turns out Henson does show Abbott leading Davis 40-36 among Hispanic voters, a result that ought to be even bigger news than the topline but which does even warrant a by-the-way. That isn’t a fluke, either – David Dewhurst leads Leticia Van de Putte 33-31 among Hispanic voters, though poor Dan Patrick trails her by a 35-27 margin. Nobody’s really claiming Hispanic voters went nearly 50-50 for Republicans in 2010, or that they’re set to do the same thing or be even more favorable to them this year. Henson and Shaw certainly aren’t, or surely they would have said so by now. This is an artifact of their very small sample size – 130 Hispanic voters total, for a margin of error of 8.6% – and their odd construct, which is why it attracts so much criticism. Whatever mumbo-jumbo they’re doing behind the scenes, they must be doing a lot of it.

I get that Henson and Shaw are making their best guess about what the electorate will look like in November, just as every pollster ultimately does. They expect that the electorate will tend to favor Greg Abbott, and by God that’s what their results show. But this poll, with its bizarre but completely unmentioned crosstabs, is national news, as is that highly questionable Democratic primary poll. If the goal was to get people talking about this race – especially if the goal was to get people talking to Henson and Shaw about their perception of this race – then this has been a big success. If the goal was to help us understand what’s actually happening in this race, then I’d say there’s still work to be done. But don’t worry, I’m sure their next poll will clear up any lingering questions.

The UT/TT poll’s track record in past Democratic primaries

The one result in that UT/TT poll from Monday that has people freaking out is the one that shows nutball LaRouchie Kesha Rogers leading the Senate race with 35%, followed by David Alameel with 27%. I expressed my skepticism of that result at the time, because among other things I have my doubts that their sample is truly representative of the Democratic primary electorate, but I thought it might be worthwhile to take a look at the Trib’s previous efforts at polling Democratic primaries and see how they’ve done in the past. There are two elections to study. First, let’s go back to 2010 when all of the statewide offices were up for grabs. Democrats had three contested primaries that the Trib polled: Governor, Lt. Governor, and Ag Commissioner. Here are the results.

In the Democratic primary race, former Houston Mayor Bill White has a huge lead over his next closest challenger, businessman Farouk Shami, pulling 50 percent to Shami’s 11 percent. Five other candidates are in the running for the Democratic nomination; the survey found that only 9 percent of those polled prefer someone other than the two frontrunners.

Undecided voters are still significant in both gubernatorial primaries. On the Republican side, 16 percent said they hadn’t made up their minds. Pressed for a preference, 51 percent chose Perry, 34 percent chose Hutchison, and 15 percent chose Medina — an indication that Perry could win without a runoff if he can attract those voters into his camp. Among Democratic voters, 30 percent were undecided, and of those, 48 percent, when pressed, said they lean toward White. With White already at 50 percent, that means Shami would have to strip votes away from him in order to force a runoff or to claim a win.

[…]

Democratic primary voters have a couple of other statewide races to decide. In the contest for lieutenant governor — the winner will face Republican incumbent David Dewhurst in November — labor leader Linda Chavez-Thompson took 18 percent of those polled, former Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle got 16 percent, and restaurateur Marc Katz had 3 percent. Five percent of voters said they wanted “somebody else,” and a whopping 58 percent remain undecided on the eve of early voting, which begins on Tuesday. Kinky Friedman and Hank Gilbert — two refugees from the governor’s race now running for agriculture commissioner — are locked in a tight race, 32 percent to 27 percent. While Friedman’s ahead, the difference is within the poll’s margin of error. And, as with the Lite Guv race, “undecided” is actually leading, at 41 percent. The winner will face incumbent Republican Todd Staples in November.

And here’s the reality:

Governor Alma Aguado 2.83% Felix Alvarado 4.95% Bill Dear 0.96% Clement Glenn 1.44% Star Locke 0.92% Farouk Shami 12.84% Bill White 76.03% Lieutenant Governor Linda C-T 53.13% Ronnie Earle 34.67% Marc Katz 12.18% Commissioner of Agriculture Kinky Friedman 47.69% Hank Gilbert 52.30%

So White did have a big lead on Shami, but it was much bigger than they indicated. Linda Chavez-Thompson was indeed leading Ronnie Earle, but by a significant amount, more than enough to avoid a runoff. And Hank Gilbert defeated Kinky Friedman, despite the UT/TT poll showing Friedman in the lead.

How about the 2012 Senate primary, which is a reasonably decent facsimile of this one, as it’s a large field of mostly unknown candidates? Here’s the poll:

The Democrats, too, could be building to a July finish, probably between former state Rep. Paul Sadler and Sean Hubbard, according to the poll.

Sadler led the Democrats with 29 percent, but was followed closely — and within the poll’s margin of error — by Hubbard. Two other candidates — Addie Dainell Allen and Grady Yarbrough — also registered double-digit support.

And the actual result:

U. S. Senator Addie Allen 22.90% Sean Hubbard 16.08% Paul Sadler 35.13% Grady Yarbrough 25.87%

Sadler did in fact lead the field, but Hubbard came in fourth, well behind eventual second-place finisher Grady Yarbrough, whom the Trib pegged for fourth.

So what conclusions can we draw from this? Mostly that we don’t have enough data to be able to evaluate the Trib’s ability to poll Democratic primaries. To be fair to them, they were quite accurate in the corresponding GOP races. They had Rick Perry winning in 2010, though not quite over 50%, with Debra Medina’s level nailed exactly, and they had David Dewhurst with a lead over Ted Cruz with Tom Leppert in third, but with the Dew falling short of a majority. As such, I’d put some faith in their GOP polling, at least until we see how they actually did. But I would not put much faith in their Dem results. They clearly pushed people to pick someone – anyone! – in the Senate race, they polled before David Alameel dropped a bunch of mail, which they themselves said (but didn’t acknowledge in their writeup) is exactly the sort of thing that could enable someone to win that race, and as I said I just don’t believe they’ve got a representative sample of the Dem primary electorate. I’ll be more than a little shocked if it turns out they got this one right.

One more thing: What if they are right about Rogers leading? Well, as long as she doesn’t crack 50%, I’d suggest we all remain calm. For all its constraints and limitations, the state Democratic Party has managed to get the nominees it has wanted in the last three Senate primaries. Rick Noriega cleared 50% in round one in 2008, and Sadler in 2012 and Barbara Radnofsky in 2006 both won their runoffs – Radnofsky has said that her overtime race against the now apparently dormant Gene Kelly was the best thing that happened to her, as it boosted her fundraising and made people actually pay attention to that race. I feel reasonably confident that if Rogers is in a runoff with anyone, everyone else in the party will fall as loudly and visibly as they can behind her opponent, whoever that winds up being. It’s already happening to a large degree – the TDP, the HCDP, and the Fort Bend Democratic Party have put out messages condemning Rogers and urging Democrats not to vote for her. I’d have preferred to see that happen earlier than this, and I’d much rather it not come to banding together to beat her in a runoff, but I’m not going to fall into a spiral of self-loathing over this one poll result. Do your part to help people make a good decision in this race, and be prepared to support someone other than Kesha in a runoff if it comes to that.

Early voting, one (six day) week in

We have one week completed for early voting, though it was only a six day week thanks to the Presidents Day holiday. Here are the daily totals from the County Clerk. Republicans continue to be the majority of early voters in Harris County, by almost a 3-1 margin. I thought it might be interesting to compare early voting totals so far in the 15 biggest counties from 2010 and 2014. The Secretary of State tracks this information, though they generally don’t update on weekends. As such, the best I can do for now is a comparison of the first four days for each. Here’s 2010, here’s 2014, and here’s how it looks in a table:

County 2010 R 2014 R Diff 2010 D 2014 D Diff =========================================================== Harris 21,067 25,789 4,722 12,358 9,541 -2,817 Dallas 9,326 16,777 7,451 6,140 10,246 4,106 Tarrant 11,491 18,164 6,673 2,689 7,851 5,162 Bexar 10,353 14,575 4,222 8,370 10,476 2,106 Travis 6,140 5,083 -1,057 4,614 7,798 3,384 Collin 7,419 8,593 1,174 726 1,456 730 El Paso 2,938 2,023 - 715 6,844 7,102 258 Denton 4,635 7,768 3,133 508 1,227 719 Fort Bend 4,470 4,967 497 1,179 1,266 87 Hidalgo 984 1,520 536 11,232 13,619 2,387 Montgomery 5,235 9,022 4,787 523 532 9 Williamson 4,810 4,585 - 225 1,056 1,413 357 Nueces 2,344 2,414 70 1,948 1,826 - 118 Galveston 1,838 4,010 2,172 1,607 910 - 697 Cameron 747 839 92 3,300 4,426 1,126 Total 93,797 126,129 32,332 63,094 79,689 16,595

EarlyVoting

Both parties’ turnout are up from 2010, though unsurprisingly the R side is up more. All those contested statewide races, and all the money in them, do have an effect. While there is a contested race for Governor on the D side, it’s not nearly as high profile as it was in 2010. Dems are depending more on local races for their turnout. On that note, whoever had Tarrant as the county with the largest gain in Democratic primary voters so far, please come collect your winnings. Still, it’s good to see turnout up in the places that have hot primaries up and down the county ballot – Dallas, Travis, and Bexar, in particular. The dropoff in Harris County I would largely attribute to the turnout driven in 2010 by the Bill White campaign. We have several contested county races, but nothing of that stature, and only one legislative primary that’s likely to move a significant number of people, that being in SD15. The dropoff in Galveston is probably in part a spillover effect of the lac of Bill White’s campaign, and in part due to Galveston having Democratic countywide incumbents running for re-election in 2010 but not in 2014. The dip in Republican primary turnout so far in Williamson, and the modest growth in Collin, are interesting if the trends continue, but not necessarily suggestive of anything. Surely Dallas County has shown us that there isn’t necessarily a correlation between primary turnout and partisan performance in November. And of course this is only through Day Four. We’ll see how it looks after all the early votes are in.

One other thing that the SOS historic early voting pages can show you is the registered voter totals for each of the top 15 counties. Let me add in the 2006 Day 4 page to show you how these numbers have changed over time.

County 2006 2010 2014 06-14 Diff ======================================================= Dallas 1,168,476 1,129,814 1,170,598 2,122 Travis 544,483 586,882 627,040 82,557 El Paso 367,284 375,128 390,949 23,665 Hidalgo 271,132 290,097 307,426 36,294 Cameron 161,648 171,024 181,802 20,154 Tarrant 882,459 924,682 969,434 86,975 Collin 369,493 413,772 466,533 97,040 Denton 320,307 355,340 388,608 68,301 Montgomery 217,354 243,027 270,019 52,665 Williamson 200,285 230,122 259,878 59,593 Harris 1,880,042 1,889,378 2,006,270 126,228 Bexar 877,484 891,082 915,839 38,355 Fort Bend 257,140 300,777 349,550 92,410 Nueces 193,079 188,165 184,789 -8,290 Galveston 183,805 179,928 185,850 2,045

I separated the top 15 counties into three groups: Strong D, strong R, and in between. Quibble with my choices if you want, it works well enough for me. Note that these are all March numbers; we will see further changes in November. I’m delighted to see such a large jump in Harris County. That number was just barely over 2 million in November 2012, but it was back under 2 million in 2013. It’s also nice to see Dallas County regain all the voters they lost between 2006 and 2010. I don’t have anything to add beyond that. I just wanted to present this data to you as an FYI.

The turnout issue in 2014

Two recent articles of interest, both about the nature of the electorate in non-Presidential years. First, via Ed Kilgore, who has been beating the drum about the volatility of the Democratic base, comes this NYT story about what the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) hopes to do about it as it has to defend numerous seats in tough territory.

The Democrats’ plan to hold onto their narrow Senate majority goes by the name “Bannock Street project.” It runs through 10 states, includes a $60 million investment, and requires more than 4,000 paid staffers. And the effort will need all of that — and perhaps more — to achieve its goal, which is nothing short of changing the character of the electorate in a midterm cycle.

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee is preparing its largest and most data-driven ground game yet, relying on an aggressive combination of voter registration, get out the vote, and persuasion efforts.

They hope to make the 2014 midterm election more closely resemble a presidential election year, when more traditional Democratic constituencies — single women, minorities and young voters — turn out to vote in higher numbers, said Guy Cecil, the committee’s executive director.

[…]

Both voter registration and mobilization efforts are at the center of the Democrats’ new strategy. In Georgia, for example, the committee estimates that there are 572,000 unregistered African-American voters, and that there are more than 600,000 likely supporters of Michelle Nunn, the Democratic Senate candidate there, who voted in 2012 but not in 2010. The goal, then, is to register the African-American voters, and to target the likely Nunn voters to show up to the polls during a midterm election.

But black voters who did not register to vote in 2008 or 2012, amid all of the excitement surrounding the nation’s first black president, could pose a challenge to register in 2014.

The Bannock Street project is specifically focused on ten states — Alaska, Arkansas, Georgia, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, North Carolina, Michigan, Montana, and West Virginia — with plans for senior field operatives and other staff members to be in place by the end of the month.

No, Texas isn’t on their list. This isn’t a surprise, for multiple reasons. One, the Texas Senate race is on no one’s list of races to watch, though that will likely change in the improbable event that Steve Stockman manages to oust incumbent Sen. John Cornyn in the primary. Two, we don’t know who the Democratic nominee is. I’d say David Alameel is the most likely to draw interest from the DSCC if Cornyn gets past Stockman, as he can provide plenty of seed money for his race, but I wouldn’t expect much more than an email or two sent on his behalf by the DSCC. They just have too many other, larger fish to fry.

In addition to all that, there’s already a Democratic-focused and well-financed statewide turnout operation going on, that being of course Battleground Texas. It remains to be seen what effect they can have in Texas, especially in a year they originally weren’t expecting to be competitive statewide. One thing for sure is that there’s plenty of slack in the system for them to work with. Too many Presidential year Democrats don’t come out at other times, and too many potential Democrats don’t come out at all. The Trib takes a closer look at that.

Battleground Texas, started by former Obama operatives who want to turn the state away from its Republican devotions, is trying to register new voters, identify Democrats and turn them out for this year’s elections. They started a year ago and said it would take four to six years to turn Texas their way.

A couple of promising candidates showed up early, putting faces on the effort. The candidacies of Wendy Davis, who is running for governor, and Leticia Van de Putte, who is running for lieutenant governor, bring some focus to the organizing efforts. After all, it is easier to raise a crowd for a candidate or a cause than for the general promotion of civic health. It helps to be about something or somebody.

Up front, the math favors the Republicans. They have been winning statewide elections for 20 years, and it has become sort of a habit. Folk music has had a bigger comeback than Texas Democrats.

The Democratic administration remains remarkably unpopular in Texas, and conservative candidates from the bottom of the ballot to the top are running against either the president, his signature health care program or both. Even if Texas suddenly had equal numbers of voting Republicans and voting Democrats, those Democrats would have the political winds in their face this year.

That last paragraph is a fundamental misunderstanding of the race this year, one that I think is far too prevalent. The first priority of Battleground Texas is to get partisan Democrats who don’t generally vote in non-Presidential years out to the polls this year. That was the secret to the Republican wave of 2010. Having a bunch of increasingly right-wing Republican candidates out there bashing President Obama and saying all kinds of crazy and offensive things about immigration, marriage equality, abortion, Medicaid, and so forth isn’t a headwind for that effort. It’s a motivating factor. If people are angry about these things, that’s awesome. It’s much easier to channel already existing emotions into action than it is to try to get someone to feel something in the first place.

Now I agree that in a straight up turnout battle, Republicans have a clear advantage. But we can’t do anything about their level of turnout. All Dems can do is work to maximize our own numbers. Only by ensuring that piece of the puzzle can Democrats like Wendy Davis and Leticia Van de Putte hope to change the focus to soft Republicans that might be turned off by their candidates’ brand of extremity. This can be done as well, and again I’d call the expected amount of vitriol from the Republican side a potential asset in that. It is possible to peel away some voters – Bill White received between 200,000 and 300,000 crossovers in 2010, running against Rick Perry. In a 2008 turnout context, I believe he would have won. In the absence of that, as was the case in 2010, he didn’t come close. Maximize the base first, everything follows from there. We may well fall short, but accomplishing that much would be a huge step forward, as turnout on the Dem side has basically been flat since 2002. I’ll take a look at that in some more detail tomorrow.

UT/TT poll has Davis trailing Abbott by five

I know today is Election Day 2013, but for better or worse much of the attention lately has been about the 2014 elections. Filing season begins later this week, and we now have a new poll result suggesting that the Governor’s race starts out as a close one.

Attorney General Greg Abbott, the leading candidate for the Republican nomination for Texas governor, holds a single-digit lead over the likely Democratic nominee, state Sen. Wendy Davis of Fort Worth, according to the latest University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll.

In a head-to-head race, Abbott got 40 percent of registered voters to Davis’ 34 percent, with 25 percent of the voters undecided. In a three-way general election, he would get 40 percent, Davis would get 35 percent and Libertarian Kathie Glass would get 5 percent.

“What you’ve got is a race in which, for the first time in a long time, the Democrat is as well-known as the Republican at the outset of the race,” said poll co-director Daron Shaw, a professor of government at the University of Texas at Austin.

“These numbers are not evidence that the underlying fundamentals are changing in Texas,” said Jim Henson, who co-directs the poll and heads the Texas Politics Project at UT-Austin. “We have not seen a big change in party identification, and we don’t see any large-scale shifts in the underlying attitudes that are forming.”

[…]

Davis holds a lead over [Tom] Pauken in a potential head-to-head race, according to the survey, getting 38 percent to his 34 percent, with 28 percent undecided. When Glass was added to that mix, Davis got 36 percent, Pauken 33 percent and Glass 6 percent, with 25 percent undecided.

The poll methodology is here and the summary is here. I believe this is the first venture by UT and the Trib into the Governor’s race. Public Policy Polling will be doing Texas this week, so we’ll have another result to compare this to. PPP had done earlier polls involving both Abbott and Rick Perry against a variety of potential candidates; PPP had Abbott over Davis 48-40 in July, shortly after the famous filibuster, and Abbott over Davis 46-34 in January. We’ll see what they have this time.

A couple of things are clear. One is that unlike previous elections, this one starts out with two candidates that are about as well known as the other. One wonders when Abbott will start dipping into his gazillions of dollars to start blanketing the airwaves with positive messages about himself and negative ones about Davis. For her part, Davis can jump in anytime and start running issue ads herself. She probably doesn’t need as much of an introduction as Abbott does, which is more than a little weird when you think about it. The situation overall is pretty fluid, with Abbott having a few points’ partisan advantage, but not enough of one to feel comfortable.

Obviously, this is a decent result for a lot of reasons, but let me play the wet blanket here for a minute and stomp down on some excessive exuberance.

Do you wanna know when was the last time a Democrat in Texas started within single digits? I don’t know either so it had to be while the earth was cooling.

Actually, the last time a Democrat in Texas was within single digits in the Governor’s race was 2010. PPP had Bill White tied with Rick Perry in June 2010, and trailing 48-42 in February. Rasmussen had Perry over White 49-43 in March, right after the primary, and up 50-40 in January, which was the first poll for that race. Yes, that was a two-digit lead, but still. For many reasons, I don’t believe 2014 will be like 2010, I just want to point out that we have seen encouraging poll results before. Let’s not believe we’ve won anything just yet.

Again, this is a decent result, but it’s just one result and it’s early. We’ll need to keep an eye on the trend, and see if Davis can make gains. In particular, we need to see if she can get past 42 or 43 percent, regardless of what that makes the difference between her and Abbott. I don’t think I’ve seen any Dem top 44% in a poll in the last decade. That will be the test.

There were other races polled as well, mostly Republican primary races.

Davis is the only Democrat in the race right now, but Abbott faces a five-candidate Republican primary. According to the poll, he would win that primary race handily: Half of the Republicans polled said they would vote for Abbott. His opponents — Lisa Fritsch, Tom Pauken, Miriam Martinez and Larry Kilgore — combined for only 8 percent, while 42 percent said they haven’t decided how they would vote in the GOP primary.

[…]

“I’m a little surprised that Pauken is so nowhere,” Shaw said. “I thought he would be the main challenger, and he may well be, but there’s nothing in the data to suggest that.”

I didn’t think much of this, but via PDiddie, I see that Harvey Kronberg did think it was.

The stunner in today’s Texas Tribune poll was not that Wendy Davis is within shouting distance of Greg Abbott in a general election, but that with all his money and name ID among Republican primary voters, he just hits 50%. One wobble and he could be in an unpredictable and volatile runoff where anything could happen.

Honestly, I wouldn’t read that much into it. It’s known Abbott isn’t universally known even among Republicans. But look, he’s at 50%, and his opponents don’t even add up to five. I don’t see him as being in any danger of a runoff, unlike David Dewhurst or Big John Cornyn, who couldn’t crack 40% even without the wingnut David Barton in the race. Cornyn’s been busy campaigning already; I wouldn’t let up if I were him. BOR, Texpatriate, Texas Leftist, and Burka have more.

A tale of two demographics

The Chronicle looks at one group of voters Wendy Davis will need to excel with in order to win.

Sen. Wendy Davis

Sen. Wendy Davis

Getting Democrats – Hispanics, in particular – to the ballot box in record numbers is essential if the party hopes to compete in 2014 against a well-funded and heavily favored GOP machine.

Energizing the sluggish electorate in South Texas, a region flush with Democrats who consistently sit on the sidelines at election time, already has been pegged by party leaders and organizers as a key target.

Democrats are laying the groundwork for one of the party’s most aggressive pushes in South Texas in at least a decade.

“You’re going to see a much higher level of involvement in the region,” said Texas Democratic Party Chair Gilberto Hinojosa, a longtime politician from the area. “We know the vote that comes out of here is going to be a pretty solid Democrat vote. We just need to increase the numbers.”

The votes are there to make a difference.

In Cameron, Hidalgo and Webb counties, there are about 360,000 Latinos who are registered to vote but have cast ballots in one or fewer of the last three general elections, according to internal Democratic voter data.

The Texas Democratic Party predicted that the vast majority – a little more than 330,000 – would have voted for Democratic candidates in 2012, if they had shown up at the polls.

That is an important chunk of the approximately 2.1 million Latinos registered to vote statewide who have cast ballots in one or fewer of the last three general elections.

“South Texas is very important for anyone running statewide,” said Jenn Brown, the executive director of Battleground Texas, the state arm of the national group trying to turn the Lone Star State blue. “As a Democrat, if you can’t get South Texas to turn out, it will be very difficult to win.”

Democrats are working on their ground game in the region, with Battleground Texas having recruited hundreds of volunteers in Cameron, Hidalgo, Nueces and Webb counties.

The Texas Democratic Party recently planted a full-time field organizer in Nueces County, which voted Republican in the 2010 gubernatorial election and again in 2012. The party is planning to hire a field organizer for the Rio Grande Valley.

[…]

While the Valley is viewed as a Democratic stronghold, the key question is how many votes the region can generate. The area has been plagued by some of the lowest voter turnout percentages in the state.

In the 2010 gubernatorial election, for example, only about 23 percent of the more than 500,000 registered voters in the Rio Grande Valley cast a ballot, well below the roughly 37 percent average turnout across the state.

“I don’t think people here know the importance of voting or the power we could have if we got a big turnout,” said south Texas mega-donor Alonzo Cantu, who has been bankrolling efforts to register voters across the Rio Grande Valley. “Our goal is to get it to 65 percent this election.”

According to state data, voter turnout in the Rio Grande Valley jumped to 44 percent during the 2012 presidential election, which tends to drive participation. In Webb County, an additional 20,000 voters also cast ballots in 2012 compared with two years earlier.

We all know the basic outline of this narrative. Democrats need to boost their base turnout, lots of Latinos don’t vote, etc etc etc. Note that there is polling data to suggest that low-propensity Latino voters are more heavily Democratic than Latinos as a whole, so boosting turnout is a clear win, if it can be done. We’ll know in another thirteen months how the experiment turns out.

What I liked about that article was the numbers, which gave some context to what was possible with this particular prong of the Davis strategy. This DMN story about targeting suburban women – which is to say, white women – does have some numbers, but not as many.

Democrats believe, pointing to polls, that white female voters who’ve been in a long-term relationship with Republican candidates are slowly eyeing alternatives as the GOP moves further and further right. They see hope in the emotional tug of a Davis candidacy talking about health care, education, and leaders who disregard their voices.

Certainly, they were the target for Davis’ message as she began her 2014 campaign last week. Davis strategists hope that an emphasis on health care, education and a business-friendly posture will give her an edge. But counting on Republican-leaning women to abandon the low-tax, small-government comfort of their own party is probably wishful wooing, many pollsters and strategists say.

In the last four elections for governor, the Republicans — George W. Bush and Rick Perry — have won the women’s votes by no fewer than 7 percentage points.

While minority female voters are strongly Democratic, they make up about 15 percent of the electorate. White female voters are 33 percent of all voters, and they have gone overwhelmingly Republican in Texas.

Analysis by Stefan Hankin — a Washington-based Democratic strategist who helped in President Barack Obama’s victories — shows that even under the “rosiest scenario” of historically unexpected high percentages of minorities streaming to the polls, Davis would still fall below 49 percent of the vote.

“The numbers show that in Texas, even the most ideal Democratic candidate with the most ideal turnout will still likely fall short of victory,” Hankin wrote for Washington Monthly.

[…]

Texas Democratic strategist [Jason] Stanford said that to win, Davis will need to do much better among white voters altogether — going from the 29 percent that 2010 Democratic nominee Bill White won, to 40 percent.

“My analysis is that the only way to do that is with suburban women, because the suburbs are where all the white people are, and the women are the ones listening to us,” Stanford said.

In 2010, White took five of the state’s largest counties: Harris, Dallas, Bexar, El Paso and Travis. But Rick Perry clobbered him in Collin, Williamson and Denton counties, and other vote-rich suburbs throughout the state, enough to win comfortably overall.

Stanford points to recent polls showing Davis having 35 percent of support among white women, “which would be revolutionary,” he said. Another poll had Davis and Abbott virtually tied among female voters.

I’ve already pointed out the flaw in Hankin’s analysis. As for Stanford, I agree that increasing the Democratic share among Anglo voters would make a huge difference, but if 40% is needed then getting to 35% among white women, whom we all agree will be more open to Davis’ pitch, isn’t going to cut it. Davis will need a majority, or close to it, among Anglo women to be in a position to win. How much slack she has on that will depend in part on how well she and the Dems are doing at turning out Latino voters. Texpatriate has more.

Still pondering the Medina indy possibility

Ross Ramsey ponders the idea.

“I’m doing everything I can to assemble the resources necessary for a viable, credible campaign for comptroller,” she told The Texas Tribune. “If it comes to November and the money still hasn’t come in, I’ll have to pull my team in and say, ‘Okay, are these other offers real, and if they are, is this the path I should move down?’ ”

That could mess things up for the Republican in the governor’s race, whether that turns out to be Attorney General Greg Abbott, the fundraising front-runner, or Tom Pauken, the former state party chairman.

Medina collected 18.6 percent of the vote in that 2010 primary, which Gov. Rick Perry won without a runoff. Kay Bailey Hutchison, then a U.S. senator, got 30.3 percent of the votes. The point there is that at least some Republican voters have shown a willingness to listen to Medina. In fact, she is counting on those supporters now as she tries to attract donors for her 2014 efforts.

It looks like she’ll have to watch the motivations of those donors.

One way to win an election is to change the electorate. That’s not as nefarious as it might sound — banging on doors and getting likely supporters to the polls is a way of doing so. That’s changing the electorate.

Another way is to split the votes among more than two candidates. In primaries, that often forces runoffs. In general elections, third-party candidates can sometimes grab enough votes to change the outcome.

[…]

Maybe her mystery pledges like her politics and want her in charge; or they hope she will divert support from a Republican and improve Wendy Davis’ chances; or they really want Medina out of the way in the comptroller’s race. Whichever.

She could be the most interesting independent in Texas since Ross Perot.

As I said before, I just don’t know how seriously to take this. I don’t know who her mystery benefactors are, but it boggles the mind to think they might believe she could actually win as an indy. Maybe she and her money people are willing to take the chance on helping elect Wendy Davis, because that would be a live possibility, and surely they must realize it.

Look at it this way. Let’s assume there are five million votes cast in the election. That’s a high total, but about what we got in 2010; I am of course presuming the mix of voters would be different this time, but forget about that for a minute. Ten percent of the vote for Medina is 500,000 ballots for her. Add in another 100,000 for Libertarian candidate Kathie Glass – that’s two percent, right about what she got in 2010 – and what that all means is that Wendy Davis would need only 2.2 million votes to win. That is absolutely doable – Bill White got over 2.1 million in 2010 – even before you take into account demography, enthusiasm, Battleground Texas, the alienation of suburban white women from today’s GOP, and so on and so on.

Now, maybe Medina can’t get to ten percent, or maybe she takes more votes from Davis and fewer votes from Abbott than we might think. Maybe the overall vote total is higher. Point is, Medina’s presence would make the win total needed by Davis lower. Forget percentages and focus on vote total. More candidates means fewer votes are needed to win. Debra Medina could do more to help Wendy Davis win than just about anyone else in the state. I hope she and her backers never figure that out.

(Yes, I saw Robert Miller‘s post that implied the Mostyns were Medina’s backers. He has since walked that back. I don’t think there’s much more to be said about that.)

On the matter of money

This story is about the strong desire among Dems for Sen. Wendy Davis to run for Governor, but it touches on a subject that inevitably comes up whenever the subject is running statewide in Texas.

Sen. Wendy Davis

Sen. Wendy Davis

A campaign for governor would cost $30 million to $40 million, said [Matt] Angle. Davis raised $4 million for her last re-election bid, he said. That was before she gained national prominence with her Senate filibuster against tighter state abortion restrictions.

Since then, she’s had appearances and raised money inside and outside Texas. Her latest campaign finance report showed she had raised $933,000 in the last two weeks in June – including more than 15,000 contributions of $250 or less – and had just over $1 million in cash on hand.

She also got some sizable donations, notably $50,000 from Annie’s List, which is dedicated to electing “progressive Democratic women” and launched WeWantWendyDavis.com this week; and $100,000 from Fort Worth oil man Sid Bass.

But she will need a lot more if she seeks the Democratic nomination for governor. Attorney General Greg Abbott, the top contender for the GOP nod to succeed Gov. Rick Perry, reported cash on hand of nearly $21 million. He’s sure to raise much more.

Political scientist Cal Jillson of Southern Methodist University said a credible race could be run for something over $20 million – “the low 20s” – still a big number for a Texas Democrat.

“Texas Democrats over the last 20 years or so have been famous for their short little arms that are good for clapping, but never reach their wallet,” Jillson said.

Just for grins, I went back and took a look at all of Bill White’s finance reports from 2010, since no one questioned his ability to raise money, to see how much he actually did raise over the course of his gubernatorial campaign. Here are the amounts raised from each of his finance reports:

Filing Raised ===================== Jan 2010 6,216,933 Feb 30 day 755,067 Feb 8 day 2,221,666 JUly 2010 7,447,799 Oct 30 day 4,687,096 Oct 8 day 3,698,631 Jan 2011 1,241,875

Note that the January 2011 report includes donations made between the reporting deadline for the 8 day report and Election Day. Add this all up and it comes out to just over $26 million, $26,269,067 to be annoyingly precise. Whatever you thought about the White campaign, they had a full statewide presence and ran plenty of TV ads. I’ve not heard anyone claim they ran on a shoestring. Things are likely a bit more expensive now, but this is a reasonable ballpark. Note that unlike White, Davis has had a huge run of national press leading up to her (presumed) campaign announcement, and would go into this race with much higher name ID than White had; I’ve lost the cite for this, but I could swear I saw a recent poll that suggested she has higher name ID right now than Greg Abbott does. That has a lot of value. Be all that as it may, I am not worried about Davis’ ability to fundraise for this race. If she gets in, she’ll get the resources she’ll need. Jillson has a point, but I don’t believe it will apply in this case.

The people want Wendy to run for Governor

The Democratic people certainly do.

Though speculation is still rampant on state Sen. Wendy Davis’ possible run for governor, some Democratic groups aren’t waiting for her call before pledging their support.

Annie’s List, a political group that supports Democratic female candidates, announced the launch of WeWantWendyDavis.com Tuesday after reserving the domain name earlier this week.

“Besides wanting to show Wendy Davis that she has a broad network of people who want her to run, we wanted to also ask people what they wanted to do to help her,” said executive director Grace Ann Garcia. “We consider this an online recruiting effort on our part.”

The website allows supporters to fill out a form indicating opportunities to support a possible gubernatorial bid, including hosting house parties, volunteering and donating money.

[…]

Battleground Texas, a Democratic campaign to make the heavily Republican state politically competitive, is also ramping up for a possible run, emailing supporters Tuesday with a petition to encourage Davis to run for governor.

“It’s clear that if Texas Democrats want any chance of beating Attorney General Greg Abbott and his multi-million dollar war chest next November, we need somebody strong to take on the challenge. I think Wendy’s just the right woman for the job,” executive director Jenn Brown wrote in the email. “But before she makes a decision, Wendy needs to know that you’re behind her.”

The petition also offers a free “I want Wendy” sticker to signees.

They’re hardly alone – the Lone Star Project, the TDP, BOR – those are just the ones I’ve heard of so far. My Facebook post about her reportedly making up her mind about running has already been shared 15 times, which is a record for me. Is it just me, or does there seem to be a lot more excitement about Wendy Davis’ possible candidacy than there has been about Greg Abbott‘s actual candidacy? I get that that and $1.25 gets you a ride on a Metro bus, and I get that there’s a novelty factor at play here, but still. When was the last time any Democrat got this much buzz for a statewide race? Maybe Ann Richards, but remember, when she ran for Governor in 1990, she was already a statewide officeholder (she was State Treasurer, an office that no longer exists) and she had to survive a nasty primary against then-AG Jim Mattox. Bill White got some decent fanfare in 2010, but he had been campaigning for a Senate special election that never happened, and he was going up against the Perry-KBH primary fight. I can honestly say I’ve never seen anything like this before. Again, it doesn’t mean anything yet, and who knows what things will be like in another six or twelve months, but you could do a lot worse for a campaign launch than this.

UPDATE: Stace is on board, too.

Five years of Discovery Green

Five great years for a great park and an awesome city amenity.

Five years after its opening, more than 1 million people annually come to stretch out on the grassy slope to take in live music and movies with the skyline as a backdrop, to play with Frisbees and soccer balls, to splash in the water fountains. People come to the 12-acre park to ice-skate and walk dogs, to attend festivals and flea markets, to stroll under a canopy of live oaks toward the gardens. Once, they came for balloon rides.

Hotels, office and apartment towers have been shooting up nearby, a good deal in part because of Discovery Green. It’s become the city’s “town square,” said Greg Ortale, president and CEO of the Greater Houston Convention & Visitors Bureau. It’s helped change the city’s image, he and other civic leaders say.

“It corrects the misconception that Houston is mostly concrete and asphalt and acres and acres of nothing to do,” Ortale said.

“Driving from the airport is one impression, and being in Discovery Green is another,” Hagstette said.

About $1 billion in construction or planned construction has or will go up around Discovery Green, “all of it influenced” by the park, said Bob Eury, executive director of the Houston Downtown Management District. About 80 percent of that development is private, he noted. More Discovery Green-influenced projects have not yet been made public, he said.

Eury noted that Hess Tower, overlooking Discovery Green, recently sold for more per square foot than any Houston building.

Marvy Finger, developer of the 37-story One Park Place apartment tower, said he had considered building on the west side of downtown. After discussions on that proposed project fell through, he began eyeing other property. “But I certainly wasn’t going to look at land east of Main!” he said.

He changed his mind after hearing of the Discovery Green plans. One Park Place, the first new residential construction downtown in 30 years, has a 95 percent occupancy, in great part because its residents want to be across from the park, Finger said.

Finger has begun building a two-block-long apartment complex across from Minute Maid Park, and it, too, would not be going up on if not for Discovery Green four blocks away. He credits the park with establishing “a renaissance on the east side of downtown.”

You have to remember that before Discovery Green, there really wasn’t that much east of Main downtown. The Discovery Green site and a lot of the surrounding blocks were just empty concrete lots. Now we have a beautiful and heavily used park, and new downtown residential construction that was built specifically because that park is there. The George R. Brown is much more attractive now as a convention center because this lovely park is right outside its front door, and there’s a lot of related construction set to happen in the coming years. It doesn’t get much better than that.

Mayor Parker kicks off her campaign

It’s the time of the season for Mayor Parker, who has a serious challenger this time, but also a stronger hand to play.

Mayor Annise Parker

Mayor Annise Parker

In her tenure, Parker has given teeth to the city’s historic preservation rules, broken a deadlock with Harris County to help build the Dynamo stadium, gave scandal-ridden Metro new leaders and revised key city codes governing parking and development, the latter of which had languished for six years.

She gave priority in city contracting to local firms, moved to make the troubled city crime lab independent from Houston Police Department, opened a facility to divert drunks from city jails and saw passage of a plan to erase a decades-long backlog of untested rape kits.

Parker oversaw a successful $410 million bond election last fall, and in 2010 welcomed voters’ approval of Rebuild Houston, an ambitious infrastructure renewal program.

Rice University political scientist Mark Jones said all signs favor Parker, whose only fear should be a low turnout that could see a small group swing the results. Jones said Parker lately has been able to focus on her own plans instead of inherited ills, such as replacing the Metro regime, scrambling to defer pension costs and dealing with legal wrangling over an inflexible red-light camera contract after voters banned the cameras in 2010.

“Bill White left her with a lot of messes to clean up. That, combined with a very tight budget as a result of the recession, led to a difficult first two years,” Jones said. “The second term has been much smoother sailing. The voter mood is going to be much more positive as people go to the polls this fall, and there’s going to be less of a tendency to want to cast a protest vote against the mayor than there was in 2011.”

Perhaps easing the incumbent’s road is the mood of the 16-member City Council, which lately has been more amenable than in recent years. A new convention center hotel, in which the city will invest $138 million, a rewrite of the city’s affirmative action policy and a law allowing motorists to be cited for failing to give cyclists and joggers a wide enough berth all passed without even a “tag,” the one-week delay typical on complex, controversial or high-profile topics.

The difference between the Mayor’s first term and the second is night and day. The first term was all about defense, which is to say all about things she had to deal with rather than things she wanted to deal with. That’s what her second term has been all about, and while she got a lot done in each term it’s much easier to build a campaign around offense. I’ve thought all along that she’d be in better shape this time around, and I still think that. A stronger opponent in 2011 and she’d have been in a runoff. She could still have a tough race this year, but at least the wind isn’t in her face.

The bit about Council is worth noting as well. Part of this is good luck on her part. Two of her biggest antagonists, Jolanda Jones and Mike Sullivan, are no longer on Council. The third, CO Bradford, was appointed Vice Mayor Pro Tem and has largely been a team player ever since. Her main thorn in the side is Helena Brown, and it’s hard to say that’s been a bad development for her since it’s a lot easier to look reasonable and accomplished opposite the likes of CM Brown. Basically, not only has the Mayor had the money to restore or enhance city services, the ability to move her own agenda forward, and a Council that has worked with her a lot more than it has worked against her. If she doesn’t feel better about this campaign than the last one, she ought to.

She entered the 2011 election with an approval rating of 47 percent, the lowest of any mayor in decades, narrowly avoiding a runoff despite spending $2.3 million and facing five poorly-funded unknowns. Political observers had said Parker needed a decisive win to prevent a challenge this year, and 50.8 percent of the vote was not it.

Enter Ben Hall, a wealthy lawyer capable of financing his own campaign who served as City Attorney from 1992 to 1994. Hall says city taxes and fees are driving residents to the suburbs. He says Parker lacks vision and wastes time tinkering with smartphone apps and food trucks while Houston misses opportunities for international business growth.

“A mayor must do more than simply balance a budget,” Hall has said. “We need more than just a manager, we need a leader.”

University of Houston political scientist Brandon Rottinghaus said there may be some truth in Hall’s statements, but he said these are not significant enough to ignite anti-incumbent passions, adding that Hall’s message has lacked the specificity voters need to choose him over Parker.

“Motivations for mayoral elections are more about tremendous things that have gone wrong as opposed to more or less a tweak to what’s going right,” Rottinghaus said. “He’s got to make a really compelling case as to why things need to be changed, and as of yet, I’m not sure we’ve seen that.”

Hall has made criticism of Parker’s vision, or lack of it, a main point of his campaign. That’s certainly a valid line of attack, but as I’ve said before, Hall’s own vision isn’t apparent. Rottinghaus makes a good point as well, in that generally speaking when trying to knock off an incumbent, you have to give people a reason to fire that incumbent before you can convince them that you’re a viable alternative. The case to fire the Mayor is harder to make when times are good and things are getting done. Plus, I think people generally like the Mayor. She has her share of opponents to be sure, but it’s not like we’re inundated with anti-Parker chatter. Her biggest challenge is going to be making sure that the people who do like her get out to vote. If I were her, I’d want turnout to exceed 2011’s anemic levels. Complacency is her enemy. Work that ground game and don’t settle for a small voter universe. In the meantime, I’ll be very interested to see what the June campaign finance reports look like, not just for how much each candidate raises but also for who is giving to whom. Parker has always had a broad fundraising base, and she starts out with a fair amount of cash. Hall can write his own check, but having his own broad base and getting support from sources that have given to Parker before would be a strong statement on his part. We’ll see how that goes.

Everybody sues the EPA

The state of Texas and our pollution-loving Attorney General do it because they think the EPA does too much to protect us from harm. Some other groups do it because they think the EPA isn’t doing enough.

Houston Ship Channel, 1973

Houston Ship Channel, 1973

In the suit filed on Thursday, Air Alliance Houston and three other groups accuse the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency of using outdated and inaccurate formulas to estimate levels of air pollution.

The groups say studies show that actual smog-forming emissions can be 132 times greater than EPA estimates, which are based on data provided by the industry. The agency, as a result, does not possess reliable data to protect public health, according to the suit filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.

“The EPA has a history of dragging its feet on this issue,” said Jennifer Duggan, an attorney for the Environmental Integrity Project, a legal group representing Air Alliance Houston and the other organizations in the case. “It has been aware of these inaccuracies for some time.”

[…]

The lawsuit comes five years after the city of Houston raised similar issues with the federal agency, which uses the emissions data to develop pollution controls, establish limits and guide enforcement.

In response, the agency acknowledged flaws in its formulas and promised to make changes.

See here for the background; this was a part of then-Mayor Bill White’s plan to reduce benzene emissions in Houston. You can see a copy of the lawsuit and the notice of intent to file suit that was sent by the plaintiffs to the EPA in 2012 here. I think we can safely assume that Greg Abbott will not be filing an amicus brief for the plaintiffs on this one.

If only it were that easy to get our act together

Outgoing Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood has some blunt words for Houston about light rail.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood likes Houston’s light rail that’s up and running but warns that regional transit officials have squandered opportunities the past decade by not building greater consensus.

“The region needs to get its act together,” LaHood said during a brief question and answer session after an unrelated news conference Wednesday in Houston.

Metropolitan Transit Authority board Chairman Gilbert Garcia conceded a tarnished transit image and political opposition has slowed progress, but the past three years have seen Metro make significant progress.

“It may not go the pace we all want but we’ve gone very far,” he said.

Going further, Garcia said, will take more buy-in from local congressional and statehouse lawmakers.

Though the Main Street line has been a success, and three more lines are under construction, LaHood said the area is coming up short because more hasn’t been done to extend lines to the suburbs where most people live.

He said he spent the morning in Houston talking about projects to extend transit farther from the downtown area. Suburban taxpayers who supported referendums in 2003 and 2012 especially have demonstrated a desire for development, only to have officials shortchange them.

“The fact that these people voted for a referendum and are paying these taxes and have never seen any benefit from it is just not right,” LaHood said.

LaHood, who is stepping down as transportation secretary as soon as a successor is confirmed, said in other cities that have won rail funding, it’s been because everyone from City Hall to Capitol Hill has shown their support for transit funding. In Houston, that hasn’t been the case, and that’s going to hamper getting federal funds.

“If there is not going to be universal agreement then it is not going to happen,” LaHood said.

I certainly agree that as long as we are all rowing in different directions, we’re going to get nowhere, and that’s very much to our detriment. But that’s the reality we live with. Rep. John Culberson is a staunch opponent of the University Line, and has done everything he can to block its construction. While I appreciate Secretary LaHood’s honest assessment, the best thing he could have done to help us all get on the same page would have been to use whatever Republican street cred he had left to have a come-to-Jesus meeting with his former colleague Culberson and tell him to quit being such a jackass. The sad fact is that there is no leverage to be had on Culberson. The voters he answers to agree with him, and if there’s a way for someone else to put pressure on him, I don’t know what it is.

Now to be sure, there’s plenty of responsibility for the excruciatingly slow progress on light rail in Houston that extends beyond Rep. Culberson. Metro itself did a lot of things wrong in the years immediately following the 2003 referendum, including the BRT flipflop, the Buy America fiasco, and just generally being lousy at community engagement and communication. Bill White did a lot of good things as Mayor, but Metro was broken on his watch – it wasn’t until after he’d left office that it became clear just how badly Metro was broken during his tenure – and even if it had been a well-oiled machine, he never spent much time or energy pushing the light rail expansion projects. Commissioners Court, in particular Steve Radack, has been another burdensome obstacle for Metro. Metro is in much better shape now, thanks in large part to the Board that Mayor Parker selected and the tenure of George Greanias as CEO. Radack got what he wanted in the Metro referendum from last year. It would be delightful to get Metro, the city, Commissioners Court, and the entire Congressional delegation all on the same page, but as long as some members of that group are pushing for the opposite of what everyone else wants, I have no idea how to make that happen.

Finally, Secretary LaHood’s comment about suburban taxpayers struck me as a bit odd. For one thing, Metro has spent a ton of money on the park and ride network, which very much serves the suburbs. For another, though I don’t have precinct data from the 2003 referendum in front of me, I’d bet money that the suburban parts of Houston voted against Metro’s 2012 Solutions plan. What he’s talking about sounds a lot like commuter rail, which strictly speaking outside of the US90/Southwest Corridor rail project, which was part of the 2012 Solutions plan and for which work continues, commuter rail is outside Metro’s scope, at least as far as planning and seeking funds go. Still, any viable commuter rail plan will also require everyone to work together in perfect harmony, so in a larger sense it does speak to LaHood’s overall point. Ultimately, we work together or we get nothing done. The message is clear, it’s just a matter of what we’re going to do about it.

Gubernatorial speculation: Mike Villarreal and Bill White

A few days back, BOR had a post about who was on deck for 2014, and the first two candidates they speculated about for Governor were two I had not talked about here before, State Rep. Mike Villarreal and 2010 candidate and former Houston Mayor Bill White. (They also listed State Sen. Kirk Watson, but in the comments it was noted that Watson drew a two-year term, meaning he’d have to choose between running for Governor and running for re-election. Having to make that choice in 2010 was one reason why Watson didn’t run for Governor then, so I doubt things would be different this time around.) That post led Express News columnist Gilbert Garcia to ask Villarreal about it.

Rep. Mike Villarreal

Over his 13 years in the Lege, Villarreal has never made a secret of his hunger for higher office, but he’s been one of many youngish Bexar County Democrats hamstrung by the party’s electoral bottleneck: patiently waiting for a coveted seat to open up or hoping they can wait out the state’s long-expected shift from Republican to Democratic.

In 2009, Villarreal contemplated a run for state comptroller, and he regularly thinks about the governor’s office. He said he was “tickled” by the Burnt Orange Report assessment but harbors questions about whether the timing is right for him. Nonetheless, you get the clear sense that he’s open to the idea.

“It’s hard not to think about it when you believe the guy who currently holds the office isn’t doing a respectable job,” said Villarreal, a smooth, articulate product of Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government.

It’s equally hard to overstate the challenge that will await next year’s Democratic nominee for governor.

The entry fee for any credible, competitive general election run against Perry or Attorney General Greg Abbott, another likely GOP gubernatorial contender, looks to be at least $25 million. It’s a figure requiring a statewide network of deep-pocketed support that would be difficult for Villarreal — or most other Democratic hopefuls — to put together.

Also, next year’s Democratic nominee will need to inspire extremely high turnout levels, particularly among the 1 million Texas minority voters who turned out in 2008 but stayed home for the GOP tsunami of 2010.

Villarreal would be in the tough position of introducing himself to the great majority of Texas voters, who haven’t necessarily followed his aggressive crusades to beef up public education funding or reform the state’s standardized testing system.

A Villarreal gubernatorial battle plan would likely involve a five-year, two-cycle effort. That means accepting a near-sure defeat in 2014, with the thought that he can position himself at the front of the line in 2018, when the state’s growing Latino population theoretically starts to kick in for Democrats.

The fundraising challenge is real and it’s daunting, especially for someone who starts with a low profile as a State Rep – just ask Rick Noriega about that. Villarreal has $111K cash on hand as of January, which isn’t bad for a State Rep but doesn’t even amount to pocket change for a gubernatorial campaign. The one advantage that Villarreal would have over Noriega is that in a state race you’re not limited by federal campaign laws, meaning you can get bigger donations from individuals. But it’s still very hard work to raise the kind of money needed just to introduce yourself to millions of voters around the state, and if you don’t have a clear path to it, it’s damn near impossible. This is one reason why I’ve talked about folks like Henry Cisneros and Cecile Richards, who already have national profiles, and Rodney Ellis and Wendy Davis, who start out in a much stronger position to raise the needed resources. (Julian Castro also fits in there, but he’s ruled himself out for next year.) I think highly of Rep. Villarreal and I have no doubt that he has a ton of potential for bigger things, but it’s hard to see how he could make it work next year. Waiting for a future opportunity has got to be the better strategy for him.

As for Bill White, he’s maintained a very low profile since his 2010 loss to Perry. I’m sure that PPP poll has come to his attention, snd of course there is a Draft Bill White For Governor Facebook page, because why wouldn’t there be? Despite the wipeout of 2010, White drew enough crossover votes from Perry to make it clear that he could have won in a less hostile environment. He’d have more work to do against Greg Abbott, but Lord knows there’s no lack of material to work with, even without all the embarrassing “Oops!” moments. However, all this appears to be an academic exercise:

White ruled himself out of running for statewide office next year, when Perry and U.S. Senator John Cornyn, a Republican, are up for re-election.

That would seem to rule out a repeat candidacy, though I will note that this came from a story in which White was being critical of Perry and his job creation policies. The urge is still there, whether he wants to feed it or not. Be that as it may, I think we need to keep looking.

Battlegound Texas officially launches

You have probably heard by now that Battleground Texas has officially launched.

Spearheaded by organizers of Obama’s re-election campaign in 2012 — when Republican nominee Mitt Romney handily carried the Lone Star State — a new push, called “Battleground Texas,” officially launched Tuesday with the goal of seizing shifting demographics to make the state eventually winnable for a Democratic presidential candidate.

Organizers are not, however, projecting when that might happen. Nor are they saying how much money they will need to raise and spend to give Democrats a fighting chance in Texas, where the party hasn’t won a statewide office since 1994.

“With its size and diversity, Texas ought to be a place where local races are hotly contested and anyone who wants to be president has to compete,” said Jeremy Bird, a senior adviser to Battleground Texas who served as field director of Obama’s re-election bid.

Lynda Tran, a spokeswoman for 270 Strategies, the firm behind Battleground Texas, said the group is registered with the Federal Election Commission and the Texas Ethics Commission.

About 70 percent of Hispanics nationwide voted for Obama over Romney in November. The booming Texas population is being driven by Hispanic growth — minorities accounted for nearly 9 of every 10 new residents in the past decade— and Democratic organizers believe the changing face of the state will boost their chances.

I’m just going to point you to some other coverage of this – the Chron, the Trib, Trail Blazers, Politico, BOR, EoW, Jason Stanford, and via PDiddie, some skepticism. There really isn’t that much for me to say here. If these folks do what they way they want to do, they’ll be doing what should have been done starting 20 years ago and has been done successfully of late in several other states. We just won’t know if it’s real or if it’s just more talk until we’ve had a few more elections.

There’s no question that this will be a long-term project, and everyone involved seems to see it that way. As long as the funding is there for that, it’s all good. But recognizing that we’re in for a long, hard slog doesn’t mean that we can’t have some short term goals, too.

But Perry, for one, isn’t buying that Texas will cease to be a Republican stronghold.

In an interview with the Wall Street Journal last weekend during the National Governors Association meeting in Washington, Perry said the University of Texas would adopt the rival maroon-and-white colors of Texas A&M before the state ever goes blue.

“Democrats are about government getting bigger and bigger and government providing more and more,” Perry told the newspaper. “Texans have never been for that, and Texans never will.”

Never, to paraphrase Prince, is a mighty long time. But I’m here to tell you, there’s something else: The 2014 elections. The stated goal of Battleground Texas is to make Texas a swing state in Presidential elections. I’m totally down with that, but we shouldn’t have to wait till 2016 to see a meaningful progress report. While Democrats made a huge stride in turnout from 2004 to 2008 – they backslid a bit in 2012 but were still a good half million votes ahead of 2004 last year – turnout in non-Presidential years has essentially been flat this past decade. Since 2002, only two Democrats have gotten as many as two million votes in an off-year election: John Sharp in 2002 (2,082,081) and Bill White in 2010 (2,106,395). Everyone else has generally been stuck in the 1.6 million to 1.8 million range. Republicans, outside of Rick Perry in the four-way 2006 gubernatorial race, have never been below 2.1 million since 2002. If Battleground Texas wants to show it’s got some game going into 2016, I’d like for them to have a goal of helping every statewide Democrat get at least two million votes next year, with a stretch goal of 2.5 million at the top of the ticket. That’s still unlikely to be enough to win, though it could happen in a 2006 turnout year for Republicans, but it would be close and it would be a loud announcement that they’re very much headed in the right direction. Hand in hand with that would be goals of generally winning races in counties like Harris, Fort Bend, and Hays, winning legislative seats in Dallas and Williamson, and winning seats on the First and Fourteenth Courts of Appeals. Making some headway in the suburbs and boosting turnout along the Rio Grande would be nice, too.

Am I asking too much? Maybe, but I don’t really think so. I presume that whatever steps Battleground Texas will take will begin well before the 2014 elections, and I’m sure they’d like to at least have some proof of concept before the 2016 season begins. The good thing about an off-year election is that you already know about a lot of the voters you’d like to target. You just have to persuade them to show up. I don’t know if Battleground Texas plans to make public any goals for 2014, and if they do I won’t blame them if they have a more modest set of targets in mind. But if it were up to me, this is where I’d like the starting point to be.

Houston loses air pollution permit lawsuit

Bummer.

Ship Channel crica 1973

The Texas Supreme Court ruled Friday that Houston may not effectively void a state air pollution permit.

The justices agreed with Southern Crushed Concrete that Houston’s 2007 law restricting the location of concrete-crushing facilities violates state statute by nullifying a permit issued by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.

In reversing an appeals court decision, Justice Debra Lehrmann said the state’s Health and Safety Code is clear.

The law “compels us to give effect to the Legislature’s clear intent that a city may not pass an ordinance that effectively moots a Commission decision,” Lehrmann wrote in an opinion for the nine-member court.

City Attorney Dave Feldman said he was not surprised by the ruling because “any time you have a local ordinance that regulates a specific area that is regulated by the state, preemption is an issue that you have to deal with.”

[…]

Southern Crushed Concrete’s facility meets the state’s requirement, but not the city’s. So the company sued, claiming the city did not have the authority to regulate its business.

Houston countered that the state’s permit regulates air pollution, while its ordinance dealt with land use. The Supreme Court, however, disagreed, ruling that reasoning would allow a city to effectively void any TCEQ permit it opposes.

I think there was merit in Houston’s ordinance, but I can see the reasoning behind the Supreme Court ruling. Mostly what this points out is that as usual, the state isn’t doing as much as it could to protect the environment and the health of people who live a little too close to places like the Southern Crushed Concrete facility. I also find it amusing in a way that this ruling that affirmed the state’s supremacy over cities came out around the same time that League City was declaring its supremacy over the federal government. I wonder what the Supreme Court would say about that? Anyway, this story isn’t quite finished yet, since the matter has been referred back to the TCEQ, where Houston can pursue an appeal of its initial permit to Southern Crushed Concrete. Perhaps the city can lobby for a modification to the state law that would allow local ordinances to be taken into account by the TCEQ when reviewing permit requests as well.

PPP polls Texas

I have three things to say about this.

Corndogs make bad news go down easier

Texas voters- even Republicans- have had enough of Rick Perry.

PPP’s newest poll finds that only 31% of voters think Perry should seek reelection next year, compared to 62% who think it’s time for him to step aside. He’s among the most unpopular Governors in the country, with only 41% of voters approving of him to 54% who disapprove.

Perry could face great peril in a primary challenge next year. Only 41% of GOP primary voters want him to be their candidate again, compared to 47% who think it’s time for someone else. And in a head to head match up with Attorney General Greg Abbott, Perry leads by only a 41/38 margin. What makes those numbers particularly worrisome for Perry is that Abbott only has 59% name recognition at this point with primary voters. Among voters who are familiar with Abbott- whether they like him or not- he leads Perry 55/33. That suggests the potential for things to get worse for Perry if Abbott does indeed go forward with a bid.

The Abbott threat to Perry does not represent the typical Tea Party insurgency that has endangered many Republican office holders over the last couple election cycles. GOP voters describing themselves as ‘very conservative’ want Perry to be their candidate again by a 53/33 margin. But moderates (77/15) and voters identifying as just ‘somewhat conservative’ (49/38) are both ready for a change.

If Abbott ends up being the Republican nominee for Governor next year, the party’s 20 year lock on that office in Texas should be pretty safe. We find him up 7-12 points against all the Democrats we tested- 46/39 over 2010 nominee Bill White, 46/36 over San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro, 46/34 over State Senator Wendy Davis, and 47/35 over Houston Mayor Annise Parker. Speaking to the difficulty in breaking through in a state the size of Texas, none of the Democrats are terribly well known- White has 58% name recognition, Castro’s is 53%, Davis’ is 34%, and Parker’s is 33%.

Democrats, however, would have a better than normal chance at winning the Governor’s office if Perry did somehow make it through to be the nominee for another term. We find White actually slightly ahead of him at 47/44. And although Perry leads Castro (47/42), Davis (47/41), and Parker (47/40) the margins are all a good deal narrower than they are for Abbott against the same foes.

The full crosstabs are here, and as always that’s where the real action is. My three points:

1. While a majority of respondents say Perry should not run again, 55% of Republicans polled say he should. That’s the number to look at, and it’s the number Rick Perry will pay attention to. Don’t assume he can’t win another primary.

2. Note that Abbott and Perry both get roughly the same level of support in each featured matchup. In the crosstabs, they each get about the same amount of Republican and Democratic support, with each Democrat getting about the same level of Republican support but slightly softer Democratic support – basically, a few points shift from them to “not sure” against Abbott. I would not make much of that. The difference maker is in Independent/Other support. Every Dem gets at least a plurality of it against Perry, with Bill White getting a majority, but that flips when Abbott is the Republican – he gets a plurality against everyone except White, but White loses five points of Republican support against him. My interpretation of this is that the “Independent/Other” category contains a lot of November Republicans. That suggests to me that the best bet to compete against Abbott, whose numbers are hardly overwhelming, is to tie him as tightly as possible to Perry. There’s no real difference between them on the issues, and he’s been in office forever as well, so this shouldn’t be too hard to do.

3. For all the 2014 candidate speculation so far, I hadn’t given any thought to Bill White. That’s mostly because White hasn’t made any sign of being interested in another shot at the office, as well as the emergence of several alternatives. White did win a lot of Republican votes from Perry in 2010 – I firmly believe that in a 2008 context, White could have won – though how much of that was him and how much of it was Perry is unclear. Still, it’s worth it to ask him about 2014, if only to get his denial on the record so as not to take poll results like this with too much hope.

And from their second day release, another interesting result:

Overall on the issue of guns Texans say they trust the NRA over President Obama by a 47/43 margin.

And despite all of that 49% of Texas voters support an assault weapons ban to just 41% opposed to it. Most Democrats support it, independents favor it by a 53/34 margin, and even among Republicans 23% support it. We’ve found support for the assault weapons ban everywhere we’ve polled it, but it’s particularly striking to see that voters favor it in a pro-gun, anti-Obama state like Texas.

Interesting, no? Ted Cruz recently predicted that the push for an assault weapon ban would hand the Senate to the Republicans next year. Perhaps this is just another issue on which he doesn’t know what he’s talking about.

Anyway. That set of results also showed John Cornyn with roughly the same lead over the aforementioned Democrats as Perry and Abbott have, with no indication that he has much to worry about in a primary. Of course, we know how that can go around here. BOR and Texpatriate have more.