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Chris Bell

The psychological shift

I have three things to say about this.

[Democratic operative Jason] Stanford has a theory about how [Texas Democratic] angst started. He says it began with the 1996 U.S. Senate race in Texas. Democrats were recovering from losing two years earlier and were hoping to stem another round of losses.

As a result, he says, the primary was stacked with impressive candidates running to oust incumbent Republican Sen. Phil Gramm. The field included two incumbent congressmen, a county party chair and a teacher named Victor Morales, who eventually won the nomination.

The race was relatively close, but Morales lost.

“After we lost, that was two losses in a row and Democrats lost hope for generation,” Stanford says.

For years after, he says, it was hard to convince people to run for office as a Democrat in the state.

“We couldn’t get good people to run,” he says. “We would just try to fill the ballot instead of recruiting actually good candidates.”

That’s partially why the last time a Democrat won a statewide election of any kind was back in 1994.

Even though Democrats have still been shut out of statewide races, in the past few years, the party has been able to get at least one thing back: hope.

“The political changes are astronomical in Texas,” says Brandon Rottinghaus, a political science professor at the University of Houston.

[…]

After 2016, Democratic-leaning Texans who had been sitting out elections started to vote again.

“I think of it like a seat with four legs,” Rottinghaus says. “You’ve got white progressives, you’ve got young people, you’ve got people of color, and you’ve got low-income people. That forms the platform for the Democratic Party. And in all of those elements, you’ve got increases in voting.”

In the 2018 election, Texas had higher voter turnout among all those groups. Republicans had been winning statewide races by double-digit margins, but that year a Democratic Senate candidate lost by only 2.6 percentage points.

Rottinghaus says this trend bodes well for Democrats in 2020, but a win is not a sure thing.

“There’s no guarantee Texas will be blue or any statewide office will be won,” he says. “But the pieces are in place to be able to be competitive. And that’s what Democrats are looking for and why a lot of people are running for these positions.”

In the past several weeks, a slew of candidates has announced they want to run against Republican U.S. Sen. John Cornyn next year.

The field is up to nine candidates, including former Congressman Chris Bell, state Sen. Royce West, Houston City Council member Amanda Edwards and former congressional candidate MJ Hegar. Most recently, Cristina Tzintzun Ramirez, a well-known immigrant rights and political activist, said she’s joining the race, too.

“Good candidates are just showing up,” Stanford says. “It’s amazing. This is a huge sea change.”

1. The story calls it a “psychological shift”, and I’ve called it “changing the narrative”, but we both refer to the fact that now everyone believes that the state is competitive for Democrats. The previous belief that basically all of the elections, save for a couple of swing districts, were settled in the primaries, is no longer operative. This isn’t just wild-eyed optimism by Democrats or a scare story being used in fundraising emails by Republicans. Democrats actually did make Texas competitive in 2018, and despite some chest-thumping by Republicans about it all being about Beto, the objective evidence suggests we are in for more of the same this year. And everyone with skin in the game is acting accordingly. That’s how you get five experienced politicians, all of whom come with fundraising promise, lining up to take on John Cornyn.

2. The fundraising bit is important in ways that can’t be overstated. Only two Democrats since the 2002 debacle have raised sufficient money to truly compete statewide, Bill White in 2010 and Wendy Davis in 2014. Beto broke through on this in a big way in 2018, but he was the only one who did. Other statewide candidates, who ran against deeply flawed opponents and who came almost as close as Beto did to win, did not get that kind of support. Would Mike Collier, or Justin Nelson, or Kim Olson have done better if they had had $10 million or more to work with? We’ll never know, but I’m confident that the candidates on the 2022 statewide slate will not have it as tough as they did. And I hear a lot less now about how Texas is just an ATM for Democratic candidates everywhere else.

3. To an extent, the shift began right after the 2016 election, with the swarm of candidates who entered the Congressional races and raised a ton of money in them. That was part of the national wave, of course, so it was in its way a separate thing, but still. I spent all of that cycle talking about how unprecedented much of it was, in particular the fundraising. The point I’m making here is that this shift didn’t begin post-Beto, it’s been going on for two years now. The main difference is that it’s happening at a statewide level, and not just downballot.

Back to the Beto question

As in, should Beto abandon his run for President and come back to Texas to make another run for Senate? The Chron says Yes.

Beto O’Rourke

There are times, it seems, in most presidential campaigns when the facades get stripped away like so many layers of paint. What’s left is a human moment, usually fleeting, and not always flattering. But real — and often more telling than a season of advertisements.

Hillary Clinton tearing up in New Hampshire in the winter of 2008. Ronald Reagan’s humor during a 1984 debate when, asked if he wasn’t too old to serve four more years, he replied that he had no plans to use his opponent’s youth and inexperience against him. Even Walter Mondale laughed with the audience.

Something like that happened last Sunday with O’Rourke, when a news reporter asked O’Rourke whether he felt there was anything President Trump could do to cool the atmosphere of hate toward immigrants.

“Um, what do you think?” O’Rourke responded bluntly. “You know the s*** he’s been saying. He’s been calling Mexican immigrants rapists and criminals. I don’t know. … Like, members of the press — what the f***? It’s these questions that you know the answers to …”

Is that language presidential? Not normally. It certainly isn’t the normal fare for an editorial page in the Sunday paper, either, with or without the asterisks. But it struck us as so unscripted, so unexpected that its offense was somehow washed away.

The Atlantic called it the “art of giving a damn” in a piece last week about anger washing over the Democratic candidates.

[…]

Frankly, it’s made us wish O’Rourke would shift gears, and rather than unpause his presidential campaign, we’d like to see him take a new direction.

So Beto, if you’re listening: Come home. Drop out of the race for president and come back to Texas to run for senator. The chances of winning the race you’re in now are vanishingly small. And Texas needs you.

Nonsequiteuse was already on board this train. I mean, I get it. Beto polls strongly. The other candidates have so far not established themselves yet, though to be fair, neither had Beto at this time in 2017. Beto’s a known quantity, he’s the main reason why the state is now viewed as winnable, he’s got the fundraising chops, and a non-trivial number of people who want to see him come home and try again for the Senate.

And yet, I can’t quite get on board. It’s not lost to me that Beto never talked about running for Senate again this cycle. The fact that MJ Hegar was openly talking about running for Senate in February, when Beto had not announced his intentions – and you’ll note in that story that there was speculation about other potential Dem candidates – says to me that maybe another Senate run was never in his plans. That doesn’t mean he couldn’t be persuaded to switch now, but we’re asking him to change to something he may not have wanted to do in the first place, and by the way he’d have to beat multiple talented candidates who are already in first. All of this, especially the other candidates, always get overlooked by the “please come back, Beto” wishers. Seems like a big thing to ask, if you ask me.

I really think the current situation makes it a lot trickier for Beto to change course. He had the field to himself in 2018, but now he’d have to defeat a large primary field, very likely in a runoff. Not a tragedy as I’ve said before, but it would put a damper on the “champion riding in to save the day” narrative. And not to put too fine a point on it, but a decent portion of the Democratic electorate isn’t going to be all that warm and fuzzy about that white-guy champion barging into a field that contains multiple women and people of color. (You know, like the reaction to Beto and all of those more generic white guys getting into the already-stuffed Presidential race.) Again, I’m not saying Beto isn’t the strongest possible candidate, and I’m not saying he wouldn’t be a big favorite to win that crowded primary. I’m saying it’s not as simple as “Beto changes his mind and swoops in to run against John Cornyn”.

If after all that you’re still pining for Beto, I get it. I always thought a repeat run for Senate was his best move, assuming he wanted to run for something in the first place. But here we are, and while we could possibly still get Beto in that race – in theory, anyway, as he himself continues to give no sign that he’s wavering in his path – we can’t roll the clock back to February, when Beto would have had near-universal support, and no brand name opponents, for that. At the time, I evaluated Beto’s choices as “clear path to the Senate race, with maybe a coin flip’s chance to win” versus “very tough road to the Presidential nomination, with strong chances of winning if he gets there”. That equation is different now. We should be honest about that.

Five for Senate

Cristina Tzintzún Ramirez is in.

Cristina Tzintzún Ramirez

Leading Latina organizer Cristina Tzintzún Ramirez is launching a campaign for U.S. Senate, entering a Democratic primary to oust Republican John Cornyn that has steadily grown throughout the summer.

The daughter of an immigrant mother, co-founder of the Workers Defense Project and founder of the progressive Latino youth group Jolt Texas, Tzintzún Ramirez argues she has the best story, experience and ideas to harness the energy of Texas’ ascendant voters, particularly young people of color. To do so, she will have the help of some of the top organizers from Beto O’Rourke’s 2018 U.S. Senate campaign, a potentially pivotal asset as the crowded field vies to build on O’Rourke’s closer-than-expected loss to GOP U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz.

“I don’t think we have a reflection of those in power that represent the Texas we are today. I think I represent those ideals and the diversity of the state, and I want Texas to be a national leader in solving the major problems that our country faces,” Tzintzún Ramirez said in an interview, citing health care, immigration and climate change as major issues the state should be at the forefront of tackling.

Tzintzún Ramirez made her candidacy official in a video Monday morning.

The longtime organizer joins a primary lineup that is approaching a double-digit tally. Among the better-known contenders are former U.S. Rep. Chris Bell of Houston, Houston City Councilwoman Amanda Edwards, 2018 U.S. House candidate MJ Hegar, state Sen. Royce West of Dallas and Sema Hernandez, who was the runner-up to O’Rourke in the 2018 Senate primary.

Tzintzún Ramirez welcomed a competitive nominating contest as healthy for Democrats, saying the candidates in the Senate race are “all essentially at the same starting place,” unknown to most voters statewide and thus forced to run on the merits of their platforms. Asked how she plans to distinguish herself, she pointed to her forthrightness on the issues and her record of mobilizing the kind of voters often overlooked by politicians.

“I know how to speak to the diversity of this state,” Tzintzún Ramirez said.

We first heard about Tzintzún Ramirez’s potential candidacy a month ago. I hadn’t seen any followups to that so this announcement came a bit out of the blue to me. Tzintzún Ramirez has a great resume and a campaign team built in part from the Beto 2018 crew, so she’s got some advantages. Like everyone else in the field, her main tasks at this point are to raise money and get her name out in front of the voters. I’m very interested to see how she will do.

So is the field set now, modulo any no-names that file for reasons known only to themselves? I suppose that depends on the Beto question, about which I’ll have more to say tomorrow. I’ll say this much: What I want more than anything is a candidate that can beat John Cornyn. There are three basic possibilities at this point. One is that no one can beat Cornyn. The state isn’t ready yet, he’s got enough money and isn’t as widely loathed as Ted Cruz to fend off any adversary, even a favorable climate isn’t enough at this time. A second possibility is that basically anyone can beat him, because the climate is sufficiently favorable and the state is ready and he’s disliked enough. If #1 is true I just want someone who’ll put up a good fight and do nothing to harm the downballot candidates. If #2 is true then ideally I’d want the candidate closest to my own political preferences, but honestly they’ll all be such a huge upgrade that I’m not going to sweat the small stuff.

It’s possibility #3 – that The Right Candidate can beat Cornyn, but only The Right Candidate can do so – that will keep me awake at night. There’s no objective way to evaluate that question, but it’s what we’re going to be arguing about for the next seven to ten months. The candidate that can convince you that they’re the one is the one you should probably vote for in the primary. I’ll leave that to you to ponder for now. The DMN, the Observer, Stace, and Texas Monthly have more.

Emerson’s weird polls

It’s a poll, so we do the thing.

Joe Biden

A new poll has former Vice President Joe Biden leading Beto O’Rourke in the Texas presidential primary and toppling Donald Trump in a head-to-head showdown.

The survey, conducted by Emerson College for The Dallas Morning News, signals that even with two favorite sons in race, Lone Star State voters want a familiar face as their nominee.

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, the 2016 runner-up to Hillary Clinton for the party’s nomination, was third with 16% and the only other Democrat beating Trump in the general election.

The poll also projects a wide-open Democratic primary race for the Senate seat held by longtime incumbent John Cornyn. At 19%, “someone else” is leading the field, a blow to former Army helicopter pilot MJ Hegar, who’s been campaigning for most of the year.

That “someone else” is leading the entire field is an oddity, but reflects the complexity of the primary race and the conundrum felt by many Democrats.

Hegar was the choice of 10% of those polled, followed by state Sen. Royce West at 8%, former U.S. Rep. Chris Bell at 7% and Houston City Council member Amanda Edwards at 5%. A whopping 51% of respondents were unsure.

West, Bell and Edwards are all relatively new to the race.

“I wouldn’t be surprised to see other people jump into the race,” said Spencer Kimball, the Emerson College polling director. “It’s just that wide open.”

The news is not great for Cornyn, the powerful incumbent who’s held the seat since 2003. Only 37% approved of his job performance, while 31% disapproved. The polls found that 33% of Texans were neutral or had no opinion.

For whatever the reason, the story only includes the head-to-head results in a non-embeddable graphic, so I will reproduce it here:


Candidate   Pct   Trump
=======================
Biden       51%     49%
Bernie      51%     49%
O’Rourke    48%     52%
Buttigieg   48%     52%
Warren      48%     52%
Castro      47%     53%

The poll is of 1,033 registered voters, with a 3% margin of error. They use a combination of automated calls to landlines and an online panel, as described here. You can find the crosstabs here, in a downloadable spreadsheet. They really didn’t want to make this easily to summarize, did they? The head-to-head numbers are very similar to the ones from their April poll, and are not far off from the Quinnipiac poll from June; the UT/Trib poll from June didn’t include two-candidate matchups.

I find the Emerson numbers dicey because I just don’t trust polls where the responses add up to one hundred percent. I guarantee you, there are “don’t know” and “someone else” responses in there, but their questions (scroll down past the disclosure stuff) do not allow for those answers. The crosstabs show that everyone surveyed picked someone, but if you have no choice but to give an answer, I don’t know how much I trust that answer. I’m much more comfortable with a poll that allows for “someone else” and “don’t know”. Emerson has a B+ rating from FiveThirtyEight, but I remain skeptical.

I don’t much care for Spencer Kimball’ analysis of the Senate race, either. MJ Hegar has been in the Senate race for ten weeks, not “most of the year”. She did say she was considering a run for Senate in February, but wasn’t raising any money or doing any campaigning until late April. All the other candidates have gotten in more recently. As I’ve noted before, Beto was still polling in the “majority of people don’t know who he is” area right up to the March 2018 primary. It’s going to take time – and money – for the people to know who the candidates are.

Also, too, the field for Senate is highly unlikely to get much bigger. There’s one potential new candidate out there, though nearly a month after that story I haven’t heard much about her. It’s already later than you think in the cycle, and it’s not going to get any easier to start fundraising and traveling the state to meet interest groups and primary voters. And as I’ve noted before, the fields for all of the Congressional races of interest in 2018 were basically set by this time two years ago. Each of the four top tier candidates entered the race only after some period of weeks or months of speculation, expressions of interest, exploration, and so forth. The only non-candidate out there right now with any association to the race is Cristina Tzintzún Ramirez, and she only gets mentioned occasionally. If the primary field isn’t set, it’s close.

Anyway. I’m still waiting for some head-to-head Senate polling. Even if the candidates are basically unknowns at this point, a “Cornyn versus generic Dem” question still has value. Maybe the Trib will give me that in their October poll. In the meantime, enjoy the results we do have, for whatever they are worth.

The crowded Senate primary

It’s all good.

Two days after longtime state Sen. Royce West launched his U.S. Senate campaign here, one of his primary rivals swung through the city with an unequivocal pitch.

“I’m the fighter that it’s gonna take to beat John Cornyn,” MJ Hegar declared at a Dallas County party luncheon, speaking just several feet away from a table that included West’s wife, Carol. “I think that Texas is tired of voting for politicians. They want to vote for one of us.”

The scene illustrated just a couple of the emerging battle lines — experience and geography, for starters — in the suddenly crowded primary that will decide who challenges Texas’ incumbent Republican U.S. senator. West entered the race Monday with an event that showcased the statewide relationships he has built over 26 years in the Texas Senate, as well as his stature in one of the state’s biggest and bluest cities.

Four days earlier, first-term Houston City Councilwoman Amanda Edwards jumped into the primary, emphasizing her youth and representation of Texas’ largest city, embracing the “millennial” label and noting she represents 2.3 million Texans as an at-large council member.

Taken together, the past week has represented a pivotal moment in the primary, extinguishing any remaining hopes that it would be quick and easy while illuminating a slew of initial candidate contrasts. Absent a field-clearing candidate like San Antonio U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro — who considered a run earlier this year but passed — Texas Democrats are now settling in for a wide-open primary that could go to a May runoff, further delaying the party’s ability to fully focus on Cornyn.

West alluded to the “long road” ahead as he launched his bid Monday, calling the primary “healthy for the Democratic Party.” It’s a sentiment that other candidates are echoing, at least publicly, while Republicans are hardly concealing their glee at the possibility of a drawn-out primary that hurts Democrats in the long run.

We’ve been over most of this before, but let’s review some key points:

1. Having a competitive primary among viable candidates is a good thing. It is highly unlikely to end up being hurtful. The Republican primary for Governor in 2010 was nasty. The Republican primary for Senate in 2012 was nasty. The Republican primary for Lt. Governor in 2014 was nasty. The latter two even went to runoffs. None of them had a negative effect on the outcome. Generally speaking, what happens in the primary is forgotten by November.

2. There are going to be a lot of people voting in the 2020 Democratic primary. This means that Hegar, Bell, Edwards, and West are not only going to have to fundraise but also start campaigning seriously right now. This is unequivocally a good thing. Money spent in a primary is an investment.

3. At a meta level, four experienced Democratic politicians think they have a realistic chance to win a statewide election in Texas, and are willing to compete with each other for a chance to do that. The last time you could have said something like that with a straight face was what, 2002? If nothing else, the narrative has changed.

4. As the story notes, the four candidates have a range of views and priorities to debate, and they are seeking to appeal to a variety of constituencies. Again, this is a good thing. The more people who feel like someone is talking to them about what they care about, the better.

For years I’ve heard people gripe (with justification!) about the lack of candidates and choices in statewide Democratic races. That is very much not the case this year. Check out the candidates, pick who you like, and get ready to vote. If that doesn’t excite you, I don’t know what you might be looking for.

Royce West makes it official

He’s in.

Sen. Royce West

State Sen. Royce West made it official Monday: He’s running for U.S. Senate, joining a crowded and unsettled Democratic primary in the race to unseat Republican John Cornyn.

“I’m battle tested,” West told supporters at a campaign launch event. “You’ve seen me in battle, and I’m ready today to announce my candidacy for the United States Senate.”

The Dallas attorney has been viewed as a potential primary contender for some time now, but remained mum publicly on his plans. In June, West met with U.S. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., where he reportedly had a “positive meeting” and signaled that he was likely to throw his hat in the ring. He filed the Federal Election Commission paperwork to formally launch his bid on Friday.

West has served in the Texas Senate since 1993. He was elected to another four-year term in 2018 and will not have to give up his seat to challenge Cornyn. ​​​​​​

The Democrat formally launched his bid a block away from the Democratic Party’s headquarters in Dallas. Supporters — including colleagues, party leaders and elected officials — huddled at the CWA Union Hall to give a nod of support to West’s U.S. Senate launch. During his kickoff speech, West said that, if elected, he would work on immigration reform, curbing the negative effects of climate change, ensuring Americans have “affordable universal healthcare” and promoting fair elections.

He also said that 10 of the 12 Democrats in the Texas Senate encouraged him to “move forward” and run for U.S. Senate. Forty-seven out of the 67 Democrats in the Texas House have done the same, he said.

[…]

West’s announcement comes days after Houston City Councilwoman Amanda Edwards, another Democrat, launched her bid for U.S. Senate. The two enter a crowded primary that includes MJ Hegar, a 2018 U.S. House candidate and retired Air Force helicopter pilot and Chris Bell, a former Houston congressman and 2006 gubernatorial nominee.

A group of Democratic progressive operatives is also working to draft Cristina Tzintzún Ramirez, the founder and executive director of Jolt, a nonprofit she started three years ago to mobilize young Latinos in Texas politics.

“It’s going to be a long road,” West said. Still, he described the process as “healthy for the Democratic Party.”

See here for the background. Cristina Tzintzún Ramirez would need to get in quickly if she’s going to run, otherwise I’d say the field is set. I have no idea how to handicap this race, but I think we can all agree that Royce West will have a pretty decent shot at the nomination. If so, given Amanda Edwards’ entry, whether or not Tzintzún Ramirez enters EMILY’s List is going to have to decide if they’re content to sit it out for now or pick a favorite and get behind Edwards, MJ Hegar, or Tzintzún Ramirez and work to have a female nominee. My guess is they’ll keep their powder dry until a runoff, and even then they may wait and see. It’s a strange year, so who knows. Erica Greider of the Chron thinks Edwards is the candidate to watch. I think I’ll wait and see as well. The Dallas Observer, the DMN, and the Chron have more.

July 2019 campaign finance reports: Congress

Let’s move over to Congress and the Senate, where there are several new candidates, with more on the way. The January roundup is here, which closed out the 2017-18 election cycle, and the April report is here. For comparison, the July 2017 report is here. The FEC summary page is here.

MJ Hegar – Senate
Chris Bell – Senate
Amanda Edwards – Senate
Sema Hernandez – Senate
Adrian Ocegueda – Senate
Michael Cooper – Senate

Lizzie Fletcher – CD07
Colin Allred – CD32

Henry Cuellar – CD28
Jessia Cisneros – CD28

Elisa Cardnell – CD02
Lori Burch – CD03
Stephen Daniel – CD06
Mike Siegel – CD10
Pritesh Gandhi – CD10
Shannon Hutcheson – CD10
Jennie Lou Leeder – CD21
Sri Kulkarni – CD22
Nyanza Moore – CD22
Derrick Reed – CD22
Gina Ortiz Jones – CD23
Liz Wahl – CD23
Rosey Ramos Abuabara – CD23
Jan McDowell – CD24
Kim Olson – CD24
Candace Valenzuela – CD24
Crystal Lee Fletcher – CD24
John Biggan – CD24
Julie Oliver – CD25
Carol Ianuzzi – CD26
Christine Eady Mann – CD31
Murray Holcomb – CD31


Dist  Name             Raised      Spent    Loans    On Hand
============================================================
Sen   Hegar         1,029,038    481,087        0    595,433       
Sen   Bell
Sen   Edwards
Sen   Hernandez
Sen   Ocegueda            638         15      500        623
Sen   Cooper

07    Fletcher      1,149,351    245,963        0    945,455
32    Allred        1,122,389    250,636        0    975,198  

28    Cuellar         722,816    243,234        0  3,024,586
28    Cisneros        147,266     21,799        0    125,466

02    Cardnell         77,407     42,968        0     34,439
03    Burch            46,595     45,690   19,649          0
06    Daniel
10    Siegel          246,978    108,466   30,000    142,003
10    Gandhi          342,539     78,308        0    264,230
10    Hutcheson       324,312     47,984        0    276,327
21    Leeder           10,864      7,202        0      3,657
22    Kulkarni        420,824    103,170        0    345,421
22    Moore            73,705     68,118    5,500      5,586
22    Reed
23    Ortiz Jones     587,527     82,359        0    596,686
23    Wahl              7,399      3,473    1,000      3,926
23    Abuabara
24    McDowell         40,036     31,500        0     21,856
24    Olson           303,218    103,267   24,500    199,950
24    Valenzuela       81,728     51,557        0     30,171
24    Fletcher        105,930      5,370        0    100,560
24    Biggan           24,407     23,422    9,134        984
25    Oliver          121,508     12,966    2,664    108,542
26    Ianuzzi          57,883     26,228   40,886     31,654
31    Mann             42,305     20,648        0     23,094
31    Holcomb          36,225      6,892        0     29,332

This was drafted before Amanda Edwards and Sen. Royce West announced their entries. Edwards now has an FEC link but hasn’t done any reporting yet. She can’t transfer money from her City Council campaign account as noted before, but can refund money to her donors and ask them to redirect it to her Senate campaign. West has $1.4 million in his state campaign account. I’m pretty sure he can use that money for the federal election, which puts him into the top spot in the money race for now. MJ Hegar’s million-dollar haul would be great for another Congressional run, but it’s no great shakes for a statewide contest. She wasn’t in for the whole quarter, though, so let’s see how she does now. Chris Bell was raising some money via an exploratory committee before he made his entry official, but I can’t figure out how to find that data. Sema Hernandez, who has now been a candidate for Senate in two election cycles, still does not have an FEC report filed from either cycle. That’s despite having a a donation link that goes to ActBlue, which provides all required contribution information to candidates every reporting period. For those of you who may wonder why I never bother to mention her when I write about the Senate race, now you know why. I’ll think about taking her candidacy seriously when she does the same.

Freshman Reps. Lizzie Fletcher and Colin Allred are doing what they need to do, though Fletcher may need to step it up further as her opponents are more active so far than Allred’s are. I’m really curious about the primary fight in CD28. Rep. Henry Cuellar clearly knows how to raise money, and he’s already sitting on a big pile, but Jessica Cisneros took in that $147K in only four weeks’ time. I think she’ll have bigger challenges than financial ones, but at least she’ll have the resources to run a real campaign.

Including Wendy Davis in CD21, there are four Congressional candidates who are new or new to me: Derrick Reed, Pearland City Council member, running in CD22; Crystal Fletcher, attorney, in CD24; and Murray Holcomb, surgeon, in CD31. Reed entered in July, so he has no report. Fletcher posted some nice numbers in CD24, in a field with some strong candidates. Holcomb only started raising money on June 12, so that’s not bad at all for less than three weeks. Christine Mann is the experienced candidate in CD31, but keep an eye on Murray Holcomb. It’s very possible that the DCCC or other groups are still recruiting for that race, but it looks like we may have a contender.

Overall, things look pretty good from a Dem perspective. Gina Jones picked right up where she left off in CD23, raising that amount in about half of the allotted time period. Rosey Abuabara may provide a challenge to her, but so far at least the field she faces looks less fierce than it was last year. Sri Kulkarni and Kim Olson are off to roaring starts, with Candace Valenzuela and newcomer Crystal Fletcher doing all right. I don’t know how Nyanza Moore managed to spend nearly all the money she raised, but that’s not a sustainable pace. CD10 is looking a bit like CD07 did in 2018, and that’s with newcomers Pritesh Gandhi and Shannon Hutcheson outdoing holdover Mike Siegel. Julie Oliver and CD25 aren’t on any watch list, but that’s a better haul than she had in any quarter in the last cycle, so good on her. Elisa Cardnell isn’t getting the traction Todd Litton got, but I have hope that she’ll start to take off.

On the flip side, I have no idea what Lorie Burch is doing in CD03. She raised very little and spent most of what she had this period. I hope that’s a temporary situation. I was really wishing for more from Jennie Lou Leeder in CD21. I always wanted Wendy Davis to jump in, but having a strong alternate option, not to mention a reason to start working now, was appealing. We’ll have to wait and see how Stephen Daniel does in CD06, and while Murray Holcomb is off to a nice enough start I’d still like to see someone really break out in CD31. We have the targets, we need to be aiming at all of them.

West sets up Senate campaign committees

This would seem to end the suspense, if there were any suspense remaining.

Sen. Royce West

State Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas, appears to be in for the U.S. Senate race.

He has an announcement planned for Monday in Dallas, but on Friday, paperwork was filed with the Federal Election Commission establishing a “Royce West for U.S. Senate” campaign and declaring him a Democratic candidate for the seat. Moments later, his name showed up as a U.S. Senate candidate on the Democratic fundraising site Act Blue.

West didn’t immediately respond to a message seeking comment. Neither did the campaign’s treasurer, Barbara Radnofksy.

The assistant treasurer is listed as Mike Collier, the 2018 Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor. Collier said he has been discussing the race with West for months and plans to help with economic policy as well as rural and suburban messaging. Collier came within 5 percentage points of GOP Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who presides over the state Senate.

[…]

West has been mostly tight-lipped about the race, but during a Dallas TV appearance Sunday, he offered a potential rationale for running.

“We’ve got to get people who can build bridges to help resolve some of the issues as opposed to continuing to stay in the red corner or the blue corner,” West said. “And so if I decide to do it, that’s gonna be one of the reasons I decide to do it.”

See here, here, and here for the background. That’s not the most compelling rationale to run for federal office in the year of our Lord 2019 if you ask me, but there’s plenty of room in the field for that conversation. As noted in the story, Amanda Edwards stole some of West’s thunder by getting her own announcement in on ahead of West’s. I wonder if this prep work, which could have been done next week, was in part motivated by that. Not that it really matters, I’m just amused by the palace intrigue possibilities.

Anyway, the field now includes MJ Hegar, Chris Bell, Amanda Edwards, Royce West, and three walk-ons, with Cristina Tzintzún Ramirez still in the picture. It’s true that none of them are well-known statewide, but there’s plenty of time to fix that, and the mere existence of a contested primary among people who have all raised money and run sizable campaigns in varying degrees will help. Having a multi-candidate primary isn’t in itself a positive indicator – there were four Senate hopefuls in 2012, and five in 2014 – but the candidates this year are surely a sign of optimism about the possibilities. I’m excited about what will come next.

Amanda Edwards joins the Senate race

And then there were three, with a fourth likely to follow and a fifth out there as a possibility.

CM Amanda Edwards

Houston City Councilwoman Amanda Edwards announced Thursday morning she is running for U.S. Senate, joining an increasingly crowded primary to challenge Republican John Cornyn.

It will be a campaign against several Democratic rivals and, possibly, a three-term incumbent whose reelection war chest tops $9 million. But should Edwards win, she would be the first African American Texan to serve in the U.S. Senate.

“As a woman, as an African American, as a millennial — and in certainly as someone who generally … believes in solutions and not just rhetoric — I think I’m going to be the candidate that can do the job,” she said in an interview with The Texas Tribune, emphasizing the need for a nominee who can persuade voters to vote Democratic but also “galvanize our base.”

Edwards, who had been considering a run since at least March, is finishing her first term as an at-large City Council member after being elected in 2015. She said she does not plan to run for a second term in November but will serve out her term, which ends in December.

Edwards launched her bid with a video, set to drum-line music, that reflected on her family’s middle-class struggles and highlighted a key part of her council tenure — the Hurricane Harvey recovery. Over images of Martin Luther King Jr. and Ann Richards, Edwards appealed to “all of the people who have ever been locked out or told that they can’t wait or to wait their turn because the status quo or establishment was not ready for change.”

[…]

So far, Cornyn’s most serious Democratic challenger has been MJ Hegar, the 2018 U.S. House candidate and retired Air Force helicopter pilot. She launched her bid in late April and raised over $1 million through the second quarter.

Since then, another Democrat, Chris Bell, the former Houston congressman and 2006 gubernatorial nominee, has entered the primary, and some progressive operatives have mobilized to try to draft top Latina organizer Cristina Tzintzún Ramirez into the race.

As the story notes, State Sen. Royce West is set to make an announcement on Monday, which is widely expected to be his own entrance into the race. If Edwards’ announcement, which I at least wasn’t expecting, was intended to steal some of West’s thunder, then kudos to her for doing so. I admit I’d been skeptical about Edwards’ intentions, as there had been a lot of “Edwards is considering” mentions in other stories but very few direct reports about her, but here she is.

Edwards anticipates raising $5 million for the primary, and “potentially you’re looking at several million dollars” for the general election, she said. Over and over, she stressed that the Senate race could be nationalized.

“I think with the general, however, this will be a national phenomenon because people will recognize Texas is such a key piece” to changing the direction of the country, she said.

She told the Tribune that she has met with U.S. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer — as did Hegar and West — and had “very, very positive discussions” with him and the Senate Democratic campaign arm. She suggested another heavyweight group, EMILY’s List, which works to elect Democratic women who support abortion rights, is “very much looking at this and looking to get involved in this race.”

“I think they’re very, very excited to see Texas flip, and they’re going to spend resources” to make it happen, Edwards said of national Democrats’ interest in the race.

I imagine EMILY’s List is happy with these developments, though now they’ll either have to pick a favorite among the female candidates or wait till one of them (hopefully) wins and then get involved. As for Edwards, five million is a decent sum for the primary, but the target for November has to be a lot higher than that. John Cornyn is not going to be outraised like Ted Cruz was.

One more thing, from the Chron:

Though she began mulling a run for Senate months ago, Edwards waited to join the race until city council approved Houston’s budget for the fiscal year that began July 1. Edwards serves as vice chair of the city budget committee and helmed several department budget workshops in chairman Dave Martin’s absence.

Edwards’ city campaign account had about $193,000 cash on hand through the end of June. She cannot transfer the money to her Senate campaign, though she may send unspent campaign funds back to donors and ask them to re-contribute.

That helps explain the timeline. With Edwards not running for re-election, the At Large #4 seat is now open, the eighth open seat on Council this election, joining Districts A, B, C, D (for now, at least), F, J, and At Large #5. The impact has already been felt in the field of candidates for AL4. There were four challengers at the start of the week – Christel Bastida, Tiko Reynolds-Hausman, Ericka McCrutcheon, and Jason Rowe – and now there are six, with Nick Hellyar moving over from District C and Letitia Plummer swapping out from AL5. Don’t be surprised if that field grows further, too. We live in exciting times. The DMN has more.

The field for Senate may keep growing

Another possible contender for the Democratic nomination for US Senate.

Cristina Tzintzún Ramirez

A group of progressive Democratic operatives is looking to draft one of the state’s top organizers of the Latino vote into running for U.S. Senate, a move that could further shake up Texas’ still-unsettled primary to challenge Republican U.S. Sen. John Cornyn.

The group is focused on Cristina Tzintzún Ramirez, the founder and executive director of Jolt, a nonprofit she started three years ago to mobilize young Latinos in Texas politics. She also is a co-founder of the Workers Defense Project, an older Austin-based group that fights for labor rights.

Tzintzún Ramirez is not publicly commenting on the Senate race. But among those encouraging her to run are Ginny Goldman, founding executive director of the Texas Organizing Project, and Zack Malitz, field director for Beto O’Rourke’s blockbuster U.S. Senate campaign last year, according to Democratic sources.

Tzintzún Ramirez’s fans see her as the right person at the right time — not unlike O’Rourke, a congressman who went from statewide obscurity to coming within 3 percentage points of the state’s junior GOP senator, Ted Cruz.

“I think she would be a very strong candidate,” said Mustafa Tameez, a Houston-based Democratic strategist who is not involved in the draft effort. “There are people that have the kind of background, life history, that fits the time in which we are. Those people tend to take off, and we saw that in Beto O’Rourke. … It was just the right timing and the right place to be. When I heard her name, I thought the same thing.”

Tzintzún Ramirez declined to comment for this story. However, people who have been in touch with her believe she is thinking about the race and has not ruled out a run.

The effort to recruit Tzintzún Ramirez underscores how the primary is still taking shape, even after MJ Hegar, the former U.S. House candidate, entered the race in mid-April and raised over $1 million. Former U.S. Rep. Chris Bell of Houston has since made clear he is running, and the field is likely to grow further in the coming weeks. State Sen. Royce West of Dallas, who is viewed as likely to run, has scheduled an announcement for July 22. And Houston City Councilwoman Amanda Edwards is also moving closer to a campaign.

I don’t know any more about Tzintzún Ramirez than what is in this article, so I don’t have any particular reaction beyond “good luck” and “may the best candidate win”. As I’ve said before, I’m happy for there to be a competitive primary that will force the candidates to begin the process of engaging with the voters as early as possible. That’s going to require raising money, because there will be a lot of voters with which to engage.

It occurs to me that the serious candidates actually face two very different scenarios, because while the 2020 primary is likely to be a record-breaking affair, the inevitable runoff will be much, much smaller. How much? Well, the 2008 primary had 2,874,986 Presidential votes, and 1,951,295 votes cast in the three-way race for Railroad Commissioner. In the 2008 Democratic primary runoff, there were 187,708 votes cast for Railroad Commissioner. The 2020 Senate runoff will not drop off quite that much in turnout, as those candidates will have money, but still. Anyone in this contest needs to think about winning two races, with wildly varying conditions. Just a thought.

Anyway. Tzintzún Ramirez may well be an exciting candidate, but I’d like to hear the words that she’s considering the race come from her mouth before I get too invested in the possibility. I’m delighted people are seeing this as a good opportunity, now let’s see them turn that into action.

Royce West looks ready to announce

Mark your calendars.

Sen. Royce West

Royce West is one step closer to running against Republican incumbent Sen. John Cornym.

The Dallas Democrat has announced a news conference for July 22, where he’s widely expected to launch a campaign for Senate. The longtime state senator would join a Democratic Party primary that already includes former Air Force helicopter pilot MJ Hegar of Round Rock and former U.S. Rep. Chris Bell of Houston. And Houston council member Amanda Edwards is considering mounting a campaign as well.

[…]

West, 66, has hinted at a campaign against Cornyn for months, but has not officially gotten into the race.

He’ll make an announcement at 10 a.m., July 22 and Democratic Party headquarters in Dallas, according to a sign-up link on a website he’s developed for the occasion.

West has represented Texas Senate District 23 since 1993. He’s also a prominent Dallas attorney and one of the leading Democratic Party voices in the state.

See here and here for the background. As the story notes, the field now includes Chris Bell, with Amanda Edwards still on the periphery. I don’t know what if any timetable Edwards has beyond the late August filing deadline for Houston races, but I do know that another candidate for Edwards’ Council seat has emerged (*), so perhaps the consensus opinion is that this is about to be an open seat. My guess is that with West more or less formally in, we’ll hear something one way or the other from Edwards soon. But I’ve also been guessing that for awhile now, so take it with a sufficient quantity of salt.

(*) In the spirit of disclosure, AL #4 candidate Tiko Reynolds-Hausman is a friend of mine. I’ve served on two PTA boards with her, and her daughter and our elder daughter have been classmates and friends for years.

CM Steve Le not running for re-election

We have another open seat, in District F.

Steve Le

Steve Le

Houston City Councilman Steve Le announced Wednesday he will not seek a second term in November, leaving an open race for his District F seat and ensuring the southwestern district will get a new representative for the fourth straight election.

Le, a physician who practices in Cleveland, narrowly defeated incumbent Richard Nguyen in 2015, winning a runoff by about 230 votes, or 3 percentage points. He had drawn five opponents — including Nguyen — before deciding not to run again.

Le was seen as one of the most vulnerable incumbent council members seeking re-election.

Citing questions and a city investigation into the work habits and time cards of his former chief of staff, Daniel Albert, constituents and neighborhood leaders had called on Le to fire Albert and resign his seat.

[…]

Le also faced residency questions upon taking office, as he had more formal links to a home in Kingwood than to the district address he listed in Alief. His business was registered at the Kingwood property, he was one of five people listed on the deed of trust for the property, and he, at the time, registered three of his four vehicles at that address.

Le did not return calls for comment Wednesday. In a statement to KPRC, he said he plans to return to his medical practice, and pointed to several accomplishments, contending the district’s infrastructure improved during his tenure.

“My goal when running for election was to work with the mayor and current council to implement changes that would benefit the residents of Houston, be fiscally responsible with our budget, improve street and drainage conditions of District F, (and) increase public safety,” the statement said.

In addition to Nguyen, candidates Anthony Nelson, John Nguyen, Tiffany Thomas and Jesus Zamora are seeking to represent the southwest Houston district that covers parts of Alief, Eldridge-West Oaks, Sharpstown and Westchase.

Van Huynh, Le’s chief of staff, said Wednesday he, too, will run for the seat, and has filed a report with the city secretary’s office designating a campaign treasurer.

See here for some background; Le did eventually fire Albert. To be sure, other District F Council members have had questions about their residency before, including MJ Khan and Al Hoang. For whatever the reason, that does not seem to be an obstacle to getting elected in F. Someone can correct me if I’m wrong, but I think Le is the first member of Council to not run for re-election when able to do so since Peter Brown ran for Mayor instead of a third term in At Large #1 in 2009. Chris Bell did the same thing in 2001. Off the top of my head, I can’t think of a recent Council member who stepped down without running for something else. Feel free to fill in the blank if you can.

As always, you can see an up-to-date list of candidates in Erik Manning’s spreadsheet. I guess I need to get an Election 2019 page going, as June finance reports will be coming in. As for the cast in District F, I know Tiffany Thomas and former CM Richard Nguyen; I’m Facebook friends with Anthony Nelson but haven’t met him. Le’s departure may lead to more candidates entering, but if there’s one thing this election has not lacked, it’s candidates.

Bell says he’s in for Senate

We have a competitive primary now.

Chris Bell

Former U.S. Rep. Chris Bell is running for the Democratic nomination for Senate, joining what could be a crowded field of candidates looking to oust incumbent Republican John Cornyn.

Bell on Tuesday filed a fundraising committee with the Federal Elections Committee, signaling that he’s off and running in what will be Texas’ marquee race in 2020.

“I’m definitely running, but I won’t make an official announcement until later,” Bell told The Dallas Morning News. “This allows me to raise money.”

The Houston Democrat was trying to haul in cash through an exploratory committee, which can be a non-starter for some political donors who want to know if a candidate is serious about a campaign.

He’ll join former Air Force helicopter pilot MJ Hegar in the Democratic field. State Sen. Royce West of Dallas and Houston council member Amanda Edwards are considering jumping into the race.

Edwards would have to resign her seat on the council to run, while West, re-elected last year, can run from his perch in the Texas Senate.

See here for the background. That’s actually not true about Amanda Edwards. She would presumably have to not run for re-election to Council this November if she wants to run for Senate, but she won’t have to quit her seat if she announces. I’ve heard conflicting things about her intentions, and I’ve heard that Royce West is all in. With the June fundraising deadline passed, so the pressure is back down to normal for reporting totals, I figure we’ll start hearing yeses or noes from these folks soon.

As for Bell, he’d been fundraising – I’ve gotten some of his emails – but being committed is a far better way to get the cash than being curious. He’ll need to set a date for his official announcement, and start getting out there to meet folks. I wish him luck. The Trib and the Chron have more.

Royce again

The “Royce West for Senate” thing is officially a thing.

Sen. Royce West

State Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas, met this week with U.S. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., as he nears a decision on whether to run for U.S. Senate — a decision that West now says will come sometime next month.

West had a positive meeting with Schumer and staff at the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, a Democratic source familiar with the meeting said. West, the source added, signaled that he is likely to run.

Asked for comment Friday, West said in a text message, “I’ll make a decision whether to run next month.”

West has been viewed as a potential candidate for months but has not said much publicly about his deliberations over whether to challenge U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas. If West enters the U.S. Senate race, he would have to contend with a Democratic field that already includes MJ Hegar, the former U.S. House candidate. Schumer met with Hegar in March.

See here for the background. As it happens, this story appeared on the same day that I received another fundraising email from the Chris Bell exploratory campaign; I wonder if Bell has met with Chuck Schumer. I’ll say this much: If Royce West is our nominee in 2020, I will be happy to vote for him and to advocate for him. I’m going to need to be convinced to vote for him over MJ Hegar in the primary, because right now she’d still be my preference. I doubt polling will tell us anything about who might have a better chance of winning next year, as I doubt either West or Hegar has enough name ID to be more than a generic Democrat in a horserace question. Hegar is the more exciting candidate, but that’s not enough to project a significant difference at this time. We’ll see what he – and Chris Bell, and Amanda Edwards, and anyone else who might be lurking out there – decides to do.

What about Royce?

Gromer Jeffers examines the question of whether State Sen. Royce West will jump into the Democratic primary for US Senate in 2020.

Sen. Royce West

For several months, there’s been speculation that Democrats, against the wishes of some party leaders and donors, will have a competitive contest for the party’s Senate nomination.

Former U.S. Rep. Chris Bell of Houston, the Democratic Party’s 2006 nominee for governor, is considering running. Houston City Council member Amanda Edwards is also contemplating a campaign, according to numerous Democrats.

Three mostly lesser-known Democrats are already running: Michael Cooper, Sema Hernandez and Adrian Ocegueda.

But the most intriguing potential candidate is state Sen. Royce West of Dallas, who has contemplated statewide campaigns before. He’s now weighing running for his party’s Senate nomination.

West has not spoken publicly about his plans and has shrugged off questions about the timing of his decision. But he’s been making the rounds in party circles, getting pledges from colleagues in the Legislature and testing whether he can raise the money needed not only to get past [[MJ] Hegar, but also beat Cornyn.

Rice University political scientist Mark Jones said West and Edwards would be formidable opponents for Hegar because they have strong Democratic vote bases in Dallas and Houston. Jones added that West is more of a centrist, which would help him against Cornyn.

The prospect of a contested Senate primary signals that Democrats are entering a new era in Texas politics. They don’t have to find sacrificial lambs to fill out candidate slates.

“We’re at a point where a credible Democrat may not want to give Hegar a free ride,” Jones said.

There are several reasons this may be the year West takes the plunge. It’s kind of now or never. At age 66, his window for a Washington career is closing. And the changing face of Texas means voters could prefer other emerging politicians in future election cycles. West wouldn’t have to give up much to make the run. He was re-elected last year and won’t be up again until 2022, so he wouldn’t have to surrender his Texas Senate seat. In politics, there’s nothing more sought after than a free look at a campaign for higher office. All that would be at stake is pride.

The longtime Texas lawmaker would also come into the Democratic Party contest with the ability to win — and win big — in North Texas. No other candidate can boast such a launching pad. And he’ll be strong in other parts of the state, particularly where black voters are influential, such as Houston and East Texas. West’s challenge would be garnering support where he’s not well-known, which is most of the state. And he’ll have to prove that he can raise tens of millions of dollars, while captivating the fancy of Texas voters.

Hegar is out there campaigning now – she was just in Houston, at an event I was unable to make. Bell has put out some fundraising emails – I got one in my inbox a few days ago. I have no idea what Amanda Edwards is doing, but like Bell she has not said anything formal. As for West, he’s a good State Senator and he’d for sure start out with a sizable base in a Democratic primary. I’ll be honest, I’d be more excited about him if he’d been the first one to jump in, or if he’d run for Governor or Lt. Governor in 2018. But as I’ve said before, I’m happy for there to be a competitive primary. We need to make sure candidates are out there campaigning hard now, not later on once they’ve won the nomination. An awful lot of people are going to vote in the Dem primary in March, so no one who wants to pursue the nomination can sit around and hope for the best. Whatever Royce West – or Chris Bell, or Amanda Edwards, or anyone else – is thinking about doing, my advice would be to think fast.

An early review of the Senate campaign so far

I have thoughts about this.

MJ Hegar

When U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro announced earlier this month that he would not run for U.S. Senate in 2020, the San Antonio Democrat cleared up one major question hanging over his party’s primary. But the field is anything but settled.

Two weeks later, the clock is ticking for Democrats to mount serious campaigns to unseat U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, an uphill battle even with Texas’ changing political landscape. Arguably the most prominent Democrat already running, MJ Hegar, announced her campaign three weeks ago but has been — on the surface, at least — off to a slow start that has done little to dissuade at least three other Democrats from considering their own runs.

Among them is Amanda Edwards, an at-large Houston City Council member who has been mulling a campaign since at least early March and appears to be moving closer to running. She has been in conversations with the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and is heading to Washington, D.C, next week to continue those discussions, according to a source familiar with her plans.

Edwards, who is African American, has been emphatic that Texas Democrats need a U.S. Senate nominee who can mobilize the party’s base, particularly underrepresented groups that suffer the most from low turnout.

“It is imperative — there is no way around it,” she told reporters earlier this month in Houston. “If you don’t galvanize people of color, young people under the age of 35 … Democrats are not going to be successful.”

In addition to Edwards, state Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas, also continues to draw discussion as a prospective candidate though he has said he is focused on the ongoing legislative session that ends later this month. And Chris Bell, the former Houston congressman, announced Monday that he was seriously considering a bid. Bell, the 2006 gubernatorial nominee, suggested he was not intimidated by the nascent field, saying competitive primaries can be difficult but healthy in the long run.

“It’s sort of like having a family fight, but we all get through Thanksgiving and come together the next day,” Bell said, approvingly citing Castro’s recent declaration — before he opted against running — that the era of “uncontested primaries in both parties in Texas is over.”

While it remains to be seen how viable Edwards, West and Bell would be — Bell is the only one with experience running statewide — they all appear to be undeterred by the opening weeks of Hegar’s campaign. Beyond a barrage of fundraising emails, she has kept a low profile, not holding any public campaign events and doing only a handful of media appearances — all things one would expect as a candidate looks to establish early momentum in a nationally watched race.

“It’s concerning,” said one Democratic strategist unaffiliated with any of the declared or potential candidates. “At this time two years ago, Beto was criss-crossing the state. The question I’m seeing now is where exactly has MJ Hegar been?”

At this point in his blockbuster 2018 campaign, Beto O’Rourke had visited a dozen cities throughout the state and was on his way to hitting twice as many by the end of his first month.

Oh good Lord. You know what else was happening two years ago at this time? Beto was trying very, very hard to raise his name recognition. He started out at a pretty low level. In the first poll I tracked that measured his approve/disapprove numbers, the UT/Trib poll from June of 2017, 55% of respondents answered “don’t know/no opinion” of O’Rourke (question 19). In the next few months, in addition to stories about how O’Rourke was criss-crossing the state, there were also stories about how little known he was, especially compared to Ted Cruz, about whom nearly everyone had an opinion. Just before the primary, in the February 2018 UT/Trib poll, the numbers were 58% “don’t know/no opinion” of O’Rourke. And if you want to be skeptical of the UT/Trib polling methodology, rest assured that other pollsters were finding the same thing. For example, PPP, January 2018 – “Sixty one percent of respondents had never heard of O’Rourke”. Beto’s relentless travel schedule and nonstop live appearances were a huge part of his brand and his strategy, and they paid off bigtime for him. They also took a long time to get off the ground, because Texas is a huge state with millions of voters and you can only ever hope to contact a small share of them via in-person events.

My point here is that if we’re going to be making with the Beto comparisons already, let’s be sure to tell the whole story. It’s not like any of this was a mystery, but as so often seems to be the case, I feel like I’m the only person in the state old enough to remember what had happened. Plus, not to put too fine a point on it, there’s no reason to believe that Beto’s exact strategy from 2018 has to be replicated. I for one would advocate for not having a “visit all 254 counties” strategy, but more like a “visit somewhere between 100 and 150 counties”, with much more emphasis on the counties that have trended Democratic since 2012, and less on the (mostly very small, mostly rural) counties that voted more Republican in 2018 than in 2016. Call it the “Willie Sutton strategy”, where you put a higher priority on the places that have more people who have voted for you and might vote for you. Knowing who those voters are likely to be would be a good optimization on the Beto strategy, too. The advantage that MJ Hegar or any of these other candidates will have is that they can learn from and build on what Beto did. They can do more of what worked well and less of what didn’t. Crazy, I know, but true.

One more thing:

The day after announcing her campaign, Hegar was endorsed by VoteVets, the national progressive group for veterans. Beyond that, other prominent groups are waiting to see how the primary takes shape before potentially getting involved. Among them is EMILY’s List, the influential organization that works to elect Democratic women who support abortion rights, which backed Hegar in her U.S. House bid last year and made clear in March that it wanted a woman to challenge Cornyn.

“As of right now, we’re closely watching the race,” EMILY’s List spokesman Maeve Coyle said. “We’re always thrilled to see women step up and take on these tough flip seats, especially fantastic candidates like MJ.”

In addition to Hegar, the Democrats already running include Michael Cooper, Sema Hernandez and Adrian Ocegueda.

Typically, Washington Democrats bristle at competitive U.S. Senate primaries. They often can become bloody affairs, resulting in unelectable candidates who are broke once they win the nomination. But Texas is different from most states.

[…]

Despite the renewed interest in flipping Texas, national Democratic operatives are privately shrugging off the notion of a competitive primary in the state. It is no secret that Texas Democrats have miles to go in building out their party infrastructure, and some argue that several candidates fanning out around the state for nearly a year could accomplish some of that goal.

Yet a crowded Democratic primary sets up the possibility of a primary runoff that won’t be settled until next May, leaving the eventual nominee with perhaps three months to replenish a depleted war chest for what is likely to be a multi-million dollar ad war across Texas air waves.

Concern-trolling about runoffs aside, you know that I agree with that assessment competitive primary. I hope we have one, because money spent on it is not an expense that is lost but an investment that is made in engaging voters. And for the zillionth time, MJ Hegar and any other “serious” candidate needs to take the primary seriously, no matter who else is in it. We are very likely to have record turnout in the Dem primary next March. If those voters don’t know who they’re voting for in the Senate primary, then anything can happen and most of it won’t be good. If Hegar is doing behind-the-scenes stuff now, that’s fine. There’s time for that. As long as she and everyone working with her understands that the real campaign season starts a lot earlier than we have been used to thinking that it does.

Chris Bell looking at a Senate run

We haven’t had one of these stories in a couple of weeks.

Chris Bell

Chris Bell, the former Democratic congressman and gubernatorial nominee from Houston, is mulling a bid for U.S. Senate in 2020 against U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas.

Bell told the Tribune on Monday that he is taking a “serious look” at the race in the wake of the recent decision by U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-San Antonio, to pass on a bid against Cornyn. Bell said he is in the “very early” stage of deliberations but believes he would need to make a decision by this summer to be able to run a viable campaign.

There are already several Democratic candidates, including former U.S. House contender MJ Hegar, and a couple of other prominent names are still weighing whether to run. Bell expressed confidence that he could break through.

“I certainly think it’s a field I could compete in,” Bell said, touting his long record helping build up the party in Texas. “Many of us believe this is the year the pendulum finally swings.”

[…]

Bell, who now has his own law firm in Houston, said he thought he was done with running for office but like many Democrats, he felt compelled to “stay involved or get involved” after President Donald Trump’s election in 2016. Bell said he had hoped Beto O’Rourke, the former El Paso Congressman who made an unsuccessful but high-profile bid for U.S. Senate last year, would run for the U.S. Senate again in 2020. After both O’Rourke and Castro opted against challenging Cornyn, Bell began considering what he could bring to the race.

“I think a big part of my message would be a lot of people are looking to Texas now for guidance, and we’re in a perfect position to lead,” Bell said, pointing to issues such as immigration reform and climate change. He also echoed other Democrats in claiming Cornyn has been afraid to stand up for Texas, shrinking behind Trump as well as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.

I like Chris Bell. He was a good member of Congress, whose career there was cut short by the DeLay re-redistricting of 2003. He was a better candidate for Governor in 2006 than he’s ever gotten credit for, and if the trial lawyers had gotten over their obsession with Carole Keeton Strayhorn and figured out they needed to help push Democratic voters to support the Democratic candidate in that year’s multi-candidate pileup for Governor, he might have won. (VaLinda Hathcox, the Democratic candidate for Land Commissioner in 2006, got more votes in her race than Rick Perry did. Look it up.) He ran a progressive campaign for Mayor in 2015. (*)

All that said, I’m hard pressed to think of anyone who’d be excited by a Chris Bell candidacy. Going by the criteria I suggested for potential John Cornyn opponents, he doesn’t really meet any of them. He’s held office and run statewide before, and he’ll have some measure of support in Houston. That gives him a shot in a primary, but it would also probably spur Emily’s List to quit waiting to see if Amanda Edwards jumps in and start getting behind MJ Hegar now. It’s fine by me if Chris Bell want to run for Senate. As stated before, I’d prefer a primary with more than one serious candidate in it, if only to ensure that everyone starts engaging voters now. Chris Bell is welcome to run, and may the best candidate win. But that’s about as enthusiastic as I’m gonna get about it.

(*) – He then threw that all away to endorse Bill King in the runoff. Democratic primary voters will remember that. The Chron has more.

Trying again to primary Cuellar

Good luck. It’s not going to be easy.

Rep. Henry Cuellar

A grass-roots Democratic group that helped power the upset victory of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., has identified a Texas Democrat as its first target ahead of the 2020 congressional primaries — but as of now, Ocasio-Cortez herself is staying neutral.

Justice Democrats, a political committee founded after the 2016 election to reshape the Democratic Party through primary challenges, is working to recruit a challenger to Rep. Henry Cuellar, a seven-term congressman from a strongly Democratic district who’s one of the few anti-abortion-rights voices in the party’s House conference.

In a statement, the group compared Texas’s 28th Congressional District, which gave the president just 38.5 percent of the vote in 2016, to other districts where left-leaning candidates have unseated incumbents. It is launching a “primary Cuellar fund” to encourage any potential candidate that there will be resources if he or she jumps into the race.

“There’s an Ocasio-Cortez and [Massachusetts Rep. Ayanna] Pressley in blue districts across America, tired of seeing long-standing incumbents serve corporate interests, work with Trump’s agenda, and work against the progressive movement,” said Alexandra Rojas, the executive director of Justice Democrats. “These grass-roots leaders just need a little bit of encouragement and support.”

[…]

The Justice Democrats’ campaign to oust “corporate Democrats” was restarted after the 2018 elections, with Ocasio-Cortez, one of her party’s biggest stars, as its de facto spokeswoman. In a mid-November call with activists, Ocasio-Cortez said that they could “save this country” by either shaming incumbents out of accepting “money from oil and gas companies” or by ousting them at the polls.

“We’ve got to primary folks,” said Saikat Chakrabarti, who would become the congresswoman’s chief of staff.

But Ocasio-Cortez is not intervening in the “primary Cuellar” campaign right now. In her first days in office, the congresswoman has publicly criticized a House rule that required offsets for any spending increases, while privately working to get appointed to at least one committee with jurisdiction over taxes or health care.

While she was not appointed to the Ways and Means Committee after a left-wing campaign on her behalf, Ocasio-Cortez is expected to get a seat on the Financial Services Committee. She is not part of Justice Democrats’ primary recruitment push.

As the story notes, Cuellar gave Democrats in Texas another reason to be annoyed with him when he contributed to Republican Rep. John Carter’s re-election campaign. Let’s state up front that it’s hard to defeat an incumbent in a Congressional primary in Texas. Since 1992, by my count it has happened four times in a Democratic race:

1994 – Sheila Jackson Lee defeats Rep. Craig Washington
2004 – Al Green defeats Rep. Chris Bell
2004 – Henry Cuellar defeats Rep. Ciro Rodriguez
2012 – Beto O’Rourke defeats Rep. Silvestre Reyes

The two from 2004 have an asterisk next to them, as they came after the DeLay re-redistricting of 2003, which made each of those incumbents’ districts less hospitable to them. Most years most incumbents face no or token opposition. It’s no easier on the Republican side, as only two incumbents have been ousted during this time. Ron Paul knocked off Greg Laughlin in 1996 after Laughlin had switched parties following the 1994 election, and John Ratcliffe beat the 91-year-old Ralph Hall in 2014.

Anyway. Washington had some ethical issues and a high rate of missing votes at the time SJL took him out. Bell’s CD25 was taken out of Harris County and replaced with CD09, which was drawn to elect an African-American Democrat. CD28 was redrawn to include Webb County, which heavily favored the Laredo-based Cuellar. The 2012 race was the closest thing on this list to an ideological race, but Reyes also had some ethical issues that O’Rourke hit on.

The two ideology-based primary races I can think of are Ciro Rodriguez’s rematch against Cuellar in 2006 (he lost 53-40 in a three-candidate contest) and Adrian Garcia against Gene Green in 2016 (Green prevailed, 57-39, in another three-candidate race). There’s not a viable model in the state for the Justice Dems to follow, is what I’m saying. If they want my advice, I’d say find a candidate with deep ties to the Laredo area, and make your main issue Cuellar’s too-close ties to Republicans. Try to pin him to Donald Trump, if only by association. Downplay as much as you can any and all support your candidate will receive from outside the district and outside the state. And good luck. I wouldn’t advise anyone to get their hopes up, but one never knows.

Lupe and Beto

Beto O’Rourke has a year-old, well-funded campaign for US Senate. Lupe Valdez doesn’t have anything like those advantages in her campaign for Governor. Will her lower profile effort have a negative effect on his higher profile one?

Rep. Beto O’Rourke

The race for governor is often the biggest spectacle in Texas politics, and the governor’s mansion the biggest prize.

But the contest between incumbent Republican Greg Abbott and Democratic nominee Lupe Valdez is forecast to be not much of a contest at all. Abbott, who in 2014 beat former state Sen. Wendy Davis by 20 percentage points, looms like Goliath on the political landscape, with Valdez lacking the weaponry to take him down. She needs more than five smooth stones.

Democrats have focused much of their attention on the remarkable campaign of Beto O’Rourke, the El Paso congressman who’s challenging incumbent Ted Cruz for Senate.

The Cruz-O’Rourke showdown is the marquee race of the season, and could change the fortunes of Democrats and Republicans alike.

With Abbott poised to spend more than $40 million to turn out the Republican vote and in the process help Cruz, the question becomes: does Valdez’s presence on the ticket hurt or help O’Rourke?

Lupe Valdez

“Compared to nothing, she helps,” said Mark Jones, a political scientist at Rice University.

[…]

Paul Quinn President Michael Sorrell, who Democrats recruited to run for governor, said Valdez’s presence on the ticket will have little impact on O’Rourke’s efforts.

“I don’t think Lupe makes a difference to this race,” Sorrell said. “People view Beto’s race as a separate entity from Lupe’s race.”

Veteran Republican consultant Bill Miller said Valdez could be a problem for O’Rourke and other Democrats because her campaign is so irrelevant.

“The Democrats believe she helps, but in my opinion she hurts,” Miller said. “She’s not going to be a strong candidate and her race is not a hot race. She’s going to be discounted early on and that won’t help O’Rourke.”

My inclination is to agree with Michael Sorrell. We haven’t had a situation like this in recent memory. In the recent years where we have had concurrent races for Senate and Governor:

– Wendy Davis’s gubernatorial campaign was much higher profile than David Alameel’s Senate campaign in 2014. Not that any of it made much difference.

– The four-way Governor’s race in 2006 defies comparison to anything else.

– Both Tony Sanchez and Ron Kirk had well-funded campaigns in 2002, with Kirk doing a few points better in the end.

Honestly, the real factor here is Greg Abbott and his gazillions of dollars, which would be a major concern no matter who was his opponent. Valdez has improved as a candidate after a rough start, and in the end I think she’ll raise a million or two bucks, which is a water balloon against Abbott’s fire hose but will at least allow for some kind of campaign activity. The main way Abbott can use his money to affect other races is by spending a ton on GOTV stuff, which again he’d do if he were running instead against Andrew White or Julian Castro or whoever your fantasy alternative candidate might be. He still has to contend with whatever chaos Donald Trump unleashes, whatever discontent the electorate may feel about Hurricane Harvey and gun violence, and other things that money may not be able to ameliorate. All things considered, I think Valdez’s campaign will have little effect on Beto’s. It’s unlikely to be of any help, but it probably won’t hurt, either.

(Yes, I wrote this before the property tax story came out. I still don’t think one campaign will have much effect on the other.)

The ground game

Where we are with one day to go.

Sylvester Turner

Sylvester Turner

The neck-and-neck Houston mayor’s race has become an all-out ground war in the final days before Saturday’s runoff election as Sylvester Turner and Bill King turn to local Democratic and Republican party operatives to get out the vote in what is putatively a nonpartisan contest.

Democrats, labor groups and local churches have pooled manpower to launch a comprehensive, intricately designed field operation to push Turner voters to the polls, while Republicans have poured resources into mailers, radio ads and phone banks urging Houston residents to back King and his message of fiscal reform.

The race carries symbolic weight, both parties say, presenting Democrats with an opportunity to maintain their longtime hold on the mayoralty and Republicans the long-awaited chance to make inroads in municipal politics.

By the close of early voting Tuesday, more than 113,000 voters had cast a ballot, an increase of about 39,000 from the runoff election in the city’s last open-seat mayor’s race six years ago. Several political scientists project overall participation will be 200,000 or more.

Early turnout was strongest in City Council District G, on the city’s conservative, majority-white west side, followed by predominantly white, progressive District C and conservative District E. King won all three in the general election.

“I would expect King to win the early vote and Turner to win the election day vote, with the election then being decided by the margins for those two respective segments,” Rice University political scientist Mark Jones said.

It’s true that King won District C in November, but only by a small margin, with a large share of the vote going to Adrian Garcia, Chris Bell, and Steve Costello. My gut says that if Turner picks up a majority of these voters, he’ll be in good shape. If not, that may be a problem. We’ll know when the returns start coming in. I’ll post about Election Day locations tomorrow. Who has not voted yet?

Endorsement watch: Bell for King

As the headline notes, this came as a surprise to many.

Chris Bell

Chris Bell

Former Congressman Chris Bell publicly backed fiscal conservative Bill King in the Houston mayoral runoff Tuesday, a move that could bolster King’s efforts to make inroads with progressive voters.

Bell’s endorsement came as a surprise to many political insiders expecting the progressive former mayoral candidate to support King’s rival, Democrat Sylvester Turner.

Bell cited King’s focus on pension reform, public safety, road repair and flooding as reasons for his endorsement, as well as the businessman’s thoughtful approach to policy issues.

“It might come as a surprise to some because of my political persuasion, but it really shouldn’t,” Bell said alongside King in Meyerland. “Truth be told, we agree much more than we disagree. As far as the major principles of his campaign, we’re in complete agreement.”

If you say so, Chris. From my perspective, the main area of overlap between the two campaigns was an enthusiasm for bashing Adrian Garcia. On a number of issues I can think of, from HERO to the revenue cap to ReBuild Houston to (yes) pensions, there seemed to be little in common. It’s easier for me to see agreement between Steve Costello and Sylvester Turner than it is for me to see concurrence between Bell and King. Perhaps it’s in the eye of the beholder, I don’t know. But really, on a broader level, it’s that Bell positioned himself quite purposefully to Sylvester Turner’s left, with his greater purity on LGBT equality being a main point of differentiation. Though he missed out on getting the Houston GLBT Political Caucus’ endorsement – amid a fair amount of grumbling about Turner buying the recommendation via a slew of last-minute memberships – Bell had a lot of support in the LGBT community; a couple of his fervent supporters courted my vote at the West Gray Multi-Service Center by reminding me of an old Turner legislative vote against same sex foster parenting. This is why it’s hard to believe his claims about there being so much in common between him and King, and why this announcement was met with such an explosion of outrage and cries of betrayal. It’s not a partisan matter so much as it is a strong suspicion that either the prior assertions about being the real champion of equality were lies or that this endorsement had to come with a prize. If Chris Bell honestly believes that Bill King will be the best Mayor, that’s his right and his choice. But no one should be surprised by the reaction to it.

Does this help King? Well, he needs to get some Anglo Dem support to win, and that was Bell’s base. Of course, speaking as someone in that demographic, I’ve seen very little evidence that any of his erstwhile supporters were impressed by this. Quite the reverse, as noted above. I guess it can’t hurt, I just wouldn’t expect it to do much.

In the meantime, various organizations have been issuing new and updated endorsements for the runoffs. A few highlights:

– As previously noted, the HCDP endorsed all Democratic candidates with Republican opponents. That means Sylvester Turner for Mayor, Chris Brown for Controller, Georgia Provost, David Robinson, Amanda Edwards, Sharon Moses, Richard Nguyen, and Mike Laster for Council, and Rhonda Skillern-Jones and Jose Leal for HISD Trustee.

– The Houston GLBT Political Caucus added Georgia Provost and Karla Cisneros to their list of endorsed candidates. Turner, Brown, Edwards, and the incumbents were already on there. They did not take action on Moses and Leal.

– The Meyerland Democrats made their first endorsements in a city election: Turner, Brown, Provost, Robinson, Edwards, Nguyen, and Laster.

– Controller candidate Chris Brown sent out another email touting endorsements, this time from five previous Controllers – Ronald Green, Annise Parker, Sylvia Garcia, George Greanias, and Kathy Whitmire. As you know, I’m glad to see Green support him.

– As noted here, the Harris County GOP Executive Committee endorsed Willie Davis in AL2, though it wasn’t exactly unanimous.

– The Log Cabin Republicans transferred their endorsements to Bill King and Mike Knox, and reiterated their support for David Robinson, Jack Christie, and Steve Le. Guess being staunchly anti-HERO has its drawbacks.

– A group called the Texas Conservative View endorsed the candidates you’d expect them to – King, Frazer, Knox, Davis, Roy Morales, Christie, Steve Le, Jim Bigham – and one I didn’t, Jason Cisneroz. All of them were repeats from November except for Morales; they had previously endorsed Jonathan Hansen.

– Finally, the Houston Association of Realtors gave Bill King an endorsement that does mean something and makes sense, along with Amanda Edwards.

I think that catches me up. I’m sure there will be more to come – in particular, the Chron has a few races to revisit. They need to pick a finalist between Brown and Frazer, and make a new choice in AL1 and AL5. I’ll let you know when they do.

UPDATE: The line I deleted above about “being staunchly anti-HERO” was a reference to Willie Davis not getting the LCR endorsement in At Large #2. It made sense in my head when I wrote it, but I can see now that I didn’t make that clear at all. And given that the LCRs endorsed David Robinson in November, it doesn’t make sense even when I clarify who I intended that to be about. So, I take it back. Sorry for the confusion.

Precinct analysis: Mayor’s race

I now have draft canvasses. You know what that means. All data is for Harris County only. First up, the Mayor’s race:


Dist  Hall  Turner  Garcia    King Costello    Bell
===================================================
A    1,906   4,587   3,509   6,265    1,522   1,129
B    2,494  15,947   2,159     459      259     277
C    2,575  10,951   6,804  12,121    4,894   7,451
D    4,060  17,033   2,637   1,571      702   1,022
E    3,409   4,258   4,831  15,228    2,122   1,745
F    1,189   3,297   2,561   2,428      820     574
G    3,017   5,036   4,076  20,042    4,040   2,787
H    1,194   4,721   7,145   1,585      810   1,119
I    1,237   3,717   6,114   1,327      650     796
J      902   2,151   1,900   1,810      594     598
K    2,777   9,912   2,922   3,022    1,097   1,806
						
A    9.80%  23.58%  18.04%  32.20%    7.82%   5.80%
B   11.38%  72.75%   9.85%   2.09%    1.18%   1.26%
C    5.64%  24.00%  14.91%  26.56%   10.73%  16.33%
D   14.66%  61.50%   9.52%   5.67%    2.53%   3.69%
E   10.56%  13.19%  14.96%  47.17%    6.57%   5.41%
F    9.79%  27.14%  21.08%  19.99%    6.75%   4.73%
G    7.60%  12.68%  10.27%  50.48%   10.18%   7.02%
H    7.06%  27.93%  42.27%   9.38%    4.79%   6.62%
I    8.65%  25.98%  42.73%   9.28%    4.54%   5.56%
J   10.67%  25.45%  22.48%  21.41%    7.03%   7.07%
K   12.57%  44.87%  13.23%  13.68%    4.97%   8.18%
Sylvester Turner

Sylvester Turner

The seven other candidates combined for 2.57% of the vote, so for the sake of space and my sanity, I’m omitting them from these tables, but I will say a few words about them here. Hoc Thai Nguyen, who had the seventh-highest vote total, scored 6.60% of the vote in District F, and 3.02% in J, the two most Asian-heavy parts of town. As it happens, F (1.93%) and J (1.15%) were Marty McVey’s two best districts, too. Nguyen also broke out of the square root club (*) in A (1.01%) and I (1.08%). No other candidate reached 1% in any district. Demetria Smith, who ran for District D in 2013, came closest with 0.93% of the vote in D. At the bottom of the ladder were Joe Ferreira (240 votes) and Dale Steffes (302), but it was Steffes who had the worst performance in any district. Nearly half of his votes (143 of them) came in District G, and he collected all of 2 votes in J and 3 votes in B. Ferreira got 7 votes in B, but made it to double digits everywhere else. Neither he nor Rafael Munoz made it to triple digits in any district, however. I guarantee, this is the kind of analysis you won’t see anywhere else.

The conventional wisdom on Sylvester Turner is that he needed to broaden his appeal beyond African-American voters, who were expected to strongly support his candidacy. He certainly received their strong support, as the results in B and D attest. Turner also finished first in districts F, J, and K, and finished second in A, C, G, H, and I. That looks pretty reasonably broad to me. If you’re alarmed by him finishing behind King in C, I would simply note that there do exist Republicans in District C, and C was where both Chris Bell and Steve Costello had their strongest showings. I feel confident saying that much of that vote will transfer to Turner. Ben Hall didn’t dent Turner’s support in B and D; given that plenty of anti-HERO voters also supported Turner, it seems likely to me that he will pick up a fair bit of Hall’s support. And perhaps with some help from Adrian Garcia’s endorsement, Turner ought to do well in H and I. None of this is guaranteed, of course. People do actually have to come out and vote, and if there’s any sense of inevitability that might make some people think they needn’t bother to show up. For what it’s worth, I get the sense from too much Facebook reading that plenty of disappointed HERO supporters are not depressed but angry, and that they know their best chance of a second shot at an equal rights ordinance is with Mayor Turner, not Mayor King. I think they’ll show up. Runoff early voting starts December 2, so we’ll know soon enough.

A word about Garcia before I move on: If every single voter in H and I had voted for him, his Harris County total would have been 62,623. If you then subtract the votes Bill King got in H and I from his total, he’d be left with 62,954. Garcia gained a net 267 votes on King in Fort Bend and lost a net 26 votes in Montgomery, so when you add it all up, he’d still have been out of the money. Now I know that H and I aren’t solely made up of Latinos – hell, I live in H, and I’m almost as white as King – and there are plenty of Latino voters in other districts. There could also have been higher turnout in these districts; both were under the overall average. My point in using this bit of shorthand is to say that it was really Garcia who needed to broaden his support, and to that end his biggest problem was other Democrats, not any anti-HERO surge. I think Garcia was handicapped by his late entry into the race, much as Sylvester Turner was by his late entry into the 2003 Mayor’s race. By the time Turner jumped in, after the legislative session, Bill White had locked up a significant amount of support from Democratic voters, including a non-trivial number of black Democrats. By the time Garcia got in, he had to ask a lot of people to reconsider the decision they’d already made about whom to support for Mayor in order to ask them to support him. That’s a much harder thing to do. He had his reasons for getting in so late, and it’s always easy to be a Monday morning quarterback. I’m just saying the reasons why Garcia isn’t in the runoff go beyond simply counting the number of Latinos that voted.

And while we’re still talking about broadening appeal, there’s Bill King. Look at those numbers above. King did very well in E and G, fairly well in A, C, F, and J, and not so well anywhere else, including below-the-Hoc-Thai-Nguyen-in-F-line finishes in B and D. Where does King turn to sufficiently improve his performance in the runoff to have a shot at it? I feel like the basic model for this is Jack Christie’s runoff win against Jolanda Jones in 2011, which is to say broaden his appeal outside of his Republican base, maximize those votes, and limit Turner to his own base in B and D. Easier said than done, but it has been done. It’s been suggested to me that a factor that may have driven turnout at least as much as the HERO vote was Republican voters in the city having a real choice for Mayor for the first time since 2003. There may be something to that, but if so I’d note as before that King received just 30,000 more votes than Roy Morales did in 2009, which receiving 33,000 fewer votes than Orlando Sanchez did in 2003. Make of that what you will. King ought to have room to boost Republican turnout in the runoff – Republicans have a few candidates they might like to support elsewhere on the runoff ballot as well – but I don’t think that gets him over the line on its own. I think he can’t win unless he can take some votes away from Turner. How he might do that, I assume we’ll find out.

I’ve got more of these to do over the course of the week. Remember again, these are draft canvasses, so no overseas or provisional ballots, and these numbers are all Harris County only. If you like seeing pretty pictures instead of numbers, these two Chron stories ought to have what you want. Let me know if you have any questions about this. I’ll have the next post up tomorrow.

(*) This is an old Rice joke. The “square root club” referred to anyone for whom the square root of their GPA was higher than their actual GPA. This is a geeky way of saying “less than 1.0”, which for these purposes means “less than 1.00 percent”.

8 day finance reports: Mayoral candidates

Here’s the story:

BagOfMoney

Adrian Garcia outspent his chief rivals in the Houston mayor’s race over the last month, hoping to hold what polls suggest is his slipping grip on a spot in the likely December runoff.

The final round of campaign finance filings before the Nov. 3 election, covering the period from late September through last Saturday, showed Garcia’s $1.1 million outlay made up a third of all six top campaigns’ spending for the period.

About $860,000 of the former Harris County sheriff’s expenditures were for advertising, double that of what some polls show is his closest rival, former mayor of Kemah Bill King.

[…]

City Councilman Steve Costello, who has been a strong fundraiser but trails Garcia and King in most polls, posted the second-highest outlay for the period, at $732,000. Of that, he spent $652,000 on advertising, and was helped by another $251,000 in ad spending by a political action committee organized to support him, Houstonians for the Future.

King spent $572,700 in the period, about $429,000 of it on advertising. He stopped running TV ads in the middle of last week but was to resume them on Tuesday, campaign spokesman Jim McGrath said. That gap is not concerning, McGrath said, pointing to consistent radio buys, key endorsements and strong early turnout from conservative areas.

“We like where we are,” McGrath said. “We could spend a good chunk of money on broadcast, but it’s all about getting the most bang for your buck. We like cable.”

State Rep. Sylvester Turner, who remains the presumed frontrunner, raised nearly $400,000 in the period, spent the third-highest amount at $626,000 and entered this week with $285,000 on hand – roughly the same amount as Garcia and Costello. King entered the week with $123,350 banked.

Former Congressman Chris Bell, who has lagged in fundraising, spent $106,000 in the period and entered the final week with $60,500 on hand. Former City Attorney Ben Hall, who loaned his campaign $850,000 earlier in the year, continued to post low fundraising totals and spent $134,000 in the period, leaving himself nearly $694,000 on hand.

Eight day reports for Mayoral candidates and some others (still working on it) are on my 2015 Election page. Here’s my breakdown of the reports:


Candidate    Raised      Spent      Loans   On Hand
===================================================
Bell         96,167    106,155          0    60,564
Costello    294,033    731,861     90,000   278,987
Garcia      440,941  1,079,308          0   278,434
Hall         69,260    134,142    850,000   693,755
King        317,919    572,737    650,000   123,349
McVey         4,800     87,216  1,075,000   954,729
Turner      394,323    626,106          0   285,648

Candidate    Advertising     Print/Mail
=======================================
Bell               3,600         30,620
Costello         631,000         20,300
Garcia           860,000              0
Hall             137,500          1,750
King             430,000         15,000
McVey              2,750         10,262
Turner           160,000         60,000

“Advertising” and “printing” can be vague categories, and some reports are more organized and sensible than others. These are add-them-in-my-head totals, and I’m pretty good at addition, but don’t make any bar bets based on them because I may not have always been consistent in how I categorized things. A few comments:

– Chris Bell mentioned in the interview I did with him that he was a regular user of Uber, and his finance report bears that out.

– Steve Costello had some polling expenses in there, and was the only candidate who listed an expense for phone calls. He classified that as “advertising” on the report, but I didn’t include it in my total. The report for that “Houstonians For The Future” PAC is here.

– Remember how Adrian Garcia had fairly low expenses for consultants and staff in his July report because of his later entry into the race? He made up for that in this report, in addition to the buttload he spent on ads. He was the only one who didn’t have any obvious expenses for mailers that I could see.

– How is it that Ben Hall listed $134K in expenses yet I show him as having $137,500 in ads? He had $25,000 in in-kind donations listed as “Television/Univision”, plus $9,000 in one in-kind donation for “commercials”. Of the rest, there was a single $100,000 expense for “Media”, whatever that means, and a few bits and pieces besides. His “print/mail” total is all in-kind contributions for mail ballots. I feel like these in-kind contributions are somehow un-kosher, but I can’t say for sure.

– Unlike Hall and his monolithic “Media” expense, Bill King itemized all of his media buys, which were multiple ones for the local TV stations and some radio. He also did a fair amount of online advertising – he had several $500 expenses to Google for that, plus a couple other line items. A few other candidates had online ad buys as well.

– Marty McVey bought some Facebook ads, and had one mailer. I don’t know why you loan yourself a million bucks then don’t spend it, but whatever. Most of his expenses for consultants and other campaign services were listed under “Unpaid Incurred Obligations”.

– Sylvester Turner had less advertising expenditures than the fighting-for-second-place candidates, but he also had over $145K listed for “get out the vote” services. He also spent some money on polling.

With all that, I’ve still mostly seen Costello ads – they tend to run on cable, during sporting events – with a handful of Turners and Garcias thrown in. I’ve not yet seen a King ad, nor a Hall ad if one exists. It’s times like these that I’m glad to listen to non-commercial radio – satellite, HD radio, and college station KACC. I will try to summarize the other citywide race 8 day reports in the next day or two.

An Election 2015 threefer

Three links of interest that weren’t quite worth a post on their own.

Cort McMurray deconstructs Bob McNair:

It’s not easy, being Bob McNair. Back in the old days, being a Houston billionaire was fun: Whether you made your fortune in the oil patch or, like McNair, you cashed in your Enron stock at exactly the right time, just before the soufflé imploded, life was lunch at the Petroleum Club and dinnertime ribeyes at Confederate House, and doing pretty much whatever you pleased.

You made deals. You attended charity galas. You bought a football team. And you basked in the grateful approbation of your NFL-deprived city. Those were the days, my friend, when you could step in front of a microphone and ask, “Are you ready for some football?” and have an ocean of Houstonians cheering and lining up to buy official Tony Boselli replica jerseys.

You were a community pillar, the Great Philanthropist, the Teflon Billionaire. You negotiated a stadium deal that would have made Bud Adams blush, and the fans chanted your name. You gave your team the most lunkheaded name this side of “Shelbyville Shelbyvillians,” and they lined up to buy licensed merchandise. You drafted David Carr, and Amobi Okoye, and Jadeveon Clowney, and it was someone else’s fault. McNair was the Billionaire Philanthropist, and Billionaire Philanthropists made no apologies.

That’s what makes this whole anti-HERO mess such a shock.

[…]

NFL football is more than a business. The Texans don’t belong to us, but they’re ours. Sports teams are the last unifying institution, the binding agent in a city that’s diffuse and diverse and in so many ways, divided. And while we’re glad the Rockets and the Astros are around, we only care about them when they’re winning. The Texans are different. The Texans are our football team.

McNair’s anti-HERO donation, despite his press release protestations that the contribution was a sincere attempt to encourage “a thoughtful rewrite” of problematic wording in the legislation, an effort to craft an ordinance that “would be less divisive of our city,” was a reminder that the Texans aren’t really Houston’s team; they belong to a Philanthropist Billionaire, who does what he pleases.

There is a surprised, hurt tone to the McNair’s press statement. From the pretzel logic opening — McNair argues that he made the anti-HERO donation so the city could craft an even better HERO ordinance — to the non sequitur Robert Kennedy quotation about ordinary folks changing history at the close, McNair sounds like a guy who can’t understand the fuss: He knows people are mad; he can’t figure out why. If dogs who were caught pawing through the kitchen garbage pail could write press releases, they would all sound like McNair’s statement on HERO.

Any relationship between McNair’s behavior and his team’s recent performance is strictly coincidental, I’m sure.

Jef Rouner says what a lot of people I know have been thinking:

This is the scenario people opposed to the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance want me to believe is going to happen: my little girl, all pink eyeglasses, blond curls, and a sass level over 9,000, will need to use a public restroom at the park or a restaurant. Once in there she will be at the mercy of a transwoman, maybe even one with a penis, who will use the rights protected by HERO to… what? Pee within a certain amount of feet from her? Expose herself? Molest her? What diabolical she-penis monstrosity has the City unleashed on our powerless womenfolk?

I’ve got to tell you I know a fair amount of trans folks, and the idea of any of them in the bathroom with my daughter scares me way less than the thought of someone who honestly holds these beliefs being in there with her does.

For once, I can honestly advise you to read the comments following the story. The couple of idiots who snuck in got roundly knocked down by everyone else. It’s almost enough to restore your faith.

And finally, the Trib covers the Mayor’s race.

Adrian Garcia, once a solid frontrunner and potentially the city’s first Hispanic mayor, has seen his support slip amid increased scrutiny of his tenure as Harris County sheriff. Former Kemah Mayor Bill King appears to be consolidating Republican support that had been splintered among a number of hopefuls. And the whole field — including Sylvester Turner, who appears guaranteed a berth in a runoff — are starting to sense a No. 2 spot on the second-round ballot that is increasingly up for grabs.

“It’s going to be Turner and,” local political analyst Nancy Sims said, pausing for effect. “It’s the ‘and’ we don’t know the answer to right now.”

A batch of recent polls show Garcia and King neck-and-neck, finishing second in the race to replace term-limited Annise Parker, whose 2009 election made Houston the largest U.S. city with an openly gay mayor. Yet the surveys have found at least two other candidates bunched near Garcia and King within the margins of error, and election watchers are urging caution with nearly half the respondents undecided in one poll.

Watching the battle for No. 2 unfold has been Turner, the 26-year state representative who is making his third bid for City Hall. Armed with high name recognition and a reliable African-American base, he is seen as a lock for the runoff, and analysts say such inevitability has persuaded rivals not to waste their time attacking him, letting him float above the fray — for now.

Yeah, the runoff will be very different, and I agree with Nancy Sims that at this point no one is willing to stick their neck out and predict who will join Turner in the December race. Choose which Election Night watch party you go to carefully, there’s a good chance that it could be a bummer for your host.

Time to get out the vote

A look at the strategies for turning out the vote for various Mayoral campaigns.

vote-button

In the days before Monday’s start to early voting, Houston’s top mayoral campaigns moved to mobilize their volunteer forces, aiming to ensure their supporters make it the polls. With 13 candidates on the Nov. 3 ballot and no incumbent, the vote is expected to splinter, forcing a December runoff. Early voting runs from Monday to Oct. 30.

State Rep. Sylvester Turner, who has the combination of high name identification and a reliable base, widely is expected to secure one of the two runoff spots, leaving his competitors to battle for second place.

Recent polls show the next four or five candidates separated by only a few percentage points, with former Kemah Mayor Bill King and Garcia, the former Harris County Sheriff, often in second and third place.

However, surveys also indicate a large share of Houston voters remain undecided, and the campaigns’ estimates of voter turnout vary widely, from 175,000 to 230,000.

The city’s controversial equal rights ordinance, known as HERO, is expected to bring non-traditional voters to the polls, but how many remains an open question.

In this volatile, low-turnout climate, ushering supporters to the ballot box becomes crucial, as just a few votes could separate the two candidates who advance from those whose campaigns sunset when the polls close on Election Day.

Read the rest for more details, but there’s no real mystery. Democratic campaigns are more focused on getting their people out, including some less-likely voters who might vote for their candidate if they vote. Republican campaigns are more focused on persuasion, as the polls we have indicate that more of the undecided voters lean conservative. There’s room for the four main non-Turner campaigns to get the edge for second place. The campaigns’ estimates of what turnout will look like is the most interesting piece of data in the story, and I wish there had been more information about who was banking on the lower end and who was planning for the higher end, as one’s overall strategy would be different for each.

Meanwhile, the last candidate forum delved into some topics that haven’t received a lot of coverage.

On housing, the city’s program to give a $15,000-per-unit subsidy for up to 5,000 apartments built downtown drew ample discussion, as it does not control affordability.

Hall called for those dollars to be given to help homeowners in gentrifying neighborhoods afford their rising taxes; former Kemah Mayor Bill King said they should be used as down-payment assistance to single-family home-buyers; Costello and state Rep. Sylvester Turner said the city should target them to affordable units.

Former Harris County sheriff Adrian Garcia said the city should better market abandoned lots for redevelopment, and Bell called for policies to avoid gentrification in redeveloping areas.

Asked about the role of the civilian oversight board that reviews some HPD actions, former Congressman Chris Bell and Hall called for the board to be given subpoena power, and Garcia said he would consider that. Turner said the board needs more staff to be effective. Costello and King did not favor expanding the board’s purview.

Most candidates said they support citing and releasing minor possession offenders, rather than jailing them, and called for better collaboration among law enforcement agencies to address Houston’s role as a hub for human trafficking. Garcia, Turner and Costello called for more officers for the task; Hall said the crime must be deterred by punishing those who purchase sex.

Asked how the city should keep pace with its ongoing population growth, King called for neighborhoods to be given more tools to protect themselves against development and for builders to be forced to mitigate the impact of their developments.

Costello said he would use the city’s recently adopted general plan to guide city investments, steering development proactively into chosen areas. Turner said neighborhoods should be educated on the protections available today.

Along with growth came questions about transit’s role in reducing road congestion. King said he would focus on bus and park and ride services; Costello backed commuter rail. Turner agreed, and called for more buses and bike lanes. Bell stressed bus rapid transit as an alternative to light rail.

All of the candidates expressed concern about the number of recent hit-and-run accidents involving bicyclists, and many voiced support for the Vision Zero plan aimed at reducing road fatalities. Some also called for better enforcement of a city law requiring drivers to maintain a three-foot distance from cyclists. Garcia also said he would require motorists who receive moving violations to participate additional driver education.

I could have focused more on transportation issues, or on quality of life and housing affordability, or income inequality, or any number of other issues in my interviews with Mayoral candidates. There’s only so much time I can spend on them without wearing everyone out. That’s the good thing about the multitude of candidate forums – put them all together, and you can cover a lot of ground, which one needs for a powerful office like Mayor of Houston. I hope you feel like you got your questions answered somewhere.

My sense of where things stand right now

Here’s an aggregation of the polls we’ve seen so far:

Candidate HAR HRBC KHOU KPRC Avg ======================================== Turner 19 24 19 20 20.50 Garcia 19 14 9 13 13.75 King 10 18 9 14 12.75 Bell 10 11 6 12 9.75 Costello 9 8 5 11 8.25 Hall 6 8 4 4 5.50 McVey 1 0 1 1 0.75 HERO HAR HRBC KHOU KPRC Avg ======================================== For 52 31 43 45 42.75 Against 37 40 37 36 37.50

Poll averaging, with various weightings, adjustments, and other secret-sauce mumbo-jumbo, is all the rage for federal elections, so I thought I’d try it here, since we have a relative bonanza of polling data. I think the rankings in the Mayor’s race would conform with most people’s general impressions – I had Costello ahead of Bell, and Garcia ahead of King, before I filled in the numbers, but otherwise they are all where I placed them initially. Basically, Turner is by himself, Garcia and King are tied for second, and Bell and Costello are a notch behind them. Hall and McVey are non-factors. There are still enough undecideds to possibly shake things up a bit, though how many of those “undecideds” are actually non-voters is an open question.

As for HERO, that HRBC poll with the slanted wording is an outlier, and may not be as accurate as the others on this question. Without it, HERO prevails by a 46.3 to 36.7 margin, a much more comfortable margin than if we include the HRBC poll. I’m not inclined to throw it out on the grounds of having no idea what the turnout effect for HERO will be, and not knowing what effect the shriekingly hateful anti-HERO campaign will have. As I’ve said before, I feel optimistic but not yet confident. I was pleased to see a HERO endorsement in the African-American News, which one hopes will help counter this nasty anti-HERO op-ed from two weeks earlier. I really don’t know what I expected going into this, but I feel like there have been more positive surprises than negative ones.

The biggest area of uncertainty for me is in the downballot races. Ben Hall’s anemic poll numbers suggests that there just aren’t that many voters for whom being anti-HERO is their main or only issue. There are obviously a lot more anti-HERO voters than what Hall’s numbers show, but the combined numbers for Hall and King suggest that some number of them will be voting for at least some pro-HERO candidates. If that attitude prevails in Council races, I think we’ll mostly get good outcomes. If not, there could be some ugly runoffs. I think all contested Council incumbents are in decent shape, though any of these five (listed in descending order of likelihood) could wind up in a runoff: Nguyen, Christie, Laster, Robinson, Kubosh. We could have a very busy November.

UPDATE: It helps to do the arithmetic right if one is going to aggregate polls. I goofed on the King numbers, which is why I originally had him second, but on review I see I gave him too high a total. What’s there now is correct. My apologies for the error.

KPRC poll: Turner 20, others close together

Yet another poll with Sylvester Turner in the lead.

As of Oct. 15, State Representative Sylvester Turner finishes just ahead of the rest of the pack of 13 candidates with 20 percent of the vote; attorney Bill King gets 14 percent, neck-and-neck with former Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia at 13 percent;, former US Representative Chris Bell with 12 percent, and City Council Member Stephen Costello at 11 percent.

Ben Hall and Marty McVey are in single digits. Three percent would vote for one of the other candidates on the ballot. Twenty-two percent today are undecided.

“There are a lot of undecided voters who really haven’t started to think about the mayoral election, or are only starting to do so right now,” Mark Jones, political science chair at Rice University, said.

Turner leads by 6:1 among African-Americans and is strong among older voters and Democrats. King is strong among those most concerned with the city budget. Garcia leads by more than 2:1 among Hispanics and edges out Turner among those voters who say city taxes and fees will be the most important issue in determining their vote for mayor.

Here’s the full result set:

1. In the election for mayor of Houston, how do you vote? (margin of error +/- 4.5%)

AMONG ALL VOTERS:


UNDECIDED:        22%
Sylvester Turner: 20%
Bill King:        14%
Adrian Garcia:    13%
Chris Bell:       12%
Steve Costello:   11%
Ben Hall:          4%
Martin McVey:      1%
OTHER:             3%

All four polls we have so far show Turner leading by some amount, with his level of support being between 19 and 24 percent. One showed Adrian Garcia tied with Turner, one poll showed Bill King in second by a modest amount, and two other have now shown no clear second place finisher. I don’t know if this indicates that the attacks on Garcia have had an effect, or if that first poll just happened to be favorable to him. This conforms to my general feel of the race, which is that Turner is a huge favorite to make the runoff, and after that just about anything can happen. A few thousand votes could well be the difference between second and fifth.

And yes, KPRC also polled HERO.

Here are the poll numbers (margin of error +/- 4.5%):

  • 45 percent of those polled said they will vote in favor of Prop 1.
  • 36 percent plan to vote no.
  • 20 percent are not certain.

While it appears supporters are ahead, the issue is far from resolved.

“You really do have to consider that a majority, or perhaps three quarters of people who say they’re undecided or say they have no response, will end up if they turn out, will end up voting no,” Mark Jones, political science chair at Rice University, said.

I’m not exactly sure where Professor Jones gets that particular tidbit, but it’s not clear that makes much difference. If HERO is at 45% with 20% undecided, then if all undecided voters do turn out, HERO needs only a bit more than 25% of them to get above 50. It’s even less than that if some number of those folks wind up not voting; in fact, if half of them don’t vote, HERO is already at 50% of the sample that does, since 45 is half of the ninety percent that participates. None of this is a guarantee, of course, nor is it a reason to be complacent. It’s only one poll result, and they could have missed people who will vote but weren’t deemed likely. Still, now three of four polls show HERO winning. I’d rather be in our position than in the naysayers’.

Interview with Chris Bell

Chris Bell

Chris Bell

We come to the end of this week of Mayoral candidate interviews. I still have one more to go, which will run on Monday, and I will have one more (non-Mayoral) interview to run after that. Today we have Chris Bell, who is making his second run for Mayor; he finished third in a race against then-Mayor Lee Brown and CM Orlando Sanchez in 2001. Bell has worn many hats in public service, serving as At Large Council member from 1997 to 2001 and as Congressman in what was then CD25 from 2004 to 2006. He was also the Democratic nominee for Governor in 2006. A former TV and radio news reporter and anchor, Bell is an attorney and has served on numerous national and community boards, in addition to being a popular emcee and host of political events. Here’s the interview:

You can see all of my interviews as well as finance reports and other information on candidates on my 2015 Election page.

Turner’s public agency work

A lot of the attacks in the Mayoral campaign so far have been aimed at Adrian Garcia, in part to knock him out of second place where he is perceived to be, and in part because there’s some real material to use. There has been some sniping between Costello and King, as they fish in the same ponds for voters, and some other stuff here and there, but not much as yet against the perceived and poll-supported frontrunner Sylvester Turner. Until now, anyway.

Sylvester Turner

Sylvester Turner

Two of Sylvester Turner’s mayoral rivals are criticizing the longtime lawmaker for reaping thousands of dollars in legal and land title work for public agencies, questioning the ethics of the sometimes lucrative arrangements while he holds elective office.

It is legal for Texas lawmakers, who serve part time and earn $7,200 a year plus $190 per day of legislative session, to do work for local government entities.

Two of Turner’s rivals in the race to replace term-limited Mayor Annise Parker – former City Attorney Ben Hall and former Congressman Chris Bell – said the practice appears improper when it involves fees earned from entities over which he may wield authority as a state legislator.

“It may not be illegal, but it sure has the appearance of impropriety, especially given the timing in some of the instances,” said Hall, who last week called for an end to “pay-to-play” politics.

Both Hall and Bell stand to gain votes from Turner, who has positioned himself as an establishment candidate and has led or tied for the lead in recent polls.

Turner defended his work, saying it is neither illegal nor unethical for lawmakers to receive public business while in office.

“I think my track record speaks for itself,” he said. “When I believe people have not been performing up to par, regardless of the relationship – business relationship – that they may have had with my firm, I have not been hesitant in holding people accountable and responsible.”

Hall and Bell have cited $144,000 that Turner’s land title company, American Title, earned in 2014 on a Houston Independent School District real estate deal. Hall also has questioned what he says was more than $3 million Turner’s companies received in payments from Houston’s housing department for professional services.

“We have certain ethical standards that we need to abide by, and first and foremost is staying away from conflicts of interest,” Bell said.

In 2012, Turner initially criticized HISD’s $1.9 billion bond plan, saying he was worried it would not do enough to encourage students to attend neighborhood campuses. He ultimately endorsed the issue, which passed with 69 percent of the vote.

Two years later, his title company earned $144,000 on an HISD real estate transaction.

[…]

Tom “Smitty” Smith of the Austin-based advocacy group Public Citizen Texas said it is not uncommon for lawyer legislators to have contracts with one or more government agencies.

“A lot of the work – of legal work in this state – has to do with municipal or county or district governments of various kinds,” Smith said. “The gray area comes in the choice of that legislator’s law firm. Is it an open bidding process? Or is it just simply a gimme?”

Craig McDonald, director of Texans for Public Justice, another Austin advocacy group, said the practice comes with potential conflicts.

“Are the local governments hiring a particular lawmaker because that lawmaker has jurisdiction over issues that concern the local government?” McDonald asked. “That’s the basic issue. That’s the basic conflict.”

Let’s get one thing cleared up right off: Any time Ben Hall makes an allegation about any other candidate, the first question he should be asked is “So, have you paid your property taxes yet?” With that out of the way, there’s not much to this story. One can certainly argue that this kind of paid advocacy ought to be illegal, or at least more tightly regulated, and I would not disagree. But given that it is legal, this story is basically about nothing. There’s no allegation of wrongdoing on Turner’s part – the activity is legal, the fees he charged were in the normal range, and he did the work he was paid to do. It was all properly disclosed. The two professional ethics watchdogs had only the perfunctory “could cause a conflict” admonishment for it. People may not know about it, though this was hardly a secret, and they may not care for it once they do know it, which is all fair. It’s well suited for a negative mailer, but unless there’s something else out there, it’s not going to generate more than one story.

Race and runoffs and Turner

Everyone agrees that Sylvester Turner will be one of the candidates to make it to the runoff for Mayor this year. But what happens then?

Sylvester Turner

Sylvester Turner

Yet, to succeed term-limited Mayor Annise Parker, Turner, an African-American, will need to broaden his coalition beyond black voters – a challenge in a city where voting patterns often fall along racial lines.

“Since we don’t have party ID on the ballot, race is usually the No. 1 factor in predicting voter division patterns,” University of Houston political scientist Richard Murray said. “Campaigns exaggerate this natural inclination, because they hunt where the ducks are.”

Turner’s campaign says it is not conceding any vote.

“I’m not running a race-based campaign,” Turner said, pointing to his support from groups including the city’s three employee unions, the Houston GLBT political caucus, the Latino Labor Leadership Council and others.

[…]

From 1997 through 2009, black candidates running citywide in biracial elections earned an average of 89 percent of the vote in predominantly black precincts, 37 percent in predominantly white precincts and 32 percent in predominantly Hispanic precincts, according to a 2011 Texas Southern University study.

Those results suggest it is unlikely Turner or former City Attorney Ben Hall, who also is black, will receive significant general election support outside of the African-American community, said TSU political scientist Michael Adams, one of the study’s authors.

“Even with the extensive endorsed support Turner has received, the historical analysis of citywide races indicates that even for a candidate as well known as Turner, his prospects are dim outside the African-American community for this round,” Adams wrote in an email.

Turner thus faces the challenge of luring white and Hispanic progressives while solidifying his base. To safely advance to the runoff, he needs the support of more than 70 percent of black voters, Murray said.

Recent polls indicate Turner’s chances of pulling that off are good. Three surveys released in the last week show Turner either alone at the front of the pack or tied for the lead with former Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia.

[…]

“African-American candidates must be able to create broad multi-ethnic coalitions; in particular they must be able to structure the race in partisan terms to be successful,” Adams said, pointing to the 1991, 1997, 2001 and 2009 races, in which African-American mayoral candidates qualified for the runoff.

In 1997 and 2001, when the races were effectively partisan, with a black Democrat running against a white Republican, the black candidate won. Otherwise, the white Democrat prevailed.

I’m not sure about including the 2001 race in this set, since the Republican in question was Orlando Sanchez, and there was quite a bit of chatter about how he could become the first Latino Mayor of Houston. It’s true that he drew the lion’s share of the Anglo vote in that race, but it still feels weird grouping him in there.

I can’t find that 2011 study, so I can’t comment on it. I just want to point out that right now, Sylvester Turner and Ben Hall have at least some amount of support in the general election from outside the African-American community. The polling data that we have tells us this:

Poll Turner Hall Black Turner% Hall% ================================================ HAR 19 6 20 95% 30% HRBC 24 8 22 109% 36% KHOU 19 4 21 90% 19%

“Black” is the African-American share of the polling sample. “Turner%” and “Hall%” are each candidate’s share of the black vote. In all three cases, that total is greater than the black share of the electorate – from 109% of it to 145% of it – ergo, at least some of their support comes from outside that share. That doesn’t contradict the thesis that they won’t get a significant share of the non-black vote, but depending on how much of the black vote is going to Hall, it does suggest that a significant share of Turner’s support is coming from non-black voters. None of these polls break the data down that far, so we can only guess.

As for how things may shake out in a runoff, it really depends on who the other candidate is. Bill King and Steve Costello are the Republicans in this race, but King is running a Republican campaign and drawing mostly Republican support, while Costello (who supports HERO) is running a more non-partisan campaign and has picked up some support from traditionally Democratic groups. Chris Bell is the Anglo Dem, but with his lesser financial position and Turner’s dominance of the endorsement process, he would seem to be an underdog. And of course, Adrian Garcia is a wild card, being neither Anglo nor Republican. I don’t know how a Turner/Garcia runoff would play out, but I’d bet it would differ greatly from the Lee Brown/Orlando Sanchez matchup of 2001.

KHOU poll: Turner 19, King and Garcia 9

Our third poll result in the past week.

Sylvester Turner remains the front-runner, but Adrian Garcia has lost his once firm grip on second place and Bill King rises into the top tier of contenders in the race for Houston mayor.

That’s the headline from the latest poll conducted for KHOU 11 News and Houston Public Media, TV-8 and News 88.7, a survey indicating Garcia and King are now fighting it out for a chance to face Turner in a runoff.

Turner heads the pack of mayoral candidates at 19%, maintaining the lead he commanded in the same poll last May. No other candidate in this poll stands in double-digits.

Garcia and King tie for second-place, both supported by 9% of surveyed voters. Chris Bell comes in fourth at 6%, followed by Steve Costello at 5% and Ben Hall at 4%.

Still, a large number of voters haven’t made up their minds. The survey of 567 likely voters conducted between September 25 and October 6 showed 42% undecided.

[…]

“I would say that Bill King is a slight — if not strong — favorite to get into the runoff,” said Bob Stein, the Rice University political scientist and KHOU political analyst who conducted the poll. “And I think Garcia is fighting now to stay in the runoff.”

Throughout the campaign to replace term-limited Mayor Annise Parker, other candidates have generally presumed Turner – a well-financed, longtime state representative who’s run for mayor twice before — will win the most votes in November. So other candidates, most notably Bell, have gone on the offensive against Garcia in hopes of knocking him out of second place.

This poll indicates the attacks criticizing Garcia’s performance as Harris County sheriff have done their damage.

A day-by-day analysis of the phone survey results also indicates the former sheriff’s candidacy has been hurt by a series of negative news reports, like a front-page Houston Chronicle story about jail inmate abuse and a KHOU 11 News I-Team expose on a $1-million jail ministry contract awarded to one of Garcia’s friends.

“We saw his support drop in half,” Stein said. “He is now in a competitive race for the runoff slot. And it’s not obvious to us that he is a guaranteed or even a likely runoff candidate.”

King has been the chief beneficiary of Garcia’s decline, mainly because of growing support from Republican voters. King and Costello have been fighting it out for GOP hearts and minds, emphasizing financial issues like the city’s growing pension obligations.

But Costello’s backing of the drainage fee to bankroll flood control infrastructure has hurt him with many Republican voters, who consider it a poorly implemented new tax.

“Bill King has gained tremendously,” Stein said. “He was barely measurable in our May poll. He’s now at 9 percentage points. Most importantly from our May poll, his gain appears to be from Republican voters.”

Republicans polled for this survey are breaking for King over Costello by a 4-to-1 ratio, Stein said.

“And here’s the good news for Bill King, if this trend continues: 45% of Republicans still don’t know who they’re voting for,” Stein said, indicating King will gain more votes as more GOP voters make up their minds.

“Keep in mind close to half of those Republican voters who are likely to vote still haven’t picked a candidate,” he said. “If the trend continues, Bill King will get that advantage, not only with Republicans over Costello, but maybe enough to get him into the runoff.”

I’d be hesitant to say that Garcia’s decline and King’s rise are related. If I had to guess, I’d say that Garcia’s former supporters are most likely to be in the “Undecided” column now, while King’s new supporters came from those who had previously been undecided. Garcia may be able to win back some of his lost supporters – I still haven’t seen any TV ads from him, so there’s plenty of room for him to go on offense, and if one of the other candidates don’t win them over, they may fall back to him. I’m sure the bad news and the attacks have taken a toll, I just wouldn’t count him out yet.

Poll data can be found here. Compared to the previous polls, the racial/ethnic mix and age distribution are about the same, with the KHOU sample having a similar partisan mix as the HAR poll, which is considerably more Democratic than the HRBC poll. That makes it better for King and more ominous for Garcia, though again there’s still room for Garcia to move back up. Note also that the HAR poll was from September 21-24, the HRBC poll from October 5-6, and the KHOU/KUHF poll from September 25-October 6, so that also suggests there is a trend away from Garcia. I don’t know if there are other polls in the pipeline, but if there are any from after October 6, I’d love to see them.

Two other matters. First, from the Chron:

In 2009, Houston’s last open-seat mayor’s race, fewer than 180,000 people cast a ballot – about 19 percent of registered voters. Stein said he expects between 200,000 and 220,000 voters to turn out this year.

That’s the first “official” guess on turnout that I’ve seen. If that’s accurate, it suggests the HERO referendum isn’t that big a driver of turnout, certainly not compared to other years with similarly high-profile referenda. I honestly don’t know what I think about that. I truly have no idea what effect HERO will have on the number of voters.

Speaking of HERO, item #2 is that this poll also asked about that issue, though for whatever the reason neither story mentioned that. HERO leads 43-37 in this poll – click the poll data link to see. Note that the pollsters also tested the efficacy of various campaign themes on the question. The “men in women’s bathrooms” attack shifts 15% of supporters, while the “we could lose the Super Bowl” attack shifts 24% of opponents. Make of that what you will. The poll also asked about the term limits referendum (44% support, 40% oppose) and the Harris County bond issue (53% support, 22% oppose), though that was from city of Houston voters only. With no campaign in support of either of those items, and given recent performance of Harris County referenda, I feel pessimistic about their chances despite their leads in this poll. There were also questions about the revenue cap and Rebuild Houston, but I’d consider them for entertainment purposes only at this point. There’s likely to be a lot of fluidity in those issues, and once they are taken up by a Mayor (if that happens at all for the revenue cap), opinions on the Mayor will come to affect the polling on them.

HRBC poll: Turner 24, King 18

Looks like we’re going to see more polling than usual this cycle. This was sent as a press release from the Bill King campaign, which was kind enough to forward the full poll data to me when I requested it:

Thursday, the Houston Realty Business Coalition (HRBC) released a poll of 428 active voters measuring support of Mayoral candidates and important issues facing city voters. The Survey was conducted October 5-6.

“Bill King is the clear choice among fiscal conservative voters,” said Chairman Alan Hassenflu. “Bill King’s message of getting back to basics has earned him the support of our organization and is resonating with voters who are concerned with the current fiscal crisis facing City Hall.”

The poll shows King has emerged from the pack of major mayoral candidates running very close to the presumed frontrunner. Only 13% of Houston voters say they have yet to decide who they will support in the upcoming election.

Founded in 1967, HRBC, comprised of top business leaders, has become Houston’s Premier Business Coalition by supporting public policy, elected officials and candidates for elected office that promote its core values of limited government, capitalism and private property rights.

BALLOT: If the election for Mayor was held today and these were your choices: Ben Hall, Sylvester Turner, Adrian Garcia, Bill King, Steve Costello, and Chris Bell, who would you vote for?

Ben Hall 8 Sylvester Turner 24 Adrian Garcia 14 Bill King 18 Steve Costello 8 Chris Bell 11 Other 4 Unsure 13

HERO ORDINANCE: Do you support the City of Houston’s Prop 1 ordinance, often referred to as the HERO ordinance – the law among other things would ban discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity?

Support 31 Oppose 40 Unsure 13 Refused 16

PENSION: Currently the City of Houston has $3.1 billion in unfunded pension liabilities and has little to no control of the pension funds. Would you support a proposal that would return control of pension funds to the Mayor and allow him to negotiate necessary changes to the current pensions?

Support 31 Oppose 21 Unsure 30 Refused 19

METHODOLOGY:
The sample size for the survey is 428 targeted voters in Houston, Texas. The margin of error is +/- 4.77%. All interviews were completed using automated telephone technology and were conducted October 5-6, 2015 by TargetPoint Consulting. The total percentages for responses may not equal 100% due to rounding.

Full poll data is here. I said yesterday that we might get another poll that doesn’t agree with the HAR poll, I just didn’t expect one so quickly. A couple of things to note: One, in comparison to the HAR poll data, this sample is more Republican, but also younger and slightly less white. I’m gonna guess that means more west side/Clear Lake/Kingwood and less Montrose/Heights/Meyerland. It also highlights the importance of how questions are asked. Note here that the HERO question only refers to “sexual orientation or gender identity”, whereas the HAR poll mirrors the ballot language, which lists all the protected classes under HERO. This is Polling Methodology 101 here, and it’s no coincidence that HAR supports HERO while the HRBC opposes HERO and has backed a slate of candidates (including King) that opposes it as well. There’s nothing wrong with this approach – needless to say, it’s the way HERO opponents are doing their messaging, and very much the way they want people to think about Prop 1 when they vote – but it doesn’t mean this sample is “wrong” and the other one is “right”. It means that messages and campaigns matter, which is why it’s nice that HERO proponents have plenty of resources to get their message out.

UPDATE: Here’s the Chron story, which makes the same points I do.

Finally, some coverage on the pension issue

I kid, I kid. Like it or not, HERO or not, it’s what this race has been about.

BagOfMoney

The top candidates for Houston mayor are talking far more about the city’s growing cost of retiree benefits than voters are, which is, in some ways, a testament to the profound challenge presented by the city’s pension burden.

Sure, potholes, policing and parks have all gotten ample focus in the campaign, but when such core political talking points are available, why risk putting voters to sleep with talk of actuarial projections and unfunded liabilities?

In short, because paying the rising pension bill could play a role in preventing the new mayor from funding other items, said Rice University political scientist Mark Jones.

“What the candidates realize, as well as the Houston business elite,” Jones said, “is that if the pension problem is not resolved, it’s going to eat up more and more of the budget, which will mean less money for police, less money for the fire department, less money for parks and libraries.”

The top seven mayoral hopefuls, to varying degrees, acknowledge pension reform is needed but disagree on the details.

You can read the rest for yourself. It’s not anything you haven’t heard before if you’ve been following the campaigns. I don’t know that I have anything to add that I haven’t said before, so I’ll just say that this is a topic that will be discussed in the Mayoral interviews that I am conducting/have conducted. Those will run beginning on Monday.

HAR poll

And some more good news here.

With less than four weeks to go before the election, the Houston mayoral race remains “fluid,” according to a new poll commissioned by the Houston Association of REALTORS® (HAR).

The poll finds Adrian Garcia and Sylvester Turner tied for the lead, with a second tier of closely-clustered candidates, including Chris Bell, Bill King and Stephen Costello. Digging deeper into the numbers yields more insight about those candidates with stronger name identification and favorable ratings, along with those candidates whom the voter would even consider supporting. Complete polling results may be found at www.har.com/poll.

“HAR has always had a voice in political matters affecting local real estate, and we commissioned the poll in an effort to enlighten our members about the candidate that best represents the interests of the citizens of Houston and the real estate industry,” said HAR Chair Nancy Furst. “Our 31,000-member association, the largest trade association in Houston, is regarded as the leading authority on real estate and the integral role it plays in quality of life issues.”

The telephone survey of 500 likely Houston voters was conducted from September 21-24 by American Strategies, a leading Washington, D.C.-based research firm specializing in political polling.

The release of this poll follows the HAR board’s announcement last week that it supports Proposition 1, the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO), in the November 3 City of Houston election. The poll included questions about HERO and showed a majority of Houstonians expressing their intention to vote in favor of the ordinance. Other organizations supporting HERO include the Greater Houston Partnership, Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau, Hotel and Lodging Association of Greater Houston and Houston Apartment Association.

Houstonians will be asked to vote on a new mayor as well as Houston City Proposition 1 (HERO) on the City of Houston ballot on Election Day, Tuesday, November 3.

The poll summary is a good read, too.

Garcia and Turner each capture 19 percent of the vote, almost twice the support of Chris Bell (10 percent), Bill King (10 percent) and Steven Costello (9 percent). Ben Hall (6 percent) and Marty McVey (1 percent) round out the crowded field, with 25 percent who are undecided.

Garcia and Turner are better known than the second tier candidates and each has strong backing from a base constituency. Overall, half of voters have a favorable opinion of Garcia (compared to 24 percent who are unfavorable) while 45 percent are favorable towards Turner (28 percent unfavorable). Garcia wins a majority (51 percent) of Hispanic voters, and also shows relatively strong backing from whites (17 percent). Garcia has more bi-partisan support than other candidates: he wins 21 percent of self-identified Democrats and 17 percent of Republicans (second only to King with 21 percent). Turner, by contrast, wins 55 percent of African-American voters and 11 percent of whites. He leads among Democrats with 32 percent, but wins just three percent of Republicans.

The front-runners have room to grow their support. For starters, their personal favorable ratings exceed their current vote. In addition, nearly one-third of those who are not currently supporting Garcia say there is a fair chance (18 percent) or small chance (12 percent) that they will vote for him – virtually identical to Turner’s numbers among those who are not currently voting for Turner (16 percent fair chance they will vote for him; 13 percent small chance).

[…]

The effect of the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance on the mayoral contest is not clear. Just over half currently vote “For” HERO (52 percent), with 37 percent against and 10 percent undecided. Passions are high on the issue: 44 percent are very certain to vote “For” and 30 percent very certain to vote against. In the mayoral contest, by comparison, only 34 percent of voters are “very certain” of their candidate choice.

The results are similar in nature to the previous poll, which was done in June before we knew HERO was going to be on the ballot. Full poll data is here. I am always wary of polls done on the city of Houston because of the tricky nature of determining who really is a “likely voter”, but as with that June poll I have no major quibbles. This sample is old (67% are 55+, with 40% being 65+), white (62%), and well off (40% college graduates plus 24% post-grads), and that’s usually the kind of electorate we get in odd years. That said, HERO is of course a wild card. The Chron highlights this.

However, Rice University political scientist Mark Jones cautioned that the poll does not account for non-traditional city voters who may show up at the polls this year to vote on the ordinance, known as HERO.

It also likely under-represents support for Turner, Hall and potentially Garcia, Jones said, as it surveyed lower percentages of African American and Hispanic voters than are expected to turn out in November, given that there are two black candidates and one Hispanic candidate in the top-tier.

Sixty two percent of respondents identified as white, 20 percent as black, 10 percent as Hispanic and 2 percent as Asian.

“This survey would appear to be underestimating African American turnout by at least 10 percent and perhaps a little more,” Jones said.

“If there are people who are being driven to turnout by the HERO ordinance or by Adrian Garcia’s mobilization of the Hispanic community, they would not be represented,” he added.

As I’ve said, I do believe HERO will drive some turnout, as past city referenda have done. That’s not the same as saying that any of the candidates on the ballot will drive turnout. Sylvester Turner has run for Mayor before. So have Ben Hall, Lee Brown, Gene Locke, Orlando Sanchez, Gracie Saenz, and Roy Morales. Did any of them affect African-American and/or Latino turnout in their races? What were the African-American and Latino turnout rates in their races? I have no idea. Perhaps Mark Jones does, but either he didn’t say or his answer wasn’t included.

I guess what I’m saying is that while I’ve said repeatedly that I expect higher than usual turnout because of HERO, I more or less expect the racial and ethnic demographics of the electorate to be roughly the same. There’s lots of room for overall turnout to grow without that turnout needing to be disproportionately from one group. Do I know this to be the case? Of course not. Could there be a surge in African-American and/or Latino and/or Asian turnout? Absolutely, and for sure Turner and Hall and Garcia are working on that. So, while this result is encouraging – I’d always much rather be up 52-37 in a poll than down 52-37 – it’s hardly gospel. The next poll, whenever that may be, could show a very different result but look just as plausible. Do not take anything for granted.