Off the Kuff Rotating Header Image

Congress

Harvey and the Congressional races

This was from a couple of days ago.

Dayna Steele

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CD07 “live poll”: Culberson 48, Fletcher 45

Here’s another of those NYT-Siena “live polls” of interesting Congressional races.

Lizzie Fletcher

Houston Rep. John Culberson holds a narrow lead over Democratic challenger Lizzie Fletcher, a poll conducted by The New York Times Upshot found Tuesday.

Culberson’s 3-point lead is within the 5-point margin of error for the poll, which The New York Times conducted Sept. 14-18. Forty-eight percent of respondents said they preferred Culberson, and 45 percent sided with Fletcher.

The nine-term congressman had a 43 percent favorable rating in the poll, compared to Fletcher’s 28 percent. That difference could be attributed to name recognition — 49 percent of those polled answered that they “didn’t know” if they had a favorable opinion of Fletcher, a Houston attorney, compared to 24 percent for Culberson.

Election handicappers such as Cook Political Report, FiveThirtyEight, and Larry J. Sabato’s Crystal Ball have deemed the race a “toss-up,” while Inside Elections rated it a “lean Republican.”

[…]

Pollsters asked several other questions of district residents.

Of those polled, El Paso Rep. Beto O’Rourke held a 7-point lead over Sen. Ted Cruz, who is from Houston. President Donald Trump had a 51 percent approval rating. Fifty-five percent opposed funding for a wall at the U.S.-Mexico border, and 60 percent supported a ban on assault-style guns and high-capacity magazines.

The Upshot, in partnership with Siena College, called 40,665 people in the Houston district and received 500 responses.

The full NYT writeup is here. They had previously done a poll in CD23, which I wrote about here; a poll of CD32 is coming soon. The DMN story goes over the candidates’ fundraising and the ads they have running now – I’ve seen one of Fletcher’s, but not yet Culberson’s – but none of that interests me. There are two other things I want to talk about.

The first thing is the embedded image of where in the district they got their responses, and whether those responses were for Fletcher or Culberson. CD07 has a big piece inside Beltway 8, and a big piece on the farther west side of Harris County, outside Highway 6 and north of I-10 up to US 290. The original idea of this district was to pair the relatively small and mostly Democratic inner urban piece with the larger and more Republican outer suburban area. That has worked well for the decade, but as you can see, there are an awful lot of Fletcher-responding blue dots in the far-flung section of CD07. The outer areas of Harris County are the Republican stronghold, with sufficient population to counterbalance the Democratic city of Houston. If the unincorporated part of the county is trending bluer, that’s a big problem for the local GOP.

Which brings me to the second point. It’s important to remember that CD07 was a thirty-point Republican district in 2014. Kim Ogg, in her first run for DA in the special election against Devon Anderson, got 37.5% in CD07 in 2014. Ann Harris Bennett, then running for County Clerk, got 34.7%. Judith Snively, running for District Clerk, got 33.6%. It was a massacre.

Things were different in 2016, of course, but the fact that CD07 was carried by Hillary Clinton obscures the fact that CD07 was still fundamentally Republican. Ogg, in her rematch with Anderson, took 46.8% in the district. Vince Ryan got 46.2%, Ed Gonzalez got 45.0%, and Ann Harris Bennett, now running for Tax Assessor, just barely cleared 42%. The average Democratic district judge candidate got 43.5%.

Remember, though, that even in losing CD07 by 16 points (Bennett) or 13 points (average Dem judicial candidate), they all still won Harris County overall. Greg Abbott had a more modest 22-point win over Wendy Davis in CD07, and he needed all of that to win the county by less than five points. If CD07 is even close to being fifty-fifty, how does any Republican win countywide? If Beto O’Rourke is really leading in CD07 by seven points, then he’s going to crush it in the county, and that as much as any “likely voter” poll suggests a real, close race statewide.

Now of course all of this is predicated on this poll being accurate. As we discussed after the CD23 poll was published, this is a new and experimental approach to polling, and as always it’s just one result. We do have one earlier result, which happens to closely match this one, but two data points are only slightly better than one. My point is that this poll doesn’t have to be dead-on accurate to highlight the potential for a blue wave in Harris County. Even a modest shift from 2016 would point in that direction.

CD23 “live poll”: Hurd 51, Ortiz Jones 43

Give this one a bit of side-eye.

Gina Ortiz Jones

Incumbent Republican Will Hurd is leading his Democratic challenger, Gina Ortiz Jones, in one of the country’s most competitive races in this year’s midterm elections, according to a new poll by The New York Times and Siena College.

The poll, which surveyed 495 people in the district by phone this week, shows Hurd with 51 percent  support compared with Ortiz Jones’ 43 percent. Seven percent of those surveyed were undecided, with a margin of error of plus or minus 5 percent.

The southwest Texas district that stretches from San Antonio to El Paso, long considered a “swing district,” is a prime target for Democrats who are looking to pick up House seats this November. Hurd, a former CIA officer, narrowly beat Democratic opponents in 2014 and 2016.

Ortiz Jones, a former Air Force intelligence officer, is hoping Democratic enthusiasm and opposition to President Donald Trump will propel her to victory in the district, which has garnered national attention and is on several “most competitive” lists.

Hurd, who is seen as a moderate Republican, has distanced himself from Trump on major issues like immigration and has criticized the president for his dealings with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Here’s the full NYT writeup, which is worth reading. This is one of the districts The Upshot of the NYT is polling in real time, with the explanation “Our poll results are updated in real time, after every phone call. We hope to help you understand how polling works, and why it sometimes doesn’t.” Basically, when they get to 500 completed calls, they stop. That has raised some questions – which they openly acknowledge and discuss; you can follow Nate Cohn on Twitter for a lot of that – and if nothing else this is a pilot program. It’s ambitious and admirable, just (as they say with each result) not to be taken as the be-all and end-all.

In this case, I will note that in the three elections in CD23 this decade, the final numbers have been a lot closer than eight points, and no Republican has achieved a majority of the vote:

2016 – Hurd 48.29, Gallego 46.96
2014 – Hurd 49.78, Gallego 47.68
2012 – Gallego 50.31, Canseco 45.56

Even in the debacle of 2010, Quico Canseco only got 49.40% of the vote, though of course that was before this redistricting cycle. The idea that Will Hurd could get 51%, which would be a high water mark for Republicans in CD23, in a year like this seems unlikely to me. It’s very possible Hurd can win – he’s proven himself to be a strong candidate. It’s conceivable Hurd could top 50% – maybe he’s won enough people over, maybe Ortiz Jones isn’t so good on the campaign trail, who knows. I would be very, very surprised if he wins by as much as eight. We’ll see if there are any poll results out there for this district. In the meantime, The Upshot and Siena are working on CD07, while the DMN and the Times will be polling CD32, as well as statewide. Exciting times to come.

Henry Cuellar does his thing

And it’s annoying as usual.

Rep. Henry Cuellar

A new report has left many Democratic House insiders perplexed and frustrated with one of the most powerful Texas Democrats in Congress: U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo.

Politico reported Tuesday that Cuellar had”invited supporters to a breakfast fundraiser” Tuesday morning for U.S. Rep. John Carter, R-Round Rock. The invitation was “sent from a Cuellar political staffer,” according to the report.

“Although I was not a host of the event, I was honored to attend as I typically do for colleagues who visit my district,” Cuellar said in a statement. “Judge Carter is a dear friend and trusted colleague with whom I work on Appropriations. He is knowledgeable and supportive of issues important to South Texas. In today’s climate, more than ever, friendship is more powerful than partisanship.”

Cuellar, who has served in the U.S. House since 2005, has long had a reputation as one of the chamber’s most conservative Democrats. But in both party’s caucuses, actively helping a member of the other party is a highly frowned upon practice.

[…]

Like all other U.S. House members, Cuellar’s party leadership assigns him a set amount of money to raise for their campaign arm each cycle. The House GOP campaign arm has a similar practice. The committees then direct the money for various purposes, but the main one is television advertising in competitive House races around the country.

In 2017, the the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee assigned Cuellar dues that amounted to $200,000. According to records obtained by the Tribune, Cuellar had paid $400,000 to the committee this cycle as of July. Those dues will go to a massive pot of DCCC money that will, in part, fund ads to support Democratic House candidates – including possibly Hegar if she gains traction in the run up to Election Day.

Cuellar’s gonna Cuellar, he’s been that way since he ousted Ciro Rodriguez in a contentious primary back in 2008. And while Beto O’Rourke has faced some criticism for his ties to Rep. Will Hurd, there’s a world of difference between not lining up behind a fellow member of your party, and actively supporting the election efforts of a member of the other team.

Hegar’s thoughts on this are here. Like I said, Cuellar’s going to do his thing, and to be fair he does deserve credit for ponying up to the DCCC as he has done. Not all members of the caucus do that, including some who can easily afford it. That said, given the energy this year for taking on incumbents who have fallen short in one way or another, one can imagine a more spirited primary challenge for Cuellar in 2020. He’s not going to change who and what he is until he’s given a good reason to believe he needs to change.

Interview with Adrienne Bell

Adrienne Bell

CD14 covers Galveston and Jefferson counties, plus part of Brazoria. Those first two counties were the main component of what was once CD09, before Tom DeLay ripped up the map. Its heritage is Democratic – Nick Lampson represented that turf for four terms – but has since gotten away from those roots. Trying to get it back is Adrienne Bell, a native Houstonian and second grade teacher with HISD. A veteran organizer, Bell served as a Deputy Field Director with Battleground Texas, and on the Houston staff for the Obama 2012 election campaign. She and Colin Allred were the only two Texas Democrats in the first wave of endorsements from President Obama; she has since also been endorsed by Democracy for America. Here’s what we talked about:

You can see all of my interviews for Congress so far as well as other information about the candidates on my 2018 Congressional page.

Sri Kulkarni and Asian voters

Great story.

Sri Kulkarni

Despite its diversity, [CD22] has been a Republican stronghold going back to the days when it was held by former U.S. House Speaker Tom Delay. In 2016, Donald Trump won the district by 8 percentage points while the incumbent tea-party Republican Pete Olson won re-election by nearly 20 points. On paper, this is one of those seats that looks to be immune to a Democratic wave in November.

But Sri Preston Kulkarni, who quit his post in the Trump administration last year and moved back to Texas to challenge Olson, isn’t so sure.

For years, the Texas Democratic Party has bet its future on an imminent, but never-quite-materializing demographic destiny. Eventually, the thinking goes, the rapidly growing Latino population would exercise their political muscle, turning Texas blue. But that hasn’t happened. Meanwhile, Asian Americans are another rapidly growing, low-turnout demographic in the state. As a small, relatively conservative, highly fragmented voting bloc, they’ve attracted far less attention from Democratic operatives. But Asians have undergone a massive political realignment to the left and they could hold the key to Democratic gains in the diversifying purple suburbs of Texas. At least that’s Kulkarni’s bet.

“When I first started, I was told not to bother with the Asian-American vote because they don’t turn out,” Kulkarni told the Observer. “Well, I said, maybe that’s because you’re not reaching out to them.”

[…]

Kulkarni and a small team quickly assembled an intensive outreach program to target the various sub-communities within the district’s diverse Asian-American population. With the help of hundreds of volunteers — many of them in high school and college — Kulkarni has canvassed registered AAPI voters in the district with door-knocking and phone-banking in 13 different languages. Indians are the largest Asian community in the district — more than a third of the AAPI population — and the campaign has volunteers who speak the major Indian languages, including Hindi, Tamil, Urdu, Telugu, Marathi and Gujarati.

Padma Srinivasam, a longtime Sugar Land resident who emigrated from South India, heard about Kulkarni’s campaign at one of Beto O’Rourke’s town halls in January and immediately joined his volunteer team. A native Tamil speaker, she is charged with calling many of the district’s Tamilians and introducing them to Kulkarni. People are more receptive, she says, not only when she pronounces their name properly but can switch back and forth between languages. “Language is not a barrier here for us,” Srinivasam said. “That’s how we do it, we reach out to all the people.”

Ashok Danda, a volunteer from Katy, helps coordinate outreach to the district’s Telugu speakers, including through a mass Whatsapp chat. “We all speak English, but when you add that little touch it really has an effect,” Danda said. He calls his friends, they call theirs, and soon, Danda is holding a fundraiser for 50 Telugu speakers in his living room.

Volunteers also speak Mandarin Chinese and Vietnamese, which are, respectively, two other widely spoken languagesin the district. Kulkarni has made the rounds, too, in the district’s many religious centers — from the Ismaili jamatkhanas and Malayalee churches to the Hindu temples and Sikh gurdwaras — and reached out to younger Asians in professional groups like the South Asian Bar Association and the American Association of Physicians of Indian Origin.

“The diversity within the AAPI community necessitates what Sri’s campaign is doing. They’re just being super smart about it,” said Deborah Chen, the civic engagement programs director for the Organization of Chinese Americans-Greater Houston, a group dedicated to nonpartisan AAPI voter outreach. “That’s the inherent challenge for the AAPI community: It’s an American term. There’s no such thing as an Asian in Asia.”

Put simply, there’s no single way to communicate with “Asian” voters.

The Chron ran its own version of this story a couple of days later. This is the kind of strategy that makes you slap your forehead and say “Why didn’t anyone think of that before?” (And, sadly, Why aren’t we doing this better now?”) I wish Kulkarni had named names, because this kind of counter-productive “advice” should be a career-limiting move by whoever gave it. To be sure, this is labor intensive, and turning out non-habitual voters is often a difficult task, but Asian-American voters are increasingly Democratic and there’s a lot of room for growth. It makes all the sense in the world to do this, and we just may have the right parlay of candidate and political environment to make it work. Erica Greider has more.

Interview with Steven David

Steven David

We turn our attention this week to Congress. I covered a bunch of Congressional races in the primary season, and I won’t be revisiting them, but there are still a couple of races of interest in the area. First up is Steven David, whose CD08 covers a small part of northern Harris County and a much bigger part of Montgomery. David works for the city of Houston as a part of a business and efficiency team, tasked with reviewing processes and finding savings. He’s only the second Democrat to run against longtime incumbent Rep. Kevin Brady since Harris County was drawn into the district in 2011, and like many other Congressional candidates this cycle he was motivated by the attempt to kill off Obamacare. Here’s the interview:

You can see all of my interviews for Congress so far as well as other information about the candidates on my 2018 Congressional page.

The Atlantic on CD07

I have three things to say about this:

Lizzie Fletcher

On a Saturday morning in Houston, the high was 94 degrees with a chance of rain. It was hardly friendly weather for canvassing—the door-knocking, yard sign–delivering, get-out-the-vote efforts that define a politician’s grassroots network. Yet dozens of Seventh District residents, sporting lizzie fletcher for congress T-shirts, had happily crammed into a small office room on Richmond Avenue, awaiting their marching orders.

Fletcher stood on a step stool at the front of the room. The 43-year-old cuts an unconventional profile in the Seventh—female, liberal, inexperienced. Any one of those descriptors should be a nonstarter in this district, which a handsome blue blood named George H. W. Bush first turned Republican in 1966. That Bush has had only two successors in nearly five decades—both white, conservative men—appears testament to that fact.

But in a nod to the vast strangeness of 2018, Democrats see the Seventh as one of their best shots at taking the House. Indeed, Texas is changing. Across the state, Republican incumbents including Representative John Culberson here in the Seventh; Representatives Pete Sessions and Will Hurd; and even Senator Ted Cruz are struggling to fend off Democratic challengers. Suddenly, the idea of a progressive woman, a political outsider, unseating an 18-year incumbent like Culberson doesn’t feel so far-fetched.

On this Saturday in August, wearing a campaign T-shirt, a black miniskirt, and flip-flops, Fletcher prepped her volunteers by invoking the anniversary of Hurricane Harvey. It was exactly one year before that Harvey had dumped as much as 51 inches of rain on Houston, killing 75 people in Texas, and the trauma still ran deep. “For so many of us, Harvey was really a low point and a high point of our lives in Houston,” she said. The low point was obvious. But the high point, she said, was that in this community, “if you could help, you did.”

She didn’t have to adopt a hyper-partisan caricature—rallying for Donald Trump’s impeachment, say, or decrying his big tax cut for the wealthy—to energize the room. Rather, she compared volunteer efforts in the aftermath of Harvey to that day’s canvassing. “We are in a crisis in our country,” she said, her slight Southern lilt elongating her i’s. “And the best way—the best way—to do something about it is to do what y’all are doing today: Just show up.”

[…]

Today the district claims one of the most ethnically and economically diverse populations in Houston. It is 38 percent white, 31 percent Latino, 12 percent African American, and 10 percent Asian. To drive through the Seventh is to glimpse a vast number of takes on American life. The district touches some of the ritziest parts of Houston—the flashy mansions of River Oaks, the designer-stocked Galleria. Track a few miles southwest and you’ll find Gulfton, where Indian and Pakistani restaurants line the so-called Gandhi district and a single street might host Ethiopian and Guatemalan churches. Spin back up I-10 and there’s the Barker Reservoir, behind which many upper-middle-class homes were destroyed by Hurricane Harvey.

As the state undergoes a demographic transformation with the political shifts to match, the question for some political analysts has become not if Texas will turn blue, but when. So it has with the Seventh: The decades-long Republican stronghold swung for Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election, and Democrats have since zeroed in on it as a linchpin of their map to secure the House majority. “Any blue wave from Texas to Washington, including California, is going to start with this race,” the longtime Democratic lobbyist Scott Eckart told me. “If Culberson loses, I think all the others will follow.”

So far, polling suggests that, for Democrats, the Seventh is in fact within reach. Both Fletcher’s and Culberson’s internal polling clocks the race within the margin of error, according to three sources to whom the numbers have been relayed. Which means the pressure is on for Fletcher to run the perfect campaign not just for her own sake, but for House Democrats writ large.

“The political momentum here has shifted, and Lizzie is the ideal person to capitalize on that,” said Mustafa Tameez, a Democratic strategist based in the district. “She’s a progressive woman, she’s young, she’s smart. She checks off every box.”

[…]

This is in part why her campaign is less a collection of partisan talking points and more a commentary on local issues such as flood relief: She’s long been personally privy to the cyclical trauma of flooding in Harris County. Culberson “has been my rep since he was first elected in 2001,” Fletcher told me. “That year, we had Tropical Storm Allison. And I was working downtown at the time, and downtown flooded, my building flooded, people died. It was just this really incredible event that kind of snuck up on us.

“So he’s been on notice since he took office that this was something we needed to deal with,” she continued. “I didn’t ever agree with his positions in the first place … but what we are dealing with, in terms of flooding, is a years-long problem, and Culberson has been completely missing from the discussion.”

For Fletcher, it makes one of the key pro-Culberson arguments—that he’s a senior member of the powerful Appropriations Committee—unconvincing. “As a senior member of the Appropriations Committee … in the majority, why is it that two Democrats in our community are bringing the bill to fund all of our flood-mitigation projects, and he won’t sign on?” she said. “I think if you ask anybody, they’ll say we haven’t seen him use that to benefit our community, in all the years he’s been on it.”

1. The subhed on this article is “The Republican incumbent John Culberson has held the minority-majority Seventh Congressional District for almost two decades, but the Democrat Lizzie Fletcher hopes to finally turn out progressives and minorities.” So naturally I wanted to look at historic turnout numbers:


Year   CD07   County  Ratio
===========================
2016  67.04    61.33   1.09
2014  39.05    33.65   1.16
2012  67.72    61.99   1.09
2010  49.42    41.67   1.19
2008  70.61    62.81   1.12
2006  40.65    31.59   1.29
2004  66.87    58.03   1.15
2002  37.37    35.01   1.08

So turnout in CD07 is always higher than turnout in Harris County as a whole, ten to fifteen percent more in Presidential years and fifteen to thirty percent more in most non-Presidential years. That’s probably due to non-Presidential year turnout being generally lower in more Democratic areas. There’s still plenty of room for turnout to improve here. The goal of course will be to make sure that the reason for the bump in turnout is primarily due to voters who are friendlier to Fletcher than to Culberson.

2. As I’m sure you can guess, the prospect of poll data in CD07 is irresistible to me. We do have one publicly released poll that showed a two-point lead for Culberson. My guess is that the others mentioned in the story are all around that same margin, most likely all with Culberson in the lead. It’s all consistent with the larger picture. I do wonder, if the current slump in Trump’s approval ratings persists, if we’ll start to see more polls of Congressional districts being made public.

3. I do like the idea of turning Culberson’s tenure on the Appropriations Committee against him. If he couldn’t or didn’t deliver when his district and much of the rest of the region suffered such catastrophic floods as Allison and Harvey, then what good is he and his vaunted seniority and position of influence? It’s an argument that has a chance of catching on with people who aren’t congenital Democrats, and a good argument to make in an anti-incumbent year. Doesn’t mean it will work, or that it will be enough even if it does work, but it’s a good place to start.

The 2006 question

It always comes back to turnout.

It was the worst day of the worst month of the worst season in years for Republicans hoping to mitigate political damage in this fall’s midterm elections. And Texas political operatives were left stunned as they processed the ramifications.

In one Tuesday afternoon, a Virginia jury found President Donald Trump’s campaign chairman Paul Manafort guilty of financial crimes, Trump’s former personal attorney Michael Cohen pleaded guilty to his own financial and campaign law violations, and a GOP congressman – U.S. Rep. Duncan Hunter of California – found himself indicted on a slew of charges.

But instead of serving as some sort of seminal turning point of the 2018 cycle, operatives from both parties interviewed by The Texas Tribune viewed these events as merely a further deterioration of an already grim situation for Republicans. The damage to the GOP brand is now at a crisis point, and many in politics wonder if the party might salvage its control of the U.S. House.

“It’s a drip, drip, drip,” said Beto Cardenas, a Houston lawyer and political insider with connections to both parties. “At what point does your pond turn into a lake?”

Washington Democrats have long pushed back against comparisons to 2006, when Democrats swept away Republican majorities in the U.S. House and Senate. Back then, the Democrats faced less of a disadvantage due to gerrymandering. And those were the pre-super PAC days, meaning the Republican financial advantage was less daunting.

But now the battle cry of of 2006 – “culture of corruption” – and the comparisons are back. And Democrats are showing signs of confidence.

Texas is, in part, why.

We’ve discussed this before, but the reason why I have harped on 2006 in the past is because Republican turnout was low, or at least lower than the other off years this century. If Republicans turn out this year like it’s 2006, that’s 300K to 500K fewer votes statewide that Dems need to get to have a chance at winning. It’s also fewer votes that candidates in the contested legislative races need to win.

I don’t know if Republican turnout will be lower than usual. I feel confident that it won’t be like 2010, but if 2014 is their baseline, I could see that happening. It may be that they won’t feel a great sense of urgency. It may be that the lack of a Democratic president will tamp them down. It may be that the continued scandal show will turn some of them off. It may be that none of it has any effect, or even that it galvanizes them. Maybe something will happen to put Democrats on the defensive. Who knows?

As things stand right now, I think Republicans are in line to have average to average-minus turnout, maybe something between 2006 and 2014. Could be better, could be worse, for each side. We’ve seen multiple recent examples of events having big effects late in the cycle, so whatever we think is happening now may well not be true in two months. Think of 2006 as a framing device. If we continue to talk about it as a possible model for this year, it’s a good thing.

Another look at MJ Hegar

Lots of this is stuff we’ve seen before, but there are a couple of points worth mentioning.

MJ Hegar

Flipping a conservative stronghold like Texas’ 31st Congressional District, centered on Round Rock, would qualify as the high-water mark of any “blue wave” that Democrats hope will win them control of the U.S. House.

But Republicans say they are not panicking. Despite Hegar’s impressive military credentials and fundraising prowess — attributable in no small part to the video that propelled her from obscurity — they believe they have a near lock on a district that Carter won in the last election by more than 21 points.

President Donald Trump, by comparison, won the district by 14 points, suggesting that Carter’s fate does not hinge on the controversial leader of the Republican Party.

“He’s not taking anything for granted,” said Carter campaign spokesman Bruce Harvie. “But the voters know him and the voters trust him in this district. So we feel like we’re in a very good place.”

[…]

Whether Hegar opens any new doors remains to be seen, but she has already helped cast Texas in a slightly different light around the nation. Once seen as a uniformly Republican redoubt, the state is seeing spirited Democratic challenges in the 2018 U.S. Senate race and at least three Republican-held congressional districts that Clinton won in 2016.

“We told people they should run everywhere,” [Crystal Perkins, executive director of the Texas Democratic Party] said. “We didn’t know what would come on to the map” of competitive districts. “And this is considered pretty much the center of Texas — red territory.”

Trump actually carried CD31 by 12.5 points, not 14, though it was more like a 20-point Republican district downballot. MJ Hegar is a fantastic candidate who has raised a ton of money, but the numbers are what they are. I think it’s reasonable to posit that Hegar can run ahead of the Democratic baseline, but that’s a tall order. Of course, if the overall environment is sufficiently friendly to Dems, then that makes her task more doable. It also likely means she’ll have more company as a Democratic freshman from Texas.

That story was from a few days ago, and since then we also got this story in the Trib, which is more focused on the incumbent Rep. John Carter, but which serves as a good companion piece for this:

There are a few reasons some in GOP circles fear a perfect storm is brewing against Carter. Perhaps the one quietly discussed the most is that the mechanics, fundraising and tactics of modern campaigning have changed dramatically since his first successful run more than 15 years ago and he hasn’t kept up. Also, Democrat Beto O’Rourke’s spirited bid against U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz is beginning to spook Republicans about how a potential surge in Democratic turnout might impact down-ballot races just like Carter’s.

The shifting demographics of this district — particularly in suburban Williamson County — are also raising some alarm bells. While still considered a Republican district, it was redder when Republican officials drew its lines seven years ago. If a Democratic midterm wave sweeping across the country did reach Central Texas, could the district possibly flip?

Sources close to Carter counter he has done the on-the-ground constituent work for years to inoculate himself from a serious threat, and he and his team are quick to tout a recent piece of legislation he moved through Congress to assist veterans with organ donations. But Hegar has noted that Carter hasn’t held an in-person town hall in years.

In Washington, GOP operatives focused on the national map and keeping the House in Republican hands view Hegar’s bid as a long-shot. Two other Democratic campaigns in Texas – Collin Allred’s bid against U.S. Rep. Pete Sessions, R-Dallas, and Lizzie Panill Fletcher’s campaign against U.S. Rep. John Culberson, R-Houston – are more immediate concerns.

But national strategists say they are closely monitoring CD-31 to see if Hegar’s advertising begins to move polling numbers.

You better believe I’ll be on the lookout for any polling data for this race. There was a poll done last November that suggested a 46-40 race, but that was a long time ago. The key thing here is that CD31 is not like some other districts that were carried by Hillary Clinton. Trump still won it by twelve points, and he was the low achiever. The gap here is big, or at least it starts out that way.

As such, it’s possible that Hegar can greatly outperform the Democratic baseline and still fall short. Certainly if she wins, but even if she comes close, Hegar has a legitimate chance to be a star. She already is to an extent thanks to her now-iconic campaign video, but winning or exceeding expectations would elevate her higher. What might that mean? Well, someone’s gotta run against John Cornyn in 2020; that might actually be an easier leap if she loses, since she wouldn’t be giving anything up. I’m just spitballing here. Let’s see how she does in this race, then we can speculate about the future.

Going for Section 3

I wouldn’t get my hopes up, but Lord knows this is desperately needed.

The voters of color, civil rights groups and Democratic lawmakers who have long challenged the validity of Texas’ political maps were dealt a bruising loss earlier this year when the U.S. Supreme Court signed off on most of the state’s current political boundaries and pushed aside claims that state lawmakers had intentionally discriminated against voters of color when they drew the maps.

But a crucial question remained in the case: Would the state’s opponents ask the courts to force Texas back under federal oversight of its electoral map drawing, given previous maps that federal judges ruled discriminatory?

Their answer came Wednesday in a series of brief court filings in which some of the plaintiffs in the case indicated they wanted to press forward on those high stakes efforts.

[…]

In approving the state’s current maps, the high court in June wiped out a ruling by a three-judge federal panel in San Antonio that found the maps, which were adopted in 2013, were tainted with discrimination that was meant to thwart the voting power of Hispanic and black voters, oftentimes to keep white incumbents in office.

But seemingly left untouched were previous findings of intentional discrimination at the hands of the state lawmakers who in 2011 first embarked on redrawing the state’s maps following the 2010 census.

Though the plaintiffs lost on their challenge to the state’s current maps, groups that challenged the maps pointed to some of those 2011 violations in indicating to the San Antonio panel that the issue of a return to federal oversight was not yet settled in the case.

See here for the background. I want to be clear that I agree with everything the plaintiffs are saying. I just don’t believe that the courts will lift a finger to do anything about it. The lower court might go along with it, since they previously ruled that the Republicans had discriminated in drawing the maps, but there are no circumstances I can imagine where SCOTUS will uphold that. It’s just not going to happen. The only possible recourse would have to come from Congress. That’s what we need to push for and work for in the next two elections.

In the meantime, there is now one item on the to-do list.

Before 45 days pass in the next legislative session, Texas lawmakers must begin fixing discriminatory issues with the way in which North Texas’ House District 90 was drawn.

In a brief order, a three-judge panel based in San Antonio told lawmakers they needed to address racial gerrymandering violations in the district — the only exception the U.S. Supreme Court made when it signed off on the state’s embattled political maps earlier this year. HD-90, which is occupied by Democratic state Rep. Ramon Romero, was deemed an impermissible racial gerrymander because lawmakers illegally used race as the predominant factor in deciding its boundaries.

Opponents of the state’s maps had previously indicated to the court that they wanted to revert the district to its 2011 version, a suggestion the state said it opposed and that the panel said it disagreed with.

On Thursday, the panel ordered lawmakers to redraw the district — either in a 2018 special legislative session that would need to be called by the governor or at the start of the 2019 legislative session. If a proposal isn’t introduced within the first month and half of the session, the judges said they would undertake the “unwelcome obligation” of fixing the district.

That’s fairly small potatoes, but it needs to be done and I for one would be interested to see what happens if the court winds up having to do the deed itself. As a reminder, the voter ID litigation is over, so this is the only court action left relating to the original 2011 legislative atrocities. The DMN has more.

Beto and the downballot Dems

I don’t sweat this too much, but there are a couple of points to address.

Rep. Beto O’Rourke

“If there’s $20 in a room, $10 of it is going to Beto. That’s just happening right now,” said [Joanna] Cattanach, who’s challenging Republican state Rep. Morgan Meyer of Dallas this fall. “The rest of it goes, in order, to the congressional candidates, [state] Senate candidates and then, if you’re lucky, as a state House candidate you can get some of that too.”

With the 2018 midterms less than three months away, Cattanach and other Texas Democrats are facing an issue that’s not uncommon for candidates lower on the ballot: getting noticed when the name at the top of the ballot is getting the most attention.

What stands out this year, many candidates and operatives say, is the level of excitement O’Rourke is generating among the party’s base, a situation that has led to the U.S. Senate race dominating attention this summer — over virtually every other race on the ballot.

Despite the fanfare surrounding O’Rourke’s run, the race remains Cruz’s to lose. Texas hasn’t elected a Democrat statewide in nearly 25 years. Cruz won his Senate seat in 2012 by 16 points. Yet lower on the ballot, Democrats see races where a win is far more likely — if only they can get out of O’Rourke’s shadow.

But, as former Austin-based Democratic consultant Harold Cook points out, the only thing worse than having a popular name at the top of the ticket is not having one.

“If you have one Democrat that’s doing well, that’s going to help down-ballot races,” Cook said. “I can tell you that some Democrat in Texas is going to win a House seat who would not have won if Beto were not doing well at the top of the ballot. Beto is going to do whatever he can do to break up a straight-ticket Republican vote, and do a pretty good job increasing turnout.”

[…]

Even some Republicans consultants think down-ballot candidates have reason to worry about the focus on O’Rourke’s campaign against Cruz.

“If I were the Democrats, I’d be putting a lot more energy into competitive state House and state Senate races and stuff down the ballot. They have a real opportunity,” said Brendan Steinhauser, an Austin-based GOP strategist. “But that’s what happens, right? These big races do take up a lot of the time and energy of the volunteers and the money of the donors, and it’s going to be really, really difficult for any Democrat to win statewide — even O’Rourke.”

“So if I was a Democrat, I’d be saying, “I’m a state House candidate. I’ve got a shot to win. This race is competitive and if I just had $50,000 of what O’Rourke got, I can probably win this thing,” he added.

Once again I find myself in agreement with Brandon Steinhauser. We do need to be giving more money to State House candidates. There are some very winnable races that lack sufficient funding. To some degree that’s on the candidates themselves, but for sure there’s a lot less oxygen in the room for them after Beto and the top-tier Congressionals. We are all banking on the assumption that Beto and anger about Trump will help bring out Democratic voters who don’t normally vote in elections like this one, and that will help raise the tide for everyone. But that tide can always be made a little higher in a given locality, and there’s no substitute for ensuring that voters know who you are and what you’re running for.

That said, this is mostly an issue on the margins, and the existence of the enthusiasm for Beto is by far the biggest asset to everyone’s campaign. There’s also time to raise more money to help fund mailers and the like, and as noted in the story a lot of these candidates are getting spillover benefits from Beto. I can tell you that every candidate I’ve interviewed so far has spoken of the positive effects of his campaign. If you want to know what you can do right now to help Democratic candidates win, there are two main answers: Help register voters, and give some of your time, talent, and/or treasure to legislative and county candidates, or your local county coordinated campaign. A little of that will go a long way.

On giving to “longshot” candidates

I have three things to say about this.

Sri Kulkarni

Thara Narasimhan, who hosts an Hindu radio program in Houston, has already given $1,200 to a Democrat running against Republican U.S. Rep. Pete Olson, who once drove around his solidly conservative Texas district with a “NEVER HILLARY” bumper sticker on his pickup. Her plans to donate even more bewilder friends.

“It’s not the question of why I have to support a failing candidate,” said Narasimhan, mingling at a fundraiser for Democrat Sri Kulkarni on a sweltering Texas summer night. “Unless you put some faith in it, you’re not going to make it work.”

The November midterms are on pace to shatter records for political spending. While more than $1 billion raised so far nationally is helping finance battlegrounds that are poised to decide control of Congress, restless donors aren’t stopping there — they’re also putting cash into races and places they never have before to help underdog Democrats.

[…]

At a crowded house party in suburban Austin for Democrat MJ Hegar, Jana Reeves found a seat on a kitchen bench that was a long way from her own Hill Country home that isn’t even in Hegar’s congressional district. Hegar has raised more $1.7 million in large part due to a polished six-minute campaign ad called “Doors” that got attention online and enticed donors like Reeves to give her a hand.

“Even though it’s hopeless? You know why?” Reeves said of the giving to Hegar and other Democratic challengers. “Even though maybe my paltry money can’t do much, I still want to support these people in the deep red districts, because the Democrats (at party headquarters) aren’t going to do it.”

[…]

Near Fort Worth, Democrat Jana Lynne Sanchez has raked in more than $358,000 and has campaigned through summer with more money than her heavily favored Republican opponent, Ronald Wright. They’re both running to replace GOP Rep. Joe Barton, who represented the district for more than 30 years but abandoned plans for re-election after a nude photo of him circulated online.

Sanchez bemoaned the “fish fries and pancake breakfasts” that candidates used in the past to raise money and spends six hours a day on the phone, competing with a half-dozen campaigns that she said are “sucking up most of the money” from big donors. On her list of ways to spend that money: hiring a campaign manager who has previous flipped a Republican district.

“People who say, ‘Money doesn’t vote,’ have never run a campaign,” Sanchez said.

1. In a wave environment like we have this year, “longshot” candidacies serve two important purposes. One is that a couple of these longshots are likely to win, thanks to a combination of the overall climate, changing demographics in the district in question, candidate quality, local issues, and more. The larger the group of viable candidates, the bigger the wave has the potential to be. Two, it forces the party that’s on the defensive to spend money where it doesn’t want to and didn’t expect to, and ultimately to strategic about where it deploys its resources. If you can’t afford to protect everyone, you have to make decisions about who gets defended and who gets left to fend for themselves.

(By the way, since this story was written Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball upgraded CD22 from Safe Republican to Likely Republican. Still a long shot, and dependent to a decent degree on the national environment, but well within the realm of the possible.)

2. Supporting these lower-tier candidates is also an exercise in party-building, which we have discussed here before and which is greatly needed on the Democratic side in Texas. Infrastructure built to help these candidates can and will be re-used in future elections. Many more people will now have the experience of working on a serious campaign. The candidates themselves may run for other offices if they don’t win the ones they’re in now. I’ve said before, I expect at least one unsuccessful Congressional candidate here in Houston to run for something in 2019. All these first-time candidates this year have been a huge breath of fresh air and new energy, but there’s real value in candidates who have done this before.

3. It’s a missed opportunity to write a story like this and not mention the fundraising prowess of Dayna Steele in CD36, who has raised more money than either Kulkarni or Sanchez, in a district that is considerably more hostile. Her career as a radio DJ gives her an advantage that most other candidates don’t have, but her success at raking in donations, especially in a 70%+ Trump district, is just mind-blowing. Honestly, if some reporter doesn’t do a full feature on her candidacy and its fundraising success, it will be a tragic oversight.

Crosstab versus 538

You are familiar with the Congressional race projections from G. Elliott Morris at The Crosstab, which I’ve noted here and here. He uses a probabilistic model for each district. Which as it happens is also the approach taken by FiveThirtyEight in their model. You can see all those projections here. You know what that means: Let’s compare the two!


Dist   XTab    538
==================
CD02  12.9%   7.8%
CD03   5.5%   0.8%
CD06  18.2%   6.6%
CD07  52.0%  49.3%
CD10  18.1%   2.6%
CD14   5.2%   1.8%
CD17   3.5%   0.5%
CD21  18.1%  17.8%
CD22  17.4%  14.2%
CD23  84.6%  72.4%
CD24  25.3%   4.4%
CD25   9.1%   7.9%
CD27   5.6%   0.5%
CD31   9.3%  20.1%
CD32  41.4%  11.7%

Overall, 538 is a bit more pessimistic about the individual Texas races. Where the Crosstab sees CDs 02, 06, 10, and especially 24 as lower-tier possibilities, 538 basically views them as nearly impossible. The one place 538 is more bullish than the Crosstab is in CD31; I’d love to understand the particulars behind that difference. But by far the most striking difference is in CD32, which the Crosstab has as slightly leaning red, while 538 sees it has almost a lock for the Republicans, behind not only CD31 but also CDs 21 and 22 on the Dem pickup list. That’s well out of line with the view of other national prognosticators, and at least one poll. Doesn’t mean they’re wrong, just that any time there’s this big a difference of opinion it’s notable. I’ll check back on this later to see if anything changes.

Blake Farenthold is still a toad

In case you were wondering.

Blake Farenthold

A former Texas congressman had tried steering a federal contract to the owner of a business who gave him a $160,000-a-year job after the congressman resigned amid sexual harassment allegations, according to a newspaper investigation published Sunday.

Republican Blake Farenthold resigned in April amid bipartisan pressure over revelations that he used $84,000 in taxpayer money to settle a lawsuit brought by a former aide who accused him of sexual harassment. A month after leaving Congress, Farenthold was hired as the lobbyist for the Calhoun Port Authority on the Texas coast. His hiring was directed by port chairman Randy Boyd, who owns a dredging company called RLB Contracting and was a political donor to Farenthold.

Emails obtained by the Victoria Advocate show that Farenthold’s office arranged a meeting in May 2015 between Boyd and the Army Corps of Engineers about a government project. Federal officials took the meeting but declined working with Boyd’s company, citing ethical and environmental rules, after which Farenthold’s office followed up with the Corps by to see “if there is anything our office can do to be helpful (to the Corps) and Mr. Boyd.”

Boyd donated $5,000 to Farenthold’s campaign a day after the congressman’s office began arranging a meeting for him with the Corps, according to Federal Election Commission records.

Also, too:

Months after he resigned from Congress, former Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-TX) is still blaming the #MeToo movement for the congressional investigation into allegations that he sexually harassed women in his office.

[…]

In an August 1 deposition over the recent lawsuit, a transcript of which was obtained and first reported by HuffPost, Farenthold says he “took a bullet for the team” by resigning from Congress. He blames the #MeToo movement, members of the media whom he calls “f tards,” as well as the House Ethics Committee for not caring about facts.

“I believe the public attention to the Me Too movement created a public environment where it would be much more difficult for the members of the Ethics Committee to separate politics from the facts,” Farenthold said, after being asked about previous comments where he had similarly blamed the movement.

Elsewhere in the deposition, he says that the committee was likely looking for a “scapegoat” and believes the entire investigation was a witch hunt.

He also said “f tards” — whom he defines as “A-S-S-E-S” and people in the media — for the investigation into his harassment of women who worked in his office.

Farenthold said he hasn’t paid the government back the $84,000 he used to settle a private lawsuit because his lawyers told him not to. “I can’t legally repay the government to do that,” he said. “I have been advised by multiple attorneys I cannot do that even if I wanted to.”

When further pressed on why he hadn’t donated a similar sum to a charity that works on sexual harassment issues, as he had previously promised to do, Farenthold again said that his lawyers told him not to. He said he was worried about “legislation pending in Congress” targeting sexual offenders in Congress that could authorize the government to take the money from his retirement plan.

“So your concern was that you might have to pay back the 84,000 twice, once back to the taxpayers and also to a nonprofit?” John Griffin, attorney for the Virginia advocate, asks him.

“Yes, sir,” Farenthold responds.

As HuffPost noted, the legislation Farenthold is referring to hasn’t moved forward in Congress, and neither the bill in the Senate or the House would affect him anyway. Only the House version would allow the government to pull the funds from a lawmaker’s Social Security or retirement plan, and it does not apply to past cases.

I take it back. Calling Blake Farenthold a toad is unfair to toads, who have done nothing to deserve such an insult. The bottom line here is don’t be like Blake Farenthold.

CD32 poll: Sessions 47, Allred 45

Another internal poll, another close race.

Colin Allred

Texas Rep. Pete Sessions’ re-election race is looking increasingly competitive, with Democrat Colin Allred polling close to the longtime Republican lawmaker, according to a new internal Democratic survey.

The Dallas-area 32nd District is traditionally GOP territory. But this year’s race is considered competitive, in part because the 32nd is one of three Republican-held districts in the Lone Star State that Hillary Clinton carried in 2016. Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales rates the race a Toss-up.

Sessions led Allred 47 percent to 45 percent in the initial head-to-head matchup, according to the polling memo shared first with Roll Call.

The poll, conducted by GBA Strategies, also showed both Sessions and President Donald Trump with low favorable ratings. Forty-one percent of those surveyed viewed Trump favorably while 38 percent had a favorable view of Sessions.

Twenty-three percent viewed Allred favorably, but only 15 percent viewed him unfavorably, signaling that respondents might not have strong opinions of the Democratic nominee or know much about him.

Standard disclaimers about internal polls apply, and as always it’s just one data point. The main thing I take away from these and other Congressional district polls is that they offer corroborating evidence for the statewide polls we have seen and the closer-than-usual environment we are in. I hope we get enough of these to get a feel for what the trendlines might look like as well.

It depends what the meaning of “intent” is

Give me a break.

Sen. Sylvia Garcia

It has been about three weeks since state Sen. Sylvia Garcia submitted a letter declaring her “intent to resign,” but whether it qualifies as an actual resignation has fallen into dispute — and has threatened to upend the timeline for Gov. Greg Abbott to call a special election for the Houston Democrat’s seat.

[…]

Still, Abbott has held off on calling a special election as his office and Garcia’s remain at odds over the validity of her letter. Abbott’s office does not believe Garcia’s use of the phrase “intent to resign” is good enough to trigger the process by which the governor can call a special election, while Garcia’s staff believes there is nothing wrong with the letter.

The clock is ticking on when Abbott can call the special election so that it coincides with the November general election. If he does not do it before Aug. 24, the next uniform election date on which he could call it is in May of next year. Still, he retains the option of calling an emergency special election that could occur take place on some other date.

In questioning Garcia’s letter, Abbott’s office attributes its reasoning to a 1996 Texas Supreme Court case — Angelini v. Hardberger — that involved a similar situation. Abbott was a judge on the court at the time.

“The governor’s position is that ‘intent’ to resign is insufficient to constitute an official resignation,” Abbott spokeswoman Ciara Matthews said in a statement. “The governor has made clear the only thing the Senator must to do to submit an effective resignation is delete the word ‘intent.’ The ball is in her court.”

Garcia’s office notes that her letter is very similar to the one former state Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, D-San Antonio, submitted to then-Gov. Rick Perry when she resigned in November 2014 to run for San Antonio mayor. That letter also used the phrase “intent to resign.” Perry scheduled a special election without any controversy, and Abbott, who took office in January 2015, called the runoff.

“It’s Sen. Garcia’s position that she has submitted a lawful, effective, valid resignation, and it was based on precedent, as recently as 2014, when Sen. Van de Putte submitted a letter of resignation almost identical to Sen. Garcia’s, and [Gov.] Perry called an election, and Sen. Van de Putte fulfilled the duties of her office until a successor was elected,” said John Gorczynski, Garcia’s chief of staff. “And we expect Gov. Abbott to call an election and set an election date by Aug. 20 because a resignation has been submitted and the governor hasn’t said anything to the contrary.”

See here for the background. On the one hand, Abbott is being a jackass. On the other hand, nothing is more important than getting that seat filled in a timely fashion, so if that means indulging Abbott’s pettiness and sending a substitute letter, suck it up and do it. There’s a time to stand on principle, and a time to say “screw it” and do what you have to do, and this is one of the latter. Let’s get this done.

Trump’s Texas beneficiaries

Interesting.

Six Texas Republican in Congress received a show of financial support from their party’s leader this week.

President Donald Trump’s re-election campaign announced Thursday that it was donating the maximum contribution possible to around 100 House and Senate Republican candidates ahead of midterm elections in which multiple polls suggest Democrats could be poised for big wins. Republican National Committee spokesperson Christiana Purves confirmed Friday that six of those candidates are incumbents from Texas: U.S. Reps. Michael Burgess of Lewisville, John Carter of Round Rock, Michael Cloud of Victoria, Mike Conaway of Midland, John Culberson of Houston and Pete Sessions of Dallas.

Three of those Republicans – Carter, Culberson and Sessions – recently learned they had been outraised by their Democratic challengers in the second quarter of the year, the latest sign that Democrats are aiming to compete in more Texas congressional districts than they have in a generation.

[…]

Burgess and Conaway are somewhat more surprising picks for being singled out by Trump as both represent solidly Republican districts.

Conaway is the biggest head-scratcher on this list. He has $1.5 million on hand, his opponent has $42K on hand on $48K raised (which to be fair, is a record-setting amount for a Dem in CD11), and is running in a district that Trump won by a 77-19 margin in 2016. There’s literally no definition of “incumbents who need financial support from their president” that includes Mike Conaway.

Even more curious is the omission of Will Hurd, the third member of the “toss-up trio” in Texas. Hurd likes to polish his image of being independent of the president (so don’t go looking at his voting record), and he’s a good fundraiser on his own. My guess is that if Trump’s money was offered rather than thrust upon these recipients, Hurd would probably have said “thanks but no thanks”. Nonetheless, it would be nice to understand the process here.

The meta-campaign for Senate

Let’s talk about what we talk about when we talk about the Senate campaign.

Rep. Beto O’Rourke

It’s the most backhanded of compliments.

U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke’s campaign for U.S. Senate has caught so much fire throughout the state that the new favorite betting game in Texas politics is “How close can he get to Ted Cruz in November?”

The implication in the question’s phrasing is that O’Rourke’s loss remains a given.

Despite the high enthusiasm the El Paso congressman’s campaign has drawn among Democrats, Texas has not elected a Democrat statewide in over 20 years. An informal round of interviews with well over a dozen political players involved in Texas and national politics suggests that Cruz is expected to extend that streak with a re-election victory in the high single digits.

While such a margin would amount to significant progress for Democrats from past statewide performances, a loss is a loss, and Cruz’s win would likely ensure GOP control of the U.S. Senate for another two years.

Even so, O’Rourke’s 18-month statewide tour could still help significantly rebuild a flagging state party apparatus. The term being thrown around quietly among Democrats is “losing forward.”

In that sense, the stakes are much higher for both parties than a single race.

How this very strange match up of Cruz, a former GOP presidential runner-up, against O’Rourke, a rank-and-file congressman turned political sensation, shakes out could set the trajectory of the next decade in Texas politics.

[…]

More than one operative from both parties brushed off the O’Rourke excitement with a pervasive phrase — “This is still Texas” — a nod to the state’s recent history as the most populous conservative powerhouse in the union.

The enthusiasm for O’Rourke — his bonanza event attendance and record-breaking fundraising, in particular — is something the state has not seen in modern memory. But there remain open questions over whether the three-term congressman can take a punch when the widely expected fall advertising blitz against him begins, whether he can activate the Hispanic vote and whether he can effectively build his name identification in a such a sprawling and populated state.

“We’ve never been in a situation where November matters at a statewide level,” said Jason Stanford, a former Democratic consultant, about the uncertainty of the fall.

So what would a moral victory be, if O’Rourke is unable to close the deal outright? Operatives from both parties suggest a 5- to 6-point spread — or smaller — could send a shockwave through Texas politics.

Such a margin could compel national Democrats to start making serious investments in the state and force local Republicans to re-examine how their own party practices politics going forward.

But that kind of O’Rourke performance could also bear more immediate consequences, potentially scrambling the outcomes of races for other offices this fall.

Only a handful of statewide surveys on the race are floating around the Texas political ether. But one increasing point of alarm for Republicans is what campaign strategists are seeing when they test down-ballot races.

Often campaigns for the U.S. House or the Texas Legislature will include statewide matchups in polling they conduct within a district. Sources from both parties say some of those polls show Cruz underperforming in some state legislative and congressional races — particularly in urban areas.

In effect, O’Rourke could come up short but turn out enough voters in the right communities to push Democrats over the line in races for the Legislature and U.S. House.

I know I discussed this before back in 2014 when we were all high on Battleground Texas, but let’s do this again. What are the consolation prize goals for Texas Democrats in 2018?

– To discuss the consolation prizes, we have to first agree on what the main goals are. Clearly, electing Beto O’Rourke is one of the brass rings, but what about the other statewide campaigns? My guess is that based primarily on visibility and the implications for control of the Senate, the O’Rourke-Cruz race is in a class by itself, so everything after that falls in the “consolation prize” bucket. Thus, I’d posit that winning one or more downballot statewide race would be in the first level of lower-tier goals, with Lt. Governor, Attorney General, Ag Commissioner, and any Supreme Court/CCA bench being the ones that are most in focus.

– Very close behind would be the Congressional races, for which three (CDs 07, 23, and 32) are rated as tossups, a couple more (CDs 21 and 31) are on the radar, and more than we can count are on the fringes. You have to feel like CD23 is winnable in any decent year, so for this to count as a prize we’d need at least one more seat in addition to flip. Very good would be all three tossups, and great would be another seat in addition.

– In the Lege, picking up even one Senate seat would be nice, but picking up two or three means Dems have enough members to block things via the three-fifths (formerly two-thirds) rule. I don’t know how many House seats I’d consider prize-level-worthy, but knocking off a couple of the worst offenders that are in winnable seats, like Matt Rinaldi in HD115, Gary Elkins in HD135, and Tony Dale in HD136, would be sweet.

– Sweeping Harris County, breaking through in Fort Bend County, picking up any kind of victory in places like Collin, Denton, Williamson, Brazoria, you get the idea. And don’t forget the appellate courts, which will require doing well in non-urban counties.

It’s easy enough to say what counts as lower-level goals, it’s harder to put numbers on it. It’s not my place to say what we “should” win in order to feel good about it. Frankly, given recent off-year elections, it’s a bit presumptuous to say that any number of victories in places we haven’t won this decade might be somehow inadequate. I think everyone will have their own perception of how it went once the election is over, and unless there’s a clear rout one way or the other there will be some level of disagreement over how successful Democrats were.

We really need to replace our crappy old voting machines

This is embarrassing.

Local election administrators in Texas are eager to replace voting machines purchased more than a decade ago in time for the 2020 presidential election. Increasingly susceptible to malfunctions, upkeep for the aging machines can exceed $300,000 annually in the biggest counties. Election experts have also raised security concerns about the paperless electronic devices used in most of the state.

The little help Congress has offered comes in the form of recent funding that will be used for cyber updates and training, not voting machines. And state leaders have shown no interest in chipping in, even as scrutiny over the security of the country’s election systems ratchets up in the face of Russian attacks.

In 2017, budget writers in the Texas Legislature seemed lukewarm to the idea of replacing aging equipment. Legislation that would have created a state fund for new voting equipment died without getting a committee vote in the House. The bill received a late-session hearing during which one lawmaker on the panel, Representative Pat Fallon, R-Frisco, asked county officials to shorten their testimony because a college basketball championship game had just tipped off.

“I hope we don’t have to wait until a crisis, but we are walking on thin ice when it comes to the integrity of our voting machines,” said state Representative Celia Israel, an Austin Democrat and the sponsor of the 2017 legislation.

More than 200 of Texas’ 254 counties still need to replace their voting machines and it appears unlikely that all will be able to do so in time for the next presidential election. The full price tag, according to election officials, is around $350 million — and local officials are having to find inventive ways to cover the costs. Travis County, for example, is expected to announce the winner of a new voting machine contract this week and plans to sell local bonds to come up with the anticipated $15 million.

The situation has grown dire. Some counties are using equipment that’s no longer manufactured. Machine failures are growing more common and it’s becoming harder to find replacement parts. County workers often have to scour eBay and Amazon to locate bygone tech relics such as as Zip disks and flash drives compatible with older machines.

Yeah, ZIP drives. Remember them, from the 90s? If you are relying on this kind of technology today, You Are Doing It Wrong. There’s no excuse for this – even if one thinks the counties should pay for the upgrades themselves, the cost cited in that penultimate paragraph is something like 0.3% of the state’s annual expenditures. It would be super easy to solve this if we gave a shit, but clearly our Republican leaders do not. But hey, I’m sure nothing bad will ever happen.

CD06 poll: Wright 48, Sanchez 39

Via Patrick Svitek on Twitter, I learned of a recent PPP poll in CD06. Here’s the polling memo, and here’s the information you’re most interested in:

Q1 Do you approve or disapprove of President Donald Trump’s job performance?


48% Approve
46% Disapprove
 5% Not sure

Q2 If the election for U.S. House of Representatives were held today, would you vote for the Democratic or Republican candidate in your District?


45% Democratic candidate
49% Republican candidate
 6% Not sure

Q3 If the candidates for U.S. House of Representatives this fall were Democrat Jana Lynne Sanchez and Republican Ron Wright, who would you vote for?


39% Jana Lynne Sanchez
48% Ron Wright
13% Not sure

Not exactly sure why there’s a dropoff from the generic Democrat to Jana Sanchez, but that’s not a terribly unusual event in polls. Smokey Joe Barton won in 2016 by 19 points, and he won in 2014 by 25 points, so whichever result is closer to the truth represents a much tighter race than we’ve seen recently. As noted in other contexts, this is consistent with statewide polling showing narrower than usual margins. I hope we see more Congessional-level polls in the state going forward.

Culberson’s continued stock problems

Oopsie.

Rep. John Culberson

Two members of Congress from Texas — Republican U.S. Reps. Mike Conaway of Midland and John Culberson of Houston — purchased stock in a company last year that is now at the center of insider trading charges against one of their colleagues, U.S. Rep. Chris Collins, R-New York.

Collins, best known as the first congressman to back Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential bid, was indicted Wednesday by federal prosecutors and charged with securities fraud, wire fraud and making false statements to the FBI. The indictment stems from his involvement in an Australian biotech firm called Innate Immunotherapeutics, and it alleges he passed non-public information about the company to his son, Cameron, who then used it to purchase stock and tip off others.

Conaway and Culberson are not named in the indictment and face no allegations of wrongdoing. But they were among several of Collins’ colleagues who purchased shares of Innate last year and faced some scrutiny for it, especially after reports surfaced that Collins was seeking to convince them and other associates to invest. Collins, who has denied any wrongdoing, was already being investigated by the House Ethics Committee before the indictment was unveiled Wednesday.

Both Conaway and Culberson bought stock in Innate on Jan. 26, 2017, worth between $1,001 and $15,000, according to personal financial statements filed with the House clerk. Their purchases came two days after a contentious confirmation hearing for U.S. Rep. Tom Price, R-Georgia, then Trump’s nominee for secretary of health and human services, during which he was questioned over his own investment in Innate. Conaway purchased more of the stock on Feb. 3, 2017, again valued at between $1,001 and $15,000.

Culberson sold his stock on June 12, 2017 — 10 days before Chris Collins is accused of sharing the non-public information with his son. Conaway, meanwhile, dumped all his shares in November 2017, according to a spokesperson for his office.

[…]

The fallout from the indictment could be more of a political problem for Culberson, who is among national Democrats’ top three targets in Texas this fall. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee singled out Culberson in a statement after the charges against Collins were revealed, and his opponent, Lizzie Pannill Fletcher, said in her own statement that the indictment “raises serious questions.”

“Congressman Culberson must explain why he, along with a small group of Republican lawmakers, bought stock in an obscure Australian biopharmaceutical company that is at the center of an insider trading scandal,” Fletcher said. “If Congressman Culberson used his position of power, along with access to material nonpublic information, in an effort to benefit himself personally then Congressman Culberson will have confirmed he is exactly what is wrong with Washington.”

See here for some background. In a different year, with a less-hostile political environment and a non-threatening opponent, Culberson could easily shrug this off. This year, not so much. Even if you yourself are not being accused of wrongdoing, the close association with a colleague who just got busted on federal charges and a Trump administration official who resigned amid a cascade of ethical scandals is not a good look. Good luck coming up with a satisfactory explanation for it all. The Chron has more on the Culberson angle, and for more on the Chris Collins arrest see Daily Kos, Mother Jones, ThinkProgress, and Political Animal.

From the “Many are called, but few are chosen” department

Here are your non-standard choices for the November election.

Independent candidates

Candidates unaffiliated with a political party are allowed access to the general election ballot as long as they file the necessary paperwork and gather a certain number of signatures — depending on the office sought — from people who didn’t attend either the Republican or Democratic party conventions this year or vote in either party’s primary.

“It’s up to their personal campaign on how they want to portray themselves [but] when you’re an independent, you haven’t attended the convention of another party,” said Sam Taylor, a spokesman for the secretary of state’s office.

Independent candidates were required to register with the appropriate office by June 21. This year, eight candidates are registered as independents — seven in congressional races and another vying for a state House seat. None are running for statewide office. Independent U.S. Senate candidate Jonathan Jenkins missed the filing deadline for the November ballot.

Here’s the full list of independent candidates:

  • Scott Cubbler in the 2nd Congressional District in the Houston area.

  • Benjamin Hernandez and Kesha Rogers in Houston’s 9th Congressional District.

  • Ben Mendoza in El Paso’s 16th Congressional District.

  • Kellen Sweny in the Houston area’s 22nd Congressional District.

  • Martin Luecke in Texas’ 25th Congressional District, which spans from Fort Worth to Austin.

  • James Duerr in Texas’ 27th Congressional District along Texas’ Gulf Coast.

  • Neal Katz, in Texas House District 6 in Tyler.

Write-in candidates

Five parties in Texas made an effort this year to get November ballot access — America’s Party of Texas, the Christian Party of Texas, the Green Party of Texas, None of the Above and the Texas Independent Party. However, none of the parties secured the nearly 50,000 valid signatures needed for ballot access this fall.

There’s a last-ditch effort these parties can utilize, however: filing a declaration of write-in candidacy. The window to file declarations opened on July 21 and will close Aug. 20, Taylor said.

As of Friday, Taylor said, only one candidate had filed a nominating petition: Samuel Lee Williams Jr. (who will appear on the ballot as Sam Williams). According to his campaign filing, Williams is running as a candidate for the Independent Party against Democrat Veronica Escobar and Republican Rick Seeberger in the race fill the U.S. House seat that’s being vacated by Beto O’Rourke, D-El Paso.

But don’t be surprised if more write-ins file to get on the ballot over the next several weeks. Jan Richards, a Green Party of Texas candidate for governor, told The Texas Tribune she plans to send her paperwork to the secretary of state’s office in the final days leading up to the declaration deadline — but first she said she needs to collect the $3,750 needed to be eligible as a write-in. She said she wasn’t aware of other candidates in her party that planned on doing the same.

The Libertarians have a full slate, but that’s boring since they do that all the time. The number of official Independent candidates is a lot less than the number of people who originally expressed interest in being an independent candidate, which 1) is completely unsurprising, and 2) is another reminder that actually being a candidate requires a higher level of commitment and follow-through than talking about being a candidate. Sadly, the final list does not include Yvette “Will Rap 4 Weed” Gbahlazeh, but one presumes she has a ready way to console herself for that. The main effect any of these candidates are likely to have will be to make it that someone can win a race with less than 50% of the vote. This was a more common occurrence last decade, before the 2011/2013 redistricting, but it does still happen – Rep. Will Hurd in CD23 has won both his races with less than half the vote – but given the environment this year and the competitiveness in more districts than usual, anything is possible.

Stalking Sessions

It sure would be sweet to beat Pete.

Rep. Pete Sessions

The man who engineered the 2010 Republican takeover of the House is racing to save himself in his own election this year — and he admits, in so many words, that President Donald Trump isn’t helping.

Texas Rep. Pete Sessions, a longtime party leader and former House GOP campaign chief, is confronting a treacherous political landscape back at home — a well-funded Democratic opponent with a boffo résumé, a rapidly diversifying and more liberal district, and, perhaps most critically, a constituency of well-educated and upper-income suburban voters who increasingly are turning on the president.

His predicament underscores the grave danger confronting Republicans this fall. As the party braces for an electoral drubbing that threatens to wipe out the majority they won eight years ago, the list of incumbents under duress is growing ever longer — and even powerful lawmakers like Sessions, a sharp-elbowed tactician who hasn’t faced a serious reelection contest in over a decade, are suddenly trying to survive a Trump-fueled bloodbath. In Texas alone, Democrats are targeting three Republican incumbents who’ve been in office for over a decade.

In an interview this week, Sessions, who was first elected in 1996, was careful not to overtly criticize the president — he praised some aspects of Trump’s record, including on national security. But the Texas congressman pointedly declined to say whether he’d campaign as an ally of the president, who narrowly lost Sessions’ North Dallas district in 2016. And he appeared to concede that some in the business-friendly area — which is home to a number of prominent country club-style Republicans, including former President George W. Bush — have soured on the bombastic commander in chief.

[…]

It’s a far cry from 2010, when Sessions, then the National Republican Congressional Committee chairman, helped to orchestrate a historic 63-seat wave that catapulted his party into power.

Sessions took a startlingly aggressive approach to target powerful Democrats long seen as politically untouchable, recruiting challengers against powerful committee chairmen and other veteran lawmakers who hadn’t faced tough races in years. Many were caught flat-footed and either lost their races or chose not to seek reelection.

This time, the roles are reversed — and it’s Sessions, now serving as the gavel-holder on the influential Rules Committee, who’s under siege.

The prospect of exacting revenge on the Texas congressman has thrilled national Democrats. A super PAC allied with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi plans to spend over $2 million on TV ads in support of Sessions’ opponent, Colin Allred, a former NFL player-turned-attorney and ex-Obama administration official. Major party figures, including former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick and former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro, are flooding into the district to campaign with the 35-year-old upstart.

We know Sessions hasn’t faced a serious challenger since the 2011 redistricting. As it happens, the best-funded opponent he’s had since defeating Martin Frost in 2004 was in 2010, when Grier Raggio raised $669K. Still, add that to the totals of his 2008 and 2006 opponents, plus the ones from this decade, and it’s still less than what Colin Allred has raised so far. Money isn’t everything, of course, and CD32 was still basically a 12-point district in 2016 outside of the Presidential race. G. Elliott Morris currently gives Dems a 40.7% chance of winning there; for comparison, he has CD07 at 51.2% and CD23 at a whopping 84.7% to flip. Sessions is a big fundraiser and has a reputation as a tough campaigner. Beating him won’t be easy. But it sure would be awesome.

Who wants to protect our voting systems from hackers?

You would hope the answer to that question would be “everyone”, but that’s not the world we currently live in.

A bipartisan group of 21 state attorneys general are demanding Congress’ assistance in protecting the 2018 election. Writing to Rep. Michael McCaul, chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee and Sen. Roy Blunt, Senate Rules and Administration Committee Chairman, the AGs ask for “assistance in shoring up our systems so that we may protect our elections from foreign attacks and interference.”

“As the latest investigations and indictments make clear,” they write “during the 2016 election, hackers within Russia’s military intelligence service not only targeted state and local election boards, but also successfully invaded a state election website to steal the sensitive information of approximately 500,000 American voters and infiltrated a company that supplies voting software across the United States.” Combatting that incursion and giving the electorate “confidence in our democratic voting process” is “imperative,” they write. “The integrity of the nation’s voting infrastructure is a bipartisan issue, and one that affects not only the national political landscape, but elections at the state, county, municipal, and local levels.”

Their direct demands: “Prioritizing and acting on election-security legislation” in the form of the Secure Elections Act (S.2261), a bipartisan bill that would provide additional grants and assistance to states to shore up systems; “Increasing funding for the Election Assistance Commission to support election security improvements at the state level and to protect the personal data of the voters of our states”; and, “Supporting the development of cybersecurity standards for voting systems to prevent potential future foreign attacks.”

You can see the very reasonable letter here. Seems simple and straightforward, no? You can also see that none of those AGs are Ken Paxton. Maybe that’s why he doesn’t want to debate – he doesn’t want to get asked pesky questions about that sort of thing.

The STEM candidates

If there was ever a year for scientists to run for office, this was it.

Across the country, hundreds of candidates with academic or professional experience in science, technology, engineering and mathematics have left their businesses and laboratories to compete in state legislative contests, congressional elections and even governor’s races. These scientists-turned-politicians constitute the largest wave of such candidates in modern U.S. history, according to 314 Action, an advocacy group that works to elect STEM professionals to public office.

Like the similar surge of women running for office this year, many of these first-time candidates entered the political arena in response to Trump’s election, frustrated with the United States’ withdrawal from the Paris climate accord and energized by the inaugural Marches for Sciences held on Earth Day in April 2017.

“Attacks on science didn’t start with the Trump administration,” said Shaughnessy Naughton, a former congressional candidate who founded 314 Action — named for the first three digits of pi — in 2014. “But they’ve taken what felt like a war on science and turned it into a war on facts, and that has been a catalyst for getting scientists involved.”

Over the course of the election cycle, more than 150 candidates with STEM credentials announced campaigns for Congress across the country, according to VoteSTEM, another organization that advocates for scientists to run for office. Eleven of those candidates were in Texas.

Ultimately, only two of the congressional hopefuls in Texas, both of them Democrats, survived the primaries — Joseph Kopser, an engineer running in District 21, which covers a portion of Austin, and Rick Kennedy, a computer scientist competing in District 17 in Central Texas. But around the state, candidates like [Allison] Sawyer [in HD134] remain in contention for a range of local positions, including seats in the state Legislature and on the State Board of Education.

And although many of these candidates face long odds in November, the current political environment, in which officials invoke “alternative facts” to justify inaccurate claims, could prove favorable to politicians schooled in the scientific method, said Colin Strother, a longtime Democratic strategist in Texas.

Candidates who favor “making data-driven decisions based on evidence and facts” will have a good chance in the upcoming elections, Strother said. “That worldview is a winner.”

[…]

Other Texas candidates with STEM backgrounds express similar frustrations at the status of scientific discourse in national politics. Carla Morton, a neuropsychologist running for the State Board of Education as a Democrat, said she remembers feeling dismayed when Trump posited a connection between vaccines and autism, a dubious claim backed by little scientific evidence. And Michelle Beckley, a Democrat with a bachelor’s degree in biomedical sciences who is running for a state House seat in Carrollton, said she wishes politicians would act on data showing the prevalence of gun violence across the country.

Morton is running in SBOE11, where incumbent Pat Hardy went unopposed in 2012 (SBOE members have six-year terms), and which is a fairly red district. Beckley is running in HD65 against Rep. Ron Simmons; Donald Trump carried it with 48.1% of the vote in 2016, but it was more like a ten-point Republican district downballot. Kopser and Sawyer are more likely to win than either of them, but all four are underdogs. Still, they’re all worth watching, and to the extent they can make the debate about what is real versus what is some yahoo’s fever dreams, we’ll all be better off.

If we actually wanted to increase voter participation

Here’s what we’d do, courtesy of the Center for American Progress:

This report examines the problem of low voter participation in America, which includes structural barriers that keep Americans from having their voices heard as well as widespread disillusionment with the political process. As this report shows, obstacles to voting and distrust in government have repercussions for representational democracy, leading to participation gaps across demographics as well as elected bodies that are unrepresentative of the broader population of American citizens.

To increase voter participation and expand voting opportunities for eligible voters, states have a number of tools available, including those detailed in this report. Taken together, the policies and practices explored in the sections below are proven to increase voter participation and make voting more convenient. The success of these programs depends largely on states’ commitment—as well as that of campaigns and grassroots organizations—to inform eligible voters of their availability, how to use them, and why exercising their power as voters can make a difference in their lives. In addition to analyzing the contributing factors to low voter turnout and the effectiveness of pro-voter policies in increasing participation, this report examines the impact of civics education and voter engagement work.

This report also outlines the following recommendations to drive voter participation and make the process of voting more convenient for eligible Americans:

  1. Streamline voter registration with automatic voter registration, same-day voter registration (SDR),11 preregistration of 16- and 17-year-olds, and online voter registration
  2. Make voting more convenient with in-person early voting, no-excuse absentee voting, and vote-at-home with vote centers
  3. Provide sufficient resources in elections and ensure voting is accessible
  4. Restore rights for formerly incarcerated people
  5. Strengthen civics education in schools
  6. Invest in integrated voter engagement (IVE) and outreach

This report also highlights the success of these policies based on existing literature. Where possible, gains in voter participation were projected using current impact data. Of course, demographics and voting cultures differ across states and even by jurisdiction, so these projections are not exact. However, they do provide an idea of how many of America’s missing voters could be engaged through these policies. There were some policies for which the authors were unable to project gains because key data points were unavailable. For these policies, more research must be done to determine their potential impact on voter participation in future elections.

There’s a lot more, so go read the rest. For obvious reasons, none of the things that we don’t already have in Texas (namely, in-person early voting) are going to happen here while we are governed by the regime that is now in charge. We can sure start a push for them at the federal level, though, and all of these items should be on the agenda in the states where they are doable. You know how Greg Abbott likes to bloviate about calling a constitutional convention? Well, my fantasy do-over Constitution contains an affirmative right to vote that jackasses like Greg Abbott can’t arbitrarily screw with. All the resisting we’re doing is great, but if we’re not also thinking about the things we want to accomplish after we win, we’re doing it wrong. The Current has more.

Fundraising: 2018 vs the rest of the decade

When I posted about the Q2 Congressional finance reports, I said I would try to put the totals in some more context at a later time. This is where I do that. Take a look at this table:


Dist       2012       2014       2016       Total        2018
=============================================================
CD02     50,168          0     14,217      64,385     843,045
CD03          0          0          0           0     153,559
CD06    145,117     13,027     27,339     185,483     358,960
CD07     76,900     74,005     68,159     219,064   2,321,869
CD08     14,935          0          0      14,935      25,044
CD10     51,855      9,994      6,120      67,969     171,955
CD12     10,785     80,216        525      91,526     106,715
CD14  1,187,774     35,302     21,586   1,244,662     105,067
CD17          0          0     39,642      39,642      67,000
CD21     57,058          0     70,714     127,772   1,594,724
CD22     40,303          0     24,584      64,887     405,169
CD23  1,802,829  2,671,926  2,198,475   6,673,230   2,256,366
CD24      6,252     10,001     21,914      39,167      61,324
CD25     12,235     32,801     55,579     100,615     199,047
CD26     11,273          0          0      11,273      94,235
CD27    399,641    301,255     23,558     724,454      93,570
CD31          0     67,742     28,317      96,059   1,618,359
CD32     79,696     10,215          0      89,911   1,916,601
CD36      2,597     25,213          0      27,810     516,859

Total 3,927,360  3,251,481  2,600,204   9,780,045  12,909,468

The first three columns are the total amounts raised by the November candidate in the given district for the given year. Some years there were no candidates, and some years the candidate reported raising no money. The fourth column is the sum of the first three. Note that with the exception of CD23 in 2014, these are all totals raised by challengers to Republican incumbents.

The numbers speak for themselves. With five months still go so, Democratic Congressional challengers have raised more so far this cycle than the challengers in the previous three cycles combined. The combined amount raised this year is three times what was raised in 2012, four times what was raised in 2014, and five times what was raised in 2016. Candidates this year outraised the three-year total in their districts everywhere except CDs 14 (due to Nick Lampson’s candidacy in 2012), 27 (due to two cycles’ worth of decent funding), and 23, the one true swing district where the big money is always raised.

It’s been said many times and I’ll say it again: We’ve never seen anything like this before. The reasons for it are well-explored, and the conditions that have given rise to it are (I fervently hope) singular, but it all happened. Is this a unicorn that we’ll never see again, or will it be the first step towards something different, more like this year even if not quite as much? I’d say that depends to some extent on how successful this year ends up being, and how committed everyone is to making this be more than a one-time thing. It’s a good start, but there is a whole lot more that can still be done.

The rising cost of losing

Womp womp.

The price of losing keeps going up for Republican Kathaleen Wall.

Four months after losing her campaign for Congress, the Houston Republican had to put yet another $150,000 of her own money into her campaign to pay for final expenses related to the race, newly released Federal Election Commission records show.

That pushed the total she spent on her failed campaign for the 2nd Congressional District to just under $6.2 million — the most self-funding any candidate in Texas has put into a campaign for a U.S. House seat since at least the year 2000 and the second highest amount any candidate for the House has spent nationwide this year.

Only Maryland Democrat David Trone has spent more of his own money to campaign for the U.S. House of Representatives this year. Trone, the co-founder of Total Wine & More, has so far spent just over $10.2 million on his campaign. He won his primary last month and faces Republican Amie Hoeber in November.

[…]

Wall’s final report to the FEC showed she needed the extra money for a variety expenses after losing her race, including for online advertising bills that were paid in April.

I know, it’s in poor taste to kick someone when they’re down. But good Lord, those Wall ads on TV were horrible, and you COULD NOT ESCAPE THEM. I’m getting twitchy just thinking about it. She deserves one last raspberry from those of us who had to survive them.

Two views of Democratic fundraising

Positive:

For the first time in a generation, there is a Democrat running for Congress in every single district in the state.

Most of those candidates vying to unseat Republicans will likely lose. Many are running in districts where President Donald Trump and the GOP incumbent won by double digits in 2016. But campaign finance reports show that a significant number of these Democrats are running professional campaigns, hiring staff and making their presence known in their communities.

And in this effort, they are bringing big money into the state.

Back in 2016, Texas U.S. House Republican candidates raised an aggregate sum of $32.3 million at this point in the cycle, nearly three times as much as Texas U.S. House Democratic candidates, who raised $11.4 million, according to a Texas Tribune analysis of campaign finance reports.

Two years later, Texas U.S. House Republican candidates have raised an aggregate sum of $34.8 million so far this cycle, similar to where they were in 2016. Democrats in Texas meanwhile, have nearly doubled their haul, having raised $21.8 million.

These figures do not reflect the more than $30 million raised so far in the state’s high profile race for U.S. Senate between Republican incumbent Ted Cruz and Democratic U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke.

And negative:

Four years ago, Wendy Davis was touring Texas like a rock star as she ran for governor. Sporting the same pink Mizuno sneakers she wore for her famous filibuster against a bill to restrict abortions, she was greeted by 1,600 cheering fans here, many of them wearing “Turn Texas Blue” T-shirts.

She had more than $10 million in the bank of the $37 million she would raise in her bid to become the first Democrat elected to statewide office in Texas in 20 years.

Now, as former Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez runs for the same office against Gov. Greg Abbott — who beat Davis by more than 20 percentage points — the crowds have often been scant. Valdez’s statewide name ID remains slim. Her bank account has been skinnier than a coyote in the desert.

Nevertheless, Democratic Party insiders expressed little concern as Valdez on Tuesday reported raising $742,250 in political contributions in the past seven months. As of June 30, she had $222,050 in the bank.

Instead of trying to build Valdez vs. Abbott into a marquee race, Democrats are focusing much of their attention — and campaign cash — on down-ballot and congressional races that have drawn a record number of candidates.

They’re hoping for what they call the reverse coattails effect — essentially they’re banking on well-funded Senate candidate Beto O’Rourke and the Democrats running for Congress, state and local office to help generate turnout for statewide candidates for governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general, instead of the other way around.

[…]

“Wendy (Davis) inspired optimism and enthusiasm, and she raised enough money to mount a top-flight campaign,” said Rice University political scientist Mark Jones, who analyzed the 2014 race and has been watching Valdez’s sputtering campaign — now at its halfway point approaching the November general election.

“This campaign is an embarrassment to everyone involved — Lupe Valdez, the Democratic Party, even Greg Abbott. At this point, I don’t think anyone could imagine Lupe Valdez as governor. You can’t create an alternate universe where she could win.”

But Jerry Polinard, a longtime political scientist at the University of Texas-Rio Grande Valley, said the party’s strategy could pay dividends in the future “if they’re successful in some of their down-ballot races. That could lay a groundwork for the future.”

If not, “that’ll be the party’s next big problem,” he said. “I’ve never seen a year like this in Texas at the top of the state ballot.”

I think you know where I stand on this. I’ll say again, Beto O’Rourke has raised a lot more money by this point than Davis did, and as we well know the Congressional challengers are orders of magnitude ahead of where they were in 2014. Yes, it would be nice if Lupe Valdez and Mike Collier could stay within the same zip code as Greg Abbott and Dan Patrick. But expand your field of vision a little, all right?

July 2018 campaign finance reports: Congress

So we know that Texas Democratic Congressional challengers really crushed it in Q2, and that’s on top of three strong quarters before that. How good was it? Let’s quantify. Here are the July 2017 finance reports, here are the October 2017 finance reports, here are the January 2018 finance reports, here are the April 2018 finance reports, and here’s the FEC summary page for Democratic Congressional candidates in Texas.

Todd Litton – CD02
Lori Burch – CD03
Jana Sanchez – CD06
Lizzie Fletcher – CD07
Steven David – CD08
Mike Siegel – CD10
Vanessa Adia – CD12
Adrienne Bell – CD14
Rick Kennedy – CD17
Joseph Kopser – CD21
Sri Kulkarni – CD22
Gina Ortiz Jones – CD23
Jan McDowell – CD24
Julie Oliver – CD25
Linsey Fagan – CD26
Eric Holguin – CD27
MJ Hegar – CD31
Colin Allred – CD32
Dayna Steele – CD36


Dist  Name             Raised      Spent    Loans    On Hand
============================================================
02    Litton          843,045    435,370        0    407,674
03    Burch           153,559    160,632   23,149     19,109
06    Sanchez         358,960    291,187        0     67,772
07    Fletcher      2,321,869  1,524,807    7,531    797,077
08    David            25,044     21,831        0      2,708
10    Siegel          171,955    130,827    5,000     46,852
12    Adia            106,715     55,874        0     50,696
14    Bell            105,067     98,931        0      6,135
17    Kennedy
21    Kopser        1,594,724  1,230,359   25,000    364,365
22    Kulkarni        405,169    359,246    8,000     89,434
23    Ortiz Jones   2,256,366  1,105,515        0  1,150,851
24    McDowell         61,324     33,351        0     28,091
25    Oliver          199,047    124,044    3,125     78,145
26    Fagan            94,235     67,627        0     26,707
27    Holguin          93,570     83,112        0     10,458
31    Hegar         1,618,359    746,072        0    867,266
32    Allred        1,916,601    973,962   44,978    942,638
36    Steele          516,859    342,527        0    174,301

I added a few other candidates, in part to show that in even the lowest-profile races in deep red districts, Dems are raising unprecedented amounts of money. Rick Kennedy’s report had not updated as of yesterday (there’s always one that’s pokier than the others), but we’ll charge ahead anyhow.

Let me note up front that quite a few of these candidates were in primary runoffs, and that would be the reason why their total amount spent are so high, which makes their cash on hand lower than it might have been otherwise. The raised amounts that I list for some of these candidates is lower than what you’ll see on the FEC summary page because I generally subtract out loan amounts; in those cases, I go with the Total Contributions amount on the individual’s page. Unless there are also transfers in from other committees, as is the case for some candidates (Kopser and Ortiz Jones, for instance), in which case I revert to the topline Total Receipts number. It’s a little tricky and not as consistent as I’d like, but it’s close enough.

The sheer amount raised just by challengers – nearly $13 million so far – is just staggering. I’ve got another post in the works to put some context on that, but suffice it to say that we have never seen anything remotely like this. I’ve mentioned several times how impressive I find Dayna Steele’s numbers (and I’m not the only one), so let me also show a little love for Vanessa Adia and Linsey Fagan, both of whom are running in districts about as red as CD36, and Julie Oliver, whose CD25 is closer to 60-40 but like so many others has not had a serious challenge since it was configured in 2011. Especially for the districts they’re in, those totals are amazing. Well done, y’all.

What all this money means, especially spread out over all these candidates, is that there can and hopefully will be a real effort all over the state to reach out to people who may have never heard from a Democratic campaign and remind them they have a reason to vote and a local candidate to vote for. It’s a great way to complement Beto’s campaign, and given that none of our other statewide candidates have two dimes to rub together, it’s very necessary. Our hope, for this year and going forward, is predicated on boosting turnout. We have the motivation and we have the resources. It’s been quite awhile since the last time those things were true.

I’m just getting started on collective finance report information. I’ll have a full survey of the results of interest in the coming weeks. Let me know what you think.

Dems keep posting very strong finance reports

Wow.

There are few bigger warning signs for a member of Congress that their re-election may be in doubt than when a challenger outraises them. In Texas, it just happened to seven incumbents, all Republicans.

Since last week, when U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke, D-El Paso, revealed that he had raised a stunning $10.4 million between April and June in his bid to unseat Republican U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, a wave of Texas Democrats running for U.S. House seats similarly blasted out their own unusually strong fundraising numbers.

The numbers only became more striking when compared to their rivals: Some Democratic challengers raised two, three or even four times what their Republican incumbent rivals posted. All congressional candidates were required to file their second-quarter fundraising reports with the Federal Election Commission by Sunday.

Along with Cruz, the six congressional incumbents who were outraised are delegation fixtures: U.S. Reps. John Carter of Round Rock, John Culberson of Houston, Will Hurd of Helotes, Pete Olson of Sugar Land, Pete Sessions of Dallas and Roger Williams of Austin.

In the 21st Congressional District, where Republican U.S. Rep. Lamar Smith is retiring, GOP nominee Chip Roy trailed his Democratic rival, Joseph Kopser. Several other Democratic candidates running in Republican strongholds across the state also posted abnormally large six-figure fundraising hauls.

One of the biggest red flags for Republicans came from Carter’s once-safe 31st District. Thanks to a successful viral video, veteran MJ Hegar raised more than four times Carter’s second-quarter sum – the biggest split among the races where Democrats outraised GOP incumbents.

[…]

Hardly anyone in Texas will suggest that incumbents like Olson and Williams are in any significant electoral trouble because they were outraised. But the cumulative effect of so much strong Democratic fundraising is unnerving to many Texas Republican insiders.

One anxious Texas operative suggested these fundraising numbers are merely a first alarm bell. The second may come once incumbents go into the field en masse and poll. But two GOP sources say many incumbents have been reluctant to poll their districts amid what feels like a chaotic political environment and are waiting for a more stable period to get an accurate read of the electorate.

You know most of the names already, but to reiterate, the Dems who outraised their opponents this quarter are Lizzie Fletcher in CD07, Joseph Kopser in CD21, Sri Kulkarni in CD22, Gina Ortiz Jones in Cd23, Julie Oliver in CD25, MJ Hegar in CD31, and Colin Allred in CD32. And there are more dimensions to this as well.

Jana Lynne Sanchez, who is running for the Tarrant County-area seat left open by disgraced Representative Joe Barton, has been steadily raising money and currently has a cash-on-hand advantage against former Barton staffer Ron Wright.

The Democratic fundraising tear has even reached into southeast Texas’ 36th Congressional District, which is rated as a +26 Republican district, one of the most conservative seats in the entire country. Longtime radio host and Democratic nominee Dayna Steele, who has pledged not to take corporate PAC money, raised $220,000 in the latest quarter, trailing ultraconservative incumbent Brian Babin’s haul by just $5,000.

Following Beto O’Rourke’s lead, many of these lesser-known candidates — running without national support in districts deemed too red for a blue wave — have sworn off corporate PAC money and are relying on small-dollar contributions. Sanchez says she has a total of 9,000 donors who have made an average contribution of $42.

All of these Democratic candidates have raised far more than past challengers in these districts — if a Democrat even bothered to run.

Keep that last bit in mind, because I’ll have more on it in a future post. And even where there’s a bright spot for the Republicans in CD02, where Dan Crenshaw reported a big haul, he’s facing Todd Litton with $843K raised and $435K on hand. It’s safe to say it’s been a long time since the Republicans have faced this many well-funded opponents.

Not all the reports are available yet on the FEC page, but when they get there I’ll have a post summarizing it all. Do bear in mind that even with all these strong numbers, Dan Patrick has also raised a bunch of money, and Greg Abbott has already booked $16 million in TV time for the fall. So celebrate the good news, but don’t get overconfident. What we’ve done here is approach parity, and the other guys may well have another gear to shift into. Keep the momentum going.

Monday “day before reports start showing up” campaign finance roundup

Good things keep happening to MJ Hegar.

MJ Hegar

EMILY’s List, a powerful organization that backs female Democratic candidates who support abortion rights, is putting its support behind Hegar, an Air Force veteran who has shot to national prominence in recent weeks following the release of a widely praised campaign video.

This is a long-shot race in a deeply Republican district against U.S. Rep. John Carter, R-Round Rock. But EMILY’s List is a fundraising juggernaut in congressional politics and this endorsement could deliver even more money to an already well-funded campaign.

“MJ is running against incumbent Congressman John Carter, a Tea Party extremist who hasn’t faced a tough re-election fight in years,” EMILY’s List president Stephanie Schriock said in a news release.

“MJ’s candidacy changes that. Voters in the 31st District finally have the opportunity to elect a representative who will fight for their interests, not special interests. Let’s show this military hero and champion for change the full support of the EMILY’s List community and do everything we can to help her flip this seat.”

That viral video and all the cash it helped Hegar raise keeps paying off. I wonder if we’ll start seeing CD31 being viewed differently by the prognosticators. Hegar is the fifth candidate from Texas to get the Emily’s List endorsement, following Veronica Escobar, Sylvia Garcia, Gina Ortiz Jones, and Lizzie Fletcher.

As of yesterday, there were a few completed Q2 reports available on the FEC page. One in particular caught my eye. I’ll let Patrick Svitek tell the story:


Dayna Steele ends Q2 with $516,859 raised, and $342,527 on hand. I don’t have the adjectives to express how insane that is, but let me put it to you this way: Dayne Steele has outraised the totals for the last three cycles combined in every Republican-held district except for three – CDs 14, 23, and 27. The former is because of Nick Lampson’s campaign in 2012, and the latter is because we thought we’d be able to win back the seat Blake Farenthold fluked into in 2010, despite it being (illegally, I don’t care what SCOTUS says) redistricted to be safe for him. There’s a decent chance that Dayne Steele will top $1 million raised in this 70% Republican district by the time all is said and done. If I had any mind left, it would be blown to smithereens.

Once more to Twitter, from Abby Livingston:


Livingston had previously noted that Democrat Colin Allred had outraised Rep. Pete Sessions in CD32, though Sessions still has a cash-on-hand advantage. It’s a longstanding complaint among Texas Dems that we perennially serve as an ATM for the rest of the country. Well, that’s also true for the Republicans, but that’s been less of a problem for them since they haven’t generally needed that much money given all their other advantages. Not so much this year.

I’ll be rounding up these and other finance reports as they appear, so look for more in the coming days.

Kulkarni reports $234K raised in Q2

From the Inbox:

Sri Kulkarni

Democratic nominee for U.S. Congress, Sri Preston Kulkarni, raised over $400,000 in receipts to date for his campaign to unseat incumbent Pete Olson (R-TX). This is the largest total ever for a Democratic candidate for the current district, with a total of $234,244 raised for the quarter from April 1 to June 30. Kulkarni has already outraised every democratic challenger for the past 8 years combined in District 22. Kulkarni’s campaign continues to push a positive and family values-based message, focused on ensuring children are healthy, educated, and safe, and investing in an economy for the future, not the past. By bringing together a strong coalition of various ethnicities and faiths in the second most diverse district in America, Kulkarni has offered a bold new vision of shared values and shared prosperity.

“This campaign has always been about the people of District 22. Because of our nearly 3,000 grassroots donors, we have increased Democratic fundraising from the previous election cycle by ten times. And we have done this all while rejecting corporate PAC money, unlike our opponent Pete Olson,” said Kulkarni. “This election is going to be won with hard work and sustained voter outreach. Our campaign has made over 120,000 direct voter contacts through multilingual digital engagement, phone calls, and blockwalking our neighborhoods with over 700 volunteers.”

The campaign is committed to a proven strategy of pulling in new voters from the immigrant community, engaging enthusiastic millennials, and offering an optimistic message that constituents across the political spectrum appreciate. By continuing to mobilize voters from every background, race, age, faith, and culture, the campaign will bring together this diverse district in November for a win.

Kulkarni had raised about $233K as of May 2, and $178K as of March 31, so as was the case with some other candidates, he really ramped things up in the last month of the quarter. If seeing the totals he announced make you think something like “oh, that’s not that much”, I will remind you that exactly one Democratic Congressional challenger raised as much as $100K for the entire 2016 election cycle, and he was a former incumbent. In this year, Kulkarni’s totals, overall and for Q2, will likely put him somewhere between seventh and tenth place; he trails the four (so far) million-dollar candidates as well as the not-yet-announced Joseph Kopser and Todd Litton, and his final ranking will depend on how the likes of Jana Sanchez, Dayna Steele, and Lorie Burch did. If you’re not amazed by this, you are not seeing the bigger picture.

UPDATE: Via Twitter, Trib reporter Abby Livingston says that Todd Litton “raised nearly $300,000 in Q2 and over $400K in COH”. I don’t have a press release and I didn’t see anything on Litton’s Twitter feed, but this would put him at close to $850K raised for the cycle. Not in the million dollar club yet, but getting there.