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Election 2008

Emmett says he will run for re-election in 2018

Well, this was unexpected.

Judge Ed Emmett

Judge Ed Emmett

Harris County Judge Ed Emmett said Thursday that he plans to seek re-election when his current term is up in 2018, ending speculation that he might step aside after more than a decade at the helm of the nation’s third most-populous county.

Emmett, a Republican known for his pragmatic, steady approach, said he made the decision Wednesday night after conferring with family and friends.

“I’m in kind of a unique position to bring people together at a time when it’s needed more than any other,” the 67-year-old Emmett said. “Harris County is a big, diverse place with lots of problems. Those problems don’t have simple answers.”

[…]

Emmett’s current term expires Dec. 31, 2018.

He said part of the reason he announced his intention to run Thursday was because the March 2018 primary is less than 18 months away and campaigns would likely get underway soon.

“I’ve got some money in the bank,” Emmett said. “But if I’m going to run, I need to make it clear so that those people who support me can get behind me.”

Former Houston Mayor Annise Parker said Friday that she had been considering a bid for the judgeship, but would not do so given that Emmett is seeking re-election.

“If he’s not there,” Parker said, “I’m going to be first in line.”

As is the way of all things these days, Emmett made his intentions known via Twitter. Judge Emmett himself told me he was planning to retire after his current term was up. He said that to me after an interview I did with him, saying something to the effect of “there are things you can do in your 70s that you can’t easily do in your 80s”. That was a comment made in passing, not a carved-in-stone promise, and clearly his thinking has changed. Or maybe he just likes the job too much to want to quit. Whatever the case, barring anything unusual there will not be a vacancy in this office in two years.

That obviously complicates things for Democrats who are thinking about the next election, as can be seen by Annise Parker’s comment. Judge Emmett is well-regarded and probably the most popular politician in the county. He was the top vote-getter in 2010, he ran unopposed in 2014, and was re-elected easily in 2008 despite the strong Democratic wave that year. I suspect that despite all this someone will run against him in 2018 anyway, as there are legitimate policy matters that deserve debate, and only so many opportunities available for a person of ambition. We’ll see how it goes.

A theory about third parties

Before I get to that theory, have you ever wondered about the people who vote straight ticket Libertarian or Green in Harris County? I got to wondering about them, because that’s the sort of thing that I think about at times like this. Here are the total numbers of such people, grouped by Presidential and non-Presidential years, going back to 2000:


Year  Total votes  SP Lib  SP Green   Lib%  Green%
==================================================
2000      995,631   1,935     4,503  0.19%   0.45%
2004    1,088,793   3,343            0.31%
2008    1,188,731   4,017            0.34%
2012    1,204,167   4,777     1,759  0.40%   0.15%
2016    1,336,985   8,781     4,577  0.66%   0.34%

2002      656,682   1,159     1,399  0.18%   0.21%
2006      601,186   3,052            0.51%
2010      798,995   2,506     1,110  0.31%   0.14%
2014      688,018   2,922     1,180  0.42%   0.17%

“SP Lib” is the total number of straight party Libertarian votes, and “SP Green” is the same for the Greens. “Lib%” and “Green%” are the share of these straight party votes to all votes cast in the county. If you look at the election result pages on the HarrisVotes.com website, you will see that my percentages are lower than the ones shown there. That’s because they calculate the percentage of these votes as a share of all straight-party votes cast, not a share of all votes. I did it this way to see what if any trend there was for Libertarian and Green voting overall. For comparison purposes, 30.01% of all votes in Harris county this year were straight ticket Republican, with 35.35% of all votes being straight-ticket Democratic.

As you can see, in the Presidential years the Libertarians had been slowly ticking upwards, with a bit of a jump this year, though the trend is more erratic in the off years. The spike in 2006 is odd, because the Libertarian candidate for Governor received only 0.61% of the vote that year. If you wanted to vote outside the two-party box for Governor in 2006, you had plenty of choices. The Greens weren’t officially on the ballot in 2004, 2006, or 2008, so there’s less of a trend to spot. I’d say they do better in or right after a year where they have a Presidential candidate who gets some attention. Whether any of this will hold next year is not something I’m going to speculate about at this time. My mantra for the next twelve to eighteen months is “conditions in 2018 will be different than they were in 2014 and 2010”, and leave it at that.

That brings me to my theory, which applies to low profile races – not President, not Senate, not Governor, sometimes not other races. I’m limiting myself to statewide contests here, since that’s where you get most of the third party candidates that an individual voter sees. In my case, there was a Green candidate for CD18, a Libertarian for SBOE, and nothing else below the state level. I believe that in these races, which this year would be the Railroad Commission and the two state courts, voters for third party candidates can be broadly sorted into one of three groups. The first group is the party faithful, which as we have just seen is a relatively small cohort. There are probably a few more people who vote L or G as a first choice but don’t vote straight ticket, but that’s still a small group even in the context of just third party voters. Most of the people voting third party in these races aren’t voting third party as a matter of course.

So who are they? Group Two I believe is people who normally vote for Rs or Ds but who refuse to vote for their candidate in this particular instance. That may be because the candidate of their party is too/not sufficiently liberal/conservative for them, because that candidate supports or opposes a specific thing that is of great importance to them, because the candidate has ethical baggage, or because they just don’t like that candidate for some reason. In these cases, they don’t want to vote for the candidate of the other party, so a third party it is. Gary Johnson obviously got a lot of these votes in the Presidential race, but the downballot exemplar for this one was the Railroad Commissioner race, where Libertarian Mark Miller got a bunch of newspaper endorsements for being the most qualified candidate running.

The thing is, I don’t think there are that many races like that. I think in a lot of these races, people just don’t know anything about any of the candidates. So if you’re someone who (say) generally votes Democratic but aren’t that committed to it and you’re looking at a race for the Court of Criminal Appeals, you may say to yourself “well, I know I don’t want to vote for the Republican, but I don’t know who any of these other people are, so I’ll just pick one and move on”. These people are my Group Three.

What that says to me first of all is that both Republicans and Democrats are leaving some votes on the table in these downballot races by not doing a better job of getting their candidates’ names out there. That’s not much of a concern for the Republicans, who continue to win by double-digit margins, but it could eventually matter. I see this as an extension of a problem that Democrats are increasingly having in their primaries, where candidates like RRC nominee Grady Yarbrough have won races by a combination of pseudo-name recognition and random chance because no one knows who the hell these people are. I have many wishes for Texas Democrats going forward, and high on my list is for the party and the donor class to take these downballot primaries seriously.

One possible exception to this may be for Latino candidates. Look at the top votegetters for each party: Supreme Court candidates Eva Guzman and Dori Contreras Garza. My hypothesis is that Latino voters in a Group Three situation will choose a Latino candidate, even possibly one from their non-preferred party, instead of just randomly picking someone. Again, this is in races where none of the candidates are known to the voters, and thus there could be a different outcome if people had more knowledge. If we ever get to that point, maybe we’ll see that difference.

Finally, I believe my theory is consistent with the Libertarian candidate almost always doing better than the Green candidate does in these situations, for the simple reason that the Libertarian candidate appears on the ballot above the Green candidate. If it’s true that some people just pick a name after having moved past the first two candidates, then it makes sense that the first candidate listed after those two would get a larger share.

Anyway, that’s my theory. I could be wrong, and I doubt anyone other than me had given this much thought. I’ll get back to the precinct analyses tomorrow. Let me know what you think about this.

Statewide review: 2016 was like 2008, but not in a good way

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There’s no point in beating around the bush, so I’ll just come out and say it: Despite the excitement about increases in voter registration and heavy early voting turnout. statewide Democratic candidates outside of Hillary Clinton generally did not do any better than their counterparts in 2008. Republican statewide candidates, on the other hand, were generally setting new high-water marks for vote totals. Every statewide Republican other than Wayne Christian topped Donald Trump’s 4,681,590 votes, with all of them but one besting it by at least 100,000. Meanwhile, only Dori Contreras Garza’s 3,598,852 votes exceeded President Obama’s 2008 tally. Overall turnout was up in Texas (in absolute numbers, though not in percentage), but while Dem turnout was better than 2012, it didn’t hit any new heights. I fear we may be at a plateau, as we have been in the off years since 2002.

Why am I not more encouraged by Hillary Clinton’s 3.8 million-plus total? Because I estimate at least 100,000 of her votes came from people who supported Republicans in other races, and because the dropoff from her total to downballot candidates was enough to show no visible growth. For these purposes, I’m using judicial races as my metric, as I believe it is a better proxy for partisan intent. I used as a baseline for comparison between 2012 and 2016 two Court of Criminal Appeals races – the 2012 Sharon Keller/Keith Hampton race, and the 2016 Mike Keasler/Robert Burns race. I believe these contests are low enough profile to draw a relatively small number of crossovers, and in this particular case they were the only such races each year to have just a Libertarian candidate in addition, thus allowing for a more apples-to-apples comparison. I put all the county totals into a spreadsheet and then calculated the difference between the two. From a Democratic perspective, there’s good news, so-so news, and bad news.

I’ll get to the news in a second. You can see the spreadsheet here. I’ve put a list of the 62 counties in which Democrats gained votes from 2012 to 2016 beneath the fold. Take a look and then come back, and we’ll talk about what I think this means.

Ready? Democrats really killed it in the big urban counties. Harris, Bexar, Travis, El Paso, and Dallas combined for nearly 240,000 more Democratic votes in 2016, compared to 83,000 for the Republicans, a net of over 150K. Dems took such a big step forward in Harris County that HD144 might not really be a swing district any more, while HDs 132, 135, and 138 are now in the picture as pickup opportunities, with HD126 a little farther out on the horizon. I’ll have more to say about Harris County beginning tomorrow, but I feel like maybe, just maybe, we’ve finally turned a corner. I know that the off-year turnout issue is a problem until we can demonstrate that it’s not, but I believe it’s getting hard to dispute the assertion that there are just more Democrats in Harris County than there are Republicans. I also believe that national conditions will be different in 2018 than they were in 2010 and 2014. Doesn’t mean they’ll necessarily be better, but they will be different, and when you’ve consistently been on the short end of the stick, having conditions change – even if you don’t know how they will change – is a risk you ought to be willing to take.

Democrats also showed a nice gain in the big Latino counties (Hidalgo, Cameron, and Webb), while netting over 9,000 votes in Fort Bend. I’ll be looking at Fort Bend data later as well, and while this wasn’t enough to push any non-Hillary Dems over the top there, it’s a step in the right direction.

The so-so news is that Dems more or less held steady in most of the big suburban counties, by which I mean they mostly lost a little ground but not that much. Other than Fort Bend, Dems posted a solid gain in Hays County and barely gained more votes in Brazoria County than the GOP did. They had modest net losses in counties like Tarrant, Collin, Denton, and Williamson, such that one might feel we are at or near an inflection point in those counties. In math terms, the second derivative is approaching zero. This is a genteel way of saying that we’re falling behind at a slower pace. Better than falling behind in huge chunks, but still not good news.

The bad news is that in several other suburban counties, and basically all the non-Latino rural ones, Democrats got crushed. Montgomery County continues to be a sucking chest wound, with 21,087 more Republican votes and 8,432 more Dems. Comal County is Montgomery’s little brother, with continued steady growth and a deep red tint that shows no signs of abating. And if you’re old enough to remember when Galveston County was reliably Democratic, well, the score here is 10,335 more votes for the GOP, and 1,521 more for the Dems. So, yeah.

It’s the rural counties where things really become dreary. I said the Dems gained votes over 2012 in 62 counties. That means they lost votes in 192 others. Now, most of these are small counties, and the losses themselves were small in most of them; the average loss was 323 votes. But Republicans gained an average of over 700 votes in each of those counties, and as they say after awhile it adds up. Plus, some of these counties are now more exurban than rural, and like the suburbs are seeing steady growth. Two examples for you are Johnson County, northwest of Travis and home of Cleburne, and Parker County, west of Tarrant where Weatherford is. Those counties saw a combined voter registration increase of about 20,000. Of that, 17,201 were Republican and 449 were Democratic. That right there is enough to negate the Democratic net gain in Dallas County.

The single most eye-catching item in here is Polk County, up US59 between Houston and Lufkin; Livingston is the county seat. Unlike Johnson and Parker, it has about the same number of voters as it did four years ago. The difference is that in 2012 fewer than half of registered voters bothered, while this year nearly everyone did. Turnout in the Presidential race in Polk County was an mind-boggling 89.48%, and nearly the entire increase came from Republicans. In this CCA comparison, Mike Keasler got 12,183 more votes than Sharon Keller did, while Robert Burns improved on Keith Hampton by only 1,845 votes. All this with only 38,530 total registered voters. OMG, to say the least.

So what should we be doing about this? Well, we should keep doing what we’re doing in the urban counties, because it definitely bore fruit this year. I’d like to think we’re starting to maybe get a little traction in the suburbs, at least some of them, but it’s going to take a lot more resources and an effort that doesn’t just gear up at campaign time to really get that going. Mostly, we need to have a way to make sure we’re being heard in these places, because I don’t think we are, not outside of the faithful who are there. If I were a fabulously wealthy person who wanted to move the needle outside the urban counties, I’d throw a bunch of money at the Texas Organizing Project and ask them to figure out (and execute) a way to do for these suburbs and exurbs what they’ve been doing in Pasadena. It’s slow and methodical and just one piece of the puzzle, but we have got to start somewhere.

Data on the counties where Dem turnout grew is beneath the fold. More to come over the next week or so.

(more…)

Initial thoughts: Harris County

vote-button

I’m still not quite ready to resume regular blogging. I’ve got a few things drafted from before the election, several of which are non-political, that I’ll begin to put in the queue, and a couple of ones that were political that may need to be amended now. For the time being, I’ve got some initial thoughts on the county and statewide races. This is the first of those.

You can see the election night returns for Harris County here; at some point, presumably after the results are officially canvassed, these will go into the Election Archives with a date-based URL. But for now, click that link and scroll through if you want to see what I’m talking about.

So Hillary Clinton led Harris County by 100,000 votes and ten points after early voting, but while nearly every Democratic countywide candidate (all but Ann Harris Bennett) also led as of 7 PM on Tuesday, they all had much smaller margins, and could have wound up losing if the Election Day turnout had favored Republicans. That was not the case – other than Tax Assessor Mike Sullivan, who led well into the night, and a couple of judicial incumbents who had small leads in absentee balloting, Democrats won each phase, with Election Day being the best of the three, in percentages if not always in absolute votes. It was clear from Clinton’s dominating performance in Harris County – she carried the county by over 12 points and 160,000 votes – that she got some Republican crossovers. Here’s a quick comparison:

Trump = 544,960 votes
Clinton = 706,471 votes

Avg R countywide judicial candidate = 605,112 votes
Avg D countywide judicial candidate = 661,403 votes

There was a fair amount of variance from race to race, the R statewide candidates did a little better, and some Republican voters clearly went for Gary Johnson, who collected 3.04% of the total. Putting it all together, I’d estimate that 30,000 to 40,000 people who generally voted Republican downballot voted for Hillary Clinton.

Now, the judicial candidates improved their performance as well. In 2008, the average Democratic judicial candidate got about 590,000 votes. In 2012, it was in the low 570’s – sorry, I’m too lazy to go back and recalculate it – with the high score being about 581,000. That’s about 90,000 more votes than 2012, with the Republican judicials (who averaged in the 560’s in 2012) improving by about 40,000 votes. If Harris County was like a swing state in 2012, it was more like a light blue state this year.

What does that mean going forward? Well, it’s now the Republicans who have been shut out in the Presidential year cycle, and that’s going to be a problem for them in 2020 unless something changes. For 2018, Democrats still have to solve the turnout issue, but 1) it’s hard to argue the proposition that there are just more Dems in Harris County than ever before, and 2) with Democrats being the out party nationally, one would think the off-year turnout dynamic might be a bit different than it was in 2010 and 2014. That’s getting way ahead of ourselves, but the bottom line is that I see no reason why Dems can’t break through in two years. Which is not the same as saying that they will, but they can and in some sense they should. Ask me again when 2018 rolls around.

All that said, it should be noted that while turnout was at a record level in absolute terms – 1,336,985 total ballots cast – it was down from 2012 in percentage terms, 61.25% this year versus 61.99% in 2012. There’s still work to be done and room for improvement.

Other thoughts, in no particular order:

– I figured Sarah Davis would hold on in HD134, and she did indeed, winning by ten points and 9,000 votes. It was closer after early voting – she basically doubled her lead on Election Day. My guess when I get the canvass report is that Hillary Clinton carried HD134 by a narrow margin.

– Maybe HD144 isn’t such a swing district after all, as Mary Ann Perez romped to an easy win with 60.23% of the vote. Holding that seat in 2018 needs to be a top priority, and addressing the off-year turnout issue as noted above would go a very long way towards achieving that.

– HD135 needs to be on the radar in 2018, too. With basically no money or attention, Jesse Ybanez got 45.14% of the vote, which was better than Adrian Garcia did in HD135 in 2012, and nearly five points better than President Obama did in that district that year. I don’t know yet how things looked in HD132, the other district where Dem performance improved in 2012 over 2008 as there was no Democratic candidate for that seat, but right now I’d classify HD135 as a better pickup opportunity in 2018 than HD134 is.

– Another main target for 2018 needs to be Jack Morman’s seat on Commissioners Court. The HCDE Trustee race in Precinct 2 was my proxy for this. Alas, Sherrie Matula fell just short – I mean, she lost by 587 votes out of 247,773 total – but I think it’s fair to say that a strong candidate and progress on turnout could do it. You know who I want to see run here, so we’ll just leave it at that.

– As noted yesterday, Anne Sung will face John Luman in the runoff for HISD Trustee in District VII. Sung received 46.80% of the vote to Luman’s 29.25%; Victoria Bryant was in third with 17.03%, so Sung was a smidgeon ahead of the two top Republicans. I can’t wait to see the canvass data for this one, but there are two things to keep in mind. One, the universe of voters will be much smaller in December, and two, there were 35,819 votes cast in this race with 25,230 undervotes. That is, over 40% of the people who had this race on their ballot did not vote in it, most likely because they didn’t know anything about it or because they voted straight ticket and didn’t scroll down the ballot from there. That won’t be the case in December. If a precinct analysis shows that Hillary Clinto carried that district, it will be hard to see those undervotes as anything but a missed opportunity; Sung fell short of a majority by about 1200 votes, so it wouldn’t have taken much to push her across the finish line.

That’s it for the county. I’ll look at the state in the next post. Stace has more.

The new voters

One more data point before we get the actual data.

EarlyVoting

A late surge of new voters helped Harris County achieve record early turnout and suggests that local registration drives paid off – although to which party’s benefit remains anyone’s guess until Tuesday night.

While partisan primary voters dominated the first week of early voting, new voters flocked to polls in the final days. These newcomers, who did not vote here in recent presidential election years, made up 22 percent of Harris County’s more than 977,000 early and mail voters, a Chronicle analysis of voter history shows.

By early voting’s end Friday, the share of voters who participated in at least one of the last three presidential primaries dwindled to 56 percent from 68 percent.

Democratic presidential primary voters outpaced Republicans by roughly 2 percentage points: 27.5 percent to 25.2 percent. Nearly 4 percent have mixed primary voting history, and 22 percent voted in recent general elections, but none of the last three presidential primaries.

Rice University political scientist Mark Jones said these figures give both parties reason for optimism.

“If you’re a glass-half-full Republican, you focus in on the general election voters turning out in predominantly Republican precincts at a higher rate than in Democratic precincts,” Jones said. “And if you’re a glass-half-full Democrat, you’re focusing on your ability to match Republicans in terms of the number of partisans who turn out.”

[…]

Brandon Rottinghaus, a UH political scientist, noted the geographic diversity of the county’s new voters, who include transplants to Harris County, newly registered voters and those who recently turned 18.

“New voters are increasing where the population is increasing, some in Republican-leaning areas but many in Democratic-leaning areas,” Rottinghaus said in an email, pointing to traditionally conservative neighborhoods like Katy and Kingwood, and to left-leaning neighborhoods immediately west of downtown. “As these voters go, so goes Harris County.”

This region is not alone in seeing an uptick of new voters toward the end of early voting.

An analysis of early turnout in 20 Texas counties by Austin-based Republican consultant Derek Ryan shows an average of 15 percent of early voters were new, through the second-to-last day of early voting. That compares with 12 percent of those who turned out during the first week.

“We’ve moved from the people that always vote to the people that are voting in this election, for the most part,” said local political consultant Robert Jara, who is working for two Democratic state House candidates. “They may not have a history of voting, but they are engaged this particular election.”

I tend to find articles like this to be disappointing, because they don’t do what I would do, which is try to find a basis for comparison with the past. I regret that I was never able to complete the task of comparing the 2008 and 2012 vote rosters to get a handle for how many new voters there were in 2012 – that is, how many 2012 voters there were that had not voted in 2008 – because that would better enable me to make sense of the numbers that are provided here. How many 2012 and 2008 voters had partisan voting histories, how many had only general election histories, and how many were brand new? How many of those voters were early voters and how many were Election Day voters? The data is all easily available, but unfortunately it’s too big for Excel so I never did an analysis on it. I wish the Chron had done so, it would have told me a lot more than this story did. Not that this story didn’t have value – the maps are cool, if you’re into maps – it just wasn’t the story I wanted to read. So be it.

I will be at the KTRK studio this evening, where if past experience is any guide I will spend several hours glued to my laptop with occasional interruptions to be asked questions by one of their reporters. So if you happen to be watching Channel 13 (or possibly its HD digital station), you might see my mug on your teevee. You have been warned. I don’t know exactly what my publication schedule will be for the next 24-48 hours, but I’ll put stuff up as I can, assuming I haven’t turned to stocking up canned goods and precious metals full-time.

Races I’ll be watching on Tuesday, Legislative edition

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Here are the legislative races I’ll be looking at to see what kind of a day it has been for Texas Democrats. After the 2012 general election, the Dems had 55 seats in the Lege. Thee Democrats lost in 2014, lowering that total to 52. As things stand right now, Dems are at 50 seats, with one seat being lost early this year in a special election, and another later on to an independent in a special election that basically no one paid any attention to. I’m going to group the races into four tiers with decreasing levels of likelihood and expectation, and we’ll see where we might wind up.

Group 1: Back to parity

HD117 – Obama 2008 52.5%, Obama 2012 51.8%
HD118 – Obama 2008 55.1%, Obama 2012 55.2%
HD120 – Obama 2008 62.9%, Obama 2012 64.6%
HD144 – Obama 2008 48.0%, Obama 2012 51.0%

HDs 117 and 144 were the seats lost in 2014 (along with HD23, which is in a different category). HDs 118 (Farias) and 120 (McClendon) had specials due to the early retirement of their Dem incumbents. Note that Mary Ann Perez won HD144 in 2012 by 6.5 points over a stronger Republican opponent than the accidental incumbent she faces now. Phillip Cortez, running to reclaim HD117 after losing it in 2014, defeated a 2010-wave Republican by nearly eight points in 2012. I expect all four to be won by Democrats on Tuesday, which puts the caucus at 54.

Group 2: It sure would be nice to win these in a year like this

HD43 – Obama 2008 46.9%, Obama 2012 47.9%
HD105 – Obama 2008 46.1%, Obama 2012 46.5%
HD107 – Obama 2008 46.7%, Obama 2012 46.9%
HD113 – Obama 2008 46.1%, Obama 2012 46.3%

These are the white whales for Texas Democrats in recent elections. HD43 is home of the turncoat JM Lozano, who switched parties after the 2010 wipeout after having won a Democratic primary against an ethically-challenged incumbent in March. Now-former Rep. Linda Harper-Brown, who lost a primary in HD105 in 2014 to Rep. Rodney Anderson, had two of the closest victories in recent years, hanging on in 2008 by twenty votes and in 2012 by fewer than 800 votes. Similarly, Rep. Kenneth Sheets won in 2012 by 850 votes. The map designers in 2011 did a great job of keeping eight out of 14 districts in strongly Democratic Dallas County just red enough to win so far. I have to feel like this is the year their luck runs out. I’ll be disappointed if Dems don’t win at least two of these races, so let’s put the caucus at 56.

Group 3: Pop the champagne, we’re having a great night

HD23 – Obama 2008 47.5%, Obama 2012 44.2%
HD54 – Obama 2008 47.9%, Obama 2012 45.7%
HD102 – Obama 2008 46.6%, Obama 2012 45.3%
HD112 – Obama 2008 44.0%, Obama 2012 43.5%
HD114 – Obama 2008 46.6%, Obama 2012 43.5%
HD115 – Obama 2008 43.9%, Obama 2012 43.2%
HD134 – Obama 2008 46.5%, Obama 2012 41.7%

That’s most of the rest of Dallas County, the seat held by former Rep. Craig Eiland till he retired before the 2014 election, Rep. Sarah Davis’ perennial swing seat, and the Killeen-based district now held by the retiring Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock. It’s this last one that I think is most likely to flip; there were a few maps drawn during the 2011 session that made this a fairly solid blue seat. The main hesitation I have with this one is that I don’t know what kind of Dem infrastructure exists out there to take advantage of the conditions. Aycock never faced much of a challenge though he won in 2012 by the skinny-for-this-gerrymandering margin of 57.5% to 42.5%, partly because that district is off the beaten path for Dems and partly (I suspect) out of respect for Aycock, who was a really good Public Ed committee chair. If even one of these seats flip, I’d assume all four of the ones in the level above did, so we’ll increment the county to 59.

Group 4: Holy crap, how did that happen?

HD47 – Obama 2008 44.8%, Obama 2012 39.3%
HD52 – Obama 2008 46.2%, Obama 2012 42.4%
HD65 – Obama 2008 43.0%, Obama 2012 40.8%
HD85 – Obama 2008 40.7%, Obama 2012 38.0%
HD108 – Obama 2008 44.9%, Obama 2012 39.3%
HD135 – Obama 2008 38.7%, Obama 2012 39.8%
HD136 – Obama 2008 45.9%, Obama 2012 41.2%

Now we’re starting to get into some unfamiliar territory. HD47 is the lone Republican district in Travis County. Dems captured it in the wave of 2008 then lost it in the wave of 2010, and it was shored up as a genuine Republican district in 2011, with the side effect of making HDs 48 and 50 more solidly blue. HD108 is in the Highland Park part of Dallas, so who knows, maybe Donald Trump was the last straw for some of those folks. I’ve talked a few times about how HDs 135 and 132 were the two red districts in Harris County trended bluer from 2008 to 2012; I don’t expect it to go all the way, but I’ll be shocked if there isn’t some decent progress made. HD52 was won by a Dem in 2008 but was drawn to be more Republican in 2011. HD136, like HD52 in Williamson County, was a new district in 2012 and has been represented by a crazy person since then. HD65 is in Collin County, and HD85 is primarily in Fort Bend. Winning any of these would help tamp down the narrative that Dems are only creatures of the urban counties and the border.

If somehow Dems won all of these districts – which won’t happen, but go with it for a minute – the caucus would be at 73 members, which needless to say would have a seismic effect on the 2017 session and Dan Patrick’s ambitions. Putting the number above 60 would be a very nice accomplishment given all that’s stacked against such a thing happening, though it’s hard to say how much effect that might have on the session. Note that I have not put any Senate races in here. This is not because the Senate has a more diabolical gerrymander than the House does, but because the four most purple Senate districts – SDs 09, 10, 16, and 17 – were all up in 2014, and thus not on the ballot this year. You can bet I’ll be looking at their numbers once we have them.

There are a few districts that I would have included if there had been a Dem running in them (specifically, HDs 32, 45, and 132), and there are a few with numbers similar to those in the bottom group that I didn’t go with for whatever the reason. Tell me which districts you’ll be looking out for tomorrow. I’ll have a companion piece to this on Tuesday.

Early voting, Day Twelve: Nearly a million

EarlyVoting

Here’s your final daily EV report and your updated tracker spreadsheet. The final tally from Friday was 105,005 in person votes and 2,882 more mail ballots returned. That brings us to 882,580 people showing up at an early vote location, 94,699 returned mail ballots, and 977,279 total early voters. There will no doubt be a couple thousand more mail ballots coming in between now and Tuesday, so the final early vote tally will be a bit higher – surely north of 980,000, though by how much I couldn’t say. To put this in a bit pf perspective, there were 1,088,793 ballots cast in Harris County in the entire 2004 election. We’re at over 90% of tha total after early voting, and there’s still Tuesday to come.

So how many people will vote on Tuesday? I’ll get to that in a second, but let’s remember that there are some 300,000 more registered voters now than there were in 2012. As I’ve shown before, if turnout in Harris County is the same fair-to-middling rate of 61.99% as it was in 2012, we’d have 1,385,276 total votes cast, or about another 400,000 on Tuesday. Let’s look at the Election Day rates from the last three elections to give us some further guidance.


Year    Mail      Early      E-Day      Total
=============================================
2004  47,619    411,822    629,333  1,088,793
2008  67,612    678,449    442,670  1,188,731
2012  76,085    700,982    427,100  1,204,167
2016  94,699    882,580


Year        RVs   Mail%   Early%   E-Day%
=========================================
2004  1,876,296   2.54%   21.95%   33.54%
2008  1,892,656   3.57%   35.85%   23.39%
2012  1,942,566   3.92%   36.09%   21.99%
2016  2,219,647   4.27%   39.76%

As noted before, the final number of mail ballots will be higher after the Monday and Tuesday post comes in, but this is good enough for now. Let’s project four possible turnout values for Tuesday based on what we have seen before.

Scenario 1: 23.39% of RVs vote on Tuesday, same as was in 2008. This is another 519,175 voters, for 1,496,454 total, or 67.42% turnout.

Scenario 2: 21.99% of RVs vote on Tuesday, same as was in 2012. This is another 488,100 voters, for 1,465,379 total, or 66.02% turnout.

Scenario 3: 19.48% of RVs vote on Tuesday. This is the difference between EV plus E-Day turnout percentages in 2008 and the EV percentage this year. That’s another 432,237 voters for 1,409,516 total, or 63.50% turnout.

Scenario 4: 18.32% of RVs vote on Tuesday. This is the difference between EV plus E-Day turnout percentages in 20012 and the EV percentage this year. That’s another 406,639 voters for 1,383,918 total, or 62.35% turnout.

Something like #s 2 or 3 seem the most likely, possibly in between the two, but anything could happen. And again, remember that there’s probably a couple thousand more mail ballots on their way to the County Clerk’s office, so all of these would be a tad low anyway. For what it’s worth, the County Clerk is projecting 1.5 million voters total, which is more or less my Scenario #1. We’ll know soon enough.

One last thing: Friday was the best day for Democrats of them all. Dems won each day by the metrics used. It seems likely that the Republicans will win Election Day and close the gap somewhat, possibly more than I’d like to think they will. This is one reason why I’m a bit skeptical of those late poll results that have Trump in a double-digit lead, though it’s more suggestive than conclusive. Everything I’ve seen so far tells me that this has been a better election so far for Democrats than 2012 and 2008, but there’s still Tuesday. I’ll know when you know.

Early voting, Day Eleven: Last chance

From the inbox:

EarlyVoting

Harris County Clerk Stan Stanart announced within minutes after the polls opened this morning, that Harris County crossed the 700,982 voter benchmark setting a new record for early voters by personal appearance.

With essentially two full days of Early Voting left for the November 8, 2016 Election, the record established during the 2012 November Election is expected to be shattered as an additional 170,000 to 190,000 voters are anticipated to vote by the end of Friday.

Of the 123,954 mail ballots that were mailed, 89,271 have been returned as of Wednesday. Stanart, the chief election official of the County, anticipates that over 100,000 mail ballots will ultimately be received by the 7 p.m. deadline on election day.

“Incredible turnout for a historic election, said Stanart. “I expect the total number of early voters for this election, including mail ballots received, will get close to the one million mark by the end of the early voting period.”

The early voting period ends Friday, November 4. Until then, the 46 Harris County Early Voting locations will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. All voters in line at 7 p.m. will be allowed to cast their ballot.

“There is still time to vote early,” concluded Stanart. “Do your homework. Then, go vote.”

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

That was sent yesterday morning, so we’re down to just one day to vote early, today. Stanart’s projection for the last two days, including another 10K or so mail ballots, would put us close to a million early votes. That’s just a lot, I don’t know how else to say it. As far as Election Day itself goes, we had 427K on Election Day in 2008, and 442K on E-Day in 2012, so take your guesses as to what this means for this year. I’d put the range at 400K to 500K, but I won’t be surprised if we’re outside of that, one way or the other.

No daily EV report before I went to bed last night, so I can’t say if we’re on track for Stanart’s projection or not. As always, I will update when I have the file.

UPDATE: Here’s your Day 11 EV report and your tracker spreadsheet, which will be updated later. There were 76,878 in-person votes and 2,546 mail ballots, bring the overall total up to 869,392. A million early votes is probably out of reach, but we should get to 950,000, maybe a bit more.

Chron overview of HD135

One more look at a local legislative race.

Rep. Gary Elkins

Rep. Gary Elkins

Novice political candidate Jesse A. Ybañez believes his focus on the people of the increasingly diverse Texas House District 135 makes him a better choice than longtime state Rep. Gary Elkins.

Ybañez, 70, is the Democratic candidate in the Nov. 8 general election challenging the incumbent to represent parts of northwest Harris County, including Jersey Village and subdivisions near the intersections of U.S. 290 with Texas 6 and Beltway 8.

The retiree said he was urged to run because of his experience as a volunteer in political organizations and community causes.

“We need to fix a lot of things in Austin,” Ybañez said. “If I win, I can be the voice of the people.”

[…]

Jesse Ybanez

Jesse Ybanez

Ybañez named education, health care, immigration, the environment and human trafficking as his priorities, if elected.

He said he would fight to restore some of the $5 billion in education funding cut during the 2011 legislative session and try to override the Republican firewall that has rejected calls to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act.

Ybañez said the 287(g) program, in which local jailers identify inmates in this country illegally for transfer to federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement, “criminalizes immigrants” who are “doing work that people from the United States don’t want to do.”

Ybañez, who ran unopposed in the Democratic primary, also would advocate for tougher regulations on industrial plants and support efforts to help people trapped in modern-day slavery or the forced sex trade.

Texas 135 is a district where voters chose Republican candidates in federal, statewide and local races two-to-one in 2014. They have sent Elkins back to Austin every two years for the last two decades.

Still, the first-time politician thinks a Democrat can claim the seat, depending on turnout among more diverse voters.

“When I first got here, this was pretty much a Republican area. We’ve had a lot of people come in from New York and California and Florida and we have a lot of African-Americans and Latinos who are more likely to vote Democrat,” said Ybañez, who has been block-walking since June. “I think I have a reasonable chance of winning.”

There are two reasons why I’m interested in this particular race. One is because incumbent Rep. Gary Elkins is so bad, beginning with but hardly being limited to his unwavering defense of payday lenders, a group to which he himself belongs. Some legislators recuse themselves from debates and votes on bills that directly affect them. Gary Elkins is not one of those legislators.

The other reason is that HD135 is one of two Harris County districts that were won by Republicans in 2012 that were less Republican that year than they were in 2008 (HD132 is the other, but sadly no Democrat is running there this year). John McCain beat Barack Obama there 60.6% to 38.7% in 2008, but Mitt Romney only carried it 58.8% to 39.8% in 2012. I’ve been waiting to see what would happen there this year ever since. Even with the Trump effect I don’t think we can quite call this district competitive, but it’s definitely the case that it’s more so than before. No matter what happens this year, HD135 needs to be on the radar going forward.

Early voting, Day Nine: A brief comparison

Here’s a comparison of where the voters who cast their ballots through the first eight days of early voting came from in 2012 and in 2016:


Dist  12 Day 8  12 Total   Day 8%  16 Day 8  % of 2012
======================================================
HD126   24,461    38,858    62.9%    30,042      77.3%
HD127   27,664    46,356    59.7%    37,466      80.8%
HD128   24,540    38,539    63.7%    30,218      78.4%
HD129   24,022    40,173    59.8%    31,459      76.4%
HD130   31,658    50,117    63.2%    40,489      80.8%
HD131   18,050    30,150    59.9%    21,769      72.2%
HD132   19,486    34,015    57.3%    35,551     104.5%
HD133   30,125    49,388    61.0%    36,808      74.5%
HD134   28,780    49,937    57.6%    40,526      81.2%
HD135   21,132    35,525    59.5%    29,417      82.8%
HD137    8,664    15,217    56.9%    11,986      78.8%
HD138   18,082    30,183    59.9%    24,785      82.1%
HD139   20,538    33,573    61.1%    26,085      78.7%
HD140    7,505    12,855    58.4%    10,804      84.0%
HD141   16,920    27,299    62.0%    18,567      68.1%
HD142   18,000    28,988    62.1%    21,619      74.6%
HD143   11,911    19,442    61.3%    15,257      78.5%
HD144    8,349    13,296    62.8%    11,394      85.7%
HD145    9,972    17,047    58.5%    14,805      86.8%
HD146   20,064    33,386    61.0%    23,299      69.8%
HD147   20,363    34,582    58.9%    26,205      77.7%
HD148   12,776    22,402    57.0%    22,267      99.4%
HD149   17,014    28,937    58.8%    20,410      70.5%
HD150   27,602    44,374    62.2%    38,426      86.6%

EarlyVoting

Note that the numbers represent not where people voted – that is, which early voting location – but where the voters themselves are registered. That data comes from the daily vote rosters, and it was provided to me. “12 Day 8” represents the number of voters from the given State Rep district who had voted by Day 8 of the EV period in 2012, while “16 Day 8” is the same number for this year. “12 Total” is the total number of ballots cast during the entire 2012 early voting period, including both mail ballots and in person ballots. “Day 8%” is the share of all early votes from 2012 that were cast in the first eight days, and “% of 2012” is the share of early votes cast this year to the total number of 2012 early votes. The idea here is to see where the early vote has increased the most, and where it has increased the least.

With me so far? Okay, so the first two districts that leap out at you are HDs 132 and 148. In HD132, which is out around Katy, more people have voted early so far in 2016 than voted early in all of 2012. I’m going to step out on a limb here and predict that the total vote in HD132 is going to wind up being considerably more than it was four years ago. HD148, which covers places like Garden Oaks and part of the Heights, is only a few votes shy of matching its 2012 early vote total. These two districts are the frontrunners in the overall boost to turnout so far.

The next thing to note is that three of the districts in the next tier down, with turnout shares in the 85% range, arethe heavily Latino districts HD 143, 144, and 145. That jibes with the general enthusiasm level being exhibited by Latino voters elsewhere in the country. It’s also an example of the Texas Organizing Project turnout effort.

At the bottom of the scale are two African-American districts, HDs 141 and 146. I don’t know what may be happening in those districts, but one possibility is that this is more about total population than anything else. HD141, in the northeastern part of the county, is an area that has been steadily losing population over the past thirty years. It would not shock me if there are fewer registered voters in HD141 this year than in 2012, despite the overall strong growth in voter registration. I don’t think the same would be true for HD146, but there may be other things going on. In any event, it’s important to remember that we do still have more voting to go.

So that’s where we are with three more days of early voting to go, including the two that are likely to be the heaviest, even given what we’ve seen so far. Day eight was also a good day for the Democrats, who have not had a bad day yet in Harris County. Bear in mind that while Dems piled up a big early voting lead in 2008, Republicans won Election Day and caught up in several races, as Dems had run out of voters. The Rs winning Election Day has to be a distinct possibility this year as well. The Day 9 EV report is here; I did not get to updating the tracker spreadsheet before going to bed. I may have been paying too much attention to the World Series game to have gotten to that. It will be done today, be assured of that.

Early voting, Day Six: A good first week for Democrats

There’s still a week to go, but so far, so good.

EarlyVoting

Harris County residents cast more ballots in the first four days of early voting than five states did in the entire 2012 presidential election.

Locally, the number of ballots cast over those days was 45 percent higher than the same period four years ago. Other parts of the state, which sported the nation’s lowest turnout in 2014, have seen similar growth.

Now, the question is, will it continue? If it does, Harris County could see close to 1 million people – almost half its registered voters – cast ballots before election day.

“There’s so much more voting this time than we’ve ever seen,” said Richard Murray, a veteran pollster at the University of Houston.

[…]

“The first four days looked pretty good for local Democrats,” said Murray, who has studied Harris County voting patterns since 1966. “More female, more ethnic, less Caucasian.”

The county’s turnout so far has been 57 percent female, Murray said, compared with the typical 54 percent, which he called “probably something of a Trump effect.”

Stephen Klineberg, founder of Rice University’s Kinder Institute for Urban Research, said the county’s Democratic shift was a long time coming.

He pointed to a 2016 study by the Institute, which showed Harris County had been evenly split between Democrats and Republicans since studies began in 1984.

In 2005, 35 percent of respondents identified as Democrat and 37 percent identified as Republican. In 2016, 52 percent identified as Democrat and 30 percent as Republican.

That change was mostly due to population growth and changing party affiliation among Latinos, who make up 51 percent of the population under 20 in Harris County, he said.

“Pundits have been predicting this for years,” Klineberg said. “There are some indications that we are beginning to see signs of that inevitable transformation in this election year, earlier than most pundits expected.”

This Chron story goes into more detail about the gender mix of early voters so far. With maps, which everyone likes.

Of course, Latinos alone are not driving Harris County’s surging early voting turnout.

Some of the highest turnout has come from Houston’s suburban ring, including Katy, Cypress and Kingwood, areas with typically high Republican turnout.

“Everybody is voting,” Murray said. “It’s not that the Anglo vote has fallen, it’s just that others have risen more than they have.”

[…]

Democrats in general tend to lag in early voting, experts said. This year, Houston Democratic consultant Greg Wythe said, has been “pretty remarkably different from whatever happened in the past.”

“Normally, we’re losing at this point,” he said. An analysis of this week’s early voting results suggests 54 percent of turnout so far has been Democratic. That mirrors a recent poll by the University of Houston Hobby School of Public Affairs, which showed a slight lead or statistical tie for Democrats in countywide races.

Greg has been my source for the pronouncements I’ve made about how the first four days have been good for Dems. He tells me that Friday was also a good day, making the Dems five for five for that first week, and that early indicators are positive for Saturday as well. For what it’s worth, Saturday is usually the best day for Democrats during early voting. In 2014, the Saturday was about the only good day the Dems had. It may be that the pattern is different this year, I don’t know yet. I’m sure Greg will tell me when he knows for sure.

To put this in some perspective, here’s what the last two Presidential races looked like:


Candidate       Mail    Early    E Day    Total
===============================================
Romney        43,270  349,332  193,471  586,073
Obama         31,414  337,681  217,949  587,044

McCain        41,986  297,944  231,953  571,883
Obama         24,503  368,231  198,248  590,982

Mitt Romney was at 51.5% in early and absentee voting; Democrats caught up on Election Day and mostly won in the county. It was 2008 that was the big early voting year for Dems, as Obama carried a 53.6% lead into Election Day, then held on with both hands and Dems had basically run out of voters. Early voting has clearly gone well for Dems so far this year, apparently even better than it was in 2008. The question of who remains to vote on Election Day is one we can’t answer right now.

Of course, there are nearly 350,000 more registered voters in Harris County now than there were in 2008, and nearly 300,000 more than there were in 2012. We’ve discussed that before, and it is reasonable to expect that turnout would be up even without anything strange happening. A few turnout projections to consider:

61.99% of 2,234,678 = 1,385,276
62.81% of 2,234,678 = 1,403,601
63.00% of 2,234,678 = 1,407,847
64.00% of 2,234,678 = 1,430,193
65.00% of 2,234,678 = 1,452,541

The 2,234,678 figure is total registered voters in Harris County. Turnout in 2012 was 61.99%, and in 2008 it was 62.81%. The others are speculative. The point here is that turnout north of 1.4 million is hardly a stretch. and it’s not out of the question that from Saturday on there could still be a million people left to vote. We are, as they say, in uncharted territory.

The Day 6 EV totals had not arrived in my inbox by the time I went to bed. I’ll update this later when I have a chance and the data.

Early voting, Day Five: Maybe the lines will be shorter next week

Resources will be mobilized to ameliorate things.

EarlyVoting

Harris County will add staff and equipment to early voting locations next week to help cut down long wait times fueled by a record surge of voter turnout, County Clerk Stan Stanart said.

Typically, people head to early voting to skip the lines of Election Day, but voters since Monday in Harris County have overwhelmed many early polling places, resulting in waits of more than an hour in some locations. Big counties across the state also reported record turnout this week.

“After more than a year of one of the most conflict-ridden and divisive presidential campaigns we have ever seen,” said Rice University political scientist Mark Jones, “there was clearly some pent up demand among a segment of voters to go out and cast their ballots.”

Brandon Rottinghaus, a political scientist at the University of Houston, pointed out close countywide races for sheriff and district attorney and “the ongoing discussion about Texas being in play as a battleground state on the presidential level.”

“Competitive elections drive turnout,” he said, because people feel their vote means more.

Stanart on Monday said he had expected a record-breaking Day One turnout of around 55,000. Actual turnout hit more than 67,000, and on Wednesday it was 76,000.

On Thursday, Stanart said wait times had begun to decrease as staff got in the groove of running an election. The number of votes processed per hour grew from 6,000 on Monday to 7,500 on Wednesday, he said.

“They always are rusty for the first couple of days, and usually it’s not a big deal,” he said, adding that this year “people are voting in droves.”

Here’s the Day 5 EV report, and the updated spreadsheet. There were 81,239 in person votes cast yesterday, and yes, that’s another record. In fact, it’s the third busiest day ever, after the final EV days in 2012 and 2008. That brings the record-setting first week to a grand total of 374,679 in person votes; it’s 452,124 when you add in mail ballots. But mail ballots don’t make you wait in line, so the staff and equipment numbers at each location will matter. For comparison purposes the first five days of early voting in 2012 yielded 260,274 votes, and in 2008 it was 220,046. And in both cases, the last five days were considerably busier. There were another 337,389 votes cast in 2012, and another 364,060 in 2008. It’s a guess, but I’d predict a 50% total increase for the last five days, or about 550,000 total votes.

That’s kind of nuts, and I could totally be wrong, but who knows? If I am right, that means a bit more than a million votes would be cast early, which is about a one-third increase over 2012. Given that the first five EV days this week saw a 44% increase over 2012, I don’t think that’s out of line. Extending that all the way out, I’d say this portends a final overall turnout of 1.4 million to 1.5 million, which would be a boost of 200,000 to 300,000 over 2012. Again, I could be way off. Maybe Week 2 will slow down, or at least not have the same kind of increase over Week 1 that we’re used to seeing. As they say about sports, this is why we play the game. I guess my bottom line is that you should still expect to wait if you haven’t voted yet. It won’t be that bad, but do plan to take some time for this.

Early voting, Day Four: Just the facts

Here is your Day 4 EV report, and here as always is the spreadsheet that tracks early voting in Presidential elections going back to 2004. Long story short, another record-breaking day, with about the same volume (just over 76,000 in person votes) as on Wednesday. We are at over 366,000 total votes after four days. At this pace, we will surpass the entire 2004 early vote total on Saturday, and the entire 2008 total on Tuesday. There is a point at which we will run out of voters, but that point is not here yet, and may not happen till Election Day itself.

Day Three was another win for Democrats in Harris County as per the available data. Greg Wythe answered a question from two people in the comments to yesterday’s post that explained how people like him arrive at such conclusions. Here’s the link he provided if you want to know more.

That’s all I’ve got for today. I’ll do some more analysis over the weekend.

Early voting, Day Three: The case for pessimism

Dave Mann tells Texas Democrats to put those rose-tinted glasses away.

EarlyVoting

On Monday, the Real Clear Politics site declared that Texas is up for grabs in the presidential election. The shift comes after a series of polls showing a tight race in the state between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, and makes for a dramatic image on the site’s election tracking map, where Texas is no longer colored its usual red but is now the dark gray that connotes a “toss up.” For Democrats, seeing their state change color on one of the most widely read and respected campaign outlets—after decades of Republican dominance and years of unfulfilled hopes that Texas might turn blue—must be cathartic. And it might be tempting to view this sudden shift to competitiveness as the start of Democrats’ long-hoped-for return to relevance, as a turning point.

Well, they should keep the cork in the champagne, because Texas remains a Republican state.

As my colleague R.G. Ratcliffe pointed out, the Texas polls are close not because of a huge spike in Democratic voters—Clinton’s numbers are roughly in line with Obama’s totals from 2008 and 2012—but because Trump’s support has cratered. He’s drastically under-performing previous Republican presidential nominees. John McCain and Mitt Romney garnered 55 percent and 57 percent of the vote in Texas, respectively. Trump is polling 10 to 12 points below that.

[…]

While it’s true that the national GOP looks like a smoking ruin right now, the state party remains fairly strong. It still has huge advantages over Texas Democrats in money, organization, and candidate depth, and Republicans start every statewide race with at least a ten-point edge, if not more. And if you’re thinking that built-in advantage may be shrinking, keep in mind that we’re just two years removed from an across-the-board Republican blowout of nearly 20 points. In Wendy Davis, the Democrats had their best known and best funded candidate in years, and she lost to Greg Abbott by nearly a million votes.

It’s also worth remembering that most statewide offices in Texas come up for election in non-presidential years in which the electorate generally tends to be whiter and older—in other words, more Republican.

The one caveat is the potential increase in Latino voters. R.G. wrote on Monday that more than 530,000 people with Latino surnames have registered to vote since 2012, according to the Texas secretary of state’s office. It’s not hard to envision Trump’s candidacy increasing the number of Latino voters who turn out to vote in Texas, offering Democrats the opportunity to begin building a coalition that could one day make them competitive again. But capitalizing on that opportunity requires the difficult party-building, community-organizing, voter-turnout work that Democrats in this state haven’t exactly excelled at in recent years.

In other words, two years from now—without Trump at the top of the ticket—Texas Republicans will once again be heavily favored to sweep the statewide offices.

See here for my discussion of RG Ratcliffe’s article. First, let me say that I agree with Dave Mann in that it’s at least premature, if not downright silly, to call Texas a swing state right now. It’s a lot closer than we’re used to seeing it, but the numbers aren’t there for swing state status. The Real Clear Politics average for the two-way race has Trump leading by 4.6 percentage points. FiveThirtyEight has Trump’s lead at 6.2 after applying their secret sauce. Out of thirteen poll results that I’ve tracked, only that one wacky WaPo/Survey Monkey one from September had Clinton in the lead, by one point. I think to be a real swing state, your polling average has to be within, say, two or three points, with more than one result disagreeing with the others about who’s in the lead. Texas doesn’t make the cut on either of those.

That said, I think Mann is underplaying how well Clinton is doing, both in absolute terms and relative to Obama. The more recent polls have shown her increase her total more than Trump has done. I split the thirteen poll results I’ve tracked into pre-October and October results and averaged each. That works out as follows:

Pre-October: Trump 42.0, Clinton 35.7
October: Trump 46.2, Clinton 41.5

Clinton has gained 5.8 points in the average to Trump’s 4.2, cutting the margin in the average from 6.3 to 4.7. Moreover, she’s considerably ahead of where Obama was in the October polls from 2012:

October 2012: Romney 55.8, Obama 39.0

You can also use the YouGov tracker for a direct comparison. The election eve result in 2012 had Obama at 38%. As of yesterday, Clinton was at 41.4; she was up at 42.0 over the weekend. And remember, that 2012 YouGov result underestimated Obama by three and a half points. It’s possible they’ve changed their model to account for that, but it’s also possible they’re underestimating Clinton.

I don’t want to get too deep into that, because as the Devil can use scripture for his own purposes, one can read whatever they want into an individual poll. The thing is, though, we also have actual votes that have been cast, which really do tell us something. I can tell you that Democrats have done much better so far in Harris County than they did in 2012, and have won each of the first two days of early voting, after winning with mail ballots. Some of this is surely regular voters getting out there earlier than usual, and I don’t have the same data on the rest of the state, but just as surely Harris County isn’t an anomaly.

What I’m getting at is this: I think one has to strain to argue that Hillary Clinton won’t exceed Barack Obama’s vote total from 2008. I think she’s got a very good chance to exceed his vote percentage, though I’m not ready to declare that as a sure thing. We may argue afterwards if the increased vote total I expect Clinton will get represents a real bump in Democratic turnout, as 2008 for Obama did compared to 2004, or just a raise that was proportional to the overall population growth. But I don’t think we’ll be arguing over whether or not she did outperform him, in 2008 as well as in 2012.

As for 2018, I’m going to wait till this one is in the books before I get into that. It’s true that Donald Trump won’t be on the ballot, but that doesn’t mean he can’t be used as a motivating tool. It’s also true that while 2014 was a disastrous year for Texas Democrats, it wasn’t just a Texas problem. National conditions had a big effect on state elections in 2014, and in 2010 and 2006 and 2002 and so on, for that matter. What will national conditions be like in 2018? You’re a lot smarter than I am if you know the answer to that today.

Anyway. Early voting turnout was even higher on Day Two than it was on Day One. That’s actually in line with the historical pattern, as you can see from the handy early voting tracker spreadsheet that I’ve so thoughtfully included for you. Day Two was busier than Day One in all three previous Presidential years. Day Three was busier than Day Two in 2012 and 2008, too. And guess what? As you can see from the Day 3 EV report, Day Three was busier this year than Day Two was, too. It’s like there’s an established pattern or something, it’s just a matter of at what level. Another 76,098 in person votes, with 5,646 mail ballots arriving, and 287,134 total votes cast so far. The Day Three amount in 2012 was 197,987. We’re going to run out of voters eventually, but we could get an awful lot of votes cast before that happens.

Early voting, Day Two: How long can we keep this up?

Texas Monthly crunches some numbers from Day One:

EarlyVoting

Digging further into the numbers, it seems as though the long-whispered awakening of Texas Democrats happened, at the very least, on day one. GOP consultant Derek Ryan, who published a detailed report on the affiliations of Texas’s early voters, examined the voting history of Monday’s voters, and what he found was notable. Of the votes cast, 36.8 percent of them were from people who had previously voted in the Republican primary, while 32.8 percent of them had voted in the Democratic primary. The rest were split between people who had previously voted in general presidential elections but not party primaries (22.3 percent) and those with no election history whatsoever (8.1 percent).

We don’t know how those voters with history in party primaries are inclined to vote in the general election, but the mere fact that the numbers for Republicans and Democrats are only four points away from one another is significant in and of itself. As our own Erica Greider pointed out on Twitter Tuesday afternoon, Republican primary voters outnumbered Democratic primary voters by a whopping 2:1 margin. So on day one of early voting, a whole lot more of the Democrats who voted in the primaries felt the need to rush to the polls than the Republicans did.

There are other things we can glean from the early voting totals. The gender split here is vast: At least 54 percent of voters on Monday were women, while men made up 42.2 percent of the day’s electorate (the other 3.8 percent are unknown). That could be tricky for Trump, as Nate Silver’s imagined women-only electoral map analysis pointed out—Trump’s biggest base of support comes from men, and if men aren’t casting ballots at the same rate as women, he may have a lot of ground to make up.

And ultimately, all of this analysis is moot if the turnout numbers level off by the end of the week. It’s possible that we’re mostly going to see the same people vote in 2016 as we did in 2012. If that’s the case, the 8.1 percent of voters who haven’t previously cast general election ballots will be notable, but probably not significant enough to tilt the election.

Couple things here. First, the thing to keep in mind about the voters with no primary history is basically what Greider says. There have been a lot more Republican primary voters in recent elections than Democratic primary voters, so the pool of non-primary voters is proportionally more Democratic than the voting population overall since you’ve subtracted so many more Republicans from it. One of the harbingers of doom for Democrats in 2010 during early voting was exactly this – a large portion of these voters had not voted in the 2008 primary, which in Harris County at least meant they almost had to be non-Democrats, since the Dem primary turnout had been so large that year. These non-primary voters aren’t certain the be Dems, but they are more likely to be Dems than a random sample of all voters would be.

Having said that, many of those 2008 Dem primary voters still exist in the population, so this inference only goes so far. That analysis by Derek Ryan only specifies “previous R/D primary voters”; it does not specify “in one or more of the past 3 elections”, which would limit the scope to post-2008 primaries. It’s common to limit this sort of thing to the last three elections, but it’s not universal – the data exists in any database a guy like this would be using. I just don’t know for sure what Ryan has in mind.

For what it’s worth, I’ve seen an analysis of the in-person Harris County Day One vote that said 31% of voters had voted in at least one of the last three Republican primaries (that is, 2012, 2014, and 2015), with 32% having done the same in at least one Dem primary. That was in person only, so about half the total vote so far. Further analysis of the whole data set using other metrics suggests the Dems have a pretty decent lead at this time, which is unusual in that it’s usually the Rs who get out more on Day One and via mail. But this is only one day, and things do change over time. There’s a lot of early voting to go, and a lot of votes to be cast. I’ll definitely be keeping an eye on this.

Here are a couple of maps of where early voters came from for Day One and mail ballots. Here’s the Day Two EV report, which as you can see shows an increase in turnout from Monday: 73,542 people showed up Tuesday, an increase of a bit more than 6,000 from Monday. Add in another 2,834 mail ballots, and a grand total of 205,390 people have already voted in Harris County. (Including me – I voted at the SPJST Lodge for the first time. I’ve now voted in six different EV locations. Maybe I should try to collect them all.) I don’t know what the partisan mix looks like yet, but you can see the updated spreadsheet and make your own guesses. Have you voted yet?

Early voting, Day One: Hope you didn’t mind waiting on line

Lots of people were out there with you.

EarlyVoting

After more than 18 months of intensive election coverage, early voting kicked off in Harris County on Monday with long lines at some polling locations.

As polls closed at 6 p.m., more than 63,000 people had turned out for the first day of early voting, shattering the previous record of 47,093 set on day one of early voting in 2012.

In the first 2.5 hours of early voting, the Harris County Clerk’s office said 15,205 ballots were cast–one third of the total cast all day on the first day of early voting in 2012, about 47,000.

By the afternoon, the county was averaging 6,000 voters per hour, and the clerk’s office projected a record-breaking 60,000 votes by the time polls close.

When the clock struck 8 a.m. Monday, opening time for early voting, a line stretched out the door and across the patio at the Metropolitan Multi-Service Center on West Gray, typically among the county’s most popular polling spots.

Thanks no doubt to the later hours for early voting and the sheer volume, I don’t yet have the daily EV report for each location. I’ll post those as I get them, and I will add a new tab to this spreadsheet, which contains the daily EV totals for the 2004, 2008, and 2012 elections. The 2008 election has the reputation for being the blow-the-doors-off one for early voting, but 2012 did indeed have a higher volume, both on Day One and overall. It also had more EV locations, which no doubt helped ease things a bit.

Not mentioned in this story is that as of the weekend, over 52,000 mail ballots had been returned already, with another 60,000 or so still out and still a few days left to request them. I’ll have more on this as we go, and I don’t want to draw any broad conclusions from such limited data, but it sure seems like we are headed for a record total of ballots cast. Not just here, but around the state.

Avoiding long lines on Election Day is supposed to be one of the benefits of voting early, but on the first official day to cast ballots in Texas, some parts of the state reported long waits — sometimes hours — along with a few other snafus.

Particularly long waits were reported in parts of Bexar, Harris, Nueces and Denton counties, with one expert suggesting this year’s intense presidential campaign prompted an early rush to the polls.

[…]

Mark Jones, a political science fellow at Rice University’s Baker Institute, suggested the intensity of this year’s presidential race spurred some voters to rush to the polls.

“This has been such a drawn out, intense and polarizing election that there’s this reservoir of voters that couldn’t wait to cast their vote, so they all rushed out to vote early on the first of 12 days of early voting,” he said, likening the phenomenon to opening day at an amusement park.

Jones said he expected the interest to level out over most of the early voting period, with high turnout on its last day, Nov. 4.

He also noted that the high turnout was spread unevenly within counties and across the state.

Indeed, on social media, many voters reported short wait times to The Texas Tribune.

That’s a function of a lot of things – some locations are always more popular than others (see: the Metro Multi-Service Center on West Gray for Exhibit A), and some places have enough voting machines to better handle a sudden influx.

RG Ratcliffe has an idea about who may be voting.

Throughout this election, I’ve been skeptical that Hillary Clinton could carry Texas, even as polls suggested the gap in support between her and Donald Trump is closing. But there is a wild card that might make it possible: There are 532,000 more registered Hispanic surname voters this year than in 2012.

Over the past week or so, one news story after another has touted the close race between Clinton and Trump in Texas. The gap has closed, but Clinton seems to be stuck at the same level of support that President Obama received in his 2008 and 2012 campaigns. Obama received just under 44 percent of the vote in 2008 and 41 percent in 2012. Clinton received 43 percent in the CBS/YouGov poll; 41 percent in the UPI/CVOTER; 46 percent in Washington Post/Survey Monkey; and 38 percent in the University of Houston poll. All the while, Trump’s numbers have declined in Texas from a solid majority to levels in the mid 40s. Three out of the four recent surveys put the gap between Clinton and Trump within the margin of error. Trump’s gaffes and personal history have led to voters fleeing his campaign.

Still, the formula for a Clinton victory in Texas has always required that somewhere between 950,000 and 1.2 million people who voted for Obama’s Republican opponents either switching to the Democratic candidate or sitting out the race. It’s now looking like at least half those voters may do exactly that by either not voting in the presidential race or by casting a ballot for one of the third-party candidates, Libertarian Gary Johnson or Green Jill Stein. The other half of the gap conceivably could be closed by newly registered Hispanic voters.

RG’s point about Clinton’s level of support in the polls is well-taken, though I would note that poll averages have underestimated candidates of both parties in the last two elections. As for the rest, well, that is certainly the hope.

I’ll have Day One data in tomorrow’s post. Have you voted yet? What was your experience? I expect to vote today and will let you know how it goes. If you haven’t voted yet, Andrea Greer explains why early voting is the way to go. The Current and the Press have more.

UPDATE: Here is the Day One EV report from the County Clerk. I’ll begin adding these numbers to the spreadsheet today.

The state of the polls

Hillary Clinton

I’m just trying to get a handle on the numbers, with the idea of establishing some kind of guide for what to expect in the Presidential race in Texas. Bear with me.

The RCP average for the two-way Trump/Clinton race is 44.0 for Trump and 38.3 for Clinton. The FiveThirtyEight polling averages, which includes some other sources, come in at Trump 45.6, Clinton 37.6. However, once you apply the 538 secret sauce, you wind up with projected totals of 49.7% for Trump and 43.2% for Clinton.

RCP does not do this kind of modeling/forecasting – it’s a straight up polling average. As such, it can underestimate final totals, since it doesn’t try to guess what undecided voters may do. The 2012 RCP average for Texas had President Obama at 39.0 and Mitt Romney at 55.7; they finished at 41.4 and 57.2, respectively. Similarly, in 2008, Obama was averaging 40.5 and John McCain was at 53.5; the final numbers were 43.7 and 55.5. In other words, RCP underestimated Obama by three points in 2008 and by 2.5 points in 2012.

(I couldn’t find 538’s data for Texas in past years, so we’ll just skip that part of the analysis.)

There are so many variables in play here that I’ve been very reluctant to even begin to guess at what the final numbers might look like. Here are some of the things that factor in:

1. Overall turnout – Voter registration is at an all-time high, but that correlates weakly at best to turnout. However, the overall voting age population is way up, and even in a modest turnout-to-VAP scenario like we had in 2012, we’re easily looking at a half million or more extra voters than we’ve ever had, and that number could be quite a bit higher without setting a record for turnout as a share of the adult population. Nine million votes is not out of the question. I have to believe that beyond a certain point, extra voters will break Democratic. Where that point is, how blue they are, and how likely that is to happen, I have no idea.

2. Undecided voters – In 2008, the Obama/McCain share of the vote in the averages was 94.0%; in 2012, the Obama/Romney share was 94.7%. This year, it’s 82.3% for Trump and Clinton. Even adding in Johnson and Stein only gets you to 91.6%. That’s a lot more undecided voters. Do they show up? Which way do they lean? There’s a lot of room for candidates to gain ground here.

3. The third-party candidates – Just as a reminder, Gary Johnson and Jill Stein combined for 1.42% of the vote in Texas in 2012. Their RCP combined average is 9.3% right now. Poll numbers for third-party candidates are almost always overstated, often by quite a bit, but we don’t have any useful data for comparison from 2012. I’m sure there are some Republicans who will vote for Johnson over Trump, but nearly the entire state GOP establishment is in Trump’s corner, so it’s not like there’s an organized #NeverTrump movement. As with the undecided voters, there’s a lot of room for the Trump and Clinton numbers to change here if as has been the norm historically the L and G numbers are exaggerated. But if there was ever a year where maybe they’re not, you’d think this would be it.

4. The other polls – There are national polls showing Hillary Clinton with a double-digit lead. That’s a landslide by any measure, and if it’s what we get, it’s entirely possible that the polls we have for Texas are underestimating her by a considerable amount, as state polling tends to lag the national trends. The fact that the one most recent poll we have is also the closest one we’ve seen since that weird Washington Post poll suggests that possibility as well. We also know that there’s a lot of polling data that is not made public but from which we can make inferences based on the actions taken by the campaigns and other actors who have that data. Here, we have multiple suggestions of Republicans being worried about their turnout in Texas, plus Hillary Clinton actually running a week’s worth of ads in Texas, online and on TV. Draw your own conclusions about that.

5. Latino voters – This is baked into some of the other factors, but I keep being struck by the differences between what national polls say about Latino support for Donald Trump – in short, he may be lucky to get 20% of the Latino vote nationally, well below what Mitt Romney got – and what the state polls have said. The latter have generally had his support in the 30s, with Clinton in the 50s or low 60s. This may be a function of small sample sizes combined with excessive weighting to compensate, or it may simply indicate that Texas Latinos are different than Latinos elsewhere. Bear in mind that we have some data to indicate that lower-propensity Latino voters tend to be more Democratic than high-propensity Latino voters, which is a fancy way of saying that higher Latino turnout correlates with better Democratic performance among Latinos.

6. Crossover voters – Mark Bluenthal wrote yesterday that the key to Hillary Clinton’s increased national lead is that she has consolidated the Democratic vote better than Donald Trump has done with the Republican vote. Another way to put that is there are more Republicans who are voting for other candidates, including Clinton, than there are Democrats who are voting for other candidates. We see that in Texas as well, specifically in that UH poll, which showed ten percent of Rs voting for Clinton or Johnson, but only five percent of Ds voting for other candidates. Hillary Clinton’s better performance in Texas is two parts turnout – there are more Democrats and fewer Republicans voting than usual – and one part crossover voting. If that latter group is bigger than we think, that will affect the outcome.

In the end, I’m less interested in the margin between Trump and Clinton – given what we do know so far, barring anything unexpected that margin is going to be smaller than the McCain-Obama margin – as I am in the absolute totals. How many people actually vote for Hillary Clinton? The high-water mark is 3,528,633, set by Obama in 2008. Just on the increase in population alone, she could top that while receiving a lower percentage of the vote (for example, 3.6 million votes for Clinton out of 8.4 million total = 42.9%; Obama got 43.7%), but I would consider that a huge disappointment. Can she get to 3.8 million, or (be still my heart) 4 million? Can she reach 44 or even 45 percent, a level not reached since Jimmy Carter in 1976? I hope to have some small amount of clarity on this before voting concludes, but I doubt I’ll get much.

I think that about covers it. What it all means, I still don’t know. But when it’s all over and we’re doing the autopsy, these are the things I’ll want to look back on.

Chron overview of HD134

The Chron looks at that perpetual swing district, HD134

Rep. Sarah Davis

Rep. Sarah Davis

Artful redistricting has squeezed the general election suspense from nearly all of Harris County’s legislative races, rendering most districts solidly red or blue.

Democrat Ben Rose is hoping to prove his west Houston district can be the exception.

The 31-year-old political newcomer is seeking to leverage traditionally high Democratic turnout in presidential election years to oust three-term Republican state Rep. Sarah Davis. Doing so would return District 134 to Democratic hands for the first time in six years.

“To effectuate change, you’d have to want that change. And based on her record, I don’t think that she really is distinguishable,” Rose said during an interview in his Meyerland campaign office. “On cutting $5 billion from education, where was she? On accepting federal (Medicaid) dollars, where was she?”

Davis, known as a moderate, is campaigning on her fiscal conservatism and clout in the state Legislature as a member of the majority party.

“From just a general standpoint of who can get something done, your choice is someone who’s on the most powerful committees and has some experience and is in the majority party, versus a freshman with no seniority and in the minority party,” said Davis, 40, whose committee posts include appropriations and calendars.

District 134, which runs from Meyerland north to Timbergrove, has traded parties twice in the last decade, from Republican Martha Wong to Democrat Ellen Cohen in 2007, and Cohen to Davis in 2011.

Ben Rose

Ben Rose

Since then, it has become more Republican.

District 134 lost five precincts in 2011’s redistricting, all of them left-leaning. And the district gained 25 others, most of them right-leaning, according to a Chronicle analysis of straight-ticket voting.

[…]

Donald Trump’s divisive candidacy is expected to handicap many local Republican candidates, whose fate typically is tied to the performance of their party’s presidential pick and the turnout he draws.

However, University of Houston political scientist Brandon Rottinghaus said he expects Davis to be more insulated than many of her GOP peers, who could be hurt by higher Democratic turnout or a lower percentage of Republican straight-ticket voting.

“The core of it is: Are there more Democrats in 134?” Rottinghaus said. “It seems to me they’ve already maxed out the number that are there, so i don’t think you’re going to find a lot more turnout … and some of those Democrats are supporters of Sarah Davis.”

Here’s my interview with Ben Rose. I basically agree with Prof. Rottinghaus that a boost in Democratic turnout is unlikely to have much effect on this race. For one, turnout in this district is always pretty high; it was 72% in 2012. For another, the district is indeed redder than it was in 2008 – President Obama got 42% of the vote in 2012 after topping 46% in 2008. I think the more likely path to victory for Rose is not higher turnout but lower turnout, with that being the result of more Republicans staying home. That could happen, but it’s not sustainable if it does.

What I think may happen is that Hillary Clinton carries the district due to a larger than usual number of crossovers and other Republicans who refuse to vote for Trump, though she may not have a majority in doing this. Beyond that, Republican candidates in other races, with the possible exception of the DA race, win the district, probably with a lower than expected margin. I don’t claim to be a fan of Sarah Davis, but she’s a good fit for the district and hasn’t done anything obvious to turn off her supporters. Barring a surprise, I expect her to win by an amount that keeps this district firmly in the “swing” category going forward.

Chron overview of judicial races

In case anyone is paying attention to them.

HarrisCounty

As Harris County goes, so go most of its judicial races.

That truism appears to be good news for Democrats seeking to scoop up more district court benches in November, when two dozen criminal, civil and family court positions are up for grabs.

Three of the benches are open, while 10 Democrats and 11 Republicans are defending their seats.

“The Republicans are looking at a real uphill battle,” Rice University political scientist Mark Jones said, pointing to disaffection for Trump among some Republicans, which could impact voting patterns down the ballot. “I think the most likely scenario is we’re looking at a repeat of 2008, where we see a near or complete Democratic sweep of the judicial races.”

[…]

Looking for a repeat [of 2008], Harris County Democratic Party Chair Lane Lewis said the party is focused on encouraging voters to cast a straight-ticket ballot in November.

“I think you are going to see much more straight Democratic ticket voting. One, because we have the better candidates, and two, because their candidates are just so bad,” Lewis said. “The Republicans are going to lose votes because of Trump.”

Harris County Republican Party Chair Paul Simpson fired back, saying enthusiasm about Clinton does not compare to support for Obama eight years ago.

“This is not a wave, and I’ve been saying for months Hillary Clinton is not Barack Obama. She’s the status quo,” Simpson said, adding that traditional Democratic voters may cast their ballots for Trump.

Even so, Texas Southern University political scientist Jay Aiyer said Trump’s controversial candidacy provides a structural advantage for Democratic judges.

“Traditional Democratic voters are inclined to vote straight-ticket, and the same is not necessarily the case on the Republican side because you have a percentage of Republicans that are likely to not vote for (Trump) for president,” Aiyer said.

The story references the recent Hobby Center poll of Harris County, which has Hillary Clinton leading Donald Trump here by four or nine points, depending on how you define “likely voters”. As the story notes, a two-point win by President Obama in 2008 was enough for a near-Democratic sweep of the judicial races. Paul Simpson’s complaints aside, the last three Presidential races show that Democrats have done a better job voting all the way down the ballot than Republicans have done. That may change this year, but I personally would not bet on that. For what it’s worth, the little bit of gossip I’ve heard suggests that the Republican judges on the ballot this year are not feeling very confident. With all the standard caveats and disclaimers, I’d rather be in the Dems’ position right now.

Registration versus turnout

Ross Ramsey throws a bit of cold water on the surge in voter registrations.

vote-button

Turnout isn’t nearly as volatile as registration. Over the past 10 presidential elections in Texas, the percentage of Texas adults registered to vote has gone as low as 65.3 percent in 1992 to as high as 85.4 percent in 2000.

The registered voter numbers have a problem, though. At any given time, some number of the people who have registered in Texas have moved or died. Election officials purge the rolls from time to time to correct for that, but using registered voters as a base for turnout calculations is messy.

The voting-age population, on the other hand, is based on population estimates. It starts with a census and changes with births and deaths — or, to be more accurate, deaths and the numbers of people turning 18 each year.

Using that number instead of registrations, Texans appear to be much more consistent in their voting turnout: 41 percent of Texas adults voted in 1996, the low year, and 47.6 percent showed up in 1984 and 1992, the two years with the best turnout over the past 10 presidential elections.

Those numbers don’t sync very well. If you’re measuring turnout by counting the number of actual voters among people on the registered voter rolls, you’ll get a relatively high number — and one that’s as volatile as the state’s database of registered voters.

If you measure it by comparing the number of adults in the state with the number of actual voters, you’ll get a more predictable result. More than four — and fewer than five — of every 10 adults has voted in each of the past 10 presidential runs.

You can run the voter rolls up with an active registration push, but it doesn’t necessarily mean turnout will improve.

These are fair points, and to be sure most of the interest around the higher voter registration totals is centered on the belief that This Year Is Different. Which it unquestionably is, but that doesn’t mean it’s different in a way that will necessarily lead to a greater-than-usual number of people casting votes. So let’s take Ramsey’s figures and use that as a basis for estimating statewide turnout this year.

According to the SOS Turnout and Registration page, there are 19,307,355 adults of voting age population in Texas. Let’s apply four different turnout levels to that and see what we get.

40.97% turnout = 7,910,223
43.73% turnout = 8,443,106
45.55% turnout = 8,794,500
47.64% turnout = 9,198,024

The 40.97% and 47.64% values are the high and low totals cited by Ramsey. The other two, the ones in the middle, are the actual turnout of voting-age population numbers from 2008 (45.55%) and 2012 (43.73%). To put that in some perspective, due to the overall population growth in Texas, a turnout level equivalent to what we had in 2012, which I think we can all agree was generally considered “meh”, would still represent an increase of 450,000 voters over 2012 and 365,000 voters over 2008. Consider that 2008’s actual total of 8,077,795 represents 41.84% turnout of 2016 VAP, and 2012’s actual total of 7,993,851 is merely 41.40% turnout of 2016 VAP. Unless 2016 is a historically low year for turnout, more people are going to vote this November than they did in 2012 and 2008, quite possibly a lot more people.

So, to Ramsey’s point, we are almost certainly going to have more people vote this year than have ever voted in Texas, but sheer population growth will account for much of that. We need to crack nine million before we can really talk about a new high-water mark, and we have to push ten million to get to a point where we can say that more than half of adult Texans cast a ballot. It remains to be seen just how different this year will be.

Oh, and by the way, voter registration numbers continue to climb.

Texas is closing in on 15 million registered voters who will be eligible to cast ballots in the November election after a surge in registrations that probably will outpace the run-ups to the last three presidential elections, according to an analysis of state registration data by the former research director for the Texas Republican Party.

“The biggest takeaway is there is significant interest in this presidential election,” said Derek Ryan, the former Texas GOP data guru who is now an Austin-based Republican consultant who specializes in voter lists. According to Ryan’s analysis of the Texas secretary of state’s registered voter database released Monday, Texas actually passed the 15 million threshold last week. He puts the number at 15,002,412. But the secretary of state’s office said its most recent count had the state at 14.9 million registered voters.

The Texas voting age population is 19.3 million.

With another week to register before the Oct. 11 deadline, Ryan said he expected new registrants between the primary and general election to exceed the numbers logged in the past three presidential cycles. As of last week, Ryan said, 764,000 voters had registered since the March 1 primary, compared with 834,000 post-primary registrations in 2004, 823,000 in 2008 and 581,000 in 2012, when the primary was held in May.

Ryan said that of the new registrants, there were nearly 20,000 more women than men, that people with Hispanic surnames made up nearly a quarter and that the average age of the new registrants was 36.4 years old, with 43.1 percent under 30 and 34.1 percent ages 30 to 49.

On the face of it, that should all be good news for Democrats and their presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton, who polls better in Texas with women, younger voters and Hispanics. But Ryan said that considering the provocative nature of Donald Trump’s campaign with regard to women and Hispanics, he was surprised their numbers did not spike higher.

Women outnumber men in the electorate generally, and the 2.3 percent differential between female and male new registrants is pretty much par for the course.

The 23.3 percent of new registrants with a Hispanic surname is identical to the 23.3 percent of all registered voters with a Hispanic surname, Ryan said, and the real test is turnout in a state that regularly places at or near the bottom for voter participation nationally and where Hispanic turnout is historically especially low.

Ryan also cautioned that the use of Hispanic surnames to identify Hispanics is inexact.

The deadline to register is October 11. We’ll see where we are then.

Lots of absentee ballots in Harris County this year

From the inbox:

vote-button

Harris County Clerk Stan Stanart announced today that over 90,000 ballots have been mailed to voters who requested to vote by mail in the November 8, 2016 General and Special Elections. The number of ballots mailed is the highest ever processed in Harris County for any election.

“The Super Bowl of Elections has kicked-off. Voters who have submitted a request to vote by mail will be receiving their ballot in the coming days. Voters should stay alert and watch their mailbox,” urged Stanart, the County’s Chief Election officer. “This initial batch of ballots includes voters who submitted a request for a mail ballot as of September 23 of this calendar year. Requests to vote by mail, which are received before the October 28 deadline, will be promptly processed and dropped in the mail for delivery.”

Voters receiving mail ballots are encouraged to vote and return the ballot without delay following these steps:
1. Use BLACK or BLUE ink to mark your choices on the ballot;
2. Place voted ballot in the Ballot Envelope and seal it;
3. Place Ballot Envelope in the enclosed pre-addressed County Clerk carrier envelope;
4. Seal carrier envelope and sign where indicated exactly as you signed the ballot by mail request;
5. Place appropriate postage on the carrier envelope.
6. Mail the carrier envelope containing your ballot early enough for receipt well before Election Day;

“There are approximately 392,000 voters in Harris County who meet the age requirement to vote by mail. I would not be surprised if the number of mail ballot requests for this election exceeds 100,000,” concluded Stanart. Texans can vote by mail if they are registered to vote and meet one of the following criteria: Away from the county of residence on Election Day and during the early voting period; Sick or disabled; 65 years of age or older on Election Day; or Confined in jail, but eligible to vote.

To find an application to vote by mail and other election information, voters may visit the Harris County Clerk’s Office election website www.HarrisVotes.com or call 713.755.6965.

What is it I most like to do when presented with a number? Compare it to other numbers to try to put it in context. How impressive is 90,000 mail ballots? Let’s look at the most recent Presidential elections in Harris County and see for ourselves.

In 2012, there were 76,085 mail ballots returned, which was 6.3% of 1,204,167 total votes in the county.

In 2008, there were 67,612 mail ballots returned, or 5.7% of 1,188,731 total votes.

And in 2004, there were 47,619 mail ballots returned, for 4.4% of the 1,088,793 total.

Bearing in mind that Stan Stanart has estimated turnout of 1.4 million this November, 90,000 mail ballots out of 1.4 million voters would be 6.4% of the total. An absolute increase, but not a relative one. In this KHOU story, Stanart says the final total could well exceed 100,000. That would be 7.1% of 1.4 million, which is more in line with previous upticks. We’ll see where the final number lands?

Does this have any effect on the final results, even at the margins? Mail voters are generally older – everyone over the age of 65 is eligible to vote by mail – so they tend to be Republican. However, the Harris County Democratic Party has been aggressively pursuing a vote-by-mail strategy, and is touting its success in getting ballots to Democratic voters. I can’t say what that will look like this November, but I can say what it did look like in the last three Presidential Novembers:


Year   R total   D total   R Pct   D Pct
========================================
2012    43,270    31,414  57.56%  41.70%
2008    41,986    24,503  62.72%  36.60%
2004    29,926    17,010  63.36%  36.01%

All vote totals are taken from the Presidential races that year, so the R totals are (respectively) for Romney, McCain, and Bush. Democrats have made up a larger percentage of the absentee voter universe lately, but the total increase in absentee ballots has been evenly split between R and D voters. Maybe that will be different this year – we’ll have to see after the results get posted. It’s still a relatively small number of votes, so the effect would be small as well. In addition, it’s still not clear to me how many of these mail voters that the Dems have recruited are people who would have voted in person had they not been provided an absentee ballot. My guess is that the actual increase in Democratic voters is modest, but I don’t know enough to quantify that. This is what I do know. We’ll come back to this for the postmortem later.

Our first guess at Harris County turnout

It’s big.

vote-button

Early voting in Texas for the 2016 election begins in a month. It will run through November 4. The Harris County Clerk’s office is encouraging voters to take advantage of the window, in order to avoid long lines at the polls.

Harris County Clerk Stan Stanart estimates 2.2 million people will be registered to vote by Election Day. That’s about half the county’s total population.

“The last presidential [election] we had 1.2 million voters in Harris County,” Stanart says. “We are planning and putting in the infrastructure to support 1.4 million voters to show up.”

The county will operate a record 46 early voting locations this year, in order to accommodate heavy turnout for the presidential contest.

One point four million votes from Harris County would represent an increase of 200,000 over 2008 and 2012. Let’s put that into some context, to help understand what that means for individual races. I’m going to use judicial races as my main proxy for this. The questions I want to examine are, how many actual votes did a judicial candidate need to win in those years, and how many votes will those candidates likely need to win this year?

Total turnout in 2008 was 1,188,731.

Judicial race turnout – the total number of votes cast in the average judicial race – was about 1,100,000, which means there was a 7% undervote. I didn’t do the math, I just eyeballed it.

The Win Number was therefore 550,000 votes for a given candidate. In other words, if a candidate reached 550,000 votes, they won, and if they failed to reach that total, they lost. This was true for each district court race except for two: Elizabeth Ray lost 551,844 to 551,324, and Tad Halbach won 548,852 to 548,622. Note how close those races were.

For all of Harris County, Adrian Garcia was the top votegetter with 637,588 votes.

How about 2012? Total turnout was 1,204,167.

Judicial race turnout – again, eyeballing it – was about 1,130,000, or a 5.6% undervote. I believe the difference here was more Republicans voting all the way down the ballot than there were in 2008.

The Win Number for 2012 was thus 565,000. Again, there were two exceptions: John Coselli lost 567,942 to 566,248, and Michael Landrum lost 569,682 to 565,611. Again, Adrian Garcia was the top votegetter, this time with 613,103 votes.

So what does that mean for this year? Assume the estimate of 1,400,000 total votes is accurate, and assume that comes with a 6% undervote in judicial races. I’m just guessing on that, and you can plsy around with other numbers, but let’s go with it for this exercise. That means that judicial race turnout is 1,316,000 total votes, as 6% of 1.4 million is 84,000. That makes the Win Number 658,000 votes. That’s more than 20,000 votes higher than what Adrian Garcia got in 2008, when he breezed home with 56% of the tally.

Putting it another way, the average judicial candidate will need to get about 100,000 more votes than were required in either of the last two Presidential elections to win. That’s a lot of votes. It may be that this turnout projection is an overestimate – we’re all just guessing, and part of this is in response to the complaints about long lines during the primaries – but I doubt it’s by too much. We’ll know soon enough. Campos has more.

McMullin will “appear” on the ballot

To the extent that a write-in candidate “appears” on the ballot, anyway.

Will not be on the ballot

Will not be on the ballot

Texas voters will be able to vote for former CIA operative Evan McMullin for president in November.

The Texas secretary of state’s office on Friday certified McMullin, who is running as an independent, as a write-in candidate for the general election. McMullin, a former chief policy director of the House Republican Conference, said on Twitter that his campaign had “resolved the misunderstanding” with the state over his application.

As part of the approval process, McMullin was required to submit written statements of consent from 38 presidential elector candidates. But one of the electors originally submitted by McMullin was deemed ineligible. He was certified after submitting a replacement elector.

Raise your hand if you knew this was the process. Now put your hand back down, because I don’t believe you. At least we now have an answer to the question that no one was asking, namely “What do Evan McMullin and Robert Morrow have in common?” Also, too, I presume this means that McMullin is no longer pursuing a lawsuit to be allowed to get on the ballot as an independent. Google has no news about Souraya Faas, the candidate who actually did file such a lawsuit, then apparently lost interest in it. As such, I think it’s safe to say that the lineup is now set. I will note that there were over 13,000 write-in votes for President cast in 2008, with the vast bulk of them going to Ralph Nader and Chuck Baldwin. I will be very impressed if Evan McMullin can approach either of their totals.

Endorsement watch: A Libertarian moment

The Chron thinks outside the box in endorsing for the Railroad Commission.

Mark Miller

Mark Miller

Our editorial board interviews scores of candidates for political office every election year, but seldom do we find ourselves wholeheartedly endorsing a nominee from the Libertarian Party. Then again, seldom have we met a Libertarian candidate like Mark Miller.

Ask this man anything at all about the Railroad Commission of Texas and he’ll give you a straight, smart answer informed not only by decades of working in the industry and teaching petrochemical engineering at the University of Texas, but also by a mastery of the issues facing the energy business and the state body that regulates it. He’s an affable retired oil and gas man with a doctorate from Stanford University who’s so interested in this agency he literally wrote a book on the railroad commission.

With impressive clarity and authority, Miller offers well-informed opinions on a litany of arcane issues involving the energy industry: why the Texas Legislature needs to resolve the conflict between the owners of surface rights and mineral rights, why the state should dramatically reduce the number of permits for flaring natural gas, why Texas needs to figure out how to plug oil wells left unplugged by companies that go bankrupt. This guy clearly knows what he’s talking about.

By comparison, none of the other candidates for this office have actually worked in the industry they propose to help oversee. Wayne Christian, the Republican nominee, earned a troublesome reputation as a combative bomb-thrower in the state Legislature; he helped craft a shamefully self-serving amendment exempting his own Bolivar Peninsula home from the Texas Open Beaches Act, and Texas Monthly twice rated him one of the state’s worst lawmakers. Grady Yarbrough, the Democratic nominee, is a retired school teacher whose background seems better suited to an education post. Martina Salinas, the Green Party nominee, is an earnest construction inspector from the Fort Worth area who, again, never worked in the energy business.

I don’t have any particular quarrel with the recommendation. Experience is a somewhat overrated qualification for the RRC, given that its Commissioners (those with industry experience and those without it) tend to be rubber stamps for the industry they purportedly regulate anyway. Certainly, Wayne Christian will do whatever his overlords tell him to do, so in that sense it doesn’t matter whether or not he understands anything about what he’s doing. Maybe Grady Yarbrough will take advice from other sources, who knows. At least he’ll have to be more visible if he somehow gets elected.

Endorsement aside – it would not shock me if Miller collects more than one such recommendation, given the other choices – the more interesting question is whether Miller can break the five percent barrier in this race. Libertarians and Greens have relied in recent years on statewide races in which there was no Democrat running to place a candidate who can top that mark and thus guarantee ballot access for all statewide races for their team. This year, those tricky Democrats actually ran candidates for all statewide offices, meaning the Ls and the Gs are going to have to do this the hard way if they want to be on the statewide ballot in 2020. (The hard way involves collecting a sufficient number of petition signatures, possibly with a little help from friends of convenience.) The question I want to answer is: Have any Libertarian or Green Party statewide candidates cracked the five percent mark in a statewide race that featured both an R and a D in recent years?

We go to the Secretary of State election returns for that. Here are the high statewide scorers for the Ls and the Gs in such races in Presidential years:


Year    Candidate     Party       Race    Pct
=============================================
2012      L Stott       Lib        CCA  3.26%
2012    C Kennedy       Grn        RRC  1.99%

2008      D Floyd       Lib        RRC  3.52%

2004     A Garcia       Lib        RRC  3.60%

2000     M Ruwart       Lib     Senate  1.16%
2000      R Nader       Grn  President  2.15%

(Note: There were no statewide Green candidates in 2004 or 2008.) Doesn’t look too promising. How about in the non-Presidential years?


Year    Candidate     Party       Race    Pct
=============================================
2014    M Bennett       Lib        CCA  3.61%
2014    M Salinas       Grn        RRC  2.03%

2010  J Armstrong       Lib     Sup Ct  4.04%
2010   A Browning       Grn        RRC  1.49%

2006      J Baker       Lib     Lt Gov  4.36%

2002  B Hernandez       Lib  Land Comm  4.12%
2002  O Jefferson       Grn        CCA  1.74%

(Note: There were no statewide Green candidates in 2006.) Not much better. Note that total turnout is a factor – Jack Armstrong (195K) received more votes than Judy Baker (188K) or Barbara Hernandez (180K), but he was running in a much higher turnout environment, so his percentage was lower. By the way, Mark Miller and Martina Salinas were both candidates for the RRC in 2014 as well; Miller received 3.15% of the vote, against R and D candidates who were much better qualified than the ones running this year. Make of that what you will. To get back to my original question, I’d say both Ls and Gs will be relying on their Presidential candidate for their best chance to crack the five percent mark. I’d give Gary Johnson a decent shot at it, but Jill Stein? I figure if Ralph Nader couldn’t get halfway there in 2000, Stein is unlikely to be the one. There’s always the petitions.

Endorsement watch: Stay the course

Harris County Democrats have one incumbent up for re-election: County Attorney Vince Ryan. The Chron gives their approval for another term.

Vince Ryan

Vince Ryan

[Ryan] said that he actively pursues pollution enforcement lawsuits against big companies – such as Volkswagen after it lied about emissions tests, or the corporations responsible for the San Jacinto waste pits. But in a state where legislators and regulators routinely erect barriers to citizens seeking justice from the industries that poison our water and pollute our air, Ryan’s headlines over matters of public concern look more like necessary leadership than disregard for cooperation.

That’s not to say Ryan hasn’t been an important team player with other law enforcement agencies across the county. He’s harnessed the power of the county attorney’s office to go after dangerous gangs, sex traffickers and Kush merchants. He also helped the county cut through the Gordian Knot of same-sex marriage by quickly and clearly instructing judges to follow the U.S. Supreme Court after it held bans to be unconstitutionally discriminatory, yet refrained from hounding individual county employees who preferred to pass onto their coworkers the historic duty of marrying same-sex couples.

Running for his third term, the former District C councilman and longtime assistant under former County Attorney Mike Driscoll brings a steady and experienced hand to an important position that has a vast spectrum of responsibilities, including advising county officials, preparing contracts, defending the county from lawsuits and protecting communities through civil action. He’s served the county well, and voters should keep him in office.

Other than some judges, Vince Ryan is the only Democrat elected countywide in 2008 to remain in office. Loren Jackson, who won a special election to fill the remaining term of District Clerk, lost in the 2010 sweep. HCDE At Large trustees Jim Henley, who resigned in 2014, and Debra Kerner, who lost in 2014, and Adrian Garcia, who stepped down as Sheriff to run for Mayor in 2015, followed. I feel pretty good about the Dems’ chances of adding to that roster this year, but it starts with Vince Ryan.

It’s not crazy to think that a downballot Democrat could win statewide this year

I’ll get to that headline in a minute. I’ve got some reading to sort through first. We’ll start with the most pessimistic, or perhaps the least blue-sky, story of how things are likely to go.

Arizona. Georgia. Utah. Indiana. Is Texas next?

Across the country in recent days, GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump has suffered polling collapses in a slew of traditionally conservative states. The deterioration raises the question: Is Trump such a catastrophic Republican standard-bearer that Democrats could actually poach their ultimate white whale, the Lone Star State?

No.

That’s the consensus of a raft of state and national Democratic insiders who discussed with the Tribune the possibility of Hillary Clinton winning Texas in November.

“I think that it could set off a little bit of a panic among Republicans, but you’re not going to see banners flying and people marching into Texas saying, ‘We’re gonna turn Texas blue,'” said Matt Angle, a Democratic operative with Texas roots.

[…]

So, what would an incremental victory look like for Texas Democrats on Election Day?

Party infrastructure was the mantra in several interviews. The aim is to excite dormant Texas Democratic voters into volunteering for the first time in a generation, even if it is out of distaste for Trump. Even now, Texas volunteers are phone banking to battleground state voters elsewhere in the country.

“We know it’s going to be a multi-cycle endeavor, but these numbers reinforce that we are making significant movement, particularly with Texas’ diverse new majority,” said Manny Garcia, the deputy executive director of the Texas Democratic Party.

State Democrats are also cautiously hopeful they can make gains in the Legislature, and maybe lay the groundwork for a viable campaign against U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz in 2018 when he is up for re-election.

Amid the cautious optimism, Democrats are willing to concede that anything is believable given the erratic nature of the Trump campaign.

Former U.S. Rep. Martin Frost, an Arlington Democrat, echoed many Democratic insiders when he said he has heard no chatter about competing for Texas in the fall.

“This is a crazy election,” he said. “Anything can happen, but I still think Texas is a reach.”

A more optimistic take on where things stand.

The [PPP] poll shows Trump leading Clinton by a 44-to-38 percent margin, with his strongest support among senior-age Texans, especially men. Among that group, the New York business tycoon holds a 63-33 percent lead.

With voters under age 65, Clinton leads 49-35. For those under 45, she leads Trump 60-35.

Among nonwhite voters in Texas, Clinton has a 73-21 percent lead, according to the poll conducted by the Democrat-leaning polling firm Friday through Sunday of 944 likely voters; the poll has a margin of error of plus- or minus-3.2 percentage points.

That split, said Rice University political scientist Mark Jones, who has studied how the changing generational demographics of voters affects elections, could be the most significant statistic from the poll and other recent surveys that have highlighted a similar trend in Texas.

“This election is an outlier because Trump in many ways transcends ideology and party,” Jones said. “The older the voters, the more likely they are to vote Republican. The younger the voters, the more likely they are to vote Democratic. And the Republicans’ base in Texas is growing older.”

[…]

Statewide, an estimated 14 million Texans are registered to vote, an increase of about 1 million voters over the last four years, according to the Texas Secretary of State’s Office, which oversees elections. Whether those are new Republicans or Democrats or independents is unknown, and party affiliation is determined by which primary a voter casts his or her ballot.

Officials in fast-growing Williamson County, in staunchly conservative GOP territory just north of Austin, said their registration numbers are up significantly.

During the 2008 presidential race, Williamson County accounted for just more than 220,000 of the state’s registered voters. The most current figures put Williamson County’s voter total at 294,329.

In Fort Bend County, a fast-growing GOP suburban stronghold southwest of Houston, elections administrator John Oldham said registrations have grown by 25 percent since 2008. That has added nearly 100,000 new voters to the rolls in just under eight years, he said.

Oldham estimated that about half of recently registered have not had Anglo or Hispanic surnames. Many have last names traditionally associated with Asian, Middle Eastern and African heritages, he said.

“That’s where we’re seeing a lot of growth,” he said.

For Brandon Rottinghaus, a political scientist at the University of Houston, surburban areas like Fort Bend County are the places to watch in November.

“Republicans in Texas have dominated the suburban vote, and that’s been one reason for their success,” Rottinghaus said. “But in this election, Trump is doing poorly among these voters – the suburban women, college-educated voters who are younger. (Gov. Greg) Abbott and (U.S. Sen. Ted) Cruz still do well there, but crossover voting in the suburbs could cause a moment that might allow the Democrats to do better.

“That is how the Republicans got their foot in the door in congressional elections years ago,” he added.

And finally, an X factor to consider.

There are now 272 electoral votes in states that RCP rates as leaning toward Clinton, likely to go to her or solidly in her column. Another 112 come from states rated as tossups (plus Maine’s 2nd Congressional District, from which an elector is chosen independent of the statewide result). On Wednesday morning, Clinton had a lead in six of those eight states, including a statistically insignificant three-tenths-of-a-point edge in Deep South Georgia.

Furthermore, in talking to Democratic and Republican strategists in recent days, it has become clear that the polls could be significantly underestimating the Clinton margins that we’ll see on Election Day. Here’s why: Clinton has poured money into both television advertising and field organizing even in states where she has an outside chance of winning while Trump has been inactive.

Republican and Democratic experts in field organizing say that a tiptop organization can make a small but significant difference — maybe as many as four or five percentage points — in a particular state. That is, where Clinton’s building an operation and Trump isn’t, polls are likely underrepresentative of her strength.

In a chat last week on the social media platform Sidewire, former Iowa Republican Party Chairman Matt Strawn and GOP strategist Doug Heye lamented the absence of a Trump field operation on the ground in the battleground Hawkeye State.

“The boots have largely been outsourced to the RNC staff that’s been on [the] ground. They are hustling to staff up,” Strawn said. “And as everyone learned watching Hillary [and] Bernie battle during caucuses, if it comes down to mechanics versus message at the end … well, we know how that turned out.”

That last one isn’t about Texas at all, and it may be irrelevant to the discussion at hand, since Republican Presidential campaigns don’t bother investing in Texas for the same reason that Democratic ones don’t – there’s no reason to. But there is a correlation between the national level and the state level, and if there are concerns about Republican turnout nationally – and there are, and they go beyond worries about campaign infrastructure – then there are concerns about it here as well, if not necessarily as great.

Which leads me to a conclusion that I’ve seen only articulated once, briefly, in the Beatty memo, which is this: It’s not crazy to think that Texas Democrats could win a statewide race or two this November.

Note that I am not talking about the Presidential race. The Beatty memo suggests that the Railroad Commissioner’s race could go either way, as nobody knows who the candidates are. I’m thinking more about the races for Supreme Court and Court of Criminal Appeals, for which the Dems have a full slate of candidates. The same argument about nobody knowing who the candidates are holds, but there’s also the numbers, for all of these races.

Look at it this way: A six-point Trump win in Texas, which is consistent with that PPP poll, translates to roughly a 400,000-vote margin for Trump. To pick some numbers out of the sky, a victory by Trump of 4,000,000 votes to 3,600,000 votes – a drop of about 12.5% for Trump from Mitt Romney’s 2012 total, with an increase of about nine percent for Hillary Clinton over President Obama in 2012 – would translate to 52.6% for Trump to 47.4% for Clinton in a two-person race. That’s a little less than six percent, but grant me that much optimism. (For the record, 4.1 million votes for Trump to 3.6 million for Clinton would be 53.2% to 46.8%, or a 6.4 point difference, so assume we’re somewhere in the middle if you want.) All disclaimers aside, I think we can all agree that as things stand today, a result like this is in the ballpark.

Now here’s the thing: There’s always some level of dropoff from the Presidential level to the downballot level. In the three most recent Presidential elections, there has been much more dropoff on the Republican side than on the Democratic side.


2004

Bush -  4,526,917
Kerry - 2,832,704

Candidate         Votes   Dropoff   Drop %
==========================================
Carrillo      3,891,482   635,435    14.0%
Brister       4,093,854   433,063     9.6%
Keasler       3,990,315   536,602    11.9%

Scarborough   2,872,717       N/A      N/A
Van Os        2,817,700    15,004     0.5%
Molina        2,906,720       N/A      N/A


2008

McCain - 4,479,328
Obama  - 3,528,633

Candidate         Votes   Dropoff   Drop %
==========================================
Williams      4,003,789   475,539    10.6%
Jefferson     4,092,181   387,147     8.6%
Wainwright    3,926,015   553,313    12.4%
Johnson       4,018,396   460,932    10.3%
Price         3,948,722   530,606    11.8%

Thompson      3,406,174   122,459     3.5%
Jordan        3,374,433   154,200     4.4%
Houston       3,525,141     3,492     0.0%
Yanez         3,428,179   100,454     2.8%
Strawn        3,482,718    45,915     1.3%


2012

Romney - 4,569,843
Obama  - 3,308,124

Candidate         Votes   Dropoff   Drop %
==========================================
Craddick      4,336,499    233,344    5.1%
Hecht         4,127,493    442,350    9.7%
Keller        4,257,024    312,819    6.8%

Henry         3,057,733    250,391    7.6%
Petty         3,219,948     88,176    2.7%
Hampton       3,163,825    144,299    4.4%

Republicans did better in 2012 than in 2008, to which I attribute greater enthusiasm on their part, which led to more straight-ticket and general downballot voting. They obviously had a lot of enthusiasm in 2004, but they also had some crossover votes at the Presidential level, as well as (I believe) a decent number of people who turned out just to vote for President. Dems, on the other hand, had less dropoff in every race except one, and in most cases the difference between R dropoff and D dropoff was large. I attribute that in one part to good messaging about straight-ticket voting, especially in 2008, and one part being that if you bothered to show up and vote for a Democratic Presidential candidate in Texas, you were probably pretty committed to the party as a whole.

I think this year combines the lack of enthusiasm on the Republican side that we saw in 2008, plus the possibility of people showing up to just vote for Trump and nobody else, like in 2004. Against that, some number of people who normally vote for Republican Presidential candidates will do something else in that race this year, then vote normally after that. Put it all together, and I think the likelihood of Republican dropoff in the 2004 and 2008 ranges is a reasonably likely outcome this year.

If that is the case, and if we are indeed headed for a Presidential race with roughly a six-point differential between Trump and Clinton, then the math is clear. Four million less ten percent is 3.6 million, or what I’m projecting Clinton to get. Sure, there will be some Democratic dropoff as well, but you could have 11 or 12 percent loss on the R side, with only one percent or so for a given D. That will vary from candidate to candidate for reasons none of us can predict or will understand, but that’s my whole point: Under these conditions, we’re basically at a coin toss for downballot statewide races. And if that happens, we could see one or more Democrats squeak past their opponents and win their races. Looking at the numbers for the two most recent elections above, Sam Houston and Susan Strawn would have won in this environment, with Mark Thompson, Linda Yanez, and Michelle Petty (2012) falling just short. All they needed was for the Presidential race to have been sufficiently close.

Now as always, this comes with a pile of caveats – the election is still three months away, this is based on one poll, even a seven or eight point lead for Trump would almost certainly render all this moot, there could be a whole lot of Johnson-plus-downballot-GOP voters, etc etc etc. I’m absolutely not saying this will happen, nor am I saying it is likely to happen. I am saying it is possible, and conditions could become better for it rather than worse. I wouldn’t have said this a month ago, and the next poll result may make me want to throw this whole post into the trash, but my original statement stands: As things look right now, it’s not crazy to consider the possibility that at least one downballot statewide Democrat could win this fall.

So now that we’ve had this thought, what are we going to do about it? I’ll address that in the next post.

Will Texas Republicans dislike Clinton as much as they dislike Obama?

Of course they will. I mean, come on.

Hillary Clinton

Texas Democrats will miss Obama. But so too will Texas Republicans.

Those three syllables — O-Bah-Mah — were all it took for Republicans to signal what they stood against.

“There was an element of vitriol against Barack Obama that just defies logic,” said Rodney Ellis, a Democrat who is poised to surrender his Houston state Senate seat after his expected election as Harris County commissioner in November.

“You hate to use the race card, but there was something different,” said Ellis, a Clinton delegate. “With an African-American, you hate to be the first, but there was a level of animosity by leaders in the Republican Party against Barack Obama and there was something about it that just went beyond politics.”

But last week’s Republican National Convention in Cleveland demonstrated that Hillary slips as easily off the tongue as Obama.

“I think it will be an easy transition,” said Republican political strategist Brendan Steinhauser, who managed U.S. Sen. John Cornyn’s 2014 re-election campaign.

Jim Henson, director of the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas, said the most recent June poll suggests that Hillary Clinton will be just as unpopular with Texas Republicans as Obama.

I’m old enough to remember when Texas Republicans were openly rooting for Hillary Clinton to win the nomination in 2008 because of how much they wanted to run against her that year. They had no trouble adjusting to Obama as the nominee, and things haven’t changed much since then. See here and here for a bit of my thinking on this from that time. Reading stuff like this gives me whiplash and deja vu all at the same time.

One way to look at this question is to break it down into some smaller questions. To my mind, those questions are “Might Hillary Clinton do better among white voters?” and “Might Latino voters who had previously tended to vote Republican be sufficiently repulsed by Donald Trump to vote for Hillary Clinton, and perhaps also consider other Democrats downballot?” I suspect the answers to those questions are “Probably a little”, as there is national polling evidence to suggest that Trump is doing poorly among college-educated white voters and white women, though he’s doing better among non-college-educated whites, and “Probably for the first part, maybe but I’m dubious for the second part”. As always, more polling data would help us understand what if any effect there is.

Of greater interest to me is whether Hillary Clinton can do a better job turning out lower-propensity Democratic voters, especially in off years? I’m happy if she can flip some people from R to D, but that doesn’t mean much if it’s only for the Presidential race. I’d much rather she provide a boost to base Democratic turnout, which has been a big problem in recent elections. That remains to be seen. And if (fingers crossed) we get a boost in base turnout this November, we can finally begin to make progress on the problem of flat turnout in off-year elections. One step at a time, though. Either we get a step up this year, or we’re still stuck where we’ve been for too many cycles.

What it will take to win the District Court of Appeals benches

I’ve mentioned a couple of times that one place on the local ballot where Democrats could potentially gain some real ground is with the district Courts of Appeals. There are no competitive Congressional or State Senate races, the one competitive State House race in HD144 would be Democratic-favored in any Presidential year, and the countywide races have a greater dependency on the candidates themselves than any other contest. Republicans have done well in those races even as Democrats were winning district court benches, with the GOP successfully defending the offices of District Attorney and Tax Assessor in 2008 and 2012. The stakes are higher this year with the GOP hoping to keep the Sheriff’s office as well. Those races will get a lot of attention, with the outcomes less likely to be determined by partisan turnout levels.

The judicial races are where the candidates are mostly at the mercy of the blue/red mix. The wild card in those contests are for the 1st and 14th District Courts of Appeals, which encompass more than just Harris County. Jim Sharp broke through in 2008 to become the first (and so far only) Democrat in recent years to claim a spot on these benches, but several other races that year were fairly close, as each of the Democratic candidates carried Harris County. Republicans had a much easier time holding those positions in 2012, but the overall trend as well as the dynamic of this year’s Presidential contest suggests Dems may have a good shot at these. Let’s take a look at the numbers from the last two Presidential years and see if we can take a guess at what would need to happen for that to be the case.


2008

Race         Harris D  Harris R     Diff  Others D  Others R      Diff     Total
================================================================================
14th CJ       568,713   539,696  +29,017   199,332   258,576   -59,244   -30,227
1st Pl3       585,249   526,393  +58,856   209,510   250,194   -40,684   +18,172
1st Pl5       565,338   543,216  +22,122   198,502   259,452   -60,950   -38,828
14th Pl4      561,284   544,873  +16,411   194,751   261,775   -67,024   -50,613
14th Pl6      569,641   536,050  +33,591   198,463   257,779   -59,316   -25,815
14th Pl7      571,737   533,566  +38,173   198,849   257,265   -58,416   -20,245


2012

Race         Harris D  Harris R     Diff  Others D  Others R      Diff     Total
================================================================================
1st Pl2       567,793   572,351   -4,558   194,826   297,572  -102,746  -107,304
1st Pl6       565,699   572,594   -6,895   193,294   298,479  -105,185  -112,080
1st Pl7       565,258   572,326   -7,068   191,908   299,769  -107,861  -114,929
1st Pl8       560,865   575,397  -14,532   191,293   300,076  -108,783  -123,315
1st Pl9       567,466   570,529   -3,063   192,017   299,588  -107,571  -110,634
14th Pl3      580,356   557,224  +23,132   197,511   294,162   -96,551   -73,519
14th Pl4      555,639   580,450  -24,811   188,891   302,216  -113,325  -138,136
14th Pl5      557,972   578,436  -20,464   190,155   300,711  -110,556  -131,020
14th Pl8      575,206   562,417  +13,211   196,161   295,426   -99,265   -86,476

There are a couple of things going on here. The level of Democratic turnout in each year is roughly equivalent. The average dipped from 570,327 in 2008 to 566,250 in 2012, but that’a less than one percent. The Dem totals dropped a bit more in the other counties, falling from an average of 199,901 to 192,895, with the difference being exaggerated a bit by Jim Sharp’s showing in 2008. The bottom line remains that while the average Democratic candidate in these races received about 10,000 fewer votes in 2012, those totals didn’t affect the competitiveness of these races.

What did that were the Republican turnouts, which rose considerably in Harris and in the other counties, though for slightly different reasons. Republican voters in Harris County were far more likely to skip downballot races in 2008 than they were in 2012. It was the same way in 2004, with about ten percent of their Presidential voters disappearing for races like these, while Democratic voters were far more persistent about filling out their ballots. That pattern changed in 2012, with Rs and Ds about equally likely to fill the whole thing in. Some of that is no doubt the effect of straight-ticket voting, but there were still over 400,000 voters in Harris county who didn’t vote straight ticket in 2012. Maybe it was increased partisanship, maybe it was people absorbing the local message to vote all the way down, but whatever the case, it had an effect. As for the other counties, the increases are basically the result of population growth in Fort Bend, Galveston, and Brazoria Counties. Put the two together and you can see the effect.

Obviously, that makes winning these races this year a challenge, but I believe it can be done. Republicans have little to no prospect for growth in Harris County, and having Donald Trump at the top of the ticket is more likely to be a drag than an asset. Democrats need to put up a decent margin in Harris County, and they ought to be able to, but that won’t be enough. There needs to be some help in Fort Bend, Galveston, and Brazoria for there to be a fighting chance. I don’t know what is going on in those counties to try to boost turnout, though I know Fort Bend Democrats have been pretty active in recent years. I may be the only person in the state obsessing about these races as attainable targets for this year – these are low-visibility contests that have no immediate impact – but they represent an opportunity that we don’t often get, and it’s not like there are a bunch of legitimately exciting legislative or Congressional elections to focus on. The point I’ve been trying to make is that this is a good year to be thinking about other parts of the political bench, which includes county offices and judicial races. Remember, these appellate court positions come with six-year terms, so anyone who wins this year could if they chose run for a statewide bench in 2018 or 2020. There’s no downside to any of this, but we have to be aware of it first.

Mixed signals on voter registration

It’s mostly good news, but it could be better.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

While nonpartisan groups say funding is lagging to sign up Latinos to vote in the November election, voter registrations — likely fueled by Donald Trump’s salvos against people of Mexican heritage — are well ahead of 2012 along the Texas border and in the state’s largest counties.

Bexar County last week reported crossing the 1 million mark of registered voters for the first time, an additional 30,000 people this year and 80,000 more than in the 2012 presidential election.

“That’s the size of a small town we’ve registered this year,” Bexar County Elections Administrator Jacquelyn Callanen said.

She attributed the expanding electorate to population growth and to an election season she termed “nonconventional.”

Harris County has posted an increase of 150,000 since 2012, thanks in part to the 1,200 to 1,500 newly naturalized citizens added each month to the voter rolls, Harris County Voter Registrar Mike Sullivan said.

[…]

Nonetheless, groups devoted to mobilizing Latinos contend that despite the many newly registered voters, they see complacence by donors and Democratic Party leaders.

“Don’t count on Donald Trump being the guy who’s going to get people out to vote in November,” said Ben Monterroso, executive director of California-based Mi Familia Vota.

Mi Familia, which has offices in San Antonio, Houston and Dallas, has a goal of registering 95,000 people this year across the country. But the group is less than one-third of the way there and at least 10,000 behind the pace of four years ago.

At this point in 2012, the National Council of La Raza had significant operations in Florida, Colorado and Nevada and lesser programs in Texas and four other states.

Last week, the group was fully up and running only in Florida.

“We have one-fifth the funding we had back then even though Latinos are the talk of the town,” said Clarissa Martinez-de-Castro, the La Raza council’s deputy vice president.

Part of the problem, leaders say, involves planning delays due to the late-breaking race for the Democratic nomination. They say, too, that donor money that used to be spent on nonpartisan registration is landing in partisan political operations.

“A lot of it is flowing directly into PACs or focused on ads and mail,” Martinez-de-Castro said, “rather than the retail work and the elbow grease it takes to bring new voters into the equation.”

Harris County had just over 1.2 million registered voters in November of 2012, so that puts us north of 1.35 million, which is quite impressive. Considering that the 2012 total was barely higher than 2008’s, it’s even more so. As for Bexar County, their registered population actually declined by 11,000 voters from 2008 to 2012, so again, impressive. How much more could we have done if all of these groups that focus on voter registration had been properly funded? I couldn’t say. It would be nice to get all these efforts funded, and I expect that more attention will be focused on them now that the primary has finally been settled.

The again, some groups have done better in the resources department than others.

The goal for Latino Victory was spelled out in 2014: Elect Latinos to public office.

Two years later, the group shows signs of becoming a force in national politics, doubling its receipts and operating in campaigns around the country in a year when Latinos have high hopes for political success.

In mid-July, Latino Victory and allies plan to announce a major mobilization of Latino voters around the country to prepare for the November election.

“I think that the Latino Victory Project is poised to help create the national narrative about why it is important for Latinos and Latino families to have a stake in this election and how important it is for us to vote,” Muñoz said in an interview.

They seem to be more about turnout than voter registration, but it’s all part of the same package. In the end, what matters most is the result. Campos has more.

Our first general election poll of Texas

From the inbox:

In a poll released today and conducted June 13-14, 2016, Texas voters are specifically rejecting Donald Trump’s lies and the corruption of State GOP elected officials.

While Trump leads Hillary Clinton by 7 points (36.8 % – 29.7% ±3.1%) a deeper dive shows an overall unwillingness amongst Republican voters to pull the lever for a straight ticket. Republicans also make up the lions share of undecided.

998 responses were collected by live telephone calls from a random sample of Texas voters, balanced to the likely 2016 General Election turnout on June 13 and 14, 2016. The poll has a margin of error of 3.1%.  The poll was conducted by Leland Beatty, an Austin-based market research consultant with extensive experience polling Texas voters.

Below are the most important findings from today’s poll:

In Texas, Clinton Poised to Top Obama 2008 Vote; Gaining on Trump

Hillary Clinton is on track to top President Obama’s 2008 44% finish in Texas.  Obama’s performance in 2008 had a powerful down-ballot effect, pushing Democrats close to a majority in the Texas House of Representatives.

Trump will have significant difficulty adding to his 7 point lead (3.1% margin of error). Undecided voters were significantly concerned about their place in the economy and about the honesty and character of the candidates.

Undecided voters are also very fond of former President George W Bush.  Bush, together with most of his family, has declared he will not support Trump.

Economy and Corruption of Elected Officials Top Texan’s concerns; Immigration Barely Registers

By a 3 to 1 margin, Texas voters believe state government corruption is a real problem.Two-thirds of Trump supporters believe that corruption in Texas state government is a real problem.  Among the rest of Texas voters, 81% believe that state government corruption is a real problem, and 51% believe corruption is widespread throughout Texas government.

Because of continuing legal action and law enforcement investigations against incumbent Republican office holders, corruption concerns are certain to create a significant drag on the Republican ballot.

A quarter of undecided voters are most concerned about the economy, and the improving economy is likely to aid Clinton’s appeal to voters.

Only 7% of undecided voters (2% of the total vote) identified immigration as their primary issue. Trump and other Statewide Republicans are well outside of the mainstream on their immigration positions.

Trump Lies and Hush Money Scandals Bringing Down GOP Vote

Trump’s seemingly pathological problem with the truth is undercutting his potential among undecided voters.  1 out of 4 self-identified Republicans are, so far, refusing to support Trump. 80% of those feel favorably toward former President George W. Bush, and 40% expressed concern about the honesty of the candidates.  If Democrats successfully connect Trump’s truth troubles with voter’s concerns about corrupt state elected officials, a Democratic resurgence is almost guaranteed.  

The fact that many Republican elected officials have used taxpayer dollars to pay hush money to avoid personal lawsuits has the potential to cover the entire Republican ticket in perceived corruption.

Republican Straight Ticket Voters at Low Tide; Voters Suspicious of Statewide Leaders

Over half (52%) of self-identified Republicans say they may vote for candidates not on the Republican ballot. 27% of self-identified Republicans say they may not even vote Republican at the top of the ticket, because of their doubts about Trump.

Because so many self-identified Republicans have deep doubts about their own candidates, Republican straight ticket voting could fall in Texas to its lowest level since Republicans became the majority party—and that same doubt could bring a sooner than expected end to Republican dominance in Texas.

Crosstabs are here. As you know, I’ve been waiting for one of these to come along. Now that I have this one, here are a few thoughts:

– This poll is of registered voters, not “likely” voters. That’s fine, and I’d argue wholly appropriate at this time, but it’s a distinction to keep in mind when comparing polls.

– For comparison purposes and to keep my presentation consistent, here’s a table of the topline result:


Candidate    Pct
================
Trump      36.8%
Clinton    29.7%
Johnson     2.6%
DK/Else    31.0%

I’ll get to the undecideds in a bit. It’s interesting to me that in a year where the Libertarian ticket is being touted as a viable Trump alternative, and some people are speculating that they could reach the 15% national polling average needed to be invited to the televised debates, Gary Johnson landed at 2.6% here. To be fair, that’s considerably higher than the 1.11% he got in 2012, which in turn was the first time a Libertarian candidate finished with more than one percent of the vote in Texas. All of which to say, fifteen percent is a long way away. There was a followup question for the Johnson supporters asking what motivated their selection. Of the 26 total people who named Johnson as their choice, 11 said theirs was a protest vote, 10 said they were inspired by Libertarian principles, and five said they were unsure or didn’t know. Make of that what you will.

– It’s always possible that most if not all of the 31% of respondents who said they were undecided will simply not vote, though I think that’s less likely in a higher turnout election like Presidential year elections. Be that as it may, I like to filter out the undecideds when there are a lot of them and then recalculate the totals. If you do that, you get the following:


Candidate    Pct
================
Trump      53.3%
Clinton    43.0%
Johnson     3.8%

That puts Clinton within a hair of a single digit deficit, and puts her less than a point behind Obama’s 2008 performance, which was 43.7%. Not a bad start, all things considered.

– That said, most of the Undecideds are people who usually vote Republican and who rated George W. Bush the better President over Bill Clinton by a 2-1 margin. Trump therefore has more room to improve. In fact, if you assign the undecideds who preferred Bush’s presidency to Trump and those who preferred Bill Clinton’s to Hillary, you get


Candidate    Pct
================
Trump      56.7%
Clinton    40.5%
Johnson     2.8%

Which looks a lot like the 2012 Romney/Obama numbers. Point being, it really matters how undecided those voters are.

– Speaking of 2012, the closest Obama was to Romney in any poll was a PPP poll from April that had him down 50-43. No other poll had him higher than 41, which is within a point of where he wound up, or closer than down 11. One poll as we know doesn’t tell us much. We’ll see what the trends look like, to see if breaking 45% and/or finishing within ten points is feasible.

– The crosstabs that we have do not include demographic information other than gender, which was oddly skewed towards women (60% of respondents were female). That means I can’t tell you how white/black/Latino voters went, nor can I tell you anything about how people voted by age range. That also means we can’t make guesses about how increases in turnout level, which would almost certainly make the electorate younger and less white, might affect the result.

– A third of self-identified Republicans thought corruption in state government was “widespread”, a third thought it was “a problem, but not widespread”, and the rest were split between “not a problem” and undecided. More than half of Democrats and more than half of voters who did not identify as either R or D thought corruption in state government was “widespread”, with only five percent of Dems and ten percent of neithers thinking it’s not a problem. File that away for 2018.

I think that about covers it for now. According to this Chron story, the poll was commissioned by “a group of Texas House Democrats”. Wish I had more information about it, but that’s what I’ve got. I can’t wait to see what the next result looks like.

What should the goals for 2016 be for Texas Dems?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Overview of the Harris County GOP Chair runoff

This is the Republican runoff I’m most interested in.

vote-button

Two years after wresting control of the Harris County Republican Party, Paul Simpson is facing an unexpected runoff challenge from political newcomer Rick Ramos in a race that again pits establishment fiscal conservatives against a group of socially minded GOP kingmakers.

Simpson finished second with 39 percent of the vote in March’s three-way primary, as Ramos and political novice Tex Christopher – neither of whom reported raising a penny – earned the remainder.

Caught off guard, several party activists and deep-pocketed donors have mobilized behind Simpson, as Ramos has leaned on the support of a trio of local power players: Steve Hotze, Gary Polland and Terry Lowry.

Both candidates painted the outcome of the low-profile race as crucial for the party’s future in Harris County, which recently swung majority-Democratic, according to Rice University’s Kinder Institute.

“We are a battleground county,” Simpson, a 61-year-old energy lawyer, said during a recent interview in his downtown office. “So, the only way we can keep Republican leadership in place is to be an effective party, and we weren’t for a long time.”

Ramos, a 45-year-old family lawyer, said the party needs to broaden its appeal among minority voters and get more involved in social policy fights.

“For the Republican Party to be able to go forward … we have to have more diversity. We have to be able to reach out to communities at large within our own county, and what worked 20 years ago, 30 years ago for the Republican Party is not going to work in the immediate future,” Ramos said. “I think we have to be more proactive, more innovative, and really give the party somewhat of a face-lift.”

The down-ballot race drew scarcely any attention amid the Super Tuesday hubbub, when about two-thirds of the Republican voters cast ballots for party chair.

Little appears to have changed ahead of the May 24 runoff, for which Harris County Clerk Stan Stanart said he expects just 50,000 Republican voters to turn out.

I was going to cast aspersions on Stanart’s estimate of GOP runoff turnout, partly because he so comically mis-estimated March turnout and partly because as is the case on the Dem side there’s not really anything to drive runoff turnout, but there were 40,547 GOP primary runoff votes in 2008, when there was even less to push people to the polls, so given that 50K seems quite reasonable. (The 2012 runoffs, which were all about Cruz v. Dewhurst for Senate, are not a viable comparison.) I don’t have anything to add to this story, as I don’t know the combatants and have no stake in the outcome, but like many people I was caught off guard by the March result and have been waiting for a Chron story on the race. This one does answer some of my questions, and it offers the hint of continued GOP infighting after whoever gets elected, which is always nice to contemplate. Beyond that, I’ll leave it to those who will vote in this race to offer up their thoughts on it.

Still debating the Trump effect in Texas

This time with input from trained professionals.

Republicans say it’s just wishful thinking, but Democrats are hoping that Trump’s controversial comments will make some GOP voters stay home in protest and boost the number of Democrats going to the polls to vote against him if he becomes one of the presidential nominees. If that happens, it could help Democrats down the ballot.

“Democrats know they have no choice but to turn out and vote,” said Deborah Peoples, who heads the Tarrant County Democratic Party. “The more caustic and divisive that Trump’s message becomes — and he has insulted every group in America — the more it energizes people to turn out and do something.

“And if Republicans decide to stay home and Democrats decide not to stay home, it could be a good thing for us in Tarrant County.”

Either of those options could affect candidates farther down the ballot, from state representatives to constables, who already see fewer votes than candidates at the top of the ballot.

Local Republicans say they hope Democrats don’t get their hopes too high over the possibilities if Trump is the GOP presidential nominee.

“I think there will definitely be a Trump effect,” said Jennifer Hall, who heads the Tarrant County Republican Party. “Trump affected almost every vote in the primary — people either came out to vote for him or against him.

“But we are hearing from a number of Democrats who say if Trump is our nominee, they will vote for him,” she said. “They say they like him better than Hillary [Clinton] or Bernie [Sanders].”

[…]

“County and city races may be hardest hit, along with judicial races,” said Brandon Rottinghaus, an associate professor of political science at the University of Houston. “Without a steady Republican turnout, the usual higher turnout in a presidential election will bring more Democrats and may cost the party some local seats.

“When given a reason, Democrats do turn out in big numbers, especially in presidential elections,” he said. “Trump’s bombastic political swagger may encourage less frequent Democrats to get to the polls and spike Democratic numbers around the area.”

Not only that, but GOP candidates in general might be tainted for some voters.

“The image of Republican candidates in down-ballot races would be tarnished in the eyes of some regular Republican voters due to their indirect association with Trump as their party’s presidential standard bearer,” said Mark P. Jones, a political science professor at Rice University in Houston.

“Trump’s anti-Latino rhetoric would be utilized by Democrats to ramp up Latino turnout and to drive a wedge between Latinos and the Republican Party,” he said. “Since Latinos in Texas tend to lean Democratic, higher Latino turnout alone will benefit Democrats, let alone if formerly Republican leaning Latinos switch their support to Democratic candidates as a result of Trump’s candidacy.”

We’ve discussed this before, and I’ll say once again that the way to move away from pure speculation and into slightly better-informed speculation is to get some polling data. Downballot races are where any effects will be felt, but a macro view of the statewide mood will help us gauge what those effects might be. Harris County, with its knife-edge balance these last two Presidential years, could definitely look a lot different after November. As for Tarrant County, it’s been an amazingly accurate mirror of statewide Presidential results over the past few cycles:


Year  Tarrant R  Texas R  Tarrant D  Texas D
============================================
2012     57.12%   57.17%     41.43%   41.38%
2008     55.43%   55.45%     43.73%   43.68%
2004     62.39%   61.09%     37.01%   38.22%

It will be interesting to see if that holds again this year. Maybe someone can just do a poll of Tarrant Count as a proxy for the state as a whole. We don’t have statewide poll numbers yet, but as do know that Latinos are extra engaged this year, that they really hate Donald Trump, and thanks to shift in Latino preferences, Harris County is more Democratic than ever. I’ll have more on that latter link tomorrow, but in the meantime what we do know points in one direction. The question is how far in that direction it points.

When are we going to get a general election poll of Texas?

As goes Utah

According to a new Deseret News/KSL poll, if Donald Trump becomes the GOP nominee, the voters of Utah would opt for a Democratic candidate for the first time in over 50 years. Poll respondents said they would support either Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders over Trump, though Clinton was only two points ahead of Trump in the poll, falling within the margin of error (as opposed to the 11 points Sanders has over Trump). As many as 16 percent of respondents said they would skip the election altogether if Trump was the nominee. The survey also indicated that either John Kasich or Ted Cruz would defeat the Democratic candidate if they were nominated.

It’s only one poll, but that didn’t prevent it from shocking Chris Karpowitz, the co-director of Brigham Young University’s Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy. Said Karpowitz to the News, “I know it is early and these things can change. But the fact that a Donald Trump matchup with either Clinton or Sanders is a competitive race is a canary in a coal mine for Republicans.”

Let me lay down a million qualifiers here: Just one poll. Way, way early. Lots of undecideds – indeed, Clinton’s lead is 38-36, and you can guess what most of the others would do if all else where equal. The poll was conducted around the same time that Trump was trashing Mormons in general and Mitt Romney in particular, which strikes me as a damn fine way to alienate a lot of Utahans. So yeah, stock up on the salt for this one.

But it still makes one wonder, just what the Trump effect may be in various red states. Utah is one of the few places that can out-Republican Texas, after all. I’ll cop to being an eternal optimist, but according to RG Ratcliffe on Facebook, former Texas GOP Chair Steve Munisteri said on CNN that if Trump is the nominee, Texas could be carried by the Democrats. I’ll need to see a few poll results before I let myself get too irrationally exuberant, but let’s play with a few numbers and see what we can game out.

In 2008, some 3.5 million Texans voted for Barack Obama; in 2012, it was 3.3 million. In 2008, 4.4 million voted GOP, and in 2012 it was over 4.5 million. It’s my opinion that the GOP Presidential vote is close to maxed out, so let’s say 4.6 million as a starting point, with 3.5 million as a starting point for the Dems. Perhaps between the newly minted citizens and other efforts, perhaps boosted by Julian Castro on the ticket, Dems van boost themselves to 3.8 or 3.9 million. Let’s be conservative and say 3.8 million.

The big question then becomes, how many Republicans refuse to vote for Trump, and what do they do instead? Sit it out, vote Libertarian or a third party candidate (who will not be Rick Perry) if one can get certified for the ballot by May 9 (good luck with that), or *gag* vote for Hillary? Either of the first two reduces the R total, while the latter also increases the D number. If 400,000 Republicans – about nine percent of their total – skip the race or go third party, and another 200,000 go for Hillary, that gets us to a tie in my scenario. Millennial voters would apparently be likely to flip from R to D if the R is Trump.

How unlikely is my red-to-blue scenario? Probably pretty unlikely. But not impossible! When we finally get some November polling, we’ll see where on the impossible-to-unlikely scale it is. I should note that however you slice it, some number of Republicans would have to sit it out entirely and not just skip the top of the ticket for this to have a coattail effect downballot. The main ingredient to the Democratic legislative success of 2006 was unusually low turnout among Republicans. We’re now moving from “how many angels can dance on the head of a pin” to “are they two-stepping or polkaing” territory, so I’d better quit while I’m ahead. Bottom line is, I’d like to see some November polling, sooner rather than later. It may provide some good entertainment, if nothing else. Martin Longman, ThinkProgress, and Marc Campos, who is way more skeptical than I am of a Trump effect in Texas, have more.