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Election 2014

Rep. Will Hurd to step down

Wow. I did not see this coming.

Rep. Will Hurd

The U.S. House’s last black Republican member, Rep. Will Hurd of Helotes, announced Thursday that he is retiring from Congress. President Donald Trump’s racist comments about elected officials weighed heavily on Hurd, who has often spoken out against the rhetoric.

In announcing his resignation on Twitter, he alluded to future plans, but provided no specifics.

“I have made the decision to not seek reelection for the 23rd Congressional District of Texas in order to pursue opportunities outside the halls of Congress to solve problems at the nexus between technology and national security,” he wrote.

It was unclear as the news broke whether or not state or national Republicans have a back-up plan for a candidate in this district. Several state and national Republican operatives reached out to the Tribune to react to the news. Nearly all of the commentary involved highly explicit language.

It is apparent that this reelection would have been difficult.

Veteran Gina Ortiz Jones nearly defeated Hurd last cycle, and Democrats were emphatic that they would put all of their muscle in helping her capture this district, which has become something of a white whale for the party.

Emphasis mine. I’d feel sorry for those SOBs if they deserved any sympathy, but they don’t. I do however have an idea of why they’re so upset, and it’s because they’re in the same state I am, which is caught off guard. I mean, earlier that same day came this Politico piece about potential Republican retirements, and well, see for yourself:

Among those on the retirement watch list include older members, like Hal Rogers of Kentucky, Jim Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin and Don Young of Alaska; moderates, like Fred Upton of Michigan and Greg Walden of Oregon; lawmakers facing tougher races, like Texans Michael McCaul and Kenny Marchant, and Ann Wagner of Missouri; and the two members under indictment, Duncan Hunter of California and Chris Collins of New York.

History suggests that an uptick in retirements is common for the minority party after a shift in power. More than a dozen House Democrats left Congress after the 2010 tea party wave that swept Republicans back to power — and seven House Republicans have already announced their departures from politics, just seven months into the cycle.

“Unfortunately, I am afraid there may be more coming,” said Sarah Chamberlain, president and CEO of the Republican Main Street Partnership, which supports centrist Republicans in swing districts.

The pile-up of retirements could complicate the GOP’s path back to the majority after a bruising midterm election. Almost immediately after Rep. Pete Olson (R-Texas) announced he would not seek reelection last week, election forecasters shifted the race from “lean Republican” to “toss-up.”

Olson, who came to Congress in 2009, would have faced a competitive reelection battle in his district in the Houston suburbs, where he just narrowly fended off a Democratic challenger last year. And Democrats are dumping resources into Texas this cycle, hoping to build on their gains in the midterms.

“Texas is the biggest battleground state. Republicans know it,” said Abhi Rahman, communications director for the Texas Democratic Party. “We wouldn’t be surprised if there were more retirements because Republicans know their 2020 prospects in Texas are doomed.”

I guarantee you, if there had been any whispers of Hurd hitting the exit, it would have been in that story. This was a bolt from the blue, and it had to have left a mark. Good. Also, too, if McCaul and Marchant drop out, the Republicans are really in a world of hurt.

As for Dem opposition in CD23, Gina Ortiz Jones is off to a fast start in fundraising. She has two opponents in the primary so far, though only Rosey Aburabara looks like a serious challenger. I don’t expect anyone else with any heft to get in on the Dem side. I have no idea who might get in on the Republican side, but my best guess would be someone from the Bexar County part of the district.

One more thing:

Because I love you all, I can and will tell you that the others are:

Ted Poe (CD02)
Sam Johnson (CD03)
Jeb Hensarling (CD05)
Joe Barton (CD06)
John Culberson (CD07)
Mike Conaway (CD11)
Rubén Hinojosa (CD15)
Beto O’Rourke (CD16)
Randy Neugebauer (CD19)
Lamar Smith (CD21)
Pete Olson (CD22)
Will Hurd (CD23)
Blake Farenthold (CD27)
Gene Green (CD29)
Pete Sessions (CD32)

As noted later by Svitek, that doesn’t include John Ratcliffe (CD04), who is reported to be Trump’s pick for Director of National Intelligence. Add in McCaul and Marchant and we’d have turned over more than half the delegation in the last three elections. That’s pretty amazing.

Wendy Davis is in for CD21

For some reason it hadn’t occurred to me that this was likely to happen on Monday. And here we are.

Sen. Wendy Davis

Former Texas state Sen. Wendy Davis is running for Congress.

Early Monday morning, Davis announced her candidacy for the Democratic nomination in Central Texas’ 21st District. She is challenging U.S. Rep. Chip Roy, a freshman Republican from Austin.

She made her intentions known in a biographical video, narrated in part with archival footage from her late father, Jerry Russell.

“I’m running for Congress because people’s voices are still being silenced,” she said. “I’m running for our children and grandchildren, so they can live and love and fight for change themselves.”

The potential Davis-Roy matchup is likely to be among the most polarizing races the state has seen in recent years. Davis is a fierce national advocate for abortion rights, while Roy has built his reputation in his first six months in Congress as a conservative firebrand.

Davis lives in Austin but spent much of her adult life in Fort Worth, where she served on the City Council and in the state Senate. In 2013, Davis became a national figure when she filibustered an omnibus anti-abortion bill. Later that fall, she announced her campaign for Texas governor. Despite strong fundraising, she lost to Republican Greg Abbott by over 20 percentage points.

“Even in losing, we helped shape the future,” she said in the video.

[…]

Davis isn’t alone in seeking to challenge Roy. Llano County Democratic Chairwoman Jennie Lou Leeder and educator Bruce Boville are among Democratic candidates who have filed Federal Election Commission finance reports. But there is little doubt that Davis will have the backing of important state and national Democrats. On Tuesday, nearly every member of House Democratic leadership and nine members of the Texas delegation will host a reception in Washington, D.C. for the newly announced candidate.

Inside Elections, a campaign analyst group, currently rates this race “Likely Republican.”

See here for the previous update. I mean, if there’s going to be a big fundraiser for your Congressional campaign on Tuesday, you probably want to make it clear some time before Tuesday that you are, in fact, running for Congress. That fundraiser, and the likely support Davis will get from the Dem establishment is key, because as noted before, no one in CD21 had made any impression yet. (Which, again, is likely because a lot of people were waiting on Wendy, but still.) I saw that Bruce Boville had a finance report, but given that he had raised all of $2K, I didn’t think it was worth mentioning. I expect we’ll see a big number for Davis in the Q3 report.

Yes, I know, standard disclaimers about money not being everything apply here. This campaign, like all of the successful and nearly-successful ones from 2018, will need to lean on a lot of GOTV, and a lot of voter registration, and those things cost money. So yeah, rake it in, Wendy.

One more thing: If your entire reaction is “she got clobbered in 2014 so obviously she can’t win” or some such, that’s a bad take. You may not have noticed, but 2014 was a rotten year for Democrats nationally. At least at this time, that does not appear to be the case for 2020. Individual candidates and campaigns do matter, but so does the national climate. That crushed Dems in 2014, and elevated them in 2018. If 2020 is more like the latter, Davis will have a shot. CD21 is still a Republican district and so she’s still an underdog, but in a good Dem year she will have a chance to win. If 2020 is more like 2014, well, that’s just too gruesome to contemplate. My point is that this is a different year and a different atmosphere, and what happened in 2014 is not destiny. The Chron has more.

West sets up Senate campaign committees

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

Sen. Royce West

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

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

Libertarians and Greens sue over the petition process for ballot access

We’ll see about this.

Mark Miller

Ahead of the 2020 election cycle, a group of Texans, along with a number of nonmajor political parties, have sued the secretary of state’s office, alleging that Texas election law discriminates against third-party and independent candidates vying for a spot on the general election ballot.

In a lawsuit filed Thursday in Austin, plaintiffs argued that current state law would give nonmajor political parties in 2020 just 75 days to obtain over 80,000 valid signatures to gain ballot access — and that the cost of doing so could cost more than $600,000.

Currently, third parties like the Green Party and the Libertarian Party can secure a spot on the general election ballot by either having at least one candidate who wins more than 5% of the vote in a statewide race during the previous election cycle, or by collecting a certain number of required signatures. That 5% threshold will soon be lowered to 2% of the vote in one of the past five general elections once a measure that passed the Texas Legislature this year takes effect Sept. 1.

Candidates unaffiliated with a political party, meanwhile, are allowed access to the general election ballot as long as they file the required paperwork and gather a certain number of signatures, which depends on which office they’re seeking.

For both third-party and independent candidates, signatures must come from registered voters who did not vote in either the Republican or Democratic primaries or participate in another party’s convention that year.

“Collecting signatures by hand is inherently time-consuming, labor-intensive and expensive,” Mark Miller, a plaintiff in the case and a two-time Libertarian candidate for Texas Railroad Commission, said in a news release. “And collecting 80,000-plus valid signatures in the limited time allowed under Texas law is all but impossible without spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to hire paid petition circulators.”

In the lawsuit, plaintiffs suggested that Texas could modernize its signature petition procedure to help alleviate the burden they say has been placed on them. Plaintiffs pointed to Arizona, which they said has a secretary of state who recently implemented an online platform to allow voters to sign nomination petitions electronically — instead of in person and on paper.

Let me start by saying that if the minor parties win the right to collect electronic petition signatures so their candidates can get on the ballot in a state where electronic voter registration is illegal, that will be infuriating. The latter is by far the bigger affront to democracy.

Before I get to the main part of my analysis, let me add some more details about this from the Statesman.

State law offers three paths for candidates to land on the general election ballot:

Political parties that received at least 20 percent of the vote in the previous election for governor nominate their candidates for state and county office and the U.S. Congress via primary elections, with the winners advancing to the general election. “Since at least 1900, only the Democratic Party and Republican Party have qualified,” the lawsuit said.

Major-party candidates pay filing fees ranging from $75 to $5,000 or by submitting petitions with 5,000 signatures for statewide office. The law does not set a time limit on when they can begin collecting those signatures, the lawsuit said. Minor parties must nominate general-election candidates at a convention where participants equal at least 1% of the number of Texans who voted for governor in the prior election, or 83,717 participants in 2020. No minor party has met the 1% requirement in at least 50 years, the lawsuit said, but Texas law allows candidates to collect voter signatures within a 75-day window to make up the difference.

The tight deadline and limits on who may sign the petitions – registered voters cannot sign if they voted in a recent primary, attended another party’s convention or signed another party’s nominating petition for the same election – put minor-party candidates at a significant disadvantage, the lawsuit said.

Independent candidates are allowed on the general election ballot if they collect petition signatures equal to 1% of the voters in the previous gubernatorial election. Petitions cannot be circulated until after the major parties hold a primary or primary runoff election, meaning candidates could have 114 days, or as little as 30 days, to collect signatures, the lawsuit said. “This uncertainty alone imposes a significant burden that chills potential candidacies,” the lawsuit said.

Having to collect about 80,000 valid signatures by hand can cost $600,000, largely to hire people to circulate petitions, the lawsuit said. The result is an election scheme that makes it difficult, if not impossible, for candidates who are not wealthy to participate in the political arena, said Oliver Hall, a lawyer with the nonprofit Center for Competitive Democracy, which worked on the lawsuit without charge along with the Shearman & Sterling law firm, which has an office in Austin. “We think the federal courts will recognize that Supreme Court precedent prohibits Texas from limiting participation in its electoral process to those with financial means,” Hall said.

So the first thing to realize is that this cycle is an especially challenging one for parties or candidates who need to go the petition route to get on the ballot. That includes the Libertarians, whose best performance in 2018 was 3.42% in the Comptroller’s race. The Libertarians and to a lesser extent the Greens have benefited in the past from the Democrats not competing in all of the statewide judicial races, leaving at least one slot with a Republican running against an L and a G, with the two of them combining for 20% or so of the vote; there were two such races in 2014. In 2018 Dems had candidates in all of the judicial races, and that left the Libertarians (the Greens were not on the ballot because none of their candidates got to five percent in 2016) out in the cold. The other thing about 2018, you might recall, is that it shattered records for off-year turnout, which is why that “one percent of the Governor’s race” (*) requirement is as high as it is. Had the Ls and Gs needed petition signatures for 2016, they’d have only needed about 47,000 of them based on gubernatorial turnout from 2014. In addition, primary turnout, especially on the Dem side, is going to be through the roof, meaning that the pool of eligible petition-signers will be that much smaller. However you feel about the plight of the minor parties and would-be independents, this is a bad year to have to collect petition signatures.

The other fact to reckon with is that this isn’t the first time a federal lawsuit (which this one is, according to the Statesman) has been filed over this requirement. Back in 2004, after Ralph Nader tried and failed to get enough signatures to be on the ballot as an independent Presidential candidate, he sued and ultimately lost; his subsequent appeal was rejected. Federal judge Lee Yeakel ruled at the time that Texas’ ballot access laws did not create an unconstitutional burden. I’m not exactly sure what is different this time, other than the number of plaintiffs, but who knows. This is the main question, at least as far as I’m concerned, that will need to be addressed. I’ll be keeping an eye on it.

For what it’s worth, while I have no warmth for the third parties, I’d be all right with a petition process that gave them more time, and even that allowed them to solicit any voter, not just non-primary voters. If and when we get electronic voter registration, I’d concede on the electronic petition gathering item. Beyond that, I don’t see much of a problem. We’ll see what the judge says.

(*) There were 8,343,443 votes cast in the 2018 Governor’s race, one percent of which is 83,434. I have no idea where that 83,717 figure comes from, unless it’s some kind of weird typo.

How many contested judicial primaries should we expect?

We already know that we’re going to get primary challenges to at least one Democratic countywide officeholder, as County Attorney Vince Ryan has two challengers lining up against him, and DA Kim Ogg has at least one person who has announced interest in challenging her. Most of the county offices available are judicial, though, and now that the local judiciary (other than a few JPs) is entirely Democratic, the path to gaining a bench for yourself is limited if one doesn’t want to take on a Democratic incumbent. I had a conversation about this with some folks recently, and we were debating how many such challenges we may see this year. I thought the number would be relatively small, and I based that on the belief that there weren’t that many primary challenges to Republican judges in recent years. That was my intuition, but I didn’t know the actual numbers at the time. I’ve now had a chance to look through recent primary history, and this is what I found:


Republican judicial primary challenges

2002 - 5
2004 - 0
2006 - 4
2008 - 1
2010 - 1
2014 - 3
2018 - 1

That’s less than I had thought. A couple of notes here. I only looked at the years in which all the incumbents were Republican (so no 2012 or 2016), and I limited myself to district and county courts (so no statewide, appeals courts, or JPs). There were some contested races in years where a jurist had been appointed to complete the term of someone who had stepped down or gotten a promotion – in 2008, there were two such races, in in 2012 there were four, for example – but I put those in a separate category. Basically, from what I found, there were actually very few challenges to sitting judges who had served full term. Make of that what you will.

Now, a couple of caveats here. One possible reason for the lack of challenges to four-year incumbents may be because there often were benches vacated in the middle of someone’s tenure, which allowed for a challenge of someone who had been appointed. These judges presumably felt comfortable stepping down mid-term because they knew their replacement would also be a Republican, with district court judges being appointed by the Governor and county court judges being appointed by Commissioners Court. With the exception of Al Bennett, who was named to a federal bench, no Democratic district court judge has stepped down since the first set were elected in 2008. Some have declined to run for re-election, but no others have given Rick Perry or Greg Abbott the opportunity to pick their interim replacement. County court judges won’t have that concern now, but for the foreseeable future I don’t expect any district court judges to abandon their post before it expires if they can at all help it. That points towards more primary challenges than what we had seen in the past.

In addition, while there was no upward trend in primary challenges over time, I think we’re in a different era now, and I think people will be less squeamish about taking that plunge. Honestly, if there ever was a year to try it, it would be this year, because the extreme turnout expected due to the Presidential race ought to make most of these races pure tossups, and by “tossup” I mean the most important factor will be your ballot position, which is determined by random draw. We’re all going to need to be on guard for low-grade opportunists who hope to luck into a bench. I hope I’m overstating this concern.

Anyway. Unlike for executive offices, I don’t expect judicial challengers to announce themselves this early, but it will be filing season before you know it. What do you think will happen?

Some county race updates

2020 is going to be a very different election year in Harris County, because for the first time in anyone’s memory all of the non-HCDE countywide offices are held by Democrats. If you’re a Democrat in Harris County and you want to run for judge or an executive countywide position, you either need someone to step down or you need to challenge an incumbent Democrat. This month, we’re seeing some activity on that score, as two Democratic hopefuls have filed designation of treasurer reports for the purpose of running for County Attorney against three-term incumbent Vince Ryan. They are Ben Rose, who ran for HD134 in 2016, and Christian Menefee, past president of the Houston Black American Democrats (HBAD). That makes this one of the main local primaries to watch for 2020.

I have expected that someone, possibly more than one someone, would challenge Ryan, assuming he doesn’t decide to retire. We can agree that while Vince Ryan has generally been a fine County Attorney – his office has been sufficiently aggressive in enforcing environmental law that the Lege has taken steps to clip his wings, and he quickly put an end to then-Clerk Stan Stanart’s equivocating nonsense following the Obergefell ruling, among other things – a lot of people did not care for how he handled the bail lawsuit. If Ryan does run for a fourth term, I’m sure we’ll relitigate that with vigor. Regardless of whether Ryan is on the ballot or not, I hope we also have a spirited argument about what the role of the Harris County Attorney should be in a blue county with a Democratic majority on Commissioners Court. Is there room to take a more activist role in fighting against the actions by the state and federal government that directly harm Harris County? Maybe the answer to that question is No, and maybe the answer to that question is “Yes, but it comes with significant risk”, but I think it’s a question worth exploring. Let’s talk about what a Harris County Attorney should be doing, not just what that office and the person in charge of it have been doing.

I mentioned that the two At Large HCDE seats that remain in Republican hands are the last countywide seats held by a member of the GOP. They are At Large positions 5 and 7, now held by the execrable Michael Wolfe and the dinosaur Don Sumners. Both of them now have declared challengers, as Andrea Duhon and David Brown have filed treasurer reports against them. Duhon, who ran for and narrowly lost the HCDE Precinct 3 race last year, is up against Wolfe, while Brown will oppose Sumners. I won’t be surprised if they have company in their primaries, but for now they’re the ones.

Finally, I haven’t seen a treasurer filing, but Diana Alexander has announced her intention to challenge County Commissioner Steve Radack in Precinct 3. Alexander manages the Indivisible Houston, Pantsuit Republic, and Pantsuit Republic Houston Facebook groups; I don’t know anything else about her at this time. I can say for certain that others will be entering this race, as this is the top local prize for Democrats to pursue. Some names I have heard mentioned in connection with this include term-limited Council Member Mike Laster, former State Rep. Kristi Thibaut, and Precinct 1 Constable Alan Rosen, who would not be able to say anything about this without triggering resign to run. If you’ve heard other names being bandied about for this, please leave a comment and let us know.

How Texas Republicans did not make their case to women this session

They did have a not-excessively-misogynist session, but see if you can spot what’s missing in this recap and preview story.

Texas could have tried to beat Alabama to become the first state in the nation to ban all abortions this year, taking a shot at overturning the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision by the U.S. Supreme Court. But the Republican leadership in Austin hit the brakes.

It was staunch pro-life Rep. Jeff Leach, R-Plano, who put a stop to the Texas version of the bill, which would have authorized criminal charges against any woman who has an abortion.

“I think it’s the exact wrong policy to be criminalizing women who are in that extremely difficult, almost impossible situation,” said Leach, a chairman who refused to let the bill out of his committee. “We don’t need to be going after these women.”

That sentiment voiced in April was just one example of a new message that Texas Republicans tried to send in the 2019 legislative session after a wake-up call in the November midterm elections. Hundreds of thousands of educated, suburban Republican women had crossed party lines to vote for Democrats, who picked up 12 seats in the Texas House and came within three percentage points of winning their first statewide election since 1994.

House Speaker Dennis Bonnen explained the Texas GOP’s predicament in a speech to young Republicans in February, just as the legislative session got underway.

“The clearest indication of the November election — and this is horrifying — is intelligent women said we’re not interested in voting for Republicans,” Bonnen said. “We have to remember that women matter in this state … The reality is that if we are not making women feel comfortable and welcome to telling their friend or neighbor that they voted for Republican candidate X, Y or Z, we will lose. And we should lose, truthfully.”

[…]

Returns from the last three statewide general elections show the need for urgency from Republicans.

About 57 percent of Texas women voted Republican in 2014. But that began to change in 2016 with a near split in the presidential race, according to CNN exit polling. Women split again in the 2018 governor’s race, and 54 percent of Texas women voted for Democrat Beto O’Rourke over U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, who ultimately won the election.

“Republicans may have taken women voters for granted to the point where when they need them to hold the line politically, they may not be there if they don’t make appealing to women voters an emphasis,” said Brandon Rottinghaus, a political professor and analyst from the University of Houston.

I mean, sure, the Lege didn’t go full Alabama or full Dan Patrick this session, and that will probably help Republicans a bit with the suburban and college-educated white women who fled them in hordes in 2016 and 2018. They could have grabbed onto some anvils and they managed not to, so good for them. But you know what drove those big swings in how women voted in the past two elections, and will be the single biggest thing on the ballot next year? I’ll give you a hint: it rhymes with “Ronald Dump”. Short of secession or a mass party-switch, there’s not much the Republicans in the Lege could have done about that. Happy campaigning, y’all.

Precinct analysis: 2018 State House

Beto O’Rourke won 76 State House districts. Out of 150. Which is a majority.

Let me say that again so it can fully sink in.

BETO O’ROURKE WON 76 STATE HOUSE DISTRICTS.

Remember that after the 2016 election, Democrats held 55 State House Districts. They picked up 12 seats last year, thanks in large part to the surge that Beto brought out. But there were nine other districts that Beto carried where the Dem candidate fell short. Let’s start our review of the State Rep districts by looking at those nine.


Dist  18 Dem    Beto    Lupe Collier  Nelson   Olson McAllen
============================================================
HD26   47.6%   50.5%   43.4%   47.8%   48.9%   48.5%   44.9%
HD64   44.5%   49.8%   43.9%   46.8%   47.4%   46.5%   44.0%
HD66   49.7%   52.5%   44.1%   49.2%   50.4%   48.8%   45.7%
HD67   48.8%   52.3%   44.5%   49.2%   50.4%   48.8%   45.7%
HD108  49.9%   57.2%   46.0%   52.7%   54.2%   51.9%   46.5%
HD112  49.0%   54.4%   47.5%   51.4%   52.5%   51.7%   48.7%
HD121  44.7%   49.7%   42.0%   46.9%   48.4%   47.7%   42.4%
HD134  46.8%   60.3%   50.4%   57.9%   59.1%   57.5%   48.6%
HD138  49.9%   52.7%   46.6%   50.6%   51.5%   51.1%   47.5%

Some heartbreakingly close losses, some races where the Republican winner probably never felt imperiled, and some in between. I don’t expect HD121 (Joe Straus’ former district) to be in play next year, but the shift in HD134 is so dramatic it’s hard to see it as anything but a Democratic district that just needs a good Dem to show up and take it. 2012 candidate Ann Johnson has declared her entry into the race (I am aware of one other person who was looking at it, though I do not know what the status of that person’s intent is now), so we have that taken care of. I won’t be surprised to see other candidates start to pop up for the other districts.


Dist  18 Dem    Beto    Lupe Collier  Nelson   Olson McAllen
============================================================
HD45   51.6%   55.1%   47.9%   51.8%   52.6%   52.2%   49.3%
HD47   52.4%   54.9%   46.7%   51.7%   52.9%   51.6%   48.4%
HD52   51.7%   55.7%   48.0%   52.0%   53.3%   52.2%   49.3%
HD65   51.2%   54.1%   46.6%   50.8%   51.8%   50.6%   47.6%
HD102  52.9%   58.5%   50.1%   55.5%   56.7%   55.1%   51.3%
HD105  54.7%   58.7%   52.5%   55.5%   56.8%   56.1%   53.7%
HD113  53.5%   55.5%   49.4%   53.1%   53.9%   53.4%   51.4%
HD114  55.6%   57.1%   47.2%   54.1%   55.5%   53.4%   48.4%
HD115  56.8%   58.2%   49.9%   54.8%   56.1%   55.5%   51.2%
HD132  49.3%   51.4%   46.3%   49.5%   50.2%   50.0%   47.6%
HD135  50.8%   52.9%   47.3%   50.8%   51.6%   51.5%   48.8%
HD136  53.4%   58.1%   49.9%   54.2%   55.5%   54.2%   51.3%

These are the 12 seats that Dems flipped. I’m sure Republicans will focus on taking them back, but some will be easier than others. Honestly, barring anything unexpected, I’d make these all lean Dem at worst in 2020. Demography and the Trump factor were big factors in putting these seats in play, and that will be the case next year as well.


Dist  18 Dem    Beto    Lupe Collier  Nelson   Olson McAllen
============================================================
HD14   43.6%   48.4%   40.9%   45.3%   45.0%   44.5%   41.1%
HD23   41.4%   44.0%   39.6%   42.7%   43.5%   43.3%   41.1%
HD28   45.8%   48.1%   41.8%   45.7%   46.5%   46.4%   43.2%
HD29      NA   47.0%   41.2%   44.9%   45.7%   45.9%   42.9%
HD32      NA   47.0%   38.9%   44.9%   45.2%   45.9%   42.2%
HD43   38.9%   44.1%   37.4%   43.4%   43.3%   43.9%   42.3%
HD54   46.2%   49.0%   43.8%   46.5%   47.0%   46.8%   45.0%
HD84   39.8%   43.1%   37.4%   41.5%   41.2%   39.8%   37.7%
HD85   43.5%   44.7%   39.8%   43.2%   44.1%   44.1%   41.6%
HD89   40.5%   43.5%   37.1%   41.1%   41.7%   40.5%   38.0%
HD92   47.4%   48.3%   41.9%   45.6%   46.5%   45.8%   43.1%
HD93   46.1%   48.2%   42.1%   45.6%   46.3%   45.5%   42.9%
HD94   43.9%   47.9%   41.1%   44.9%   46.0%   45.1%   42.2%
HD96   47.2%   49.5%   43.9%   47.6%   48.1%   47.6%   45.3%
HD97   44.9%   48.6%   41.3%   45.7%   46.5%   45.4%   42.4%
HD106  41.7%   44.2%   37.1%   41.3%   42.0%   41.0%   38.1%
HD122  38.1%   43.4%   36.1%   40.5%   41.9%   41.2%   36.7%
HD126  45.2%   47.8%   42.5%   46.1%   46.7%   46.3%   43.5%
HD129  41.8%   45.2%   39.1%   43.4%   44.3%   44.2%   40.0%
HD133  41.9%   45.0%   36.6%   43.4%   44.2%   42.8%   36.3%

Here are the generally competitive districts, where Dems can look to make further inroads into the Republican majority. Well, mostly – HD23 in Galveston, formerly held by Craig Eiland, and HD43 in South Texas, held by Rep. JM Lozano, are going in the wrong direction. I wouldn’t say that Dems should give up on them, but they should not be a top priority. There are much better opportunities available.

To say the least, HD14 in Brazos County is a big surprise. Hillary Clinton got 38.1% of the vote there in 2016, but Beto came within 1100 votes of carrying it. It needs to be on the board. Rep. Todd Hunter in HD32 hasn’t had an opponent since he flipped the seat in 2010. That needs to change. HD54 is Jimmy Don Aycock’s former district, won by Rep. Brad Buckley last year. It’s been at least a light shade of purple all decade, but it’s non-traditional turf for Dems, who never felt much need to go after Aycock anyway. It’s split between Bell and Lampasas counties, and will need a big win in Bell to overcome the strong R lean of Lampasas. HD84 in Lubbock isn’t really a swing district, but Beto improved enough on Hillary’s performance there (34.8% in 2016) to put it on the horizon. The Dem who won the primary in HD29 wound up dropping out; we obviously can’t have that happen again. All of the HDs in the 90s are in Tarrant County, and they include some of the biggest anti-vaxxers in the House – Stickland (HD92), Krause (HD93), and Zedler (HD96). You want to strike a blow against measles in Texas, work for a strong Democratic performance in Tarrant County next year.


Dist  18 Dem    Beto    Lupe Collier  Nelson   Olson McAllen
============================================================
HD31  100.0%   54.5%   47.3%   53.6%   54.5%   54.3%   53.7%
HD34   61.1%   54.6%   46.5%   53.5%   53.6%   54.8%   52.2%
HD74  100.0%   55.9%   50.4%   53.9%   54.1%   55.0%   53.3%
HD117  57.4%   58.3%   50.7%   54.3%   56.3%   55.9%   53.4%

These are Dem-held districts, and they represent the best opportunities Republicans have outside of the districts they lost last year to win seats back. HD117 went red in 2014 before being won back in 2016, so at least in low-turnout situations these districts could be in danger. Maybe the 2018 numbers just mean that Greg Abbott with a kazillion dollars can do decently well in traditionally Democratic areas against a weak opponent, but this was the best Dem year in a long time, and if this is how they look in a year like that, you can imagine the possibilities. If nothing else, look for the Republicans to use the 2021 redistricting to try to squeeze Dem incumbents like these four.

What about Wendy?

If not Beto and not Joaquin

Wendy Davis

Wendy Davis of Texas said Tuesday she is considering a U.S. Senate run in 2020 but is waiting to see whether another high-profile Democrat, Rep. Joaquin Castro, goes through with challenging Republican incumbent John Cornyn.

Davis hasn’t run for office since badly losing the governor’s race in 2014 following her star-making filibuster of an anti-abortion bill in the Texas Capitol, catapulting her into the national spotlight and making her a prominent voice for women’s rights.

She told The Associated Press she has urged Castro to run, calling him “uniquely poised” in Texas to give Democrats a chance at winning their first statewide office in 25 years. Castro said last week he was giving “serious” consideration to a Senate campaign but set no timetable for a decision.

Davis said she wants him to decide soon so that someone else — including her — could step up if he sits out. She said she also discussed a Senate run with MJ Hegar, an Air Force veteran who last year lost a close congressional challenge near Austin.

“I’m proud of the way that all of us are working together to decide how can we best beat John Cornyn. What’s the best approach? Who has the strongest opportunity?” Davis said. “As we answer that question, we are going to circle behind that person and do all we can to support them — whether it’s me, whether it’s MJ, whether it’s Joaquin, whether it’s someone else. You are going to see us come together cohesively.”

See here and here for the background. The pro-Davis side is easy to see: She’s run statewide before, she has some name recognition, she has demonstrated fundraising ability, this is a good time for female candidates, and in the Gorsuch/Kavanaugh era being strongly pro-choice is more of an asset than it was four years ago. The downside is just as obvious, and it all basically boils down to the disaster that was 2014. To be fair, that was a national disaster for Dems, and at the very least the turnout issue should be muted somewhat in a Presidential year, especially with Trump on the ballot. She’d still need to convince people that she’s learned from that awful experience and would run a different and better campaign this time around. I kind of think she’s positioning herself as a fallback plan, which is fine. I too would prefer Castro or Hegar, but I’ve always been a Wendy Davis fan and I’m happy to see that she’s still in the game.

One more thing:

If she doesn’t go for Senate, Davis said it was unlikely she’ll run for Congress this cycle, pointing to no obvious seats around Austin for now.

Well, Mike Siegel is running in CD10. I don’t know if Joseph Kopser is up for another shot at CD21, but I’m sure the DCCC has been in touch with him. If MJ Hegar winds up running for Senate, that would open up CD31, though as an Austin resident Davis would be quickly painted as a carpetbagger. Maybe she could talk to Julie Oliver about what it was like to run in CD25. That’s a longer shot than these other three, but I bet Davis could raise some money and put a scare into Roger Williams. Just a thought.

MJ Hegar considers a Senate run

Now we’re getting somewhere.

MJ Hegar

Military veteran MJ Hegar, a former U.S. House candidate, is seriously considering a run for the Democratic nomination to take on U.S. Sen. John Cornyn in 2020.

Hegar, who served in the Air Force in Afghanistan, ran unsuccessfully against U.S. Rep. John Carter of Round Rock last year for his Central Texas congressional seat.

“I’m not closing the door on anything,” she told The Texas Tribune on Tuesday.

“I’m considering my options and weighing what’s best for my family and how to best serve my community,” she added. “I’m aware that I have assets. … I’d like to put those assets to use for my community.”

[…]

Whom the Democrats nominate to take on Cornyn is one of the central questions in this early stage of the 2020 election cycle. That eventual nominee could affect down-ballot races at all levels across the state. Many Texas Democratic insiders hope that former U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke, who is considering a run for president, or former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro, who is already in the presidential fray, will instead run for U.S. Senate.

For her part, Hegar said one thing that might factor into her decision is whether former Democratic state Sen. Wendy Davis jumps in the Senate primary. Davis told the Tribune on Tuesday she has not “ruled anything out.”

Davis, who ran an unsuccessful Texas gubernatorial bid against Greg Abbott in 2014, has spent much of her time since then helping Texas candidates like Hegar.

“Wendy is someone I respect a lot and I support a lot,” Hegar said. “And if she were to decide to run, I would be very hard to convince to enter a primary against her.”

As you know, Hegar is high on my list of non-Beto options versus Cornyn. Frankly, I think the fact that she’s publicly talking about it is a sign that for Beto it’s either run for President or not run for anything. (In re: Julian Castro, given that candidate filing season ends in mid-December here, he’d have to abandon his Presidential campaign before ever facing a single voter, which seems unlikely to me. Maybe Governor in 2022 if he’s not in office or a Cabinet position after 2020, but I cannot see him running for Senate this cycle.) I would be very happy with an MJ Hegar candidacy.

As for Wendy Davis, this is the first time I’ve seen her name attached to a potential 2020 campaign. I love Wendy Davis, but she’ll have a harder time getting the kind of attention she got in her first statewide run, and when she does she’ll get asked a lot about why her 2014 candidacy flopped. Which is only fair – Texas Dems will surely want to know what she learned from that experience, and why she thinks Davis-Cornyn 2020 would be different than Davis-Abbott 2014. To be sure, I think being a female candidate now is much more of an advantage than it was in 2014, and with a solid anti-Roe majority on SCOTUS I think the abortion issue will play a lot better for her. Those white suburban women who avoided her in droves in 2014 are a lot more amenable to Democrats now, after all. I will just ask that if Wendy Davis throws her hat into the ring for Senate in 2020, it means that MJ Hegar will be back to try again against John Carter.

Trying again to primary Cuellar

Good luck. It’s not going to be easy.

Rep. Henry Cuellar

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

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Harris County GOP has not hit bottom yet

I have four thing to say about this.

Never forget

Drubbed. Shellacked. Whooped. Walloped. Routed.

However you want to describe November’s midterm election, it was disastrous for Harris County Republicans. They were swept from the remaining countywide posts they held — the other shoe to drop after Democrats booted the Republican sheriff and district attorney two years ago — and lost all 55 judicial seats on the ballot. For the first time in decades, Democrats will hold a majority of Commissioners Court.

The path forward for the local GOP is unclear. The party’s statewide slate went undefeated yet rebuked by Harris County voters, raising questions about whether its pitch to rural voters alienated urban ones. In the state’s most populous county, and his home base, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz got just 41 percent of the vote.

Harris County Republican Party Chairman Paul Simpson, however, is optimistic. He said several local Republicans would have won, chief among them County Judge Ed Emmett, if straight-ticket voting had been eliminated before the election. Republicans in the Texas Legislature decided to retire the straight-ticket option after 2018, which traditionally benefited their party, but proved disastrous for the GOP in urban counties this cycle.

“Pendulums will swing back,” Simpson said. “I’m confident in the near future, we’ll be back.”

Scholars and Emmett, the county executive for 11 years before his upset loss, offered a less rosy assessment — that of a party catering to a largely white, graying base that is failing to adapt to changing demographics and awaiting the return of a “normal” electorate that has ceased to exist. November 2018 should be a wake-up call, they say, but they wonder if the local Republican Party is listening.

“If you look at ’18 as a turning point for Harris County, there’s nothing data-wise that would give you any indication this was an aberration and not a structural change,” said Jay Aiyer, who teaches political science at Texas Southern University. “If anything, you could see it actually swinging harder to the Democrats in ’22.”

Mark Jones, who studies Texas politics at Rice University, offered a more tepid view. He said the broad unpopularity of President Donald Trump drove some voters to the polls this fall who may not have participated otherwise.

“If you take Trump out of the equation and put in a more liberal Democrat … it’s not clear to me that Democrats have the same level of advantage,” Jones said. “The county is trending from red, to pink, to purple. But I would not say Harris County is blue.”

[…]

Republicans have not won a countywide post in a presidential election year since 2012. University of Houston political science professor Brandon Rottinghaus said the local GOP would be wise to lower its expectations for 2020, which likely will feature an unpopular president at the top of the ticket.

“The Republicans need to show they’ve still got a pulse after the disaster that befell them in ’18,” Rottinghaus said. “That’s about the best they can hope for in a presidential year.”

Simpson, who has led county Republicans since 2014, said the party will focus on recruiting fresh candidates who can appeal to a wide swath of voters, rather than the sliver of partisans who vote in primaries. He lauded the success of Dan Crenshaw in the 2nd Congressional District, a young, charismatic combat veteran who beat better-funded candidates in the primary.

Crenshaw’s win, Simpson said, showed candidates “can be conservative and still be cool.”

The Texas 2nd, however, is a district drawn for Republicans that has a far greater proportion of white residents than Harris County as a whole.

1. I’ve said all there is for me to say about straight ticket voting. The embedded image is a reminder that Republicans used to be big fans of straight ticket voting. Turns out that straight ticket voting works really well for the party that has more voters to begin with. There’s an awful lot of Republicans in this state who never contemplated the possibility that they would not be the majority party.

2. As noted in the title of this post, Republicans in Harris County have not hit rock bottom quite yet. One thing I discovered in doing the precinct data analyses is that Beto O’Rourke carried all eight Constable/Justice of the Peace precincts. I didn’t write about that in part because I didn’t quite believe it, but there it is. The three Republican Constables and three of the six Republican JPs are on the ballot in 2020. It is entirely within the realm of possibility that after the 2020 election, the only Republicans holding county office will be the three JPs in Place 2 (the of-year cycle), County Commissioner Jack Cagle, and the three not-at-large HCDE Trustees. Those last three JPs could then be wiped out in 2022, along with the HCDE Trustee for Precinct 2, with the Trustee for Precinct 3 (who won this year by less than a percentage point) on track for elimination in 2024. Yes, lots of things can change, and I’m assuming that Commissioner Steve Radack will either be defeated in 2020 or will step down and the Republicans will fail to hold his seat. My point is, the Republicans not only have very little left, what they have is precarious and fragile, and there are no obvious opportunities to make gains in county government.

(You may now be saying “But Adrian Garcia will have to run for re-election in 2022, and he won a close race this year under favorable circumstances, so he could lose then.” Yes, but do you know what happens between now and the 2022 elections? The County Commissioner precincts undergo redistricting. Jack Morman benefited from that process after his win in 2010; what I wrote here was premature but in the end turned out to be accurate. I guarantee you, Precinct 2 will be friendlier to Commissioner Garcia’s re-election prospects, and if a Dem wins in Precinct 3 in 2020, it will be friendlier to that Commissioner’s prospects in 2024 as well.)

Legislatively, Dems have more targets (HDs 138, 134, and 126, with longer shots in 129 and 133 and even 150) than they have seats to defend. Lizzie Fletcher will have to defend CD07, but Dan Crenshaw will have to defend CD02, and he didn’t win his seat by much more than Fletcher won hers by (7 points for Crenshaw, 5 points for Fletcher). CD10 and CD22, which cover more than Harris County, are already on the national radar for 2020 as well. We’re not watching the battleground any more, we’re in the thick of it.

3. The Republicans’ problems in Harris County run deeper than Donald Trump. Every statewide elected official, most especially Dan Patrick (here shilling for the ludicrous “wall”) and Ken Paxton, who is spending all of his energy outside his own criminal defense on destroying health care, is a surrogate for Trump. People were just as fired up to vote against Patrick, Paxton, and Sid Miller as they were to vote against Ted Cruz, and the numbers bear that out. They’ll get another chance to do that in 2022, so even in a (please, God, please) post-Trump landscape, there will still be reminders of Trump and reasons to keep doing the work that we started in 2018.

4. All that said, we know two things for sure: One is that there are more Democrats than Republicans in Harris County, which is a combination of demographic trends, Donald Trump laying waste to American values, and sustained voter registration efforts. Two, Republicans have been unable to compete in a high-turnout election in Harris County since 2008. (2010 was a relatively high turnout year, for an off year, but it was still only 41.7%, quite a bit less than this year’s 52.8%.) It is a reasonable question to ask if Dems can be dominant in a low-turnout scenario. 2014 was a terrible year for turnout, and Republicans swept the county, but with the topline Rs mostly winning by four to six points. There’s definitely a scenario under which Rs could do well in 2022 and in which the demographic and political patterns we have seen do not fundamentally change. It’s hard to see how they compete going forward without a serious effort to rebrand, and every day that Donald Trump and Dan Patrick and Ken Paxton and Sid Miller are in office, that rebranding becomes harder to do. Lots of things can change. The Republican Party needs to be one of them.

Rep. Joe Pickett to resign

We will now need two special House elections to get to full membership.

Rep. Joe Pickett

State Rep. Joe Pickett of El Paso will leave his post effective Jan. 4.

Pickett, a Democrat, made the announcement Saturday morning that he will step down after having served in the Texas House since 1995. He said in a statement that he learned he had cancer just before the start of the 2017 legislative session and has since sought treatment for it.

“In the last few weeks, I have learned of additional issues I must address,” Pickett said in a statement. “I could probably continue at a reduced work level while undergoing treatment, but I have been there and done that. I need to completely heal this time. I am told I am physically strong enough to hopefully make my recovery quicker than most. My body and mind need a break.”

Pickett didn’t face any general election opponents this year, winning re-election in November with 100 percent of the vote. He noted in his statement that he would return recent campaign contributions in light of his upcoming departure from the Legislature.

During the 2017 legislative session, Pickett held the 11th highest seniority in the Texas House and served as chair of the Environmental Regulation Committee. He previously chaired other House committees during his tenure including the Transportation, Defense and Veterans Affairs, and Homeland Security and Public Safety Committees.

Rep. Pickett was definitely one of the more powerful members of the House thanks to his seniority. He will be missed as Democrats try to exert more influence with their largest caucus since 2009. I wish him all the best with his treatment and recovery.

We should expect Sen.-elect Carol Alvarado to submit her resignation this week, once the election results in SD06 are certified. My guess is that Greg Abbott will schedule both elections for the same day, probably in mid to late January. Assuming the need for runoffs, the new members in HDs 79 and 145 will be seated by early March or so. For the record, since I know you’re wondering, Hillary Clinton won HD79 68.0% to 26.5%, and won by 66.8% to 28.7% in HD145. Wendy Davis carried HD79 by 58.5% to 39.3%, and HD145 by 57.2% to 40.8%. I can imagine a Republican making it to a runoff in those districts, but winning would be very unlikely. And before anyone mentions SD19, Hillary Clinton carried it 53.4% to 41.9%, while Wendy Davis actually lost it, 49.1% to 49.0%. These districts are much bluer than SD19. (Beto won HD145 by a 70.9% to 28.3% clip; I don’t have the data for El Paso.)

The changing tides in Central Texas

From the Statesman:

Rep. Beto O’Rourke

Six Democrats came within 5 points or fewer in six Texas races, including three districts in Central Texas where Republicans traditionally win easily.

Democrats now hold 13 of 36 Texas congressional seats.

“This is about persistence. This is about a long-term strategy. We did not make it in those races now, but we are further along than ever before,” Tom Perez, Democratic National Committee chairman, told reporters after the election.

Perez, political experts and several Texas Democratic congressional candidates credited Democratic Senate candidate Beto O’Rourke for energizing the electorate and driving up turnout. Whether O’Rourke will be on the ballot again in 2020 could affect outcomes down the ballot.

O’Rourke “inspired so many young people and new voters and established a baseline that is far higher,” Perez said.

O’Rourke, who lost to U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, by 2.6 percentage points, is said to be pondering a run for president (along with as many as three dozen other Democrats), but has told his inner circle he is not tempted to run again for the Senate in 2020, when U.S. Sen. John Cornyn is up for re-election.

“Is Beto on the ballot for Senate or president?” Rice University political science professor Mark Jones said of 2020. “That’s a major question. That improves prospects for Democrats.”

But Kopser and other Democrats said there was more going on than an appealing candidate at the top of the ticket boosting down-ballot candidates with him.

“The Beto bump was very real, but I believe out of all the districts of the 36 congressional districts in Texas, we not only benefited from the Beto bump, but we added to it,” said Kopser, who ran in the 21st Congressional District, represented for three decades by retiring U.S. Rep. Lamar Smith, R-San Antonio. The district includes liberal enclaves of Central and South Austin, as well as parts of San Antonio and a swath of the deeply conservative Hill Country.

Kopser, an Army veteran who appealed to some GOP voters as a centrist who voted for Ronald Reagan, garnered 37,000 more votes than the district’s Democratic candidate in 2016, narrowing a 73,000-vote gap to less than 10,000. He lost by 2.8 points.

[…]

“What made the race so close was the fact that for too long people here in this district have only been presented with one real option. I grew up here, so I understand the values of this district and ran my campaign with an intentional effort to connect with voters in a transparent way,” Hegar said in emailed answers to questions from the American-Statesman. “We closed the gap by talking to people and being available to them for honest, transparent conversations, which is not something we’re accustomed to here.”

She said O’Rourke helped her campaign and she helped his: “We turned out voters who cast their ballots for him, and vice versa.”

“I am not ruling out running in 2020, and I do have several options that I’m weighing at the moment. I’m actively considering the ways in which I can best continue serving my country,” Hegar said.

[…]

Perhaps the biggest Election Day surprise was U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul’s close call in the 10th Congressional District, which stretches from Lake Travis to the Houston suburbs.

McCaul, R-Austin, the House Homeland Security Committee chairman, had skated to re-election by 18.9 points two years ago but this time won by just 4 points over Mike Siegel, a first-time candidate who was on leave from his job as an attorney for the city of Austin. McCaul won just 26.9 percent of the vote in Travis County.

“I think it was multilayered,” Siegel said of the reasons for his strong performance. “I raised more than $500,000. There were changing demographics with 25 percent of the district in Austin and Travis County.”

And he suggested that McCaul wasn’t used to competition: “There hadn’t been a substantial challenge since 2008.”

“The Beto effect,” he said, “was that excitement level he brought to the campaign. He definitely was a significant factor.”

“I’m very open to running again,” Siegel said. “I’m back at City Hall, and a lot of people are reaching out to me, encouraging me to run again.”

Even though she lost by nine, I’d include Julie Oliver and CD25 as a district to watch in 2020. Dems are going to have to make some progress in rural and exurban areas to really compete there, but after what we’ve seen this year you can’t dismiss the possibility. I’m sure someone will be up for the challenge.

Also on the “central Texas was a big key to Dem success in 2018” beat is the Chron.

“This is a major structural problem for the GOP going forward,” said Jay Aiyer, a political science professor from Texas Southern University.

Texas’s population growth has been dramatic in the urban and suburban communities along I-35, while areas that the GOP has long relied on in West Texas and East Texas are losing both population and voters. In other words, the base for the Democrats is only growing, while the GOP base is growing a lot less or even shrinking in some cases, Aiyer said.

[…]

Four years ago, U.S. Sen. John Cornyn won the I-35 corridor by nearly 350,000 votes over his Democratic opponent David Alameel. But O’Rourke carried those same counties by more than 440,000 votes. That is a nearly an 800,000-vote swing in just four years.

And the impact of the blue spine went well beyond O’Rourke’s race.

– Five Republican candidates for Congress in Texas, almost all of them big favorites, survived their races with less than 51 percent of the vote. All five of their districts are along the I-35 corridor, making them instant Democratic targets for 2020.

– In the Texas House, Democrats flipped 12 seats previously held by Republicans. Ten of those are along I-35.

-In the Texas Senate, Democrats flipped two seats, both along I-35. And they nearly took a third seat north of Dallas, where Republican Angela Paxton won just 51 percent of the vote.

Those results were no one-year fluke, says Manny Garcia, deputy executive director of the Texas Democratic Party. He said even in 2016, Democrats could see how suburban and urban cores along I-35 were changing, which made the party get more aggressive in recruiting candidates there, even in districts that were thought of as solid Republican areas.

“The fundamentals of Texas are shifting,” Garcia said.

What’s changing I-35 is what’s changing the state, said Aiyer. The state is growing more diverse and more urban as people move to the major cities. As those cities become more expensive, people are moving to surrounding counties for cheaper housing and taking their political views with them, he said.

There is a clear trend line since 2014. That year, Cornyn won the I-35 corridor by almost 350,000 votes. Two years later, Hillary Clinton at the top of the ticket won it by just over 115,000 votes. This year, O’Rourke won by an even bigger margin: 440,000.

In 2014, 11 of the 16 congressional districts that touch I-35 were held by Republicans, including 10 in which the Republican won 60 percent of the vote or more. This year, only two of those 11 Republicans topped 60 percent.

The main point here is that this corridor is a huge part of Texas’ population growth, and if that growth correlates with Democratic voting strength, then we really are in a competitive state. You can talk all you want about how Ted Cruz won big in the small counties. By its very nature, that comes with a limited ceiling. I’d rather be making hay where there people are.

So you want to run for something in 2020

You’re an ambitious Democrat in Harris County. You saw what happened these last two elections, and you think it’s your time to step up and run for office. What are your options that don’t involved primarying a Democratic incumbent?

1. US SenateWe’ve talked about this one. For the record, I would prefer for Beto to try it again. He could win, and would likely be our best bet to win if he does. But if he doesn’t, and if other top recruits choose other options, this is here.

2. CD02 – Todd Litton ran a strong race in 2018 against Rep.-elect Dan Crenshaw, who was almost certainly the strongest nominee the GOP could have put forward for this spot. Crenshaw has star potential, and a much higher profile than your average incoming GOP freshman thanks to that Saturday Night Live contretemps, but he’s also a freshman member in a district that has move dramatically leftward in the past two cycles. In a Presidential year, with another cycle of demographic change and new voter registrations, this seat should be on the national radar from the beginning.

2a. CDs 10 and 22 – See above, with less star power for the incumbent and equal reasons for the districts to be visible to national pundits from the get go. The main disadvantage, for all three districts, is that this time the incumbent will know from the beginning that he’d better fundraise his butt off. On the other hand, with a Democratic majority, they may find themselves having to take a lot of tough votes on bills involving health care, climate change, voting rights, immigration, and more.

3. Railroad Commissioner – There are three RRC seats, with six year terms, so there’s one on the ballot each cycle. Ryan Sitton will be up for re-election if nothing else happens. Kim Olson may be making noises about this race, but so far that’s all we know.

4. Supreme Court and Court of Criminal Appeals – Nathan Hecht (Chief Justice), Jeff Boyd, and whoever gets named to replace the retiring Phil Johnson will be up for the former, and Bert Richardson, Kevin Yeary, and David Newell will be up for the latter. We really should have a full slate for these in 2020. Current judges who are not otherwise on the ballot should give it strong consideration.

5. SBOE, District 6As we have seen, the shift in 2018 makes this look competitive. Dan Patrick acolyte Donna Bahorich is the incumbent.

6. SD11 – As I said before, it’s not competitive the way the Senate seats of interest were competitive in 2018, but it’ll do. It may be closer than I think it is, at least as far as 2018 was concerned. I’ll check when the full data is available. Larry Taylor is your opponent.

7. HDs 138, 126, 133, 129, and 150 – More or less in that order. Adam Milasincic might take another crack at HD138, but it’s up for grabs after that.

8. 1st and 14th Courts of Appeals – There are two available benches on each, including the Chief Justice for the 14th. Justices do step down regularly, and someone will have to be elevated to fill Phil Johnson’s seat, so the possibility exists that another spot will open up.

9. HCDE Trustee, At Large, Positions 5 and 7 – Unless a district court judge steps down and gets replaced by Greg Abbott in the next year and a half or so, the only countywide positions held by Republicans on the 2020 ballot are these two, which were won by Jim Henley and Debra Kerner in 2008, then lost in 2014. Winning them both would restore the 4-3 Democratic majority that we had for two years following Diane Trautman’s election in 2012. It would also rid the HCDE Board of two of its least useful and most loathsome members, Michael Wolfe and Don Sumners. (Ridding the board of Eric Dick will require waiting till 2022, and a substantive shift in the partisan makeup of Precinct 4.) Get your engines ready for these two spots, folks.

10. JP Position 1 and Constable, Precincts 4, 5, and 8 – Dems came close to winning Constable in Precinct 5 in 2016, losing by about one percentage point, but didn’t field challengers in any of the other races. All three precincts were carried by Beto O’Rourke this year, so especially given the limited opportunities elsewhere, one would think these would be enticing options in 2020. And hey, we didn’t field any challengers for JP Position 2 in any of these precincts this year, so there will be another shot in 2022, too.

11. Harris County Attorney – Yeah, I know, I said options that don’t involve primarying an incumbent. Vince Ryan has done an able job as County Attorney, and is now in his third term after being elected in 2008. He has also caught some heat for the role his office played in defending the county’s bail practices. We can certainly argue about whether it would be proper for the person whose job it is to defend the county in legal matters to publicly opine about the wisdom or morality of the county’s position, but it is a fact that some people did not care for any of this. I can imagine him deciding to retire after three terms of honorable service as County Attorney, thus making this an open seat. I can also imagine him drawing one or more primary opponents, and there being a contentious election in March of 2020. Given that, I didn’t think I could avoid mentioning this race.

That’s how I see it from this ridiculously early vantage point. Feel free to speculate wildly about who might run for what in the comments.

On straight tickets and undervotes

As we know, straight ticket voting in Texas is now officially a thing of the past. It will not be an option in 2020, the next time there will be partisan elections. Thanks to the success of Democratic candidates in 2018, particularly in Harris County, there have been a bunch of questionable takes about how the existence of straight ticket voting was the propellant for these victories. I’ve scoffed at the implicit assumption in these stories that Democrats would undervote in disproportionate numbers in the downballot races once the straight ticket option was gone, and that got me to thinking. What do we know about the undervote rate now?

In every race, some number of people don’t vote. That number is reported by the County Clerk in the election returns. Higher profile races, district races, races at the top of the ticket, these tend to have higher participation. Judicial races, which are lower profile and at the end of the ballot, those unsurprisingly tend to be the ones with the most undervotes. If these are the races most likely to be affected by the loss of the straight ticket option, then what might that effect be?

That’s the question I wanted to try to answer. So, I looked at the undervote rates in past elections, to see if there were any trends. First, though, I needed to establish what the real undervote rate is. By definition, the people who vote straight ticket are voting in each contested election, so only the people who don’t vote a straight ticket can undervote. Thus, I started out by subtracting the combined straight ticket totals for the year, and calculated the undervote rates based on the remaining tallies. Here’s what this looks like:


Year  Regular  Lo under  Hi under  Lo pct  Hi pct
=================================================
2002  296,924    46,505    58,319  15.66%  19.64% 
2006  314,606    48,626    57,970  15.46%  18.43%
2010  264,545    38,014    45,326  14.37%  17.13%
2014  219,892    27,360    33,280  12.44%  15.13%
2018  287,429    33,572    39,564  11.38%  13.76%

2004  389,898    81,724    85,333  20.96%  21.89%
2008  449,307    81,416    89,306  18.12%  19.88%
2012  386,475    66,435    73,387  17.19%  18.99%
2016  451,827    63,226    69,344  13.99%  15.35%

“Regular” is what I called the number of votes cast by those who did not vote a straight ticket. As you can see, even as turnout has varied greatly from year to year, the number of “regular” voters has remained relatively static. The next two numbers represent the range of undervote totals for the judicial races, and the numbers after them are the rates for the undervotes, adjusted to account for the straight ticket voters.

What we see from this is that even as straight ticket voting has increased, the number of people not voting in judicial elections has decreased, relatively speaking. I would attribute that to the overall increase in partisanship in recent years. That suggests to me that when straight ticket voting goes away, voters are still going to be likely to vote in all, or at least nearly all, of the races on the ballot. There will be more undervotes than there are now – as I previously observed, the undervote rate as calculated by the County Clerk over all voters was in the three to four percent range this year. It will end up between that and the lower end numbers I show above. Do bear in mind that for City of Houston elections for At Large Council spots and for City Controller, the undervote race is often above twenty percent. We’re not going to see anything like that in even-numbered years. The vast majority of voters are going to completely fill out their ballots. We’ll see what the numbers look like in 2020, but I see no reason why the trends we see here won’t continue.

Precinct analysis: The two key CDs

I want to break out of my usual precinct analysis posts to focus on the two big Congressional districts that were held by Republicans going into this election and are entirely within Harris County, CD02 and CD07.


CD07

Candidate    Votes     Pct
==========================
Culberson  115,418  47.49%
Fletcher   127,568  52.50%

Cruz       112,078  45.99%
O'Rourke   129,781  53.25%

Abbott     127,414  52.45%
Valdez     111,248  45.79%

Patrick    113,520  46.77%
Collier    124,555  51.31%

Paxton     110,526  45.63%
Nelson     126,567  52.25%

Hegar      124,558  51.69%
Chevalier  109,747  45.54%

Bush       121,500  50.31%
Suazo      114,267  47.31%

Miller     112,853  46.93%
Olson      123,473  51.35%

Craddick   124,873  51.93%
McAllen    110,377  45.90%

Emmett     135,016  57.34%
Hidalgo    100,412  42.66%

Daniel     123,371  51.97%
Burgess    114,006  48.03%

Stanart    116,383  49.98%
Trautman   116,488  50.02%

Sanchez    125,682  53.01%
Osborne    112,399  46.99%

Cowart     116,611  49.29%
Cantu      119,973  50.71%

State R avg         50.38%
State D avg         49.62%

Appeal R avg        51.63%
Appeal D avg        48.37%

County R avg        51.54%
County D avg        48.46%

The three categories at the end are the respective percentages for the state judicial races, the 1st and 14th Court of Appeals races, and the district court race, averaged over all of the candidates in each. I took third party and independent candidate vote totals into account in calculating the percentages, so they may not sum to 100. So just as Harris County is not purple but blue, so CD07 is not red but purple. Given the variance in how candidates did in this district, I have to think that while Democratic turnout helped reduce the previously existing partisan gap, the rest of the change is the result of people with a past Republican history deciding they just didn’t support the Republican in question. To the extent that that’s true, and as I have said before, I believe this brightens Lizzie Fletcher’s re-election prospects in 2020. She’s already done the hard work of convincing people she’s worth voting for, and the Republicans have helped by convincing people that they don’t deserve the benefit of the doubt. Obviously, lots of things can affect that, ranging from Fletcher’s performance over the next two years to the person the Rs nominate to oppose her to the Trump factor and more. Demography will still be working in the Dems’ favor, and Dems have built a pretty good turnout machine here. Expect this to be another top race in 2020, so be prepared to keep your DVR remote handy so you can zap the endless commercials that will be running.


CD02

Candidate    Votes     Pct
==========================
Crenshaw   139,012  52.87%
Litton     119,708  45.52%

Cruz       132,390  50.22%
O'Rourke   129,160  49.00%

Abbott     146,399  55.66%
Valdez     112,272  42.69%

Patrick    134,530  51.22%
Collier    123,364  46.97%

Paxton     131,374  50.11%
Nelson     125,193  47.76%

Hegar      141,744  54.34%
Chevalier  111,763  42.85%

Bush       139,352  53.33%
Suazo      114,931  43.99%

Miller     133,022  51.04%
Olson      122,897  47.15%

Craddick   142,254  54.61%
McAllen    112,407  43.15%

Emmett     150,630  59.24%
Hidalgo    103,625  40.76%

Daniel     141,260  54.80%
Burgess    116,519  45.20%

Stanart    135,427  53.70%
Trautman   116,744  46.30%

Sanchez    143,554  55.60%
Osborne    114,652  44.40%

Cowart     136,367  53.07%
Cantu      120,574  46.93%

State R avg         53.82%
State D avg         46.18%

Appeal R avg        54.30%
Appeal D avg        45.70%

County R avg        54.60%
County D avg        45.40%

CD02 was still just a little too Republican for Dems to overcome, though it’s closer to parity now than CD07 was in 2016. Dan Crenshaw proved to be a strong nominee for the Rs as well, running in the upper half of GOP candidates in the district. Given these numbers, Kathaleen Wall would probably have won as well, but it would have been closer, and I don’t know how confident anyone would feel about her re-election chances. As with CD07, there’s evidence that the Republican base may have eroded in addition to the Dem baseline rising. I feel pretty confident that as soon as someone puts together a list of Top Democratic Targets For 2020, this district will be on it (one of several from Texas, if they’re doing it right). I don’t expect Crenshaw to be outraised this time, however. Did I mention that you’re going to need to keep your remote handy in the fall of 2020? We wanted to be a swing state, we have to take the bad with the good.

For a bit of perspective on how these districts have changed:


CD07

Candidate    Votes     Pct
==========================
Culb 16    143,542  56.17%
Cargas 16  111,991  43.83%

Trump 16   121,204  46.80%
Clinton 16 124,722  48.20%

State R 16 avg      55.35%
State D 16 avg      43.05%

Culb 14     90,606  63.26%
Cargas 14   49,478  34.55%

Abbott 14   87,098  60.10%
Davis 14    61,387  38.30%

State R 14 avg      64.38%
State D 14 avg      33.58%

Culb 12    142,793  60.81%
Cargas 12   85,553  36.43%

Romney 12  143,631  59.90%
Obama 12    92,499  38.60%

State R 12 avg      59.78%
State D 12 avg      36.98%


CD02

Candidate    Votes     Pct
==========================
Poe 16     168,692  60.63%
Bryan 16   100,231  36.02%

Trump 16   145,530  52.00%
Clinton 16 119,659  42.80%

State R 16 avg      57.26%
State D 16 avg      37.59%

Poe 14     101,936  67.95%
Letsos 14   44,462  29.64%

Abbott 14   94,622  62.70% 
Davis  14   53,836  35.70%

State R 14 avg      65.57%
State D 14 avg      32.26%

Poe 12     159,664  64.82%
Doherty 12  80,512  32.68%

It really is staggering how much has changed since the beginning of the decade. There’s nothing in these numbers that would make you think either of these districts was particularly competitive, let alone winnable. The CD07 numbers from 2016 might make you put it on a second- or third-tier list of pickup opportunities, in range if everything goes well. Dems have registered a lot of new voters, and the turnout effort this year was great, but I have to assume that this is the Trump factor at work, degrading Republican performance. Of all the variables going into 2020, I start with the belief that this is the biggest one. I don’t think there’s any real room to win these voters back for the Republicans, though individual candidates may still have appeal. The question is whether there are more for them to lose or if they’ve basically hit bottom. Not a question I’d want to face if I were them.

Initial reactions: Statewide

I’m going to do a few of these “Initial reaction” posts about Tuesday’s elections as I try to make sense of all that happened. Here we go.

Let me start with a number. Two numbers, actually: 4,017,851 and 48.26%. The former is how many votes Beto O’Rourke has right now, and what his percentage of the vote was. That first number, which may still creep up a bit as there are a tiny number of precincts unreported as I write this, is the largest vote total any Texas Democrat has ever received. It’s more than 500K greater than Barack Obama in 2008, and it’s about 130K greater than Hillary Clinton in 2016. I had thought Clinton’s 3,877,868 votes were the absolute ceiling for any Dem this cycle, but I was wrong. Somehow, Beto O’Rourke built on what Hillary Clinton did in 2016. That is truly amazing.

Oh, and do note that Beto’s losing margin was 2.68 points, which was closer than all but four of the polls taken in this race – the one poll where he was tied, the one poll where he was leading, the one poll where he was trailing by one, and the one poll where he was trailing by two. It couldn’t have been easy for the pollsters to model this year’s electorate, but when they did they were generally more pessimistic about this race – though not necessarily about the state as a whole – than they should have been.

Now here are two other numbers to consider: 4,685,047 and 4,884,441. The former is what Donald Trump got in 2016, and the latter is what Supreme Court Justice Eva Guzman got that same year. Those are our targets for 2020, to truly make Texas a competitive electoral battleground. We know a lot of people with no previous electoral history voted this year, and I think it’s safe to say most of them voted for Beto. We need to figure out who the people are that did vote in 2016 but not in 2018, and make sure they vote in 2020. We also need to keep registering voters like crazy, and keep engaging the voters we got to come out this year. I know everyone is sad about Beto falling short – at this writing, he trails by 2.57 percentage points, which among other things means that the polls generally did underestimate him – but we need to stay focused and work to ensuring the level he achieved is a stepping stone and not a peak.

By how much did Beto outperform the Democratic baseline? First we have to decide what the baseline was. For the executive offices, the totals are bifurcated:


Valdez     3,520,868   Collier   3,833,069
Chevalier  3,545,626   Nelson    3,870,345
Suazo      3,540,153   Olson     3,794,683
McAllen    3,586,198

One might argue that Collier and Nelson and Olson might have done better if they’d had more money. Maybe, but there was a ton of money spent in the Senate race, and it’s not clear to me what the marginal effect of another million or two might have been. It’s hard for me to imagine any of them making it over the top if Beto wasn’t at least within automatic-recount distance of Cruz. The point here is that there was significant variation in these contests. That’s one reason why I usually default to the judicial races as my benchmark for partisan strength:


Kirkland   3,820,059
Sandill    3,765,102
Cheng      3,769,290
Jackson    3,707,483
Franklin   3,723,541

Much closer, as you can see. They lost by a range of 6.55 points (Kirkland) to 8.39 points (Franklin). In 2016, the closest any statewide Democratic judicial candidate got was Dori Garza’s 13.22 point loss. Based on the 2018 vote totals, I’d say the Democratic baseline is around 3.7 to 3.8 million. Compare the judicial race vote totals from this year to 2016:


Kirkland   3,820,059   Westergren  3,378,163
Sandill    3,765,102   Garza       3,608,634
Cheng      3,769,290   Robinson    3,445,959
Jackson    3,707,483   Meyers      3,496,205
Franklin   3,723,541   Johnson     3,511,950
                       Burns       3,558,844

That’s a nice step up, though do note that in 2016 all of the statewide judicial races also had a Libertarian candidate, and all but one also had a Green, while this year only Terri Jackson had company from a third party. Still and all, I think this shows that Beto wasn’t the only Dem to build on 2016. It also suggests that Beto got on the order of 300K crossover votes, while Collier and Nelson and Olson got 100K to 150K.

I don’t have any broad conclusions to draw just yet. We built on 2016. We still have room to grow – remember, as high as the turnout was this year, beating all off years as well as 2008 and 2012, turnout as a percentage of registered voters was still less than 53% – and with the right candidates we can attract some Republican voters. We should and we must make our goal be a competitive state for the Presidential race in 2020. I’ll look at the county by county canvass later, then of course do some precinct level reporting when the dust clears a bit. In the meantime, read Chris Hooks’ analysis for more.

An under the radar pickup opportunity

It’s an open seat in the SBOE.

Suzanne Smith

Suzanne Smith says she has tried to run a nonpartisan campaign in her low-profile bid for a place on the State Board of Education. But she stands to benefit from the current contentious political climate that might have Texas Democrats running to the polls.

Since January 2017, Smith’s campaign has blown through over $200,000 – more than all other board candidates combined. With $26,000 left in the bank as early voting comes to an end, Smith could be the first Democrat seated in North Texas’ District 12 since it became an elected position in 1987.

Her race is one of five contested seats up for election this fall on the state board. The 15-member board sets policies and curriculum standards for the state, and experts are split on whether Smith, a Dallas-area business consultant, has a chance of flipping a district that has been in Republican hands for decades. Her win could strengthen the coalition between Democrats and centrist Republicans on the board, dragging it even more to the center — a big contrast from its history of political infighting among partisan factions that earned it national notoriety for decades.

[…]

“We went into this race trying to raise the profile, make it a competitive race, and we have made it a nonpartisan race,” said Smith. And she thinks it’s winnable: “Not because I’m a Democrat or a Republican. Because I’m the best candidate.”

Smith’s opponent, Pam Little, has the endorsement of outgoing board member Republican Geraldine “Tincy” Miller, and is relying on the district’s conservative constituency to turn out as usual. “My opponent has a much more liberal slant than I do,” said Little. “That’s not what our Collin County folks want.”

But the amount of donations Smith has received may be telling a different story. This year alone, she has raised over $85,000, largely through small individual donations. “It will likely be $120,000 before the end of the race,” said Smith, a number that may be a drop in the bucket for many campaigns, but is practically unheard of in state board races. Candidates usually don’t raise more than a few thousand dollars according to Dan Quinn, spokesperson for the left-leaning state board watchdog, the Texas Freedom Network.

“That’s remarkable for an SBOE candidate, especially a Democrat, in a general election,” said Quinn. “It strongly suggests that her campaign has generated considerable interest in a district that hasn’t been competitive in the past.”

The numbers from 2014 aren’t that eye-catching – incumbent Tincy Miller got 61.39%, challenger Lois Parrott got 35.24%. It’s a bit more encouraging when you look at the data from 2016, in which Trump beat Clinton 50.1% to 44.4%; going to my usual point of comparison in the Court of Criminal Appeals, it was Keasler 56.6%, Burns 39.1%. In a year like this where everything has gone off the charts, who knows what can happen. Smith’s fundraising is superb in the context of an SBOE race, which never get much attention, but do keep in mind that the 15 SBOE districts are all more than twice as big as the 36 Congressional districts. $200K isn’t nothing, but there’s only so much it can get you in a district with over 1.5 million people. Suzanne Smith’s website is here if you want to check her out; the district has a lot of overlap with CD03 in Collin County.

The trend in mail ballots

Wanted to take a closer look at the not-in-person aspect of early voting:


Year   Mailed  Returned  Return%    Dem %
=========================================
2008   76,187    68,612   90.06%   36.60%
2010   69,991    55,560   79.38%   30.82%
2012   92,290    76,085   82.44%   41.79%
2014   89,073    71,994   80.83%   48.94%
2016  123,999   101,594   81.93%   51.56%
2018  119,742    89,098*  74.41%*

“Mailed” is the number of mail ballots sent out, “Returned” is the number that were returned. This number is higher for the previous years than what I’ve been reporting in the daily EV posts because these numbers represent the final total, not what had arrived by the day in question. (The asterisk besides the 2018 numbers is to indicate that these are still in progress, and thus not directly comparable.) Remember, mail ballots that arrive between Friday and Tuesday also count. Going by past history, we can probably expect the total number of mail ballots to increase by three to five thousand, so the final percentage of ballots returned this year will be in the vicinity of 78%.

“Dem%” is a representative figure to illustrate how many mail voters were Democrats. For 2008 and 2012, that was the Presidential voters. For 2016, I went down to one of the Court of Criminal Appeals races, so as not to have this distorted by the crossover vote in the Presidential race that year. For 2010 and 2014, I used the Lt. Governor race. The HCDP began a program to get eligible Democratic voters to request and return mail ballots, and you can see the result as the Dem share of that vote increased. Sure, some of that was merely people shifting behavior, but some of it was new or less-likely voters participating. My expectation is that Dems will generally win the mail ballots this year. I don’t have any larger point to make, I just wanted to take a look at this for myself and see what there was.

Texas and Tarrant

The Trib looks at Beto O’Rourke’s campaign focus on Tarrant County.

Fort Worth and its outlying ranches and suburbs are mostly a backwater in Texas politics. Gerrymandered to the hilt, the national parties have mostly ignored this county.

But since Trump’s election, things have changed here thanks to organic Democratic activism and O’Rourke’s high-risk bet to stake his entire statewide strategy on flipping this county to his party.

“Tarrant County is where the energy is, where the excitement is, where they’re blowing the early voting totals from the last midterm out of the water,” he said on Friday, while campaigning on the southeast side of town. “It’s why we are so encouraged.”

But Julie McCarty, the president of the Northeast Tarrant County Tea Party, is not buying any of it.

“I have no worries about Tarrant County,” she emailed to the Tribune. “We are solidly red this go-round, though there are pockets that may be pink. Of course any area that threatens to change is always a concern so we will watch the results carefully and plan accordingly.”

O’Rourke’s strategic gamble would have sounded nuts only four years ago. One by one over the years, other Texas urban counties fell to the Democrats, but Tarrant County remained the largest Republican county in the state and a pivotal part of GOP domination of the rest of the state.

Between 2000 and 2014, each Republican presidential, U.S. senate and gubernatorial nominee carried the county by an average of 19 points. As recently as 2014, U.S. Sen. John Cornyn won Tarrant County by 24 points.

Then came Donald Trump.

With him at the top of the ticket, the GOP’s 2016 margin in Tarrant shrank to nine points — the same spread with which Trump carried the entire state.

And if O’Rourke is successful at turning Tarrant County blue next month, he will push Texas deeper into a political territory where cities are pitted against suburban and rural areas.

As the story notes and as I have observed before, the Presidential results in Tarrant County have been a pretty close match to the statewide results. You could therefore make the reductionist argument that if you can win Tarrant, you can win the state. It’s probably more accurate to say that as a county that is in parts urban, suburban, exurban, and rural, Tarrant is a decent microcosm of the state and thus a reasonable proxy for it. The Star-Tribune follows this line of thinking.

Polls show Cruz is well positioned to win his re-election bid in this reliably red state. But the money pouring into O’Rourke’s campaign, as well as the mass of yard signs declaring “Beto” planted in yards across the state, give some pause.

“Republicans want to defend (Tarrant County) as much as Democrats want to flip it,” said Brandon Rottinghaus, a political science professor at the University of Houston. “The Cruz campaign is hungry to get the base out in the state’s largest urban Republican county and the O’Rourke campaign is fighting for swing voters and to activate Democrats who only vote in midterms.

“Tarrant County can flip if and only if Republican turnout is lackluster and Democratic turnout is blockbuster,” he said. “The elements are in place for this to happen in a surprisingly competitive midterm election, but Tarrant flipping blue is more likely in a presidential election year.”

Is it? Here’s the same comparison for the last three non-Presidential years, substituting in the Lt. Governor results for the Presidential results, so as to avoid the weirdness of 2006:


Year  Candidate   Tarrant   Texas
=================================
2006   Dewhurst    58.77%  58.19%
2006   Alvarado    37.06%  37.35%

2010   Dewhurst    61.67%  61.78%
2010   ChavThom    34.97%  34.83%

2014    Patrick    57.07%  58.14%
2014 V de Putte    39.53%  38.71%

Seems like the same formula is true in the off years as well, with a slight tick in favor of a more Democratic Tarrant County in 2014. None of this is predictive of anything, but I can understand the reason for the focus. I’m sure I’ll check back after the election to see if this pattern holds.

Projecting Tuesday turnout

Here’s the statewide view.

By the time the polls closed Thursday, 33.7 percent of registered voters in Bexar County had voted, well past the 17.3 percent turnout at the same point in 2014, the last midterm, and close to the presidential-year turnout recorded at the same point in 2012 and 2016.

And Bexar County’s election officials are not alone in having a lot to high-five each other about. Turnout during early voting in the state’s 30 largest counties easily surpassed the entire turnout – during the early voting period and on Election Day – of the 2014 midterm and continues to race toward the turnout seen in presidential election years.

In Harris County, the state’s largest county, 32.3 percent of registered voters had voted by the end of Thursday, compared to 15.5 percent at the same point in 2014. In Dallas County, the number was 35.1 percent, compared to 15.2 percent at the same point in 2014. Early voting turnout in Travis County had already surpassed total early voter turnout in both the 2014 midterm and the 2012 presidential election by the end of Thursday.

“We’ve got a lot of unhappy and activist voters out there who have been wanting to vote for a long time,” said Dana DeBeauvoir, the Travis County clerk. She attributed the bump in the number of voters to President Donald Trump.

She said voter turnout dipped slightly earlier in the week, as is often the case, but that the numbers quickly rebounded toward the end of the week, which she said will help alleviate some traffic on Election Day.

[…]

Brandon Rottinghaus, a political science professor at the University of Houston, said that the “blockbuster” turnout seen during early voting this year sets a new bar for future elections.

“It’s clear that much of the future of Texas will be fought in suburban Texas,” Rottinghaus said.

He said counties like Collin, Denton, Montgomery and Williamson saw a greater number of Democrats turning up to vote than in previous elections. That doesn’t mean that Democrats are going to win those counties, he said, but it does mean that they have become much more competitive.

“On one hand, suburban Texas is now younger and more ethnically diverse, replacing the first generation which is middle age and white” Rottinghaus said. “And Donald Trump and some of the inflammatory rhetoric have really caused a lack of interest among Republican women and college-educated voters in the suburbs.”

Rottinghaus said statewide Hispanic turnout is up slightly from 2014, which he said is “good but not great for Democrats.” While it looked like Democrats were doing better than Republicans in border counties early on in early voting, he said that it now looks like Republican voters are turning up in larger numbers.

“It’s not the groundswell that Democrats had hoped for,” Rottinghaus said.

The same story applies to young voters, Rottinghaus said. Although more young voters turned out in 2018 than in 2014, he said the 2016 presidential year still has both of the midterm years beat.

“This seems to show that younger voters, although inspired by an electric O’Rourke campaign, still need that push of a president at the top of the ticket to turn out,” Rottinghaus said.

I think what we’re going to get is going to be somewhere between 2008/2012 turnout, and 2016 turnout, which is the current high-water mark. The main question here is how many people who are going to vote have already voted. In previous off-year elections, a bit more than half of the vote – around 55% – is cast early. In Presidential years, the share of the early vote is higher, with that number spiking up in 2016. I’ll show the details later, but for now I’ll say this feels more like a Presidential year, but not exactly like one. As such, I think we’ll still see a decent number of voters on Tuesday, but for sure the bulk of the vote has already been cast.

Here are the Friday/final totals, and here are the daily totals from 2010, from 2014, and from 2016, as well as a spreadsheet with totals from 2004, 2008, 2012, and 2016. The running tallies:


Year    Mail    Early    Total
==============================
2010  52,112  392,536  462,527
2014  67,967  307,280  375,247
2018  89,098  766,613  855,711

2008  52,502  678,312  754,499
2012  66,310  700,216  766,526
2016  94,699  882,580  977,279

About where I thought we’d end up, though the potential was there for a bit more. I think the bad weather on Wednesday prevented some people from voting, with some of them shifting to Thursday or Friday and some of them still needing to vote. Here are a range of outcomes for final turnout based on what we’ve seen so far:

855,711 at 65% = 1,316,478
855,711 at 67% = 1,277,180
855,711 at 70% = 1,222,444
855,711 at 73% = 1,172,206
855,711 at 75% = 1,140,980

2008 EV = 63.5%
2012 EV = 63.7%
2016 EV = 73.0%

In other words, in 2008 and 2012 a bit more than 63% of the vote was cast early, while in 2016 that amount was 73 percent. My best guess, based entirely on gut feel, is that we’ll fall in the middle of that this year, which will put us in the 1.2 million range, or about the total for 2008 and 2012. It could still go higher or lower from there, and in the end the range of possibility is about 200K votes. The weather should be good on Tuesday, so at least there won’t be any nature-induced barriers.

One last thing to think about. In 2016, the top Republican votegetter was Tracy Christopher, who was running for the 14th Court of Appeals, with 621,960 votes, followed by Debra Ibarra Mayfield, running for the 165th District Court, with 621,060. The smallest number of votes any Democrat received who was on the ballot for everyone in the county was 610,648 by Grady Yarbrough, running for Railroad Commissioner. Most Republican judicial candidates, including all of the statewide judicials other than Eva Guzman and all of the courts of appeals candidates other than Christopher and Sherry Radack, failed to top Yarbrough’s total. If turnout really is 1.2 million or above, you tell me where the Republicans are going to get the votes to win Harris County.

The Courts of Appeals

The other judicial races where Dems have a chance to gain ground.

Republicans dominate Texas politics — but their stranglehold is especially noticeable in the courts.

Republicans hold all 18 seats on the state’s two high courts. Of the state’s 14 appeals courts, Democrats hold majorities on just three. On the other 11 courts, Democrats have no seats at all.

Democrats are hoping to flip that advantage on Election Day. In their eyes, the stars have aligned. They have a high-profile liberal darling running a competitive race for U.S. Senate at the top of the ticket. They have a controversial Republican president expected to generate backlash in his first midterm election. And enough judicial seats are up for election that Democrats could flip the four sprawling appellate court districts that serve Austin, Dallas and Houston. Hillary Clinton won those districts in 2016, but the courts are currently held entirely by Republicans.

If Democrats can sweep those races in 2018, they’ll take control of half the state’s appeals courts. And strategists say that goal is in sight.

[…]

No Democrat has been elected to the Dallas-based 5th Court of Appeals since 1992. The six-county district includes liberal-leaning Dallas, but also some of Texas’ most reliably red areas. In Dallas, as in Houston and Austin, large, urban centers contribute the lion’s share of the judicial district’s electorate, but right-leaning rural and suburban voters in surrounding counties have handed victories to Republicans for the past several election cycles. Only the 4th Court of Appeals, based in San Antonio, has a partisan split with Democrats in the majority. The Legislature controls these maps; the districts have changed only twice since 1967, most recently in 2005.

[…]

Ken Molberg, a district judge in Dallas, ran for 5th Court of Appeals in 2014 and came up nearly 72,000 votes short. This year, in another attempt, he’s confident things will be different. Molberg, a former Dallas County Democratic Party chair, has accumulated several hundred thousand dollars — an impressive sum for such an unstudied race — and said his region of the state is “ground zero for the party this go around.”

“The potential to switch this court in one election cycle is there, and it would be somewhat earthquake-like if that happened,” Molberg said. “It’s a tough race all the way around, but my analysis is that it can be done.”

Molberg is the best-funded of the eight Democrats battling Republicans for seats on the 13-justice court. But he said the slate will likely succeed or fail as a group.

“I don’t think individual campaigns have any effect at the court of appeals or district court level. …That’s an example of where you’re almost entirely dependent on straight-ticket voting,” said Jay Aiyer, a political science professor at Texas Southern University. “At the courthouse level, it’s easier for one party to dominate.”

[…]

“There is a real conformity, a uniformity of judicial thought on these courts that I think would really benefit from different experience,” said Meagan Hassan, who’s running as a Democrat for the Houston-based 14th Court of Appeals. She pointed to the tiny fraction of dissenting opinions written by Houston-area appellate judges, arguing that ideological balance is needed for the critical decisions these courts make.

In Tyler, for example, an all-Republican court of appeals struck down as unconstitutional the state’s new “revenge porn” law. The 3rd Court of Appeals is currently weighing the city of Austin’s paid sick leave ordinance. And state appellate courts are the last appellate stop for the vast majority of criminal cases in the state — yet many state appellate judges have no background in criminal law.

Democratic wins, Hassan said, “would bring balance to the court that hasn’t existed there in 25 years.”

That’s a theme several of the CoA candidates mentioned in the Q&As I did with them this year. They also point out that a lot of the Court of Appeals rulings stand because they don’t get heard by the Supreme Court or the CCA. I wrote about these races in 2016, when there were several pickup opportunities available, in part due to the wipeout of 2010. Dems did gain one seat each on the 4th and 13th Courts of Appeals in 2016, the latter being one they lost in 2010. They had gained three on the 4th and lost one on the 3rd in 2012, with all of those being up for re-election this time around.

For the 1st and 14th Courts, which are the ones that include Harris County, Dems lost the CoA races by a wide margin in 2014 but came much closer in 2016. Here’s an example from 2014 and an example from 2016. The deficit was close to 150K votes in 2014 but only about 40K votes in 2016. The formula for a Democratic win is pretty straightforward: Carry Harris County by a lot, break even in Fort Bend, and limit the damage in Brazoria and Galveston. That’s all very doable, but it’s likely there won’t be much room for error. It all starts with running up the score in Harris County (or Travis County for the 3rd, and Dallas County for the 5th). If that happens, we can win.

Early voting, Day 12: Final curtain

It was apparently a late night with long lines, and the report didn’t arrive by 10 PM, so you’ll have to settle for this.

When the polls closed in Harris County Friday, more voters had cast ballots than in any previous midterm election, positioning Harris County to surpass 1 million voters for the first time in a midterm election.

With a few voters still waiting in line to close out early voting, 849,406 residents had turned out, eclipsing even the tea party wave of 2010.

Friday — the 12th and final day of early balloting —saw a record 93,529 ballots cast in Harris County by 7:45 p.m. Voters faced long lines and parking woes, even as many wagered the wait on Tuesday would be worse with hundreds of thousands more voters on Election Day.

More than 4.3 million Texans have voted so far in the state’s 30 largest counties, just shy of the 4.7 million Texans who voted in the entire 2014 election.

Researchers said Democrats maintain a slight edge in Harris County that will likely grow on Election Day. The so-called Blue Wave here may not be enough to propel Democratic Rep. Beto O’Rourke to victory in the U.S. Senate race against GOP Sen. Ted Cruz, but could doom Republicans in local races.

The electorate that has turned out the past two weeks is younger, less Anglo and contains far more new or infrequent voters than normal midterms, factors that largely benefit Democrats.

“Republicans are very good at getting their voters to turn out,” said University of Houston political science professor Brandon Rottinghaus. “If there are a bunch of voters who don’t typically vote in midterms but are now, it’s probably because they’re Democratic-leaning voters.”

I figured we’d get between 90K and 100K for Friday, and it seems I was right, though we don’t have the exact count yet. Until we do, here are the totals for Thursday, and here are the daily totals from 2010, from 2014, and from 2016, as well as a spreadsheet with totals from 2004, 2008, 2012, and 2016. The running tallies:


Year    Mail    Early    Total
==============================
2010  52,112  392,536  462,527
2014  67,967  307,280  375,247
2018  85,665  670,212  755,877

2008  52,502  678,312  754,499
2012  66,310  700,216  766,526
2016  94,699  882,580  977,279

The 2018 figures are for Thursday, the rest are for the whole EV period of those years. I’ll post an updated table tomorrow. Just a reminder, these are total ballots cast, not how many votes any particular candidate received. The number of mail ballots will be higher in the final accounting because of ballots received between now and Tuesday.

UPDATE: Here are the Friday/final totals, from late last night. All in all, 855K people voted, which was about 96K from yesterday. I’ll have an updated table tomorrow.

Early voting, Day 11: Almost done

Before we get to the numbers, here’s my new favorite quote of the cycle:

“If Ted Cruz had Beto’s campaign manager he’d be leading by 20 points,” said Dan Rogers, the Republican chairman in Potter County, where Cruz drew about 600 people at rally on Wednesday night as kids were out trick-or-treating.

And if the referees weren’t biased against him, and the sun wasn’t in his eyes, and the traffic lights were better timed, and the dog hadn’t eaten his homework, and so on and so forth. There’s gotta be at least a master’s thesis in plumbing the psychological depths of that wistful thought.

But that’s not what you came here for. Here are the totals for Thursday, and here are the daily totals from 2010, from 2014, and from 2016, as well as a spreadsheet with totals from 2004, 2008, 2012, and 2016. The running tallies:


Year    Mail    Early    Total
==============================
2010  49,202  332,892  382,094
2014  64,729  255,652  320,181
2018  85,665  670,212  755,877

2008  52,502  591,027  643,529
2012  64,024  614,131  678,155
2016  91,817  777,575  869,392

A return to Monday’s level, but not a step up. We’ll surpass the final total for 2010 tomorrow, and if the usual pattern of the last day being busy holds, I’d expect us to finish up at around 850K. That’ll be a bit higher by the time Tuesday rolls around, as more mail ballots arrive. I’ll put together another set of projections for final turnout once we know what we’ve got. I feel like we’ve got a solid shot at topping the total turnout from 2008 and 2012, which is to say about 1.2 million. I’ll let you know after the Friday numbers come in. Until then, do what you can to make sure everyone you know gets out and votes.

Early voting, Day 10: Happy Halloween

Here are the totals for Wednesday, and here are the daily totals from 2010, from 2014, and from 2016, as well as a spreadsheet with totals from 2004, 2008, 2012, and 2016. The running tallies:


Year    Mail    Early    Total
==============================
2010  48,478  288,568  337,046
2014  63,857  220,505  284,362
2018  82,009  605,869  687,878

2008  49,558  513,888  563,446
2012  61,972  549,816  611,788
2016  89,271  700,697  789,968

There was a dip in participation yesterday, which I would attribute to one part Halloween and one part bad weather. My guess is the numbers will bounce right back today. We are still very much on track to exceed the entire turnout for 2010 by the end of early voting.

Early voting, Day 9: Who are these people?

The question keeps getting asked, who is it that has been voting so far?

An unprecedented number of Texans cast their ballots during the first week of early voting, but it is impossible to predict whether that surge will benefit Republicans or Democrats because more than 25 percent of the voters have no primary election voting history, an analysis of data from the Secretary of State shows.

People whose voting records provide no clue of their party affiliation cast 27.8 percent of the ballots in the 15 most populous counties in Texas, according to the analysis by Republican consultant Derek Ryan.

About one-third of the early voters in those counties had voted in a Republican primary in the past; for Democrats, it was 30 percent. Those percentages are consistent with early voting totals from the last midterm primary, in 2014, Ryan said.

But the 2018 numbers leave too many unknowns to draw conclusions, Ryan said.

“Unless somebody’s out there polling those people and calling them, there’s really no way necessarily to know if those people are voting Republican or Democrat,” Ryan said. “The same goes for the people that have primary history. Just because somebody voted in a Republican primary, it doesn’t always necessarily mean that they’re a Republican or that they are voting for all the Republicans on the ballot.”

In Harris County, 30 percent of early voters had no primary voting history. Thirty-three percent of early voters in the county most recently voted in a Republican primary, compared to 28.6 percent who most recently voted in a Democratic primary.

In Bexar County, 28.5 percent of early voters had no primary voting history. For those who have cast ballots in primary elections before, 29.3 percent most recently voted in a Republican primary, compared to 32.6 percent who most recently voted in a Democratic primary.

The 15-county analysis also found an increase in voters with Hispanic surnames. Those voters have cast 19 percent of the ballots in early voting so far; in 2014, 15.2 percent of early voters in Texas had Hispanic surnames.

In the 2018 election, People aged 60 to 69 made up 21 percent of early voters so far, the largest age group, the 15-county analysis shows. Voters aged 50-59 made up the second largest group at just under 20 percent, and voters aged 40-49 percent made up the third largest group at about 15 percent. Early voters aged 20-29 made up about 8 percent. This breakdown was consistent with totals for the 2014 midterm elections.

One point to bear in mind when pondering the people with no primary history: In 2016, 2.8 million people voted in the Republican primary in Texas. That means that the no-primary-history people are not from that group. The comparable figure from 2016 for Dems is 1.4 million people. It’s true that in 2008, some 2.8 million people voted in the Democratic primary, but that was five election cycles ago. There are a lot of people who have voted in Texas elections since then who could not or did not participate in the 2008 primary.

I don’t want to draw any broad inferences from that. There were still about two million people who voted mostly Republican in November of 2016 but not in March, and a bit more than that on the Democratic side. The people with no primary history are mostly evidence of a larger electorate, for which I think we can all agree we already have evidence. There is evidence of more younger voters and of unlikely voters. I’ll say that benefits Democrats, but remember that Dems can do a lot better in 2018 than they did in 2014 and still fall short.

So. Here are the totals for Tuesday, and here are the daily totals from 2010, from 2014, and from 2016, as well as a spreadsheet with totals from 2004, 2008, 2012, and 2016. The running tallies:


Year    Mail    Early    Total
==============================
2010  45,219  250,066  295,285
2014  60,400  191,432  251,832
2018  80,279  557,264  637,543

2008  47,413  443,267  490,680
2012  59,304  491,349  550,653
2016  86,456  626,627  713,083

A little less than Monday, but still 62K in person and 64K overall. By tomorrow, barring a complete dropoff, we will surpass the entire final turnout for 2014. By Friday, even if there isn’t the usual end-of-early-voting surge and we stay on the same pace as now, we’ll surpass the entire final turnout for 2010. Have I mentioned that we were breaking records and the only real question was by how much? This is what I mean. Things are pretty brisk in Dallas County, too. Have you voted yet?

“The least-discussed vulnerable Republican on the ballot”

From Grits:

Grits does not expect Beto O’Rourke to win. But if he were to pull off the upset, many other dominos could fall in succession as a result, with at least three Republican senators, Texas’ Attorney General, and potentially even the Lt. Governor at risk. Another race likely to flip if Dem turnout goes that high is Presiding Judge of the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. Incumbent Sharon Keller won her primary with only 52% of the vote, and CCA races have consistently been among the lowest vote-getters over the years among Republican statewide officials. There is no Libertarian in the race, so the Democrat, Maria Jackson, should get all the anti-incumbent vote. If, on election night, the US Senate race at the top of the ticket is competitive, or heaven forbid, Beto pulls an upset, check down the ballot for this race; it may flip, too.

It’s a little more complicated than that. The basis of this idea, which Grits has advanced before, is that in past elections Republicans have tended to drop off and not vote in downballot races more than Democrats have. If that is the case, and if the top of the ticket features a close race, then it stands to reason that other statewide races would be closer, and might even flip. I made the same observation early in the 2016 cycle when the polls were more favorable to Hillary Clinton in Texas. We seem to be headed for a close race at the top of the ticket this year, so could this scenario happen?

Well, lots of things can happen, but let’s run through the caveats first. First and foremost, Republicans don’t undervote in downballot races at the same pace in off years as they do in Presidential years. Here’s how the judicial vote totals from 2014 compared to the top of the ticket:


2014

Abbott - 2,796,547
Davis - 1,835,596

Candidate         Votes   Dropoff   Drop %
==========================================
Hecht         2,757,218    39,329     1.4%
Brown         2,772,824    23,723     0.8%
Boyd          2,711,363    85,184     3.0%
Richardson    2,738,412    58,135     2.1%

Moody         1,720,343   115,253     6.3%
Meyers        1,677,478   158,118     8.6%
Benavides     1,731,031   104,565     5.7%
Granberg      1,671,921   163,375     8.9%

Maybe if the hot race that year had been more closely contested we’d see something more like what we’ve seen in Presidential years, but so far this isn’t encouraging for that hypothesis.

The other issue is that it’s clear from polling that Beto is getting some number of Republican votes. That’s great for him and it’s a part of why that race is winnable for him, but the Republicans who vote for Beto are probably going to vote for mostly Republicans downballot. The end result of that is judicial candidates who outperform the guy at the top. Like what happened in 2016:


Trump    = 4,685,047
Lehrmann = 4,807,986
Green    = 4,758,334
Guzman   = 4,884,441
Keel     = 4,790,800
Walker   = 4,782,144
Keasler  = 4,785,012

So while Trump carried Texas by nine points, these judicial candidates were winning by about 15 points. Once more, not great for this theory.

Now again, nine points isn’t that close, or at least not close enough for this scenario to be likely. (I had suggested a maximum six-point spread in 2016.) Nine points in this context is probably a half million votes, and undervoting isn’t going to cut it for making up that much ground. But if Beto is, say, within four points (or, praise Jeebus, he wins), and if the reason he’s that close is primarily due to base Democratic turnout being sky high and not anti-Cruz Republicans, then the rest of the statewide ballot becomes very interesting. I personally would bet on Ken Paxton or Sid Miller going down before one of the Supreme Court or CCA justices, but the closer we are to 50-50, the more likely that anything really can happen. You know what you need to do to make that possible.

Early voting, Day 8: On to Week 2

Here are the totals for Monday, and here are the daily totals from 2010, from 2014, and from 2016, as well as a spreadsheet with totals from 2004, 2008, 2012, and 2016. The running tallies:


Year    Mail    Early    Total
==============================
2010  42,795  214,778  257,573
2014  57,929  163,275  221,204
2018  78,590  494,712  573,302

2008  46,085  376,761  422,846
2012  57,031  429,186  486,217
2016  85,120  555,383  640,503

The in person total yesterday was roughly what it was on Friday, which is to say on the high end for Week 1 but not a step up. My guess is that today and Wednesday will be similar, Thursday will be about the same or a bit higher, and Friday as per usual will be the busiest day, maybe fifty percent or so higher than the totals we’ve seen so far. Again, roughly speaking, that puts us in range for 850K to 900K for the early voting period, perhaps a bit more than the “45% in the first five days” scenario I outlined here. Could still be more, likely won’t be less. We’ll all then guess what next Tuesday’s turnout will be. Have you voted yet? If not, when do you plan to hit the polls?

Day 7 early voting: Let the hot takes begin

I’m just going to quote this bit from this story about how the Senate campaigns are interpreting the early vote turnout so far.

Derek Ryan, a GOP data consultant who previously worked for the state party, said there are a couple metrics among the 15 counties that could be heartening each candidate. In Ryan’s analysis, Republican primary voters currently have a 90,000-vote advantage over their Democratic counterparts in early voting — a margin that is “definitely going to help Cruz out considerably,” Ryan said.

O’Rourke, meanwhile, could be boosted by early voters who have not voted in a general or primary election over the last eight years — currently 8.5 percent versus 5 percent for the entire 2014 period, according to Ryan’s analysis.

“The campaigns are seeing the same numbers that we are,” Ryan said. “Cruz is probably focusing on these primary voters. Beto’s probably optimistic about the ones that don’t have any primary election history.”

Two additional pieces of context to add here. One is that it’s always helpful to have a point of comparison. What kind of primary voter advantage did Republicans (presumably) have in 2014? My guess is that it was greater than it is now, but it would be nice to know that. We can also tell a bit more about those people with no primary history; I’m sure Derek Ryan knows that, he may just not want to do that kind of analysis in public. There’s also the question of when each party’s voters tend to come out. In Harris County at least, the first five days tend to be Republican, the weekend belongs to the Democrats, then the last five days generally trend in the Dems’ direction from the baseline of the first week. From what I know, this pattern has held true so far, at a higher Democratic level than in 2014. Whether that will continue in this highly atypical year is anyone’s guess.

Anyway. Here are the totals for Sunday, and here are the daily totals from 2010, from 2014, and from 2016, as well as a spreadsheet with totals from 2004, 2008, 2012, and 2016. The running tallies:


Year    Mail    Early    Total
==============================
2010  40,553  181,084  221,637
2014  57,546  137,137  194,683
2018  77,347  429,009  506,356

2008  45,361  314,252  359,613
2012  53,131  362,827  415,958
2016  80,681  486,060  566,741

We are now well past the cumulative EV total for 2010. I expect we’ll exceed the 2008 and 2012 totals by the end of the week; if past patterns hold and the final day or two of early voting have the highest individual day totals, we could exceed 2012 by a lot, and maybe approach 2016. Historic patterns have held for the first week, so I’d say the odds are they’ll hold for the second week. We’ll know soon enough.

Day 6 early voting: A very early stab at projecting turnout

This is the point in the early voting process where early voting hours expand, and as a result daily EV reports come in later. That may affect my ability to present the latest data each day, so I’m going to break the pattern today and engage in one of my favorite exercise, which is to use the data we have so far and make some wild guesses about where we may end up. Let’s take a look back at the first five days of early voting from the past elections we’ve been tracking, and see what fraction of the final EV total they were, and then how much of the complete vote was cast during the EV period. We begin with a table:


Year  5 Day EV  Final EV  5 Day%
================================
2010   164,190   447,701  36.67%
2014   158,399   379,282  41.76%

2008   260,105   746,061  34.86%
2012   313,405   777,067  40.33%
2016   452,124   985,571  45.87%

I’ve separated the Presidential years from the non-Presidential years because we generally have very different electorates in each, and as such the behavior of one crowd may not be that predictive of the other. This year sure seems more like a Presidential year, so we’ll take all the numbers into account. The other factor, as you can see above, is that there has been a steady shift towards more and earlier early voting. Week 2 of early voting is always busier than Week 1, though that is becoming less the case. My guess is that we’ll see a pattern more like 2014 or 2016, but we can take a broader range of possibility into account:

380,266 at 35% = 1,086,474
380,266 at 40% = 950,665
380,266 at 45% = 845,035
380,266 at 50% = 760,532

I have a hard time believing we’ve already seen half of the early votes, but it’s possible. I think the third possibility, which would be approximately what we saw in 2016, is the most likely, though as with all things this year I hesitate to be too definitive. Note that outside of the last scenario, the early voting total will surpass the entire turnout for any off year in Harris County. The question here is not whether we’ll break records, it’s by how much.

The other side of this equation is projecting final turnout from EV turnout. We go once again to the historic data:

2016 = 73.61% early
2014 = 55.13% early
2012 = 64.53% early
2010 = 56.03% early
2008 = 62.76% early

Again we see a distinction between the Presidential and non-Presidential years, and again we see a trend towards more of the vote being cast early, 2014 notwithstanding. So again, we consider a range of possibilties:

760,532 at 75% = 1,014,082
845,035 at 75% = 1,126,713
950,665 at 75% = 1,267,553
1,086,474 at 75% = 1,448,632

760,532 at 65% = 1,170,049
845,035 at 65% = 1,300,053
950,665 at 65% = 1,462,561
1,086,474 at 65% = 1,671,498

I’m basically assuming this will be more like a Presidential year in terms of when people vote. It makes no sense to me that we’ll have nearly half the vote cast on November 6, so I’m not going to calculate a 55% scenario. Even with the most conservative projections, we’re on pace to top one million, and beating past Presidential years is within range. Final turnout in 2008 was 1,188,731, and it is certainly possible we could top that. I have a hard time wrapping my mind around the idea that 2016’s mark of 1,338,898 could be exceeded, but I can’t rule it out. Ask me again after early voting is done. Like I said, it’s not a question of whether we’ll break records, but by how much.

UPDATE: The Saturday EV totals came in a bit before 9. Google Drive is being unresponsive so I can’t give you a link, but I can tell you there were 8,646 mail ballots received, 79,641 in person votes cast, and the overall total is up to 468,549, which is more than the entire EV turnout of 2010. As the man once said, hold onto your butts.

Early voting Day 5: It’s been a long week (in a good way)

Did I mention it’s been busy?

Voters across the state have come out in massive numbers during the first five days of early voting, and soon, more Texans will have voted early in 2018 than in all of 2014’s early voting period, according to data from the secretary of state’s office.

The state’s five largest counties have all nearly doubled the turnout compared to the same point in 2014. By the time the polls closed Thursday, 13.2 percent of registered voters in Harris County, the state’s largest county, had voted, compared to 6.4 percent at the same time in 2014. That number comes close to the 16.4 percent voter turnout seen at the end of the fourth day of early voting in 2016, a presidential year.

The story is similar in Dallas County, which recorded a voter turnout of 16.9 percent at the end of Thursday, compared to 5.9 percent at the same point in 2014, and in Tarrant County, which recorded a voter turnout of 16 percent at the end of Thursday, compared to 7.3 percent at the same point in 2014.

In Travis County, where the Austin Fiesta Mart polling location is, Tax Assessor-Collector and Voter Registrar Bruce Elfant reported on Facebook that as of 4 p.m. Friday, 22 percent of registered voters had cast their vote. The number hovered around 7 percent at the same point back in 2014.

“After just five days of early voting, the 2018 voter turnout will likely have passed the entire Early Vote turnout for the 2010 and 2014 elections,” Elfant wrote.

Some counties — like El Paso, Williamson and Cameron — have already surpassed the overall voter turnout during the entire two-week early voting period in 2014. Overall, by the time the polls closed on Thursday, 16.3 percent of the 12.3 million registered voters in the 30 counties with the most registered voters had cast ballots.

“It’s pretty remarkable to double or triple voter turnout,” said Renée Cross, the associate director of the Hobby Center for Public Policy at the University of Houston.

[…]

Mark Jones, a fellow in political science at Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy, said the long lines at polling places are “notable,” but he said that “almost any voter turnout should be above 2014.”

Jones also said it is too early to draw conclusions about whether strong early voting turnout will mean strong overall turnout. Early voting could be “cannibalizing Election Day turnout, ” he said.

“More and more people are voting early,” said Jones, who estimates that between 60 and 75 percent of registered voters will cast their vote before Election Day. “People have gotten used to it, and campaigns have been encouraging it.”

He noted that a greater proportion of voters this year will be under the age of 35.

“Beto O’Rourke has spent quite a bit of money and time targeting millennials and post-millennials with the correct belief that they support him more than any other age group,” Jones said.

I agree that some of the frenzied activity is people shifting behavior, but it’s quite a bit more than that. We’re on pace in Harris County to blow past not just the early voting totals from past years, but the final totals as well. Close to one million just in early voting remains on the table. Say it with me now: We’ve never seen anything like this before.

Here are the totals for Friday, and here are the daily totals from 2010, from 2014, and from 2016, as well as a spreadsheet with totals from 2004, 2008, 2012, and 2016. The running tallies:


Year    Mail    Early    Total
==============================
2010  29,702  134,488  164,190
2014  54,300  104,099  158,399
2018  65,232  315,034  380,266

2008  40,059  220,046  260,105
2012  53,131  260,274  313,405
2016  77,445  374,679  452,124

As I expected, after the slight dip on Thursday, in person voting ticked up and was, by about 900 votes, the busiest in person day so far. We have now officially exceeded the entire final early vote total from 2014, and we have seven days of early voting to go. We haven’t even gotten to the really heavy days yet.

Day 4 early voting: A brief look around the state

The Trib has it all organized for you.

As of day three of early voting, 1,344,741 Texans have cast in-person ballots and 240,601 cast mail-in ballots in the 30 counties where most registered voters in the state — 78 percent — live. That preliminary turnout equals 79 percent of the total votes cast in those counties during the entire two-week early voting period in the last midterm election in 2014. So far this year, 12.9 percent of the 12.3 million registered voters in those 30 counties have voted.

Each day, as more data comes in, the graphs below will be updated to show cumulative in-person and mail-in ballot turnout in these counties. The data is preliminary. Texas is widely expected to surpass its 2014 voter turnout, and more than half of all those who do vote are expected to cast their ballots early. Some have speculated turnout this year could approach that of the past two presidential elections. Early voting for the 2018 midterms in Texas started Oct. 22 and runs through Nov. 2.

There’s graphs and charts to show you not just where we are now, but also where we were at the same time in 2016, 2014, and 2012. Suffice it to say we’re blowing 2014 out of the water – counties like Dallas, El Paso, and Travis are not just beyond their 2014 numbers, they’re up by two to three times as much as in 2014. That’s quite encouraging. Of course, turnout is up everywhere, including in heavily Republican counties. We’ll need to see some analysis of who has voted to start to make inferences. The person who has become the go-to for this sort of thing is Republican consultant Derek Ryan, who posts daily breakdowns on Twitter; I referred to his data a couple of times during the primary. You can see that (for example) more people with a Republican primary history have voted in Harris County so far than people with a Democratic primary history, but about a third of the electorate has no primary history, with a chunk of them having no previous voting history at all. Keep an eye on that as we go forward.

Anyway. Here are the totals for Thursday, and here are the daily totals from 2010, from 2014, and from 2016, as well as a spreadsheet with totals from 2004, 2008, 2012, and 2016. The running tallies:


Year    Mail    Early    Total
==============================
2010  28,932  104,420  133,352
2014  52,338   80,103  132,441
2018  59,732  249,383  309,115

2008  37,381  170,629  208,010
2012  50,790  201,962  252,752
2016  73,043  293,440  366,483

Thursday was down a bit for in person voting, though it was up for mail ballots; my guess is that the ones that were put in the mail on Monday arrived yesterday. For what it’s worth, Thursday was the weakest day for in person early voting in both 2010 and 2014, though that was not the case in the Presidential years. Don’t know what to make of that, but if that pattern persists we’ll see an uptick today. As I said yesterday, barring anything weird we will either pass or come very close to the final EV total from 2014 after today’s voting.

Day 3 early voting: In shorter hours

I’ve heard a few people complain about the shorter early voting hours in the first week.

For the first five days for early voting, Harris County’s 46 polling locations open at 8 a.m. and close at 4:30 p.m., the earliest time among the 15 Texas counties with the most registered voters.

Harris County Clerk Stan Stanart, as the county’s chief election official, sets the early voting schedule and number of locations with approval from Harris County Commissioners Court. The county has closed its early voting locations at 4:30 p.m. for years, well before Stanart’s tenure.

Nonetheless, some have worried the hours hinder the county’s ability to meet voter demand, and possibly discourages people from casting ballots.

Harris County’s polling schedule coincides with the regular business hours of Stanart’s office, which Stanart said was standard procedure. He said he would need to receive a waiver from the Texas secretary of state to extend the hours further, because the state Election Code says early voting “shall be conducted” during the hours in which the clerk’s “main business office is regularly open for business.”

However, Sam Taylor, a spokesman for the secretary of state’s office, said those hours represent only a minimum requirement. Three Texas-based attorneys with expertise in elections also said they were unaware of a waiver requirement.

“I’ve never heard of a waiver,” said Buck Wood, an Austin-based election-law attorney. “I’ve never had anybody complain to me about it, and I’ve been doing this for almost 50 years.”

The section Stanart referenced applies only to counties in which the county clerk acts as the “early voting clerk.” In some cases, that duty falls to an appointed elections administrator, who follows a different set of guidelines for setting early voting hours.

Several other large Texas counties, including Travis, assign election duties to the county clerk and had early voting hours that extend beyond the clerk’s regular business hours, with some going from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

For his part, Stanart said he would have kept polls open later — like he did in 2016 — had he known turnout would reach such high levels. Midterm elections typically yield much lower turnout than those held in presidential years; the last time more than half of registered voters cast a ballot in a Texas midterm election was 1994.

“Nobody out there was ever predicting that we’d have this big” turnout, Stanart said.

Well, Stanart himself suggested we could get up to a million votes this year. To be fair, he meant overall, but at the pace we’re going now we could get there just by the end of the EV period. I voted yesterday during lunchtime, and it took me about fifteen minutes to get to the front of the line. So yeah, we’re still busy.Here are the totals for Wednesday, and here are the daily totals from 2010, from 2014, and from 2016, as well as a spreadsheet with totals from 2004, 2008, 2012, and 2016. The running tallies:


Year    Mail    Early    Total
==============================
2010  28,104   79,678  107,782
2014  46,293   61,100  107,393
2018  55,506  190,445  245,951

2008  34,527  126,394  160,921
2012  47,265  150,722  197,987
2016  70,023  217,111  277,134

Breaking news: In person voting was down yesterday! From sixty-four thousand to sixty-two thousand, so, you know. I’m guessing the rain may have held a few people back. At this point, we’re two-thirds of the way to matching the entire early vote total from 2014, and at the rate we’re going we’ll at least get very close to that by the end of voting on Friday. Things are busy elsewhere in the state as well. Here are the totals through Day 2 in the big counties. El Paso has already exceeded its EV total from 2014. We’re well into uncharted territory. It’s just a matter of how much farther we go from here.