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Someone other than me notices CD24

The closest race no one was paying attention to.

Rep. Kenny Marchant

Last week’s midterm elections showed that the Texas electorate is changing dramatically, and even Republicans who survived found themselves with surprisingly close calls after coasting to reelection for years.

One U.S. representative who saw the ground shift was Kenny Marchant. The Coppell Republican won his eighth term by 3.2 percentage points — about 8,400 votes out of 262,000 cast.

That’s a far cry from his landslide victories in the last three elections: a 61-36 margin in 2012, and 65-32 two years later. Against the same opponent in 2016, Democrat Jan McDowell, Marchant coasted to a 56-39 win.

For this year’s rematch, McDowell raised just $100,000 against the incumbent’s $1.1 million.

The contest was never on the radar as a potential toss-up, overlooked by independent congressional handicappers and both parties’ House campaign strategists.

“Kenny Marchant is one in a cast of thousands who saw margins shrink and should be alert to danger going forward,” said Cal Jillson, a political science professor at Southern Methodist University.

[…]

Marchant was elected to the Texas House in 1986 and rose to chairman of the Republican caucus before moving to Congress.

If he wants to keep that seat, Riddlesperger said, he’ll need to respond to changing demographics in the district and do more to connect with suburban voters. “He can read the numbers,” the professor said. “He is going to move a little more to the moderate side of things if he wants to be successful moving forward.”

Jillson said Republicans should look to the Sessions loss for lessons in staying in closer contact with constituents.

“It’s not so much they need to change their issues,” he said, but “whether that is being involved in Rotary Club or community Republican meetings, they need to assess their presence and what they are doing.”

See here for some background. As I recall, Tom DeLay basically drew this seat for Marchant back in 2003, and going all the way back to the first election in 2004, it’s never been remotely competitive. Demography and Donald Trump caught up with the district this year, and I have to think that one of the many candidates that raised a ton of money and generated an equivalent amount of excitement elsewhere might have had a real shot at winning CD24 this year. We’ll have another shot in 2020, though this time we won’t be sneaking up on anyone. Marchant is who he is at this point – I doubt any feints towards “moderation”, whatever that might even mean in this context, or attendance at local events will change the voters’ perception of him. Either the conditions and the opponent are sufficient to usher him back to the private sector, or they’re not. We have limited control over the former, but we can sure take care of the latter.

Yes, we’re already looking ahead to 2020

Close races one year fuel speculation about the next.

Rep. Beto O’Rourke

Much of the immediate speculation about 2020 in Texas has centered on O’Rourke, who was being discussed as a potential presidential candidate even before he reached the finish line in the Senate race. While running against Cruz, he denied interest in a White House bid. Since then, he has not said what he plans to do next beyond spending more time with his family and then starting to think about what he learned from his Senate campaign. But that has not stopped the 2020 drumbeat surrounding him. A poll released last week pegged him as Democratic voters’ No. 3 pick among possible contenders, and a cryptic blog post Thursday about running — a morning jog, that is — stirred speculation anew.

If O’Rourke runs for president, he would have to contend with another Texan who has been preparing for a likely White House bid for nearly two years: Julían Castro, the former U.S. housing secretary and San Antonio mayor. People close to Castro have been saying a O’Rourke run would not change his plans, a point Castro himself made Friday to the Associated Press. Castro, who said last month he is “likely” to make a White House bid, intends to make an announcement about his plans in early 2019.

Instead of running for president in 2020, some Texas Democrats would like O’Rourke to take on U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, who will be at the top of the ballot in two years. But privately, O’Rourke has not expressed interest in challenging Cornyn, according to his inner circle.

[…]

O’Rourke is not the only statewide candidate from Nov. 6 who is already coming up in 2020 conversations. Kim Olson, the fiery Democrat who finished five points behind Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller, has been punctuating her post-election social media posts with the hashtag “#kim2020,” and a spokeswoman for Olson said she is “currently exploring all opportunities to determine the best way to continue serving Texas and Texans.”

At the congressional level, the next cycle is also already looming large.

Democrats picked up two seats on Nov. 6, dislodging Republican U.S. Reps. John Culberson of Houston and Pete Sessions of Dallas. But they also came surprisingly close in several districts that were once considered far out of reach, and the Democratic nominees in those races emerged as local rock stars who are already being encouraged to try again in 2020. That is even before any retirement announcements from GOP incumbents who may not be game for another competitive race in 2020.

Among the rising stars are Sri Preston Kulkarni, a former diplomat who came within five points of taking out U.S. Rep. Pete Olson, R-Sugar Land. In a message to supporters the weekend after the election, Kulkarni acknowledged that the 2020 discussion was already taking shape, saying that many people have asked him to run again for the seat but he is “not ready to commit to that yet.”

Then there is MJ Hegar, the former military pilot who gained a national fanbase taking on U.S. Rep. John Carter, R-Round Rock, and finished just 3 points behind him. In a post-election interview, she noted that even her most loyal supporters told her from the start that it would be a “two-cycle race” to win the seat.

“I’ve been approached by a lot of different people to run for a variety of different offices… and I’m still considering the best way to serve my community,” Hegar said. Running for the congressional seat again, she added, is “one of the options I’m considering.”

Farther down the ballot, Democrats are already setting their sights on capturing the state House majority in 2020 — a huge prize ahead of the next redistricting round. They made significant progress on Nov. 6, flipping a dozen seats and growing their ranks from 55 members to 67. That means Democrats are entering the 2020 cycle nine seats removed from the majority — well within reach, according to Democrats inside and outside Texas.

Dems will also have a chance to reclaim SD19, which now ranks as the one and only pickup the Republicans had this cycle. There really aren’t any other close Senate districts on the ballot in 2020 – the closest would be SDs 11 (Larry Taylor) and 12 (Jane Nelson), as they are the only ones where Trump got less than 60%. I’ll be interested to see what their numbers look like from this year, and I will be banging the drum for a good candidate to run in SD11, but it’s fair to say both of these would be a stretch.

The first order of business is figuring out who wants to run for US Senate – if Beto wants to try again, it’ll be his, and if not there ought to be some spirited jockeying for the “consensus” position. Texas Leftist suggested in my comments that Kim Olson might run for the Railroad Commission, which is the one other non-judicial statewide race on the ballot. (With the caveat that if Ken Paxton is forced to resign at some point, the replacement that Greg Abbott names might have to be there as well, depending on the timing. Imagine that for a minute.) I like that people are talking about the Congressional seats that are still available – the early start that a lot of our candidates had in this cycle gave them a leg up on fundraising.

And on it goes from there. The other thing that is encouraging about all this is that we’ve had cycles – even this one, for some races – where the question wasn’t who will run for thus-and-such seat, but will anyone run for it? I will say that we will need to make sure that if any quality candidates who sign up for a statewide race get gadfly/perennial candidate primary opponents, we will all need to step it up in the primaries to make sure they don’t get Grady Yarbroughed or Jim Hoganed. Democrats have finally gotten to the point of being taken seriously. Let’s not screw that up just yet.

An in-depth look at the Beto-Cruz race

Good long read from the Trib about the Senate race, which they published after I was well into my county vote analysis. There’s too much to summarize here, but I want to focus on a couple of points.

Rep. Beto O’Rourke

Organizationally, O’Rourke was on his own. Win or lose, he seemed determined to look at how Democrats had run statewide campaigns in the past and, as often as possible, do the opposite of that.

O’Rourke’s longtime chief of staff, David Wysong, left the congressman’s House office and took the lead on campaign strategy in Austin. Back in El Paso, O’Rourke chose a longtime friend and political novice, Jody Casey, to make the trains run on time as campaign manager. Until last year, she worked in sales at General Electric.

Early on, O’Rourke defied the conventional wisdom in Washington and Austin over how to run a modern Senate campaign. He vowed to not hire a pollster or rely on consultants.

“Since 1988, when Lloyd Bentsen won re-election to the Senate, Democrats have spent close to a billion dollars on consultants and pollsters and experts and campaign wizards and have performed terribly,” O’Rourke told the Tribune on the eve of his campaign kick-off in March 2017.

Consultant fees on U.S. Senate races – particularly ones in states the size of Texas – can translate into multi-million dollar paydays. None of O’Rourke’s closest advisers made more than $200,000, and they brushed off pitches from a number of the go-to Democratic hands.

Republicans were quick to jump on campaign finance reports that showed O’Rourke hiring some outside vendors, but the congressman and his campaign maintained that they were only relying on third parties where it was necessary. The aim, he insisted, was to avoid outsiders providing strategic advice designed to calibrate his message.

But the unorthodox approach didn’t stop there. O’Rourke pledged to visit all 254 Texas counties, even as the vast majority of voters live in less than a dozen. He tapped a staffer to livestream on Facebook hours of his time on the campaign trail – not just speeches and town halls but also O’Rourke doing his laundry and skateboarding through a Whataburger parking lot. The goal was to introduce himself to Texans in a way that no candidate had ever tried. Slowly but surely, the crowds showing up at his events in virtually every corner of the state began to grow larger. Donations, most of them small but hundreds of thousands of them, began rolling in – with some supporters motivated in part by O’Rourke’s emphatic refusal to accept money from PACs.

Along the way, O’Rourke’s campaign grew to a scale few would have imagined from the outset. Wysong initially planned for a staff of 60 people. By Election Day, he had hired about 1,000.

[…]

Heading into the final month, it became clear the campaigns were on different tracks when it came to a critical task: getting out the vote. O’Rourke was building a massive in-house operation, complete with hundreds of paid staff, tens of thousands of volunteers and over 700 “pop-up offices” across the state from which those volunteers could phone bank and organize block walks.

Much like the beginning of his campaign, O’Rourke stopped in places that a more traditional campaign might have passed on in those final days, like east Fort Worth, where the novelty of a nationally prominent candidate stopping by was not lost on African-American voters.

“He would feel or hear from people that he was visiting, ‘You haven’t been here,’ or ‘Not enough of this community is represented at your events,’ so we would try to make events more convenient to people that we were trying to attract,” Wysong said.

O’Rourke spent the final stretch of the campaign making multiple stops a day – sometimes in parking lots and parks that had little overhead cost – with a bullhorn in hand. The early voting stops were nearly always within walking distance of a voting location.

“We had to get a better bullhorn,” Wysong said.

Cruz, meanwhile, also hit the road during the period — going on a bus tour through Election Day — but had no comparable get-out-the-vote effort inside his campaign, and by all appearances, relied on the robust turnout machine created by another statewide official, Gov. Greg Abbott. Cruz even embraced the dynamic in the race’s closing days, using a Texas Tribune article about it as a rallying cry.

[…]

In the days after an election, those connected in any way to the losing side can often turn into a circular firing squad, quick to throw blame and I-told-you-so’s at others. Yet Tuesday night and throughout Wednesday, prominent Democrats around the state were unenthusiastic — even privately — to criticize the O’Rourke campaign’s execution. There were minor suggestions on how to improve on statewide campaigns in the future – that perhaps the 254-county strategy was misguided, that more needed to be done to appeal to Latino men, that O’Rourke should have hit Cruz sooner and harder.

But for the first time in a long time, Democrats in Texas were at peace about their most recent election.

“I’m not a good second-guesser because I’m a big believer that choices have consequences,” said Amber Mostyn, a prominent Houston Democratic donor. “So, if Beto had done something differently, as I would have advised, then there would be other consequences.”

There is also a sense across the state that something in the electorate may have shifted over the course of this race.

Still, there is fear among some Democrats that they may not be able to recapture the momentum and build on these gains without O’Rourke leading the charge, particularly with the added hurdle of the elimination of straight-ticket voting starting in 2020. When else could the stars align in this way — with a president who so motivated his opposition’s base, when so many talented candidates stepped forward to run down-ballot, and when someone with the star power of O’Rourke could lead the charge?

“If they can’t win yesterday, I don’t know when they win,” concurred Rob Jesmer, a longtime adviser to U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, and the former executive director of the Republican Senate campaign arm.

Other Republicans are not so confident. Under the hood, the damage was significant. There are no urban counties left in the state that support Republicans, thanks to O’Rourke winning there. The down-ballot situation in neighboring Dallas County was an electoral massacre, as was the situation in Harris County.

“This election was clearly about work and not the wave,” Mostyn said. “We have been doing intense work in Harris County for five cycles and you can see the results. Texas is headed in the right direction and Beto outperformed and proved that we are on the right trajectory to flip the state.”

Nervous Republicans also see the largest warning sign of all, beyond the frightening election returns in the cities: The Democrats now have a Texas farm team. But can they do anything without a charismatic standard-bearer like O’Rourke? And will he run again?

Like I said, read the whole thing. This one is going to be studied by political science types for years to come, either as a critical turning point or a massive missed opportunity. For me, I would say that the next Beto-wannabe should have access to a pollster, if only to know where they stand as the campaign goes along, and I would argue that while the idea of visiting all 254 counties is nice, some counties are more important than others. Job One for 2020 is building on what we accomplished this year, and that means enabling more growth in the places where Dems took big steps forward, and fostering it in the places where we’re still in the first stages of it. The smaller metro areas out in west Texas – Lubbock showed some real growth, for example, but places like Abilene and San Angelo still have a long way to go – and the fast-growing counties around San Antonio – we really need to step it up in Comal County – should be priorities. We also need to reckon with how we’re going to fund the next Beto, because not everyone is going to have the national spotlight like Beto. We need to develop grassroots fundraising capacity, which the Congressional candidates tapped into much more successfully than the other statewide candidates did. I think this year we finally realized that we actually do have the recipe for success, but we haven’t quite figured out how to put it all together. We’re closer than we’ve ever been, but we can’t take anything for granted. Let’s learn from this and make it better next time.

Seven suggestions for Senate 2020

Big John Cornyn

Someone has to run against Big John Cornyn in 2020. I feel reasonably confident we can get someone higher up on the political food chain than David Alameel this time around. Here are my thoughts as to who that might be. I’m going to evaluate the prospects by three Cs: Charisma, contrast (with Cornyn), and cash (as in, ability to raise it).

1. Beto O’Rourke – I don’t need to explain or justify this one, right? I have no idea what Beto wants to do next – let’s give the man a few peaceful days with his family before we start bugging him about that, please – but I think we can all agree that if he expresses interest in trying again in 2020, no one will stand in his way. He probably has the best chance to win, too.

Why he might not run: Well, for one thing, there are a lot of people right now who think he’d make a pretty good Presidential candidate. I refuse to think about that right now, but we know there are some other Dems out there who think the same thing about themselves, so that’s a much less clear path forward. Nonetheless, if he has any interest in such a thing, he’ll have no trouble putting together a team for it. Basically, all options are open to Beto, including the option where he finds a nice steady well-paying job in the private sector.

2. Rep. Joaquin Castro – We all remember that Castro was thinking about running for Senate in 2018, right? He’s still a rising star in his own right as well as a young politician with ambitions, and it would be no surprise if he’s looked at the results from this year and concluded he could do at least as well. If Beto is out, then Castro is clearly next in line. Like Beto, if he wants it – and Beto doesn’t – I suspect the field would be clear for him.

Why he might not run: He’s also still someone who has a path to a leadership position in the House, and now that he’s in the majority, that looks a lot more appealing. Castro is the one person on my list who has something to lose if he runs. He’s got a safe seat and is gaining seniority. If he just keeps running for re-election, he’ll wind up accumulating a lot of power, with basically no risk. He may be ambitious, but he has more than one way to express that.

3. MJ Hegar – Probably the most charismatic of the Democratic Congressional candidates, and everything about her stands in bright contrast to the buttoned-up Mr. Establishment career politician Cornyn. She did pretty well in the fundraising department, too, and came about as close to winning as Beto did in a district that was about as Republican as the state as a whole. If she’s up for a similar political challenge on a bigger stage, she’d be a good fit.

Why she might not run: Like Beto, she might just be done with politics and want to go back to her nice private life. She too could do anything she wanted to at this point. Like everyone else who ran this cycle, she’s not a new face any more and thus won’t necessarily get the breathless profiles written about her that she did this time, and you can only ever release an ad like her now-iconic “Doors” ad once. That said, if Beto’s out and Castro stays put, she’s my first choice.

4. Justin Nelson, and 5. Kim Olson – Grouping these two together, as the best-performing statewide candidates from this year that I can see taking a shot at this race. I love Mike Collier, but I don’t get the sense that the Senate might interest him, and he provides the least contrast to Cornyn. Nelson did a decent job raising money and has the kind of attack mentality that would be needed, but as a white guy who went to an Ivy League law school there’s not much contrast with Cornyn. Olson has grade A charisma and would provide the contrast, but is unproven as a fundraiser. They both know what it takes to run statewide, and they both came close to winning.

Why they might not run: Either would have to answer questions about how they’d plan to raise the gazillion dollars they’d need in a Presidential year against a moneybags like Cornyn. While they’ve both run statewide, they got to draft behind Beto most of the time. Despite having run statewide, they’re probably the two least known candidates on this list, and they haven’t had the experience of running a big, well-funded campaign.

6. Sri Kulkarni – Very similar in profile to MJ Hegar, and though it took longer for the national press to notice him, he did garner his share of positive coverage for how he ran his campaign, and he turned a race that wasn’t on anyone’s radar a year ago into a close contest.

Why he might not run: Again, basically the same as Hegar, and you can’t discount the potential for racism and xenophobia as he campaigns around the state. Who needs that in their lives?

7. Someone who didn’t run for something in 2018 and whom we know nothing about right now – If we’ve learned anything from the 2018 election cycle, it’s that there are a lot of compelling and potentially successful candidates out there among the teeming millions of people who have never even considered running for office before. The candidate pool is as big as it’s ever been, too, with so many “first fill-in-the-blank” people getting elected this year. Who’s to say that the next rising star won’t come out of nowhere?

That’s what I’ve got. What do you think?

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.

Two possible straws in the wind

Ken Paxton seems a little nervous.

Best mugshot ever

Less than 36 hours before Election Day, the race for attorney general is showing signs of competition that have been absent in just about every other statewide contest.

Republican incumbent Ken Paxton, who was indicted more than three years ago on felony securities fraud charges, has been running a relatively quiet campaign with the comfortable advantage of a GOP incumbent in a state that has not elected a Democrat statewide in more than two decades.

But now he is firing back at his Democratic challenger, Justin Nelson, with a new attack ad — the first one from Paxton that addresses the indictment — and getting a fresh influx of high-dollar campaign donations, signals that Republicans are not taking anything for granted in the race for Texas’ top lawyer.

Nelson, a prominent Austin attorney, has made Paxton’s legal troubles the basis of his campaign and the main focus of much of his advertising — posting billboards around the state featuring Paxton’s mugshot, commissioning a rolling billboard he calls the “Mugshot Mobile” and even sending campaign staffers dressed as Paxton in prisoner garb to frolic on the Capitol grounds in a Halloween stunt. Yet most consequentially, Nelson has spent significantly to air TV ads informing voters all over the state that their attorney general is under indictment.

The anti-Nelson push from Paxton’s campaign suggests that the Democrat’s jabs have been successful in getting something most other Democratic statewide candidates have been aching for: the GOP’s attention. Except for the blockbuster U.S. Senate battle between incumbent Ted Cruz and Democratic challenger Beto O’Rourke, Republican statewide officials have largely ignored their Democratic challengers, let alone gone negative on TV against them.

“Nelson has successfully raised the profile of the race to a level where Republicans began to be nervous that people who vote straight-ticket Republican may cross over in this race as they learn more about Ken Paxton,” said Mark Jones, a political science professor at Rice University. “While they’re still counting on it, they don’t have 100 percent confidence.”

Paxton also got a cash injection from Greg Abbott. As I said before, this may just be an abundance of caution on Paxton’s part. The official reason, asserted by the political scientists, is that Paxton doesn’t want to win by a wimpy single-digit score. And maybe that is all it is. But I feel pretty confident saying he wouldn’t be asking for handouts from Greg Abbott if he didn’t think he needed the help.

Meanwhile, there’s Democratic money coming in, too.

A Democratic super PAC focused on state legislative races has injected $2.2 million into a slew of Texas House contests in their closing days.

The group, Forward Majority, is using the money to help 32 Democratic candidates, many of them challengers in GOP-held districts who have not been able to match the financial backing of the incumbents. A large majority of the funds are going toward digital ads targeting the Republicans as beholden to big donors and corporate interests, with a couple of spots tailored to specific lawmakers.

“We are staging this late intervention because we believe there is a unique window of opportunity for first time candidates to take down several entrenched Republican incumbents on Tuesday,” said Ben Wexler-Waite, a spokesman for Forward Majority.

[…]

Forward Majority was launched last year by alumni of Barack Obama’s campaigns with the goal of retaking state legislatures across the country before the next round of redistricting in 2021. Texas is one of six states the group is targeting this cycle as part of a nearly $9 million push.

In Texas, Forward Majority began seriously spending in its targeted races just a couple weeks ago. Its latest filing with the Texas Ethics Commission, which covered Sept. 28 through Oct. 27, shows the group spent $1.1 million. The rest of the $2.2 million has come since then, Wexler-Waite said.

Forward Majority is not the only seven-figure force for Democrats in Texas House races this cycle. The House Democratic Campaign Committee has raised $1.1 million this cycle, fueled by six-figure donations from the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, the group led by former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder. The HDCC is currently waging an $800,000 digital ad campaign in the most competitive seats.

The list of races in which this PAC is spending money follows. It ranges from the ones that have been the focus of attention all along, to those that should have had more attention all along, to the stretch goals and the more speculative investments. I couldn’t tell you the last time we did something like this – pretty sure it wasn’t this redistricting cycle – so I’m just happy to see it happen. We’ll see how sound an investment this turns out to be.

Another reminder that the judicial elections are important

From the Trib:

Across the country, many public defender’s offices are overwhelmed with cases. But the public defenders in Harris County’s juvenile division are in an unusual situation: They say that they aren’t getting assigned enough cases. And advocates say cronyism between private attorneys and powerful judges is to blame.

An analysis of state and county data by The Texas Tribune shows that the county’s three juvenile district courts — led by Republican Judges Glenn Devlin, John Phillips, and Michael Schneider — have been assigning an extraordinary number of cases to a handful of private lawyers.

Meanwhile, the public defender’s office — which handles everything from probation violations to serious felonies and has strict caseload limits — has been receiving fewer assignments from those same courts.

A state-funded study found that a lawyer could reasonably handle at most 230 juvenile cases in a given year — and that’s only for minor cases, like misdemeanors or probation violations. Lawyers who also handle serious felonies could effectively manage a much smaller caseload, the study said.

But several private lawyers are taking on far more than that in Harris County, thanks mostly to appointments from the juvenile courts, according to data from the Texas Indigent Defense Commission. Those courts are also appointing the same lawyers to dozens of family court cases, where the same judges preside over child custody disputes, protective orders and decisions for kids in foster care.

The Tribune found that:

  • Houston attorney Oliver Sprott took on 377 juvenile cases in the previous fiscal year, along with 126 family court cases and some probate cases. That work brought his total haul in taxpayer money for the year to about $520,000, data from the county auditor’s office shows.
  • Harris County paid attorney Bonnie Fitch about $350,000 last year for her work on 300 court-appointed juvenile cases, 71 family court cases and some probate work. Fitch is also a municipal court judge in the small city of Arcola, about 25 miles south of Houston.
  • Attorney Gary Polland earned about $515,000 for his court-appointed work in 227 juvenile cases, three juvenile appellate cases, more than 100 family court cases, and probate court cases. He also does civil and commercial litigation, according to his web site.

Norman Lefstein, a professor at Indiana University’s McKinney School of Law, called such caseloads “ridiculous.” He added: “It’s a joke. It’s just a joke … It tells me immediately that you’re not really investigating the cases, and you’re not doing what you need to do … and young clients especially, they just don’t know any better.” Lefstein is considered a nationwide expert on acceptable caseloads.

That’s the same Gary Polland who’s been very busy soaking up appointment fees from the Family Courts as well. Great work if you can get it. And one thing Gary Polland works very hard at is getting those appointments:

Jay Jenkins, a lawyer with the reform-minded advocacy group the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition, said Harris County judges and lawyers have long been part of a “pay-to-play system” in which lawyers contribute to judge’s campaigns in exchange for appointments, or they help judges politically in other ways.

Sprott has donated $6,250 to Schneider’s re-election efforts since 2014, campaign finance records show, and Fitch gave him $3,500. Sprott has given Devlin $7,500 in the same time frame.

Attorney Mark Castillo has given Schneider and Devlin a combined $7,250 since 2014. He earned nearly $300,000 for his work in 360 juvenile cases in their courts last year, and some additional family court cases. He declined to comment for this story.

Polland has given Schneider and Devlin $1,000 each since 2014. He also edits an influential local political newsletter called the Texas Conservative Review, which recently endorsed Devlin, Schneider and Phillips for re-election.

Polland has also donated $2,500 to a new local political action committee called Citizens for a Quality Judiciary that has mailed out flyers encouraging voters to support local Republican incumbent judges: “It is too risky to hand over our courthouse to unqualified Democratic judicial candidates,” the flyer says. The PAC has also received donations from many other local lawyers who receive a large number of court appointments.

“What we ultimately got was a juvenile system where the lawyers get rich … and everybody wins but the kids,” Jenkins said.

There’s a simple fix for this. Vote those judges out, and the pipeline to these opportunists dries up. If you didn’t vote early, don’t miss out on Tuesday.

Top to bottom Congressional fundraising prowess

I have three things to say about this.

Julie Oliver

Standing before a packed crowd at the Austin City Limits Music Festival earlier this month, Julie Oliver delivered an impassioned speech highlighting her support for marijuana legalization and universal health care.

“Are we going to be a country where a teacher dies because she cannot afford her flu medication or are we going to guarantee universal health care for everybody – rich, poor, young, old, pre-existing condition or not?” Oliver asked.

The Democratic candidate for Congress then introduced the band the crowd before her had come to see, The National.

It was the kind of high-profile bit of campaigning you’d expect for a congressional candidate running in a swing seat. But Oliver is trying to unseat three-term Republican U.S. Rep. Roger Williams of Austin, who has won his last three elections by 21, 24 and 21 points.

In past cycles, dark red districts like that drew Democratic challengers who struggled to fundraise. In many cases, those Democrats would run as moderates hoping to draw swing voters.

But the story in 2018 has been counterintuitive. Oliver, for instance, is running an unabashedly progressive campaign in a historically Republican-leaning district, and still managing to raise a stunning amount of money – just short of $600,000 since announcing her candidacy last year. Between 2012 and 2016, Democratic nominees in the district raised a combined $98,500.

It’s a similar story for the Democrats challenging Republican U.S. Reps. Michael McCaul of Tomball, Pete Olson of Sugar Land and Brian Babin of Woodville. Though Donald Trump handily won all three districts in 2016, the Democrats there are running on platforms that include supporting universal health care, increasing the minimum wage, strengthening gun restrictions and refusing to accept donations from corporate PACs.

And yet they’re all raising more money than a Democrat has in any of those districts in nearly a decade.

Some of the candidates argue those two factors – their progressive platforms and their strong fundraising – are no coincidence. Oliver says campaigns like hers are gaining more traction than previous efforts in the district in part because they are not coming off as politicians saying whatever they think will draw the most voters.

“It’s really inauthentic to hide behind something and to not be true to what you believe and what your values are,” Oliver said. “People can read that a mile away if you’re not being honest with them.”

[…]

Meanwhile, in a ruby red congressional district that Trump won by 47 points, Democratic candidate Dayna Steele outraised GOP incumbent Brian Babin by over $100,000 in the third quarter. Overall, Steele has raised $846,000 this cycle, while campaigning on Medicare-for-All, a $15 minimum wage and tuition-free community college. Steele’s fundraising success while running in such a district has even surprised her.

“I had no idea how I was gonna raise money. That was the thing that scared me the most. It was not learning more about policy and going up against some of these entrenched incumbents,” Steele said. “It was ‘I’m never going to be able to raise the kind of money he raises.’ And I’m closing in on a million dollars by the time it’s all said and done.”

1. I’ve given kudos to Dayna Steele before, for her near-million dollar fundraising in one of the reddest districts in Texas. She’s brilliantly leveraged her network and her connections to get people to believe in her. Here I want to give some recognition to Julie Oliver, whose half-million dollar haul in CD25 is also super impressive. CD25 is not as red as Steele’s CD36, but it’s largely rural and exurban and not on anyone’s list of swing districts. Oliver has a compelling story to tell, and she deserves to be seen as a top performer.

2. I made the comparison to other election cycles in this post. I think the point that needs to be made is that we’ve always had the capacity to support a slate of Congressional candidates like this. Let’s not forget, there are over three million Democratic voters in this state. It took a trash heap President and a collection of impressive and energetic candidates to make it happen, but the ability to make it happen was always there.

3. The question then is how sustainable is this. Even if Tuesday is terrific, we’re going to lose most of these Congressional races. It’s no one’s fault, it’s that the districts were drawn to elect Republicans, and there’s only so much we can do about that. The political conditions that exist now won’t be the same in 2020. Will dynamic candidates still be willing to take a crack at the Congressional districts we didn’t win this time? Will we find inspiration at the top of the ticket, if not from the Presidential nominee then from whoever steps up to run against Big John Cornyn? With Donald Trump actually on the ballot, will people still be willing to focus on the local races and direct their time and money to abetting them? Whatever happens with Beto and the long list of terrific Congressional candidates, we have to build on it. We can’t afford for this year to be a unicorn.

October 2018 campaign finance reports: Congress

Wow.

It’s not just Beto.

Newly filed campaign finance reports show that money flooded into Democratic congressional campaigns all across the state over the last three months.

Along with Democrat Beto O’Rourke’s blockbuster $38 million haul in his bid against Republican U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, no fewer than eight other Texas Democrats outraised their GOP rivals in their bids for Republican-held U.S. House seats. These numbers are so daunting that even GOP House incumbents who have stepped up their game this cycle, particularly U.S. Reps. Pete Sessions of Dallas and Will Hurd of Helotes, found themselves trailing far behind their Democratic rivals.

Looking back to the 2016 cycle, U.S. House candidates who raised more than $400,000 a quarter was considered strong fundraisers. This time around, several Texas Congressional candidates had multi-million dollar quarters.

To give a sense on how much things have changed, consider the state’s only competitive federal campaign in 2016, Texas’ 23rd Congressional District held by Hurd. The Democratic challenger that year, former U.S. Rep. Pete Gallego, raised less money through the entire two-year cycle than three current Democratic challengers – attorneys Colin Allred and Lizzie Fletcher and retired Air Force intelligence officer Gina Ortiz Jones – raised in this quarter alone.

The latest numbers are noteworthy enough that GOP sources tell the Tribune that the Democratic numbers lit a fire under some of the state’s most politically active Republican billionaires and millionaires and, they are now, finally, fully engaged in protecting their team in the midterms.

Boy, what would the Republicans do without their billionaires and millionaires? You can see the tallies for each district at the link above, but I’ll summarize for the districts that I’ve been tracking here. Here are the July 2017 finance reports, here are the October 2017 finance reports, here are the January 2018 finance reports, here are the April 2018 finance reports, here are the July 2018 finance reports, and here’s the FEC summary page for Democratic Congressional candidates in Texas.

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


Dist  Name             Raised      Spent    Loans    On Hand
============================================================
02    Litton        1,310,731    786,261        0    524,469
03    Burch           246,241    232,138   23,149     40,239
06    Sanchez         577,842    440,807        0    137,034
07    Fletcher      4,604,838  3,015,607        0  1,589,246
08    David            31,664     26,520        0      4,639
10    Siegel          343,403    271,869   10,000     82,259
12    Adia            180,528    105,984        0     74,399
14    Bell            161,105    147,165        0     13,939
17    Kennedy          55,231     95,083   19,356     18,464
21    Kopser        2,527,090  2,162,350   74,231    364,740
22    Kulkarni      1,028,707    576,851   14,400    451,856
23    Ortiz Jones   4,742,935  3,501,768        0  1,241,167
24    McDowell         95,553     63,611        0     32,061
25    Oliver          527,503    308,436    3,125    222,209
26    Fagan           155,893     81,922        0     57,096
27    Holguin         164,678    156,994        0      7,683
31    Hegar         3,535,495  2,792,159        0    738,317
32    Allred        4,238,043  2,337,466   44,978  1,900,577
36    Steele          808,109    627,624    5,926    180,454

There’s nothing I can say here that I haven’t said before several times. A few candidates received DCCC or other PAC money, but the vast bulk of what they raised they did themselves. The amounts raised just in the third quarter are staggering, and it’s not just at the top. Julie Oliver now has more cash on hand than the total amount she had raised as of Q2, despite CD25 being on nobody’s radar. She’s now officially the second-most impressive-to-me fundraiser after Dayna Steele, who could still become the eighth candidate to break the million dollar barrier. My wish right now is that they’re all spending this money like crazy on GOTV efforts.

O’Rourke raises $38 million in Q3

That’s a lot.

Rep. Beto O’Rourke

U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke, D-El Paso, raised $38.1 million for his U.S. Senate campaign in the third quarter, a new record for the largest fundraising quarter ever in a U.S. Senate race, according to his campaign.

The haul more than tripled Republican incumbent Ted Cruz’s fundraising for the past three months, which Cruz has said was over $12 million. O’Rourke has consistently raised more than Cruz in the race, but this is the widest gap yet. The $38.1 million is by far the largest amount raised in a quarter by a Senate candidate, surpassing Republican Rick Lazio’s record of $22 million in 2000 for his bid against Democrat Hillary Clinton in New York.

O’Rourke’s campaign said the $38.1 million came from 802,836 individual contributions, and a majority of it came from Texas.

“The people of Texas in all 254 counties are proving that when we reject PACs and come together not as Republicans or Democrats but as Texans and Americans, there’s no stopping us,” O’Rourke said in a statement. “This is a historic campaign of people: all people, all the time, everywhere, every single day — that’s how we’re going to win this election and do something incredible for Texas and our country at this critical moment.”

Not to put too fine a point on it, but if O’Rourke had raised $38 million over the entire two-year cycle, it would have been impressive, and at least on par with, if not more than what the incumbent Cruz raised over that time. (Cruz’s $12 million for this quarter is not too shabby in its own right, but my guess is that without the pressure from the Beto machine, he’d have eased up a bit on the accelerator.) The real question is, what do you do with all that money?

In a press release announcing the haul, O’Rourke’s campaign said that they’re launching a “weekend of action” in which they intend to knock on 102,733 doors and make 102,733 phone calls. (That number is the exact capacity of Texas A&M’s Kyle Field, the largest stadium in Texas—perhaps a response to Trump’s vow in August to hold a rally for Ted Cruz in “the biggest stadium we can find.”) Those doors can be knocked on and those calls can be made by volunteers, but also by paid staff hired out of those record fundraising dollars. The campaign can use the money to stake into the ground more of the “Beto for Senate” signs that have become ubiquitous in certain parts of the state. It’ll pay for gas for the well-publicized pickup truck O’Rourke has driven from campaign rally to campaign rally. It can buy stamps for direct mail, or pay for radio, print, and TV advertising in Texas’s nearly twenty distinct (and often expensive) media markets.

It can also buy him more digital advertising, a form of spending that his campaign has invested more money in than any Senate candidate by a wide margin. On Facebook, O’Rourke’s campaign alone has outspent the entire 2018 Senate field—Democrats and Republicans combined—by nearly 30%. Digital ads were considered instrumental to Trump’s 2016 victory.

Much of the efficacy of O’Rourke’s fundraising haul will be determined by the infrastructure his campaign already has. The press release says that he’s built “the largest field operation in Texas history,” and his campaign currently employs about 300 staffers, a huge number. That could give him a place to put the additional short-term workers these numbers would allow him to bring in for a final push. Three and a half weeks is an eternity in politics, but a short time in the world of recruiting, hiring, training, and deploying workers—a challenge of the O’Rourke campaign will probably be to split the difference.

Well, first of all I hope he’s already been spending it, because there’s only so much you can do in four weeks. I hope some of this is earmarked for more traditional TV and radio advertising, with an emphasis on Spanish language ads in the appropriate places. To the extent that it’s legal, I hope some of it is spent boosting other Democrats in key races. People who are turning out for the Congressional candidates (*) and legislative candidates in various races will be voting for Beto, too. I hope some of it is intended to help with the GOTV efforts going on in the key counties. You could pay for an awful lot of rides to the polls, and stamps for vote-by-mail ballots, with that kind of scratch.

I’m just a voice in the peanut gallery, but you get the idea. Spend it on things that make sense, that’s all I ask. Just remember, Beto may have a crap-ton of small-dollar donors, but Ted Cruz has a gang of billionaires backing him, so whatever the disparity in their FEC reports, Cruz will have what he needs to fight, too. Martin Longman has more.

(*) Our Congressional candidates are doing pretty well for themselves, too, but that doesn’t mean they couldn’t use some more help. The legislative candidates would surely not mind a boost, either.

A little effort for redistricting reform

It’s a start.

The National Democratic Redistricting Committee, the group led by former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, is making a quarter-million-dollar investment in Texas to help Democrats here flip a number of state House seats in November.

The money represents one of the largest single contributions that the House Democratic Campaign Committee has ever received, according to its chair, El Paso state Rep. César Blanco, who said the investment “puts us in a stronger position to pick up more seats in the House.”

House Democrats, who currently control 55 out of the 150 seats in the lower chamber, are heading toward November targeting the 11 GOP-held districts — most of them traditionally Republican — that Hillary Clinton carried in 2016, with an emphasis on the Dallas area. They are also looking at several Republican-controlled districts across the state where Clinton came close to winning.

Blanco said the value of growing the Democratic caucus by even just five members could increase its influence in the race to replace outgoing House Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio. A larger caucus could also have implications for inter-chamber relations next year.

Here’s what the NRDC has to say about Texas. $250K is not nothing, and it’s always nice to see national Democratic money flow into Texas instead of the other way around, but it’s not that much in the context of a dozen or so races. Honestly, it might be put to better use on the lower-profile and second-tier races, or in districts where there’s also a competitive Senate or Congressional race going on that’s already doing GOTV. Like I said, it’s a start and I’ll gladly take what they have to give, but let’s maintain some perspective. It’s still a drop in the bucket compared to what the Republicans’ moneybag overlords can and will spend.

Henry Cuellar does his thing

And it’s annoying as usual.

Rep. Henry Cuellar

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

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

Yes, Republicans really are worried about Ted Cruz

Their actions speak volumes.

Not Ted Cruz

With a string of polls showing GOP Sen. Ted Cruz’s lead slipping, Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick showed up in Washington on July 25 to deliver an urgent plea to White House officials: Send President Donald Trump.

Patrick, who chaired Trump’s 2016 campaign in the state, made the case that a Trump visit was needed to boost turnout for Cruz and the rest of the Texas Republican ticket. The lieutenant governor soon got his wish: Trump announced on Twitter late last month that he was planning a blowout October rally for Cruz, his former GOP rival.

The previously unreported meeting comes as senior Republicans grow increasingly concerned about the senator’s prospects in the reliably red state, with some expressing fear that an underperformance could threaten GOP candidates running further down the ballot. Cruz’s Democratic opponent, Rep. Beto O’Rourke, has raised barrels of cash, closed the polling gap and emerged as a cause célèbre of liberals nationwide.

Trump’s rally is just the most public display of a Republican cavalry rushing to the senator’s aid. Cruz remains a favorite to win another term, and some senior GOP figures insist the concern is overblown. Yet the party — which has had a fraught relationship with the anti-establishment Texas senator over the years — is suddenly leaving little to chance. Behind the scenes, the White House, party leaders and a collection of conservative outside groups have begun plotting out a full-fledged effort to bolster Cruz.

Texas Sen. John Cornyn, who’s planning an October fundraiser for Cruz at Washington’s Capital Grille restaurant, said he had a simple directive to GOP givers.

“We’re not bluffing, this is real, and it is a serious threat,” Cornyn, the No. 2 Senate Republican, said in an interview. “If Ted does his job and we do ours, I think we’ll be fine. But if we have donors sitting on the sidelines thinking that, ‘Well, this isn’t all that serious,’ or ‘I don’t need to be concerned,’ then that’s a problem.”

What caught my eye in this story was the timing of Dan Patrick’s schlep to DC to beg for help. Here’s what the five most recent polls looked like as of that July 25 date:

Cruz +9, Cruz +5, Cruz +8, Cruz +6, Cruz + 6 – Average Cruz lead = 6.8

And the five polls since then:

Cruz +2, Cruz +6, Cruz +4, Cruz +4, Cruz +1 – Average Cruz lead = 3.4

So at the time that Danno made his pilgrimage, Cruz had a solid if unspectacular lead in the publicly available polls. Since then, he’s had a much narrower, albeit still consistent, lead. On the (I hope) reasonable assumption that Patrick is not clairvoyant, it makes one wonder what he and his cronies were seeing in the polls back then that made them so worried. I mean, it could just be an abundance of caution, though that’s wildly inconsistent with Texas Republicans’ public braggadocio about their own prowess and the supposed conservatism of the state’s electorate. Since when do Texas GOPers need help from the outside to win elections? Especially in a year where the national party has about a thousand endangered Congressional seats to protect, not to mention a non-trivial number of governors, and they’d much rather be spending money to oust Democratic Senators, asking for the spigot to be tapped in support of Ted Cruz sure seems like a lot.

Unless, of course, their own data at the time was sounding an alarm for them, not just for Cruz but for however many downballot Republicans that could get left exposed by a low tide for the junior Senator. And if that was the case for them then – and maybe it was and maybe it wasn’t, we just don’t know – then what is is saying now? Maybe the public data has caught up to where their own data was, and maybe things have shifted further. Again, we don’t know. That doesn’t stop us from speculating, as we wait for the next batch of poll results. My point here is simply to highlight that Republicans are aware of the political environment they’re in. It’s on us to prove they were right to be so concerned. Slate has more.

Beto and the downballot Dems

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

Rep. Beto O’Rourke

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

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

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

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

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

On giving to “longshot” candidates

I have three things to say about this.

Sri Kulkarni

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

July 2018 campaign finance reports: HCC

We come to the end of the campaign finance reports for July. I’ll try to do the 30 day finance reports for Congress and the Lege, but in the meantime here are reports for the HCC Trustees:

Adriana Tamez
Carolyn Evans-Shabazz
Dave Wilson
Eva Loredo
John Hansen
Neeta Sane
Pretta VanDible Stallworth
Robert Glaser
Zeph Capo


Dist  Name             Raised    Spent    Loans   On Hand
=========================================================
3     Tamez                 0      267        0     5,701
4     Evans-Shabazz     5,600    4,134        0     1,653
2     Wilson                0        0   12,782         0
8     Loredo              700       70        0       255
6     Hansen                2        0    5,000     8,928
7     Sane                  0    3,823        0    11,319
9     Stallworth       14,175    2,758        0         0
5     Glaser                0        0    5,000     1,125
1     Capo                  0        0        0     2,064

The weird order to the reports is due to the idiosyncratic way that one accesses HCC finance reports – basically, things are sorted in alphabetical order by first name, so that’s how I prepared this. Sorry, even I have limits. As was the case with the HISD reports, there hasn’t been much fundraising activity for HCC, which isn’t that surprising given that there usually isn’t that much fundraising activity even when there are elections coming up. The main thing you need to know is that 2019 is the year we get the chance to rid ourselves of the stain that is Dave Wilson. Zeph Capo and Neeta Sane will also be on the ballot, but the race that matters is in District 2. Wilson spends his own money on his political endeavors, so pay no attention to his Raised and On Hand totals. Just be prepared to support his eventual opponent (hopefully there will be just one), and never forget this lesson in Why Every Election Matters.

July 2018 campaign finance reports: HISD

Every level of government requires finance reports in January and June, whether or not there is an active election cycle in that year. That includes HISD and HCC, which are the last two groups I’ll be examining. I didn’t get to their January reports, in part because they tend to post them later than other entities, and in part because I was hip deep in primary stuff. But that was then and this is now, and today I have the reports for HISD trustees.

Elizabeth Santos
Rhonda Skillern-Jones
Sergio Lira
Jolanda Jones
Sue Deigaard
Holly Flynn Vilaseca
Anne Sung
Diana Davila
Wanda Adams


Dist  Name             Raised    Spent    Loans   On Hand
=========================================================
I     Santos              525    1,048        0     4,806
II    Skillern-Jones        0        0        0     2,395
III   Lira              2,500        0        0     4,072
IV    Jones                 0        0        0    12,259
V     Deigaard              0    1,927        0     7,452
VI    Vilaseca          2,500      969        0     4,506
VII   Sung
VIII  Davila                0    1,500   19,178         0
IX    Adams             4,400    6,369        0     2,814

Anne Sung did not have a July report posted as of when I drafted this. As you can see, there’s not much to see here, as nobody did any fundraising in the past period. Diana Davila did not include a cash on hand total in her report, which I think is an error, but not one to worry about too much at this time. Rhonda Skillern-Jones, Sergio Lira, Jolanda Jones, and Diana Davila are up for election in 2019, so I figure we’ll start to see action from them soon. You will eventually see a 2019 Trustee Elections link on the Board of Trustees General Information page – the 2017 election link is still there – so until then I presume there’s no one who has formally declared an intent to run. I’ll have the HCC reports next, so let me know what you think.

July 2018 finance reports: City of Houston

Every level of government requires finance reports in January and June, whether or not there is an active election cycle in that year. That includes the city of Houston, whose january report data we inspected here. Our next election is in 2019, and while this is still traditionally a little early for there to be much activity, there are the finance reports. Here’s what we’ve got:


Candidate       Office    Raised      Spent     Loan    On Hand
===============================================================
S Turner         Mayor   585,267    137,758        0  2,260,407

C Brown     Controller    13,070     17,650        0     59,164

M Knox      At Large 1    28,225     12,691        0     62,856 
D Robinson  At Large 2    61,650     21,468        0    162,079
M Kubosh    At Large 3    72,475     23,841  276,000     82,360
A Edwards   At Large 4    40,345     26,349        0    147,883
J Christie  At Large 5     3,263      6,055        0     25,918

B Stardig       Dist A    56,439     24,738        0    116,794
J Davis         Dist B    22,750     12,487        0    147,300
E Cohen         Dist C    33,990     18,591        0     57,264
D Boykins       Dist D   126,000     55,556        0     96,400
D Martin        Dist E    43,900     17,226        0    123,730
S Le            Dist F     4,000      6,445   30,823     10,570
G Travis        Dist G    69,468     81,775   21,000     56,571
K Cisneros      Dist H    34,399      5,660        0     49,176
R Gallegos      Dist I    32,875     21,319        0     80,288
M Laster        Dist J    20,330      7,524        0    173,358
M Castex-Tatum  Dist K    15,375        339    3,788     43,822

A Parker                       0     10,383        0     82,854
L Green                    5,500     42,118        0     40,492
Lift the Cap PAC               0          0        0      3,987
Citizens to Keep               0      1,803        0     47,564
 Houston Strong

As you may recall, there wasn’t much in the way of fundraising for anyone except Mayor Turner last time. I don’t know if it’s due to the time of year, the approach of the next election, or the overall political climate, but as you can see nearly all of our elected officials have been busy. The report for Martha Castex-Tatum, who was elected in May to succeed the late Larry Green, is in a shorter period than everyone else since she had to post 30-day and 8-day reports for her cycle; the others are all for the full January through June time frame.

Looking at these numbers, only Jack Christie has acted like the term-limited Member that he is. Brenda Stardig, Jerry Davis, Ellen Cohen, and Mike Laster have been more or less business as usual. I’ve speculated before about the possible future ambitions they may have, and I don’t have anything to add to that. I’m sure there’s a reason why the three non-Cohen members have been stockpiling the loot like this, but until they do something tangible it’s hard to say what that might be.

Which doesn’t mean we can’t speculate at all. I look at what Dwight Boykins and David Robinson are doing and I wonder a little. Both are on the ballot next year for their final terms (as always, modulo future rulings in the interminable term limits litigation), and while Robinson had to fend off four challengers and win in a runoff in 2015, Boykins cruised home unopposed. It could be that Robinson is merely gearing up for the next battle while Boykins is doing his best to keep potential opponents at bay. It could also be that they’re looking beyond their next term to a time when both the Mayor’s office and the Controller’s office will be open seats. I have no idea and no evidence – like I said, I’m just speculating. Dave Martin is also in that “one more term and has a lot of cash” group, but we don’t tend to elect Mayors who fit Martin’s political profile, though perhaps Controller might appeal to him.

Be all that as it may, this is the first time since we switched to four-year terms and no blackout period for fundraising that we’ve seen incumbents establish a clear financial advantage for themselves. No one on the outside has yet taken a concrete step (like designating a campaign treasurer and raising their own money) towards running for a Council seat, but do keep in mind there are several now-former candidates for Congress in town who likely have some cash remaining in their coffers (sorry, I’m only checking on still-active candidates). Surely it would not be a surprise if one or more of them decided to act more locally next year. Given that possibility, it’s hard to blame any of the members who are up for re-election next year to take precautions.

The remaining reports I included because they’re there. As we learned after the death of El Franco Lee, the remaining funds in Larry Green’s campaign account are to be distributed by his campaign treasurer, whose name is Kevin Riles. As we see from Lee’s July report, there’s no particular rush to do whatever that turns out to be. I don’t remember what Citizens to Keep Houston Strong was about, but Bill White is their treasurer. I’m sure we’ll see plenty more PACs and PAC activity as we move towards referenda for firefighters’ pay parity and the revenue cap.

Trump’s Texas beneficiaries

Interesting.

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

July 2018 campaign finance reports: State House

We’e seen a lot of very good campaign finance reports, all of which speak to the enthusiasm and engagement of Democrats this cycle. This batch of reports is not as good. These are July reports from State House candidates, take from the most competitive districts based on 2016 results. Let’s see what we’ve got and then we’ll talk about it.

Amanda Jamrok – HD23
Meghan Scoggins – HD28
Dee Ann Torres Miller – HD43
Erin Zwiener – HD45
Vikki Goodwin – HD47
James Talarico – HD52
Michelle Beckley – HD65
Sharon Hirsch – HD66
Beth McLaughlin – HD97
Ana-Maria Ramos – HD102
Terry Meza – HD105
Rep. Victoria Neave – HD107
Joanna Cattanach – HD108
Brandy Chambers – HD112
Rhetta Bowers – HD113
John Turner – HD114
Julie Johnson – HD115
Natali Hurtado – HD126
Alex Karjeker – HD129
Gina Calanni – HD132
Allison Sawyer – HD134
Jon Rosenthal – HD135
John Bucy – HD136
Adam Milasincic – HD138


Dist  Name             Raised    Spent    Loans   On Hand
=========================================================
023   Jamrok            3,914    4,244      323       191
028   Scoggins         15,545    8,516    3,000     6,499
043   Torres Miller    10,043    9,109   10,000    10,934
045   Zwiener          42,493   30,608    3,100     5,341
047   Goodwin          97,681  112,871   55,000    46,515
052   Talarico        118,017  120,938   25,000    71,428
065   Beckley          20,609   18,785   10,000     5,143
066   Hirsch           28,597    7,042        0    35,387
097   McLaughlin       19,154   14,713        0    12,314
102   Ramos            28,157   19,562      650    18,205
105   Meza             19,439   10,899        0    10,179
107   Neave           133,759   68,017        0    95,765
108   Cattanach        71,919   17,855        0    53,234
112   Chambers         51,220   22,778        0    23,000
113   Bowers           11,541   14,055        0       216
114   Turner          205,862  103,338    7,000   259,765
115   Johnson         204,965  143,261        0   201,005
126   Hurtado           2,989       90        0     1,906
129   Karjeker         59,746   24,474        0    34,527
132   Calanni           3,939      634      750     3,305
134   Sawyer           22,510   16,559        0    20,973
135   Rosenthal        11,143    2,830    1,750     7,312
136   Bucy             90,301   66,723   46,375    69,680
138   Milasincic       35,762   23,553        0    42,009

As with the State Senate candidates, some of these candidates’ reports reflect the full January through June time frame, some begin eight days before the March primary (for those who had a contested primary), and the reports for Erin Zwiener and Vikki Goodwin begin eight days before the May runoff, as they had to win those races to get this far. Some of the candidates for districts you saw in that earlier posts are not here because they didn’t raise anything worth mentioning. Victoria Neave in HD107 is an incumbent, having flipped that district in 2016; everyone else is a challenger. What’s here is what we’ve got to work with.

The numbers speak for themselves, and I’m not going to review them district by district. Candidates in Dallas County have done pretty well overall, though we could sure stand to do better in HDs 105 and 113, which are two of the best pickup opportunities out there. James Talarico and John Bucy in Williamson County are both hauling it in, but I wonder what they’re spending all that dough on, as neither of them had primary opponents. Alex Karjeker in HD129 is off to a strong start, but he’s not exactly in the most competitive district in Harris County. The good news here is that Annie’s List recently announced their endorsements of Gina Calanni and Allison Lami Sawyer, which ought to boost their numbers. *They also endorsed Lina Hidalgo for County Judge, which is great for her but outside the scope of this post.) Prior to that, the only challengers among the Annie’s List candidates were Julie Johnson in HD115 and Senate candidate Beverly Powell. I very much hope they will ramp up their support of legislative contenders, because we can clearly use all the help we can get.

Now to be sure, there’s a lot of money out there going to turn out Democratic voters. It’s likely that money going to the campaigns for Congressional candidates and Beto O’Rourke will bring them out for the other races as well. But this is an all-hands-on-deck situation, and State Rep campaigns are very well suited for door-knocking and other close-to-the-ground efforts. If you’ve already made donations to Beto or a Congressional candidate, that’s great! But if you haven’t given yet or you’re looking to give again, consider dropping a few coins on a State Rep candidate or two. That looks to me to be your best bang for the buck.

July 2018 campaign finance reports: State Senate

In addition to having a full slate of Congressional candidates for the first time since the 90s, we have a nearly-full slate of contenders for the State Senate as well. Of the twelve Republican-held Senate seats up for election this cycle, eleven of them attracted Democratic contenders. Many of those districts are not particularly competitive, but some of them are, and a pickup of even one or two seats would be a big deal. Here’s a look at how those eleven have been doing. I did not do a report on the January finances, mostly because there were so damn many primary candidates and I just couldn’t get to it. But here we are now.

Kendall Scudder
Shirley Layton
Meg Walsh
David Romero
Mark Phariss
Gwenn Burud
Beverly Powell
Nathan Johnson
Rita Lucido
Steven Kling
Kevin Lopez


Dist  Name             Raised    Spent    Loans   On Hand
=========================================================
02    Scudder          60,060   28,143        0    18,115
03    Layton           11,828   12,040    2,000     1,174
05    Walsh            25,403   31,016    8,500    34,671
07    Romero            1,735      244        0     1,735
08    Phariss         220,043   86,019        0   128,981
09    Burud            14,544    8,910        0     1,389
10    Powell          265,807  136,025   20,000   140,749
16    Johnson         362,581  153,825    5,000   261,567
17    Lucido          178,869  128,663    3,000    71,355
25    Kling            60,617   23,015   18,000    19,974
30    Lopez            43,867   16,488        0     8,660

First things first: Congressional finance reports follow the same schedule, with reports due every quarter. There are 30-day reports due before elections as well, but every report is cumulative, so the quarterlies are always comparable. In Texas, reports are semi-annual – January and July – with 30-day and 8-day reports before elections. These reports are not cumulative – they just show what happened since the last reporting period. Things can get a little dicey during primary season, because not everyone will have the same reporting requirements. Kendall Scudder, for example, was unopposed in March, which exempted him from 30-day and 8-day reports, so his July report shows all activity for the first six months of the year. Most of the others were in two-candidate primaries. Beverly Powell’s report is from February 25, which is to say all activity since eight days before the March election. Rita Lucido is the only one who was in a May runoff, so the report linked above for her is all activity for the much shorter period from May 14 onward. Because of that, I added the Raised and Spent numbers from each of her reports this year to present the numbers in the table. She’d have shown half as much raised otherwise, which would not have been a fair reflection of her funding.

The top fundraisers are who you’d expect, as they represent four of the five districts that can be classified as competitive; Gwen Burud in SD09 is the outlier. Powell’s SD10 is the district formerly held by Wendy Davis and the most purple of them all. It’s hotly contested with a lot of outside Republican money going to Sen. Konni Burton. Expect to see even bigger numbers on the 30-day reports.

Nathan Johnson did a great job. His SD16 is the only one to have been carried by Hillary Clinton, though that includes a lot of crossovers. Still, Dallas County has seen a steady drain of Republican support, and there was one poll released that showed a very tight race there. Johnson is up against Don Huffines, who can write his own check and will surely spend whatever he needs to.

I was rooting for Mark Phariss to be the nominee in SD08, which is an open seat as Van Taylor departed to run in CD03. As one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit that eventually toppled Texas’ anti-same sex marriage law, he’s both a compelling figure and (I hoped) someone with good fundraising potential. I’m glad to be proven correct, but boy howdy is that district drenched in money.

The Republican primary for state Senate District 8 between Angela Paxton and Phillip Huffines was one of the most bitter in recent memory — and now the state’s most expensive. The two candidates spent more than $12 million in the Collin County race.

According to reports filed Monday, McKinney educator Paxton, wife of Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, spent $3.7 million in her campaign against Huffines, a Richardson real estate developer who spent $8.4 million. Paxton’s campaign included a $2 million bank loan from her husband’s campaign.

Despite being outspent by more than 2-1, Paxton secured her party’s nomination in March, with 54.4 percent of the vote.

[…]

State senators in Texas make only $7,200 a year, or $600 per month, plus a daily stipend of $190 for every day the Legislature is in session. That adds up to $33,800 a year for a regular session.

Daron Shaw, a government professor at the University of Texas at Austin, said candidates don’t decide to run for the legislature for the financial rewards, but for the career boost if they have their sights set on higher office.

“If you’re a Democrat or a Republican and you want to work your way up the food chain,” he said, “you look for opportunities, (like) open districts or to contest against an incumbent that you see is vulnerable.”

To put the District 8 primary numbers in perspective, the seat’s price tag even rivals spending for some competitive Dallas-area congressional seats in the general election.

There probably won’t be as much spent in the general, if only because of the lack of a Huffines brother, but still. Keep raising that dough, Mark.

Beyond that, Scudder, Steve Kling, and Kevin Lopez have all raised a few bucks in some super tough districts. As with the Congressional candidates in similar districts, anything they can do to give Democrats a reason to get out and vote will help. I’ve got more reports in the works, so stay tuned.

Stalking Sessions

It sure would be sweet to beat Pete.

Rep. Pete Sessions

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

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

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

The Trib looks at the AG race

There’s case that this is the second-most interesting statewide race on the ballot.

Justin Nelson

Three years ago almost to the day, a Collin County grand jury indicted Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton for securities fraud. As the state’s top lawyer turned himself into a jail in his hometown of McKinney and smiled for his mug shot, Democrats couldn’t help but feel optimistic. The last time Texas elected a Democrat for attorney general was over two decades ago. Paxton’s legal troubles could potentially serve, they hoped, as the springboard to breaking that streak.

What perhaps no one could have foreseen back in 2015 was the dizzying array of twists and turns the legal case against Paxton would undergo. Three summers later, there is still no trial date in sight and one is unlikely to emerge before Election Day.

Yet despite avoiding a challenge from within his own party this year – arguably the biggest political threat for a statewide official in deep-red Texas – the political fallout from Paxton’s indictment remains to be seen. In November, he’ll face his first actual test of it at the ballot box: a challenge from Democrat Justin Nelson. The well-credentialed Austin lawyer is framing the race as a crystal-clear referendum on the charges that have dogged Paxton for the vast majority of his first term.

“The question that voters will have is who voters want to hire as a lawyer for Texas, for all Texans,” Nelson said in a recent interview. “Voters will be able to choose me, someone who has clerked for Justice Sandra Day O’Connor on the Supreme Court, who has taught at the University of Texas law school, Texas Super Lawyer, a partner at a successful law firm, versus my opponent, who it’s embarrassing that he’s indicted for fraud in one of the most heavily Republican counties in Texas.

“And I think that when voters see that contrast, it will be integrity versus indictment.”

[…]

In Nelson, Democrats have ample reason to be optimistic. He brings an impressive resume to the race as a clerk for former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor and current partner at Houston-based litigation powerhouse Susman Godfrey. That network that comes with that — as well as Nelson’s own wealth — has allowed him to build a bigger war chest than any other Democratic statewide candidate beside U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke, who is running a far more high-profile race to unseat U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz. Still, Paxton maintains a wide cash-on-hand advantage.

In addition to Nelson’s fundraising, Democrats have been buoyed by a pair of public polls that suggested the race may be close. A recent University of Texas/Texas Tribune poll found Paxton leading Nelson among registered voters by just 1 percentage point, but 26 percent of voters had yet to pick a candidate.

“I feel really good about his race,” said state Sen. Sylvia Garcia, D-Houston, ranking Paxton and Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller as ripe targets for Democratic upsets in November. “[Nelson’s race] is particularly compelling because … I’ve seen people react when you talk about an indictment and an attorney general — I mean, this is our lawyer, and they can’t get their head around the idea that our own lawyer is under indictment. They’ll easily concede, ‘Yeah, he’s innocent until proven guilty’, but it’s the whole image — it’s the whole cloud over the work — it just doesn’t sit easy when you hear about that.”

To be sure, Nelson is not building his challenge entirely around the incumbent’s legal troubles. Nelson also is campaigning on issues like ending gerrymandering, which was the topic of a pub crawl he led last month in Austin that touched three congressional districts in a five-block radius. During an interview at the last stop — at Easy Tiger in downtown Austin — Nelson said he would use his platform as attorney general to fight partisan gerrymandering in particular through written opinions, through the litigation process and at the Legislative Redistricting Board, where the attorney general has a seat. Nelson and Paxton were already on opposite sides of the issue before their race began, having signed on to dueling amicus briefs in the Wisconsin gerrymandering case that the U.S. Supreme Court declined to decide on last month.

Nelson has raised (and loaned himself) a few bucks, he’s got the national Democratic Attorney General Association in his corner, and there’s that one-point poll result; another poll from the Texas Lyceum that includes the AG race will be out next week. And then there’s the wild card of the Paxton trial, and how much the publicity for that has eroded Paxton’s natural advantage as a Republican. Going in on redistricting as an issue is a good idea as well. The main questions as always are how much does the average voter already know about this stuff, how much do they care, and how effectively can Nelson get his message out? Justin Nelson is a very appealing candidate, but he has to overcome the tide. That’s what this boils down to.

July 2018 finance reports: Harris County candidates

Let’s take a look at where we stand with the candidates for county office. January report info is here. On we go:

County Judge

Ed Emmett
Lina Hidalgo

Commissioner, Precinct 2

Jack Morman
Adrian Garcia

Commissioner, Precinct 4

Jack Cagle
Penny Shaw

District Clerk

Chris Daniel
Marilyn Burgess

County Clerk

Stan Stanart
Diane Trautman

County Treasurer

Orlando Sanchez
Dylan Osborne

HCDE, Position 3 At Large

Marcus Cowart
Richard Cantu

HCDE, Position 4, Precinct 3

Josh Flynn
Andrea Duhon


Candidate       Office    Raised      Spent     Loan    On Hand
===============================================================
Emmett    County Judge   618,590    138,209        0    934,714
Hidalgo   County Judge   183,252     67,007        0    116,263  

Morman      Comm Pct 2   612,400    178,027   30,185  2,710,005
A Garcia    Comm Pct 2   342,182    141,745        0    154,693  

Cagle       Comm Pct 4   199,800    451,189        0    658,641
Shaw        Comm Pct 4     7,838     10,591        0      1,234

Daniel  District Clerk   106,675    113,813   45,000     59,920
Burgess District Clerk     5,527      1,504        0      9,476

Stanart   County Clerk     5,820      5,836   20,000     75,389
Trautman  County Clerk     8,705      4,236        0     23,749

Sanchez      Treasurer    86,185      4,801  200,000    281,383
Osborne      Treasurer     1,645      2,441        0        491

Cowart          HCDE 3         0          0        0          0
Cantu           HCDE 3       953      1,606        0        656

Flynn           HCDE 4       200      2,134        0          0
Duhon           HCDE 4     1,476      1,149        0        977

All things considered, that’s a pretty decent amount of money raised by Lina Hidalgo, especially as a first-time candidate running against a ten-year incumbent. She has the resources to run a professional campaign, and she’s done that. I don’t know what her mass communication strategy is, but she will need more to do that effectively. We’re a big county, there are a lot of voters here, and these things ain’t cheap. She was endorsed last week by Annie’s List, so that should be a big help in this department going forward.

Ed Emmett is clearly taking her seriously. He’s stepped up his fundraising after posting a modest report in January. Greg Abbott has already reserved a bunch of TV time with his bottomless campaign treasury, and I figure that will be as much to bolster local and legislative candidates as it will be for himself. Still, those who can support themselves are going to continue to do so.

Which brings us to Commissioners Court in Precinct 2, one of the top-tier races of any kind in the region. Adrian Garcia started from scratch after his Mayoral and Congressional campaigns, and he’s done well to get prepped for the fall. That’s a challenge when the guy you’re up against has as much as Jack Morman has, but at least Garcia starts out as someone the voters know and have by and large supported. I will be interested to see just what Morman has in mind to do with all that money, but until we see something tangible I have a dumb question: Why, if you have $2.7 million in the bank, would you not just go ahead and clear up that $30K loan? Is there some subtle financial reason for it, or is it just that no one cares about campaign loans being paid back? Anyone with some insight into these burning questions is encouraged to enlighten us in the comments.

Speaking of loans, that 200K bit of debt for Orlando Sanchez keeps on keeping on. Sanchez managed to get a few people to write him four-figure (and in one case, a five-figure) checks this period. I literally have no idea why anyone would do that, but here we are. It gives me something to write about, so we can all be thankful for that.

I’ve got more of these to come. Let me know what you think.

Fundraising: 2018 vs the rest of the decade

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


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

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

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

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

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

Two views of Democratic fundraising

Positive:

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

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

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

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

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

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

And negative:

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

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

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

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

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

July 2018 campaign finance reports: Congress

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Dems keep posting very strong finance reports

Wow.

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

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

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

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Good things keep happening to MJ Hegar.

MJ Hegar

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Once more to Twitter, from Abby Livingston:


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

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

Kulkarni reports $234K raised in Q2

From the Inbox:

Sri Kulkarni

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

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

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

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

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

Republican reactions to Beto’s fundraising

The interesting bits of this story:

Rep. Beto O’Rourke

El Paso Democrat Beto O’Rourke, the underdog challenger to Republican U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, recently burnished his grass-roots credentials by completing a tour of all 254 counties in Texas.

Now O’Rourke has proven his fundraising chops as well, raising a staggering $10.4 million in the past three months, more than double the $4.6 million reported by Cruz, a former presidential candidate defending his Senate seat in November.

The cash haul for the three-term congressman laid down a marker in a Senate race that has already brought national attention to a state that hasn’t elected a Democrat to statewide office since the Clinton administration.

[…]

While Democrats were buoyed by the latest numbers, several GOP analysts said they are not sounding the alarms, given the state’s deeply conservative leanings.

“O’Rourke’s fundraising is impressive. However, he is spending massive amounts to raise it,” said Austin GOP consultant Matt Mackowiak. “O’Rourke appears to be raising a lot of money outside Texas, and those dollars could be going to far more competitive U.S. Senate races than this one.”

Apart from fundraising, Mackowiak said Cruz retains significant advantages: He has a stronger statewide organization, higher name ID, and Texas remains a Republican state. “It is now clear that both campaigns will have sufficient funds to run real campaigns,” he said. “What remains unproven is this: What is Beto’s path to victory? I don’t see one.”

Other Republicans see O’Rourke’s fundraising as a sign of a more competitive race than Texans are used to, given the Democrats’ long record of futility in The Lone Star State.

“It’s significant,” said Texas GOP strategist Brendan Steinhauser, who served as Sen. John Cornyn’s campaign manager in 2014. “Time is still his enemy here, because a lot of people still don’t know who (O’Rourke) is. But if he continues to do that, he will have the resources to build his name ID very quickly through TV, radio and digital advertising.”

[…]

Steinhauser remains skeptical about O’Rourke’s chances but says he has forced Republicans to take the measure of the Democratic challenger.

“The challenge is a legitimate one,” Steinhauser said. “Cruz is taking it seriously; the party is taking it seriously. But at the end of the day, the voters go and vote regardless of the amount of money that you have. It’s about the candidates themselves, more than anything.”

O’Rourke’s fundraising prowess has been all the more surprising because Cruz, regarded as a national conservative leader, has a solid record of campaign organization, data analysis and fundraising. He raised nearly $90 million in the 2016 presidential primaries, more than any of Trump’s other GOP challengers, including Ben Carson and Jeb Bush.

But Cruz’s top-dog status in the Senate race also could also be a liability in the money chase.

“He raised a lot of money nationally for his presidential campaign, and he’s probably tapped out a lot of those folks,” Steinhauser said. “Some people around the country certainly gave him money for the presidential who wouldn’t necessarily give him money for a Texas Senate race, especially if they don’t buy the hype about O’Rourke, and they don’t see it as competitive.”

For Cruz partisans, the trick now could be how to project strength without seeming too overconfident.

Said Steinhauser: “Partly, I think people are like, ‘Look, it’s a statewide race in Texas, the Republican is going to win …’”

I don’t know what the status is now, but someone might want to advise Matt Mackowiak that as of the end of Q1, half of Ted Cruz’s contributions came from outside Texas, while less than a third of Beto’s did; his total out of state fundraising was less than Cruz’s while his in-state haul was far greater. Maybe the Q2 numbers will change that – the story does not address the point beyond quoting Mackowiak – but the narrative so far is quite clear, and it’s not that Beto has relied on non-Texas money to crush Cruz in that department.

Steinhauser’s statements are more reality-based, and are in the ballpark of what I’d say if the positions were reversed. The thing is, it’s not just about the Senate race. Republicans have thoroughly dominated the fundraising space since Tony Sanchez was spreading money around the state like grass seed in 2002. Democrats have had a few candidates here and there raise big bucks – Wendy Davis, Bill White, and people like Nick Lampson and Michael Skelley in Congressional races – but in any given year the vast amount of money raised has gone towards Republicans, with the lion’s share of Democratic money going to long-term incumbents in safe districts. It’s not just that Beto is raking it in, it’s also that multiple Democratic Congressional challengers are also kicking butt, in some cases outraising the incumbents they are running against. Republicans will still have the advantage overall, thanks mostly to Greg Abbott and Dan Patrick. It’s just that they won’t have the skies all to themselves this time. I feel certain that folks like Brendan Steinhauser are concerned about that, too. The DMN has more.

Everyone is giving money in the Senate race

It’s a marquee attraction.

Rep. Beto O’Rourke

Abby Tannenbaum has never been to Texas. But that hasn’t stopped the 23-year-old digital strategist from Florida from sending $2 a month for the past year to help fuel the campaign of El Paso Congressman Beto O’Rourke, the Democratic challenger to Republican U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz.

“Anybody who’s running against Ted Cruz,” she said at a recent “Beers with Beto” fundraiser near the U.S. Capitol — a standing-room only event populated largely by the capital city’s burgeoning class of young professionals. “He’s scarier than Donald Trump.”

Frank McGrath, a 57-year-old pizza shop owner in Southern California, has never been to Texas either. But he chips in $25 a month to Cruz, for a running total so far of more than $780.

“I have XM (satellite) radio, and I listen to Mark Levin and Patriot Radio,” he said. “I remember Mark Levin saying Ted Cruz is a guy we need for our country and in our Senate.”

Neither can cast a vote for O’Rourke or Cruz, but they are contributing to a mountain of cash coming from all corners of the nation to a contest that has become a proxy for an ideological divide that’s even bigger than Texas.

Cruz, who established a national fundraising base in his 2016 White House bid, has relied on out-of-state contributors for some $2.5 million — or nearly half of the $5.1 million in itemized personal contributions to his re-election campaign as of the end of March.

O’Rourke, who has become something of a cause célèbre among Democrats nationally, saw nearly $2.3 million in out-of-state contributions — a little less than a third of his total $7.7 million cash haul for the same period, according to a Chronicle review of federal campaign reports.

The Chronicle analysis counts only contributions of $200 or more, which must be reported to the Federal Election Commission. But they provide a window into the flow of campaign cash from individual contributors, as opposed to spending by independent groups and political action committees.

The cash flow makes clear that O’Rourke’s longshot quest to unseat Cruz, whatever the outcome, has become a national contest of partisan passions drawing media and rooting interest from coast to coast.

Cruz raised $4 million last quarter. Beto hasn’t announced a total yet, but he raised over $7 million in Q1, and everyone expects he will post another strong number. As we’ve said before, fundraising isn’t destiny, but at every opportunity, Dems have shown a higher than usual level of engagement and enthusiasm. It may not be enough to win statewide this year – the polls do show Cruz with a seven-point average lead, after all – but the gap is narrowing, and there’s a lot of room around the state to make gains. You have to start somewhere, and it looks like the Dems finally have.

UPDATE: Beto O’Rourke hadn’t announced any numbers as of the time I was writing this. Now he has.

Beto O’Rourke, the Democratic nominee for U.S. Senate in Texas, raised more than $10.4 million over the past three months, he announced Wednesday, revealing a sum that takes his already massive fundraising to new heights.

The latest haul, which brought O’Rourke’s cash-on-hand total to over $14 million, is easily his biggest yet. It tops the $6.7 million he raked in during the first quarter, which was more than double what the Republican incumbent, Ted Cruz, took in at the same time.

O’Rourke, who announced his latest fundraising figures Wednesday night on Facebook Live, also saw a big increase in the number of individual contributions to his campaign — from roughly 141,000 in the first quarter to 216,000 during the most recent period.

Yowza.

The story behind the MJ Hegar video

Cool little “making of” feature.

MJ Hegar

Mary Jennings “MJ” Hegar, a 42-year-old mother and Republican turned “independent Democrat” running for Congress in Texas, is an Air Force veteran and retired Air National Guard helicopter pilot who didn’t let an abusive biological father, knee injuries, and sexual bias, harassment and assault stop her from doing three tours in Afghanistan that climaxed with a rescue mission gone awry in which she strapped herself to the skids of a chopper and fired at the Taliban. Her service earned her a Purple Heart. Back stateside, she successfully sued the Secretary of Defense (Hegar, et al. v. Panetta) to get the Pentagon to end the policy that officially barred women from combat, was named by Newsweek as one of 125 “Women of Impact” of 2012 and wrote a bestselling book called Shoot Like a Girl that came out last year and is now set to be turned into a movie with Angelina Jolie reportedly in talks to play the lead role.

“She’s a badass,” Democratic ad maker Cayce McCabe told me last week.

McCabe’s biggest concern heading into the shooting and editing of the 3½-minute biographical spot released last month was whether or not he could “do her story justice.”

He did. The ad immediately began to ricochet around the internet, Hegar’s fundraising and name recognition turbocharged by millions of YouTube views and Facebook shares. It earned her coverage in news outlets as varied as USA TodayAdweek and People. It got her on CNN and MSNBC. And it has made her a Democratic candidate to watch in Texas’ 31st Congressional District, which is composed of suburban and rural areas north of Austin, includes Fort Hood in Killeen and has voted for nobody but GOP Rep. “Judge” John Carter since it was created more than a decade and a half ago.

It also was the third Putnam Partners ad in the past two years that made a Democratic military veteran go viral. In 2016, it was Jason Kander, his blindfold and his AR-15. In 2017, it was Amy McGrath, the first female Marine to fly an F/A-18 fighter jet in combat, launching her upstart candidacy in Kentucky’s 6th District. This year, it’s Hegar.

[…]

Doors” went viral, McCabe believes, because of Hegar (she’s “dynamic” and “electric”) and because of her story (“good enough to make a movie out of”) but also due to the moment in which it landed. “It’s not an easy time in this country, especially these past couple weeks seeing families ripped apart at the border,” he told me. “So I think a story of somebody overcoming the odds, and fighting, and a warrior—it’s kind of just what people needed.” “Hamilton” creator Lin-Manuel Miranda told his more than 2.4 million Twitter followers it was “the best political ad anyone’s ever seen.”

“We’re in a period when many voters aren’t looking for more of the same, so women and veterans and people who haven’t been in traditional positions of power represent change, and they represent change at a time when more of the same just won’t do,” Margolis said. “This is a political moment where I think a lot of voters are anxious to see something very different in Congress and people who don’t look like everyone else who’s currently there.”

Trippi sees these spots as sneak previews of sorts for 2020. “You’re going to have 16, 17, 18 Democrats running for president of the United States, all doing some kind of compelling long-form video,” he told me.

For the time being, though, in these House races in red states, viral ads have made Democrats who are veterans viable in a way they wouldn’t have been without them.

McCabe thinks it can propel Hegar to a win this fall.

“Absolutely,” he said. The ad cost more than $40,000 to make, a tab shared by her campaign and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, and Hegar didn’t have that much money to burn, but it proved to be more than worth it. “It’s helped her raise a ton of money. I mean, it’s over half a million as of right now. My guess is that it could very well be a million by the time this quarter report comes out.” Added McCabe: “We’re talking about hundreds of thousands of dollars if not close to a million in $5, $10, $25 contributions, so these are not people who are maxed out and cannot give again.” By contrast, Carter, the GOP incumbent, had a little more than $350,000 in his coffers at the end of March.

See here for the background, and here for your original introduction to MJ Hegar. This story came out before Hegar announced her million-dollar haul in Q2, so you can see just how good an investment that video was. Hegar had raised $496K as of May 2, but since she had $458K of that as of March 31 it’s clear the video paid off for her in spades. It surely helps to have a good story to tell, but it just as surely helps to tell that story well. I figure Putnam Partners is getting a lot of calls from other candidates about now.

Three more Dems top $1 million in Q2

In the morning there was Gina Ortiz Jones.

Gina Ortiz Jones

Gina Ortiz Jones, the Democrat running against U.S. Rep. Will Hurd, R-Helotes, raised more than $1.2 million over the last three months, a huge haul that far outpaces the fundraising by her party’s previous nominees in Texas’ most competitive congressional district.

Jones’ campaign, announcing the figure this morning, also said she has about $1.1 million cash on hand.

Hurd hasn’t shared his fundraising numbers for the second quarter yet but faces a Sunday deadline to report them to the Federal Election Commission. He reported having $1.6 million cash on hand after the first quarter, when he took in $395,000.

Jones’ second-quarter haul means she has now raked in $2.2 million since entering the race — already more than the 2016 Democratic nominee, Pete Gallego, raised from start to finish. By comparison, Gallego pulled in $327,000 during the same period of the 2016 cycle, which put his total raised at that point at roughly $1.3 million.

Ortiz Jones joins Lizzie Fletcher in the million-dollar-quarter club. In her press release, she notes that no Democratic candidate has raised more than $2.7 million for CD23 since the district was redrawn in 2006. I think it’s safe to say she will surpass that amount. And she may not be the only one who does.

Then in the afternoon we got MJ Hegar.

MJ Hegar

In the 10 days after long shot Democratic candidate and veteran MJ Hegar published her widely praised viral video, her campaign to unseat U.S. Rep. John Carter, R-Round Rock, raised $750,000. It’s only the latest large fundraising figure reported by a Democratic U.S. House candidate from Texas, but it shows a stunning surge of interest in Hegar’s candidacy.

Hegar will report raising $1.1 million in the second fundraising quarter of the year, her campaign told the Tribune. Most of that came about from the attention drawn to her candidacy by her biographical ad, “Doors,” which has been viewed more than 2.5 million times.

The Hegar news came amid a cascade of robust fundraising numbers from Democrats vying to unseat Texas Republicans in Congress.

[…]

If past is precedent, these candidates will deploy much of this money in fall television ad wars.

Hurd is a perennially strong fundraiser and Sessions is the former chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee – a position that entails raising hundreds of millions of dollars for the national GOP House campaign. Culberson has improved his fundraising over the last year as the viability of the Democratic offensive in his district has taken form. None of these incumbents have released their second quarter numbers. Fundraising reports are due on July 15.

Hegar, however, is in a different category. Her race encompasses conservative areas along Interstate-35 and in the northern Austin suburbs. Carter, the incumbent, was first elected in 2002 and has never faced a serious general election campaign.

But $1 million hauls for individual House campaigns isn’t the status quo in American politics. In past cycles, candidates who raised $300,000-$400,000 were considered top fundraising performers.

Wow. I figured Hegar had a good shot at topping $1 million, but I assumed that would be by the end of the cycle. I didn’t expect her to hit that mark in a single cycle, but then that was one amazing ad. I don’t know how much her haul changes this race – it’s still a considerably redder district than the top tier – but it’s safe to say that CD31 is not a district the Republicans can take for granted. Not this year.

And finally in the evening there was Colin Allred.

Colin Allred

Texas Democratic candidates in four House races are reporting large fundraising hauls for the second quarter of this year, including Colin Allred, who is challenging Dallas Republican Rep. Pete Sessions.

Allred’s campaign said it would report raising almost $1.1 million between April 1 and June 30 for his run for the 5th Congressional District, leaving him with $900,000 cash on hand. Sessions has not yet released his contributions. The filing deadline is Sunday.

The second quarter marked a dramatic increase in Allred’s fundraising. During the first quarter, Allred reported raising $395,286 with $219,627 cash on hand. Allred’s fundraising began to pick up steam after he finished first in the March primary among seven candidates. He defeated Lillian Salerno in the May runoff.

During that period, Sessions reported $605,730 in contributions and $1.5 million cash on hand, according to federal filings.

Remember how I said that Democratic fundraising was way up from 2014, even if that wasn’t apparent from the non-Beto statewide candidates? (We haven’t heard from any of them yet, so that story line could change as well.) I trust my point has been sufficiently illuminated. We also haven’t heard from Joseph Kopser or Todd Litton yet, not to mention Dayna Steele, Jana Sanchez, Sri Kulkarni, Lorie Burch, and Mike Siegel. Fundraising isn’t destiny, but it sure is nice for our candidates to have the resources they need to compete.