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Scouting the opposition in CD07

Not impressed so far.

Rep. Lizzie Fletcher

Facing a roomful of conservative voters at a meet-and-greet earlier this month, Republican Wesley Hunt laid out the stakes for his party’s primary in Texas’ 7th Congressional District.

“This is about putting the best candidate forward who can beat Lizzie Fletcher. Period.” Hunt said.

Republican voters still are smarting from their 2018 loss in this suburban west Houston district, where Fletcher, a Democratic Houston energy lawyer, toppled nine-term GOP incumbent John Culberson. Her five-point win flipped the seat blue for the first time since the 1960s, prompting Republicans to take aim at the district almost as soon as Fletcher took office.

The GOP primary field already has come into focus, setting up a clash between Hunt, an Army veteran who works for Perry Homes, and Cindy Siegel, a former Bellaire mayor and METRO board member. Battle lines are sharpening, but not around the two candidates’ conservative bona fides or the strength of their policy proposals. The early contours of the race instead have centered on the question: Who is best positioned to snatch the seat from Fletcher?

Threatening to upend the primary is the potential candidacy of Pierce Bush, CEO of the nonprofit Big Brothers Big Sisters Houston affiliate and grandson of former president George H.W. Bush, who once represented the district.

Bush in an email earlier this month said he still is mulling a run for the seat and has been “flattered by people who are encouraging me to consider running,” though he did not lay out a deadline for a decision.

Meanwhile, both declared Republicans have their electability pitches ready to go. Hunt, 37, contends the party could use a “new generation of leadership,” and he peppers his stump speech with references to his time as a helicopter pilot in the Army, including his combat deployment to Iraq. Siegel, meanwhile, pitches her governing experience serving on Bellaire city council and as mayor, along with a number of boards and commissions.

Also, she contends that it will take a Republican woman to beat Fletcher.

“I feel that way strongly,” the 64-year-old Siegel said. “It’s coming as no surprise to anyone, on a national basis: Women have moved away from the Republican Party.”

[…]

In 2018, Trump’s name did not appear on the ballot, but scores of voters in Texas’ 7th said they viewed the election as a referendum on the president nonetheless. Now, the president’s down-ballot impact is set to become amplified, for better or worse, with his name likely atop the Republican ticket in 2020.

After the president lost the district to Clinton in 2016, 48 to 47 percent, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee took notice and weighed in heavily on Fletcher’s behalf, spending north of $3.5 million on the seat in 2018.

This time, House Democrats’ campaign arm again figures to play a heavy role, making early attempts to muddy the GOP waters. When Trump visited Houston in April, for instance, the group sent reporters a news release with the subject line: “With Trump in Houston, How Far Will Hunt and Siegel Go to Win Him Over?”

That last bit is more important than who wins this primary, because whoever it is will have Donald Trump as their running mate. Unless the national mood starts souring on Democrats, I think that’s going to be too big an obstacle to overcome.

Beyond that, it’s just too early to have any opinions about these two, or possibly three, candidates. I fully expect one or two other names to pop up, though whether the field expands like it did on the Democratic side in 2018 I couldn’t say. Given the need to raise funds for this race, time is starting to run out for any other wannabes.

Speaking of fundraising, here’s a data point to note for when Hunt and Siegel file their Q2 finance reports. The top four Dem contenders in CD07 raised $1.2 million combined as of July 2017. Fletcher had the second most, with $365K. The eye-popping early numbers all around the country were a leading indicator of Democratic enthusiasm for the 2018 election. I’ll be very interested to see how things look this time around.

One more thing. What happens to CD07 in the 2021 redistricting cycle. Before the 2018 election, when I figured John Culberson would still be the incumbent, my thinking was that Republicans were going to have to shift some of the district out of Harris County – maybe into Montgomery, maybe into western Fort Bend, maybe northwest into what’s now part of CD10 – to keep it red enough for him. At the very least, they’d have to take some of the bluer-and-bluer inner Harris parts out to keep things in their favor. What happens now if Fletcher wins again? Well, they could try this anyway, to take that seat back by other means. Redistricting doesn’t happen in a vacuum, though, and with CDs 02, 10, and 22 all getting competitive it might be too much to save everyone, especially in a solidly blue Harris County and a much more balanced state as a whole. It would not shock me if the Republicans basically gave up on CD07 and used parts of it to shore up those other districts, especially CD02. That’s more or less what they did with the State House in 2011, making HD133 (which they had lost in 2008) redder while making HDs 137 and 149 bluer. Incumbent protection is still a thing that matters, and in a state with fewer safe Republicans, it may matter more than ever. Just a thought.

In which I plead for a boon from national writers

Dear national political writers:

MJ Hegar

The former Texas congressman and one-time Senate hopeful has attended at least 67 Iowa town halls, driven nearly 3,000 miles across the state, and hired dozens of staffers there. He’s tall, white, charismatic, and handsome—traits that should serve him well in the famously monochromatic Hawkeye State.

And yet, in the latest Des Moines Register poll, O’Rourke only has 2 percent support. He’s also not faring much better in national polling, where he hovers around 3-4 percent, and his numbers have sharply declined since an early and splashy entry into the race.

Perhaps worst for O’Rourke is that his strategic persona—youthful, well-spoken, vaguely left-liberal, smart yet inoffensive—is being done better and more effectively by South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, who has surged to a top-five position in the race. Nor does O’Rourke’s presence in the campaign, unlike other candidates like Washington Governor Jay Inslee, serve to highlight issues that would make his candidacy worth the effort even in defeat.

Fortunately for O’Rourke and for Democrats, there is another useful path for him, one that would serve the country far better: making another run for the U.S. Senate against Republican John Cornyn. The filing deadlineisn’t until December 9, which gives him plenty of time to reconsider. And a large number of Texas Democrats would like to see him come back home to do it.

Please, for the love of Molly Ivins, if you must opine about how Beto shoulda run for Senate, could you at least acknowledge, even in passing, that there’s already a strong and exciting Democratic candidate in the race? Like Beto, MJ Hegar raised a ton of money in 2018. Like Beto, MJ Hegar was a viral sensation who drew a lot of favorable press during her campaign. Like Beto, Hegar came very close (within two points in Beto’s case, within three points in MJ’s) of knocking off a Republican incumbent in a race that was originally on no one’s radar. Indeed, MJ Hegar arguably had the more impressive performance, as Trump carried CD31 by 12.5 points while winning statewide by only 9 points. Any way you look at it, Hegar is at least as well positioned to do well at this point in time as Beto was in 2017.

Now, if you want to argue that Beto would be the stronger candidate against John Cornyn, by virtue of his previous experience running statewide and his national profile, that’s fine…as long as you are arguing for Beto versus MJ Hegar, not Beto versus an existential void. My point here, and all that I’m asking, is that you argue based on the situation that actually exists, not the situation you seem to be imagining because you’re not paying attention or because you have a bee in your bonnet about the size of the Democratic Presidential field or Beto’s not-great Presidential rollout or whatever. Beto may well be, or have been, the best candidate to beat John Cornyn, and Lord knows the Dems need to win every Senate seat they can to have a hope of actually governing. But Beto is not the candidate who is running. Please, I beg of you, give me some reason to believe that you are aware of that fact. That’s all I’m asking.

UPDATE: And in the short period of time between drafting this and scheduling it for publication, this story from The Hill arrives. At least it quotes someone who notes that anyone who puts in the work that Beto did in 2018 could win, as Texas is “fundamentally competitive”. I’ll try to be okay with that.

Joaquin is out for Senate

In the end, it’s hard to see this as a surprise.

Rep. Joaquin Castro

U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro has decided not to seek the Democratic nomination to challenge Sen. John Cornyn, choosing instead to continue pursuing a fast-rising career in Congress focusing on security and border issues.

Castro’s decision could pave the way for a contest in 2020 between Cornyn and Mary Jennings “MJ” Hegar, an Afghanistan war veteran who ran a strong but losing race for Congress last year and who declared her candidacy last week.

Castro, 44, of San Antonio, announced his decision to stay out of the race in an interview with Hearst Newspapers.

“Right now, I’m going to focus on my work in the House of Representatives. I’ve been doing what I feel is important and meaningful work here,” he said. “If and when I run for another office, it is likely to be something that takes me back home to Texas.”

[…]

His brother’s presidential campaign could have been helpful to Castro, creating excitement among Latino voters and national attention to the unprecedented effort of twins seeking high office.

But Joaquin Castro’s race also might have produced the uncomfortable scenario of extraordinarily close brothers parting ways on issues.

Joaquin Castro also had a ringside seat to his brother’s struggles to raise money, reporting a modest $1.1 million in receipts in the first three months of 2019. Thus far, Joaquin Castro has paid little attention to his own fundraising, bringing in just $36,000 in the first quarter, his Federal Election Commission report shows.

He said he is impressed with Hegar and others considering the race. “And like I have for many years, I’ll do everything I can to help our Democratic nominee win,” he said.

Barring another surprise at this point, that nominee will be MJ Hegar. The straws were in the wind after Hegar made her announcement. In a way, we’ve come full circle. When we started this cycle, I thought Joaquin Castro would be the best non-Beto option for Senate, but I also thought he’d stay put on the grounds that he’d be giving up too much for an iffy shot at a promotion. I should etch those words into a plaque and hang it on my wall, so I can enjoy being right about something till the end of time. I also noted that MJ Hegar was my next choice, so that all worked out pretty well.

I can totally understand why Joaquin Castro chose not to run. What I can’t understand is why we went through this whole “he’s in!” “he’s surely gonna be in as his friends give him a public pep talk” “um, someone else is in now what in the world is he doing?” “nvm, he’s out” cycle. Maybe someday someone close to him will spill the whole story to a reporter. The main lesson to learn here is don’t allow a story about how you are probably going to run for some higher office to get published unless you have a clear plan and a short time frame for following it up with a definitive answer. People are going to remember this, and when the 2022 and 2024 cycles come around and talk begins about who might run for what (Ted Cruz will be up again in 2024), there will be a strong tendency among the faithful to roll their eyes at the mention of Joaquin Castro. I hate to say this, but he may be on a path to John Sharp status.

One more thing, from the Trib:

Hegar is one of four Democrats who have announced they are running against Cornyn. The others are Michael Cooper, Sema Hernandez and Adrian Ocegueda.

Houston City Councilwoman Amanda Edwards has also said she is considering a run for the seat, and state Sen. Royce West of Dallas has been discussed as a potential candidate. Shortly after Castro announced his decision Wednesday, West told the Tribune that he is focused on the current legislative session and its two big issues: school finance and property tax reform.

I’m not at all surprised about Royce West not being a candidate. He was a very recent mention, and my guess is that it came up from speculation generated by Castro’s dithering rather than an actual desire on West’s part to run statewide. As for Amanda Edwards, I’d say the clock is ticking. MJ Hegar is now raising money and getting a bunch of press, and may soon have Emily’s List in her corner. Make a decision one way or the other. Finally, I stress again that Hegar needs to be running hard now, not just for November but also for March. Don’t let these no-hope candidates get primary votes by virtue of primary voters not knowing who you are. Texas Monthly and the Current have more.

Today is Joaquin Castro Decision Day

At least, that’s what we were told last week. Maybe it won’t be today but a few days later. In any event, it’s safe to say that expectations are not high right now.

Rep. Joaquin Castro

“I would say at this point, he’s not going to run,” said Mark Jones, a political science professor at Rice University.

One Democratic operative who spoke on condition of anonymity put the odds at 50-50 but added, “If somebody bet me $50 he’s running, I wouldn’t take it.”

Castro, who still has his admirers, has promised supporters he will announce his decision by the first week of May.

But to many observers, the signs are clear that he is already out of the running — and a lot of it has to do with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.

[…]

Schumer, who sources said had been frustrated by Castro’s indecisiveness, has taken an outsized interest in defeating Cornyn, the former majority whip. Earlier this year, Schumer tried to recruit Beto O’Rourke, who nearly defeated U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, in 2018.

When O’Rourke made it clear he was running for president, Schumer interviewed Castro and then summoned Hegar to Washington.

Hegar was bolstered by polling done by the Senate Democratic Campaign Committee and Emily’s List, a PAC that supports female pro-choice candidates, that showed her with a wide lead over Castro, according to three sources who had been briefed on the private polling.

Schumer’s stance does not prevent Castro from running, although the leader has made clear that Hegar is his preference, say Democratic sources who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.

“I don’t think Schumer was ever for Castro,” one Democratic operative who has spoken privately with the Senate leader told the American-Statesman. “He felt it was a mistake for both Castro brothers to run. Schumer never did think that (Joaquin) Castro was the right choice.”

[…]

“A lot of us wish he would decide,” said Matt Angle, director of the Lone Star Project, a Democratic PAC. He added that many Texas Democrats were “scratching their heads” at the delay.

“This is a cold-blooded business. In Texas, it’s a $50 million proposition to run for U.S. Senate,” he said

Donors are already deciding. Aimee Cunningham, an Austin philanthropist and Democratic contributor, told the American-Statesman that she has been a longtime Castro supporter but supported Hegar, as well, in 2018, and urged the military vet to run for office again.

“I told Joaquin that if MJ ran for Senate, I would have to enthusiastically support her,” Cunningham said.

Latino lawmakers who want a Hispanic candidate near the top of the ballot in Texas, in a presidential year with anticipated high turnout, are particularly upset by Castro’s delay.

“Incredibly indecisive, and you can use that,” said U.S. Rep. Filemon Vela, D-Brownsville, by text, adding that he was “exasperated” with Castro.

Brandon Rottinghaus, professor of political science at the University of Houston, said, “The line between caution and indecisiveness can be hammered pretty thin, and it is pretty much see-through at this point for Castro.”

This story came out the same day as others that were asking the same questions, but I didn’t see it at the time, and this one has more details. I’m sure people won’t be thrilled with Chuck Schumer’s involvement, but at least he’s invested in beating John Cornyn. The bottom line is that the story about Castro being “all but certain” to be in for Senate was in mid-March, more than six weeks ago. Usually, when you see a story like that, it’s followed up withing a couple of days with something official. It means a decision has been made, and the announcement will happen once the last few loose ends have been tied up. It doesn’t take this long. I have no idea what was happening here, but it’s hard to escape the impression that the initial story, which I presume was the result of some authorized person giving the big-picture view so that the ground could be laid for the forthcoming announcement, came before the decision was made. Maybe we’ll find out, maybe we won’t. Whatever the case, something went wrong.

None of this means Joaquin Castro can’t or shouldn’t announce for Senate. He’s lost most of the advantage he would have had if he had followed the expected script and timetable, but he’s still an incumbent Congressman with a built-in base and some establishment support awaiting him. Give him a splashy rollout of his own, followed by strong fundraising for the rest of the quarter (and going forward), and this little episode will fade away. I would advise being quick about it, but after that there’s plenty of time to get back on track. It still fundamentally comes back to what Joaquin Castro wants to do, and when he’s prepared to tell us about it.

Two items about MJ Hegar and John Cornyn

Ross Ramsey makes an obvious but necessary point about the fight MJ Hegar hopes to have with John Cornyn.

MJ Hegar

It was money that made [Hegar’s close race in 2018 against Rep. John Carter] possible, just as money made O’Rourke’s challenge to U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz last year. O’Rourke had a lot going for him then, as Hegar does now. He’s got a knack for getting attention. His 254-county tour of Texas got him a lot of notice. Cruz is popular with Texas Republicans and gets the full-throated support of the loud ones. But he has the opposite effect on Democrats and Democratic activists. In the early days of the race, when the average Texan could pass O’Rourke in a parking lot without noticing him, the El Paso Democrat was already running pretty well against Cruz.

In a University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll a year before the election, 69% of Texans had no real impression of O’Rourke; only 17% didn’t view Cruz positively or negatively. In another UT/TT Poll in March of this year, the neutral opinions of O’Rourke — one measure of his recognizability — had dropped to 12 percent.

One of the many things that happened between point A and point B on the O’Rourke timeline was $70 million in campaigning. He was a good candidate, but money made him a threat.

Hegar’s congressional race was probably a beneficiary of whatever Democratic momentum O’Rourke built up. But she also had money, a good story and, in her case, a less energetic incumbent to knock off. If she’d pulled a few more votes in veteran-heavy Bell County — she’s a veteran, too, which is why the door from the helicopter she flew in Afghanistan is in her dining room — she might be in Congress today.

Hegar had to wrestle her way to Carter, finishing first in last year’s Democratic primary and then prevailing in a runoff with Christine Eady Mann. She’s the most serious Democrat to enter the race with Cornyn, but U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-San Antonio, has been openly considering a run.

The two face obstacles O’Rourke overcame, starting with introductions. Neither has run a statewide campaign, and both can expect to see a lot of strangers on their way to a 2020 race.

So yes, MJ Hegar is going to have to raise a lot of money to make sure the voters know who she is, and why she’s the better choice to represent them. As I’ve said, she needs to start raising this money now so she can spend some of it for the primary, regardless of whether or not Joaquin Castro or anyone else gets in, because there will be an awful lot of people casting votes in the 2020 Democratic primary, and it would be nice (read: it is vitally necessary) if those voters know who she is.

One thing I’m not worried about is how Hegar will respond to the farrago of baloney that is already coming her way from the right wing noise machine.

As U.S. Sen. John Cornyn derides her as “Hollywood Hegar,” his newest Democratic challenger, MJ Hegar, says she’s not backing away from her celebrity fans — including comedian Patton Oswalt — and is happy to debate the Republican incumbent on the sources of their support.

“Not at all,” Hegar said in an interview Friday when asked if she felt the need to account for the high-profile backers. “I think it’s very clear to be able to be a working-class mom of two and veteran and to be able to take on an entrenched, establishment, dark money-backed Washington lackey, that I’m gonna have to be able to excite people and gain momentum and gain attention and get people excited and energized. I’m proud of my ability to do that and I’m frankly surprised that he wants to start the conversation by looking into where we get our support from.”

Citing Cornyn’s contributions from corporate PACs, the National Rifle Association and the pharmaceutical industry, Hegar added, “We can talk all day about where our support is coming from.”

That’s the way you do it. Now go raise a bunch of money so you can say that directly to the voters.

April 2019 campaign finance reports: Congress

It’s April, and that means it’s time once again to review campaign finance reports for Congressional candidates. The January roundup is here, which closed out the 2017-18 election cycle; these reports are the first ones for the 2019-20 cycle. A list of all Texas Democratic Congressional candidate campaign reports is here. A few points to note before we get started:

– FEC reports are cumulative for the cycle, so each number reported – raised, spent, on hand – is the current total for the entire cycle. Other systems – for Texas, for Harris County, for Houston, for HISD and HCC – are for that period only, though the cash on hand total will be as of that report. The point here is that for that cycle, raised + loans – spent = cash on hand for FEC reports, but not for other reports. For other reports, subtract the amount spent from the amount raised, then add or subtract as needed from the previous report’s cash on hand amount, and you should get the current cash on hand amount. Unless there are loans involved, in which case it gets more complicated. Trust me on this.

– Cash on hand carries over from 2018, however. For candidates that ran in 2018, that means that the “raised minus spent” total needs to be applied to the cash on hand amount from the previous cycle, and the same process as described above for other systems is what you need to use.

– Some of these reports are broken out by cycle, so for some candidates who were also on the ballot in 2018 you can choose to see the 2017-18 cycle or the 2019-20 period. Others, like for Mike Siegel and Sri Kulkarni, are not. This may be a function of timing, as it was originally the case that only the winners from 2018 (Lizzie Fletcher and Colin Allred) were done this way, but now others are as well. If so, then this will eventually be how it is for Siegal and Kulkarni.

– The report below for MJ Hegar is her Senate finance report. Her Congressional finance report from 2018 is separate. She did carry over her cash on hand from that cycle, as noted above. If Joaquin Castro does run for Senate, the linked report below will not be the one used for his Senate campaign.

– Most serious candidates from 2018 appeared during Q2 of 2017, so the short list of candidates now is to be expected. Look for this list to grow in the Q2 and Q3 roundups. Some announced candidates, like Kim Olson and Candace Valenzuela in CD24, either did not do any Q1 fundraising or were not yet officially in the race.

I think that covers everything. Here are the reports:

MJ Hegar – Senate
Joaquin Castro – CD20/Senate?

Lizzie Fletcher – CD07
Colin Allred – CD32

Todd Litton – CD02
Elisa Cardnell – CD02
Lori Burch – CD03
Mike Siegel – CD10
Pritesh Gandhi – CD10
Sri Kulkarni – CD22
Nyanza Moore – CD22
Gina Ortiz Jones – CD23
Liz Wahl – CD23
Jan McDowell – CD24
Julie Oliver – CD25
Carol Ianuzzi – CD26


Dist  Name             Raised      Spent    Loans    On Hand
============================================================
20    Castro           36,028     77,076        0     87,572
      Hegar             2,281     12,858        0     36,904

07    Fletcher        582,918     79,831        0    545,154
32    Allred          530,399    106,816        0    527,027


02    Litton            2,346     12,221        0     11,157
02    Cardnell         19,697      3,750        0     16,046
03    Burch            41,623     16,006   20,149     24,339
10    Siegel          143,232     44,081        0    102,641
10    Gandhi          162,380      5,320        0    157,059
22    Kulkarni              0     14,539        0     13,228
22    Moore            43,561     24,932        0     18,583
23    Ortiz Jones           0     14,828        0    103,518
23    Wahl              4,581      3,304        0      1,277
24    McDowell         15,193     13,515        0     14,998
25    Oliver           
26    Ianuzzi          47,731     12,465   40,695     35,266

New names here include Elise Cardnell, Pritesh Gandhi, Nyanza Moore, Liz Wahl, and Carol Ianuzzi. Mike Siegel and Sri Kulkarni are repeat candidates from 2018 that we have already noted. For the others, Julie Oliver is back, Lorie Burch is back, Gina Ortiz Jones is reportedly back, Jan McDowell is back and appears to be raising money as she never quite did in 2018. I don’t know if Todd Litton is back or not, but I included him here just in case. It’s possible there are some other active candidates among the no-money-raised reports included on the FEC summary page, but I’m not going to sweat that now. We’ll know much more when the Q2 reports come out. For now, this is what we have.

So what’s with Joaquin?

Nobody knows but him.

Rep. Joaquin Castro

From the nation’s capitol to the state capitol, the scuttlebutt was that Democratic U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro would announce within days — if not hours — his campaign for U.S. Senate.

That was four weeks ago.

Back then, practically everyone in politics assumed his challenge to U.S. Sen. John Cornyn was inevitable. More than a handful of political allies rushed to publicly and privately add their political clout to his potential campaign, with the belief that a long-pined-for statewide Castro campaign would be unstoppable.

Now, over a dozen Texas and national Democrats say they are increasingly skeptical that Castro will run at all.

Those allies are baffled and frustrated with the the lack of political clarity coming from the Castro camp, especially given that veteran M.J. Hegar announced her own run for the Democratic nomination earlier this week.

One of Castro’s closest friends in the Congressional delegation, Filemon Vela, went so far as joining a draft Castro campaign. This is the second time Vela has thrown his support behind his colleague. Castro similarly spent the spring of 2017 publicly mulling a run against Ted Cruz, the state’s junior senator, only to return his focus on the U.S. House. Vela texted the Tribune on Wednesday that he is “exasperated with the indecision” — an oft-repeated sentiment that a half-dozen state and national Democrats expressed privately.

But an announcement is nigh. Castro will announce his decision by Wednesday, according to his top political aide, Matthew Jones.

[…]

Several news reports in mid-March stated that Castro’s announcement was imminent. Politicians across the state began to organize around the notion of Castro running for Senate, trying to avoid holding major events on speculated dates when he might announce. Up in Washington, House Democratic leaders were sizing up potential candidates who might run to succeed him in his San Antonio-based Congressional seat.

And then, according to nearly a dozen state and national Democrats interviewed for this story, Castro went quiet.

Patience wore thin in mid-April when Castro filed his quarterly campaign finance reports.

U.S. House members have a unique advantage when running for Senate: They can raise money for their House campaigns without officially announcing for the upper chamber. Once he or she makes those Senate intentions known, the member can then transfer the House money to their Senate accounts. Oftentimes, House members will put out the message they are running in order to raise their profiles and coffers, only to pull back.

Castro’s filing showed he raised $36,000, a sum that could barely cover the cost of a statewide poll in Texas. In comparison, then-U.S. Rep. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona raised $677,000 in the same window two years ago as she geared up for her eventual Senate run.

See here, here, and here for some background, here for Hegar’s announcement, and here for Castro’s finance report. Hegar has barely raised anything so far – she has $36K left from the 2018 cycle after disbursements from Q1 are factored in – but she wasn’t a candidate yet, so that’s not a surprise. My guess is she’ll make up for it quickly, and I’d expect Emily’s List to jump in soon. As for Joaquin, we’ve been over this several times. The main lesson here is that if you’re not moving forward then someone else is, and your window of opportunity may close faster than you think it will. We’ll see about that on Wednesday, maybe. In the meantime:

Besides Hegar, Houston City Councilwoman Amanda Edwards is still considering a run. Two Dallas sources tell the Tribune that state Sen. Royce West has had recent conversations about his own potential run. And businesswoman Sema Hernandez is running again, after giving O’Rourke a run for his money in several Rio Grande Valley counties.

Amanda Edwards we know about. This is the first I’ve heard about Royce West, who was re-elected in 2018 and thus would not have to give up his seat to take a shot at this next year. I’ll wait to hear more about his potential interest before I make any judgments. As for Sema Hernandez, wake me when she files a campaign finance report. Until then, she’s a name on the ballot who will get a few votes from people who don’t know who any of the candidates are, and nothing more than that.

Hegar is in for the Senate

Boom.

MJ Hegar

Former Democratic congressional candidate MJ Hegar is running for U.S. Senate in 2020.

Hegar, a former Air Force helicopter pilot, mounted a high-profile bid to unseat U.S. Rep. John Carter, R-Round Rock, in November, fueled by attention-grabbing ads and massive fundraising. She ended up losing by less than 3 percentage points in the traditionally Republican district.

“Texans deserve a senator who represents our values, strength, courage, independence — putting Texas first,” Hegar said in an announcement video made in the style of her 2018 ads. “I didn’t get a pilot slot my first time trying. We Texans don’t give up easy, and everything we’ve accomplished is just the beginning.”

In the video, a motorcycle-riding Hegar emphasized Cornyn’s closeness with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. Through last year, the Texan served as McConnell’s majority whip, making him the second highest-ranking Republican in the Senate.

“For those of you who don’t know, Sen. John Cornyn, he’s that tall guy lurching behind Mitch McConnell in basically every single video,” Hegar said. “He calls himself Big John, but he shrinks out of the way while Mitch McConnell gets in the way of anything actually getting done in our government.”

[…]

To take on Cornyn, Hegar could face a competitive primary with U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro of San Antonio, who has said he is considering a run and will make an announcement soon. Another Democratic elected official, Houston City Councilmember Amanda Edwards, has also said she is mulling a campaign.

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

I’m going to bullet-point this:

– Apparently, I’ve been saying MJ Hegar’s name wrong all this time. It’s “Hey-gar”, not “Hee-gar”, as I’ve been intoning it. I guess her pronunciation of her name in the “Doors” video didn’t make an impression on me.

– With all the attention that’s been paid to a Joaquin Castro candidacy, you have to wonder if Hegar jumping in before he (apparently) makes up his mind will cause him to reconsider. It’s one thing to give up a safe Congressional seat as a member of the majority party with some seniority for at best a coin flip shot at a Senate seat. It’s a whole ‘nother thing to give it up for a coin flip shot at getting that coin flip shot. I have no idea what Castro wants to do, but not having a clear path to the nomination has to make him recalculate his risk/benefit analysis.

– Regardless of whether Castro gets into the race or not, I can’t stress enough the importance of Hegar running a real campaign for the primary. That’s especially true if her only opponents are the no-names currently in the race, plus maybe some others like them. The history of Democrats voting for non-viable candidates in primaries because they have no idea who they’re voting for is long and grisly, and even when it doesn’t lead to the likes of Gene Kelly and Jim Hogan on the November ballot, it far too often leads to embarrassing questions about the lackluster vote totals for the anointed choices. (See: Beto O’ Rourke 2018, Wendy Davis 2014, Rick Noriega 2008, etc etc etc.) I can’t emphasize this enough: MJ Hegar not only needs to start raising money now, she needs to plan to spend a bunch of it between now and March. I don’t care how viral she was in 2018. I guarantee you, she needs to start introducing herself to voters, because she won’t like what happens if the voters don’t know who she is.

– I mean, turnout for the Dem primary in 2020 is going to be off the charts. It’s going to make 2008 look antiquated. Texas is going to play a big role in picking the Democratic Presidential nominee. An awful lot of people who are not in CD31 – millions, quite likely – will be voting in March. MJ Hegar needs to make sure they all know her name. This, more than anything else, is the reason why a high-profile, well-funded, contested primary among quality candidates is a good thing and not a bad thing. It’s the surest way to make sure that the voters do know who their candidates are.

– On a side note, I have no idea who Plan B is for CD31. Doesn’t mean there isn’t someone out there, but it’s more likely than not that we don’t know who that person is yet. Alternately, CD31 may slide off the top tier pickup list, which would be a shame. I sure hope we find someone who can do half as well at exciting voters in CD31 as Hegar did in 218.

– The Republicans may express a lot of bravado about their odds of winning, but they’re not taking anything for granted. I got not one but two screeching press releases from the state GOP in the first few hours following Hegar’s announcement, including one that hilariously called on her to “disavow support from Patton Oswalt”. (No, I don’t know why. Life is too short to read stupid press releases.)

– Finally, as a friend said on Facebook, this race needs to be about Donald Trump. Lots of people turned out in 2018 to vote against Donald Trump. We need all of them and about a million more to do it again in 2020. If we do that, MJ Hegar, or Joaquin Castro, maybe even Amanda Edwards, can beat John Cornyn. Mother Jones, Daily Kos, and the Chron have more.

They’re coming for Cornyn

Let’s bring it on.

Big John Cornyn

Texas Democrats are launching a multimillion-dollar initiative to help take down U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, regardless of who they ultimately choose as their nominee next year.

Emboldened after their gains in 2018 — including the closer-than-expected Senate race between U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz and Beto O’Rourke — the state party is establishing a “Cornyn War Room” to “define Cornyn before he defines himself,” according to a memo. It is unlike anything the party has done in recent history surrounding a U.S. Senate race, and it reflects the urgency with which Texas Democrats are approaching a potentially pivotal election cycle.

“In 2020, we must seize the opportunity to flip Texas,” says the memo from the state party, which was obtained by The Texas Tribune. It cites recent polling that found Texas “essentially tied” in the 2020 presidential election and that 64 percent of voters do not know or dislike Cornyn. “We cannot wait for the primary dust to settle before we launch our attacks on John Cornyn.”

The project, the memo adds, will “define Cornyn and reveal him for what he is — a coward, afraid of shadows on his right and left.”

The offensive has five fronts: digital, communications, messaging and polling, research, and data and targeting. There will be staff dedicated to the project and coordination with affiliated groups, county parties and activists.

The memo says the effort is “funded, in part, by record-breaking fundraising, including the most successful February totals in Texas Democratic Party history.” The memo does not specify the figures.

[…]

Several prominent Democrats are considering challenging Cornyn, perhaps most notably U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro of San Antonio and former congressional candidate M.J. Hegar, who said Tuesday she is “taking a very close look” at the race. Three lower-profile Democrats have already declared their candidacies.

With no disrespect intended to MJ Hegar, just as it was my assumption that the Senate race was Beto’s if he wanted it, it is now my assumption that it’s Joaquin’s if he wants it. Doesn’t mean anyone else has to agree with that, just that I’d expect the establishment – most of it, anyway – would fall in line with Joaquin if he follows through on his reported interest in the race. Some people are already in line, they just need Joaquin to get to the head of it. My guess is that Hegar’s “close look” is at least one part a “just in case Joaquin doesn’t run” contingency. Someone has to get to the front of that line, after all. But she might jump in anyway, and if she does she’d be formidable, and might put Joaquin on the spot. My advice to him would be to make his mind up quickly. Easy for me to say, I know, but still.

The polls in question don’t really mean much – the “essentially tied” poll tested Cornyn versus Beto, not Cornyn versus anyone else or Cornyn versus a generic Dem – but compared to what we’re used to, they’re not bad at all. The bottom line is that the conventional wisdom at this time is that Texas will be competitive in 2020. I don’t know about you, but I feel like I need to sit down every time I say that. We are in exciting times.

What the rest of this means remains to be seen. Beto’s campaign in 2018 was singular, and I have no idea how much of it is foundational to this effort. Be that as it may, this is the sort of thing that a viable, competitive statewide party needs to be doing, and having the resources for it is fantastic. I’ll be keeping an eye on this. See the TDP statement for more.

Kulkarni 2.0

Glad to see this.

Sri Kulkarni

Democrat Sri Kulkarni, an ex-foreign service officer who last year came within five points of unseating U.S. Rep. Pete Olson, announced Thursday he is challenging the Sugar Land Republican anew in Texas’ 22nd Congressional District.

Making his first run for office in 2018, Kulkarni drew attention by repeatedly out fundraising Olson and forming a multilingual campaign team to take aim at the district’s highly diverse population. He ultimately lost by more than 14,000 votes, or about 4.9 percentage points.

To bridge the gap, Kulkarni said his efforts will largely revolve around registering new voters in the district, where he has identified roughly 70,000 unregistered residents who are eligible to vote. Kulkarni also intends to reach more low-propensity voters this cycle, he said, and harness lingering energy from his prior campaign by jumping in only five months after the November midterms.

“We have people who are pumped up to come out and knock on doors right now, and we’re a year and a half away from the election,” Kulkarni said. “People wanted change in this district, and since we’ve built all that infrastructure, it would be a waste to start from scratch.”

Before he can set his sights on Olson, however, Kulkarni must first get past the Democratic primary, where he already faces two opponents. Nyanza Moore, a Fox 26 political commentator, and Joe Walz, an Army veteran, each are seeking the Democratic nomination.

Whoever emerges to face the Republican nominee will likely begin with better odds than Kulkarni did in 2018. Viewed for years as a longshot for Democrats, the district has made it onto the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s 2020 battleground map, an early indication that national Democrats are willing to put resources into flipping the seat.

There’s definitely room to grow in a district that wasn’t at all on the national radar last year, but got more attention as the situation in Texas became clearer. I suspect that the promise of DCCC support for CD22 is contingent on Kulkarni winning the primary, as he has proven himself to be a strong candidate, though if one of the other two beats him I’m sure they’ll get a chance to prove themselves as well. With all due respect, I’d prefer Kulkarni, as would a number of elected officials and other party figures who have endorsed him. I’m looking forward to reviewing the FEC reports for Congressional candidates again.

Precinct analysis: 2018 Congress

The 2018 Congressional races were the most expensive, the most hotly and broadly contested, and by far the most attention-grabbing races in the non-Beto division. We hadn’t seen anything remotely like it since the 2004 DeLay re-redistricting year, but we will see another round of it next year. Let’s break it all down, starting with the two districts where Dems picked up seats.


Dist  18 Dem    Beto    Lupe Collier  Nelson   Olson McAllen
============================================================
CD07   52.5%   53.3%   45.8%   51.3%   52.3%   51.4%   45.9%
CD32   52.3%   54.9%   46.3%   51.6%   52.8%   51.3%   47.3%

Note that while Lizzie Fletcher had a slightly higher percentage than Colin Allred, Allred had a larger margin of victory, as there was a Libertarian candidate in CD32 who took two percent, thus giving Allred a six-and-a-half point win. As with the State Senate, I don’t believe these districts shift as far as they do in a Democratic direction without a significant number of habitual Republicans voting for Democratic candidates. Turnout was certainly a factor in the overall result, and that was driven by voter registration and relentless GOTV efforts, but these districts were plenty red below the Presidential level in 2016. Republicans other than Trump were still carrying these districts by double digits. And even in 2018, you can see that Republicans that didn’t carry a significant amount of Trump taint still did well. I believe conditions in 2020 will be similar to what they were in 2018 and as such make Fletcher and Allred early favorite to win. Ask me again next year at this time.


Dist  18 Dem    Beto    Lupe Collier  Nelson   Olson McAllen
============================================================
CD10   46.8%   49.6%   43.9%   47.9%   48.4%   47.7%   44.9%
CD23   48.7%   52.1%   45.7%   49.4%   50.4%   50.3%   48.0%
CD24   47.5%   51.3%   43.7%   48.1%   49.2%   48.1%   44.9%

These are the districts Beto won but Republicans held. As SD08 was the Senate district that got away, so was CD24 for Congress. The difference is that SD08 had a candidate that raised money and had a visible campaign, with SD08 being far enough down the target list that no one really saw it coming as a close race. CD24 should have been on the list after 2016, but for whatever the reason it wasn’t. You just have to wonder what might have been. Mike Siegel did a good job with CD10 and will be back in 2018, hopefully with more help from the beginning. I still don’t know what to make of CD23, which was clearly winnable on paper but wasn’t as Democratic as I thought it would be given the overall conditions. Someone needs to do a deep dive and figure that out, or we’re going to keep pouring in millions of dollars and getting close losses to Will Hurd, who still hasn’t topped fifty percent in any race he’s run. Gina Ortiz Jones seems poised to run again, though I expect she’ll have company in the primary.


Dist  18 Dem    Beto    Lupe Collier  Nelson   Olson McAllen
============================================================
CD02   45.6%   49.0%   42.7%   47.0%   47.8%   47.2%   43.2%
CD03   44.2%   47.9%   40.5%   45.0%   46.0%   44.5%   41.8%
CD06   45.4%   48.0%   42.2%   46.1%   46.7%   46.0%   43.5%
CD21   47.6%   49.5%   42.8%   46.8%   47.8%   46.9%   43.4%
CD22   46.4%   49.3%   42.9%   46.9%   47.9%   47.9%   44.6%
CD25   44.8%   47.0%   40.6%   45.0%   45.7%   44.6%   41.8%
CD31   47.7%   48.4%   41.5%   45.5%   46.4%   45.3%   42.9%

These were the other competitive districts; each Dem finished within ten points of the Republican winner. CDs 21, 22, and 31 are on the DCCC list for 2020. Honestly, I think all seven of these deserve at least second-tier consideration. Note that MJ Hegar outperformed every Dem other than Beto, while Joe Kopser outperformed them all other than Beto and Justin Nelson. Only Lizzie Fletcher and Colin Allred can make those claims. If Texas really is winnable by the Democratic Presidential nominee, well, you can imagine the possibilities. Keep an eye on CD02, which I believe will benefit from being in Harris County in a Presidential year, and CD03, where Collin County will have a couple of hot State House races.


Dist  18 Dem    Beto    Lupe Collier  Nelson   Olson McAllen
============================================================
CD12   33.9%   39.1%   33.5%   37.0%   37.6%   36.7%   34.2%
CD14   39.3%   41.1%   36.8%   40.2%   40.7%   40.6%   38.4%
CD17   41.3%   44.8%   39.3%   43.6%   43.4%   42.9%   40.1%
CD26   39.0%   42.5%   35.8%   39.6%   40.3%   39.2%   36.4%
CD27   36.6%   38.9%   33.0%   38.0%   38.3%   38.5%   36.0%
CD36   27.4%   28.0%   24.5%   28.0%   28.0%   27.8%   25.7%

These are the other races I followed, mostly because the candidates managed to raise a respectable – or, in Dayna Steele’s case, a truly remarkable – amount of money. CD17, which is mostly Brazos and McLennan and a piece of Travis counties, and CD26, which is mostly Denton with a bit of Tarrant, might bear watching in the way that CDs 03 and 25 did last year, if they get energetic and interesting candidates. It would take something truly seismic for more than that to happen.


Dist  18 Dem    Beto    Lupe Collier  Nelson   Olson McAllen
============================================================
CD15   59.7%   57.4%   51.3%   55.7%   56.8%   56.4%   56.2%
CD28      NA   58.7%   52.7%   57.0%   58.5%   57.8%   56.6%
CD34   60.0%   57.7%   50.1%   55.8%   57.0%   56.8%   55.9%

We’ll see something like this in the State House races as well, but Republicans do have some Democrats to target beyond Fletcher and Allred. I don’t think 2020 is the year for a real challenge, but in a bad year for Team Blue you can see where you’d need to concentrate your concern. Keep your eyes open for shenanigans with these districts when 2021 rolls around and new maps are drawn. I’d call that the real short-term danger.

Beto’s first day haul

He’s still got it.

Beto O’Rourke

Beto O’Rourke raised $6.1 million for his presidential campaign in his first 24 hours as a candidate, beating every other 2020 Democrat who has disclosed first-day figures, according to his campaign.

The haul surpasses that of U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., who raised $5.9 million in the 24 hours after his campaign launch.

O’Rourke’s campaign said the $6.1 million came from online contributions. He also said that he didn’t take any political action committee money — just like during his U.S. Senate campaign last year — and that he received contributions from every state and territory in the nation.

“In just 24 hours, Americans across this country came together to prove that it is possible to run a true grassroots campaign for president — a campaign by all of us for all of us that answers not to the PACs, corporations and special interests but to the people,” O’Rourke said in a statement.

I don’t particularly care about Presidential fundraising numbers, and I especially don’t much care about one day totals. I’m also steadfastly unattached in the primary right now – I’ll be voting for the nominee next November, and I’ll figure out who I want that to be when I’m good and ready. After the splashy announcement and quick reminder from the national press that he wasn’t in El Paso any more, there was a flood of hot takes about Beto’s ability to translate his appeal to the rest of the country and breathless speculation about what his initial reluctance to report an estimate of his take, and I must confess I enjoyed the subsequent dunking and “this one didn’t age well” responses on Twitter. Presidential campaigns are death marches, so you’ve gotta find your bliss where you can. I will now return to benignly neglecting the Presidential drama, at least for the most part.

What about Wendy?

If not Beto and not Joaquin

Wendy Davis

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

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

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

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

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

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

One more thing:

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

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

January 2019 campaign finance reports: Congress

We come to the last of our January finance report roundups. The next one will be in April, for Congressional candidates, which will be our first indicator of who among the repeaters and the newcomers has gotten off to a fast start and who is still biding their time. This post covers the last three months of 2018, though as always remember that unlike other systems, the FEC reports are cumulative for the cycle. You have to compare to earlier reports to see how much was raised and spent in the period in question. Given that this period covered the month before the election, you will see from the vastly diminished cash on hand totals just how much was being spent at this time. As it should have been, of course.

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, here are the October 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        1,536,148  1,515,116        0     21,032
03    Burch           292,395    322,136   25,649     -1,278
06    Sanchez         734,004    707,924        0     58,590
07    Fletcher      6,226,876  6,184,824        0     42,067
08    David            34,332     30,263        0      3,565
10    Siegel          489,172    485,681   10,000      3,490
12    Adia            208,585    198,453        0      9,987
14    Bell            211,652    211,652        0          0
17    Kennedy         132,158    130,830   11,789      1,427
21    Kopser        3,251,295  3,241,756   49,231      9,538
22    Kulkarni      1,637,103  1,609,335        0     27,767
23    Ortiz Jones   6,216,644  6,098,297        0    118,346
24    McDowell        108,709     95,507        0     13,320
25    Oliver          645,926    645,926      644          0
26    Fagan           176,157    106,139        0     53,142
27    Holguin         200,712    198,801        0     -1,460
31    Hegar         5,122,102  5,069,600        0     47,481
32    Allred        5,972,679  5,869,234        0    103,445
36    Steele          902,066    901,866        0          0

Please note that some of those report links about will not take you directly to the candidate’s summary page. At this juncture, before any 2019-2020 reports are filed, candidate who span cycles will go to a landing page asking you to pick what cycle you want. That includes first-time-candidates-who-won, like Rep. Lizzie Fletcher, for whom the link will say that nothing from this cycle has been filed yet. You can then choose the 2017-2018 cycle from the dropdown and see the data I’m reporting on here.

I don’t know how a candidate can report a negative cash on hand balance. I’m just giving you what the website gave me. I tried in some previous posts to differentiate between the cash actually raised by the candidate and money that came from loans or transfers from committees like the DCCC, but that was too much work for this effort, so what you get in the Raised column is the top line number indicated by the candidate.

Reps. Fletcher and Allred start with fairly modest balances, but I’m not at all worried about that. Both will rake it in, as the Republicans try to win those seats back. Allred is already drawing interest, and I’m sure so is Fletcher, but if so I’ve not seen any stories about who might want to take her on. I’ll be honest, no names pop into my head as obvious challengers for her.

Mike Siegel and Sri Kulkarni are known to be interested in running again – Siegel is already a declared candidate, Kulkarni may be although I can’t independently verify that. Gina Ortiz Jones is acting like someone who may take another crack at it, though I’d expect she will have company in a primary, while Siegel and Kulkarni are more likely to have either a clear path or token opposition. MJ Hegar may run again or may run for Senate. I don’t know what Todd Litton, Jana Sanchez, or Joseph Kopser are up to, nor do I know about Julie Oliver or Lorie Burch. I also don’t know about Jan McDowell, but as CD24 is now firmly on the national radar, I’m 100% sure that other potential candidates are being courted, or making themselves known. McDowell may be a candidate next March, but I’ll be more than a little surprised – and disappointed – if she’s the candidate next November.

That’s it for this round of campaign finance reports. Tune in again in April for the first look at Congress 2020, and in July for the first real indicators of who’s got it going on for Houston City Council. Let me know what you think.

What about Joaquin

If Beto O’Rourke is indeed not running for Senate, Rep. Joaquin Castro may step up to do it.

Rep. Joaquin Castro

Democratic presidential candidate Julián Castro told the Associated Press on Thursday that his twin brother, U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-San Antonio, is considering challenging U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, for the U.S. Senate in 2020.

“He’s considering that, but he really has not made a decision about whether he’s going to do that,” Castro said while on the presidential campaign trail in Las Vegas.

“I think he’d beat him. My brother would win,” Castro said. “There are a lot of Texans that clearly have problems with the way that (Cornyn) has represented the state. Most recently, refusing to stand up to Trump even though a lot of land is going to get taken, a lot of Texas landowners’ property is going to get taken if there’s a wall.”

Matthew Jones, a campaign advisor to Joaquin Castro, confirmed Friday morning that, “Congressman Castro will seriously consider running for Senate in 2020.”

“Right now, he’s focused on protecting Texans—and all Americans — from the most consequential challenge to our constitutional separation of powers that we have seen in a generation,” Jones said. “He will not stand by while the president attempts to unilaterally strip Texans of their land to build a wall in a manner that most Americans, especially Texans, disagree with.”

A Joaquin Castro Senate candidacy would be an answered prayer for Texas Democrats amid the expectation that former U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke of El Paso, who narrowly lost a Senate challenge to U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz in November, has decided to pass on challenging Cornyn and may soon join Julián Castro as a candidate for the Democratic nomination for president.

[…]

Julián Castro’s dropping his brother’s name into the race also comes the same week that Joaquin’s promising congressional career — one reason he chose not to run for Senate in 2016 — truly delivered on its promise, with Castro leading the successful effort by House Democrats to pass a resolution he drafted to block President Trump’s emergency declaration, which Trump issued to secure border wall funds that Congress has denied him.

“This is the most consequential vote we will take in a generation on the balance of powers between the legislative and executive branches of government,” Castro said before the House voted Tuesday 245 to 182 in favor of the resolution. The resolution still has to pass the Senate, which is possible, and survive a certain presidential veto, which is almost certainly beyond reach. But it has already succeeded as an effective political response to the president.

The Castro twins have pursued parallel political careers, but Julián Castro, born a minute earlier, has been first among equals, serving as mayor of San Antonio and as a member of President Barack Obama’s Cabinet as secretary of Housing and Urban Development. He delivered the keynote address at the 2012 Democratic National Convention, was considered for vice president by Hillary Clinton in 2016, has written a memoir, and is now running for president while his twin brother remains in Congress.

But in the less than two months since Julián Castro launched his bid for president, it is Joaquin who has had the higher political profile, punctuated by this week’s moment of triumph. He was elected chairman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus in the new Congress, and was elected vice chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, as well as serving on the Education and Labor and House Intelligence committees On Homeland Security. He has been integrally involved in the investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential campaign and any potential Russian collusion by Trump and his campaign, and a frequent cable news presence.

As of this writing we still don’t have direct-from-Beto’s-mouth confirmation of his plans for 2020, but this seems like a decent sign that Beto is truly not a candidate for Senate next year. Which is a shame, in my opinion, but it’s his choice to make. As for Joaquin, he’s always been high on my list, but I remain skeptical that he will give up a very good gig in the Democratic-majority House for at best a coin flip for Senate. Obviously, I could be wrong about that – I’m not Joaquin Castro (spoiler alert), I don’t know what his risk profile and ambition levels are. If he does run, I think that’s a good sign that he thinks he can win, though how much of that is irrational exuberance and how much is a cold, hard assessment of the political landscape and strategic options is anyone’s guess. For certain, the fact that it even makes sense for him to publicly think about it is a clear indicator that Texas is being viewed as an opportunity for Dems next year. He may not rake in $80 million, but Joaquin Castro will have no trouble raising money if he hops in.

There are other potential candidates out there – MJ Hegar, Kim Olson, Wendy Davis, probably more though those are the most prominent ones to make noise about it. There’s a good case to be made that Dems should want a female candidate to oppose Cornyn. I feel confident saying that Beto and Joaquin are the first two in line, and if either of them says they’re in they will almost certainly have the nomination with at most token opposition. But one of them has to say they’re in first. The Trib has more.

There sure was a lot of money spent on Congressional races in Texas

If we’re lucky, it will be the start of a trend.

Never has Texas seen as much money spent on Congressional campaigns as it did in 2018.

New campaign finance data shows that the state didn’t just beat its old campaign spending records for Congress, it obliterated them. More than $97 million was poured into the November general election in 2018 for the U.S. House. The previous spending record was in 2004 when just under $60 million was spent by candidates running for Congress in Texas.

The record spending for the state’s 36 House seats was spurred by Texas suddenly having a half dozen competitive races that became a key part of the national battle for the control of Congress. Three of those races accounted for nearly one-third of all the spending.

[…]

Overall, the 36 Congressional districts averaged more than $2.6 million spent per contest.

That spending doesn’t count candidates who lost in the primaries like Republican Kathaleen Wall, who spent $6.2 million of mostly her own money in a failed attempt to win the 2nd Congressional District primary in Houston. Despite not making it to the general election, Wall still ended up spending more money on her race than any House candidate in Texas. Republican Dan Crenshaw, a retired Navy SEAL won the 2nd Congressional District primary and defeated Democrat Todd Litton in November. Crenshaw spent almost $1.7 million on his campaign.

The 2004 election was the one following the Tom DeLay re-redistricting of 2003, so that money was being spent in the five Democratic-held districts where Republican challengers were seeking to oust the Dem incumbents with the help of the new, friendly map. In other words, the same basic dynamic of multiple competitive races, which led to a crap-ton of money being raised. I know people have a lot of negative opinions – for good reasons! – about money in politics, but the fact remains that money gets spent when there are competitive elections. When there are no competitive elections, much less money gets spent. All things being equal, I’d rather have the competitive elections.

Here’s the FEC summary page for Texas Democratic Congressional campaigns from 2017-18, and here’s the last roundup of reports I did, at the end of Q3. The three biggest-money races were the ones you’d expect – CDs 07, 23, and 32 – but as we know there were four other Dem candidates who raised over a million bucks for the cycle, and a lot more big-money primaries, of which CD07 was definitely one.

To me, the big under-reported story is in how much money was raised by candidates in “non-competitive” races. Dayne Steele, God bless her, raised over $800K. Julie Oliver, who was actually in a reasonably competitive race that no one paid attention to, raised over $500K. Candidates Vanessa Adia (CD12), Adrienne Bell (CD14), Linsey Fagan (CD26), and Eric Holguin (CD27), none of whom cracked forty percent, combined to raise over $500K. The candidates in the highest profile races brought in staggering amounts of money – and note that we haven’t even mentioned the candidates whose name rhymes with “Schmeto” – but I cannot overstate how mind-bogglingly impressive what these candidates did is. They deserve more credit for helping to generate and sustain the enthusiasm that led to the massive turnout and major downballot Democratic wins than they will ever receive. We should be so lucky as to have a repeat of this performance in 2020.

2020 is starting early

Example One:

The calendar just turned to 2019, but the 2020 race for Congressional seats in Texas is already on.

A few days after Christmas, San Antonio resident Liz Wahl, 33, a former cable television news anchor, filed papers in Washington, D.C. to run in the 23rd Congressional District held now by U.S. Rep. Will Hurd, R-Helotes. Her filing came just 37 days after Hurd was declared the winner in his re-election by just 926 votes over Air Force veteran Gina Ortiz Jones.

Jones told supporters in late December that she is also “very likely” to run again in 2020 for the seat.

That story makes Wahl seem like some boring nobody. Turns out, she’s a lot more interesting than that.

Former RT anchor Liz Wahl announced Thursday that she is planning to run as a Democrat against Texas Rep. Will Hurd (R), who won reelection in November to a third term.

[…]

Wahl made headlines in 2014 when she quit her hosting job at the Russian-owned news network on air, while denouncing Russia’s involvement in Crimea, which voted to secede from Ukraine and is currently occupied by Russian-aligned forces.

“I cannot be part of a network funded by the Russian government that whitewashes the actions of Putin. I’m proud to be an American and believe in disseminating the truth, and that is why, after this newscast, I’m resigning,” Wahl said during a March broadcast that year.

The news network, which was forced to register in 2017 as a foreign agent, denounced her resignation at the time as a PR stunt.

Definitely not what I had envisioned when I read “former cable TV new anchor”. Wahl’s Facebook page is here, and it includes a link to this Crowdpac post she wrote explaining her motivation for running. I feel confident saying that Wahl will have company in the primary if she does run. Getting an early start, and having such a distinctive background, will help her stand out if she follow through.

Closer to home, we have this post to Pantsuit Nation by Elisa Cardnell:

Happy New Year! This year, my resolution is a little bigger than usual. I’m exploring a run for the Democratic primary in Texas’ 2nd Congressional District (Houston, Texas). The primary is next spring, but fundraising is a huge hurdle, so I have to start now.

I’m a Navy veteran – I served on active duty for five years after college and then for six years in the Reserves. I just hung up my uniform for good last April due to health issues (some related to my time in the service, some not). I’m also a teacher and a single mom, and I’ve seen just how desperately we need ethical leadership in DC to serve as good role models.

Before 2016, I tried to stay out of politics, especially since as a member of the military I viewed my role as necessarily nonpartisan (at least in public life). But now I feel that I have to do something, and my entire career of serving my country and my community has led me to this point. In Houston, we have a chance to flip some more House seats in 2020, and my district will be a particularly tough race (against Dan Crenshaw) in the general election.

It’s going to be a long two years – but it starts now!

Elisa is a friend of mine and a fellow member of the Rice MOB. She had reached out to me a couple of weeks ago, so I knew she was thinking about this. Todd Litton is still out there, and CD02 will be an attractive target for others in Harris County, so don’t be surprised to hear other names along the way. But as above, and as I’ve been saying, if this is something you’re thinking about, there’s no reason not to start as soon as possible. The election may be a log way off, but the filing period begins this November, and if 2020 is anything like 2018, you’re going to see a lot of fundraising activity happen well before then. Don’t get left behind.

And just so we’re clear, incumbents are going to feel the same pressures.

Shortly after participating in the official group swearing-in for House members, [Rep. Colin] Allred got down to business and voted for Nancy Pelosi as House speaker. That’s all it took for the National Republican Congressional Committee to come after him with one of its first paid campaign ads of the 2020 election cycle.

“Immediately after the Speaker vote, voters in districts across the country received text messages, paid for by the NRCC, informing them that with their first vote as a member of Congress, their Democrat Representative has already sold them out to the radical left and voted to hand the Speaker’s gavel to Nancy Pelosi,” the NRCC said in a press release. “Today’s vote sets the tone for what voters can expect from congressional Democrats as the party continues to follow their radical base and march to the left on everything from immigration to taxes to national security.”

The NRCC targeted 15 new House members with the ads, including Allred and fellow Texan Lizzie Fletcher, who knocked off longtime Houston-area Republican John Culberson in a district that, like Allred’s, voted for Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump despite a long history of favoring Republicans.

I don’t expect the usual misogynistic squawking about Nancy Pelosi will be more effective than it was in 2018, though of course that depends on how well this Congress follows through on its promises. The other team is still out there making noise about every little thing, though. Keep your eye on the ball, and remember that the offseason ain’t what it used to be.

From the “If at first you don’t succeed” department

Three Dem Congressional candidates from 2018 may try again in 2020.

Todd Litton

Among the typically deep-red districts that came down to single digits were three races around Harris County. Incumbent Reps. Michael McCaul, R-Austin, and Pete Olson, R-Sugar Land, won by margins of 4.3 and 4.9 percentage points in Texas’ heavily gerrymandered 10th and 22nd Congressional Districts. Rep.-elect Dan Crenshaw, R-Spring, won by more than 7 points an open race for the 2nd Congressional District, one also drawn to elect Republicans.

In recent elections, the districts had gone to Republicans by no fewer than 19 percentage points, with margins as high as 38 points.

Now, as they parse the results and consider what comes next, Democrats in these races must grapple with important questions. Did they come close because of a boost from Democrat Beto O’Rourke’s Senate bid and anger among voters prodded to the polls by President Donald Trump, or did they offer a preview of what is to come? Is a 40-something percent result the ceiling, and if not, where might they find more votes?

All three losing Democrats — Todd Litton, Mike Siegel and Sri Preston Kulkarni — said they may take another swing at the districts in 2020, when Trump could appear atop the ballot and galvanize even more voters than in 2018.

[…]

Litton acknowledged he was unlucky to draw an opponent as tough as Crenshaw, saying the former Navy SEAL “was not your standard first-time candidate.” For now, the defeated Democrat plans to see how Crenshaw’s first term goes, and decide later if he wants to run.

“I’d consider it. I don’t know that I’m going to do it,” said Litton, who directed an education nonprofit before seeking office. “We’ll see how Dan does and what he says.”

[…]

Mike Siegel

Texas’ 10th Congressional District covers much of the rural area between Travis and Harris counties, stretching across nine counties from Katy and Cypress all the way through downtown Austin to Lake Travis. It is one of four GOP-held districts dividing up deep-blue Travis County, the only county Siegel won.

Compared to McCaul’s 2016 race, turnout this year grew by more than 3,400 votes in Travis County, where McCaul’s support fell by about eight percentage points. In the remaining eight counties, turnout fell by 8,200 votes from two years ago, and McCaul’s support dropped from 70 percent to 65 percent.

All told, McCaul lost ground in every county from 2016, though his support dipped by fewer than two percentage points in Austin, Colorado, Fayette, Lee and Washington counties — all areas where Siegel failed to break even 23 percent.

[…]

One reason for Democratic optimism, Siegel said, is the changing nature of Bastrop and Waller counties, located next to Travis and Harris, respectively. Two years ago, McCaul won Bastrop and Waller by 22 and 32 percentage points, respectively, while this year the margin was 11 and 25 points. Siegel also drew 36 percent of the vote in Harris County, about 7 points ahead of Cadien in 2016.

[…]

Sri Kulkarni

Olson never had won a general election by fewer than 19 points — his margin in 2016 — but several trends gave Kulkarni reason to contest the district. Notably, it shifted 17.5 points in favor of Democrats from the 2012 to 2016 presidential election, the fourth most dramatic change in the country.

Kulkarni’s preliminary data also found that both parties had ignored major swaths of the district. In particular, Asian residents make up about 20 percent of the district’s population, far more than any other Texas congressional district, but Kulkarni found that three-quarters of Asian voters had not been contacted by any political party.

Kulkarni’s efforts hinged on turning out the scores of college-educated immigrants who moved to the district during the last several years. He ultimately lost by 4.9 percentage points, a result he attributes partly to not reaching enough Hispanic voters. He did not rule out giving it another shot in 2020.

“If I’m the best candidate, I’ll run again,” Kulkarni said. “I don’t want to throw away all the hard work that we did in organizing here, because going from 19 points two years ago or 34 points four years ago, to 4.9 — there’s obviously a change going on in terms of who’s participating.”

A few general thoughts…

1. Obviously, it’s very early to say who may or may not be running in 2020. Even if all three of these guys say they’re in, they could face primary opponents, and who knows what might happen in a Presidential-year primary, where I think we might see 2008-level turnout. That said, there are always advantages to getting in early – among other things, you can start fundraising right away – and whether we like it or not, the 2020 campaign is already underway. Take all the time you need to decide, but don’t take any longer than that.

2. Of the three, Litton or anyone else in CD02 will likely have the toughest race. Dan Crenshaw has star potential, and he doesn’t yet have any Trump stink on him. He also had the biggest margin of victory in 2018. On the other hand, he will have to start making tough choices about Trump and the Trump agenda, and with CD07 in Democratic hands, CD02 is (along with County Commissioner Precinct 3) the top target for Team Blue in 2020. In addition, no one has to be convinced now that CD02 is worth targeting. It will be on the national radar from the beginning, which will help.

3. That “key for Democratic optimism” paragraph about CD10 is the key for 2020. The Harris County part of the district is fast-growing, and offers a lot of opportunity to find, register, and turn out new Dem voters that year. Looking at the 2016 and 2018 election returns, there were 21K more voters this year in the Harris part of CD10 than there were two years ago. Turnout was 69% in there in 2016, and 59% in 2018, though that meant 6K more voters thanks to the larger voter pool. I feel like if you can get the Dem number in Harris County above 40%, you can win this district. You’ll still need a strong showing in Travis, and there’s room for growth as noted in Bastrop and Waller, but if you get to 40% in Harris I feel like this one is in reach.

4. As noted before, Pete Olson may or may not make it to the ballot in 2020. Generally speaking, having an open seat makes it more winnable for the opposing party. That may be less true in the Trump era, but an open seat will definitely push this up a notch on the national radar. If Kulkarni runs again, my advice is “keep doing what you’re doing”. If it’s someone else, my advice is “do what Sri Kulkarni did, and do more of it”.

Normally, this is the time when I say things like “I want to get through 2019 before I start thinking about 2020”. This is the world we live in now. 2019 is important, but given that everyone who wants to run in 2020 will have to file for office before 2019 is over, we really do have to be thinking about it now.

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.