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Gene Kelly

DMN overview of Senate primary runoff

Let me sum it up in four words: Don’t vote for Kesha. Any questions?

David Alameel

David Alameel

Some primary candidates struggle to differentiate themselves from the pack. Kesha Rogers does not have that problem.

The Democratic Senate hopeful’s platform calls for the impeachment of President Barack Obama and compares the Affordable Care Act to Nazism. She campaigns around the state with a poster of Obama sporting a Hitler mustache. Plus, she’s a supporter of extremist Lyndon LaRouche.

“There is this certain unique quality to what I do,” she said in an interview. “I go out and inspire people, especially people who have been discouraged by the party and discouraged by the political situation.”

That has drawn the ire of mainstream Texas Democrats, who know that a Rogers win would disrupt the party’s unified front. The party is touting what it hopes will be its most competitive statewide slate in years, but if Rogers were to win the nomination in the May 27 runoff, she would stick out.

“They want candidates that are traditional and effective, and that’s something I think that they are at a risk of losing here if … Kesha Rogers wins the runoff,” said Brandon Rottinghaus, a political science professor at the University of Houston. “It makes the party look like they are in disarray. It makes it look like they haven’t adequately vetted their candidates.

Democratic organizations across the state are lining up to discredit the Rogers campaign while David Alameel, the Dallas dentist who led the March primary but didn’t get a high enough share of the vote to win outright, keeps his distance. Even though many Democrats believe Alameel will win, they don’t want to take chances.

“It’s important that Dr. Alameel be the nominee and we do demonstrate that gadfly candidates like Kesha Rogers won’t get nominated in important races,” said Matt Angle, an adviser to Democratic gubernatorial nominee Wendy Davis who runs the Washington-based Lone Star Project. The group recently put out a video opposing Rogers.

State parties usually stay out of primaries, but the Texas Democratic Party has been vocal in its support of Alameel. Rogers’ campaign remains cut off from all party resources, including access to its voter data.

And that’s how it should be. The story goes on to quote a Kesha supporter who says something about being willing to criticize the President. Well, there’s a difference between being critical and calling for impeachment, or comparing the signature health care law to Nazism. Some things really are out of bounds, and really do disqualify you from being worth supporting. We’re a big tent, not an infinite tent. My hope is that this campaign will serve as an education to Democratic voters about Kesha Rogers, so that going forward she won’t be able to sneak into any more runoffs on the basis of a vaguely familiar name and voter ignorance. People eventually figured out not to vote for Gene Kelly – and Lloyd Oliver, here in Harris County – hopefully now they’ll have figured it out about Kesha Rogers, too. See the Chron’s re-endorsement of Alameel for more.

The UT/TT poll’s track record in past Democratic primaries

The one result in that UT/TT poll from Monday that has people freaking out is the one that shows nutball LaRouchie Kesha Rogers leading the Senate race with 35%, followed by David Alameel with 27%. I expressed my skepticism of that result at the time, because among other things I have my doubts that their sample is truly representative of the Democratic primary electorate, but I thought it might be worthwhile to take a look at the Trib’s previous efforts at polling Democratic primaries and see how they’ve done in the past. There are two elections to study. First, let’s go back to 2010 when all of the statewide offices were up for grabs. Democrats had three contested primaries that the Trib polled: Governor, Lt. Governor, and Ag Commissioner. Here are the results.

In the Democratic primary race, former Houston Mayor Bill White has a huge lead over his next closest challenger, businessman Farouk Shami, pulling 50 percent to Shami’s 11 percent. Five other candidates are in the running for the Democratic nomination; the survey found that only 9 percent of those polled prefer someone other than the two frontrunners.

Undecided voters are still significant in both gubernatorial primaries. On the Republican side, 16 percent said they hadn’t made up their minds. Pressed for a preference, 51 percent chose Perry, 34 percent chose Hutchison, and 15 percent chose Medina — an indication that Perry could win without a runoff if he can attract those voters into his camp. Among Democratic voters, 30 percent were undecided, and of those, 48 percent, when pressed, said they lean toward White. With White already at 50 percent, that means Shami would have to strip votes away from him in order to force a runoff or to claim a win.

[…]

Democratic primary voters have a couple of other statewide races to decide. In the contest for lieutenant governor — the winner will face Republican incumbent David Dewhurst in November — labor leader Linda Chavez-Thompson took 18 percent of those polled, former Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle got 16 percent, and restaurateur Marc Katz had 3 percent. Five percent of voters said they wanted “somebody else,” and a whopping 58 percent remain undecided on the eve of early voting, which begins on Tuesday. Kinky Friedman and Hank Gilbert — two refugees from the governor’s race now running for agriculture commissioner — are locked in a tight race, 32 percent to 27 percent. While Friedman’s ahead, the difference is within the poll’s margin of error. And, as with the Lite Guv race, “undecided” is actually leading, at 41 percent. The winner will face incumbent Republican Todd Staples in November.

And here’s the reality:

Governor Alma Aguado 2.83% Felix Alvarado 4.95% Bill Dear 0.96% Clement Glenn 1.44% Star Locke 0.92% Farouk Shami 12.84% Bill White 76.03% Lieutenant Governor Linda C-T 53.13% Ronnie Earle 34.67% Marc Katz 12.18% Commissioner of Agriculture Kinky Friedman 47.69% Hank Gilbert 52.30%

So White did have a big lead on Shami, but it was much bigger than they indicated. Linda Chavez-Thompson was indeed leading Ronnie Earle, but by a significant amount, more than enough to avoid a runoff. And Hank Gilbert defeated Kinky Friedman, despite the UT/TT poll showing Friedman in the lead.

How about the 2012 Senate primary, which is a reasonably decent facsimile of this one, as it’s a large field of mostly unknown candidates? Here’s the poll:

The Democrats, too, could be building to a July finish, probably between former state Rep. Paul Sadler and Sean Hubbard, according to the poll.

Sadler led the Democrats with 29 percent, but was followed closely — and within the poll’s margin of error — by Hubbard. Two other candidates — Addie Dainell Allen and Grady Yarbrough — also registered double-digit support.

And the actual result:

U. S. Senator Addie Allen 22.90% Sean Hubbard 16.08% Paul Sadler 35.13% Grady Yarbrough 25.87%

Sadler did in fact lead the field, but Hubbard came in fourth, well behind eventual second-place finisher Grady Yarbrough, whom the Trib pegged for fourth.

So what conclusions can we draw from this? Mostly that we don’t have enough data to be able to evaluate the Trib’s ability to poll Democratic primaries. To be fair to them, they were quite accurate in the corresponding GOP races. They had Rick Perry winning in 2010, though not quite over 50%, with Debra Medina’s level nailed exactly, and they had David Dewhurst with a lead over Ted Cruz with Tom Leppert in third, but with the Dew falling short of a majority. As such, I’d put some faith in their GOP polling, at least until we see how they actually did. But I would not put much faith in their Dem results. They clearly pushed people to pick someone – anyone! – in the Senate race, they polled before David Alameel dropped a bunch of mail, which they themselves said (but didn’t acknowledge in their writeup) is exactly the sort of thing that could enable someone to win that race, and as I said I just don’t believe they’ve got a representative sample of the Dem primary electorate. I’ll be more than a little shocked if it turns out they got this one right.

One more thing: What if they are right about Rogers leading? Well, as long as she doesn’t crack 50%, I’d suggest we all remain calm. For all its constraints and limitations, the state Democratic Party has managed to get the nominees it has wanted in the last three Senate primaries. Rick Noriega cleared 50% in round one in 2008, and Sadler in 2012 and Barbara Radnofsky in 2006 both won their runoffs – Radnofsky has said that her overtime race against the now apparently dormant Gene Kelly was the best thing that happened to her, as it boosted her fundraising and made people actually pay attention to that race. I feel reasonably confident that if Rogers is in a runoff with anyone, everyone else in the party will fall as loudly and visibly as they can behind her opponent, whoever that winds up being. It’s already happening to a large degree – the TDP, the HCDP, and the Fort Bend Democratic Party have put out messages condemning Rogers and urging Democrats not to vote for her. I’d have preferred to see that happen earlier than this, and I’d much rather it not come to banding together to beat her in a runoff, but I’m not going to fall into a spiral of self-loathing over this one poll result. Do your part to help people make a good decision in this race, and be prepared to support someone other than Kesha in a runoff if it comes to that.

Yeah, it is too early to be polling for 2012

But that won’t stop anyone from doing them.

2012 could be the year Democrats are finally competitive for President in Texas…but only if the Republicans nominate Sarah Palin.

There are vast differences in how the various different potential GOP contenders fare against Barack Obama in Texas. Mike Huckabee is very popular in the state and would defeat Obama by 16 points, a more lopsided victory than John McCain had there in 2008. Mitt Romney is also pretty well liked and has a 7 point advantage over the President in an early hypothetical contest, a closer margin than the state had last time around but still a pretty healthy lead. A plurality of voters have an unfavorable opinion of Newt Gingrich but he would lead Obama by a 5 point margin nonetheless. It’s a whole different story with Palin though. A majority of Texas voters have an unfavorable opinion of her and she leads the President by just a single point in a hypothetical contest.

Part of the reason Obama looks like he could be competitive against the right Republican opponent is that his position in the state has improved. 42% of voters approve of the job he’s doing to 55% who disapprove. His average approval rating in 4 surveys conducted in PPP over the course of 2010 was 38% so he’s seeing the same sort of uptick in his numbers there that he’s seeing nationally right now.

The other reason for Obama’s closeness is the weakness of the Republican candidate field. He’d have no shot against a GOP nominee that voters in the state like. Huckabee’s favorability rating is a 51/30 spread and he blows Obama out of the water. But none of the other GOP hopefuls come close to matching that appeal. Romney’s favorability is narrowly in positive territory at 40/37, but Gingrich’s is negative at 38/44, and Palin’s is even worse at 42/53. Texas voters certainly don’t like Obama but for the most part they don’t see the current Republican front runners as particularly great alternatives.

What’s maybe most striking about Obama’s competitiveness in these numbers is that they’re from the same sample that showed Democrats had virtually no chance of picking up Kay Bailey Hutchison’s Senate seat earlier this week, trailing all 12 match ups we tested by double digit margins.

The previous poll results are here. I’m going to disagree with the analysis in that I think it really is all about name recognition. In the end, Obama may or may not perform better than whoever the Democratic candidate for Senate is – I’ll take the over if it’s Gene Kelly, the under if it’s John Sharp, and would consider it a tossup otherwise – but he isn’t about to perform 10 to 15 points better than any of them. The level of support Obama gets is roughly going to be the base Democratic performance level.

Yeah, sure, candidates and campaigns and fundraising matter, but only so much in a Presidential year. John Cornyn had Senate incumbency, several terms as a statewide officeholder, and something like a 3-1 financial advantage over Rick Noriega, yet he finished behind John McCain in both total votes and vote percentage, and did only one to three points better than downballot Republicans. Barring a Gene Kelly situation, I expect all the Democratic statewide candidates in 2012 to be within a few points of each other.

The question is what is the ceiling for Democrats in 2012. About a million more people voted in Texas in 2004 than in 2000, and at both the Presidential level and downballot, the Republicans got about 70% of those votes. About 900,000 more people voted in 2008 than in 2004, and again at all levels the Democrats got about 90% of those votes. There are a number of reasons for this, but one factor I’d point to is Latino support. Obama did more than ten points better among Latino voters than John Kerry did, and that was a big part of it. Call me crazy, but I don’t think any Republican Presidential candidate is going to appeal to Latinos like George W. Bush did in 2004. Given that our state, and our electorate, isn’t getting any whiter, I like those odds.

I’ll say this much, if Team Obama actually spends some money in Texas, it would make a difference. If they consider the 2010 results in a vacuum, they’ll run screaming in the other direction, but this was a tough year all over, and one presumes they’re smart enough to realize that the 2012 electorate will be very different, here and elsewhere. Even if they (quite reasonably) think our electoral votes are out of reach, there’s still an excellent reason to play here, and that’s for the Congressional races. Two Republicans won in 2010 with less than 50% – Blake Farenthold and Quico Canseco – and of course there will be four new seats to fight over. Winning back CDs 23 and 27, and taking two of the four new seats, would mean a net +2 for Dems in Texas. If Obama hopes to start his second term with a Democratic (or at least a more Democratic) Congress, that sure would help.

All right, I don’t really plan to talk about this much between now and the end of the year, so file this away for later. We’ve seen how quickly and significantly the winds can change over a few months, so we’ll see where things stand once the Republicans begin to coalesce around a single contender.

More on Radnofsky for AG

Barbara Radnofsky talks to Gardner Selby about her intent to run for Attorney General in 2010.

Radnofsky said Thursday she’s going to run next year for attorney general, starting with an Austin fund-raiser Tuesday featuring nine Democratic state representatives (all 74 Dems were contacted, Radnofsky said, but most may be session-swamped).

Reminded that the past three Democratic aspirants for attorney general drew no more than 44 percent of the November vote, Radnofsky replied: “You’re mired in the past.”

Radnofsky stressed research gathered last year suggesting that Texas voters are identify themselves as Democrats than Republicans. Tracking polls analyzed by the Gallup organization found that 43 percent of Texans see themselves as Democrats compared to 41 percent of Republicans.

“The face of the state has changed,” she said.

Obviously, I believe the face of the state is changing, but as I said before where we’ve mostly seen this is in the downballot races between unknown, unfunded Democrats and unknown, unfunded Republicans. A race between a Dem with some name ID and campaign resources and a non-incumbent Republican with same, which is what we may get if current AG Greg Abbott aims at a higher office, could build on that dynamic and maybe persuade a few more of those people who say they’re calling themselves Democrats to vote for one in a statewide race.

That assumes, of course, that Radnofsky or whoever the nominee is can raise the dough needed for that. She seems to be taking a step in that direction.

New-hires on her side: Fund-raising consultant Jim Cunningham of Kentucky, pollster Andre Pineda of Los Angeles and direct-mail consultant Kevin Geary, who heads the Philadelphia office of the Baughman Group. Radnofsky said she’s hunting for a TV advertising consultant.

Interesting that she’s going out of state, but when you realize there are essentially no Dem consultants here with experience winning statewide in the past decade or more, it’s not so surprising. I’ll be very interested to see how they do.

Separately, I’ve heard chatter that other Democrats could yet test the waters for AG including state Reps. Trey Martinez Fischer of San Antonio, Pete Gallego of Alpine and state Sens. Royce West of Dallas and Kirk Watson of Austin, the party’s AG nominee in 2002. Republicans in the mix could include Ted Cruz, the state’s former solicitor-general (who’s already raising money and exploring a try), state Rep. Dan Branch of Dallas and Justice Dale Wainwright of the Texas Supreme Court.

Radnofsky said she’d be happy not having a major primary opponent. Referring to the perennial Universal City candidate with a dancer’s name whom she beat in a 2006 runoff, she said: “If the only opponent ended up being Gene Kelly, that’d be OK.”

Lots of new names on the might-run list; here’s some confirmation of Sen. West’s potential interest. As I said before, I’ll be perfectly happy to see contested primaries statewide, and if one of them involves a well-known figure like Ronnie Earle, so much the better. Among other things, spirited primaries will raise everyone’s profile, and will keep Dems out of the Republican primary, where some folks are considering a vote for KBH just to make sure we’re in the final days of Rick Perry’s reign. I understand BAR’s preference, but I say come one, come all. As long as we fill out the ticket with quality candidates, it’s all good.