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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.

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.

Back to Blue

The Texas House Democratic Campaign Committee has announced its list of targeted districts for 2012. From their press release:

The list of nine includes five former House members — Abel Herrero (HD 34), Yvonne Gonzales Toureilles (HD 43), Carol Kent (HD 114), Robert Miklos (HD 107), and Joe Moody (HD 78); and four new candidates — Phil Cortez (HD 117), Ann Johnson (HD 134), Mary Ann Perez (HD 144), and Rosemary Robbins (HD 105).

The organization also announced that two of their major donors have pledged to match up to $75,000 in contributions to kick off the “Back to Blue” effort.

“The HDCC has a proven track record of helping Democratic House candidates win,” said state Representative and HDCC Board Member Jessica Farrar, “Our mission is to turn Texas House seats blue and with these candidates on our team in 2012, we will be successful.

“Thanks to our generous contributors, we have an incredible opportunity to double down and raise the money needed to win these seats,” continued Farrar.

In addition to organizational assistance, staff support, and message training, candidates targeted by the HDCC will receive financial support.

“My campaign has knocked on over 25,000 doors in Dallas County and from the conversations I’ve had with voters, I know that Democrats are on the right side of the issues. We continue to support our neighborhood schools, fight to protect women’s health and stand up to Republican lawmakers who chose not to play by the rules,” said Robert Miklos. “I know that with the HDCC’s support, the hard work of my campaign team, and the generous help of those who care about the future of our state, I will win on Election Day.”

“I am proud to have the support of the Texas HDCC and to be recognized as a ‘Back to Blue’ candidate. This shows our hard work in Houston is paying off,” said Ann Johnson. “Our voters and the people we’ve talked to don’t want politics as usual. They want someone they can count on and will be held accountable for the promises they make.”

See here for more; the HDCC is also on Facebook and Twitter. In addition to those nine, they have a five-member second tier, and three incumbents they’ve identified as in need of some protection – Reps. Craig Eiland, Joe Farias, and Hubert Vo. The five B-listers are Robert Stem (HD12), John Adams (HD45), Dora Olivo (HD85, another former member), Rich Hancock (HD102), and Matt Stilwell (HD136). I’m a numbers guy, so here are some numbers:

Top tier Dist Incumbent Obama Houston ================================== 034 Scott 52.58 58.83 043 Lozano 47.94 54.68 078 Margo 55.31 56.84 105 Harper-Brown 46.14 48.18 107 Sheets 46.71 48.46 114 Open 46.57 45.66 117 Garza 52.52 52.76 134 Davis 46.68 42.56 144 Open 47.95 54.53 Second tier Dist Incumbent Obama Houston ================================== 012 Open 39.38 46.67 045 Isaac 46.92 45.84 085 Open 40.68 45.22 102 Carter 46.64 46.75 136 Open 45.92 42.93 Incumbent protection Dist Incumbent Obama Houston ================================== 023 Eiland 47.77 54.22 118 Farias 55.10 57.61 149 Vo 55.52 56.35 Others of interest Dist Incumbent Obama Houston ================================== 017 Kleinschmidt 41.93 47.24 032 Hunter 42.57 46.20 041 Open* 57.05 59.68 047 Workman 44.75 41.27 052 Gonzales 46.18 45.01 054 Aycock 47.93 49.01 065 Open 43.04 42.36 074 Open* 57.91 61.32 113 Burkett 46.05 47.87 115 Open 43.86 43.24

Electoral data can be found here; look in the RED206 for the relevant information. The “others of interest” are my own selections. The two starred seats are open D seats; HD41 was Veronica Gonzales and HD74 was Pete Gallego.

Democrats are going to pick up three seats by default: HDs 35, 40, and 101. The former two were left open by Reps. Aliseda and Pena, the latter is a new district in Tarrant County. Strictly by the numbers, I’d classify HDs 34 and 78 are Democratic Favored; HD117 as Lean Democratic; HDs 43 and 144 as Tossup; HDs 105 and 107 as Lean Republican; and HDs 114 and 134 as Republican Favored. There are plenty of other factors to consider – candidate quality, fundraising, demographic change since 2008, etc – but let’s stick with just the numbers for now. Let’s be optimistic and say Dems can pick up seven of these nine top tier seats and not lose any they currently hold; honestly, only Eiland would seem to be in real danger. That’s a ten-seat net, which with Lozano’s switch gets them to 57. Better, but still a long way to go. The map for 2012 is unlikely to expand beyond the indicated second tier, as not all of the “other districts” I’ve identified have Dems running in them.

Certainly it’s possible for things to go better for the Dems, but worse is also in play. You could imagine a true disaster in which they get nothing but the three gimmes and lose Eiland along the way for a net +2 and only 49 seats, or one more than they had in 2011. I don’t think that’s likely, but it’s not out of the question. The long-awaited ruling from the DC Court will almost certainly trigger a new map from the San Antonio court, and for all we know the Lege may take another crack at drawing a map. The original San Antonio Court interim map made a 60-member Dem caucus likely, with friendlier Dallas districts, a Dem-favored HD54, and a tossup HD26 in Fort Bend among the differences. All I can say at this point is that I don’t believe we should get too accustomed to this interim map.

So that’s the state of play for this cycle. Go look at the candidates, pick a few favorites, and give to them or give to the HDCC. Change isn’t going to happen without your help.