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Justin Nelson

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?

Initial reactions: Statewide

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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.

Omnibus polling update

One last Trib poll:

Rep. Beto O’Rourke

Republican Ted Cruz leads Democrat Beto O’Rourke 51 percent to 45 percent in the Texas race for the U.S. Senate, according to the latest University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll. Libertarian Neal Dikeman was the choice of 2 percent of likely voters and another 2 percent said they would vote for someone else.

Democratic and Republican voters, as might be expected, lined up strongly behind their respective party’s candidates. But independent voters, a group that often leans to the Republicans in statewide elections, broke for O’Rourke, 51 percent to Cruz’s 39 percent.

“The major Senate candidates were trying to mobilize their partisans, without a lot of attempt to get voters to cross over. And it looks like they’ve done that,” said Jim Henson, co-director of the poll and head of the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas at Austin. “If you look for Republican defections to Beto O’Rourke, they’re not there. But the independents break to the Democrat instead of the Republican in that race.”

The poll of likely Texas voters was conducted before early voting in the general election began this week.

In several other races for statewide office, Republicans hold double-digit leads over their Democratic opponents.

They have Abbott up 56-37, Patrik up 53-35, and Paxton up 48-36. In these races, the Dems don’t get the independent vote like O’Rourke did, and their level of support among Dems is lower, which I will attribute to the usual cause of lower name recognition. As pollster Joshua Blank says later in the piece, the Dems voting for O’Rourke are very likely also going to vote for Lupe Valdez, Mike Collier, and Justin Nelson. A companion piece is about who is saying they will vote this year.

This post was begun before that poll was published, with the intent of capturing the other Senate race results that we’ve had in the past two to three weeks. Here they all are, from FiveThirtyEight, many of which have not been in the news.

Oct 21 – End Citizens United – Cruz 50, O’Rourke 46

Oct 18 – Ipsos – Cruz 49, O’Rourke 44

Oct 14 – Tulchin – Cruz 49, O’Rourke 45

Oct 13 – CNN/SSRS – Cruz 52, O’Rourke 45

Oct 13 – WPA – Cruz 52, O’Rourke 43

Oct 11 – Siena/NYT – Cruz 51, O’Rourke 43

Oct 5 – Emerson College – Cruz 47, O’Rourke 42

There are also the Quinnipiac poll that had Cruz up 54-45, and the CBS/YouGov poll that had Cruz up 50-44. All of these are Likely Voter polls. FiveThirtyEight ran everything through their algorithms and came up with an aggregate 5.8 point lead for Cruz, though their forecast for the actual vote share is 51.8 to 46.6, or a 5.2 point margin. They project turnout of just under 7 million, which needless to say would shatter records for a midterm election in Texas and which our first week of early voting turnout suggests is very much in play. They give O’Rourke a 21% chance of winning. We’ll see if any of that changes as the actual voting continues.

When Ken Paxton attacks

He’s gotta be a little scared.

Best mugshot ever

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has started airing a statewide TV ad against his Democratic challenger, Justin Nelson, as Nelson presses to close the race with an emphasis on the indictment that has dogged the Republican incumbent for most of his first term.

Since last week, Nelson, an Austin lawyer, has been airing a TV commercial highlighting Paxton’s 2015 indictment on securities fraud charges, asking, “If Ken Paxton can’t follow the law, how can he enforce it?” Nelson has also put up billboards across the state plastered with Paxton’s mugshot.

In the new spot from Paxton, a narrator asserts Nelson is “running a negative campaign to hide his extreme liberal agenda,” portraying the Democrat as soft on illegal immigration. The half-minute commercial then contrasts Nelson with Paxton, who the narrator says “shut down the world’s largest human trafficking marketplace” — a reference to the attorney general’s role in shuttering the Dallas-based sex ads website Backpage.com.

The ad was seen airing this morning in major markets throughout the state, including Austin, Dallas, Houston and San Antonio.

The anti-Nelson ad is notable for a number of reasons. Beyond U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz in his blockbuster battle with Democrat Beto O’Rourke, most of Texas’ statewide officials have hardly acknowledged their Democratic opponents, let alone run TV ads against them. And Paxton has until now appeared to have kept his TV advertising positive, airing a spot touting his role in the Backpage.com investigation.

It could be an abundance of caution. Paxton believes he’s ahead, but not insurmountably so, and there’s no reason to take chances. It could be a belief that attacks must be answered, lest one look weak or lose initiative. And it could be that he’s genuinely worried. Paxton has refused to engage in any kind of political activity that isn’t all about himself or comfortably in the embrace of the Fox News wingnut universe. If he changes his tactics now, at this late date, there’s a reason for it.

On the air

You might be seeing some TV ads from Texas Democrats who aren’t Beto O’Rourke or Lizzie Fletcher. There’s Justin Nelson:

Justin Nelson

Attorney Justin Nelson, a candidate for attorney general, on Tuesday became the first — and likely only — Democrat running for state office to go on TV with a Texas-wide campaign ad.

Nelson’s 30-second spot now on air across Texas hammers incumbent Attorney General Ken Paxton for his 2015 criminal indictment for securities fraud and a subsequent 2017 investigation into bribery and corruption that was closed after prosecutors decided not to pursue any charges against him. Paxton has yet to go to trial on three felony charges from the 2015 indictment.

Paxton, a Republican finishing his first term, released his own ad Monday. Paxton’s campaign spot features his office cracking down on human trafficking to make Texas safer. That includes helping shut down Backpage.com, a website that hosted prostitution-related ads. Paxton’s spokesman said the ad is on air, including in the Houston market.

I saw one of the Nelson ads during the last Astros’ game (sigh).

There’s Todd Litton.

Todd Litton

Democrat Todd Litton on Monday began airing the first TV ad of his campaign for Texas’ 2nd Congressional District, with a 30-second spot that seeks to draw a contrast between himself and Republican opponent Dan Crenshaw.

The ad, titled “No Joke,” begins with a scene in Litton’s kitchen, where he tells a “dad joke” to his kids.

“They sure keep me in check,” Litton says about his children. “But no one is keeping Congress in check. That’s no joke.”

He goes on to mention “my far right opponent, Dan Crenshaw,” whom Litton says “only makes matters worse.” He contends Crenshaw would “do away with Social Security, health care and a woman’s right to choose.”

“I’ll protect them,” Litton concludes. “And I’ll stand up to anyone and work with anyone to get things done.”

The ad represents a six-figure buy and will air on broadcast networks through Election Day, according to Litton’s campaign.

If you had told me a couple of months ago that one of the Congressional candidates would tell a dad joke in a TV ad, I’d have guessed it would be Todd Litton. And now there’s Sri Kulkarni.

Sri Kulkarni

Democrat Sri Preston Kulkarni is continuing to put pressure on U.S. Rep. Pete Olson in what has fast become one of the most competitive races for Congress in Texas.

Kulkarni has launched a new television ad blasting Olson, a 5-term incumbent, as a “do-nothing Congressman.”

“What happened to Pete Olson?” a narrator says, noting that Olson had sponsored just three bills that passed in 10 years in office.

According to records with the Library of Congress, Olson two of those bills renamed post offices in Pearland and Sugar Land. Another bill awarded the Congressional Gold Medal to the World War II pilots who made raids on Tokyo.

[…]

The ad comes at a time that new campaign finance reports show Kulkarni raised more money in the last three months for his campaign than Olson, and Kulkarni has more money going into the final weeks of the campaign.

In addition, national Democrats are promising more help for Kulkarni after his surprise showing. This week the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee added Kulkarni to their “Red to Blue” program, which provides organizational and fundraising support for campaigns.

“Sri has put together a strong people-powered campaign that makes this race competitive,” said DCCC chairman Ben Ray Lujan.

It’s almost like we live in a competitive political environment. Such exciting times. You can see Justin Nelson’s ad here, Todd Litton’s ad here, and Sri Kulkarni’s ad here.

Endorsement watch: Another easy decision

Remember how I said the Chron’s endorsement of Kim Olson over Sid Miller was the easiest call they’d have to make this cycle? The one true competitor for that title is the AG race, where Justin Nelson is a LeBron-level slam dunk.

Justin Nelson

This is it. This is the race.

The election for attorney general offers the single best reason for a Texas Republican to cross over and vote for a Democratic candidate. You don’t even have to scroll down the burdensome ballot. Right on the front screen in the voting booth you’ll be able to vote the straight ticket for other Republicans and then vote for Justin Nelson. Hit the cast ballot button and you’re done.

Why you’d vote for Nelson is similarly straightforward. He’s an astoundingly qualified attorney who has a nonpartisan focus on ethics, ending gerrymandering and fulfilling the basic duties of the office. Plus, Republican incumbent Ken Paxton is facing felony indictments for fraud, which should automatically disqualify him in the minds of voters.

[…]

Paxton has been a model of the worst possible attorney general.

He’s the sort of politician who makes you wish Texas had a Lone Star version of “Saturday Night Live” to mock the fact that our state’s top lawman is facing two charges for felony investment fraud and another count of failing to register as an investment adviser. Paxton allegedly didn’t reveal he was being paid to solicit clients for a North Texas investment firm, which the law requires to help prevent fraud.

The former state representative and state senator successfully postponed his trial until after the election. It is worth noting, however, that Paxton has already admitted to soliciting investors without registering and paid a $1,000 fine to the state securities board. Or, to put it bluntly, he effectively confessed to a third-degree felony. No one should be above the law, but Paxton seems determined to try.

His ethical lapses don’t end there. Paxton once accepted a $1 million loanfrom the right-wing Empower Texans advocacy group — his largest political donor — and now refuses to defend the Texas Ethics Commission from the group’s attacks. It’s hard not to see a quid pro quo that puts campaign donors ahead of the public good.

He also was once caught stealing another lawyer’s $1,000 pen.

Paxton has been using his office to pursue a quixotic political agenda that even members of his own party question. For example, he’s leading a lawsuit that would eliminate the preexisting conditions protections of the Affordable Care Act. If Paxton succeeds, more than 4 million Texans could be denied coverage.

Beyond his own legal problems, Paxton is simply doing a bad job as attorney general. He doesn’t aggressively go after crooked payday lenders or exploitive nursing homes. His campaign website still touts how he’s going to sue the Obama administration — a policy agenda two years out of date.

You know the drill here. It’s the “should” in the third paragraph above that’s the sticking point. In a better world, or a less hegemonic state, everyone would consider Paxton to be a dead man walking. With the modern Republican Party that Paxton embodies, there is no such thing as accountability. Maybe we’ll get to see how big that party really is. Or maybe we’ll get to see what kind of Attorney General the governor will appoint when Paxton finally gets convicted. You tell me what the better outcome is. My interview with Justin Nelson is here if you haven’t listened to it yet.

They had a closer choice in CD02, but they made the right call.

Todd Litton

Voters have two thoroughly impressive major party candidates on the ballot, but Todd Litton would best serve Houston in Congress.

Litton, a Democrat, is a sixth-generation Texan with a law degree from the University of Texas and an MBA from Rice University. Deeply engaged in the world of nonprofits — with a specific focus on early childhood education and after-school programs — Litton, 48, has a career and service record that cuts across the major institutions of our city, including the the Center for Houston’s Future, the Houston Endowment and the Episcopal Health Foundation. His campaign slogan, “Common Sense and Common Decency,” embodies the business-minded sense of duty and obligation that historically defines our city’s leadership.

He references local experts Stan Marek and Charles Foster, both Republicans, when discussing immigration issues and vehemently opposes the idea of a border wall with Mexico. For Litton, immigration is a matter of heart — welcoming refugees expands the promise of liberty — and also a matter of economics. He notes that a global business hub like Houston needs national immigration policies that don’t scare away the best and brightest. He also recognizes that our city must address the long-term trends in oil and gas — especially in the context of climate change — if we don’t want to go the way of Detroit.

On health care, Litton wants to close gaps in the Affordable Care Act instead of beginning a single-payer program. In a position particularly appropriate for this meandering district, Litton calls for independent redistricting commissions to prevent gerrymandering.

I interviewed Litton for the primary. I like him a lot and think he’d do a great job. I’ve talked about how a couple of Democrats, most notably Gina Ortiz Jones and MJ Hegar, have star potential if they can get elected. Dan Crenshaw is by far the Republican with the highest ceiling. In a less Democratic year, I feel like he’d be getting a fair amount of national attention. He’ll probably get it later on if he wins.

Lastly, from a few days ago, a nod for Lorena Perez McGill in Montgomery County.

Lorena Perez McGill

Even if she doesn’t come close to winning, Lorena Perez McGill’s campaign will still make headlines. She’s the first Democrat to run for this seat in 12 years.

It’s not hard to understand the dearth of Democratic candidates. Not a single precinct in this Montgomery County district, which covers Shenandoah, Woodloch, Oak Ridge North and most of the Woodlands, went for Hillary Clinton in 2016. Why run for the state House against insurmountable odds?

But for McGill, 48, watching the Texas Legislature hold a special session over bathroom bills, but refuse to hold one for Hurricane Harvey recovery, was just too much to bear. So the attorney and local volunteer decided to run a self-proclaimed “bipartisan campaign” that focuses on listening, conversation and compromise.

She’s a first-time candidate, but boasts an impressive resume that includes time at the Baker Botts law firm and as in-house counsel for the Organization of American States.

[…]

But for the self-proclaimed fiscally conservative, moderate Democrat, this campaign isn’t about any one specific policy. It is about bringing a sense of practicality and compromise to a legislative body overrun by ideology and cliques.

In that sense, she couldn’t be further from her Republican opponent, former state Rep. Steve Toth.

Yeah, Toth is a whackjob who knocked out former State Rep. Rob Eissler in a primary in 2012, then gave the seat up to run for State Senate. He’ll win because it’s The Woodlands, but at least Lorena Perez McGill will give the voters there a clear alternative.

Interview with Justin Nelson

Justin Nelson

So yeah, the Attorney General’s race. You know about Ken Paxton, I know about Ken Paxton, the real question is how many people who are going to vote know about Ken Paxton. Justin Nelson is doing what he can to make sure that the voters know about Ken Paxton, as well as the much better choice for Attorney General that he himself represents. Nelson is of course an attorney, who grew up in Houston and lives in Austin. He clerked for Judge J. Harvie Wilkinson of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit and Justice Sandra Day O’Connor on the United States Supreme Court in his earlier days, and is now a partner at Susman Godfrey. He is a Fellow of the American Bar Foundation, and teaches Constitutional Law at UT. Do I also need to mention that he is not currently under felony indictment, and is not actively trying to deprive millions of people of health insurance while also putting every DREAMer in the country at risk of deportation? Well, he’s those things, too. Here’s what we talked about:

You can see all of my interviews for state offices so far as well as other information about the candidates on my 2018 Legislative Election page.

Endorsement watch: Star system

The Chron has made a change in how it presents its endorsements.

The quality of candidates on the ballot varies widely from race to race. At times, both candidates are good choices. At times, there are no good choices to be had. Still, the Houston Chronicle editorial board’s policy is to avoid co-endorsements or non-endorsements. Why? Because in the end voters have to vote. They have to make the hard decision. So should we.

As such, we may end up endorsing a mediocre candidate. We may end up not endorsing an excellent candidate. Not all endorsements are equal. That’s one reason why we’re adding an extra dimension to our endorsements this year by ranking candidates on a five-star system. Star rankings can help voters easily compare candidates across different races.

These ratings are specific to each individual race — a five-star judge might make for a two-star representative. A candidate who impresses one year might fumble in the next election.

They then go on to illustrate what each of the ratings – one star through five stars – means. I always appreciate transparency in process, but I’ll be honest, I never had a hard time telling in the past how the Chron felt about a candidate or a choice in a race. To their credit, they did a good job of making it clear when they really liked a candidate or were just settling on the lesser of two evils. You knew when it was a tough choice or an obvious call. I didn’t always understand why they liked or didn’t like someone, but that’s a much more subjective question. The star system puts a quantitative value on this, but I at least don’t feel like it shone much more light on the system. Your mileage may vary, and again I do applaud the effort even if it feels marginal to me.

One other point – In the endorsements they have done so far, all in judicial races, they have a couple of races where both candidates get the same star rating. They broke the ties in favor of the (Republican) incumbents in these cases, but it’s not totally clear why the scales tipped in that direction. Given that the stated intent was to help make the tough choices, why not make the measurement system more precise? Give everyone a numeric value, say on a one to five scale (Candidate A gets a 4.6, Candidate B a 4.5) or even 1 to 100. Go nuts with it. If the idea is that there are no ties, then calibrate the metric to reflect that.

Anyway. Of the races so far, Jason Cox is the only endorsed Democrat. The races are in the 1st and 14th Courts of Appeals plus the County Probate Court races. I strongly suspect we’ll see more Dems getting the nod when we get to the County Criminal Court races.

In other endorsement news, the Texas ParentPAC gets involved in some, but not all, statewide races.

A group of pro-public school parents is doling out political endorsements to dozens of candidates this year but is refusing to back Democrat Lupe Valdez because her campaign for governor is lacking, the group’s co-founder said Thursday.

“She doesn’t meet our criteria for endorsement,” said Dinah Miller, a Texas mom who helped form Texas Parent PAC. “You’ve got to have a really good campaign put together and she just doesn’t have the campaign infrastructure.”

The group won’t endorse Republican Gov. Greg Abbott, either.

[…]

Texas Parent PAC endorsed Democrats Mike Collier for lieutenant governor and Justin Nelson for attorney general, saying those candidates are the most critical to improving public education. The group wants to defeat Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Attorney General Ken Paxton, two conservative Republicans who support school vouchers, which allow parents to send their students to private school with public education funds. Abbott also supports school vouchers.

Here’s their press release. I wish they had made a call in the Governor’s race, but I understand where they’re coming from. It is what it is.

Last but not least, from the inbox and the campaign of Nathan Johnson for SD16:

Fellow Texans,

With the critical issues of education, health, transportation and other infrastructure so important to the state of Texas, it is important that all thirty-one Texas state senators be focused on solutions and not lobbyists and special interest large donors. It is important that a state senator be focused on the senate district and Texas and not a rating on fabricated conservative scorecards produced to promote a selfish agenda and not the overall well-being of the people of Texas. Don Huffines does not meet any of these criteria.

Huffines is one of the most ineffective members of the Texas Senate. He has passed virtually no bills and nothing of consequence. His demagoguery has prevented him from effectively representing his constituents and the people of Texas. On his first day as a state senator, Huffines was on the front steps of the Capitol supporting a challenger to the speaker of the House of Representatives who already had more than the required number of votes for reelection.

Apparently, Mr. Huffines did not know senate bills have to go through the house. He compromised his office and district by getting involved in something a senator had no business in.

Fortunately, the voters of Senate District 16 have a viable choice in Nathan Johnson. While as a conservative Republican I would rather be supporting a Republican for this election,Mr. Huffines’ lack of leadership and accomplishment leave little choice. Senate District 16 deserves better. Mr. Johnson and I do disagree on ProLife issues as well as some second amendment issues, but he is clearly the better candidate.

I served Dallas and Dallas County for twelve years in the Texas Senate. By listening to my constituents, including their other elected officials, and with their help we accomplished much. Mr. Huffines seems to be tone deaf to all as he pursues an agenda for himself and supporters from Austin, west Texas and Houston. What kind of elected official yells at visiting children when they ask him questions about an issue? The answer is: Don Huffines.

It is sad that low voter turnout in Republican primaries has allowed a small number of voters to give us the likes of Bob Hall, Don Huffines, and Koni Burton to represent the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex and surrounding rural areas. This is a viable and growing area. We need more.

I moved to Dallas as a child in 1960. I love this area. Dallas and Senate District 16 need strong and effective leadership in the state senate and not rote scorecard voting. We need an informed and independent senator that will put the district and Texas first. We have that in Nathan Johnson.

Regardless of party affiliation or political philosophy, if you care about the important issues facing our community and state you will vote for Nathan Johnson.

Bob Deuell, M.D.
Former Member, Texas Senate
Greenville, Texas

Dang. Deuell was definitely a conservative, at least in the sense of that word ten years or so ago, but he was about as collegial as they came in the Senate. I happened to be in Austin in 2013 for a tenth anniversary celebration of the Aardmore Exodus, which was a very partisan event. The celebration attendees were overwhelmingly Democratic, as one might imagine, with one prominent exception: Bob Deuell, then still in the Senate, sitting in at the drums (he’s quite talented) with the Bad Precedents. You can view this however you like, but based on what I know of Bob Deuell, I take him at his word in this letter.

The AG race and the lawsuit to kill Obamacare

I feel like this is a better issue for Justin Nelson than it is for Ken Paxton. Of course, on the down side, for it to really be salient millions of people will have lost health insurance. Not that Ken Paxton cares, of course.

Justin Nelson

Can a Texas-led lawsuit to kill Obamacare boost Democrats even in deep-red Texas?

Justin Nelson sure hopes so. The well-credentialed Austin lawyer is challenging the architect of that case, incumbent Republican Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, in this fall’s general election, betting that the controversial case can help him overcome the partisan disadvantage that’s proved insurmountable for statewide Democratic candidates for the past two decades.

In February, Paxton — who was indicted in 2015 for securities fraud and has not yet gone to trial — launched a 20-state challenge to the landmark health care law, arguing that after Congress gutted the individual mandate, the rest of the law is unconstitutional and must fall. Critics have cast doubt on the case, from its motivations — many argue it’s rooted partisan politics, not genuine constitutional concerns — to its legal arguments.

As the lawsuit comes into play in races across the country, Nelson’s campaign has seized on it as perhaps its best bet at victory. Focusing on protections for pre-existing conditions — one of the most popular provisions of Obama’s landmark health law — Nelson has framed the lawsuit as his opponent’s attempt to wrench health care away from Texas’ most vulnerable residents. The Democrat brings the issue up almost as often as he cites the criminal charges against his opponent.

Republicans have been running against Obamacare practically since before it passed. But now, as they butt up against a midterm election season widely considered friendly to the Democrats, the issue may be becoming an advantage on the other side. Polling from the Kaiser Family Foundation shows that 75 percent of Americans consider protections for pre-existing conditions “very important.”

[…]

Brendan Steinhauser, a Republican strategist, said the Texas-led lawsuit is “creating a microscope” on a statewide race that tends to fly under the radar.

“To some extent, sure, yes, it keeps the name in the news in a positive way among [Paxton’s] base,” Steinhauser said. But it’s also “giving the Democrats something to use,” he added.

Nelson has pledged to withdraw from the lawsuit on his first day in office. Earlier this month, his camp hosted a protest in a park across the street from the Fort Worth courtroom where Paxton’s staff was asking a federal judge to block Obamacare nationwide. Dozens of protesters wielded signs with messages like “Why Oh Why Are You Killing Me?” and one protester dressed as the grim reaper.

The issue is clearly speaking to voters, Nelson said.

“People come up to me at events and hug me for what I’m doing, speaking out on protections for pre-existing conditions,” Nelson said.

His campaign claims the numbers bear that out. In internal polls, just over half of likely voters had either “serious doubts” or “very serious doubts” about Paxton’s efforts to roll back Obamacare’s protections, a spokeswoman said. Once voters are briefed on Paxton’s background, including on the indictment, she added, Nelson pulls ahead by a small margin.

A Paxton campaign spokesman said the incumbent carries a consistent 10-point lead in his campaign’s polling.

See here, here, and here for the background. I can believe that both candidates’ polling is accurate, or at least plausible. Nelson’s depends on people being aware of the Paxton-led lawsuit and its effect. An injunction from the judge would accomplish that, though I think the judge will heed the request to hold off till after the election. Wouldn’t want to get the rabble all roused up, after all. As the story notes, this lawsuit has been an issue in elections in other states. Breaking through here is harder – dozens of media markets, lots of oxygen being consumed by other races, not that much money in this race, etc – but a little media coverage can’t hurt. The more, the better.

The hearing for the lawsuit to kill Obamacare

Here we go again.

It’s constitutional – deal with it

At the hearing Wednesday, Texas aimed to convince U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor to block the law across the country as it continues to fight a months- or years-long legal case that could land before the U.S. Supreme Court.

Citing rising health care premiums, Texas says such an injunction is necessary to preserve state sovereignty and to relieve the burden on residents forced to purchase expensive insurance coverage. California counters that temporarily blocking or ending the law would cause more harm to the millions of people insured under it, particularly the 133 million people the state says enjoy the law’s protections for pre-existing conditions. The U.S. Department of Justice, which has taken up many of Texas’ positions in the case, nonetheless sided with California, arguing that an immediate injunction would throw the health care system into chaos.

[…]

Inside the courtroom, where protesters’ shouts were inaudible, Darren McCarty, an assistant attorney general for Texas, argued that “the policies, the merits of the ACA are not on trial here” — just the legality. In that legal argument, McCarty leaned heavily on a 2012 U.S. Supreme Court decision on Obamacare, which upheld the law by construing the “individual mandate,” a penalty for not purchasing insurance, as a tax that Congress has the power to levy. Texas argues that after Congress lowered that fee to $0 in a slate of December 2017 tax cuts, the fee is no longer a tax and thus no longer constitutional. With it must go the rest of the law, the state claims.

“There is no more tax to provide constitutional cover to the individual mandate,” McCarty said. “Once the individual mandate falls, the entire ACA falls.”

California countered that a tax can be a tax even if it doesn’t collect revenue at all times. And, attorneys for the state claim, even if the individual mandate is unconstitutional, the court should let lie “hundreds of perfectly lawful sections,” argued Nimrod Elias, deputy attorney general for California.

The case will likely turn on that question of “severability”— whether one slice of a law, if ruled unconstitutional, must necessarily doom the rest. O’Connor, who nodded along carefully throughout the hearing, lobbed most of his questions at the California attorneys, and many of them focused on whether the various pieces of Obamacare can be unentangled.

Elias said that in the vast majority of cases, the Supreme Court acts with “a scalpel, not a sledgehammer,” leaving in place most of a law even if one provision must be struck. The Texas coalition pointed to a more recent case in which the high court struck an entire law based on a narrow challenge.

O’Connor — a George W. Bush-appointee who has ruled against Obamacare several times, albeit on narrower grounds — also honed in on the question of legislative intent. Texas argued that the individual mandate was a critical piece of the law’s original version. But California argued that in 2017, in gutting the individual mandate without touching the rest of the law, lawmakers made it clear they wanted the law to persist without that provision.

“Would the legislature prefer what is left in statute to no statute at all?” Elias questioned. “We know what Congress intended based on what Congress actually did.”

See here and here for some background. Justin Nelson was at the hearing as well, pressing his attack on Paxton for his ideological assault on so many people’s health care. That really deserves more coverage, but the fact that most everyone outside of Paxton’s bubble thinks his legal argument is ridiculous is probably helping to keep the story on a lower priority. (Well, that and the unending Wurlitzer shitshow that is the Trump administration.) I mean, I may not be a fancypants lawyer, but it sure seems to me that eight years of Republicans vowing to repeal Obamacare plus the entire summer of 2017 trying to repeal Obamacare plus the abject failure to repeal Obamacare would suggest that the Republicans did not intend to repeal Obamacare with the bill that they finally did pass. If they could have they would have, but they couldn’t so they didn’t. I don’t know what else there is to say, but we’re going to have to wait till after the November elections – wouldn’t be prudent to do that before people voted, you know – to find out what this hand-picked judge thinks. Ken Janda, the Dallas Observer, and ThinkProgress have more.

Nelson attacks Paxton over Obamacare lawsuit

Good.

Justin Nelson

The Democrat challenging Ken Paxton is denouncing the attorney general for suing to wipe out the Affordable Care Act‘s health care protections for Americans with pre-existing conditions.

Justin Nelson, a Houston attorney, plans to hold a rally outside the federal courthouse in Ft. Worth where Paxton’s team will argue its case next week. He’s also launched a webpage urging Texans to share how axing the ACA, also known as Obamacare, will affect their access to health care.

“Paxton is leading the charge to take away pre-existing condition protections not just from all Texans but from all Americans and that is so wrong,” Nelson said in a video message Monday. “We’ve started the hashtag, #MyPreExisting, and on this website you can click on the button below and record your video. Tell us how you are affected in this life and death issue.”

Nelson’s campaign website also includes a list of common pre-existing conditions, like arthritis, sleep apnea and pregnancy. Texans with these conditions and many others could see higher health care costs if the Obamacare protections are rescinded.

[…]

About 27 percent of non-elderly Texans — or around 4.5 million people — have pre-existing conditions that could result in them facing difficulty obtaining insurance if Obamacare is overturned, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. More than 52 million Americans fall into this category, 20.7 million of whom live in the 20 states suing to end the pre-existing condition protections.

In addition to Texas, officials from Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Maine, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah, West Virginia and Wisconsin are parties to the Obamacare lawsuit.

See here and here for the background. You can feel however you want to feel about Obamacare and Ken Paxton and whatever else, but something that would affect this many people in such a direct fashion ought to be part of the discussion in an election year. Good for Justin Nelson for doing that.

The meta-campaign for Senate

Let’s talk about what we talk about when we talk about the Senate campaign.

Rep. Beto O’Rourke

It’s the most backhanded of compliments.

U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke’s campaign for U.S. Senate has caught so much fire throughout the state that the new favorite betting game in Texas politics is “How close can he get to Ted Cruz in November?”

The implication in the question’s phrasing is that O’Rourke’s loss remains a given.

Despite the high enthusiasm the El Paso congressman’s campaign has drawn among Democrats, Texas has not elected a Democrat statewide in over 20 years. An informal round of interviews with well over a dozen political players involved in Texas and national politics suggests that Cruz is expected to extend that streak with a re-election victory in the high single digits.

While such a margin would amount to significant progress for Democrats from past statewide performances, a loss is a loss, and Cruz’s win would likely ensure GOP control of the U.S. Senate for another two years.

Even so, O’Rourke’s 18-month statewide tour could still help significantly rebuild a flagging state party apparatus. The term being thrown around quietly among Democrats is “losing forward.”

In that sense, the stakes are much higher for both parties than a single race.

How this very strange match up of Cruz, a former GOP presidential runner-up, against O’Rourke, a rank-and-file congressman turned political sensation, shakes out could set the trajectory of the next decade in Texas politics.

[…]

More than one operative from both parties brushed off the O’Rourke excitement with a pervasive phrase — “This is still Texas” — a nod to the state’s recent history as the most populous conservative powerhouse in the union.

The enthusiasm for O’Rourke — his bonanza event attendance and record-breaking fundraising, in particular — is something the state has not seen in modern memory. But there remain open questions over whether the three-term congressman can take a punch when the widely expected fall advertising blitz against him begins, whether he can activate the Hispanic vote and whether he can effectively build his name identification in a such a sprawling and populated state.

“We’ve never been in a situation where November matters at a statewide level,” said Jason Stanford, a former Democratic consultant, about the uncertainty of the fall.

So what would a moral victory be, if O’Rourke is unable to close the deal outright? Operatives from both parties suggest a 5- to 6-point spread — or smaller — could send a shockwave through Texas politics.

Such a margin could compel national Democrats to start making serious investments in the state and force local Republicans to re-examine how their own party practices politics going forward.

But that kind of O’Rourke performance could also bear more immediate consequences, potentially scrambling the outcomes of races for other offices this fall.

Only a handful of statewide surveys on the race are floating around the Texas political ether. But one increasing point of alarm for Republicans is what campaign strategists are seeing when they test down-ballot races.

Often campaigns for the U.S. House or the Texas Legislature will include statewide matchups in polling they conduct within a district. Sources from both parties say some of those polls show Cruz underperforming in some state legislative and congressional races — particularly in urban areas.

In effect, O’Rourke could come up short but turn out enough voters in the right communities to push Democrats over the line in races for the Legislature and U.S. House.

I know I discussed this before back in 2014 when we were all high on Battleground Texas, but let’s do this again. What are the consolation prize goals for Texas Democrats in 2018?

– To discuss the consolation prizes, we have to first agree on what the main goals are. Clearly, electing Beto O’Rourke is one of the brass rings, but what about the other statewide campaigns? My guess is that based primarily on visibility and the implications for control of the Senate, the O’Rourke-Cruz race is in a class by itself, so everything after that falls in the “consolation prize” bucket. Thus, I’d posit that winning one or more downballot statewide race would be in the first level of lower-tier goals, with Lt. Governor, Attorney General, Ag Commissioner, and any Supreme Court/CCA bench being the ones that are most in focus.

– Very close behind would be the Congressional races, for which three (CDs 07, 23, and 32) are rated as tossups, a couple more (CDs 21 and 31) are on the radar, and more than we can count are on the fringes. You have to feel like CD23 is winnable in any decent year, so for this to count as a prize we’d need at least one more seat in addition to flip. Very good would be all three tossups, and great would be another seat in addition.

– In the Lege, picking up even one Senate seat would be nice, but picking up two or three means Dems have enough members to block things via the three-fifths (formerly two-thirds) rule. I don’t know how many House seats I’d consider prize-level-worthy, but knocking off a couple of the worst offenders that are in winnable seats, like Matt Rinaldi in HD115, Gary Elkins in HD135, and Tony Dale in HD136, would be sweet.

– Sweeping Harris County, breaking through in Fort Bend County, picking up any kind of victory in places like Collin, Denton, Williamson, Brazoria, you get the idea. And don’t forget the appellate courts, which will require doing well in non-urban counties.

It’s easy enough to say what counts as lower-level goals, it’s harder to put numbers on it. It’s not my place to say what we “should” win in order to feel good about it. Frankly, given recent off-year elections, it’s a bit presumptuous to say that any number of victories in places we haven’t won this decade might be somehow inadequate. I think everyone will have their own perception of how it went once the election is over, and unless there’s a clear rout one way or the other there will be some level of disagreement over how successful Democrats were.

It’s been three years since Ken Paxton was indicted

Surely that’s worth noting.

Best mugshot ever

It’s been three years since Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton was indicted for securities fraud, and his Democratic challenger marked the date — with cake.

Justin Nelson, a Houston attorney vying to strip the Republican incumbent of his title, released a YouTube video campaign ad on Thursday wishing Paxton, “Happy birthday to your criminal charges.” The short video, which was recorded to appear like a baking tutorial, also criticizes Paxton for campaign contributions and n incident where he took — then returned — a local lawyer’s $1,000 Montblanc pen.

“On August 3rd, 2015, Indicted Ken Paxton was arrested, booked, and had his mugshot taken,” the video’s description says. “Since Paxton’s criminal charges just turned three, here’s a delicious way to celebrate their birthday!”

[…]

Without a large campaign fund for traditional media, Nelson has turned to YouTube to get his message out, releasing four videos in the last month.

You can see those videos here; they haven’t gotten much traffic yet, but it only takes one to go viral. And, um, Happy Indictment Day.

Lyceum: Cruz 41, O’Rourke 39

Good result, though the others with it could be better.

Rep. Beto O’Rourke

A new poll released Wednesday suggests that U.S. Sen Ted Cruz and U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke, D-El Paso, are in a dead heat.

The poll from Texas Lyceum shows Cruz holding a slim margin over his Democratic challenger in the U.S. Senate race. Among likely voters, Cruz carries 41 percent of the vote compared to O’Rourke’s 39 percent. Nineteen percent of voters said they were undecided.

That lead falls within the polls 4.67 percent margin of error.

“O’Rourke continues to nip at Cruz’s heels, but it’s a long way to go until Election Day,” Josh Blank, Lyceum Poll Research Director, said in a news release. “If this race looks different than the rest, that’s probably because it is because a strong Democratic challenger raising prolific sums of money and tons of earned media.”

All the information about the 2018 Lyceum poll is here. Here’s the press release, the executive summary, the toplines, and the crosstabs. Here also are the results for the four races they polled:

Registered voters:

Senate – Cruz 36, O’Rourke 34
Governor – Abbott 44, Valdez 25
Lt. Governor – Patrick 32, Collier 23
Attorney General – Paxton 32, Nelson 20

Likely voters:

Senate – Cruz 41, O’Rourke 39
Governor – Abbott 47, Valdez 31
Lt. Governor – Patrick 39, Collier 29
Attorney General – Paxton 35, Nelson 25

I’ve generally gone with RV totals in these polls, but you can make your own choice here. I’m including the LV totals in the polling average for Senate, which now stands at 46.2 for Cruz and 39.9 for O’Rourke. The Lyceum did its 2014 polling in October, which is a bit annoying as that makes it less directly comparable. At the time, their numbers in the Abbott-Davis race looked not too bad, but that was the last time one could make that assertion. What makes me want to pull my hair out is that they did generic ballot polling for Congress and the Lege in 2014, giving Republicans a 46-35 lead in the former and a 38-31 lead in the latter, but apparently didn’t ask that same question this time around. Argh! That sure would have been a nice little data point to have.

I’ve spent a lot of my time on this blog nitpicking polls and questioning assumptions and samples and whatnot, oftentimes for reasons that in retrospect don’t look that great. So it is with a certain measure of grim satisfaction that I read this:

The newest poll is sure to draw skepticism from Cruz supporters. Even before it was released, Cruz’s pollster Chris Wilson published an article on Medium questioning whether it would be accurate.

“Dating back to 2008 the Texas Lyceum has generously given Democrats a massive house effect boost of seven (7!!!) points,” he wrote, add that the poll has historically overestimated the share of the Hispanic vote.

I feel your pain, buddy. But just for the record, here are some previous Lyceum results:

2016 – Trump 39, Clinton 32 (LVs)
2014 – Abbott 49, Davis 40 (LVs)
2012: Romney 58, Obama 39 (LVs)

They definitely underestimated Abbott in 2014 (though they did show a wider lead 47-33 lead for Dan Patrick over Letitia Van de Putte), but the total for Davis was spot on. They were pretty close on the other two. Take your “house effect” complaint to the nerds at 538 (which doesn’t have the Texas Lyceum poll in its pollster ratings). Texas Monthly has more.

The Trib looks at the AG race

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

Justin Nelson

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

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

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

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

Paxton joins the wimp brigade

Seems fitting.

Attorney General Ken Paxton said in a TV interview that he would be “happy to debate anybody on the issues” as he seeks re-election this fall, but he is now backing off that offer by refusing to debate Democrat Justin Nelson as voters decide who to hire as the state’s top lawyer.

Paxton instead “will communicate directly with the voters,” his campaign spokesman, Matt Welch, wrote in an emailed statement Thursday in rejecting Nelson’s invitation to debate.

Welch did not respond when asked if Paxton’s previous offer to debate was sincere.

“I’m happy to debate anybody on the issues and I look forward to it,” Paxton said on C-SPAN’s “Newsmakers” program in November.

See here and here for the background. No one should be surprised by this. All bark no bite, all hat no cattle, all hawk no spit – pick your cliche to to describe these yellow bellies. I doubt Paxton, along with Dan Patrick and Sid Miller and George P. Bush, can feel shame, but they can probably feel ridicule, and they deserve all the Bronx cheers they get. If they refuse to debate because they don’t want to give publicity to their opponents, then let’s make their refusal to debate a story. They should not be allowed to run away and hide.

Don’t expect any other debates

Cowardice + lack of incentive = avoiding engagement.

Land Commissioner George P. Bush (son of Jeb and nephew to George W.) has no plans to go one-on-one with his challenger, Miguel Suazo — at least, not as of Tuesday, July 24.

“At this point, we’re not planning to do a debate, but we always assess things as we go forward,” Bush campaign spokesman Lee Spieckerman told The Dallas Morning News. And why not? “Voters are very aware of Commissioner Bush’s record, which is the main thing. … His performance speaks for itself.”

But perhaps it’s the spokesman for Sid Miller, the perpetually be-Stetson-ed commissioner of agriculture, who said it best. Miller’s got 719,000 followers on Facebook, after all, where he’s shared his thoughts on refugee “rattlers,” drag queens and Whoopi Goldberg. Why give his challenger a slice of that “free publicity?”

“It’ll be a cold day in Texas before we give our opponent the opportunity to have free name recognition by having a debate,” Todd M. Smith told The News on Tuesday. “As the lieutenant governor said, there’s not anybody in Texas who doesn’t know where Sid Miller stands on the issues.”

[…]

Kim Olson, who is seen as both forceful and folksy, accused Miller of running scared.

“Candidates should earn their votes, and the only way to do that is to present yourself,” Olson, a retired Air Force colonel, told The News. “It is suspect when an incumbent will not defend his record or present a vision of the future.”

Collier accused Patrick of ensconcing himself away “in his bunker, sending out audio snippets to the few supporters that remain, that are chock full of spin and nonsense,” to which Blakemore shot back with a long list of Patrick’s campaign events over the last two days, including a meeting with the Dallas Police Association, folks from UT Southwestern and a group of conservative women in Tomball.

And Suazo, the energy lawyer who wants to run the Alamo and manage the state’s mineral rights as land commissioner, said Bush should live up to his name: “Every other candidate named George Bush has debated, except this one. That’s because his record is indefensible and he knows that I’ll beat him.”

Attorney General Ken Paxton’s spokesman did not return calls and emails requesting comment. In a November television appearance, Paxton (who was indicted in July 2015 and is awaiting trial on fraud charges) said he would “be happy to debate anybody on the issues and look forward to it.

It was unclear if he meant an election opponent. Paxton refused to meet his challenger in 2014. His opponent this time around is Justin Nelson, a Houston attorney. On Wednesday, the Nelson campaign released a video featuring a clip of Paxton’s November appearance where he says he’d be “happy to debate anybody.”

“Sounds good, Ken,” the ad says. “Ready when you are.”

See here for the background, and here for the comparison to Ted Cruz. I love how Patrick sends his spokesperson out to fight his verbal battles for him. The Warner Brothers cartoon image of a small yappy dog hiding behind his bulldog friend while barking at a cat really comes to mind. And while one has to give Sid Miller some props for being honest about why he doesn’t want to debate anyone, especially not an icky girl like Kim Olson who surely has cooties, it’s hilarious and entirely in character that he cites Dan Patrick’s reasoning, as he lacks the originality to come up with his own. If it’s not a Facebook meme, it’s too complicated for Miller. Again, I get the rationale for not wanting to give publicity to an underfunded opponent, but the lack of confidence in their own abilities is startling. What a bunch of chickens.

Business groups file brief opposing Paxton’s anti-DACA lawsuit

This is good.

A federal lawsuit by Texas officials earlier this year seeking to order the end of the federal immigration program called the Deferred Act for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, will have “immediate, irreparable injury” to Texas businesses and cost the state’s economy billions of dollars, according to a coalition of pro-business organizations.

Seven Texas-based chambers of commerce, two pro-business consortiums and four prominent companies – including Southwest Airlines – filed an unprecedented court brief late Saturday asking a federal judge in Houston to reject Attorney General Ken Paxton’s argument that the DACA program be ended and dismantled.

Lawyers for Vinson & Elkins, which represents the business coalition that includes the Texas Association of Business, argue that Paxton’s case – if successful – would significantly damage their operations, deprive them of much needed work expertise and cost the state of Texas tens of thousands of jobs and hundreds of millions of dollars in tax revenues.

[…]

The business organizations point out that DACA was initiated by the Obama Administration in 2012, but the fact that Texas and the six other states suing waited until 2018 to challenge the program is a major legal argument in favor of keeping the status quo.

“The States waited almost six years after the announcement of the DACA guidelines before challenging them in Court, despite challenging similar initiatives implemented after DACA in 2015,” V&E lawyers argue. “Since an injunction is an equitable remedy, it may be denied on the basis of laches if an unreasonable delay by the party seeking injunctive relief works to the disadvantage or prejudice of another party.

“The States’ delay has substantially impacted businesses in Texas, who have, as described above, come to rely upon Dreamers as valued employees, customers, and fellow members of the business community and now stand to incur significant costs if DACA is enjoined,” the brief states. “The States’ delay also undercuts any claim they have to immediate, irreparable injury, since they have been living with the status quo for six years.”

See here, here, and here for the background. I’ll be honest, when I first saw the story headline, I assumed this was another one of those meaningless tut-tut gestures from the Texas Association of Business towards their vassals in the state GOP. They were the masters of the mild statement of disapproval that was never accompanied by any tangible action but always got them some cheap publicity long before Jeff Flake ever complained about Donald Trump on Twitter. This at least has the chance to do something tangible, so kudos to them for that. Having said that, let’s be clear that this is very much a political problem as well as a legal one. If you’re not working towards a Democratic Congress and the election of Justin Nelson as Texas AG, you’re not really trying to solve it. Anyway, there will be a hearing in Houston on August 8, so we’ll see if this has any effect. The Chron has more.

Gravis: Cruz 51, O’Rourke 42

Here’s a new poll of four statewide races in Texas, for which there may or may not be any news coverage. The executive summary:

Gravis Marketing, a nonpartisan research firm, conducted a random survey of 602 likely voters across Texas. The poll was conducted from July 3rd through July 7th and has a margin of error of ±4.0%. The totals may not round to 100% because of rounding. The survey was conducted using an online panel of cell phone users and interactive voice responses. The results are weighted by voting demographics. The poll was paid for by Gravis Marketing.

Rep. Beto O’Rourke

As there is no news story to excerpt, I’ll just go straight to the results:

US Senate: Ted Cruz 51, Beto O’Rourke 42

Governor: Greg Abbott 51, Lupe Valdez 41

Lt. Governor: Dan Patrick 46, Mike Collier 44

Attorney General: Ken Paxton 45, Justin Nelson 41

There are a bunch of approval and issue questions in the polling memo, so feel free to browse through it. I will note two things. One is that Gravis is rated as a C+ pollster by FiveThirtyEight, better than some but worse than many others. Like Quinnipiac, they have no record in Texas prior to this year that I’m aware of. Two, while I haven’t spent any time critiquing subsamples in the polls we’ve seen so far, I have to say that the subsamples in this poll are nuts. Somehow, Gravis found the most ridiculously and unbelievably Republican group of 18-29 year olds and Hispanics I’ve ever seen, as well as the least hostile-to-Democrats Anglos. I have no explanation for this, and to some extent it doesn’t really matter. It is what it is, and what it is is another data point. And that data point brings the Senate poll average to 46.9 for Cruz, and 40.0 for O’Rourke.

I heard about this poll via a campaign email from Mike Collier, who for obvious reasons wanted to tout this result. (The TDP subsequently posted about it.) The low “don’t know/no answer” rate for the Lite Guv and AG questions is suspicious, but maybe that’s a function of their “likely voter” screen. Collier trails Patrick 50.4 to 42.8 among white voters, which is why he is so close in the race despite trailing 43.8 to 36.4 among Hispanics and leading by a mere 57.9 to 34.9 among blacks. Did I make my incredulity about this polls’ subsamples clear enough? You see some wacky stuff sometimes when the subgroups are small, but good Lord. As I’ve said, it’s a data point. Don’t make any more of it than that.

Don’t expect a Ken Paxton trial to happen this year

Delays, delays, nothing but delays.

Best mugshot ever

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton was indicted for fraud nearly three years ago but is unlikely to go on trial before Election Day.

Paxton’s trials are on hold while the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals decides whether the prosecutors on the case are being overpaid. The court went on summer recess Wednesday, and won’t hear any cases or issue any major opinions before the fall.

This means they won’t announce a decision in the pay case until September, at the earliest, which experts said will delay Paxton’s trial dates until after the Nov. 6 election — and probably into next year.

“I just don’t see there’s any way it gets tried before the election,” said Rusty Hardin, a Houston attorney who has represented everyone from Enron employees to athletes and TV stars. “I would have doubted that the trial would have happened before the election even if the Court of Criminal Appeals would have decided today.”

There’s more, so read the rest. Just for a sense of the timeline here, the 5th Court of Appeals in Dallas halted the special prosecutors’ pay last February, then ruled they had to give a bunch of it back to Collin County in August. The CCA then stayed that ruling pending any action it would take in September, and after giving everyone 30 days to respond to the prosecutors’ appeal of the 5th Court’s ruling, they agreed in December to formally review that ruling. At that time, it delayed the actual Paxton trial, which was originally set to start on December 11, to this year. More than six months later, the CCA has not scheduled oral arguments for that appeal, and so here we are. There are other factors at play here – the damage done to the Harris County courthouse by Harvey greatly complicates things, for example – but either until this lawsuit gets resolved, nothing else will happen. And just any ruling won’t get us back on track, because if the CCA lets the 5th Court’s ruling stand, the special prosecutors will resign, and we’ll have to start more or less from scratch. Ken Paxton could well be collecting his state pension by the time this sucker gets to a courthouse.

You’ve heard the expression that “justice delayed is justice denied”. Usually, that applies to the defendant, who is entitled by the Constitution to a fair and prompt trial. In this case, as Democratic nominee for AG Justin Nelson says in a statement, Ken Paxton is benefiting from the unending delays, with the assistance of his legislative cronies. You’d think a guy who loudly proclaims his innocence would want to get this over with, but not Ken Paxton. It would seem he’s just fine with putting this off, at least until after the election. Feel free to speculate as to why that might be.

UT/Trib: Cruz 41, O’Rourke 36, part 2

We pick up where we left off.

Republican Ted Cruz leads Democrat Beto O’Rourke 41 percent to 36 percent in the general election race for a Texas seat in the U.S. Senate, according to the latest University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll.

Neal Dikeman, the Libertarian Party nominee for U.S. Senate, garnered 2 percent, according to the survey. And 20 percent of registered voters said either that they would vote for someone else in an election held today (3 percent) or that they haven’t thought enough about the contest to have a preference (17 percent).

In the governor’s race, Republican incumbent Greg Abbott holds a comfortable 12-percentage-point lead over Democratic challenger Lupe Valdez — the exact same advantage he held over Democrat Wendy Davis in an early-summer poll in 2014. Abbott went on to win that race by 20 percentage points. In this survey, Abbott had the support of 44 percent to Valdez’s 32 percent. Libertarian Mark Tippetts had the support of 4 percent of registered voters, while 20 percent chose “someone else” or said they haven’t made a choice yet.

[…]

The June UT/TT Poll, conducted from June 8 to June 17, is an early look at the 2018 general election, a survey of registered voters — not of the “likely voters” whose intentions will become clearer in the weeks immediately preceding the election. If recent history is the guide, most registered voters won’t vote in November; according to the Texas Secretary of State, only 34 percent of registered voters turned out in 2014, the last gubernatorial election year.

The numbers also reflect, perhaps, the faint rumble of excitement from Democrats and wariness from Republicans who together are wondering what kind of midterm election President Donald Trump might inspire. The last gubernatorial election year in Texas, 2014, came at Barack Obama’s second midterm, and like his first midterm — the Tea Party explosion of 2010 — it was a rough year for Democrats in Texas and elsewhere. As the late social philosopher Yogi Berra once said, this year could be “Déjà vu all over again.”

Accordingly, voter uncertainty rises in down-ballot races where even previously elected officials are less well known. Republican incumbent Dan Patrick leads Democrat Mike Collier in the contest for lieutenant governor, 37 percent to 31 percent. Kerry McKennon, the Libertarian in that race, had the support of 4 percent of the registered voters surveyed, while the rest said they were undecided (23 percent) or would vote for someone other than the three named candidates (5 percent).

“As you move down to races that are just less well known, you see the numbers drop,” said Daron Shaw, a government professor at the University of Texas at Austin and co-director of the poll. “They drop more for the Republicans. Part of that reflects the visibility of those races, and of those candidates.”

Henson said Patrick and other down-ballot incumbents work in the shadow of the governor, especially when the Legislature is not in in session. “That said, he’s still solid with the Republican base, though he lags behind Abbott and Cruz in both prominence and popularity,” he said. “There’s nothing unusual about that.”

And indecision marks the race for Texas attorney general, where Republican incumbent Ken Paxton has 32 percent to Democrat Justin Nelson’s 31 percent and 6 percent for Libertarian Michael Ray Harris. Four percent of registered voters said they plan to vote for someone else in that race and a fourth — 26 percent — said they haven’t chosen a favorite.

Nelson and Harris are unknown to statewide general election voters. Paxton, first elected in 2014, is fighting felony indictments for securities fraud — allegations that arose from his work as a private attorney before he was AG. He has steadily maintained his innocence, but political adversaries are hoping his legal problems prompt the state’s persistently conservative electorate to consider turning out an incumbent Republican officeholder.

“If you’ve heard anything about Ken Paxton in the last four years, more than likely you’ve heard about his legal troubles,” said Josh Blank, manager of polling and research at UT’s Texas Politics Project. Henson added a note of caution to that: There’s also no erosion in Ken Paxton support by the Republican base. This reflects some stirrings amongst the Democrats and Paxton’s troubles. But it would premature to draw drastic conclusions for November based upon these numbers from June.”

Shaw noted that the support for the Democrats in the three state races is uniform: Each has 31 percent or 32 percent of the vote. “All the variability is on the Republican side, it seems to me,” he said. When those voters move away from the Republican side, Shaw said, “they move not to the Democrats but to the Libertarian or to undecided.”

Trump is still getting very strong job ratings from Republican voters — strong enough to make his overall numbers look balanced, according to the poll. Among all registered voters, 47 percent approve of the job the president is doing, while 44 percent disapprove. Only 8 percent had no opinion.

See here for yesterday’s discussion. Before we go any further, let me provide a bit of context here, since I seem to be the only person to have noticed that that Trib poll from June 2014 also inquired about other races. Here for your perusal is a comparison of then and now:


Year    Office  Republican  Democrat  R Pct  D Pct
==================================================
2014    Senate      Cornyn   Alameel     36     25
2018    Senate        Cruz  O'Rourke     41     36

2014  Governor      Abbott     Davis     44     32
2018  Governor      Abbott    Valdez     44     32

2014  Lite Guv     Patrick       VdP     41     26
2018  Lite Guv     Patrick   Collier     37     31

2014  Atty Gen      Paxton   Houston     40     27
2018  Atty Gen      Paxton    Nelson     32     31

So four years ago, Wendy Davis topped Dems with 32%, with the others ranging from 25 to 27. All Dems trailed by double digits (there were some closer races further down the ballot, but that was entirely due to lower scores for the Republicans in those mostly obscure contests). Republicans other than the oddly-underperforming John Cornyn were all at 40% or higher. The Governor’s race was the marquee event, with the largest share of respondents offering an opinion.

This year, Beto O’Rourke leads the way for Dems at 36%, with others at 31 or 32. Abbott and Ted Cruz top 40%, but Dan Patrick and Ken Paxton are both lower than they were in 2014, with Paxton barely ahead of Justin Nelson. Only Abbott has a double-digit lead, with the other three in front by six, five, and one (!) points.

And yet the one quote we get about the numbers suggests that 2018 could be like 2010 or 2014? I must be missing something. Hey, how about we add in some 2010 numbers from the May 2010 UT/Trib poll?


Year    Office  Republican  Democrat  R Pct  D Pct
==================================================
2014    Senate      Cornyn   Alameel     36     25
2018    Senate        Cruz  O'Rourke     41     36

2010  Governor       Perry     White     44     35
2014  Governor      Abbott     Davis     44     32
2018  Governor      Abbott    Valdez     44     32

2010  Lite Guv    Dewhurst       LCT     44     30
2014  Lite Guv     Patrick       VdP     41     26
2018  Lite Guv     Patrick   Collier     37     31

2010  Atty Gen      Abbott Radnofsky     47     28
2014  Atty Gen      Paxton   Houston     40     27
2018  Atty Gen      Paxton    Nelson     32     31

There was no Senate race in 2010. I dunno, maybe the fact that Republicans outside the Governor’s race are doing worse this year than they did in the last two cycles is worth noting? Especially since two of them were first-time statewide candidates in 2014 and are running for re-election this year? Or am I the only one who’s able to remember that we had polls back then?

Since this cycle began and everyone started talking about Democratic energy going into the midterms, I’ve been looking for evidence of said energy here in Texas. There are objective signs of it, from the vast number of candidates running, to the strong fundraising numbers at the Congressional level, to the higher primary turnout, and so on. I haven’t as yet seen much in the poll numbers to show a Democratic boost, though. As we’ve observed before, Beto O’Rourke’s numbers aren’t that different than Bill White or Wendy Davis’ were. A bit higher than Davis overall, but still mostly in that 35-42 range. However, I did find something in the poll data, which was not in the story, that does suggest more Dem enthusiasm. Again, a comparison to 2010 and 2014 is instructive. In each of these three polls, there’s at least one “generic ballot” question, relating to the US House and the Texas Legislature. Let’s take a look at them.

If the 2010 election for [Congress/Lege] in your district were held today, would you vote for the Democratic candidate, the Republican candidate, or haven’t you thought enough about it to have an opinion?

2010 Congress – GOP 46, Dem 34
2010 Lege – GOP 44, Dem 33

If the 2014 election for the Texas Legislature in your district were held today, would you vote for the Democratic candidate, the Republican candidate, or haven’t you thought about it enough to have an opinion?

2014 Lege – GOP 46, Dem 38

If the 2018 election for [Congress/Lege] in your district were held today, would you vote for [RANDOMIZE “the Democratic candidate” and “the Republican candidate”] the Democratic candidate, the Republican candidate, or haven’t you thought about it enough to have an opinion?

2018 Congress – GOP 43, Dem 41
2018 Lege – GOP 43, Dem 42

Annoyingly, in 2014 they only asked that question about the Lege, and not about Congress. Be that as it may, Dems are up in this measure as well. True, they were up in 2014 compared to 2010, and in the end that meant nothing. This may mean nothing too, but why not at least note it in passing? How is it that I often seem to know these poll numbers better than Jim Henson and Daron Shaw themselves do?

Now maybe the pollsters have changed their methodology since then. It’s been eight years, I’m sure there have been a few tweaks, and as such we may not be doing a true comparison across these years. Even if that were the case, I’d still find this particular number worthy of mention. Moe than two thirds of Texas’ Congressional delegation is Republican. Even accounting for unopposed incumbents, the Republican share of the Congressional vote ought to be well above fifty percent in a given year, yet this poll suggests a neck and neck comparison. If you can think of a better explanation for this than a higher level of engagement among Dems than we’re used to seeing, I’m open to hearing it. And if I hadn’t noticed that, I don’t know who else might have.

Finance reports start coming in

And once again, CD07 is the big story.

The winner in the money chase so far is nonprofit executive Alex Triantaphyllis, who raised over $255,000 in the fourth quarter of 2017, bringing his total raised for the election to over $925,000. After expenses, that leaves him over $630,000 cash on hand heading into the final stretch of the March 6 primary.

Culberson, 17-year incumbent who trailed Triantaphyllis in fundraising at the end of September, responded in the last three months by raising more than $345,000, bringing his year-end total to over $949,000.

But Culberson’s campaign also has been burning through money more quickly than Triantaphyllis, leaving him with about $595,000 in the bank — a slightly smaller war chest than the Democrat’s.

Culberson ended the third quarter of 2017 – the end of September – with more than $645,000 in receipts, trailing Triantaphyllis’ $668,000. Culberson’s war chest of nearly $390,000 at the time also was dwarfed by the $535,000 Triantaphyllis had at his disposal, raising alarms in GOP circles.

While Culberson, a top Republican on the House Appropriations Committee, had narrowed the gap, he has not shown the usual outsized incumbent advantage in campaign fundraising. However unlike all the Democrats in the race, he does not face a well-funded primary opponent.

Three other Democrats have shown their fundraising chops ahead of the January 31 Federal Election Commission deadline.

Laura Moser, a writer and national anti-Trump activist, said she raised about $215,000 in the fourth quarter of 2017, bringing her total to about $616,340.

Another top fundraiser in the Democratic primary is Houston attorney Lizzie Pannill Fletcher, who had raised more than $550,000 by the end of September, trailing only Triantaphyllis and Culberson. She has since raised some $200,000 more, bringing her total to more than $750,000, leaving about $400,000 in cash on hand.

Houston physician Jason Westin, a researcher MD Anderson Cancer Center, reported $123,369 in fourth-quarter fundraising, bringing him up to a total of $421,303 for the election so far. He goes into the final primary stretch with $218,773.

Here’s where things stood in October. I recall reading somewhere that the totals so far were nice and all, but surely by now the candidates had tapped out their inner circles, and that from here on it was going to get tougher. Looks like the challenge was met. Links to various Congressional finance reports will be on my 2018 Congressional page; the pro tip is that the URL for each candidate stays the same.

Elsewhere, part 1:

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andrew White raised over $200,000 during the first three weeks of his campaign, while one of his better-known primary opponents, Lupe Valdez, took in a quarter of that over roughly the same period.

White’s campaign told The Texas Tribune on Monday that he raised $219,277 from 200-plus donors through the end of the fundraising period on Dec. 31. The total haul includes $40,000 from White, a Houston businessman and the son of late Gov. Mark White. Andrew White announced his bid on Dec. 7.

[…]

Valdez, the former Dallas County sheriff who announced for governor the day before White did in early December, took in $46,498 through the end of that month, according to a filing Sunday with the Texas Ethics Commission. She has $40,346.62 cash on hand.

Nobody got started till December so the lower totals are understandable. But we’re in the big leagues now, so it’s time to step it up.

Elsewhere, part 2:

Mike Collier, a retired Kingwood accounttant running as a Democrat for lieutenant governor, on Friday said he will report raising about $500,000 in his bid to unsert Repubnlican incumbent Dan Patrick.

Collier said his campaign-finance report due Monday will show he has about $143,000 in cash on hand.

Patrick, who had about $17 million in his campaign war chest last July, has not yet reported his fundraising totals for the last six months of 2017. He raised about $4 million during the first part of 2017.

Not too bad. At this point in 2014, Collier had raised about $213K, and had loaned himself $400K. For comparison purposes, then-Sen. Leticia Van de Putte raised about $430K total between her account and her PAC.

Elsewhere, part 3:

Justin Nelson, a lawyer from Houston, raised $911,000 through the end of 2017, his campaign said Thursday. More than half of that amount — $500,000 — came out of the candidate’s own pocket.

[…]

Paxton has not yet released his most current fundraising numbers, but he reported more than $5 million in the bank in June.

As the story notes, neither Nelson nor Paxton have primary opponents. They will also be in the news a lot, mostly due to Paxton’s eventual trial. One suspects that could go a long way towards boosting Nelson’s name ID, depending on how it goes. I’ll have more on the reports from all the races later.

Chron profile of Justin Nelson

Hope he earns a lot of coverage in 2018, it sure would help.

Justin Nelson

Justin Nelson stood with his wife around the island in their kitchen and had one final gut check about campaigning to become Texas’ next attorney general: Were they really ready to give up a year of their lives so he could run as an underdog for the state’s third-highest political office?

Democrats have lost every race for statewide office for more than 20 years. Political analysts say even if a so called “blue wave” of Democratic voters flood polling places in next year’s election out of frustration with the Trump administration, Democrats like Nelson are still unlikely to break into statewide office.

But Nelson, an Austin-based trial lawyer counting on support from generous Democratic donors, contends 2018 can be different in a race running against Ken Paxton.

“I don’t think most people know (Paxton) is under indictment,” Nelson said recently from a table at Julio’s, his favorite Austin neighborhood restaurant. “I really believe to my core we need actual choices to run for office and I see an indicted, corrupted, extreme attorney general that looks like he’s going to get a pass from his own party, and I feel that we can do better.”

Nelson is political newcomer who specializes in high-stakes civil litigation including fraud, patents and constitutional issues for Susman Godfrey LLP, which is active in Democratic political circles, and his accolades include being named as among the “World’s Leading Patent Practitioners” by Intellectual Asset Management magazine and chaired the Economics of the Profession Committee in the American Bar Association’s Intellectual Property Division. He has also practiced and taught constitutional law and is an adjunct professor at The University of Texas School of Law.

He said he wants to sell voters on his qualifications and remind them that their state’s top lawyer has his own legal troubles.

Nelson’s polling in the race suggests people are not universally aware of Ken Paxton’s legal problems, and I have no reason to doubt that. I suspect that may change once the trial begins, as that ought to be big news, quite likely national news. We need to admit to ourselves that there’s risk in this strategy, because there is a non-zero chance Paxton gets acquitted, and if that happens he’s going to have one hell of a persecution/redemption story to tell. Beyond that, Nelson needs to raise enough money to get hs message about himself out, and of course it would be nice if turnout patterns we’ve seen this past year repeat themselves in Texas. Nelson’s a rare statewide Dem with no primary opponent, but he may get more attention than anyone outside the Governor’s race if things go his way.

Early polling on the AG race

It looks sexy, but keep your salt handy.

Justin Nelson

The 2018 election for the job of the state’s top lawyer could be a tight race if voters go to the polls knowing about Attorney General Ken Paxton’s criminal indictment, according to a Democratic pollster.

GBA Strategies, a Democratic polling operation based in Washington D.C., surveyed 500 likely Texas voters and found Paxton, the Republican incumbent, enjoyed a 7 percentage point lead over Austin attorney Justin Nelson, a Democratic newcomer, the firm reported in a memo Wednesday released by the Nelson campaign.

Once voters were informed of Paxton’s 2015 felony indictment and attacks on Nelson, respondents shifted their support, giving Nelson a 1 point lead, according to the firm. The survey, which was conducted Oct. 9 through Oct. 12, has a 4.4 percentage point margin of error and 95 percent confidence interval.

[…]

The poll also found Texas voters split on whether they approve of President Trump, finding 49 percent approve and 49 percent disapprove.

You can see Nelson’s statement about the poll here and the polling memo here. The key passages:

• Paxton starts with a narrow lead against a largely unknown opponent. Paxton carries 46 percent of the electorate in the initial vote with Justin Nelson garnering 40 percent. After undecided are asked which way they lean, Paxton leads 50 – 43 percent. Given Texas’ Republican leaning and Nelson being unknown, this is a weak starting point for Paxton.

• Paxton’s corrupt behavior is very damaging and moves Justin Nelson into the lead. When voters are informed about Paxton’s indictment, 62 percent say it raises serious doubts about him. After voters hear positive statements about both candidates and learning about Paxton’s indictment, the race moves from a 7-point Paxton advantage to a 5-point Nelson lead (49 – 44 percent). The additional information dramatically shifts Independents to Nelson’s side, while he also makes inroads with Republicans. Even after voters hear attacks against Nelson, he maintains a 1-point lead.

This is an internal poll and there’s no detailed data available, so the skepticism level is high to begin with. A few specific things to note:

– The number of undecided voters in this sample is amazingly low. For a point of comparison, look at the UT/Trib poll from June of 2014. They surveyed all of the statewide races, as the primary runoffs had concluded in May. I quote: “In the race for attorney general, Republican Ken Paxton leads Democrat Sam Houston 40 percent to 27 percent, with 27 percent undecided.” That’s a lot more undecided voters, in a poll conducted six months later into the race. With all due respect to Justin Nelson, not nearly enough people know who he is to get to forty percent in any poll.

Now to be sure, people are way more engaged than they were at this point in the 2014 cycle, and given that Paxton has been a high-profile miscreant since even before he was officially nominated. It may just be that people are expressing a strong level of disapproval of Paxton, which translated into a higher than usual amount of support for a newbie candidate like Nelson. I can’t discount that possibility, but I’ll want to see similar numbers from other polls before I buy it.

– The 49/49 approval numbers for Donald Trump are noteworthy, and as I’ve said before the fact that we’re operating in an environment where Democrats have more intense opinions about the President than Republicans do should have a real effect on 2018. That said, these numbers are actually a little better for Trump than what we’ve seen before – he was at 45/49 in an October UT/Trib poll, and at 42-54 in an April Texas Lyceum poll. I don’t want to read too much into any of this – different polls, different methodologies – but that’s very much a factor to watch.

– Finally, note the “when voters were informed” bit in the polling memo. You know what it takes to inform voters? Money, to fund an effective communications strategy in a big state with more than two dozen media markets. Of course, Ken Paxton goes on trial for a felony charge next year, with more charges in reserve depending on how that trial goes, so there’s a chance that Nelson will get a big, free assist in communicating that information. Or Paxton could beat the rap and turn that liability into a big ol’ rallying cry.

Anyway. I do think Ken Paxton is vulnerable, and I’m glad to see Justin Nelson be aggressive right out of the gate. But I would like to see some other polls before I get too excited about this one.

At some point we will be able to stop talking about who may run for Governor as a Democrat

That day is December 11. I am looking forward to it.

Andrew White

With less than a month before the filing deadline, the most prominent declared candidate for Texas governor is probably Andrew White, the son of former governor Mark White. White, a self-described “very conservative Democrat,” has never run for elected office and holds views on abortion likely to alienate some Democratic primary voters. (He says he wants to “increase access to healthcare and make abortion rare.”) In a November 2 Facebook post, Davis — a major figure in the state’s reproductive justice scene — called White “anti-choice” and summarized her reaction to his candidacy: “Uhh — no. Just no.”

For lieutenant governor, mild-mannered accountant Mike Collier — who lost a run for comptroller last cycle by 21 percentage points — is challenging Dan Patrick, one of the state’s most effective and well-funded conservative firebrands. Attorney General Ken Paxton, who will be fighting his securities fraud indictment during campaign season, drew a largely unheard-of Democratic opponent last week in attorney Justin Nelson, a former clerk for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor.

Candidate filing officially opened Saturday and ends December 11, but candidates who haven’t declared are missing opportunities for fundraising, building name recognition and organizing a campaign.

“Texas Democrats have quite clearly thrown in the towel for 2018,” said Mark P. Jones, a Rice University political scientist. “People truly committed to running would already be running; [the party] may be able to cajole, coerce or convince some higher-profile candidates to run, but with every passing day that’s less likely.”

Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez announced last week that she’s considering a gubernatorial run, but her staff refused further comment and Valdez has yet to file. Whoever faces off with Governor Greg Abbott will be staring down a $41 million war chest.

Democratic party officials insist more candidates are forthcoming: “We’ve taken our punches for withholding the names of who we’re talking to,” said Manny Garcia, deputy director with the Texas Democratic Party. “It’s been personally frustrating to me because I know who we’re talking to and I know they’re exciting people.”

Castro agreed with Garcia: “I do believe that before the filing deadline you’re going to see people stepping up to run,” he told the Observer.

The lone bright spot on the statewide slate, said Jones, is Beto O’Rourke, the El Paso congressman taking on Ted Cruz. Highlighting the value of announcing early, O’Rourke has raised an impressive $4 million since March off mostly individual donations.

“Like in Battlestar Galactica, O’Rourke is Battlestar Galactica and then there’s this ragtag fleet of garbage ships and transports accompanying him,” Jones said of the current Democratic lineup, noting that even O’Rourke was a second-string option to Congressman Joaquín Castro.

Look, either Manny Garcia is right and we’ll be pleasantly surprised come December 12, or he’s being irrationally exuberant and we’ll all enjoy some gallows humor at his expense. Yeah, it would be nice to have a brand-name candidate out there raising money and his or her profile right now, but how much does two or three months really matter? Bill White was still running for a Senate seat that turned out not to be available at this time in 2009; he didn’t officially shift to Governor until the first week of December. If there is a candidate out there that will broadly satisfy people we’ll know soon enough; if not, we’ll need to get to work for the candidates we do have. Such is life.

In other filing news, you can see the 2018 Harris County GOP lineup to date here. For reasons I don’t quite understand, the HCDP has no such publicly available list at this time. You can see some pictures of candidates who have filed on the HCDP Facebook page, but most of those pictures have no captions and I have no idea who some of those people are. The SOS primary filings page is useless, and the TDP webpage has nothing, too. As for the Harris County GOP, a few notes:

– State Rep. Kevin Roberts is indeed in for CD02. He’s alone in that so far, and there isn’t a candidate for HD126 yet.

– Marc Cowart is their candidate for HCDE Trustee Position 3 At Large, the seat being vacated by Diane Trautman.

– So far, Sarah Davis is the only incumbent lucky enough to have drawn a primary challenger, but I expect that will change.

That’s about it for anything interesting. There really aren’t any good targets for them beyond that At Large HCDE seat, as the second edge of the redistricting sword is really safe seats for the other party, since you have to pack them in somewhere. Feel free to leave any good speculation or innuendo in the comments.

Filing season has begun

Candidate filing season is now open, and it will run for a month, concluding at 6 PM on Monday, December 11. There will be a lot of activity this year – we are already aware of so many candidates – and I’m sure there will be a few surprises. You can find candidate filings on the Secretary of State webpage, though I expect that will lag a day or so behind what county parties have. Here are a few things I can say so far:

– The first candidates to file for Governor are Tom Wakely and sign Grady Yarbrough. Is it written somewhere that in every generation there must be an annoying perennial candidate? Jeffrey Payne and Garry Brown are still to file, and then we have the being wooed/thinking about it trio of Andrew White, Michael Sorrell, and Lupe Valdez. I figure when/if one of them files, the other two will step aside. I will be surprised if more than one of them jumps in.

– Michael Cooper, who has been doing some tandem campaigning with Wakely, has filed for Lt. Governor. Mike Collier has been running for months and should be filing soon.

Justin Nelson was late in announcing but prompt in filing for Attorney General.

– We have a candidate for Railroad Commissioner: Roman McAllen, who has a preference for bow ties and wordy biographies. He’s on the board of Preservation Texas, which would make him a welcome alternate perspective to the shills and know-nothings that currently serve on the RRC.

– I don’t have a link to point you to for activity in Harris County at this time. I do know from talking to people that Lina Hidalgo (County Judge), Diane Trautman (County Clerk), and Dylan Osborne (County Treasurer) have filed. I also know that we may get a contested primary for County Judge as Mike Nichols is taking the filing period to explore a candidacy. Nichols has worked with the Houston Food Bank, the Houston Long Range Financial Management Task Force, Planned Parenthood, and the Houston Parks Board. We’ll see what he decides.

– At the state level, we still need someone to run for Comptroller and Land Commissioner; Kim Olson is running for Ag Commissioner. We know of two Supreme Court candidates, but we still need one more of those plus three for the Court of Criminal Appeals. We could use someone for CD22. In Harris County, we’re still looking for a candidate for County Commissioner in Precinct 2, a candidate for HCDE Position 4, Precinct 3, and State Rep in HDs 126, 132, and 135.

– Again, I think there will be some surprises. People get in and drop out at the last minute. I think we’re going to have a lot more contested primaries than we’re used to seeing. And of course I have no idea what may happen on the Republican side. It’s going to be an exciting four weeks. What are you looking for?

Justin Nelson to run against Paxton

About time we got an official candidate for this race.

Justin Nelson

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton is getting his first Democratic opponent for re-election.

Attorney Justin Nelson is entering the race to be the state’s top lawyer with just over a month until the candidate filing deadline for the 2018 primaries.

“Justice is for all. Nobody is above the law,” Nelson said in a news release. “Texans can do better than our indicted Attorney General who is charged with criminal fraud.”

Paxton, who is seeking a second term, has been under indictment for most of his current term, fighting securities fraud charges stemming from allegations before his time as attorney general. Those legal troubles have made him a top target for Democrats in 2018, despite the void of challengers until now.

Nelson, 42, is a partner specializing in major civil litigation at the Houston law firm Susman Godfrey LLP and has been named a Texas Super Lawyer by Thomson Reuters. A graduate of Yale University and Columbia Law School, he clerked for former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor and for Harvie Wilkinson, a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit.

Nelson lives in Austin, where he is an adjunct professor at the University of Texas School of Law.

Nelson is not entirely new to politics. He is the founder and former president of One Nation One Vote, a group that is pushing to elect the president by popular vote. The issue has been a hot topic in the wake of the 2016 election, when Donald Trump beat Hillary Clinton in the Electoral College but lost to her in the popular vote.

I’ve been waiting for someone to announce a candidacy. You might win the lottery and get to run against a convicted felon. I knew someone would eventually run – I’d heard about a possible candidate who in retrospect probably was Justin Nelson several months ago – it was just a matter of time. Nelson may yet have company in the primary from outgoing Travis County Democratic Party Chair Vincent Harding, and there had been another potential candidate, Lubbock attorney John Gibson, who has decided to endorse Nelson instead. Nelson’s campaign webpage is here – I don’t see a link for a Facebook page yet – though it’s pretty bare bones right now. If nothing else, the broad themes of his campaign are already pretty clear. The Chron has more.