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Kim Gonzalez

The Battleground effect in legislative races

So here’s a crazy idea. Rather than judge Battleground Texas by our own beliefs about how things should have gone, what say we take a look at the actual numbers of a few races and see what they tell us? In particular, let’s look at the numbers in the Blue Star Project races, which were legislative elections in which BGTX engaged directly. There was SD10 and eight State House races; I’m going to throw in CD23 as well even though BGTX did not specifically get involved there. I’m going to compare the performance of the Democratic candidates with those of Bill White, since everyone is obsessing about the White numbers even though about 15% of his vote total came from Republicans, and with Lt. Gov. candidate Linda Chavez-Thompson, since I believe her totals are a more accurate reflection of what the base Democratic turnout was in 2010. Here’s what I’ve got:

Dist Candidate Votes Pct White Pct LCT Pct Needed ================================================================== CD23 Gallego 55,436 47.7 55,762 45.6 47,950 40.2 57,902 SD10 Willis 80,806 44.7 76,920 44.6 66,783 38.8 95,485 023 Criss 14,716 45.4 19,224 50.1 15,866 41.8 17,703 043 Gonzalez 10,847 38.6 14,049 45.8 12,635 41.7 17,274 105 Motley 10,469 42.7 11,766 43.8 9,793 36.7 13,588 107 Donovan 13,803 45.0 14,878 46.3 11,936 37.5 16,880 108 Bailey 16,170 39.3 17,401 42.0 12,859 31.3 24,954 113 Whitley 12,044 40.6 13,483 44.8 11,575 38.7 17,639 117 Cortez 11,519 47.3 10,247 48.0 8,829 42.2 12,832 144 Perez 5,854 49.3 8,411 52.7 7,273 46.0 6,010

It’s a mixed bag. The best performances came from Libby Willis in SD10 and Phillip Cortez (one of two incumbents on BGTX’s list) in HD117. Both exceeded White’s totals and far surpassed Chavez-Thompson’s. This is partly a reflection of what happened in Tarrant and Bexar Counties, respectively. In Tarrant, not only did Wendy Davis beat Bill White’s numbers in her backyard, so too did Leticia Van de Putte and Sam Houston, with Mike Collier just behind. White and Van de Putte were the only ones to carry Bexar for the Dems, with VdP being the high scorer, but Davis came close to White’s number and downballot Dems improved by about 20,000 votes. Willis and Cortez both beat the spread, but not by enough.

Gallego, who again was not directly assisted by BGTX, and the four Dallas County candidates all fell short of White but exceeded, in some cases by a lot, Chavez-Thompson. As I said above, I think topping LCT’s totals represents an improvement in base turnout from 2010, and again that’s consistent with what we saw in Dallas overall, as White was the standard-bearer while the top four Dems all surpassed Chavez-Thompson. Gallego did about as well in Bexar as Ciro Rodriguez did in 2010, and there’s no one place where he did worse, though he could have used more turnout in Maverick County.

The other three results are just bad. Turncoat Dem Lozano carried Jim Wells and Kleberg counties even as all the statewide Dems won in Jim Wells and most of them carried Kleberg despite generally losing it in 2010. Davis didn’t win Kleberg, and she scored lower in Jim Wells than several other Dems. That may have been a contributing factor, but on the whole it was fairly marginal. Still, that needs to be understood more fully, and someone needs to come up with a strategy to keep Dems from crossing over for Lozano if we want to make that seat competitive again.

Criss had a tough assignment, as HD23 has been trending away as places like Friendswood have made Galveston County and that district more Republican. Unlike the other two Dem-held State Rep seats that were lost, HD23 isn’t going to flip to “lean Dem” in 2016. Turnout by both parties was down in HD23 from 2010, and it’s probably the case that White was a boost there four years ago. Better turnout could have gotten her closer, but Susan Criss was always going to have to persuade some Rs to support her to win. I will be very interested to see what the Legislative Council report on this one looks like when it comes out.

The loss by Mary Ann Perez was the worst of the bunch, partly because it looked like she was up in early voting and partly because Harris was alone among the five largest counties in not improving Dem turnout. You can ding BGTX or whoever you like as much as you want for the latter, but the candidate herself has to take some responsibility, too. Winning this seat back needs to be a priority in 2016, and making sure it stays won needs to be a bigger priority after that.

So like I said, a mixed bag. The 2010 numbers were pretty brutal overall in these districts, and where there were improvements it was encouraging, and offers hope for 2016. Where there wasn’t improvement was disappointing, and needs to be examined thoroughly to understand what happened. I’d give the project a final grade of C – there’s some promise going forward and some lessons to be learned, but while improvements are nice, results are necessary.

It’s about more than the Davis campaign

Gromer Jeffers highlighted something recently that I think hasn’t gotten enough attention.

In her race for Texas governor, Wendy Davis’ sisters have her back.

I’m not talking about her biological family. Davis is getting support from a group of female House candidates who are piggybacking on her policy proposals and helping her take aim at Republicans, including Greg Abbott, the attorney general and GOP nominee for governor.

Last week, for instance, Davis proposed the elimination of the statute of limitations in rape crimes. Quickly afterward, four House candidates, all women, issued news releases backing the state senator’s proposal.

They included House District 108 candidate Leigh Bailey, House District 105 candidate Susan Motley, House District 23 candidate Susan Criss in Galveston and House District 43 hopeful Kim Gonzalez in Kingsville.

There’s political strategy to the “we are family” approach.

Democrats across the state are running as a team in hopes of encouraging straight-ticket votes that will not only help Davis, but down-ballot candidates.

In Dallas County, for instance, County Judge Clay Jenkins and District Attorney Craig Watkins hope to benefit from a base voter turnout.

They will work with local campaigns, Davis and groups like Battleground Texas, a Democratic group that aims to make the state competitive long-term.

In previous years, Democratic House candidates have had to largely fend for themselves, since many of them are stuck in districts drawn to benefit Republican candidates.

A countywide mobilizing helps them, but it has fallen short for many, as the Democratic base is outside their individual districts.

But this year, with Battleground Texas helping, the candidates are using issues seen as important to women — equal pay, early childhood education, and health care, for instance — to go after more voters.

If Davis manages to woo crossover voters, so will the House candidates. That’s the theory.

“What unites all these campaigns, from Wendy on down the ballot, is that they’re fighting for Texas families instead of insiders,” Jenn Brown, executive director of Battleground Texas, said.

That approach, which I agree is something we haven’t really seen before despite the obvious benefit of it, is actually broader than what Jeffers documents. BOR wrote about BGTX’s Blue Star Project, from which all this comes. Here’s a list of candidates that BGTX has highlighted on their site, some with videos, so far:

SD 10 – Libby Willis

HD 23 – Susan Criss
Video Post

HD 43 – Kim Gonzalez
Video Post

HD 105 – Susan Motley
Video Post

HD 107 – Carol Donovan

HD 108 – Leigh Bailey

HD 113 – Milton Whitley

HD 117 – Phil Cortez

HD 144 – Mary Ann Perez

That list is not final – Battleground says they are seeking opportunities to get involved where they think they can make a difference. You can’t be everywhere at once, and resources are always finite, but it’s great to see this kind of strategic thinking. In places like SD10 and HD23, two Republican-leaning districts that Democrats currently hold, it could be the difference between winning and losing. In marginally Republican districts like HD43 and the four Dallas locations, it could be the difference between gaining seats and keeping the status quo. That’s all about increasing turnout, which is something everyone wants and which should be very conducive to joint efforts like this. Again, we could certainly find that BGTX did a stellar job boosting Democratic base turnout but still fell short at the state level. Where a gap exists in these districts, however, it’s much smaller. Keep an eye on this, and if you live in or near one of those districts, you now have twice as many reasons to get involved.