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Libby Willis

Two (so far) for SD10

Here’s what we learn in this Star-Telegram story about incumbent Sen. Konni Burton’s intent to run for re-election.

Sen. Konni Burton

At least two Democrats already have announced their intention to seek Burton’s seat.

Allison Campolo, a research scientist and teaching assistant at Oklahoma State University who lives in Euless, announced her campaign on Facebook, saying “this is going to be a long and hard and expensive fight but every sacrifice will be worth it if we can put another progressive in the State Legislature to fight for Texans.”

Beverly Powell, a Fort Worth woman who serves on the Burleson school board and is Burleson Mayor Ken Shetter’s mother, also intends to run. Powell criticized Burton’s ardent partisanship that she said sometimes runs counter to the needs of her district.

“It’s time for new leadership that cares more about families here in Tarrant County than about narrow ideology or endless division and I will work to provide it.”

Fort Worth attorney Jeff Whitfield is considering a bid for the office as well.

Here’s Allison Campolo’s webpage and campaign Facebook page. She has a campaign kickoff event coming up on July 1. Google didn’t have any other useful information for me about her, but I see that she and several other Democratic female candidates in the D/FW area joined together for a campaign event, which seems like a great idea.

Beverly Powell’s candidacy also drew a local newspaper mention. Her website is here and her Facebook page is here. You can also see her official bio on the Burleson ISD School Board page.

This ought to be an interesting primary, between two candidates that at least on the surface offer a bit of contrast, as Campolo is a newcomer with a science background, and Powell is more of an establishment figure as well as a current officeholder. I wonder if Annie’s List will have a favorite or if they’ll wait till after the primary to publicly back the nominee. Hillary Clinton didn’t quite carry SD10, but overall it is the most competitive Senate district on the ballot next year. Even in the disaster of 2014, Burton only beat Libby Willis by 52.8% to 44.7%, with Greg Abbott beating Wendy Davis in her former district 52.9% to 45.6% and Dan Patrick topping Leticia Van de Putte 52.7% to 44.2%. It wouldn’t take much of a shift in turnout for SD10 to be at best a tossup. I look forward to seeing who emerges in this district.

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.

First impressions of the 2014 results

My initial thoughts, for what they are worth.

– Let me begin by saying that for all the criticism I had of the UT/Texas Trib’s polling and the skepticism of Internet-sample methodology, they were fairly accurate in the end. In particular, the last YouGov result just about nailed it. I still think what they do is more alchemy than anything else, and their subsample results often look ridiculous, but however they did it, they got it right and they deserve credit for it.

– I’m sure we’re about to be deluged with critical stories about Battleground Texas and public doubts about their future viability – the Trib and the Observer are already on it – but I have to ask, given the way this election went nationally, why they are more deserving of scorn than anyone else. In particular, how did they do any worse than the DCCC, DSCC, and DGA? The DSCC’s fabled “Bannock Street Project”, which was supposed to save the Senate by increasing Democratic turnout in battleground states, was a spectacular dud. Democratic candidates for Governor lost in such deep red states as Illinois and Maryland. Hell, the chair of the DGA, Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin, who pooped on Wendy Davis’ campaign a few months ago, failed to get a majority of the votes in his own election. BGTX doesn’t have much to brag about today, and I have no doubt they could have done plenty of things better. But I know a lot of people – friends of mine – who worked their tails off for BGTX and the Davis campaign, and I will not demean the work they did. If you want to criticize them, go right ahead, but please be specific about your complaints. I’m not going to pay attention to any generalized rants.

– Davis didn’t come close to matching Bill White’s vote total, and no statewide Dem reached 40% of the vote. That’s the harsh truth, and there’s no sugarcoating it. The funny thing is, though, for all the talk about turnout being down, it wasn’t actually Democratic turnout that was down. Here’s a comparison of the vote totals for the Democrats running for the top four offices over the last four non-Presidential cycles:

2002 2006 2010 2014 ======================================================= Governor 1,819,798 1,310,337 2,106,395 1,832,254 Lt Gov 2,082,281 1,617,490 1,719,202 1,810,720 Atty Gen 1,841,359 1,599,069 1,655,859 1,769,943 Comptroller 1,476,976 1,585,362 N/A 1,739,308

Davis didn’t peel crossover votes away from Abbott the way White did from Rick Perry, but beyond that I don’t see a step back. If anything, it’s an inch or two forward, though of course that still leaves a thousand miles to go. Where turnout did decline was on the Republican side. Greg Abbott received about 360,000 fewer votes than he did in 2010. Given the whipping that Republicans were laying on Dems across the country, one might wonder how it is they didn’t do any better than they did here.

One thing I’m seeing, and I’ll have more to say about this tomorrow, is that some people seem to think that because Davis got about 265K fewer votes than Bill White that means that overall Democratic turnout was down by that amount. In a word, this is baloney. White drew the votes of some 300K people that otherwise voted Republican. Their presence in his tally was nice for him, and would have been critical in a different year, but they had nothing to do with Democratic turnout. I am at a loss for why people are making that claim, and why they are overlooking or ignoring the gains in the races just below the Governor’s race, where a coordinated turnout effort would have an effect. Like I said, more about this tomorrow.

– Harris County wasn’t any prettier than the state was, and here in Harris there were declines in the vote totals of both parties. I’ve been looking at the statewide results more closely to see where the gains and losses were, and my initial impression is that the other big counties did move forward in ways Harris did not. The mail program was a success, but it seems clear that it mostly shifted behavior. If there was a net gain, in terms of votes we wouldn’t have had at all without the mail program, it means that in person turnout efforts were that much less successful. If we’re going to be introspective, that’s the place to start.

– All that said, if I’m newly-elected Harris County DA Devon Anderson, I’d take a few minutes to be concerned about the fact that I have to be on the ballot again in 2016. Consider this: By my calculation, the average Republican judicial candidate who had a Democratic opponent received 359,759 votes. The average Dem judicial candidate got 297,311. Anderson received 354,098 while Kim Ogg got 311,094. To put it another way, Ogg got crossover votes, which stands both her and Anderson in contrast to Pat Lykos in 2008 and Mike Anderson in 2012. Frankly, if she’s up for it, I’d tell Kim Ogg to keep running and start fundraising now for 2016. Assuming the patterns from the last two Presidential years hold here, she’d have a real shot at it.

– Along the same lines, of the five legislative seats the Dems lost (three in the House, one each in Congress and the Senate), HDs 117 and 144 should flip back in 2016, and if I were Pete Gallego I’d keep running for CD23 as well. (If he doesn’t want to run any more, allow me to be the first to hop on the Mary González bandwagon.) If Susan Criss can’t win HD23, which had been trending red for some time, I doubt anyone can. As for SD10, it’s not up again till 2018, but for the record, Libby Willis basically hit the Bill White number, which suggests she drew a non-trivial number of crossovers. Someone ought to take another crack at that one next time around but bear in mind this was always going to be a tough hold. I strongly suspect that if Wendy Davis had decided to run for re-election instead that we’d still be mourning her defeat.

– One prize Dems did claim was knocking off longtime Bexar County DA Susan Reed. Republicans claimed a victory over DA Craig Watkins in Dallas, where he was his own worst enemy. I refer you to Grits for more on that.

– Other results of interest: You already know about the Denton fracking ban. The Katy and Lone Star College bond initiatives passed. Austin Council Member Council Member Mike Martinez and attorney Steve Adler are in a runoff for Mayor; other Council race results, the first single member district elections in Austin, are here. And finally, Old Town Tomball repealed its ban on alcohol sales. Pour one out, y’all.

– Finally, a word on the matter of the efficacy of campaign ads, in particular negative ads. Yesterday morning after we dropped off the kids at school, Tiffany mentioned to me that Olivia’s understanding of the Governor’s race was that if Abbott won, there would be more standardized tests, which did not please her. “He wants to test four-year-olds!” she said. “That’s just wack!” I will simply note that at no time this year did I ever discuss the Abbott and Davis pre-k plans with her, and leave it at that.

Two in Tarrant to watch

Tarrant County isn’t often an electoral battleground, but this time it is, at least in two legislative races.

Libby Willis

[HD94 Republican nominee Tony] Tinderholt’s race is one of two legislative contests in Tarrant County where Democrats are pinning their hopes on Republican voters soured by the most conservative elements of their party.

The second is a race to fill the Senate seat left open by Democratic gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis. There, in a district dominated by Republicans until Davis’ election, Democrat Libby Willis faces Konni Burton, a grassroots activist from Colleyville who touts the rare endorsement of U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz.

Like Tinderholt, who ousted Diane Patrick, an eight-year incumbent, in a primary upset, Burton sailed to GOP victory by questioning the conservative credentials of other Republicans. Now, in the general election, both candidates are under fire from their opponents for positions on abortion, gun rights and illegal immigration that Democrats say are out of sync with mainstream voters.

“I’m looking for those people who just don’t care about the partisan nonsense,” said Cole Ballweg, the Arlington businessman running against Tinderholt. “I’m looking for those people who’re more like me, who say, ‘What is really going to move the needle for my community, for my schools, for my kids?’ And there’s actually a lot of them out there.”

[…]

Ballweg acknowledged that it would take a “miracle” for a Democrat to carry Arlington’s staunchly Republican House District 94.

“I understand that so many of these people are still going to vote against me,” Ballweg said. “But you know what, they’re a lot more reasonable than a lot of people give them credit. They don’t want rifles in their streets; they don’t want angry, off-the-rails rhetoric about the border or anything else.”

The contest for the state Senate seat is closer. With advertising buys still rolling in, Willis and Burton have each spent over $1 million getting their message to Tarrant County voters since May, according to Texas Ethics Commission data.

Burton has raked in high-dollar donations from prominent conservative backers, including $100,000 from Midland oil and gas developer Tim Dunn and Texans for Lawsuit Reform, which has spent more than $300,000 on last-minute direct mail and television ads on her behalf.

Willis has received substantial sums from Democratic donors, including Houston trial lawyer Steve Mostyn, who has contributed a combined $850,000 to her campaign through his law firm and Back to Basics, the political action committee he funds. She has also received support from Planned Parenthood, the Democratic organizing group Battleground Texas and Annie’s List, which helps Democratic female candidates run for office.

But in her run for the high-profile swing district, Willis has also made inroads with groups otherwise supporting a slate of primarily Republican candidates, like the Texas Medical Association and the statewide law enforcement association known as CLEAT.

The former teacher and past president of the Fort Worth League of Neighborhood Associations has attempted to draw a sharp contrast with her opponent, billing herself as a coalition builder and Burton as a partisan.

“I have so many Republicans saying, ‘I am not a Tea Party person, I am not extreme, I am just not that far out there.’ And they are voting for me,” Willis said. “A lot of them are voting for a Democrat for the first time in their lives, and they are voting for me.”

I’ve written about the SD10 race before, both as a benchmark of success and an example of what else Battleground Texas is doing. I continue to believe that Libby Willis has at least as good a chance to hold this seat with Wendy Davis running for Governor as Davis would have with a mystery candidate for Governor. Early voting was up in Tarrant County, and one presumes these races as well as the Governor’s race were the driving forces behind that. As for the HD94 race, it would be nice to think that Republicans would be “soured by the most conservative elements of their party”, but one expects that if they were then Tinderholt would have lost in the primary to Rep. Diane Patrick, who had a solid reputation and was on Tom Craddick’s leadership team. I’ll hope for the best here, and I won’t be surprised if Cole Ballweg exceeds the partisan norm, but I’m not expecting more than that.

Saving SD10 and other benchmarks

The Observer looks at the race to succeed Wendy Davis in SD10.

Sen. Wendy Davis

Sen. Wendy Davis

It’s a steamy, hot summer morning in the Metroplex, and at the Dixie House, a Southern-style diner in east Ft. Worth where gravy flows like water, Libby Willis can’t find a moment to dig into her eggs and hash. She’s too excited about her campaign. Willis, the Democratic nominee in Senate District 10, is running in one of the state’s most important races for Democrats this cycle. It’s fallen to her—a first-time candidate with solid credentials—to defend Wendy Davis’ soon-to-be-former seat against Konni Burton, a fiery tea-party organizer who’d likely be one of the chamber’s most conservative senators.

Willis acknowledges that her odds are long in this Republican-leaning district. But the path to victory, she says, is simple enough. “We just got to get our people out to vote. That’s all there is to it,” Willis says. “This is not a sleepy year.”

Democrats faced a tough task holding onto the district even before Davis decided to try her hand at the governor’s race. Davis squeaked by in 2008 and 2012, when Barack Obama was at the top of the ticket and Democratic turnout was comparatively high. (Though Obama lost Tarrant County both times, Davis held on anyway.) But the last round of redistricting forced an early election in SD 10—the district now elects its senator in midterm years, when Democrats tend to falter in Texas. To hold the seat for Democrats, Willis will need luck, skillful positioning, a troubled opponent and an impressive field operation. That last part, Democrats hope, is where Battleground Texas comes in.

Battleground, the group started by former Obama campaign staffers with the aim of making Texas politically competitive, is spending most of its time and resources in the rocky terrain of the governor’s race these days. But down the ballot, the organization is trying to put muscle behind a dozen legislative candidates, running in marginal districts that should be fertile ground for Democrats. Dubbed the Blue Star Project, the effort aims to focus the group’s technical expertise and organizing ability on legislative races, with the help of a “coordinated field program and a full arsenal of data, digital, and communications expertise.”

What that means, in short, is that the group hopes to take the special sauce decanted from the Obama campaign’s field operation and drizzle it on legislative races here, where it might make more of a difference than it will against Greg Abbott, who has a 3-to-1 cash advantage over Davis. The most important of the races is SD 10. In the process, Battleground hopes to stake a claim to a continued future in the state.

Democrats everywhere hope this cycle will be more like a presidential year than, say, 2010, and if it is, Battleground could be part of the reason why. Willis says the organization is part of a longer push. “This is a multi-year effort. This is not one and done,” she says. “This is not, ‘Hey, we’re finished at midnight on November 4th.’ They are committed to continuing the work, which is fantastic. And really important.”

I basically agree with this, though as I’ve said before, SD10 in a Presidential year is no cakewalk, either. I feel pretty confident saying that Wendy Davis considered the odds of her holding onto SD10 versus her odds of being elected Governor when she was making her decision. At this point it seems clear to me that the Dems’ odds of holding SD10 are better with Wendy Davis at the top of the ticket than they would be with Wendy Davis running for re-election and essentially nobody at the top of the ticket. I mean seriously, who would our nominee for Governor be right now if Wendy Davis hadn’t taken the plunge? Ray Madrigal? Kinky Friedman? Gene Kelly? It’s pretty brutal when you think about it, especially when you add in the fact that Leticia Van de Putte would also not be running for Lite Gov if Wendy hadn’t led the way. I’ve heard some people complain that by raising people’s hopes in what is likely to be a losing cause, Davis and her candidacy could cause some major blowback and infighting after the election. I don’t doubt the possibility, but it’s hard for me to see how giving up and rolling over as Greg Abbott and Dan Patrick waltz to power was the better alternative.

The big picture also gets discussed.

Battleground Texas debuted in February 2013 to enormous fanfare. Democrats had just come off a spectacularly successful presidential election year: The blue portion of the electoral map had swelled in a way that made some gains seem semi-permanent. Formerly red states like Virginia, Colorado and Nevada had flipped, for reasons that included both shifting ideological coalitions and demographic changes. Other states, like Georgia, seemed to be in reach. Then there was Texas, the beating, blood-red heart of GOP electoral viability.

If the national Republican Party is a vampire, Battleground is intended to be the wooden stake. Founded by Jeremy Bird, the national field director for Obama’s 2012 campaign, and armed with the newest technology, techniques and tactics, the organization says it would do what the Texas Democratic Party couldn’t—or wouldn’t. Even if the group’s fresh-faced organizers don’t make a clean kill, softening Texas would mean national Republicans would have to spend time and money here. They’d win for losing. In a column for The New York Times, political reporter Thomas Edsall wrote a few months after Battleground’s launch that the group had “put the fear of God into the Texas Republican Party.”

If that fear was ever real, you can be sure that it’s dissipated a bit. Battleground has had a challenging first year and a half and its future is uncertain. Wendy Davis’ filibuster gave the Democrats what seemed like a viable shot at the governor’s mansion, so Battleground, which started as a long-term organizing project, wedded the group’s efforts to hers. Battleground handles the work in the field, and Davis’ campaign handles strategy and messaging. The two groups even share a bank account, called, promisingly, the Texas Victory Committee.

If Davis does well, Battleground has a chance to move up the clock on the state’s purple-fication. But if she doesn’t, Battleground stands to suffer along with her. The story of the 2014 election isn’t done yet, but Davis’ odds of victory seem slim. Even if she doesn’t win, Abbott’s margin over Davis matters quite a bit: If she outperforms expectations, Battleground—and the Democratic coalition more generally—will have something to show to donors and supporters come 2015. It’ll serve as a proof of concept.

If she does badly—if she ends up in Bill White territory, as seems possible—the whole thing will be a wash and Dems, having spent a hell of a lot of time and money for little in return, will be left asking themselves very tough questions about how best to organize themselves next cycle. A good deal of the enthusiasm that’s built up in the last year will fall apart. Battleground insists it’s here for the long term—but to make that a reality, the group needs to keep its raison d’être, and its appeal to big-money donors, intact. It’s an expensive operation to run. And some close to the state Democratic Party—which, mind you, doesn’t have a great track record of success itself—would like to see the party take on Battleground’s local organizing functions itself.

[…]

That’s one reason the Blue Star Project is important to the group—if Battleground can pick off a number of legislative races this year, it gives them a plausible claim to a future in Texas. None of the twelve races Battleground is assisting in are really “reach” districts, but Texas Democrats have had trouble pinning them down. If a couple of them flip blue in November, Jeremy Bird’s young group will argue it’s brought home enough trophies to justify another hunting trip.

The 2016 election cycle will likely see Clinton at the top of the ticket driving high turnout among the Democratic base, which means it could be a good year for Dems in legislative races here. In 2008, Democrats in Texas rode the coattails of Barack Obama’s popularity to win 74 of the state’s 150 House seats. It’s not realistic to hope for that again—not least because the state had another round of gerrymandering in between then and now—but it could be a more comfortable climate, and Battleground’s experience this cycle in down-ballot races could prove useful.

I’ve discussed the question of what a consolation prize might look like in the event the losing streak by Dems in statewide races continues. With the caveat that “expectations” and whether or not one has beaten them tend to be set by the chattering classes after the election and not before it when we might have argued about them, let me suggest a couple of bars for BGTX and Wendy Davis to clear.

The Bill White Line: This one is explicitly mentioned in the Observer story. White got 42.29% with 2,106,395 total votes, and I think it’s fair to say that these are minimum totals for any reasonable “success” story to be spun. More to the point, recall that White ran a campaign that was largely geared towards peeling votes away from Rick Perry. He was actually quite successful at that, as I have noted before, but in a world where the base Democratic vote remained at between 1.7 and 1.8 million for a third consecutive off-year election, it didn’t matter. For Battleground Texas to claim success in its goal of boosting turnout, we need to see all statewide Democrats collect at least 2 million votes. I thought that was a worthwhile and achievable goal even before Davis’ famous filibuster put her on the map. It’s surely on the low end of what we should aim for now.

The John Sharp Line: John Sharp scored 46.03% of the vote when he ran for Lite Gov in 2002. No Democrat has topped 46% statewide since. Sharp did this with slightly fewer votes than White – 2,082,281 to be exact – thanks in part to lower Republican turnout that year and a higher third-party vote total. I’d estimate the Davis campaign would need to reach the 2.3 million vote mark to get to 46%, which if she does achieve would also mean that the margin was less than ten percent. I don’t think there’s any question that crossing these lines would be the mark of clear and substantial progress, and by all rights should change the narrative from “Dems haven’t won since the 90s” to “Dems came closer than they have in any election since the 90s”.

Hold the line in the Lege: The story is about SD10, and it also mentions HD23. Both of those seats, as well as CD23, have the distinction of being held by Democrats but having been carried by Mitt Romney in 2012. (There are no Republican-held seats in the Lege or in Congress that were carried by President Obama in 2012.) Holding those seats, especially with SD10 and HD23 being open, would be a very nice thing to do regardless of what happens anywhere else.

Gain ground in the Lege: The next level up involves picking up a seat or two (or more) in the Lege, where as the story notes there are a few that could be attained with a focused turnout effort. The story covers most of the basics and I’ve blogged about the Blue Star Project before, so I’ll leave it at that. Suffice to say that any pickups, all of which would also be in districts that had been carried by Mitt Romney, would be a feather in the cap and another sign of real progress.

Win Harris County. Bill White carried Harris County in 2010, but that came with an asterisk next to it. No other Dem came close as the Republicans swept the county races again, as they had every year since 1998, a year that I trust sounds familiar. Dems increased turnout significantly in Harris County in 2010, but lost ground overall compared to 2006 due to the GOP tidal wave that year. We can’t do anything about that, but there’s plenty of room to grow the Democratic vote more, and in the absence of another GOP tsunami, winning Harris County and the substantial prizes that would come with it – the first Democratic DA in who knows how long, ousting the likes of Stan Stanart and Orlando Sanchez, maintaining the Democratic majority on the HCDE – would be sweet.

Win Fort Bend, advance elsewhere. Fort Bend County has trended the same was as Harris has, but a few points behind. Winning Harris County in a non-Presidential year would be a shot across the bow, while winning Fort Bend would be a brick with a note tied to it crashing through the window. Beyond that, pick your favorite red county and a reasonable goal. Thirty-five percent in Collin and Denton? Forty percent in Williamson? Forty-five percent in Tarrant? Go to the SOS webpage, use the Railroad Commission race as the benchmark, and go from there.

You get the idea. I don’t think you need a fancy Poli Sci degree to realize that these events are not independent of each other. It’s hard to imagine falling short of the Bill White Line while achieving the other goals, and it’s hard to imagine clearing the John Sharp Line without achieving at least some of them. Still, there will be some variation based on local conditions and candidate quality, and one hopes that the promised exit polls will give us some more dimensions to measure. I definitely agree with author Christopher Hooks that one way or another there will be a long discussion about the level of success of the tactics used in this campaign. I hope this has provided a starting point for discussing what those levels might look like.

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.

The small number of competitive legislative races in November

The Trib discusses the lack of legislative action in November.

Rep. Hubert Vo

Rep. Hubert Vo

In the House, nine Republican and two Democratic races are still undecided. An early list of competitive November races — this is in a House with 150 seats — comes in under a dozen. Put another way, there are about as many competitive races in the party runoffs as in the November general election.

In the Senate, there are only two runoffs — both in the Republican primaries. And in November, only the SD-10 seat — now held by Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth — looks from this distance like a genuinely competitive two-party contest.

The 36-member congressional ballot is just as imbalanced, with three runoffs (all Republican) next month and only one obviously competitive November race, in the 23rd Congressional District, where freshman Democrat Pete Gallego of Alpine is the incumbent. Democrats are starting to talk hopefully about the chances for Wesley Craig Reed, the challenger to U.S. Rep. Blake Farenthold, R-Corpus Christi. That district, CD-27, was drawn to favor Republicans, however, and part of Reed’s challenge will be to overcome that advantage in a midterm election year with an unpopular Democratic president in office.

That’s the problem for challengers with these maps: Barring the unexpected — scandal, death, resignations that come too late for candidates to be replaced — most races will be over by the end of next month, if they aren’t over already.

Those are most of the caveats, along with the usual one: It’s early, and things will change. All that said, here is an early list of House races to watch in November, mostly because they are in the handful of swing districts that remain on the map.

  • HD-105: Republican state Rep. Linda Harper-Brown of Irving lost her primary to former Rep. Rodney Anderson of Grand Prairie in March. He’ll face Libertarian W. Carl Spiller and the winner of a Democratic runoff in a district where both major parties think a win is possible.
  • HD-107: Rep. Kenneth Sheets, R-Dallas, is being challenged by Democrat Carol Donovan.
  • HD-113: Rep. Cindy Burkett, R-Sunnyvale, is being challenged by Democrat Milton Whitley.
  • HD-43: Rep. J.M. Lozano, R-Kingsville, will face Democrat Kim Gonzalez.
  • HD-23: Democratic Rep. Craig Eiland of Galveston isn’t seeking another term, leaving this open seat to either Republican Wayne Faircloth or Democrat Susan Criss.
  • HD-117: Democratic Rep. Philip Cortez of San Antonio will face Republican Rick Galindo.
  • HD-144: Rep. Mary Ann Perez, D-Houston, is being challenged by Republican Gilbert Peña.
  • HD-41: Rep. Bobby Guerra, D-Mission, will face Elijah Israel Casas in this marginally Democratic district.
  • HD-149: Rep. Hubert Vo, D-Houston, is being challenged by Republican Al Hoang in a district that Vo has managed to defend — narrowly — several times.

Keeping score? That list includes four seats currently held by Republicans that the Democrats would like to take away, and five Democratic seats that the Republicans hope to grab. At the extremes, that would mean the Texas House would convene with 91 to 100 Republicans and 50 to 59 Democrats in January 2015 — about where it is today.

I’ll stipulate that once the runoffs are settled, so too are the vast majority of legislative races. There’s always the possibility of a surprise, as the story notes, but barring anything unforeseen, all the action this year will be statewide and in the counties. That’s just not what the pattern has been over the past decade, but it’s a testament to the power of the 2011 redistricting. I suspect it’s one part access to more accurate data and more powerful computers, and one part more rapid demographic change in various districts last decade, but right now these maps have the feel of permanence, barring court-mandated changes, until 2021.

I’ve got another post in the works to illustrate that in greater detail, but for now let’s look a little closer at the list Ross Ramsey compiled. I agree with the four competitive Republican seats, and while I agree that these are the five most competitive Democratic seats that are being contested – for some reason, the GOP did not field a candidate in HD78 – I don’t think they’re all in the same class. HD23, which along with SD10 and CD23 are the only seats won by one party while being carried by the other party’s Presidential candidate, is clearly a possible R pickup. I’d rate it as Tossup, possibly Tossup/Lean R. It’s tough for the Dems that Rep. Craig Eiland chose to retire, but District Court Judge Susan Criss is as strong a candidate to succeed him as one could want. As for the others, I’d rate HD41 as the least likely of all nine to flip. Rep. Guerra won with over 61% of the vote in 2012. While some statewide Republicans won a majority in 2010 in HD41, one doesn’t usually identify an incumbent that collected over 61% of the vote in his last election as potentially vulnerable. I’d rate this seat as Likely D. Rep. Cortez in HD117 might be the most endangered Dem incumbent – he won with a bit more than 52% in 2012 – but his opponent had almost no cash on hand going into the primary, not that he was a moneybags himself. Let’s call this one Lean D – for comparison, I’d rate all four Republican seats as Lean R. Rep. Perez won with over 54% in 2012 – her district performed better for Ds in 2012 than the 2008 numbers would have suggested – and her opponent this year was the lesser-regarded loser of the 2012 R primary. I’ve not heard a peep about that race. I guess a bad enough year for Dems overall could imperil her, but I’m calling this one Likely D.

Finally, there’s HD149. On paper, Rep. Vo versus former CM Hoang is an intriguing matchup. The history in HD149 is Rep. Vo outperforming the Democratic baseline – in both 2006 and 2010, he was the only Dem other than Bill White in 2010 to win the district, and 2006 was redder than 2010 – aided in part by a strong Vietnamese vote. Having Hoang on the ballot at least potentially complicates that, especially since his Council victory in 2009 was fueled in part by a strong performance in Asian boxes. However, as I’ve shown before, lots more people have had the opportunity to vote for Rep. Vo than for Hoang, the district is more Democratic now than before – Rep. Vo’s only close re-election was in 2010 with 52%; he had over 56% in 2012 – and I’d fear Hoang more if he hadn’t just lost a re-election bid to an out-of-nowhere Vietnamese candidate whose victory was abetted in large part by Hoang’s stormy relationship with the Vietnamese community. This is one to watch, but barring any future indicators of trouble for Rep. Vo, I’m calling this one Likely D. What are your thoughts?

The equal pay issue in SD10

Just as the issue of equal pay has become a big deal in the Governor’s race, so is it an issue in the race to succeed Sen. Wendy Davis in SD10.

Libby Willis

In the battle for Senate District 10, [Konni] Burton and [Mark] Shelton head to a May 27 Republican primary runoff to determine who takes on [Democrat Libby] Willis in November.

Davis has represented the district since 2009.

Burton, a leader in the NE Tarrant Tea Party, said Willis is pushing issues like this while avoiding “tackling serious issues facing Texans,” like the “crippling” impact of Obamacare.

Shelton, a pediatrician and former state representative who lost a bid for this seat in 2012, said no more legislation is necessary.

“Equal pay for equal work is the law of the United States and the state of Texas,” he said. “Current law should be enforced and additional laws are unneeded.”

Willis said something must be done.

“Republicans, Democrats and independents support equal pay for women,” she said. “Equal pay is not only a fairness issue, it’s a family economic issue.”

To whatever extent this issue has salience in the statewide race, it ought to have a similar effect in SD10. Maybe more, since the SD10 Republicans have a harder edge than Greg Abbott. I think Abbott would rather just have this issue (and most others) go away, while Burton and Shelton will campaign loud and proud against the Ledbetter law. Whatever it takes, because it sure would be nice to hold onto this seat. Between Donna Campbell, Don Huffines, and whoever wins the special election to succeed Tommy Williams, the Senate is stupid and mean enough already. Let’s not make it any more so.

Primary results: Legislature and Congress

Rep. Lon Burnam

The big news on the Democratic side is the close loss by longtime Rep. Lon Burnam in HD90, who fell by 111 votes to Ramon Romero Jr. I know basically nothing about Rep.-elect Romero, but I do know that Rep. Burnam has been a progressive stalwart, and it is sad to see him go. His district is heavily Latino, and he defeated a Latino challenger in 2012, but fell short this year. Congratulations to Rep.-elect Romero. Also in Tarrant County, Annie’s List-backed Libby Willis will carry the Democratic banner in SD10 to try to hold the seat being vacated by Wendy Davis. Elsewhere in Democratic legislative primaries, Rep. Naomi Gonzalez, who earned a Ten Worst spot this past session for a DUI bust during the session, was running third for her seat. Cesar Blanco, a former staffer for Rep. Pete Gallego, was leading with over 40% and will face either Gonzalez or Norma Chavez, whom Gonzalez had defeated in a previous and very nasty primary. I’m rooting for Blanco in either matchup. All other Dem incumbents won, including Rep. Mary Gonzalez in HD75. Congressional incumbents Eddie Berniece Johnson and Marc Veasey cruised to re-election, while challengers Donald Brown (CD14), Frank Briscoe (CD22), and Marco Montoya (CD25) all won their nominations.

On the Republican side, the endorsements of Rafael Cruz and Sarah Palin were not enough for Katrina Pierson in CD32, as Rep. Pete Sessions waltzed to a 68% win. Rep. Ralph Hall, who was born sometime during the Cretaceous Era, will be in a runoff against John Ratcliffe in CD04. All other GOP Congressional incumbents won, and there will be runoffs in CDs 23 and 36, the latter being between Brian Babin and Ben Streusand. I pity the fool that has to follow Steve Stockman’s act.

Some trouble in the Senate, as Sen. Bob Deuell appears headed for a runoff, and Sen. John Carona appears to have lost. Sen. Donna Campbell defeats two challengers. Those latter results ensure the Senate will be even dumber next session than it was last session. Konni Burton and Marc Shelton, whom Wendy Davis defeated in 2012, are in a runoff for SD10.

Multiple Republican State Reps went down to defeat – George Lavender (HD01), Lance Gooden (HD04), Ralph Sheffield (HD55), Diane Patrick (HD94), Linda Harper-Brown (HD105), and Bennett Ratliff (HD115). As I said last night, overall a fairly tough night for Texas Parent PAC. Rep. Stefani Carter (HD102), who briefly abandoned her seat for an ill-fated run for Railroad Commissioner, trailed Linda Koop heading into a runoff.

I’ll have more thoughts on some of these races later. I’d say the “establishment” Republican effort to push back on the Empower Texas/teabagger contingent is at best a work in progress. May open an opportunity or two for Dems – I’d say HD115 is now on their list in a way that it wouldn’t have been against Rep. Ratliff – but barring anything strange we should expect more of the same from the Lege in 2015.

Two Dems file in SD10

May the best candidate win.

Libby Willis

After months of speculation, two Democratic candidates have emerged to campaign for the contested Senate District 10 seat that Sen. Wendy Davis has vacated to run for governor.

Fort Worth community leader Libby Willis and businessman Mike Martinez officially entered the race on Saturday. They will compete to keep the seat under Democratic control in a swing district that tends to lean Republican. Four Republicans have already entered the race and have been campaigning for months.

Willis, the daughter-in-law of former state lawmaker Doyle Willis, is running on a platform focused on public education, job creation and government transparency.

Willis said she wants to bring “neighborhood-level common sense to the Legislature.”

“I have worked with people of all political stripes and economic backgrounds to come up with practical solutions for local problems,” Willis said in a press release announcing her candidacy.

Willis is the former president of the Fort Worth League of Neighborhoods. She is also the former executive director of the Historic Fort Worth nonprofit, which helps preserve historical landmarks in the city.

Martinez is a founder of Edge Resources, an oil and gas operator in Fort Worth. He filed his candidacy Saturday at the Tarrant County Democratic Party headquarters.

The Star Telegram mentioned these two as possible candidates a few days ago. Here’s what they said about them at the time:

Mike Martinez: The energy executive said he received calls from people who have encouraged him to run. The Democrat last sought public office in 1998, when he ran for the Tarrant County Commissioners Court but dropped out after being arrested twice on suspicion of driving while intoxicated. He said he was twice convicted of DWI. “I started thinking about it, looking at the numbers, and looking at my true and sincere desire to serve my community,” he said. “I know my past will come up. It’s not about that. That is not who I am, that is not what I am about. I finally grew up and became the man I am today.”

Libby Willis: The Democrat and former president of the Fort Worth League of Neighborhoods — who has been active in historic preservation, community revitalization and city issues for years — is weighing a possible bid. She is the daughter-in-law of the late Doyle Willis, who represented Fort Worth in the House and Senate for decades. “People have definitely been talking to me,” she said. “The phone keeps ringing. I am really, really seriously considering it. … I’ve been looking for a place to serve for a while.”

Martinez clearly has a bit of baggage, but candidates have survived worse than that. This is what competitive primaries are for, to sort all that out. Quorum Report points us to Martinez’s company for more about him. The fact that he is a founder of a company that “has extensive leasing experience in the Barnett Shale” may be a bigger negative for him in a D primary than a couple of Clinton-era DWI arrests. QR has a copy of Willis’ press release here. Other Dems may jump in, and there are multiple Republicans fighting it out as well. It will be a tough job to hold this seat, but it would be very nice if we could.