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Lizzie FLetcher

The next round of redistricting is going to be even more fun

Close races do complicate things.

Rep. Beto O’Rourke

Texas Republicans collected half of the votes statewide in congressional races this month. ­But even after Democrats flipped two districts, toppling GOP veterans in Dallas and Houston, Republicans will control 23 of the state’s 36 seats.

It’s the definition of gerrymandering.

“You wouldn’t expect perfect proportionality, but when something is really skewed, that’s probably a sign that something’s amiss,” said redistricting expert Michael Li.

Demographically and politically, the state is evolving — faster in some places than in others. Many Texas Republicans in Congress faced surprisingly close calls in the 2018 midterms.

Boundaries drawn early this decade to maximize GOP power blunted the damage. But the bulwarks built after the last census have begun to weaken. The midterms exposed unexpected shortcomings as college-educated white women — traditionally a major source of votes for the Texas GOP — abandoned the party.

Some were repelled by President Donald Trump and, at the same time, intrigued by Rep. Beto O’Rourke, the El Paso Democrat who offered a vision of less confrontational leadership, albeit with a liberal bent.

In Dallas, lawyer and former pro football player Colin Allred ousted Rep. Pete Sessions, a member of the GOP leadership. In Houston, lawyer Lizzie Pannill Fletcher unseated Rep. John Culberson, who led a subcommittee that controls billions in federal spending.

Both districts have seen some of the fastest demographic shifts in the state, with the nonwhite share of the electorate rapidly shrinking. They were stocked with high-income, highly-educated white voters long presumed to be Republican; many turned out to be swing voters under the right circumstances.

“These districts … weren’t built to elect Republicans in the age of Donald Trump,” said Li. “The Republican Party of today is almost unrecognizable to people of 2011.”

Independents in Texas have been in the habit of backing Republicans.

“But they can be re-educated to see Democrats as an option,” said Steve Bickerstaff, a retired University of Texas adjunct law professor whose books include Lines in the Sand, about the 2003 redistricting fight in Texas.

[…]

In two GOP-held districts that Trump carried, O’Rourke topped Cruz. That helped fellow Democrats come much closer than expected.

In the Dallas-area 24th District, Rep. Kenny Marchant, R-Coppell, survived with a margin of just 3 percentage points over a little-known challenger he outspent 11-1.

In suburban Houston’s 2nd District, Rep. Ted Poe notched 2-1 blowouts for years. He retired this year. Dan Crenshaw, a retired Navy SEAL who lost an eye in Afghanistan, won by 7 points. National Democrats might have paid attention to the race had they recognized the opportunity.

O’Rourke fought Cruz nearly to a draw in the 6th District, where Arlington Rep. Joe Barton’s retirement paved the way for his former chief of staff Ron Wright, the Tarrant County tax assessor-collector.

There, the map enacted by the Legislature after the 2010 census operated as intended: Democratic nominee Jana Lynne Sanchez ran up the score in Tarrant County precincts, but conservative voters in Ellis County put Wright over the top.

Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Austin, outspent his challenger 4-1 in a district that runs from the west side of Houston to the east side of Austin. The rural midsection kept the outgoing House Homeland Security chairman in his seat with a narrow, 4-point win.

Just north of Austin, Rep. John Carter, another senior Republican, beat M.J. Hegar by 3 points in a district that Trump carried by 13 points.

“Those districts were gerrymandered to absorb Democrats,” said Matt Angle, a veteran Democratic strategist who has been involved in Texas redistricting fights for two decades. “There are some of these congressional districts that Beto defined as more in play than any of us thought. … Those exurban areas are getting away from them.”

Turns out it’s a lot easier to draw yourself a bunch of “safe” districts when you’ve got a 15-20 point cushion in statewide voting. Also turns out an uncomfortable number of those districts aren’t so safe when the state as a whole becomes competitive. As Dave Wasserman notes, the GOP will probably have to draw another safe Dem Congressional district in Central Texas just to soak up Democratic votes that are now imperiling multiple incumbents. The 2020 election may complicate things further, especially if the Dems can demonstrate that this year was not a fluke but a step towards even higher ground. Regardless, the strategic question is going to be the main driver of the action. Do the Republicans aim for the maximum again, and risk a future wipeout should the tide rise again, or do they hunker down and shore up what they have at the expense of adding to it? I have a hard time seeing them be pragmatic, but you never know. In the meantime, let’s make that decision as hard as we can for them.

(Yes, I’m assuming the Republicans will have full control over the redistricting process. It’s possible the Dems could take over the State House in 2020, but the Senate is out of reach, as there aren’t enough competitive seats on the ballot then, and of course the statewides are in place through 2022. Whether via the Lege or the Legislative Redistricting Board, one way or another they’ll be drawing the maps.)

(Also, too: What are the two GOP-held districts that Trump carried but Beto won? Seems likely from context that one is CD24, but what’s the other? CD23 was carried by Hillary, so it’s not that. We’ll know once the statewide numbers are published, but I’m more than a little annoyed the story didn’t provide that tidbit.)

On straight tickets and other votes

I have and will continue to have more to say about straight ticket votes. Part of me is reluctant to talk about this stuff, because I feel like we’ve reached a point where straight ticket votes are seen as less than other votes, and I don’t want to contribute in any way to that. But given all the talk we’ve already had, and the unending stream of baloney about the ridiculously outsized effect they supposedly had in this election, I feel like I need to shed what light I can on what the data actually says. So onward we go.

Today I want to look at a few districts of interest, and separate out the straight ticket votes from the other votes. Again, I hesitated to do this at first because I object so strenuously to the trope that straight ticket votes tipped an election in a particular way, to the detriment of the losing candidate. If a plethora of straight ticket votes helped propel a candidate to victory, it’s because there was a surplus of voters who supported that candidate, and not because of anything nefarious. We call that “winning the election”, and it stems from the condition of having more people vote for you than for the other person. Anyone who claims otherwise is marinating in sour grapes.

So. With that said, here’s a look at how the vote broke down in certain districts.


CD02:

Straight R = 109,529
Straight D =  87,667

Crenshaw      29,659
Litton        32,325

CD07:

Straight R =  90,933
Straight D =  86,640

Culberson     24,709
Fletcher      41,319

If you want to believe in the fiction that straight ticket votes determined the elections, and not the totality of the voters in the given political entity, then please enjoy the result in CD02, where Dan Crenshaw rode the straight ticket vote to victory. Those of us who refuse to engage in such nonsense will merely note that CD02 remained a Republican district despite two cycles of clear movement in a Democratic direction. And then there’s CD07, which stands in opposition to the claim that straight ticket votes are destiny, for if they were then John Culberson would not be shuffling off to the Former Congressman’s Home.


HD126:

Straight R =  24,093
Straight D =  19,491

Harless        6,306
Hurtado        5,544

HD132:

Straight R =  27,287
Straight D =  26,561

Schofield      5,441
Calanni        6,280

HD134:

Straight R =  27,315
Straight D =  30,634

Davis         19,962
Sawyer        11,003

HD135:

Straight R =  22,035
Straight D =  22,541

Elkins         4,666
Rosenthal      5,932

HD138:

Straight R =  18,837
Straight D =  18,746

Bohac          5,385
Milasincic     5,429

HD126 and HD135 were consistent, with straight ticket and non-straight ticket votes pointing in the same direction. Gina Calanni was able to overcome Mike Schofield’s straight ticket lead, while Adam Milasincic was not quite able to do the same. As for HD134, this is one part a testament to Sarah Davis’ crossover appeal, and one part a warning to her that this district may not be what it once was. Republicans are going to have some tough decisions to make in the 2021 redistricting if they want to hold onto this district.


CC2:

Straight R =  86,756
Straight D =  92,927

Morman        25,981
Garcia        21,887

CC3:

Straight R = 132,207
Straight D = 122,325

Flynn         32,964
Duhon         40,989

CC4:

Straight R = 144,217
Straight D = 122,999

Cagle         42,545
Shaw          34,448

Finally, a Democrat gets a boost from straight ticket voting. I had figured Adrian Garcia would run ahead of the pack in Commissioners Court Precinct 2, but that wasn’t the case. I attribute Jack Morman’s resiliency to his two terms as incumbent and his millions in campaign cash, but in the end they weren’t enough. As was the case with CD02 for Dan Crenshaw, CC2 was too Democratic for Morman. That’s a shift from 2016, where Republicans generally led the way in the precinct, and shows another aspect of the Republican decline in the county. You see that also in CC3, where many Dems did win a majority and Andrea Duhon came close, and in CC4, which is at this point the last stronghold for Republicans. Democrats are pulling their weight out west, and that had repercussions this year that will continue to be felt in 2020 and beyond.

There’s still more to the straight ticket voting data that I want to explore. I keep thinking I’m done, then I keep realizing I’m not. Hope this has been useful to you.

Precinct analysis: The two key CDs

I want to break out of my usual precinct analysis posts to focus on the two big Congressional districts that were held by Republicans going into this election and are entirely within Harris County, CD02 and CD07.


CD07

Candidate    Votes     Pct
==========================
Culberson  115,418  47.49%
Fletcher   127,568  52.50%

Cruz       112,078  45.99%
O'Rourke   129,781  53.25%

Abbott     127,414  52.45%
Valdez     111,248  45.79%

Patrick    113,520  46.77%
Collier    124,555  51.31%

Paxton     110,526  45.63%
Nelson     126,567  52.25%

Hegar      124,558  51.69%
Chevalier  109,747  45.54%

Bush       121,500  50.31%
Suazo      114,267  47.31%

Miller     112,853  46.93%
Olson      123,473  51.35%

Craddick   124,873  51.93%
McAllen    110,377  45.90%

Emmett     135,016  57.34%
Hidalgo    100,412  42.66%

Daniel     123,371  51.97%
Burgess    114,006  48.03%

Stanart    116,383  49.98%
Trautman   116,488  50.02%

Sanchez    125,682  53.01%
Osborne    112,399  46.99%

Cowart     116,611  49.29%
Cantu      119,973  50.71%

State R avg         50.38%
State D avg         49.62%

Appeal R avg        51.63%
Appeal D avg        48.37%

County R avg        51.54%
County D avg        48.46%

The three categories at the end are the respective percentages for the state judicial races, the 1st and 14th Court of Appeals races, and the district court race, averaged over all of the candidates in each. I took third party and independent candidate vote totals into account in calculating the percentages, so they may not sum to 100. So just as Harris County is not purple but blue, so CD07 is not red but purple. Given the variance in how candidates did in this district, I have to think that while Democratic turnout helped reduce the previously existing partisan gap, the rest of the change is the result of people with a past Republican history deciding they just didn’t support the Republican in question. To the extent that that’s true, and as I have said before, I believe this brightens Lizzie Fletcher’s re-election prospects in 2020. She’s already done the hard work of convincing people she’s worth voting for, and the Republicans have helped by convincing people that they don’t deserve the benefit of the doubt. Obviously, lots of things can affect that, ranging from Fletcher’s performance over the next two years to the person the Rs nominate to oppose her to the Trump factor and more. Demography will still be working in the Dems’ favor, and Dems have built a pretty good turnout machine here. Expect this to be another top race in 2020, so be prepared to keep your DVR remote handy so you can zap the endless commercials that will be running.


CD02

Candidate    Votes     Pct
==========================
Crenshaw   139,012  52.87%
Litton     119,708  45.52%

Cruz       132,390  50.22%
O'Rourke   129,160  49.00%

Abbott     146,399  55.66%
Valdez     112,272  42.69%

Patrick    134,530  51.22%
Collier    123,364  46.97%

Paxton     131,374  50.11%
Nelson     125,193  47.76%

Hegar      141,744  54.34%
Chevalier  111,763  42.85%

Bush       139,352  53.33%
Suazo      114,931  43.99%

Miller     133,022  51.04%
Olson      122,897  47.15%

Craddick   142,254  54.61%
McAllen    112,407  43.15%

Emmett     150,630  59.24%
Hidalgo    103,625  40.76%

Daniel     141,260  54.80%
Burgess    116,519  45.20%

Stanart    135,427  53.70%
Trautman   116,744  46.30%

Sanchez    143,554  55.60%
Osborne    114,652  44.40%

Cowart     136,367  53.07%
Cantu      120,574  46.93%

State R avg         53.82%
State D avg         46.18%

Appeal R avg        54.30%
Appeal D avg        45.70%

County R avg        54.60%
County D avg        45.40%

CD02 was still just a little too Republican for Dems to overcome, though it’s closer to parity now than CD07 was in 2016. Dan Crenshaw proved to be a strong nominee for the Rs as well, running in the upper half of GOP candidates in the district. Given these numbers, Kathaleen Wall would probably have won as well, but it would have been closer, and I don’t know how confident anyone would feel about her re-election chances. As with CD07, there’s evidence that the Republican base may have eroded in addition to the Dem baseline rising. I feel pretty confident that as soon as someone puts together a list of Top Democratic Targets For 2020, this district will be on it (one of several from Texas, if they’re doing it right). I don’t expect Crenshaw to be outraised this time, however. Did I mention that you’re going to need to keep your remote handy in the fall of 2020? We wanted to be a swing state, we have to take the bad with the good.

For a bit of perspective on how these districts have changed:


CD07

Candidate    Votes     Pct
==========================
Culb 16    143,542  56.17%
Cargas 16  111,991  43.83%

Trump 16   121,204  46.80%
Clinton 16 124,722  48.20%

State R 16 avg      55.35%
State D 16 avg      43.05%

Culb 14     90,606  63.26%
Cargas 14   49,478  34.55%

Abbott 14   87,098  60.10%
Davis 14    61,387  38.30%

State R 14 avg      64.38%
State D 14 avg      33.58%

Culb 12    142,793  60.81%
Cargas 12   85,553  36.43%

Romney 12  143,631  59.90%
Obama 12    92,499  38.60%

State R 12 avg      59.78%
State D 12 avg      36.98%


CD02

Candidate    Votes     Pct
==========================
Poe 16     168,692  60.63%
Bryan 16   100,231  36.02%

Trump 16   145,530  52.00%
Clinton 16 119,659  42.80%

State R 16 avg      57.26%
State D 16 avg      37.59%

Poe 14     101,936  67.95%
Letsos 14   44,462  29.64%

Abbott 14   94,622  62.70% 
Davis  14   53,836  35.70%

State R 14 avg      65.57%
State D 14 avg      32.26%

Poe 12     159,664  64.82%
Doherty 12  80,512  32.68%

It really is staggering how much has changed since the beginning of the decade. There’s nothing in these numbers that would make you think either of these districts was particularly competitive, let alone winnable. The CD07 numbers from 2016 might make you put it on a second- or third-tier list of pickup opportunities, in range if everything goes well. Dems have registered a lot of new voters, and the turnout effort this year was great, but I have to assume that this is the Trump factor at work, degrading Republican performance. Of all the variables going into 2020, I start with the belief that this is the biggest one. I don’t think there’s any real room to win these voters back for the Republicans, though individual candidates may still have appeal. The question is whether there are more for them to lose or if they’ve basically hit bottom. Not a question I’d want to face if I were them.

How Lizzie Fletcher won

I have three things to say about this.

Lizzie Fletcher

Now, having flipped a seat controlled for the last 52 years by Republicans, [Rep.-elect Lizzie] Fletcher heads to Washington with a target on her back, but also a desire to legislate with the same moderate approach she used to build her campaign.

“Whether people voted for me or not in this election, I hope they will watch what I do as their member of Congress,” Fletcher said. “I hope to earn their vote in 2020, because my job is to represent everyone. My office doors will be open to everyone.”

If Republicans are searching for a roadmap to unseat Fletcher, they might turn to Rep. Will Hurd, a Republican from Helotes who represents a perennial swing district running from San Antonio to El Paso.

In 2016 and again this year, Hurd — who appeared likely to win a third term with several hundred ballots outstanding Friday — rebuked Trump on high-profile issues and presented himself as a moderate, a strategy that also played well for Fletcher in the mostly suburban 7th Congressional District.

Culberson at times referenced his work across the aisle, but did not run as a moderate or publicly oppose Trump to the same degree as Hurd.

[…]

A key moment in Culberson’s loss came months before Election Day, when Fletcher won her primary runoff against activist Laura Moser. Running as the more progressive candidate, Moser indicated she would not moderate her message to attract Republicans turned off by Trump.

The primary in effect became a referendum on whether Democrats should oppose Culberson by whipping up the dormant part of their base or, by nominating Fletcher, pull in centrists and ex-Republicans.

Tuesday’s election results proved they could do both: In beating Culberson with more than 52 percent of the vote, Fletcher’s winning coalition included right-leaning moderates, but also hardline progressives who turned out in droves to support Democrat Beto O’Rourke’s turnout-driven Senate campaign.

“A moderate Democrat can win a swing district in the right circumstances, but two factors have to be at play,” Rottinghaus said. “No. 1, it has to be clear that the candidate is truly a moderate and … willing to work in a bipartisan fashion. But none of that works if Democrats don’t turn out. If you don’t have a Beto O’Rourke at the top of the ticket with clear progressive ideas to activate the more liberal-leaning voters, you won’t even have a chance.”

[…]

Fletcher’s moderate approach appeared most effective in harnessing anti-Trump energy among white, educated suburban women, a group that swung toward Democrats nationwide. Culberson, who declined to comment for this story, lost the most ground from 2016 in the same areas where he outperformed Trump by the widest margins that year, suggesting that Fletcher picked up voters who split their ticket between Hillary Clinton and Culberson.

The handful of precincts where Culberson performed worst relative to 2016 were clustered within about a mile of the affluent and highly educated Bellaire and West University Place suburbs, according to unofficial results. Culberson won 55 percent of the vote in those precincts two years ago, but only 42 percent this year, in line with Trump’s 43 vote share there.

“That was definitely a part of our strategy, because I knew I had to win those people – people who voted for Culberson and Clinton in 2016,” Fletcher said. “My goal was to really talk about my background here and my view of our Houston values, what I think we do here so well … and I think that really resonated with a lot of people.”

Fletcher’s campaign also targeted densely populated, deep-blue areas where Democrats are prone to staying home for midterms. She concentrated on suburbs north of Addicks Reservoir, including a pair of precincts near FM 529 that voted by more than 70 percent for Clinton. One of those precincts ultimately went 77 percent to Fletcher and produced by far her highest vote total of any precinct districtwide.

Meanwhile, Culberson’s most problematic precincts relative to 2016 also fell inside House District 134, where Republican state Rep. Sarah Davis staved off Harris County’s blue wave to win re-election by almost seven points.

The unique pocket of District 7 that overlaps with Davis’ district was all but built for candidates seeking crossover support in either direction. Fletcher and Davis both won more than 50 percent of the vote in 21 of the 36 precincts that cover their two districts. In 10 of those precincts, both candidates received more than 55 percent of the vote, indicating ticket-splitting was a common practice.

Though Fletcher found success in particular areas, the district-wide results suggest Culberson was in trouble from the start. He received a smaller share of the vote relative to 2016 in every precinct, indicative of the strong headwinds he faced from Trump and O’Rourke.

1. I feel like all things being equal, Fletcher will have a pretty decent shot at getting re-elected. In 2016, Hillary Clinton carried CD07, but it was still pretty red district downballot. Culberson won by 12, the judicial average was around that same level for the Dems, and even Kim Ogg, who came close to Clinton’s performance overall, didn’t crack 47% in the district. This year, there was a noticeable shift. Beto, Mike Collier, Justin Nelson, Kim Olson, Diane Trautman, and Richard Cantu all carried CD07. Republicans still had the advantage in judicial races, but it was by about three points on average for the district courts. Obviously all kinds of things can happen that would affect the national environment, and who the Republicans find to challenge her will matter, but given the trends in the county and now in this district, I’d say Fletcher starts out as the favorite.

2. Part of the reason for my optimism is that I think CD07 is the kind of district that will tend to look favorably on a middle-of-the-road workhorse who will get stuff done, stay in touch with the district, and not do anything stupid. Culberson actually kind of was that guy for awhile, and you do have to wonder how this race might have gone if Culberson was at least a rhetorical opponent of Trump’s, as Hurd is. (Never mind the voting records, talking a good game gets you a long way.) Does that mean I think Laura Moser couldn’t have won? No, I think she had a path to victory as well, and would have been helped by the Beto wave and relentless activism in the district as Fletcher was. But she might have presented a better target for the Republicans in 2020. You can play out the thought experiment however you like, this is just my view of it.

3. Fletcher was cast as the “moderate centrist” in the primary runoff and in the November race, but that’s largely for preferring fixes to Obamacare to Medicare for all. She also got a lot of TV advertising in her favor from the Gabby Giffords gun control PAC. Think back to 2008, the last time CD07 was competitive, when Michael Skelly picked a fight with MoveOn.org and Nick Lampson, trying to hold onto CD22, ran on a platform of balancing the budget and opposing the estate tax. The times, they do change.

Initial thoughts: Congress

I’ll be honest: I never felt particularly confident about winning CD07 or CD32. Not because Lizzie Fletcher and Colin Allred weren’t excellent candidates, or anything to do with the trends of the national environment or what have you. I just didn’t quite have as much faith in the fact that Hillary Clinton carried those districts as others. Down below the surface, these were still Republican-leaning districts, on the order of 12 points or so. Winning meant a massive advantage in turnout, convincing a lot of people who had been regularly voting Republican through 2016 to cross over, or both. I’ll know more when I see the Dallas County precinct data, but from what I’ve seen in CD07, it’s still a Republican district at its heart, but much less so than before, with multiple candidates capable of carrying it. If this is a lasting effect, then the news really is that bad for Republicans, in that Dems were finding new voters outside of the newly-registered folks.

On the flip side, if you had told me in January that we’d win CDs 07 and 32 but lose 23, I’d have bet you real money that you’d be wrong. Again, I’ll want to see precinct data, but either Will Hurd has managed to gain a significant amount of Democratic support, or this district is more Republican than it gets credit for. This should always be a winnable district for Dems, but we need to figure this out. Is Will Hurd this strong? Was Gina Ortiz Jones not as good a candidate as we thought? Is this district changing in ways that run counter to what we’ve seen elsewhere in the state? Maybe that loss in the SD19 special election runoff isn’t quite as shocking now. Let’s try to get an understanding of what happened so we can make a better effort in both of those districts in 2020.

Here are the districts that Dems lost by fewer than ten points:


Dist     Rep%    Dem%   Diff
============================
CD23   49.22%  48.67%  0.55%
CD21   50.34%  47.52%  2.82%
CD31   50.63%  47.63%  3.00%
CD24   50.67%  47.47%  3.20%
CD10   50.90%  46.93%  3.97%
CD22   51.39%  46.41%  4.98%
CD02   52.87%  45.52%  7.25%
CD06   53.13%  45.40%  7.73%
CD25   53.61%  44.69%  8.92%

Right in the upper half is CD24, the One Of These Things That Is Not Like The Others. Based on past electoral performance, CD24 was viewed more optimistically by The Crosstab, but Democratic nominee Jan McDowell, who had also run in 2016, never raised that much money and was never on anyone’s radar. Yet McDowell carried the Dallas County and Denton County parts of the district, though she got wiped out in Tarrant County. I have to wonder what a candidate with more resources might have done. I will note that CD24 is like some of these other districts in that it has a high percentage of college graduates, a demographic that we know turned strongly against the Republican Party this year. All I know is that this district needs to be a priority in 2020. The same is true for CD10, which got a boost from the insane turnout in Travis County as well as the overall shift in Harris.

Overall, Dems had the strongest and best-funded class of candidates we’ve ever seen, and the surge in Democratic turnout statewide showed the risks of the Republican Congressional gerrymander, with nine seats coming close to flipping in addition to the two that did. It is entirely plausible that in 2020 Dems can not only hold the two they gained, but also pick up one or more others. That’s going to be contingent on a number of things, including another strong group that is capable of raising money. There’s no reason we can’t get these things – we have shown that there’s plenty of grassroots-level funding available – it’s basically up to us to do it.

Metro’s post-Culberson future

You might not be aware of this, but famously anti-Metro Congressman John Culberson lost his bid for re-election on Tuesday. What might that mean for Metro?

Lizzie Fletcher

In one of the more stunning defeats of incumbent Republicans on Tuesday night, Lizzie Fletcher beat out long-time Congressman John Culberson in the Texas 7th District. It is the first time this seat has been held by a Democrat in more than 50 years.

While Fletcher campaigned primarily on inclusiveness and healthcare, one portion of the platforms on her campaign website should not go unnoticed. “We need to partner with cities, counties, and METRO to bring additional resources and improvements to our region,” she says on her website. “We need an advocate for policies that both maintain and expand our region’s mobility infrastructure. And we need to make sure that Houston receives its fair share of transportation funding to move our citizens across the region.”

This seems like a logical and rational position given Houston’s congestion issues and rapidly growing size. But, she adds one additional note. “John Culberson has failed to be a partner in this effort. Even worse, his record shows that he has actively worked against expanding transportation options in Houston.”

Some might dismiss this as campaign rhetoric, but the thing is, she isn’t wrong. In a now infamous 2014 fundraising event at Tony’s, the posh Italian eatery in Greenway Plaza, Culberson bragged about preventing light rail from expanding to a line planned for Richmond Avenue. “I’m very proud to have been able to protect Richmond and Post Oak from being destroyed as Fannin and Main Street were destroyed,” he said. “This is the end of all federal funding on Richmond.”

[…]

Now that Culberson’s aversion to rail is removed from the district, it will be interesting to see if Fletcher takes up the mantle of public transportation and acts as less of a hindrance — or even an advocate — for programs that would increase rail and other public transit programs through the Houston-Galveston region.

KUHF also asked those questions.

METRO Chairman Carrin Patman said she thinks Lizzie Fletcher will be a huge help as the agency moves ahead with a new regional transit plan.

[…]

But what does Fletcher’s election mean for any Richmond rail plans?

Patman said for cost reasons they’re now considering bus rapid transit for the Richmond corridor, to help provide better connections between downtown and The Galleria. But she added that project would also require help from Washington, D.C.

“Just as we built two of the three rail lines with a federal match, we will need federal money to help implement our expanded transit in the region,” explained Patman.

So first and foremost, Culberson’s defeat means that when he officially opposes the Metro regional transit plan, as I expect he will, he’ll do so as just another cranky member of the general public. And not just with Lizzie Fletcher in Congress but Democrats controlling Congress, there should be a good chance to get the Culberson anti-Richmond rail budget rider removed. That’s all very much to the good, but it’s a start and not a done deal. But as Christof Spieler helpfully reminds us, there’s a lot of work still to be done, as any federal funds only exist as matches to local money. We need to put up the cash first, then we can try to get federal help. Christof has a few suggestions, and I would submit that the changeover in Harris County Commissioners Court, as well as having a potentially friendlier-to-rail representative from the county on the H-GAC Transportation Policy Council, could be game changers of equal magnitude. You want to see this gap in Metro’s transit infrastructure get filled? Start by engaging on the 2019 transit plan referendum, and tell your local officials to support Metro in this effort.

Omnibus election report

It’s after midnight, I’ve mostly posted stuff on my long-dormant Twitter account (@kuff), and I will have many, many thoughts in the coming days. For now, a brief recap.

– As you know, neither Beto nor any other Dem won statewide, thus continuing the shutout that began in 1996. However, as of this writing and 6,998 of 7,939 precincts counted, O’Rourke had 3,824,780 votes, good for 47.86% of the total. In 2016, Hillary Clinton collected 3,877,868 votes. It seems very likely that by the time all is said and done, Beto O’Rourke will be the biggest vote-getter in history for a Texas Democrat. He will have built on Hillary Clinton’s total from 2016. That’s pretty goddamn amazing, and if you’re not truly impressed by it you’re not seeing the whole picture. We’re in a different state now.

– Beto may not have won, but boy howdy did he have coattails. Colin Allred won in CD32, and Lizzie Fletcher won in CD07. Will Hurd is hanging on to a shrinking lead in CD23, up by less than 1,200 votes with about 14% of the precincts yet to report. He was leading by 6,000 votes in early voting, and it may still be possible for Gina Ortiz Jones to catch him. Todd Litton (45.30% in CD02), Lorie Burch (44.21% in CD03), Jana Lynne Sanchez (45.25% in CD06), Mike Siegel (46.71% in CD10), Joseph Kopser (47.26% in CD21), Sri Kulkarni (46.38% in CD22), Jan McDowell (46.91% in CD24), Julie Oliver (44.43% in CD25), and MJ Hegar (47.54% in CD31) all came within ten points.

– Those coattails extended further down the ballot. Dems picked up two State Senate seats, as Beverly Powell defeated Konni Burton in SD10 (Wendy Davis’ old seat) and Nathan Johnson trounced Don Huffines in SD16. Rita Lucido was at 46.69% in SD17, but she wasn’t the next-closest competitor – Mark Phariss came within three points of defeating Angela Paxton in SD08, a race that wasn’t really on the radar. Oh, and in an even less-visible race Gwenn Burud scored 45.45% in SD09, while Meg Walsh got to 41.60% against Sen. Charles Schwertner in SD05 (he was just over 55% in that race). We could make things very, very interesting in 2022.

– And down in the State House, Dems have picked up 11 seats:

HD45, Erin Zwiener
HD47, Vikki Goodwin
HD52, James Talarico
HD65, Michelle Beckley
HD102, Ana-Marie Ramos
HD105, Terry Meza
HD113, Rhetta Bowers
HD114, John Turner
HD115, Julie Johnson
HD135, Jon Rosenthal
HD136, John Bucy

Note that of those seven wins, a total of four came from Denton, Hays, and Williamson Counties. The Dems have officially gained a foothold in the suburbs. They also lost some heartbreakingly close races in the House – I’ll save that for tomorrow – and now hold 12 of 14 seats in Dallas County after starting the decade with only six seats. This is the risk of doing too precise a gerrymander – the Republicans there had no room for error in a strong Democratic year.

– Here in Harris County, it was another sweep, as Dems won all the judicial races and in the end all the countywide races. Ed Emmett lost by a point after leading most of the evening, while the other Republicans lost by wide margins. Also late in the evening, Adrian Garcia squeaked ahead of Commissioner Jack Morman in Precinct 2, leading by a 112,356 to 111,226 score. Seems fitting that Morman would lose a close race in a wave year, as that was how he won in the first place. That means Dems now have a 3-2 majority on Commissioners Court. Did I say we now live in a different state? We now live in a very different county.

– With 999 of 1,013 precincts in, Harris County turnout was 1,194,379, with about 346K votes happening on Election Day. That puts turnout above what we had in 2008 (in terms of total votes, not percentage of registered voters) but a hair behind 2012. It also means that about 71% of the vote was cast early, a bit less than in 2016.

– Oh, and the Dems swept Fort Bend, too, winning District Attorney, County Judge, District Clerk, all contests judicial races, and County Commissioner in Precinct 4. Maybe someone can explain to me now why they didn’t run candidates for County Clerk and County Treasurer, but whatever.

– Possibly the biggest bloodbath of the night was in the Courts of Appeals, where the Dems won every single contested race in the 1st, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 13th, and 14th Courts. I count 16 incumbent Republican judges losing, with several more open Republican-held seats flipping. That is utterly amazing, and will have an impact far greater than we can imagine right now.

– Last but not least, both Houston propositions passed. Expect there to be a lawsuit over Prop B.

Two stories about grassroots GOTV efforts

Both from the Observer. First, Inside Beto’s Plan to Turn Out Black Voters in Houston:

With two days till early voting, Cameron Mayfield, a Beto O’Rourke field organizer, gets busy setting up a makeshift campaign office in a corner of a combination KFC/Taco Bell in Kashmere Gardens, a predominantly black neighborhood in northeast Houston. Mayfield lugs in a laptop and phone charger. Precinct maps and campaign literature are piled haphazardly on the table.

While other parts of the city are flush with Beto volunteers, the KFC/Taco Bell franchise owner was the only one in this neighborhood to offer up space to the campaign. The men’s bathroom is currently out of order, employees take orders from behind bulletproof glass and, of course, there’s no WiFi.

Kashmere Gardens is one of the poorest parts of the city — median household income hovers around $26,000 — and it was among the areas hardest hit by Harvey. Forty percent of neighborhood residents affected by the storm are still living in homes that need repair. It also has a large concentration of people who’ve been incarcerated, many of whom are unclear about their voting eligibility. Many are unaware that their voting rights are restored once they get off probation or parole.

Kyle Maronie, who grew up in Settegast, a neighborhood a few miles to the northeast, shows up for the noon shift — he’s the main volunteer Mayfield depends on. It’s not easy work. People are often hesitant to answer the door and don’t want to talk.

But Maronie brings enthusiasm to the job. “Block walking is the best way to not only understand the needs of the community, but also to get a visual understanding of situations people live in,” he told me. “They’ve been left out of the conversation for so long.”

If O’Rourke is to become the first Texas Democrat to win a statewide race in a quarter-century, one of the hundreds of things he needs to do is inspire huge levels of turnout from black voters. Anglos may be flooding into Beto campaign rallies by the thousands, and the party’s future may hinge on its ability to turn out Latino voters, but the backbone of the Texas Democratic Party base is black — and it has been for a long time.

At a block-walk event on Houston’s South Side earlier that day, Damien Jones, Beto’s political director for the Houston area, laid out the stakes. “Two years ago,” Jones pronounced in his red Chucks and a black-and-white “BETO” trucker hat, “many of us had many regrets about what happened — that we didn’t do enough. This is the time to leave it all on the field. We can’t have any regrets this time.”

[…]

Polls have consistently shown O’Rourke with overwhelming levels of support from African-American voters in Texas. The energy has activists cautiously optimistic about the chances for a big bump in turnout. Terrence Shanks, a Democratic activist in Senate District 13, which represents many of Houston’s black neighborhoods, predicts that turnout in Harris County will come close to presidential levels. “My spidey sense says that while turnout won’t be as high as 2008, it will be comparable,” Shanks said.

That story was published on the 29th, and as we know by now Shanks’ Spidey-sense was pretty accurate, perhaps even a bit understated.

Story two, The Suburban Resistance Built a Grassroots Powerhouse — and it Could Decide the Most Competitive Race in Texas:

Almost two years ago, Rebecca Weisz Shukla didn’t want to get out of bed on November 7. Or November 8. On the 9th, she made a trip to Costco and couldn’t help but wonder whether each person she encountered had voted for Donald Trump. “I shouldn’t have been surprised [that Trump won], but I was,” Shukla said. She was depressed, she was angry and she didn’t know what to do.

Shukla, a 50-year-old mother of two college-aged kids who lives in the affluent enclave of West University Place, is emblematic of the Trump backlash, which has been animated in part by a suburban swell of newly activated, (mostly) white, (mostly) well-off women. A few months after the election, she heard about Swing Left, one of many progressive groups that formed in the wake of Trump’s election. Swing Left was laser-focused on mobilizing volunteers to win the bounty of GOP-controlled congressional districts that voted for Clinton.

Little did she know, Shukla lived in the heart of a district that saw one of the most dramatic swings toward Clinton in the entire country. In 2012, Mitt Romney won the 7th Congressional District, in suburban west Houston by more than 20 percent. But in 2016, Clinton narrowly won the district.

Now, the race between incumbent Republican John Culberson and Democrat Lizzie Pannill Fletcher, a Houston corporate lawyer, has become one of the closest and most expensive House battles in the country.

Fletcher’s campaign has hewed closely to the traditional DCCC model: spend a ton of money on TV and mailers and run to the middle with an emphasis on flipping highly educated, moderate Republican and independent voters who live in the wealthier, high-turnout pockets of the district.

But glossy mailers and slick TV spots do not a blue wave make. If Fletcher is able to oust a nearly 20-year incumbent in a district that’s been Republican since George H.W. Bush held it in the 1960s, it will be in large part due to the work of volunteers behind Swing TX-7 Left. The group is fueled by tireless leaders like Shukla, Jane Lesnick, a 44-year-old full-time parent of two young kids, and Jay Taylor, a retired attorney who said he has found far more fulfillment through his new foray into political organizing than he ever did during his career in debt collection.

With little experience, these activists have built from scratch a grassroots powerhouse in a place that has never really had that before. Over the past 18 months, they’ve recruited dozens of volunteers, helped register thousands of voters, organized local precincts and hit tens of thousands of doors. In short order, they’ve made themselves the Democratic backbone of the district.

[…]

These days, it’s hard to find a flat surface in Shukla’s home that isn’t littered with lawn signs, fliers and mailers. It’s a makeshift volunteer headquarters. When I visit her home during the first week of early voting, a Swing Left organizer has taken over her living room table and is cold calling a list of potential volunteers.

The Swing TX-7 Left Facebook group has more than 700 members and has become a central tool for organizing block walks and talking strategy. Shukla now has more than 500 Facebook friends and has become a well-known and respected figure in the Harris County activism scene.

Swing Left’s embed into the Fletcher campaign is running more smoothly now. But that doesn’t mean they’ve sacrificed the soul of their original endeavor. She’s spent much of this week canvassing apartment complexes and is helping organize a massive block walk in a heavily Latino precinct with tons of apartments in Sharpstown this weekend.

Trump’s election has forever changed Shukla — and countless women like her. “No matter what happens, I want to be able to say I did what I could,” Shukla explained. “That mission is accomplished.”

And what if Fletcher doesn’t swing the 7th to the left? “I don’t know,” she said, pausing. “It depends on how they lose. … If it’s not close now, then it’s not happening here. Not anytime soon.”

If you’re even Democratic-adjacent in Harris County, you’ve probably seen a metric crap-ton of Swing Left activity on Facebook. There’s a long bit in this story about registering and turning out apartment dwellers, which should make Greg Wythe’s heart a little lighter. Read ’em both before you head out to the polls tomorrow or hit the phones today.

Change Research: Cruz 49, O’Rourke 49

Make of this what you will.

I don’t know anything about Change Research and I don’t recall seeing earlier polls from them. They give some more info in that Twitter thread, but there’s no link to a polling memo or any other details, so take this with a modest amount of salt.

On a related note, the ongoing NYT/Siena “live poll” in CD32 is showing a tight race with a small edge for Colin Allred; at the 400 call mark, he was up 45-43. Lizzie Fletcher trailed 46-45 in polling done between October 19 and 25. An earlier poll in CD23 had Rep. Will Hurd up by the frankly unbelievable margin of 53-38 over Gina Ortiz Jones; the sample showed Hurd getting a relatively huge amount of support from Democrats. There’s a lot of late money pouring into that race, so who knows what’s going on.

October 2018 campaign finance reports: Congress

Wow.

It’s not just Beto.

Newly filed campaign finance reports show that money flooded into Democratic congressional campaigns all across the state over the last three months.

Along with Democrat Beto O’Rourke’s blockbuster $38 million haul in his bid against Republican U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, no fewer than eight other Texas Democrats outraised their GOP rivals in their bids for Republican-held U.S. House seats. These numbers are so daunting that even GOP House incumbents who have stepped up their game this cycle, particularly U.S. Reps. Pete Sessions of Dallas and Will Hurd of Helotes, found themselves trailing far behind their Democratic rivals.

Looking back to the 2016 cycle, U.S. House candidates who raised more than $400,000 a quarter was considered strong fundraisers. This time around, several Texas Congressional candidates had multi-million dollar quarters.

To give a sense on how much things have changed, consider the state’s only competitive federal campaign in 2016, Texas’ 23rd Congressional District held by Hurd. The Democratic challenger that year, former U.S. Rep. Pete Gallego, raised less money through the entire two-year cycle than three current Democratic challengers – attorneys Colin Allred and Lizzie Fletcher and retired Air Force intelligence officer Gina Ortiz Jones – raised in this quarter alone.

The latest numbers are noteworthy enough that GOP sources tell the Tribune that the Democratic numbers lit a fire under some of the state’s most politically active Republican billionaires and millionaires and, they are now, finally, fully engaged in protecting their team in the midterms.

Boy, what would the Republicans do without their billionaires and millionaires? You can see the tallies for each district at the link above, but I’ll summarize for the districts that I’ve been tracking here. Here are the July 2017 finance reports, here are the October 2017 finance reports, here are the January 2018 finance reports, here are the April 2018 finance reports, here are the July 2018 finance reports, and here’s the FEC summary page for Democratic Congressional candidates in Texas.

Todd Litton – CD02
Lori Burch – CD03
Jana Sanchez – CD06
Lizzie Fletcher – CD07
Steven David – CD08
Mike Siegel – CD10
Vanessa Adia – CD12
Adrienne Bell – CD14
Rick Kennedy – CD17
Joseph Kopser – CD21
Sri Kulkarni – CD22
Gina Ortiz Jones – CD23
Jan McDowell – CD24
Julie Oliver – CD25
Linsey Fagan – CD26
Eric Holguin – CD27
MJ Hegar – CD31
Colin Allred – CD32
Dayna Steele – CD36


Dist  Name             Raised      Spent    Loans    On Hand
============================================================
02    Litton        1,310,731    786,261        0    524,469
03    Burch           246,241    232,138   23,149     40,239
06    Sanchez         577,842    440,807        0    137,034
07    Fletcher      4,604,838  3,015,607        0  1,589,246
08    David            31,664     26,520        0      4,639
10    Siegel          343,403    271,869   10,000     82,259
12    Adia            180,528    105,984        0     74,399
14    Bell            161,105    147,165        0     13,939
17    Kennedy          55,231     95,083   19,356     18,464
21    Kopser        2,527,090  2,162,350   74,231    364,740
22    Kulkarni      1,028,707    576,851   14,400    451,856
23    Ortiz Jones   4,742,935  3,501,768        0  1,241,167
24    McDowell         95,553     63,611        0     32,061
25    Oliver          527,503    308,436    3,125    222,209
26    Fagan           155,893     81,922        0     57,096
27    Holguin         164,678    156,994        0      7,683
31    Hegar         3,535,495  2,792,159        0    738,317
32    Allred        4,238,043  2,337,466   44,978  1,900,577
36    Steele          808,109    627,624    5,926    180,454

There’s nothing I can say here that I haven’t said before several times. A few candidates received DCCC or other PAC money, but the vast bulk of what they raised they did themselves. The amounts raised just in the third quarter are staggering, and it’s not just at the top. Julie Oliver now has more cash on hand than the total amount she had raised as of Q2, despite CD25 being on nobody’s radar. She’s now officially the second-most impressive-to-me fundraiser after Dayna Steele, who could still become the eighth candidate to break the million dollar barrier. My wish right now is that they’re all spending this money like crazy on GOTV efforts.

Endorsement watch: Of course it’s Lizzie

The Chron endorses Lizzie Fletcher over Rep. John Culberson, which may be the biggest non-surprise so far of the election season.

Lizzie Fletcher

More than longtime Republican incumbent U.S. Rep. John Culberson, or even her opponents from the heated Democratic primary, Fletcher understands this diverse, changing district and has demonstrated a passion for putting its residents ahead of rank partisanship.

No doubt, Culberson did his job after Hurricane Harvey. He used his position on the House Appropriations Committee to help transform an insultingly sparse White House recovery bill into an adequate funding package. As we said at the time, we don’t want to imagine what would have happened after Harvey without Culberson in Congress. But Culberson’s tenure in Washington didn’t begin when the rain started to fall, nor did his responsibilities end after the floodwaters receded.

Culberson was first elected to public office in 1986 and has rarely faced a serious challenger outside a Republican primary. It shows. His career has been spent promoting his own pet projects rather than serving the local needs of his home district. That’s why it took the greatest natural disaster in Houston history to compel him to act with necessary passion.

[…]

On firearms, Culberson is unwilling to consider reasonable regulations to keep guns out of the hands of the mentally ill. During their meeting with the editorial board, Fletcher said she believed that federal agencies like the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs should share information with the gun background check list to ensure that people deemed mentally incapable cannot purchase deadly weapons.

“Two times in the past three years I have woken up to hear there’s a gunman in our congressional district who had mental illness issues randomly shooting people,” Fletcher said.

Culberson grew visibly agitated at the idea and argued that the only circumstance when someone should be prohibited from buying a gun is by a judicial order.

When it comes to health care, only Fletcher has an articulable vision for bringing costs under control. She wants a public option to create a baseline safety net for all Americans and to allow the federal government to negotiate drug prices to bring down the cost of pharmaceuticals.

Culberson, on the other hand, still doesn’t have much beyond repealing Obamacare.

You get the idea. It’s not just that Fletcher is clearly superior to Culberson (four stars to three in the Chron’s new rating system), it’s also that the Chron has literally never endorsed Culberson in a November election, at least not since 2006. I look forward to their biennial not-Culberson editorial like some people look forward to sweater weather.

Also not a surprise, the Chron endorsed Sarah Davis for re-election in HD134. Someone pursuing a master’s in political science needs to write a paper comparing Sarah Davis to Susan Collins, just to see where they land up on it. That’s all I have to say on the topic of Sarah Davis.

Endorsement watch: Nine from Obama

I don’t know what the practical effect of this is, but I’m happy for the attention.

Former President Barack Obama has backed nine more Democratic candidates in Texas as part of his second round of midterm endorsements.

The nine candidates include challengers in two of Texas’ most competitive congressional races: Lizzie Fletcher, who is running against U.S. Rep. John Culberson, R-Houston, and Gina Ortiz Jones, who is taking on U.S. Rep. Will Hurd, R-Helotes. The Texans that Obama endorsed also include two who are likely to become the state’s first Latina congresswomen: Veronica Escobar, who is running to replace U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke, D-El Paso, and Houston state Sen. Sylvia Garcia, who is vying for the seat being vacated by retiring U.S. Rep. Gene Green, D-Houston.

Rounding out the list of Obama’s latest endorsements in Texas are five state House candidates. One is Dallas state Rep. Eric Johnson, who is running for re-election, and the four others are all in races that Democrats are targeting as pick-up opportunities.

These nine were part of a much bigger group nationwide. All four of those State House endorsed challengers are also from Dallas: Ana-Marie Ramos (HD102), Terry Meza (HD105), Rhetta Bowers (HD113), and Julie Johnson (HD115). As the story notes, Obama had previously endorsed two Congressional candidates, Colin Allred and Adrienne Bell. I’m sure this will help everyone’s fundraising, though by how much is a question I can’t answer, and it’s certainly a lovely feather in one’s cap – I’d be over the moon as a candidate to get this kind of recognition. But at the end of the day, it’s about where and by how much the needle gets moved. These are all top-tier races, and the candidates deserve the support. What I’d really like to see is more attention to and support of the candidates in the second- and third-tier races, both as a means of trying to maximize the effect of the beneficial environment, and to recognize the great work that so many people have been doing without that kind of support. We’re going to need more of these candidate in 2020 and beyond, so let’s make sure no one walks away from this year feeling like it wasn’t worth the effort.

CD32 “live poll”: Sessions 48, Allred 47

Another on of these polls, another close result.

Colin Allred

Incumbent Republican Pete Sessions and Democratic challenger Colin Allred are in a dead heat in the much-anticipated race for Dallas County’s 32nd Congressional District.

According to a New York Times/Siena College poll completed Monday night, Sessions leads Allred 48 to 47 percent, with 5 percent of those surveyed undecided. Pollsters talked to only 500 potential voters, so the margin of error is plus or minus 4.8 percent. The Dallas Morning News is part of the New York Times’ effort to make the political polling process more transparent.

“Our poll result is about what was expected. But remember: It’s just one poll, and we talked to only 500 people,” an introduction to the results state. “Each candidate’s total could easily be five points different if we polled everyone in the district.”

[…]

The poll shows 52 percent disapprove of Trump’s performance, while 44 percent approve and 5 percent don’t know.

Trump endorsed Sessions earlier this month, while former President Barack Obama is backing Allred.

Potential voters overwhelming rejected Trump’s tariffs on steel and aluminum by a 50 percent to 39 percent margin, with 11 percent undecided, the poll revealed.

[…]

The incumbent has campaigned heavily on the 2017 tax cuts pushed by Trump and approved by Congress. To that point, the polls reveals that 53 percent in the district support the tax cuts, compared to 39 percent that disapproved and 8 percent that didn’t know.

Perhaps even more significant for Sessions, 54 percent agree that Trump’s policies have made their economic situation better. And the nomination of Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court was supported by a 50-41 percent margin.

Sessions is hoping voters feel good about Republican policies and Trump’s judicial appointments.

Those surveyed were nearly equally divided over which party should control the U.S. House, with 48 percent favoring Democrats and 47 percent wanting Republicans to maintain control. Six percent were undecided.

The 32nd Congressional District still leans Republican. The outcome of the race could be decided by a base fight in a county dominated by Democrats. Those Democrats hope Rep. Beto O’Rourke of El Paso, in a close Senate race against incumbent Republican Ted Cruz, will help the entire ticket.

But the poll shows that Cruz and O’Rourke could have similar coattails. O’Rourke was favored by a 48-47 percent margin, reflecting the overall competitiveness in the congressional district.

See here and here for previous “live poll” results, from CDs 07 and 23, and here for the full NYT writeup. An internal poll released in August had it as 47-45 Sessions, while Patrick Svitek tweeted about just-released PPP results that had Allred leading 47-42 and Lizzie Fletcher leading 47-45 in CD07. The disconnect between the disapproval of Trump and the approval of the tax cuts and Brett Kavanaugh could be a sign that people want to exert a counter-force on Trump even if they like some of the things he’s done, a sign that one side or the other is over- or under-performing in the district, or just random noise. Far as I know, these are the only live polls planned for Texas. I wish they’d dip down into some of the second-tier races – I’d kill to see what they might find about CD31, or CD22, or CD21 – but we should be happy we got this much.

Three different views of how competitive Texas Congressional districts are

You are by now familiar with The Crosstab and its 2018 Congressional forecast, as I’ve referred to it multiple times in recent months. G. Elliott Morris, the proprietor of The Crosstab, now works at The Economist, and they have their own midterm forecast, based on a different model. And of course you are familiar with FiveThirtyEight, which (guess what) also has a 2018 Congressional forecast. What do we like to do when we have multiple data sources? We compare them, that’s what. Here are the forecasts for the Texas Congressional districts of interest:


Dist   XTab   Econ    538
=========================
CD02   15.1   50.0    9.3
CD03    6.4   29.0    0.9
CD06   16.5   40.0    7.3
CD07   50.3   27.0   46.6
CD10   21.0   13.0    2.6
CD14    6.4    1.0    1.3
CD17    4.4    1.0    0.5
CD21   20.3   50.0   20.3
CD22   20.5    8.0   14.8
CD23   66.3   83.0   49.4
CD24   29.0    9.0    4.5
CD25   11.3    0.0    7.0
CD27    6.5   20.0    0.3
CD31   11.2    4.0   20.1
CD32   47.4    1.0   17.4

Left to right, those are the projected percentage chances of a Democratic win in the given district from the Crosstab, the Economist, and 538. I have a hard time taking the Economist’s model seriously so I’m not going to say anything more about it. The other two provide an additional piece of data that’s worth looking at, which is a projection of the margin between the candidates in each district. Let’s look at that as well:


Dist   XTab    538   2012    2014   2016
========================================
CD02  - 9.1  -10.6  -26.9   -33.7  -20.3
CD03  -12.9  -20.6  -30.8   -37.1  -25.7
CD06  - 7.1  - 9.8  -16.7   -21.3  -15.2
CD07    0.1  - 0.6  -19.9   -31.4  -14.0
CD10  - 6.0  -15.9  -18.7   -22.6  -16.5
CD14  -12.4  -19.0  -15.2   -22.8  -21.3
CD17  -13.2  -22.5  -19.8   -28.9  -22.7
CD21  - 5.6  - 6.3  -22.0   -26.0  -18.7
CD22  - 6.2  - 8.5  -25.1   -33.3  -16.3
CD23    3.2  - 0.2  - 3.1   -15.5  - 1.2
CD24  - 4.0  -13.4  -23.3   -30.9  -15.9
CD25  - 9.0  -11.7  -20.0   -22.5  -21.5
CD27  -13.4  -25.4  -19.1   -30.3  -24.4
CD31  - 9.2  - 5.9  -21.0   -27.7  -19.3
CD32  - 0.4  - 6.6  -15.4   -23.7  -12.2

These numbers are all as of the September 23 update. They may have drifted a bit since then, one way or the other. I can tell you that in the few days that it took me to get my act together and finish writing this post, Democratic odds dropped a bit across the board, with the exception of an uptick in the 538 model in CD32. I have no idea if the loss in SD19 had anything to do with that, or if it was just reflecting whatever ebbs and flows their equations pick up on.

Note that 538 provides a range of possible vote shares for each candidate. In CD07, for example, they forecast a high of 55.1% and a low of 45.5% for John Culberson, with a high of 54.5% and a low of 44.9% for Lizzie Fletcher. The margin is the difference between the average forecast, which as of September 23 was 50.3% for Culberson and 49.7% for Fletcher. They take third party candidates into account as well. The Crosstab isn’t quite that granular, they just provide a forecast for the margin. Again, these numbers will drift around some.

The two points of interest here are where the forecasts differ – 538 is more bearish overall for Dems, though more optimistic in CD31 and considerably more pessimistic in CD32 – and how the current margins compare to previous years, which I show in the last three columns. As is my custom, I’m using judicial numbers for those margins, and for this I used one of the statewide judicial races. I don’t remember which one I picked for each year – did I mention that it took me a few days to write this post? – but it really doesn’t matter that much, they’re all within a point or so of each other. Look at the comparisons in the Harris County CDs – 02 and 07, which are entirely within the county, and 10 and 22, which are partially so. Everywhere you look, the indicators are for a rough year for the Harris County GOP. Never take anything for granted, of course, but dismiss the data at your peril as well. The postmortem here is going to be something.

Harvey and the Congressional races

This was from a couple of days ago.

Dayna Steele

A year ago this week, Dayna Steele was standing in 29 inches of water inside her Seabrook home. Her family had already made it through Hurricane Ike in 2008, when the water in her home had come up even higher. Nearly nine years later, Hurricane Harvey would once again force Steele to rebuild.

But this time around, Steele was also a candidate for Congress. She had filed months earlier as a Democrat to challenge U.S. Rep. Brian Babin, R-Woodville, in a historically Republican district that stretches northwest from Houston across eight counties. In the days and weeks after the storm, as she heard about the worry and confusion from others in the region, Steele found it amplified her desire to represent her community in Congress.

“We still have entirely too many blue tarps, empty homes,” said Steele, who still sees local residents living in trailers parked in the driveways of their damaged homes. “It’s still a big issue.”

A year after one of the worst storms in the state’s history, Steele is one of several Texas congressional candidates emphasizing Harvey as a key issue heading into November, honing in on the details of its aftermath, the region’s long-term recovery and whether enough is being done to prepare for when the next major hurricane arrives.

Steele’s opponent, Babin, was also personally impacted by Harvey. For a few hours, he and his family were stuck in their Woodville home due to flooding in their neighborhood. Three months later, Babin was a part of a group of Texans in Congress who teamed up to secure more Harvey relief after an initial proposal put forth by the White House was criticized as too small by many Texans.

Steele said when she travels around the district, she hears from voters that they either don’t know who Babin is or say they never saw him in the aftermath of the storm.

Babin, who didn’t respond to a request for comment, has tweeted multiple timesabout his push to send additional federal aid to Texas. Recently Babin, along with other Houston-area congressional members, met with Mick Mulvaney, director of the Office of Management and Budget at the White House, to discuss giving more money to the Army Corps for “future flood mitigation.” The congressman also tweeted that he toured disaster areas with U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan in the storm’s immediate aftermath.

A similar back and forth — challengers accusing the incumbent of not being physically present after the storm or fighting hard enough for relief funding and the incumbent insisting otherwise — is emerging in multiple races in Harvey-impacted districts.

“The lack of response from our representative is visceral,” said Sri Kulkarni, a Democrat vying to unseat U.S. Rep. Pete Olson, R-Sugar Land. The prevailing sentiment from constituents in the Republican-leaning 22nd Congressional District, Kulkarni argued, is that “Pete Olson was absent on Harvey.”

That recent Atlantic story on CD07 covered this in the context of Lizzie Fletcher’s campaign. She and Todd Litton in CD02 have different challenges in their races; Fletcher is attacking John Culberson for basically doing nothing before Harvey to help with flood mitigation, while Litton has not incumbent to run against. As I said in that post, it makes sense to make Harvey response and recovery a campaign issue. The Republicans were in charge of the government when Harvey happened, so what happened after that is on them. How effective that will be is not clear. I’d love to see some polling data on that, but even if we never get to see such numbers, I’d bet that the candidates themselves have explored the question.

We ultimately may or may not ever know what if any effect the Harvey issue has. If an incumbent gets knocked off, there may be some followup reporting that sheds light on it, but if a race is just closer than one might have expected – Dayna Steele, running in a 70% Trump district, has a lot of room to gain ground without winning, for instance – we may never get an examination of why. Most likely the best we’ll be able to do is draw our own conclusions from the data that we get to see.

CD07 “live poll”: Culberson 48, Fletcher 45

Here’s another of those NYT-Siena “live polls” of interesting Congressional races.

Lizzie Fletcher

Houston Rep. John Culberson holds a narrow lead over Democratic challenger Lizzie Fletcher, a poll conducted by The New York Times Upshot found Tuesday.

Culberson’s 3-point lead is within the 5-point margin of error for the poll, which The New York Times conducted Sept. 14-18. Forty-eight percent of respondents said they preferred Culberson, and 45 percent sided with Fletcher.

The nine-term congressman had a 43 percent favorable rating in the poll, compared to Fletcher’s 28 percent. That difference could be attributed to name recognition — 49 percent of those polled answered that they “didn’t know” if they had a favorable opinion of Fletcher, a Houston attorney, compared to 24 percent for Culberson.

Election handicappers such as Cook Political Report, FiveThirtyEight, and Larry J. Sabato’s Crystal Ball have deemed the race a “toss-up,” while Inside Elections rated it a “lean Republican.”

[…]

Pollsters asked several other questions of district residents.

Of those polled, El Paso Rep. Beto O’Rourke held a 7-point lead over Sen. Ted Cruz, who is from Houston. President Donald Trump had a 51 percent approval rating. Fifty-five percent opposed funding for a wall at the U.S.-Mexico border, and 60 percent supported a ban on assault-style guns and high-capacity magazines.

The Upshot, in partnership with Siena College, called 40,665 people in the Houston district and received 500 responses.

The full NYT writeup is here. They had previously done a poll in CD23, which I wrote about here; a poll of CD32 is coming soon. The DMN story goes over the candidates’ fundraising and the ads they have running now – I’ve seen one of Fletcher’s, but not yet Culberson’s – but none of that interests me. There are two other things I want to talk about.

The first thing is the embedded image of where in the district they got their responses, and whether those responses were for Fletcher or Culberson. CD07 has a big piece inside Beltway 8, and a big piece on the farther west side of Harris County, outside Highway 6 and north of I-10 up to US 290. The original idea of this district was to pair the relatively small and mostly Democratic inner urban piece with the larger and more Republican outer suburban area. That has worked well for the decade, but as you can see, there are an awful lot of Fletcher-responding blue dots in the far-flung section of CD07. The outer areas of Harris County are the Republican stronghold, with sufficient population to counterbalance the Democratic city of Houston. If the unincorporated part of the county is trending bluer, that’s a big problem for the local GOP.

Which brings me to the second point. It’s important to remember that CD07 was a thirty-point Republican district in 2014. Kim Ogg, in her first run for DA in the special election against Devon Anderson, got 37.5% in CD07 in 2014. Ann Harris Bennett, then running for County Clerk, got 34.7%. Judith Snively, running for District Clerk, got 33.6%. It was a massacre.

Things were different in 2016, of course, but the fact that CD07 was carried by Hillary Clinton obscures the fact that CD07 was still fundamentally Republican. Ogg, in her rematch with Anderson, took 46.8% in the district. Vince Ryan got 46.2%, Ed Gonzalez got 45.0%, and Ann Harris Bennett, now running for Tax Assessor, just barely cleared 42%. The average Democratic district judge candidate got 43.5%.

Remember, though, that even in losing CD07 by 16 points (Bennett) or 13 points (average Dem judicial candidate), they all still won Harris County overall. Greg Abbott had a more modest 22-point win over Wendy Davis in CD07, and he needed all of that to win the county by less than five points. If CD07 is even close to being fifty-fifty, how does any Republican win countywide? If Beto O’Rourke is really leading in CD07 by seven points, then he’s going to crush it in the county, and that as much as any “likely voter” poll suggests a real, close race statewide.

Now of course all of this is predicated on this poll being accurate. As we discussed after the CD23 poll was published, this is a new and experimental approach to polling, and as always it’s just one result. We do have one earlier result, which happens to closely match this one, but two data points are only slightly better than one. My point is that this poll doesn’t have to be dead-on accurate to highlight the potential for a blue wave in Harris County. Even a modest shift from 2016 would point in that direction.

The Atlantic on CD07

I have three things to say about this:

Lizzie Fletcher

On a Saturday morning in Houston, the high was 94 degrees with a chance of rain. It was hardly friendly weather for canvassing—the door-knocking, yard sign–delivering, get-out-the-vote efforts that define a politician’s grassroots network. Yet dozens of Seventh District residents, sporting lizzie fletcher for congress T-shirts, had happily crammed into a small office room on Richmond Avenue, awaiting their marching orders.

Fletcher stood on a step stool at the front of the room. The 43-year-old cuts an unconventional profile in the Seventh—female, liberal, inexperienced. Any one of those descriptors should be a nonstarter in this district, which a handsome blue blood named George H. W. Bush first turned Republican in 1966. That Bush has had only two successors in nearly five decades—both white, conservative men—appears testament to that fact.

But in a nod to the vast strangeness of 2018, Democrats see the Seventh as one of their best shots at taking the House. Indeed, Texas is changing. Across the state, Republican incumbents including Representative John Culberson here in the Seventh; Representatives Pete Sessions and Will Hurd; and even Senator Ted Cruz are struggling to fend off Democratic challengers. Suddenly, the idea of a progressive woman, a political outsider, unseating an 18-year incumbent like Culberson doesn’t feel so far-fetched.

On this Saturday in August, wearing a campaign T-shirt, a black miniskirt, and flip-flops, Fletcher prepped her volunteers by invoking the anniversary of Hurricane Harvey. It was exactly one year before that Harvey had dumped as much as 51 inches of rain on Houston, killing 75 people in Texas, and the trauma still ran deep. “For so many of us, Harvey was really a low point and a high point of our lives in Houston,” she said. The low point was obvious. But the high point, she said, was that in this community, “if you could help, you did.”

She didn’t have to adopt a hyper-partisan caricature—rallying for Donald Trump’s impeachment, say, or decrying his big tax cut for the wealthy—to energize the room. Rather, she compared volunteer efforts in the aftermath of Harvey to that day’s canvassing. “We are in a crisis in our country,” she said, her slight Southern lilt elongating her i’s. “And the best way—the best way—to do something about it is to do what y’all are doing today: Just show up.”

[…]

Today the district claims one of the most ethnically and economically diverse populations in Houston. It is 38 percent white, 31 percent Latino, 12 percent African American, and 10 percent Asian. To drive through the Seventh is to glimpse a vast number of takes on American life. The district touches some of the ritziest parts of Houston—the flashy mansions of River Oaks, the designer-stocked Galleria. Track a few miles southwest and you’ll find Gulfton, where Indian and Pakistani restaurants line the so-called Gandhi district and a single street might host Ethiopian and Guatemalan churches. Spin back up I-10 and there’s the Barker Reservoir, behind which many upper-middle-class homes were destroyed by Hurricane Harvey.

As the state undergoes a demographic transformation with the political shifts to match, the question for some political analysts has become not if Texas will turn blue, but when. So it has with the Seventh: The decades-long Republican stronghold swung for Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election, and Democrats have since zeroed in on it as a linchpin of their map to secure the House majority. “Any blue wave from Texas to Washington, including California, is going to start with this race,” the longtime Democratic lobbyist Scott Eckart told me. “If Culberson loses, I think all the others will follow.”

So far, polling suggests that, for Democrats, the Seventh is in fact within reach. Both Fletcher’s and Culberson’s internal polling clocks the race within the margin of error, according to three sources to whom the numbers have been relayed. Which means the pressure is on for Fletcher to run the perfect campaign not just for her own sake, but for House Democrats writ large.

“The political momentum here has shifted, and Lizzie is the ideal person to capitalize on that,” said Mustafa Tameez, a Democratic strategist based in the district. “She’s a progressive woman, she’s young, she’s smart. She checks off every box.”

[…]

This is in part why her campaign is less a collection of partisan talking points and more a commentary on local issues such as flood relief: She’s long been personally privy to the cyclical trauma of flooding in Harris County. Culberson “has been my rep since he was first elected in 2001,” Fletcher told me. “That year, we had Tropical Storm Allison. And I was working downtown at the time, and downtown flooded, my building flooded, people died. It was just this really incredible event that kind of snuck up on us.

“So he’s been on notice since he took office that this was something we needed to deal with,” she continued. “I didn’t ever agree with his positions in the first place … but what we are dealing with, in terms of flooding, is a years-long problem, and Culberson has been completely missing from the discussion.”

For Fletcher, it makes one of the key pro-Culberson arguments—that he’s a senior member of the powerful Appropriations Committee—unconvincing. “As a senior member of the Appropriations Committee … in the majority, why is it that two Democrats in our community are bringing the bill to fund all of our flood-mitigation projects, and he won’t sign on?” she said. “I think if you ask anybody, they’ll say we haven’t seen him use that to benefit our community, in all the years he’s been on it.”

1. The subhed on this article is “The Republican incumbent John Culberson has held the minority-majority Seventh Congressional District for almost two decades, but the Democrat Lizzie Fletcher hopes to finally turn out progressives and minorities.” So naturally I wanted to look at historic turnout numbers:


Year   CD07   County  Ratio
===========================
2016  67.04    61.33   1.09
2014  39.05    33.65   1.16
2012  67.72    61.99   1.09
2010  49.42    41.67   1.19
2008  70.61    62.81   1.12
2006  40.65    31.59   1.29
2004  66.87    58.03   1.15
2002  37.37    35.01   1.08

So turnout in CD07 is always higher than turnout in Harris County as a whole, ten to fifteen percent more in Presidential years and fifteen to thirty percent more in most non-Presidential years. That’s probably due to non-Presidential year turnout being generally lower in more Democratic areas. There’s still plenty of room for turnout to improve here. The goal of course will be to make sure that the reason for the bump in turnout is primarily due to voters who are friendlier to Fletcher than to Culberson.

2. As I’m sure you can guess, the prospect of poll data in CD07 is irresistible to me. We do have one publicly released poll that showed a two-point lead for Culberson. My guess is that the others mentioned in the story are all around that same margin, most likely all with Culberson in the lead. It’s all consistent with the larger picture. I do wonder, if the current slump in Trump’s approval ratings persists, if we’ll start to see more polls of Congressional districts being made public.

3. I do like the idea of turning Culberson’s tenure on the Appropriations Committee against him. If he couldn’t or didn’t deliver when his district and much of the rest of the region suffered such catastrophic floods as Allison and Harvey, then what good is he and his vaunted seniority and position of influence? It’s an argument that has a chance of catching on with people who aren’t congenital Democrats, and a good argument to make in an anti-incumbent year. Doesn’t mean it will work, or that it will be enough even if it does work, but it’s a good place to start.

Culberson’s continued stock problems

Oopsie.

Rep. John Culberson

Two members of Congress from Texas — Republican U.S. Reps. Mike Conaway of Midland and John Culberson of Houston — purchased stock in a company last year that is now at the center of insider trading charges against one of their colleagues, U.S. Rep. Chris Collins, R-New York.

Collins, best known as the first congressman to back Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential bid, was indicted Wednesday by federal prosecutors and charged with securities fraud, wire fraud and making false statements to the FBI. The indictment stems from his involvement in an Australian biotech firm called Innate Immunotherapeutics, and it alleges he passed non-public information about the company to his son, Cameron, who then used it to purchase stock and tip off others.

Conaway and Culberson are not named in the indictment and face no allegations of wrongdoing. But they were among several of Collins’ colleagues who purchased shares of Innate last year and faced some scrutiny for it, especially after reports surfaced that Collins was seeking to convince them and other associates to invest. Collins, who has denied any wrongdoing, was already being investigated by the House Ethics Committee before the indictment was unveiled Wednesday.

Both Conaway and Culberson bought stock in Innate on Jan. 26, 2017, worth between $1,001 and $15,000, according to personal financial statements filed with the House clerk. Their purchases came two days after a contentious confirmation hearing for U.S. Rep. Tom Price, R-Georgia, then Trump’s nominee for secretary of health and human services, during which he was questioned over his own investment in Innate. Conaway purchased more of the stock on Feb. 3, 2017, again valued at between $1,001 and $15,000.

Culberson sold his stock on June 12, 2017 — 10 days before Chris Collins is accused of sharing the non-public information with his son. Conaway, meanwhile, dumped all his shares in November 2017, according to a spokesperson for his office.

[…]

The fallout from the indictment could be more of a political problem for Culberson, who is among national Democrats’ top three targets in Texas this fall. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee singled out Culberson in a statement after the charges against Collins were revealed, and his opponent, Lizzie Pannill Fletcher, said in her own statement that the indictment “raises serious questions.”

“Congressman Culberson must explain why he, along with a small group of Republican lawmakers, bought stock in an obscure Australian biopharmaceutical company that is at the center of an insider trading scandal,” Fletcher said. “If Congressman Culberson used his position of power, along with access to material nonpublic information, in an effort to benefit himself personally then Congressman Culberson will have confirmed he is exactly what is wrong with Washington.”

See here for some background. In a different year, with a less-hostile political environment and a non-threatening opponent, Culberson could easily shrug this off. This year, not so much. Even if you yourself are not being accused of wrongdoing, the close association with a colleague who just got busted on federal charges and a Trump administration official who resigned amid a cascade of ethical scandals is not a good look. Good luck coming up with a satisfactory explanation for it all. The Chron has more on the Culberson angle, and for more on the Chris Collins arrest see Daily Kos, Mother Jones, ThinkProgress, and Political Animal.

July 2018 campaign finance reports: Congress

So we know that Texas Democratic Congressional challengers really crushed it in Q2, and that’s on top of three strong quarters before that. How good was it? Let’s quantify. Here are the July 2017 finance reports, here are the October 2017 finance reports, here are the January 2018 finance reports, here are the April 2018 finance reports, and here’s the FEC summary page for Democratic Congressional candidates in Texas.

Todd Litton – CD02
Lori Burch – CD03
Jana Sanchez – CD06
Lizzie Fletcher – CD07
Steven David – CD08
Mike Siegel – CD10
Vanessa Adia – CD12
Adrienne Bell – CD14
Rick Kennedy – CD17
Joseph Kopser – CD21
Sri Kulkarni – CD22
Gina Ortiz Jones – CD23
Jan McDowell – CD24
Julie Oliver – CD25
Linsey Fagan – CD26
Eric Holguin – CD27
MJ Hegar – CD31
Colin Allred – CD32
Dayna Steele – CD36


Dist  Name             Raised      Spent    Loans    On Hand
============================================================
02    Litton          843,045    435,370        0    407,674
03    Burch           153,559    160,632   23,149     19,109
06    Sanchez         358,960    291,187        0     67,772
07    Fletcher      2,321,869  1,524,807    7,531    797,077
08    David            25,044     21,831        0      2,708
10    Siegel          171,955    130,827    5,000     46,852
12    Adia            106,715     55,874        0     50,696
14    Bell            105,067     98,931        0      6,135
17    Kennedy
21    Kopser        1,594,724  1,230,359   25,000    364,365
22    Kulkarni        405,169    359,246    8,000     89,434
23    Ortiz Jones   2,256,366  1,105,515        0  1,150,851
24    McDowell         61,324     33,351        0     28,091
25    Oliver          199,047    124,044    3,125     78,145
26    Fagan            94,235     67,627        0     26,707
27    Holguin          93,570     83,112        0     10,458
31    Hegar         1,618,359    746,072        0    867,266
32    Allred        1,916,601    973,962   44,978    942,638
36    Steele          516,859    342,527        0    174,301

I added a few other candidates, in part to show that in even the lowest-profile races in deep red districts, Dems are raising unprecedented amounts of money. Rick Kennedy’s report had not updated as of yesterday (there’s always one that’s pokier than the others), but we’ll charge ahead anyhow.

Let me note up front that quite a few of these candidates were in primary runoffs, and that would be the reason why their total amount spent are so high, which makes their cash on hand lower than it might have been otherwise. The raised amounts that I list for some of these candidates is lower than what you’ll see on the FEC summary page because I generally subtract out loan amounts; in those cases, I go with the Total Contributions amount on the individual’s page. Unless there are also transfers in from other committees, as is the case for some candidates (Kopser and Ortiz Jones, for instance), in which case I revert to the topline Total Receipts number. It’s a little tricky and not as consistent as I’d like, but it’s close enough.

The sheer amount raised just by challengers – nearly $13 million so far – is just staggering. I’ve got another post in the works to put some context on that, but suffice it to say that we have never seen anything remotely like this. I’ve mentioned several times how impressive I find Dayna Steele’s numbers (and I’m not the only one), so let me also show a little love for Vanessa Adia and Linsey Fagan, both of whom are running in districts about as red as CD36, and Julie Oliver, whose CD25 is closer to 60-40 but like so many others has not had a serious challenge since it was configured in 2011. Especially for the districts they’re in, those totals are amazing. Well done, y’all.

What all this money means, especially spread out over all these candidates, is that there can and hopefully will be a real effort all over the state to reach out to people who may have never heard from a Democratic campaign and remind them they have a reason to vote and a local candidate to vote for. It’s a great way to complement Beto’s campaign, and given that none of our other statewide candidates have two dimes to rub together, it’s very necessary. Our hope, for this year and going forward, is predicated on boosting turnout. We have the motivation and we have the resources. It’s been quite awhile since the last time those things were true.

I’m just getting started on collective finance report information. I’ll have a full survey of the results of interest in the coming weeks. Let me know what you think.

Dems keep posting very strong finance reports

Wow.

There are few bigger warning signs for a member of Congress that their re-election may be in doubt than when a challenger outraises them. In Texas, it just happened to seven incumbents, all Republicans.

Since last week, when U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke, D-El Paso, revealed that he had raised a stunning $10.4 million between April and June in his bid to unseat Republican U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, a wave of Texas Democrats running for U.S. House seats similarly blasted out their own unusually strong fundraising numbers.

The numbers only became more striking when compared to their rivals: Some Democratic challengers raised two, three or even four times what their Republican incumbent rivals posted. All congressional candidates were required to file their second-quarter fundraising reports with the Federal Election Commission by Sunday.

Along with Cruz, the six congressional incumbents who were outraised are delegation fixtures: U.S. Reps. John Carter of Round Rock, John Culberson of Houston, Will Hurd of Helotes, Pete Olson of Sugar Land, Pete Sessions of Dallas and Roger Williams of Austin.

In the 21st Congressional District, where Republican U.S. Rep. Lamar Smith is retiring, GOP nominee Chip Roy trailed his Democratic rival, Joseph Kopser. Several other Democratic candidates running in Republican strongholds across the state also posted abnormally large six-figure fundraising hauls.

One of the biggest red flags for Republicans came from Carter’s once-safe 31st District. Thanks to a successful viral video, veteran MJ Hegar raised more than four times Carter’s second-quarter sum – the biggest split among the races where Democrats outraised GOP incumbents.

[…]

Hardly anyone in Texas will suggest that incumbents like Olson and Williams are in any significant electoral trouble because they were outraised. But the cumulative effect of so much strong Democratic fundraising is unnerving to many Texas Republican insiders.

One anxious Texas operative suggested these fundraising numbers are merely a first alarm bell. The second may come once incumbents go into the field en masse and poll. But two GOP sources say many incumbents have been reluctant to poll their districts amid what feels like a chaotic political environment and are waiting for a more stable period to get an accurate read of the electorate.

You know most of the names already, but to reiterate, the Dems who outraised their opponents this quarter are Lizzie Fletcher in CD07, Joseph Kopser in CD21, Sri Kulkarni in CD22, Gina Ortiz Jones in Cd23, Julie Oliver in CD25, MJ Hegar in CD31, and Colin Allred in CD32. And there are more dimensions to this as well.

Jana Lynne Sanchez, who is running for the Tarrant County-area seat left open by disgraced Representative Joe Barton, has been steadily raising money and currently has a cash-on-hand advantage against former Barton staffer Ron Wright.

The Democratic fundraising tear has even reached into southeast Texas’ 36th Congressional District, which is rated as a +26 Republican district, one of the most conservative seats in the entire country. Longtime radio host and Democratic nominee Dayna Steele, who has pledged not to take corporate PAC money, raised $220,000 in the latest quarter, trailing ultraconservative incumbent Brian Babin’s haul by just $5,000.

Following Beto O’Rourke’s lead, many of these lesser-known candidates — running without national support in districts deemed too red for a blue wave — have sworn off corporate PAC money and are relying on small-dollar contributions. Sanchez says she has a total of 9,000 donors who have made an average contribution of $42.

All of these Democratic candidates have raised far more than past challengers in these districts — if a Democrat even bothered to run.

Keep that last bit in mind, because I’ll have more on it in a future post. And even where there’s a bright spot for the Republicans in CD02, where Dan Crenshaw reported a big haul, he’s facing Todd Litton with $843K raised and $435K on hand. It’s safe to say it’s been a long time since the Republicans have faced this many well-funded opponents.

Not all the reports are available yet on the FEC page, but when they get there I’ll have a post summarizing it all. Do bear in mind that even with all these strong numbers, Dan Patrick has also raised a bunch of money, and Greg Abbott has already booked $16 million in TV time for the fall. So celebrate the good news, but don’t get overconfident. What we’ve done here is approach parity, and the other guys may well have another gear to shift into. Keep the momentum going.

We are going to get some Congressional polling soon

Nate Cohn on Twitter:


In case you can’t tell from the picture, CDs 07, 23, and 32 are included among the districts that will be – actually, probably are already being – polled. We have one poll from CD07 done by the DCCC a month ago, and it showed a two point lead for John Culberson. I’m not aware of any polling in either of the other districts, but I’ll be very interested to see what we get here. Cohn mentions that he thinks the writeups of these polls will be out next week. I can hardly wait.

CD07 candidates endorse the August flood bond referendum

What I would expect.

U.S. Rep. John Culberson and his challenger, Lizzie Fletcher, found rare common ground on Wednesday as both endorsed Harris County’s proposed $2.5 billion flood infrastructure bond proposal.

Culberson said he can match every local dollar Harris County puts toward flood recovery with up to three federal dollars, ensuring the county would have access to additional flood mitigation funds it would not have to repay.

“I support that bond proposal, because that will increase the amount of money Harris County can put on the table, which allows me, as the appropriator, to put more federal dollars into the projects,” Culberson said.

Fletcher, his Democratic opponent, said the bond is critical to addressing the county’s chronic flooding problem.

“We saw as recently as last week how essential these investments in projects are to our community as Independence Day became another flood day in Houston,” she said in a statement.

It’s hard to imagine either candidate not endorsing any remotely sound flood bond measure. It would have been highly iconoclastic, and very much a campaign issue, if one of them did not do so. By the same token, it’s hard to imagine this bond passing if it doesn’t get robust support from within CD07. Go back to the 2013 referendum to build a joint processing center for the jail and combine the city jail into the county. It barely passed despite there being no organized opposition but very little in the way of a campaign for it, and it owed its passage to the voters in Council districts C and G, for which there is significant overlap with CD07. (This was an odd year election, and while the County Clerk has made some changes to its election canvass data since then, the only district information I had for this was Council districts.) Having both Culberson and Fletcher on board helps, but it’s not sufficient by itself, especially for a weirdly timed election. It’s a start, but more will be needed for this thing to pass.

Three more Dems top $1 million in Q2

In the morning there was Gina Ortiz Jones.

Gina Ortiz Jones

Gina Ortiz Jones, the Democrat running against U.S. Rep. Will Hurd, R-Helotes, raised more than $1.2 million over the last three months, a huge haul that far outpaces the fundraising by her party’s previous nominees in Texas’ most competitive congressional district.

Jones’ campaign, announcing the figure this morning, also said she has about $1.1 million cash on hand.

Hurd hasn’t shared his fundraising numbers for the second quarter yet but faces a Sunday deadline to report them to the Federal Election Commission. He reported having $1.6 million cash on hand after the first quarter, when he took in $395,000.

Jones’ second-quarter haul means she has now raked in $2.2 million since entering the race — already more than the 2016 Democratic nominee, Pete Gallego, raised from start to finish. By comparison, Gallego pulled in $327,000 during the same period of the 2016 cycle, which put his total raised at that point at roughly $1.3 million.

Ortiz Jones joins Lizzie Fletcher in the million-dollar-quarter club. In her press release, she notes that no Democratic candidate has raised more than $2.7 million for CD23 since the district was redrawn in 2006. I think it’s safe to say she will surpass that amount. And she may not be the only one who does.

Then in the afternoon we got MJ Hegar.

MJ Hegar

In the 10 days after long shot Democratic candidate and veteran MJ Hegar published her widely praised viral video, her campaign to unseat U.S. Rep. John Carter, R-Round Rock, raised $750,000. It’s only the latest large fundraising figure reported by a Democratic U.S. House candidate from Texas, but it shows a stunning surge of interest in Hegar’s candidacy.

Hegar will report raising $1.1 million in the second fundraising quarter of the year, her campaign told the Tribune. Most of that came about from the attention drawn to her candidacy by her biographical ad, “Doors,” which has been viewed more than 2.5 million times.

The Hegar news came amid a cascade of robust fundraising numbers from Democrats vying to unseat Texas Republicans in Congress.

[…]

If past is precedent, these candidates will deploy much of this money in fall television ad wars.

Hurd is a perennially strong fundraiser and Sessions is the former chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee – a position that entails raising hundreds of millions of dollars for the national GOP House campaign. Culberson has improved his fundraising over the last year as the viability of the Democratic offensive in his district has taken form. None of these incumbents have released their second quarter numbers. Fundraising reports are due on July 15.

Hegar, however, is in a different category. Her race encompasses conservative areas along Interstate-35 and in the northern Austin suburbs. Carter, the incumbent, was first elected in 2002 and has never faced a serious general election campaign.

But $1 million hauls for individual House campaigns isn’t the status quo in American politics. In past cycles, candidates who raised $300,000-$400,000 were considered top fundraising performers.

Wow. I figured Hegar had a good shot at topping $1 million, but I assumed that would be by the end of the cycle. I didn’t expect her to hit that mark in a single cycle, but then that was one amazing ad. I don’t know how much her haul changes this race – it’s still a considerably redder district than the top tier – but it’s safe to say that CD31 is not a district the Republicans can take for granted. Not this year.

And finally in the evening there was Colin Allred.

Colin Allred

Texas Democratic candidates in four House races are reporting large fundraising hauls for the second quarter of this year, including Colin Allred, who is challenging Dallas Republican Rep. Pete Sessions.

Allred’s campaign said it would report raising almost $1.1 million between April 1 and June 30 for his run for the 5th Congressional District, leaving him with $900,000 cash on hand. Sessions has not yet released his contributions. The filing deadline is Sunday.

The second quarter marked a dramatic increase in Allred’s fundraising. During the first quarter, Allred reported raising $395,286 with $219,627 cash on hand. Allred’s fundraising began to pick up steam after he finished first in the March primary among seven candidates. He defeated Lillian Salerno in the May runoff.

During that period, Sessions reported $605,730 in contributions and $1.5 million cash on hand, according to federal filings.

Remember how I said that Democratic fundraising was way up from 2014, even if that wasn’t apparent from the non-Beto statewide candidates? (We haven’t heard from any of them yet, so that story line could change as well.) I trust my point has been sufficiently illuminated. We also haven’t heard from Joseph Kopser or Todd Litton yet, not to mention Dayna Steele, Jana Sanchez, Sri Kulkarni, Lorie Burch, and Mike Siegel. Fundraising isn’t destiny, but it sure is nice for our candidates to have the resources they need to compete.

Where best to attack Culberson?

Flooding is an obvious issue, but it’s hardly the only one.

Lizzie Fletcher

After Hurricane Harvey flooded much of Houston – including the hotly contested Seventh Congressional District – Republican incumbent John Culberson used his position on the House Appropriations Committee to stamp his name on billions of dollars in disaster recovery funds.

By February, he could claim a leading hand in securing $141 billion in congressional appropriations to help the victims of the 2017 hurricanes in Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico.

But as the nine-term congressman faces an unusually tough reelection against Democratic challenger Lizzie Pannill Fletcher, the city’s troubled history of flooding and the federal government’s long backlog of flood control projects has come under sharp political attack.

Fletcher, a Houston attorney making her first run for office, argues that Houstonians are paying the price for Culberson’s small government philosophy and a Republican-led Congress that she says has been slow to fund critical improvements to the Addicks and Barker dams, both aging structures that were deemed to be at “high risk” of failure as early as 2004.

She also has homed in on key votes cast by Culberson, who she labels a climate change skeptic, saying that they undermined flood prevention efforts in Texas and across the country.

“We can’t just look at the last nine months,” she said in an interview. “We need to look at the last nine terms.”

It’s a long story and I encourage you to read the whole thing. Culberson has done some things and was the only Texas Republican to avoid making himself a sniveling hypocrite when he supported federal relief funds for New York and New Jersey following Superstorm Sandy, but the fact that the rest of his caucus opposed such funds, and the fact that his party has so greatly prioritized cutting taxes and slashing spending over investing in infrastructure and solving problems just highlights why he doesn’t deserve a pass for a handful of decent votes. He’s part of the problem regardless, and the only way forward is a change of leadership in Congress. He can push the occasional bill and make the odd budget appropriation, but as long as he’s a vote for a Republican Speaker and a body in the count for a Republican House majority, nothing’s going to get done.

All this said, health care was the issue everyone was talking about earlier on, when the House – including John Culberson – was trying to kill the Affordable Care Act. That battle has shifted from Congress to the courthouse again, and that should bring this issue, on which Democrats enjoy an electoral advantage, to the fore. It’s never going to be a bad idea to remind people that Culberson has worked tirelessly to take their health care away. And since we’re only ever allowed to talk about mental illness when there’s another mass shooting, it’s also always a good time to remind people that the single biggest thing Texas can do to boost mental health care is to accept Medicaid expansion, which again John Culberson opposes with every fiber of his being. Flooding is a great and vital issue, with lots to talk about, but it’s not the only one.

Fletcher reports raising $1 million in Q2

Our first story about a strong finance report from the just-ended previous quarter.

Lizzie Fletcher

Lizzie Pannill Fletcher, the Democratic challenger in one of the Texas congressional seats that Democrats hope to flip in November, reported more than $1 million in contributions in the second quarter.

Fletcher is running against longtime GOP Rep. John Culberson in the 7th Congressional District in Houston. Culberson — who was first elected to Congress in 2000 and served on the House Appropriations Committee — has not yet released his second-quarter campaign financial report. His campaign did not respond to requests for comment.

Fletcher’s second-quarter contributions bring her total to more than $2 million. Her campaign currently has almost $800,000 in cash on hand.

After the first quarter, Culberson reported just over $1.5 million total in contributions and about $920,000 in cash on hand. The reporting deadline for the second quarter is July 15.

Here is where everyone was at the end of march. Fletcher’s most recently published report is more recent than that, thanks to the May primary runoff. She had $1,261,314 raised with $391,899 on hand as of 3/31, and $1,441,525 raised with $362,694 on hand as of 5/02. All of that means that she raised about $800K in May and June, which is officially Not Too Shabby. We’ll see how the other reports look – the FEC page isn’t usually fully up to date till the end of the month – but if other candidates are doing well that would add to my point about enthusiasm and fundraising. Dems may not have a lot of money in the statewide races, but between Beto O’Rourke and the Congressional challengers, there will be a lot more money invested in Democratic candidates overall. The Chron has more.

On enthusiasm and fundraising

RG Ratcliffe engages the “can Lupe Valdez be competitive” question.

Lupe Valdez

Valdez will almost certainly lose to Greg Abbott in November. Yet if she inspires Hispanic voters to turn out, she could help Democratic candidates in tight down-ballot races and make a big difference in the U.S. House of Representatives and the Texas House.

That scenario assumes that Valdez can significantly increase Hispanic turnout. But not everyone is certain she can. “I see the value of having Lupe Valdez running for governor,” [Julian] Castro said at the Blue Star pub. “She’s a great candidate, and her experience as Dallas County sheriff, her life experience, and the issues that she is addressing speak to a lot of Texans. Whether having her at the top of the ticket would impact the Latino vote . . . that’s hard to tell.”

Valdez, after all, has significant deficiencies as a candidate. She’s unpolished as a speaker and has demonstrated little command of statewide issues. She’s also underfunded—her latest campaign finance report showed she had a little more than $115,000 cash on hand, compared to Abbott’s $43 million. That has forced her to forgo campaign fundamentals such as an internal vetting process, in which the campaign looks for skeletons in its own candidate’s closet. Two days after Valdez won the Democratic runoff, for example, the Houston Chronicle revealed that she owed more than $12,000 in unpaid property taxes. A vetting would have prepared her better to respond when a Chronicle reporter asked about it; instead, a campaign spokesman tried to blame Abbott for allowing property taxes to rise.

In short, Valdez may not be the transformational figure many Democrats hope for. In the March 6 primary, Democrats turned out a million voters—their best primary showing since 1994—30 percent of whom had Hispanic surnames. But that high turnout seems to have been in spite of Valdez’s presence on the ballot. In several South Texas counties, thousands of voters cast ballots in the U.S. Senate contest and various local races but skipped voting for governor entirely. In Hidalgo County, Valdez failed to capture even half the voters with Hispanic surnames. One prominent South Texas Democrat told me that when Valdez campaigned in the area, her lack of knowledge of state issues turned off a lot of local voters. “We’re not blind,” he said. He also admitted that many conservative Hispanics just would not vote for a lesbian.

[…]

At her Blue Star Brewing event, Valdez turned the sanctuary cities bill into a major talking point, emphasizing her belief that Republicans only control Texas because many people—especially Hispanics—don’t vote. “Texas is not a red state,” Valdez intoned. “It’s a nonvoting state.”

Perhaps. But this is still Texas; even if Valdez manages to help a few of her Democratic colleagues, that doesn’t mean she’ll be able to help herself. There was tremendous enthusiasm for Wendy Davis four years ago too, and she was crushed by Greg Abbott by 20 points. Democratic enthusiasm this election cycle is, arguably, even greater, thanks to anti-Trump fervor. But to capitalize on that, Valdez will have to pull off something that no other Democrat has done: awaken the sleeping giant of Hispanic voters. And right now the giant seems content to catch a few more z’s.

Ratcliffe spends some time discussing the three highest-profile Congressional races and their effect, which I appreciate. There’s been too much coverage of the Governor’s race that seems to think it exists in a vacuum. It was Ratcliffe’s mention of enthusiasm levels that caught my eye, though. While he acknowledges that enthusiasm is high this year, which anyone who can read a poll knows, he cites 2014 as an example of high enthusiasm not translating to good results. I admit that’s something I worry about as well, but I can think of three factors that make this year different:

1. I feel like the enthusiasm in 2014 peaked when Davis announced her candidacy, with a bounce when Leticia Van de Putte followed suit, but trended steadily downhill after that, while this year enthusiasm has remained high and if anything has intensified. Maybe peak 2014 compares favorably to 2018, but I’d be willing to bet that June 2018 is well ahead of where June 2014 was.

2. There are a number of reasons why enthusiasm trended downward in 2014, including gripes about how Davis ran her campaign – remember when she said she favored open carry? – and concerns about just what the hell Battleground Texas was doing. I don’t think you can underestimate the effect the national atmosphere had on the enthusiasm level here, though. Say what you want about Davis and her campaign, she was far from alone in underperforming that year, and the national mood, which was strongly in the Republicans’ favor, was a big part of that. That’s just not the case this year, and it’s something I continue to believe that the pundit class here has not grappled with.

3. I’ll get into this more in a minute, but the full top-to-bottom slate of candidates that are working hard and raising money has an effect that we haven’t figured out how to quantify yet, too. The number of spirited Democratic challengers to Republican incumbents, in places both traditional and pioneering, is much greater this year.

I’m not arguing that the political world as we know it is about to be turned upside down. It may well be that Texas Republicans are better engaged than Republicans elsewhere, or that Democratic enthusiasm is overstated, or that Democratic weaknesses in organization and infrastructure will limit the potential gains from the positive factors that we have. We could look back on this in December and wonder what we were thinking. I’m willing to stand by the assertion that conditions are different now than they were four years ago and in ways that tend to favor Democrats. Beyond that, we’ll see.

On a related note:

Fundraising can be a reliable indicator of support for a candidate, and Valdez has struggled to raise money. Some analysts say she’ll need to raise $10 million to compete against Abbott in the general election. At last report in May, she had $115,000 on hand.

O’Rourke has raised $13 million from small-dollar donors, which worries Republicans because he’ll be able to go back to those people for more. He may also share those donors with other Democrats in the future.

Valdez, lieutenant governor candidate Mike Collier and other statewide candidates’ fundraising efforts, though, have paled in comparison. Collier warned that raising money for statewide races alone does not guarantee success.

Democrats watched gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis raise tons of money in 2014 but fail to turn out voters. This election year, there was a concerted effort to field more candidates even in tough red areas. That way dozens of candidates will be using money to turn out Democrats instead of just hoping the top of the ticket will take care of everything.

“It has to come from the bottom up,” said Collier. “It can’t be top down.”

For what it’s worth, Wendy Davis had raised about $13 million across three campaign accounts as of the June 2014 finance report. Beto had raised $13 million as of April, though to be fair he had been running for Senate longer than Davis had been running for Governor by then. I expect he’ll have a few million more when the June quarterly report hits. Beyond Davis in 2014, Leticia Van de Putte had raised $1.2 million as of June, but the well got empty pretty quickly after that. Whatever Lupe Valdez and Mike Collier and the other statewides do – I’ll bet Justin Nelson has a decent report – I think we can conclude that Beto and crew will have raised more as of June than Davis and VdP and their squad.

But of course there’s more to it than that. I keep coming back to the Congressional fundraising because it really is so completely different than what we have seen before. Here are the final reports from the 2014 cycle. Pete Gallego raised $2.6 million in his unsuccessful defense of CD23, Wesley Reed raised $300K for CD27, and no one else in a potentially competitive race broke the $100K mark. As of this April, three Democratic Congressional challengers – Lizzie Fletcher, Joseph Kopser, Gina Ortiz Jones – had surpassed $1 million, with Colin Allred right behind them. Todd Litton and MJ Hegar are well on their way to $1 million. Dayna Steele and Jana Sanchez should break $500K. Sri Kulkarni and Lorie Burch are past $100K, with Julie Oliver and Mike Siegel not far off. At this level, it’s not even close, and that’s before we factor in outside money like the DCCC. And we haven’t even touched on legislative or county races.

Now of course Republicans are going to raise a bunch of money, too. Greg Abbott by himself probably has more cash on hand than what all these people will raise combined. What I’m saying, again, is that Dems are in a better position than they were in 2014, and that you shouldn’t focus on the Governor’s race to the exclusion of everything else. It would be nice if Lupe could raise more money. Maybe she’ll surprise us on her June report. Nonetheless, Dems just aren’t as dependent on one statewide candidate raising money as they were four years ago.

Where CD02 and CD07 stand

The race in CD02 gets a little attention from the Chron.

Todd Litton

The demographic elements that make the 7th Congressional District in Houston one of the hottest midterm elections in the nation also run through a neighboring area that has some Democrats dreaming of picking up not one, but two Republican-held congressional seats in Harris County this year.

While the 2nd Congressional District has not received anywhere near the focus of national Republicans or Democrats as the neighboring 7th, the similarities in the districts’ changing demographics – particular the growth of non-white and college educated voters – has Democrats optimistic as they anticipate a national wave election that could sweep Democrats back into power on Capitol Hill.

Both districts have slightly more women then men, nearly identical median ages (35) and median household incomes ($72,000). According to U.S. Census data, both have about 98,000 black residents and about 245,000 Hispanic residents.

But there is one big factor so far keeping the 2nd from becoming a hot race like the battle between Democrat Lizzie Pinnell Fletcher and Rep. John Culberson, a Houston Republican, in the 7th District: Trump.

In 2016, both the 7th and 2nd saw less support for President Donald Trump than what Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney received four years earlier. Romney won over 60 percent of the vote in both districts against President Barack Obama in 2012. But in 2016, Trump won 52 percent in the 2nd Congressional District and just 47 percent of the vote in the 7th, where Culberson has faced few serious challengers.

Those 5 percentage points mean everything to national forecasters who say Trump’s performance in the 7th revealed a major problem for Republicans. There are 20 seats in the House held by Republicans that Clinton won in 2016.

It is true that the difference in performance from 2016 has the forecasted odds for a Democratic win in CD02 lower than they are in CD07. It’s a similar story elsewhere – Cook Political Report and Real Clear Politics have CD07 as a tossup, while Sabato’s somewhat outdated Crystal Ball has CD07 as Lean R. None of them have CD02 on the board. I think that slightly underestimates the chances in CD02. The Morris model puts Litton’s odds at roughly one in six, which seems reasonable. If the wave is high enough, and if Harris County has shifted more than people think, it’s in play. Frankly, the fact that we’re even talking about it is kind of amazing.

Litton has the advantage over Lizzie Fletcher in that CD02 is an open seat. Ted Poe has generally been a more congenial member of Congress, which to some extent may just be a function of having had fewer general election opponents, but it’s fair to say this race would be farther off the radar if Poe were running for re-election. On the other hand, Fletcher gets to run against John Culberson’s record on health care, gun control, flood mitigation, Donald Trump, and so on, all in a year when being an incumbent may not provide the edge it usually does, while Litton will have to work to define Crenshaw before Crenshaw can establish his own identity. Crenshaw and Fletcher had to survive runoffs while Litton and Culberson have been able to focus on the fall since March, but the lengthened campaigns gave the former more exposure to their voters. Litton has the cash on hand advantage over Crenshaw for now, though I don’t expect that to last for long. Fletcher trails Culberson in the money race, but the total raised by Dems in CD07 has far exceeded Culberson’s haul, and now Fletcher isn’t competing with three other high-profile candidates. She will have to deal with outside money attacking her, while if the national groups have engaged in CD02 it’s surely a sign of great things for the Dems and a large helping of doom for the GOP. Overall you’d rather be in Lizzie Fletcher’s position because of the 2016 performance and the general makeup of the districts, but being Todd Litton has its advantages as well.

DCCC poll: Culberson 47, Fletcher 45

Game on.

Lizzie Fletcher

The U.S. House race between GOP incumbent John Culberson and Democratic challenger Lizzie Pannill Fletcher is generally expected to be closer than most in this traditionally Republican enclave of west Houston and the Harris County suburbs.

Now an internal Democratic poll of the 7th Congressional District shows it to be a statistical tie. The poll of district voters, released Friday by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, found Fletcher within 2 points of Culberson, 45 percent to 47 percent. That is within the poll’s 4.9 percent margin of error.

[…]

The DCCC poll shows Fletcher leading Culberson by 8 points among women (50 percent to 42 percent), 20 points among independents (52 percent to 32 percent), and by 28 points among voters under 50 (57 percent to 29 percent).

Further proof that that the district could be in play: The poll found that a generic Democrat is within striking distance of a generic Republican – 46 percent to 47 percent. That’s tighter than the difference between Fletcher and Culberson, but still within the margin of error.

The Democratic poll also gave Culberson a net-negative favorability rating, with 32 percent of voters having a favorable view of the congressman, compared to 39 percent who don’t. Similarly, the poll found that 35 percent of voters approve of Culberson’s job performance, while 39 percent disapprove.

Meanwhile, Trump also remains underwater in a district, which he lost by 1.4 points in 2016. In the DCCC poll, 50 percent of Seventh District voters disapprove of his job performance, while 42 percent approve.

I first heard about this poll via G. Elliott Morris’s Twitter feed, but this story adds some details. Internal polls are generally treated with skepticism – scroll down to see the responses to that tweet for a couple of examples – and I want to talk about why that is first. The main reason why internal polls are looked at differently is because when an internal poll is released, you have no way of knowing how many other polls that particular campaign or committee might have done that they did not choose to release. In other words, the poll that gets released may be the most favorable of the bunch, cherry-picked to present a sunny view of the situation. Media and tracking polls are public, with all their results out there to be seen, so when there’s an outlier it tends to stand out. You just don’t know if an internal poll is an outlier or not.

The other reason why internal polls are different is that they are sometimes used for specific purposes like testing a message or attracting financial support. Polls that take the measure of a race, then “inform” the respondents about one of the candidates and re-ask the original question again at the end, are a common example of this. The Justin Nelson poll from December is in this category. There’s nothing wrong with this – it’s a valuable campaign tool – but since the result comes from an idealized scenario – in a real campaign, both candidates get to “inform” voters, assuming they have the resources to do so – these polls are not very useful as predictive tools.

For those reasons, and because full poll data is often not available, poll aggregators and election modelers tend to give internal polls less weight. All that said, this poll is an example of one we can probably take more seriously. For one thing, given that the runoff was less than two weeks ago, there very likely have not been any other polls done by the DCCC since Fletcher became the nominee. There’s (again, probably) nothing to cherry-pick from. The DCCC, which has now added Fletcher to its Red to Blue group, generally doesn’t try to convince funders to invest in a particular race, and for them to want to include CD07 as a race to target they’ll want accurate horse-race numbers. None of this means that they couldn’t have made optimistic assumptions about turnout or the makeup of the electorate – we don’t have the internal poll data, so who knows what they sampled from – but all pollsters have to make those judgments.

All things considered, I believe we can take this poll more or less at face value. Which is to say, it’s a data point, and we hope to see more of them to get a fuller picture of what may be happening. Given that, the way to think about this is not just for this race, which we believe will be close and competitive, but for how it fits into the bigger picture. For one thing, Democrats swept Harris County in 2016 while John Culberson was winning in CD07 by 12 points. If we’re in an election year where CD07 is truly a tossup, then that strongly implies an even better year for Democrats in the county. Even more than that Lina Hidalgo poll, this should be encouraging for Dems, and downright terrifying for Republicans.

But it’s not just Harris County. There are two big reasons why CD07 is and has been seen as a top pickup opportunity. The main reason is because Hillary Clinton carried the district in 2016, but as we have discussed here before, some of that was because of crossover voters. Like I said above, Culberson still won the district 56-44. The other, equally important, reason is that the national atmosphere is one that favors Democrats and strongly indicates that the Republican advantage in districts like CD07 will be greatly diminished. Put another way, we expect that more Democrats and fewer Republicans will vote than in other similar election years. And that’s not just true in CD07, and in other battleground districts like CD23 and CD32. It’s true across the board, and it’s factored into every election prediction model, like the Morris model. Scroll down to the “Forecasts for every House seat” section and compare his projected margin in each Congressional district to the actual margins from 2016 and 2014.

This is something that I don’t think has been absorbed by media outlets and pundits in this state, all of which comes very much to the fore when a statewide poll like the second one from Quinnipiac comes out. Greg Abbott, who carried Harris County by five points in 2014, carried CD07 by a 60-38 margin in 2014; Culberson won that year by a 63-35 score. Again, if we are in an election where CD07 is a tossup, then the effect of that will be felt statewide, not just countywide. More to the point, if we are in that election, then the same effect will be felt in every Congressional district in Texas. It will be felt more in some districts than in others, and in specific races with specific candidates with strengths and weaknesses that may counter or enhance the national mood. But it will be felt.

The point I’m making is that a poll like that second Quinnipiac poll may be right, and polls like the DCCC CD07 poll and the Hidalgo Harris County poll may be right, but they can’t all be right. If the Q-poll is right, the other two are almost certainly too optimistic about Democratic chances, and if the latter two are right, then that Q-poll is almost certainly understating Democratic statewide support. I wish the people who write about these things would take that into consideration when they do. We don’t know yet which view is right. The fact that these conflicting polls exist is almost certainly because everyone has a different idea of what that national atmosphere will be like, and how big its effect on Texas will be. If you’re skeptical of any effect here you need to explain why. For now at least, all I’m saying is that polls like these don’t exist in a vacuum. Don’t evaluate one without taking into consideration the others.

2018 primary runoff results: Congress and Legislature

All results are here. I began drafting this around 9:30 when there were still a bunch of precincts out, but with the exception of the tossup in CD25, all of the Congressional races were pretty clear by then:

CD03: Lorie Burch
CD06: Jana Sanchez
CD07: Lizzie Fletcher
CD10: Mike Siegel
CD21: Joseph Kopser
CD22: Sri Kulkarni
CD23: Gina Ortiz Jones
CD27: Eric Holguin
CD31: MJ Hegar
CD32: Colin Allred

At the time I started writing this, Julie Oliver led in CD25 by 70 votes out of almost 18,000 cast and about three quarters of precincts reporting. Later on, she had pulled out to a five point lead, so add her to the winners’ list as well.

On the legislative side, Rita Lucido was leading in SD17, Sheryl Cole had a modest lead in HD46 with most precincts reporting, Carl Sherman had a much bigger lead in HD109, and longtime Rep. Rene Oliveira had been shown the door.

As for the Republicans, Dan Crenshaw won big in CD02, Lance Gooden won in CD05, so no more Republican women in Congress, Chip Roy and Michael Cloud led in CDs 21 and 27, respectively. The wingnuts in HDs 08 and 121 lost, and incumbent Rep. Scott Cosper lost.

Congratulations to all the winners. I’ll have some more coherent thoughts on all these races in the next day or so.

Runoff races, part 1: Congress

I looked at most of these races after the filing deadline here and here. Here’s a reminder about who’s still in.

Lorie Burch

CD03

Lorie BurchFinance report
Sam JohnsonFinance report

First round: Burch 49.61%, Johnson 28.68%

Burch was above fifty percent for most of the evening on March 6, but eventually fell less than 250 votes short of the mark. She was endorsed by the DMN for the primary. This North Texas Gazette story has a bit about these candidates, as well as those in the CD06 and CD32 runoffs.

CD06

Jana Lynne SanchezFinance report
Ruby Faye WoolridgeFinance report

First round: Woolridge 36.95%, Sanchez 36.90%

It doesn’t get much closer than this – fifteen votes separated Woolridge and Sanchez in March. Woolridge is a rare candidate in these races that has run for Congress before – she was the Dem nominee in 2016. She has the endorsements of the DMN and the Star-Telegram, though I can’t find the link for the latter. Sanchez has been the stronger fundraiser. Here’s a KERA overview and a Guardian story about female Congressional candidates that focuses on this race and on CD07.

CD07

Lizzie FletcherFinance report
Laura MoserFinance report

First round: Fletcher 29.36%, Moser 24.34%

I feel like you’re probably familiar with this race, so let’s move on.

CD10

Mike SiegelFinance report
Tawana CadienFinance report

First round: Siegel 40.00%, Cadien 17.96%

Cadien is another repeat candidate; this is her fourth go-round. She emphasized that she’s been there all along, when no one paid any attention to CD10, in this AusChron story. She doesn’t appear to have done any fundraising. Siegel has the Chron endorsement and picked up the HGLBT Political Caucus endorsement for the runoff.

CD21

Mary WilsonFinance report
Joseph KopserFinance report

First round: Wilson 30.90%, Kopser 29.03%

The CD21 primary was the original “establishment/centrist versus outsider/lefty” primary, though the role of the latter was initially played by Derrick Crowe. Mary Wilson kind of came out of nowhere – if you want to posit that she benefited by being the only woman in the four-candidate race, I won’t stop you – and has been receiving some catch-up media coverage since. The Statesman did profiles of both candidates – Wilson here, Kopser here – and Texas Public Radio has more.

CD22

Sri KulkarniFinance report
Letitia PlummerFinance report

First round: Kulkarni 31.85%, Plummer 24.29%

My interview with Kulkarni is here and with Plummer is here. I referenced the news stories I could find about them in those posts, and there ain’t much since then. Kulkarni got the Chron endorsement in March.

Gina Ortiz Jones

CD23

Gina Ortiz JonesFinance report
Rick TrevinoFinance report

First round: Ortiz Jones 41.56%, Trevino 17.38%

Like CD21, this runoff has an “establishment/outsider lefty” narrative, but it wasn’t supposed to be that way. It started out as a battle between establishment factions, but that crashed to earth in March when the Castro-backed Jay Hulings came in fourth. I said my piece about this one a couple of days ago, so let me just add that Gina Ortiz Jones has the potential to be a star if she can win and win again in 2020. She’s already probably the most-covered candidate (non-Beto division) in the state, and her combination of youth, background, and willingness to speak bluntly is a good recipe for continued attention from the national press. If she wins and can get re-elected, I don’t think it would be crazy to imagine her getting touted as a statewide candidate in the near future, perhaps in 2022 for Governor or 2024 for Senate if Beto can’t knock off Cruz.

CD25

Chris PerriFinance report
Julie OliverFinance report

First round: Perri 32.79%, Oliver 26.44%

I haven’t paid a whole lot of attention to this race, as CD25 is a notch or two down on the competitiveness list. It’s not out of the question that this could be competitive in November, but if it is Democrats are having a very, very good day. The AusChron and the Statesman have a couple of good recent profiles of this race the the two remaining candidates, both of whom look perfectly acceptable. According to Ed Sills’ email newsletter, Julie Oliver recently joined Laura Moser and Mike Siegel in having their campaigns get unionized, a trend that I approve of. Whoever wins, I hope he or she puts up a good fight against empty-suit-with-Rick-Perry-class-hair Roger Williams.

CD27

Roy BarreraFinance report
Eric HolguinFinance report

First round: Barrera 41.23%, Holguin 23.30%

I had some hope in this one early on, but that pretty much dissipated when Ducky Boy Farenthold was able to slink off into the sunset. With boring generic Republicans in the running for the nomination, this is a boring generic race in which the Rs are heavily favored. I don’t have much expectation for the special election in August, as the multiple Democratic candidates on the ballot will likely split the vote enough to produce an all-R runoff. There are plenty of other races out there to get invested in.

CD31

MJ HegarFinance report
Christine Eady MannFinance report

First round: Hegar 44.93%, Mann 33.51%

Hegar is the high-profile candidate in this race, and she has been the much stronger fundraiser. She’s got a great story as a Purple Heart recipient and advocate for women who’s published a book on her experiences and gets invited to participate in things like the Texas Monthly Women’s Voices Project, but Mann was in the race earlier and picked a pretty good year to run for Congress as a doctor. Like Gina Ortiz Jones, I think Hegar has star potential, but her road to Congress is a lot rougher. The AusChron and Killeen Daily Herald have brief overviews of this race.

CD32

Colin AllredFinance report
Lillian SalernoFinance report

First round: Allred 38.43%, Salerno 18.35%

Another runoff where the script deviated from what we might have originally expected. Ed Meier, an Obama administration alum and the top fundraiser going into March, fell short as Allred ran well ahead of everyone else in the field. I have to think he has the edge just by the numbers, but Salerno has been no slouch at fundraising, and female candidates as a group did very well in March, so don’t go counting chickens yet. The Dallas Observer did some good Q&As with these candidates before the primary – here’s Allred, here’s Salerno – and there are more recent Q&As from the UTD Mercury with Allred and the Preston Hollow People with Salerno. The DMN, which endorsed Allred, has a runoff overview here. And my favorite news bite on this race: A Marijuana Super PAC Is Targeting Pete Sessions. Smoke ’em if you got ’em, y’all.

I’ll round up the legislative runoffs tomorrow.

Endorsement watch: Runoff time

The Chron goes for Lizzie Fletcher in CD07.

Lizzie Fletcher

United States Representative, District 7: Lizzie Pannill Fletcher

Democrats have a serious chance of knocking Republican Congressman John Culberson out of the seat he has occupied since 2001. The 7th Congressional District encompasses some of the Houston area’s wealthiest neighborhoods, from West University Place and Bellaire to flood ravaged subdivisions in west and northwest Harris County. What was once the safely Republican district represented by George H.W. Bush was won by Hillary Clinton in the last presidential election. That caught the attention of seven Democrats who ran in a spirited primary. Now attorney Lizzie Pannill Fletcher and freelance writer Laura Moser face each other in a hotly contested runoff.

Fletcher is a Phi Beta Kappa graduate who edited the William and Mary Law Review, a former Vinson & Elkins attorney who later became the first woman partner at another 50-person litigation firm. Her professional credentials and connections present the Houston model of business-friendly cosmopolitanism that used to be the hallmark of local Republicans. That George H.W. Bush-James Baker model has been abandoned by the Trump crowd and now Democrats like Fletcher are starting to claim the political territory as their own.

Her longtime history of involvement in both the corporate world and local nonprofits offers an appeal to crossover voters yearning to hear the voice of a real Houstonian up in Washington.

The Chron dual-endorsed Fletcher and Jason Westin in the primary, so this is not a surprise. As a reminder, my interview with Fletcher is here and with Laura Moser is here. I haven’t seen many announcements of runoff endorsements by other groups – many of them stayed out of the March race, and some went with other candidates – but Erik Manning’s runoff spreadsheet has you covered there.

The Chron also made a recommendation in the runoff for JP in Precinct 7.

Justice of the Peace, Precinct 7, Place 2: Cheryl Elliott Thornton

Audrie Lawton came in third in this race for the Democratic nomination for this front-line judicial position, so instead we lend our endorsement to Cheryl Elliott Thornton.

Of the two remaining candidates, Thornton, 60, has the most legal experience. She currently serves as an assistant county attorney but has held a variety of legal roles in her over 30 years of practice. Past positions include general counsel for Texas Southern University and administrative law judge for the Texas Workforce Commission. Thorton, a graduate of Thurgood Marshall School of Law, has an impressive record of community involvement in this southeast Houston district as well as in the greater Houston community. That diverse experience that makes for a fine justice of the peace, which often has to deal with pro-se litigants in Class C misdemeanor criminal cases and minor civil matters. This specific bench covers a slice of Harris County that stretches from Midtown and the Third Ward south to the Sam Houston Tollway.

The other candidate, Sharon M. Burney, the daughter of long-time sitting justice Zinetta Burney, is a practicing lawyer as well but can’t match Thorton’s legal experience.

Here’s the Q&A I got from Thornton. I did not receive one from Burney. For the other runoffs, the candidate the Chron endorsed originally is still in the race:

CD10 – Mike Siegel
CD22 – Sri Kulkarni
HD133 – Marty Schexnayder
District Clerk – Marilyn Burgess
County Clerk – Diane Trautman
Treasurer – Dylan Osborne
HCDE Position 3, At Large – Josh Wallenstein
HCDE Position 6, Precinct 1 – Danny Norris

Early voting starts Monday and only runs through Friday – five says of EV is standard for runoffs. Get out there and vote.

CD07 candidate forum

Happening tomorrow, at the Trini Mendenhall Community Center, 1414 Wirt Road, Houston, Texas 77055, from 6:15 to 8:45. My guess, as this is the way these things tend to go, is that there will be some mix-and-mingle time with the candidates up front, with the main event to follow. I’m just guessing, you might want to post something on the Facebook event page if you need to know. The event moderator is an old friend and college classmate of mine, Patrick Pringle. Should be a good event, so if you voted for one of the other candidates in March and need to figure out who deserves your vote in May, this is a good chance to do that.

April 2018 campaign finance reports: Congress

Here are the Q2 finance reports, here are the Q3 finance reports, here are the January 2018 finance reports, and here’s the FEC summary page for Democratic Congressional candidates in Texas. Let’s get to it.

Todd Litton – CD02

Lori Burch – CD03
Sam Johnson – CD03

Jana Sanchez – CD06
Ruby Faye Wooldridge – CD06

Lizzie Fletcher – CD07
Laura Moser – CD07

Mike Siegel – CD10
Tawana Cadien – CD10

Joseph Kopser – CD21
Mary Wilson – CD21

Letitia Plummer – CD22
Sri Kulkarni – CD22

Gina Ortiz Jones – CD23
Rick Trevino – CD23

Jan McDowell – CD24

Christopher Perri – CD25
Julie Oliver – CD25

MJ Hegar – CD31
Christine Mann – CD31

Colin Allred – CD32
Lillian Salerno – CD32

Dayna Steele – CD36


Dist  Name             Raised    Spent    Loans   On Hand
=========================================================
02    Litton          546,503  304,139        0   242,363

03    Burch           104,700  116,639   25,649    14,085
03    Johnson          62,473   59,143    3,100     6,490

06    Sanchez         241,893  188,313        0    56,456
06    Woolridge        75,440   45,016   15,000    47,708    

07    Fletcher      1,261,314  874,619        0   391,899
07    Moser         1,067,837  975,659        0    92,177

10    Siegel           80,319   65,496    5,000    19,823
10    Cadien            

21    Kopser        1,100,451  846,895   25,000   278,556
21    Wilson           44,772   51,041   26,653    20,384

22    Plummer         108,732   99,153        0     9,578
22    Kulkarni        178,925  158,369   35,510    56,067

23    Ortiz Jones   1,025,194  703,481        0   321,713
23    Trevino          16,892   20,416    3,285     3,915

24    McDowell         33,452   16,100        0    17,470

25    Perri           139,016  133,443   24,890    30,603
25    Oliver           78,841   37,812    3,125    40,860

31    Hegar           458,085  316,854        0   141,240
31    Mann             56,814   58,856    2,276         0

32    Allred          828,565  608,938   25,000   219,626
32    Salerno         596,406  439,384        0   157,022

36    Steele          294,891  216,030    1,231    80,061

For comparison purposes, here’s what the 2008 cycle fundraising numbers looked like for Texas Democrats. Remember, those numbers are all the way through November, and nearly everyone in the top part of the list was an incumbent. Daily Kos has some of the same numbers I have – they picked a slightly different set of races to focus on – as well as the comparable totals for Republicans. Note that in several races, at least one Democratic candidate has outraised the Republican competition, either overall or in Q1 2018. This is yet another way of saying we’ve never seen anything like this cycle before.

As of this writing, Tawana Cadien had not filed her Q1 report. Christine Mann’s report showed a negative cash balance; I have chosen to represent that as a loan owed by the campaign. Everything else is up to date.

I continue to be blown away by the amount of money raised by these candidates. Already there are five who have exceeded one million dollars raised – Alex Triantaphyllis, who did not make the runoff in CD07, had topped the $1 million mark as of March – with Colin Allred sure to follow, and Todd Litton and MJ Hegar on track if Hegar wins her runoff. In some ways, I’m most impressed by the almost $300K raised by Dayna Steele, who has the advantage of being a well-known radio DJ and the disadvantage of running in a 70%+ Trump district. When was the last time you saw a non-self-funder do that? I’ll be very interested to see how the eventual nominees in the districts that are lower on the national priority lists do going forward. How can you ignore a CD06 or a CD22 if the candidates there keep raking it in? It will also be interesting to see what happens in CD21 going forward if the runoff winner is not big raiser Joseph Kopser but Mary Wilson instead. Does she inherit the effort that had been earmarked for CD21, or do those resources get deployed elsewhere, not necessarily in Texas?

Republican candidates have been raising a lot of money as well, and national groups are pouring in more, with CDs 07 and 23 their targets so far. We may see more districts added to their must-protect list, or they may make a decision to cut back in some places to try to save others. It’s worth keeping an eye on.

Chron overview of CD07 runoff

Don’t know how much there is here we didn’t already know, but this is the marquee local runoff, so it gets the attention.

Laura Moser

On paper, there is little to separate attorney Lizzie Pannill Fletcher and writer-activist Laura Moser, the two Democrats vying in Houston’s 7th Congressional District primary run-off battle next month.

They’re both women who favor abortion rights, first-time candidates with deep roots in Democratic politics. Both grew up in Houston political families and attended St. John’s School, an elite college preparatory academy on the city’s affluent west side.

But they’re sharply divided over how to unseat nine-term Republican John Culberson, presenting a contrast that serves as a microcosm of the divisions within the national Democratic Party as it looks to flip two dozen seats and wrest control of the House from the GOP.

[…]

A new Moser campaign strategy memo provided to the Chronicle plays up her status as the “grassroots” candidate “not chosen by DC party insiders.”

The memo also outlines her outreach as an “authentic” voice aimed at the party’s progressive base.

“Laura represents a break away from current political establishment politics and a return to the politics of the people of Texas itself,” the memo continues. “Her non-establishment status appeals to 2018 Democratic ‘surge’ voters. Many folks are awakening to political activism for the first time.”

Lizzie Fletcher

Fletcher’s campaign rejects the establishment label, contrasting her lifelong legal career in Houston to Moser’s move to Washington.

“Lizzie has been living and working in this community all her life, representing Houstonians from all walks of life in the courtroom, fighting on the front lines to protect Planned Parenthood and quality education for the next generation,” said Fletcher campaign manager Erin Mincberg.

Fletcher’s supporters point to her most recent fundraising, 80 percent of which came from donors in Houston. Moser has not detailed her most recent fundraising figures, but an earlier analysis by the Center for Responsive Politics showed that nearly 60 percent of her contributions came from out of state. Both campaigns have relied on Washington-based vendors and consultants.

Little separates them on the issues.

Both support gay rights, gun restrictions, and public education. Both also are eager to take on Trump and Culberson, a low-profile Republican lawmaker who they criticize for failing to push harder in Congress for long-neglected flood control projects that could have helped limit the devastation from Hurricane Harvey.

One of their few differences on policy involves health care. Moser, like Sanders, has vowed to push for a single-payer “Medicare for all” system. Fletcher has emphasized the need to protect the Affordable Care Act against GOP efforts to undermine the Obama-era heath care law.

Some of their differences come down to strategy. While both support legislation to protect undocumented “Dreamers” from deportation, Moser said she was willing to shut down the government over the issue. Fletcher said she was not.

“If you look at them on paper, they basically are 99 percent in alignment on all the issues,” said Harris County Democratic Party Chairwoman Lillie Schechter, who disputes the “establishment versus insurgent” narrative that has grown up around the run-off.

I think we’re all familiar with the contours of this race. I find the narrative of this one as tiresome as Lillie Schechter does, but at least the race has (so far, knock on wood) not turned into something ugly, as races between similar candidates often do. Runoffs, like all low-turnout races, are about who gets their people to the polls. Both of these candidates are capable of it, and both of them should provide plenty of motivation for their supporters. May the best one win, and may we all join hands and focus on the prize beginning on May 23.