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“Viva Texas! Viva Beto!”

It’s been too long since the last time I posted a video.

It all came from a love of the law and a shared dislike of Ted Cruz.

It was a few bigwig local prosecutors, a capital defense attorney, a seasoned member of the Harris County Attorney’s Office and others who got together over the summer, hoping to unseat the junior senator from Texas – with their music. It was, they promised, not as outlandish as it seemed.

“Before John F. Kennedy the only person to ever defeat Lyndon Johnson for public office was Pappy Lee O’Daniel,” said Special Assistant County Attorney Terry O’Rourke.

“Pappy Lee beat Johnson by having a band and they went around to all these courthouses in Texas playing this song – ‘Pass the Biscuits Pappy’ – and Lyndon Johnson lost that election.”

Seeking to replicate that success, the legally-minded balladeers recorded three songs in support of Democratic candidate Beto O’Rourke, including ditties like “Viva Texas! Viva Beto!” – released on YouTube Saturday.

“We are part of the resistance, we’re it’s tonal dimension,” said David Mitcham, the Harris County District Attorney’s Office trial bureau chief and lead singer of what’s become the de facto in-house band for the DA’s office, Death by Injection.

But the new political rock gathering calls itself The Yellow Dog Howlers.

Here’s the video, in all its glory:

Well, it’s not The Altuve Polka or It’s A Ming Thing, but I give them an A for enthusiasm. And look, it’s not like anyone is gonna write a song about Ted Cruz.

And since they mentioned it, here’s Pass The Biscuits Pappy:

For sure, they don’t write ’em like that any more.

Two from PPP (RV): Cruz 48, O’Rourke 45, and Cruz 49, O’Rourke 46

Fourth in a series from PPP.

Rep. Beto O’Rourke

A new Public Policy Polling (PPP) survey commissioned by Protect Our Care finds that 62 percent of voters in Texas say health care will be one of the most important issues they consider when casting their vote in November. What’s more, 44 percent are deeply concerned about Senator Ted Cruz’s work to repeal health care and nearly 60 percent oppose the Trump Administration’s lawsuit to end protections for those with pre-existing conditions, which Cruz has refused to oppose.

The poll shows that for Cruz, who has been among the GOP’s fiercest advocates for repealing the American health care law, the issue is a drag on his prospects for reelection. In the poll, Cruz is in a dead heat against Democrat Beto O’Rourke 48 (Cruz) to 45 (O’Rourke). The poll was conducted September 19th and 20th among 613 Texas registered voters. The survey has a margin of sampling error of +/- 4 percent.

“Ted Cruz thought he was going to score political points shutting the government down trying to repeal health care, but what he actually did was put his own reelection prospects in serious jeopardy. Ted Cruz’s constituents say health care is one of the most important issues to them this election, and as a result he’s taking on some pretty serious water in this race. Whether it is Cruz’s opposition to protections for people with pre-existing conditions or his vote for an age tax, Ted Cruz’s extreme health care views are rejected by his constituents.”

The full polling memo is here. That hit my inbox on Thursday. On Friday, I got this:

A new poll of likely voters in Texas, commissioned by End Citizens United (ECU) and conducted by PPP, shows that Beto O’Rourke continues to close in on Senator Ted Cruz. ECU’s latest poll shows O’Rourke behind Cruz by three points, 46-49 percent. Click here to see the full polling.

When voters learned of O’Rourke’s decision to reject all PAC money and Cruz’s reliance on special interests, O’Rourke takes the lead 48-46 percent.

This is the fourth poll ECU has conducted in the race with each poll showing O’Rourke increasingly closing the gap. In January, O’Rourke was within eight points of Cruz, 37-45 percent. By June, O’Rourke had moved to within six points, 43-49 percent. In July, he closed the gap to four points, 42-46 percent. The latest poll conducted this week has him within the margin of error.

“Beto and his message of reform continues to win over Texans,” said ECU President Tiffany Muller. “He’s spent the last 18 months visiting every county in the state, listening to voters, and inspiring people to get involved. With just a few weeks until Election Day, Beto has pulled even with Ted Cruz and is in position to win this race.”

PPP surveyed 603 Texas voters from September 19-20. The margin of error is +/- 4%.

Based on his record of fighting for reform and his decision to reject all PAC money, Beto O’Rourke was the first challenger ECU endorsed in the 2018 midterms. For O’Rourke, ECU was his first national endorsement. ECU’s grassroots members have donated over $350,000 to O’Rourke’s campaign, averaging just $13 per contribution. Beto is one of only a handful of members of Congress to reject all PAC money, a decision that has made him a leader of a growing trend, with 124 no corporate PAC candidates advancing to the general election.

That poll memo is here. I think these are two different polls – they have different sponsors, slightly different results, and slightly different sample sizes (613 for the first, 603 for the latter), though they were all done between September 19 and 20. The End Citizens United-sponsored polls done by PPP are the ones I have linked on my sidebar. Protect Our Care references earlier polls, which could be these ECU polls, but doesn’t provide links, so who knows. I will say that ECU’s characterization of this as “within the margin of error” is correct, and POC’s “in a dead heat” is wrong and should be avoided. Both of these polls, plus that Ipsos poll arrived after the Quinnipiac poll, to vastly less fanfare; at least RG Ratcliffe acknowledged the existence of the Ipsos poll. The 18-poll average is now 46.83 for Cruz, and 41.83 for Beto.

On a side note, I also received a press release from the Republican Party of Texas announcing that they had filed a complaint with the FEC against End Citizens United for “ECU’s failure to file a direct expenditure for public communications in support of – or as an in-kind contribution to – the Beto for Texas campaign.” You can search the Internet for the eyeroll GIF of your choice here. It’s the weekend, and I can hear a beer calling my name.

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.

Differing views of likely voters

First we had this.

Rep. Beto O’Rourke

U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, leads his Democratic challenger Beto O’Rourke by 9 percentage points among likely voters, according to a new poll from Quinnipiac University.

Released Tuesday, the survey found Cruz with 54 percent support and O’Rourke, an El Paso congressman, with 45 percent. Only 1 percent of those polled were undecided.

“The Texas U.S. Senate race between Sen. Ted Cruz and Congressman Beto O’Rourke, and Democratic hopes for an upset win there, have boosted talk of a Senate takeover,” Peter Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Poll, said in a news release. “These numbers may calm that talk.”

It’s the first time Quinnipiac has released a likely voter survey in the Senate race. Quinnipiac previously polled registered voters three times, finding Cruz ahead by 6 points in August, 11 in May and 3 in April.

Quinnipiac also surveyed the governor’s race in the most recent poll and continued to find a much less competitive contest, with Republican Gov. Greg Abbott leading Democratic opponent Lupe Valdez by 19 points.

I started writing a post about how like everything else this is one result, the first one we’ve had of just likely voters, then I got distracted by all the hot takes about how this means The Race Is All Over And It Was Never Really Close and the shitshow in SD19, so I didn’t get it finished. And then I woke up the next morning and saw this.

U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke, D-El Paso, leads Republican incumbent Ted Cruz by 2 percentage points among likely voters, according to an Ipsos online poll released Wednesday in conjunction with Reuters and the University of Virginia. O’Rourke has been closing the gap over the last several months, but this is the first poll that puts him ahead of Cruz.

Forty-seven percent of likely voters told Reuters they would vote for O’Rourke, while 45 percent said they would cast their ballot for Cruz. Three percent said they would vote for “Other,” and 5 percent said “None.” The margin of error on that portion of the poll was 3.5 percentage points.

A Quinnipiac poll released Tuesday put Cruz 9 percentage points ahead of O’Rourke among likely voters. That poll was based on phone interviews, while the Ipsos poll used an online survey. But it’s trying to predict who will show up on Election Day that shifts the numbers, said Ipsos Vice President Chris Jackson.

Ipsos is trying to gauge political enthusiasm on each side, said Jackson. The poll asked respondents to estimate the likelihood that they’d vote in the midterm elections on a scale from one to 10. “More Democrats are registering at the highest part of the scale, at the 10, than the Republicans,” Jackson said. And that’s what’s interesting, he said, because Republicans usually have the momentum advantage in Texas.

“It demonstrates how Democrats are mobilized,” said Jackson. “This election is going to be really competitive and its going be very hard fought.”

[…]

The poll also questioned voters about the Texas gubernatorial election and found that Gov. Greg Abbott leads his Democratic challenger, Lupe Valdez, by 9 percentage points among likely voters.

Well, well, well. Look, this too is just one result and we can’t really judge either of them until we see enough polls to get a feel for where these fit in. That said, this is 1) the first poll result of any kind showing Beto in the lead, 2) the first poll of any kind in at least a decade showing a Democrat with as much as 47% of the vote, and 3) an extremely satisfying quick corrective to all those hot takes from Tuesday.

So what do we make of all this? I think the DMN has it right:

Polling experts have long warned against putting too much weight in any one survey, particularly since different polls can take widely different approaches. Texas is also a special case, since the GOP’s longstanding dominance there means pollsters don’t usually pay it much attention.

Nate Silver, editor-in-chief of Five Thirty Eight, on Wednesday pretty well summed up the dynamic.

“Texas is a tough state to poll (lots of new residents, low turnout among certain voting groups, may be hard to reach Spanish-speaking voters),” he wrote on Twitter. “It’s probably a healthy sign that we’re seeing some disagreement.”

A closer look at the two surveys perhaps further proves the point. Both polls looked at likely voters, which is a key distinction from earlier surveys. The feelings of likely voters are supposed to give a better representation of Election Day results than those of registered voters. But that approach also means some assumptions have been made on who is likely to vote.

The Quinnipiac poll surveyed 807 likely voters earlier this month, tallying a margin of error of plus-minus 4.1 percentage points. It was conducted using live interviews over landlines and cell phones, which many experts say is the best way to approach the task. It had a sample that featured 35 percent Republicans, 26 percent Democrats and 33 percent independents.

The Ipsos poll, done in partnership with Reuters and the University of Virginia, surveyed nearly 1,000 voters earlier this month, garnering an error margin of plus-minus 3.5 percentage points.

It was conducted by way of online surveys. Its sample is also much different, reporting a significantly lower number of independents. So its breakdown is 47 percent Republicans, 43 percent Democrats and nine percent independents.

So live call versus online, and self-reported engagement levels versus whatever formula Quinnipiac used (they did not elaborate on that). Ipsos wound up with a sample that was slightly less Republican, which is consistent with the thesis that Dems are more engaged than usual. Who’s “right” and who’s “wrong” at this point is impossible to tell, though we may get a better feel for that as voting draws nearer. For now, be aware of the differences in methodology and look for any trends that emerge there. In the meantime and even though it’s mixing apples (registered voters) and oranges (likely voters), I’m updating the now-16 poll average to reflect 46.69 for Cruz, and 41.38 for Beto. Until we can say definitively otherwise, this is still a very close race. Washington Monthly and the Current have more.

Flores defeats Gallego

I don’t even know what to say. This is a filthy result, one that can’t be repaired until 2020. I don’t know what happened, but it was a race we should not have lost. I don’t think one ugly loss invalidates everything else that’s been going on, but it sure is a turd in the punch bowl, and the reaction to it is going to be brutal. Now Dems are going to have to flip a Republican-held Senate seat just to stay even. Just terrible.

UPDATE: Something that occurred to me after I went to bed was that it was unusual for this runoff to be held on a Tuesday, as runoffs are almost always on Saturdays. The effect of having this on a Tuesday is that there were no weekend days for voting – early voting for this was Monday to Friday last week. It’s still a disgrace that Gallego lost, but if you wanted to engineer an election for low turnout, this is how you would do it.

It’s Runoff Day in SD19

This is an important election.

Pete Gallego

The aggressive drive by top Texas Republicans to flip a Democratic-friendly state Senate seat will culminate Tuesday as their candidate, Pete Flores, faces Democrat Pete Gallego in the final round of a special election.

The runoff for Senate District 19 will determine the successor to former state Sen. Carlos Uresti, D-San Antonio, who resigned earlier this year after 11 felony convictions. But the contest also has implications for the balance of power in the upper chamber, where the GOP is heading into the November elections with a tenuous hold on their supermajority.

As a result, GOP leaders have lined up behind Flores, a former state game warden who unsuccessfully challenged Uresti in 2016, and in some cases, activated their own campaign machinery to help him against Gallego. The Democrat is a former congressman from Alpine who previously represented the area for over two decades in the Texas House.

The GOP believes the all-hands-on-deck effort has put the seat within reach.

“We feel good about where we are,” Flores strategist Matt Mackowiak said. “If Republicans turn out on Tuesday, we will win and elect a conservative from SD-19 to the Texas Senate.”

Democrats have also mobilized, well aware of the GOP heavyweights on the other side and the anything-can-happen nature of special elections.

“This is a Democratic district, we expect it to perform like a Democratic district, but we cannot take anything for granted and that’s why we’re working hard,” said Manny Garcia, deputy executive director of the Texas Democratic Party.

See here for the previous update. This is, in a Presidential year, a 10-12 point Democratic district. Not insurmountable, but pretty solid. In a bad year like 2014 was, it’s basically 50-50. Gallego goes into this runoff as the favorite on the numbers, and he’s quite familiar with running in tight circumstances, but it is certainly possible he could lose. If that happens, that would be a big damper on any pro-“blue wave” story line for Texas. Dems collectively did just fine in Round One, outperforming the Presidential year baseline by a couple of points. And for all their big talk, Republicans did everything they could to win without having to run, which suggests that maybe the big talk is just that. As is always the case with special elections and runoffs, it’s all about who shows up. I’ll have the result tomorrow.

The other Senate races that Republicans are worried about

They’re concerned about the State Senate, too.

Beverly Powell

Republican lawmakers in the Texas Senate were sitting pretty last year.

For years, the GOP had faced roadblocks to passing some conservative measures by the chamber’s two-thirds rule, which normally required the support of 21 members to get a bill to the floor. With 20 Republicans in the chamber, that left Republicans one short of moving out bills without the help of a single Democrat.

But then in 2015, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick led a successful move to lower the threshold from two-thirds to three-fifths. Suddenly, any measure with the backing of all of the chamber’s Republicans had all the support it needed. For that session and the ones that followed in 2017, the GOP effectively ran the Senate floor.

Now, with less than two months until Election Day, Republicans are finding that keeping that supermajority in the Texas Senate is no longer a sure thing.

Nathan Johnson

“We’re emphasizing the possibility of losses,” said Darl Easton, the Republican Party Chairman in Tarrant County, where state Sen. Konni Burton’s re-election bid as seen is a potential toss-up. “The more complacent you become, the more likely it is that you won’t win. We definitely have to keep the voters alert to the possibility of losing some seats. We’re not going to take anything for granted.”

“We are working and making sure we’re leaving no stone unturned,” added Missy Shorey, the Dallas County Republican Party Chairwoman, speaking of the party’s efforts in assisting state Sen. Don Huffines, R-Dallas. “People in Dallas certainly know there’s no chance that seat is going to flip. [Huffines] is working for every vote out there.”

The Senate is still poised to remain GOP-dominated during next year’s legislative session. What’s at stake for the chamber’s Republicans this election cycle is losing their three-fifths majority — the crucial threshold for bringing legislation to the Senate floor without any support from Democrats.

[…]

If at least two of [Konni Burton, Don Huffines, and Joan Huffman] lose their seats this election cycle, the political repercussions could be far-reaching: not only would it loosen Patrick’s stronghold over the upper chamber, Republican senators themselves would have to work across the aisle to get their bills passed.

Rita Lucido

“When you have to cross the aisle, you have to cross the river and that changes everything,” said Bill Miller, a veteran political consultant and lobbyist. “If [Dan Patrick] were to lose that three-fifths majority, his power would be diminished. That doesn’t mean he won’t be powerful, but he won’t be the most powerful person to ever hold the office — which is what he’s been up to this point.”

“If you haven’t had any power in a while and I give you power, it’s going to be tasty,” he added. “It’s a tasty morsel. If Democrats get back at the table, that will change how the Senate behaves.”

What’s also at risk is the ability to get conservative legislation to the governor. Without a Republican Senate supermajority, Easton said, measures important to hard-line conservatives might not get a hearing in the Texas House — let alone be brought up for debate on the Senate floor.

“Obviously, it’s going to be harder to get conservative stuff through the Senate if we don’t have the numbers, and if we don’t get it through the Senate then the House doesn’t even have to look at it,” Easton said. “It’s politics as usual. The stronger your base is, the more likely it is you’re going to get stuff through the House and eventually to the governor’s desk.”

Miller agreed, adding that Republicans in the Senate might have reason to worry.

“In recent cycles, Republicans have looked at every election cycle as just a reaffirmation of their dominance, and that has absolutely been the case,” he said. “This is the first time in memory where not only is that dominance in question, but there’s a high degree of confidence on the part of Democrats. So it’s a whole new world out there.”

There’s at least some polling evidence to suggest that both Powell and Johnson are in decent shape, though it’s one poll in each case and you know what we say about individual polls. I just want to observe that I wrote about the effect of Dems picking up two Senate seats last year, right after the filing deadline. Patrick could of course seek to eliminate the three-fifths rule in the same way that he eliminated the two-thirds rule; the Senate adopts the rules it abides by each session, and it only takes a majority vote to do so. All I know is that anything that clips Dan Patrick’s wings, even a little bit, is a good thing. Both Powell and Johnson have been endorsed by the DMN, for whatever that’s worth. These are all winnable races. It’s a matter of proving Dems can win in districts that weren’t drawn for them.

Crosswinds: Cruz 47, O’Rourke 44

It’s poll time again.

Rep. Beto O’Rourke

In a sign of just how crucial the millennial vote might be in the upcoming mid-term elections, a statewide poll released Tuesday shows Ted Cruz leading 47 percent to Beto O’Rourke’s 44 percent among likely Texas voters. Forty-nine percent of Texans between the age of 18-39 identify as supporting O’Rourke, while Cruz’s strongest support comes from voters ages 40 and above.

The Crosswind Texas Pulse Poll also hinted at some dissatisfaction toward Cruz from his own party: While the poll indicates an almost-equal party vote – with 81 percent Republicans favoring Cruz and 83 percent Democrats for his opponent – a surprising 15 percent of Republicans indicated their intent to vote for the Democrat. Forty-six percent of respondents who did not identify with either major party signaled their intent to vote for O’Rourke, versus 39 percent of non-affiliated or independent voters intending to pull the lever for Cruz.

Fifty-five percent of Hispanic voters and 57 percent of Black voters also expressed an intent to vote for O’Rourke, while 52 percent of white voters indicated their support for Cruz. However, 56 percent of voters who do not identify as white, Hispanic or Black also responded positively for Cruz. Only slightly more women overall support O’Rourke than Sen. Cruz, at 47 versus 42 percent.

“Texans are in for a nail-biter that has national implications,” said Crosswind CEO Thomas Graham. “O’Rourke is showing surprisingly strong support in traditionally red-state Texas, and Cruz has the edge in organization at this point, but clearly O’Rourke is gaining some ground.”

Meanwhile, Texans clearly favor incumbent Greg Abbott, who is holding steadily in his race against Lupe Valdez, although her 39 percent – to Abbott’s 52 percent – is likely to catch state GOP leaders by surprise. The poll results largely mirrored that of the senate race demographically and along party affiliations, although 45 percent of Texas women are showing more support for the current governor than for challenger Valdez’s 43 percent female support.

Perhaps most surprising is that in both races, a percentage of likely voters identifying as “conservative” seem ready to jump ship to non-conservative candidates: 14 percent for O’Rourke, and 16 percent for Valdez. Those identifying as “liberal” seem less inclined to go against those stated values, with just 3 percent for Cruz and 6 percent for Abbott.

The Crosswind Texas Pulse Poll, a periodic survey of Texans’ opinions on a variety of cultural, economic and political issues, was conducted by Crosswind Media & Public Relations from September 6-9, 2018. The survey included 800 likely voters in Texas. The margin of error is +/- 4 percentage points with a 95 percent level of confidence.

Of the 800 likely voters surveyed, 39 percent identified Republican and 27 percent identified Democrat, with 34 percent unidentified.

And that brings our 14-poll average to 46.29 for Cruz, and 40.71 for Beto. According to RG Ratcliffe, pollster Crosswinds Media and Public Relations is “a national public relations firm based in Austin and leans Republican”. Maybe this result will finally get Chris Wilson to quit whining about how everyone is overestimating Beto’s numbers. Instead, you can add this to the reasons why Republicans are freaking out about Cruz.

Yes, Republicans really are worried about Ted Cruz

Their actions speak volumes.

Not Ted Cruz

With a string of polls showing GOP Sen. Ted Cruz’s lead slipping, Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick showed up in Washington on July 25 to deliver an urgent plea to White House officials: Send President Donald Trump.

Patrick, who chaired Trump’s 2016 campaign in the state, made the case that a Trump visit was needed to boost turnout for Cruz and the rest of the Texas Republican ticket. The lieutenant governor soon got his wish: Trump announced on Twitter late last month that he was planning a blowout October rally for Cruz, his former GOP rival.

The previously unreported meeting comes as senior Republicans grow increasingly concerned about the senator’s prospects in the reliably red state, with some expressing fear that an underperformance could threaten GOP candidates running further down the ballot. Cruz’s Democratic opponent, Rep. Beto O’Rourke, has raised barrels of cash, closed the polling gap and emerged as a cause célèbre of liberals nationwide.

Trump’s rally is just the most public display of a Republican cavalry rushing to the senator’s aid. Cruz remains a favorite to win another term, and some senior GOP figures insist the concern is overblown. Yet the party — which has had a fraught relationship with the anti-establishment Texas senator over the years — is suddenly leaving little to chance. Behind the scenes, the White House, party leaders and a collection of conservative outside groups have begun plotting out a full-fledged effort to bolster Cruz.

Texas Sen. John Cornyn, who’s planning an October fundraiser for Cruz at Washington’s Capital Grille restaurant, said he had a simple directive to GOP givers.

“We’re not bluffing, this is real, and it is a serious threat,” Cornyn, the No. 2 Senate Republican, said in an interview. “If Ted does his job and we do ours, I think we’ll be fine. But if we have donors sitting on the sidelines thinking that, ‘Well, this isn’t all that serious,’ or ‘I don’t need to be concerned,’ then that’s a problem.”

What caught my eye in this story was the timing of Dan Patrick’s schlep to DC to beg for help. Here’s what the five most recent polls looked like as of that July 25 date:

Cruz +9, Cruz +5, Cruz +8, Cruz +6, Cruz + 6 – Average Cruz lead = 6.8

And the five polls since then:

Cruz +2, Cruz +6, Cruz +4, Cruz +4, Cruz +1 – Average Cruz lead = 3.4

So at the time that Danno made his pilgrimage, Cruz had a solid if unspectacular lead in the publicly available polls. Since then, he’s had a much narrower, albeit still consistent, lead. On the (I hope) reasonable assumption that Patrick is not clairvoyant, it makes one wonder what he and his cronies were seeing in the polls back then that made them so worried. I mean, it could just be an abundance of caution, though that’s wildly inconsistent with Texas Republicans’ public braggadocio about their own prowess and the supposed conservatism of the state’s electorate. Since when do Texas GOPers need help from the outside to win elections? Especially in a year where the national party has about a thousand endangered Congressional seats to protect, not to mention a non-trivial number of governors, and they’d much rather be spending money to oust Democratic Senators, asking for the spigot to be tapped in support of Ted Cruz sure seems like a lot.

Unless, of course, their own data at the time was sounding an alarm for them, not just for Cruz but for however many downballot Republicans that could get left exposed by a low tide for the junior Senator. And if that was the case for them then – and maybe it was and maybe it wasn’t, we just don’t know – then what is is saying now? Maybe the public data has caught up to where their own data was, and maybe things have shifted further. Again, we don’t know. That doesn’t stop us from speculating, as we wait for the next batch of poll results. My point here is simply to highlight that Republicans are aware of the political environment they’re in. It’s on us to prove they were right to be so concerned. Slate has more.

On negative ads and name recognition

I confess, I’m amused by this.

U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz is going after Democrat Beto O’Rourke for cursing during some of his campaign speeches.

The Cruz campaign released a digital ad on social media that shows O’Rourke cursing at various campaign events over the last year.

“So he’s showing up across Texas sharing his wit, his wisdom and his character,” an unidentified narrator says as clips of O’Rourke cursing are bleeped out.

The ad closes by saying O’Rourke is “showing the #@%* up.”

That’s…bad? Doesn’t that imply that Ted Cruz isn’t “showing the #@%* up”? I’m not exactly sure what I’m supposed to make of that, but then it seems that Ted Cruz isn’t very good at negative ads. Maybe if he had some accomplishments he could tout or something like that. I’m just spitballing here. What does it say about an incumbent when all his first moves out of the gate are to attack his opponent rather than brag about his record?

It’s clear that it’s going to be all mud from here on out, not just from Cruz but also from the big money outside agitators that prop him up as well. All of which leads to a bit of musing from RG Ratcliffe on the state of the race.

The increased attention that O’Rourke’s growing celebrity is drawing has some Democratic stalwarts worried that O’Rourke has not built a campaign that has the ability to quickly trade jab for jab. This may be problematic because poll after poll—which show the race for Senate is close—suggests that a large number of voters still do not know O’Rourke. This low voter ID allows Cruz and his allies to help define his opponent leading into Election Day.

You might want to put in a mouth guard to prevent injury as you grind your teeth at the quotes from unnamed “Democratic operatives”, but never mind that for now. My first inclination in times like these is always to look to the data, so I went through all the recent polls to see what I could find about Beto O’Rourke’s favorability and name recognition. Here’s what I got:

UT/Trib, June 25 – 16% Neutral, 24% Don’t Know

Quinnipiac, July 31 – 43% “Haven’t heard enough”

PPP, August 1 – “O’Rourke’s name recognition has grown since January as well as his favorability. In January, only 39% of voters had an opinion of him, and his favorability was 20% while 19% had an unfavorable opinion of him. Now 57% have an opinion of him with 31% having a favorable and 26% having an unfavorable opinion.”

NBC News, August 22 – 36% Unsure/Never heard among RVs

ECPS, Aug 27 – 27% Neutral, 11% Never heard

Not all polls asked about Beto’s favorability (though they nearly always asked about Cruz’s, and nearly everyone has an opinion on him), and those that did were not consistent in their question wording or their categorizations. Still, even with the variability, it’s clear that a decent number of people don’t have a firm opinion about Beto O’Rourke, and thus we get the pearl-clutching.

And to be fair, it’s a very reasonable point to make. If you don’t already have an opinion about a candidate – maybe even if you do – that means your perception is up for grabs. If you’re a politician with plenty of money – and while O’Rourke has greatly outraised Cruz, he still has lots of dough and his buddies in the conservative PAC business have bottomless coffers – you can have an effect on that. Thus the old adage about defining yourself before your opponent does it for you.

That said, I think it’s also worth contemplating how much effect negative ads, even competent ones, may have this year, especially on a high-charisma candidate like Beto O’Rourke. For one thing, as we have recently observed, not all candidates are vulnerable to negative information about them. For another, people who dislike Ted Cruz (of which there are many) and are undecided about Beto O’Rourke may be less likely to believe or be swayed by an attack on O’Rourke by Cruz. Most of all, in a year where so many people are highly motivated to deliver a message to Donald Trump, negative ads just may not mean much to them.

I’m not saying that Cruz’s barrage can’t or won’t have an effect. It probably will, though at this point it’s impossible to say how much of an effect it may have. I am saying that this is a weird year, with unusual dynamics, and it’s worth thinking this sort of thing through. I do hope Beto has a strategy for weathering the attacks, even if that strategy is “keep on keeping on”. We’re sure to get a lot more polling data over the next two months, so whatever effect there is, I’m sure we’ll see it.

Early voting has begun for SD19 special election runoff

Don’t lose sight of this election.

Pete Gallego

A strong yet unsuccessful showing in 2016 against incumbent Carlos Uresti was enough to convince Pete Flores to take another shot at Uresti’s State Senate seat, this time in a special election to complete the former senator’s term.

With early voting beginning Monday for the Sept. 18 runoff, Flores faces Democrat and former Congressman Pete Gallego in Democratic-leaning District 19, which covers all or parts of 17 counties from Bexar to the Mexican border and the Big Bend country. But Flores was the top vote-getter in July’s first round of voting and is banking on his grassroots campaign to send him to Austin.

“Special elections are a different animal,” Flores said. “All assumptions get thrown out the window.”

[…]

When Flores challenged Uresti in 2016, he got 40 percent of the vote. “That’s a pretty good chunk of votes in Southwest Texas,” Flores said.

[…]

Ahead of the runoff, Gallego spoke with the Rivard Report at his Southside campaign office before block-walking with more than 20 volunteers and supporters, including Bexar County Sheriff Javier Salazar and County Democratic Chair Monica Alcantara.

“Opportunity means jobs, the economy, education,” he said. “It means making sure everyone has the opportunity to live out what I call the American dream.

“I also want to make sure we live up to promises made to the people to whom we owe a great deal of obligation – our seniors who built our country and made it what it is, and veterans who’ve done the same.”

Gallego is confident that Democrats will get out and vote on Sept. 18. He described District 19 as a “60/40 district,” with Democratic voters making up the majority.

“In an emergency special election, it may be a little tighter, but if at the end of the day we do what we need to do, we’ll win,” he said.

Flores did indeed get 40% in 2016 against the disgraced Carlos Uresti, though that was actually a bit below what other Republicans did in the district. He also got 34.35% in the July election, and while that was enough to lead the field, it was still a notch down from his 2016 performance. The four Dems in the race combined for 59.6%, to the three Republicans’ 39.4%, or right about where Gallego estimated the partisan ratio is. I’d call that a bit on the high end, as Dems won by about ten points pretty consistently in both 2012 and 2016. As such, the July performance for Dems was above the baseline by several points, more or less in line with other elections over the past year and a half. That said, special elections and runoffs are their own thing, and nothing should be taken for granted. Gallego got the Express News endorsement, and as far as I can tell is doing the kind of campaigning one needs to do in this kind of race. If you live in the district or know someone who does, you have till Friday to vote early, and Tuesday the 18th to vote at a precinct location. Don’t miss out.

No, really, nobody likes Ted Cruz

Womp, womp.

Not Ted Cruz

President Donald Trump’s budget chief said Saturday that Republican U.S. Sen Ted Cruz could lose his seat in the November elections, suggesting that he is not likable enough, The New York Times reported.

According to the Times report, Mick Mulvaney, the leader of the Office of Management and Budget and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, said at a closed-door meeting with Republican donors in New York City that he did not believe in the existence of a “blue wave” of Democrats overtaking many Republican-held seats but that Cruz may be in trouble.

“There’s a very real possibility we will win a race for Senate in Florida and lose a race in Texas for Senate, O.K.?” Mulvaney said, according to an audio recording of the meeting obtained by the Times. “I don’t think it’s likely, but it’s a possibility. How likable is a candidate? That still counts.”

[…]

To further his point on a candidate’s likability, Mulvaney mentioned last year’s special election for Senate in Alabama, when Republican Roy Moore, a former judge accused of sexual misconduct with teenage girls, lost to his Democratic opponent.

I mean, Mick Mulvaney is himself about as likable as a case of athlete’s foot, so this is really saying something. I’m not sure what I love more, that people feel so free to insult Ted Cruz, or that people feel so free to record such insults and leak them to reporters so the rest of us can enjoy it as well. Or maybe Mulvaney just internalized the lesson that Donald Trump taught us all, that the way to earn Ted Cruz’s affection and loyalty is to treat him like garbage. Has Mulvaney tweeted about Mrs. Cruz being ugly yet? That’s got to be next.

How can Beto win?

This is from the weekly newsletter put out by G. Elliott Morris:

Let’s talk about voter turnout in Texas. The statewide voting-agedpopulation is a mixed bag, made up of 45% White, 37% Hispanic, 11% Black, and 6% Asian/other residents, according to projections from the Center for American Progress. On its face, the majority-minority status of the state indicates that Democrats, who have an edge among non-white voters, would prosper in the state. Obviously, that’s not the case. This is because the actual electorate is much redder, made up of 61% White, 21% Hispanic, 13% Black, and 5% Asian voters according again to the CAP. Notably, the share of white voters was down 2% in 2016 compared to 2012.

Okay, Texas voters are Whiter than the state as a whole. So what? Well, this also means that the electorate is more Republican than the state as a whole. Let’s run a scenario: what if all voting-aged Texans voted, and voted the same way for Rs and Ds that they did in 2016? A table:

You can see that I’ve decreased the share of the electorate that is White from roughly 61% to 45% and nearly doubled the share of Hispanic voters (column comp.2016). In the highlighted yellow boxes are the findings: If all voting-aged Texas voted with the same partisan leanings as the state’s electorate alone in 2016, Donald Trump would have won the state by just 0.1 percentage points. That’s as close as his margin in Wisconsin. Texas would be a true swing state.

In 2018, this means that Senator Ted Cruz — who enjoyed a hypothesized 8 percentage point incumbency advantage — would be running roughly even with Rep. Beto O’Rourke, even in the current national environment where Democrats are beating Republicans by roughly 8 percentage points in the national environment.

But everyone doesn’t vote. Instead, demographics are partially destiny in determining outcomes in state elections. For the sake of the game, let’s run a proposed 2018 election where demographics look more like the 2016 electorate than the 2016 “all voters” scenario — because we have no evidence to believe that Hispanic turnout in the state is about to increase by roughly 75 percent — but decrease the share of non-college White turnout (college-educated voters are more engaged in midterm elections, but so are whites.)

For O’Rourke to run even with Cruz in November, college-educated Whites would need to make up about 33% of the electorate, non-college Whites 29%, Hispanics 21%, Black voters 13%, Asian/others 5%. This is not totally out of the questions, but you can see why I’m cautious about being bullish on Beto. Of course, these numbers are dynamic: if the partisan lean of the electorate shifts left, then the share of white voters that Cruz needs to win increases, etc.

Morris gives Beto a 32% chance of winning. This is a way of quantifying the old adage about Texas being not a Republican state but a non-voting state. I think it’s fair to say that this year is a test of that. If you want to see more of Morris’ newsletter or sign up to receive it yourself, go here.

#TrumpTruckTweet

I love this.

Deep in the heart of Texas, a billboard truck will soon hit the road with a curated list of President Donald Trump’s tweets — attacks on Sen. Ted Cruz, a former political foe.

Trump popularized the term “Lyin’ Ted” in 2016. But it’s 2018 now, and Democratic voter mobilization and an unlikely challenger have mounted an improbable campaign for a reliably Republican seat.

Trump said an October rally is in the works to lend Cruz support. “I’m picking the biggest stadium in Texas we can find,” Trump said Friday on Twitter.

“Help from the president was long unthinkable in a race that for months looked like a Cruz cakewalk,” the Associated Press reported.

Antonio Arellano, a Houston-based activist and Latino community organizer, thought fellow Texans may need a reminder of how Trump has suggested they vote when Cruz is on the ballot.

He was already in the market for a billboard when he tweeted a doctored image carrying a real Trump tweet from 2016.

[…]

Arellano said the actual billboard will be a mobile truck with two sides, and could carry two different tweets at once, one on each side. The route has not yet been planned, but Arellano said he is exploring where in the state he should dispatch it with the hashtag #TrumpTweetTruck.

The GoFundMe page for this, which is where the embedded image originates, raised more than it asked for and is no longer accepting donations. (Do feel free to give any money you had in mind for this to some candidates.) My guess is that they’ll pick a route once Trump picks a stadium for his pro-Cruz rally, but I’m sure wherever this goes, plenty of people will enjoy seeing it. I look forward to about a million pictures of it on Facebook and Twitter. ThinkProgress and Mother Jones have more.

Signs, signs, everywhere there’s Beto signs

And they’re breaking the minds of Ted Cruz supporters.

Rep. Beto O’Rourke

The conversation unfolding before a campaign event for U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz here last week echoed similar ones popping up among Republican groups around Texas. With a mixture of frustration and bewilderment, attendees were discussing the proliferation of black-and-white yard signs in their neighborhoods brandishing a single four-letter-word: BETO.

The signs have become a signature calling card of Democrat Beto O’Rourke’s bid to unseat Cruz. While Democrats posting yard signs for candidates is nothing new, even when it happens in some of Texas’ most conservative conclaves, what’s been different this summer is the extent to which O’Rourke’s signs have seemingly dominated the landscape in some neighborhoods.

Meanwhile, Cruz signs are far tougher to spot, and many Cruz supporters have become increasingly agitated at their inability to obtain signs to counter what they see on their daily drives.

[…]

The difference in tactics goes back to a 2006 political science experiment. At the time, former Gov. Rick Perry was running for his second full term and allowed for researchers to try different tactics in some communities to test which were most effective at motivating voters. Daron Shaw, a government professor at the University of Texas at Austin and co-director of the Texas Tribune/University of Texas Poll, worked on experiments involving yard signs in Perry’s race and saw little evidence that they moved Perry’s numbers.

Four years later, Perry’s team essentially abandoned the entire practice of distributing yard signs during his third re-election campaign. He soundly defeated now-former U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison in the Republican primary and Democrat Bill White in the general election.

Since then, more academic research backed up Shaw’s findings, and yard signs have largely fallen out of vogue within the Texas GOP consultant class, at least among statewide candidates.

But that 2006 campaign marked Perry’s fifth statewide race — when he already had near-universal name identification in Texas, much like Cruz does now. As such, Shaw cautions not every campaign should follow Perry’s lead.

“It varies race by race and year by year,” he said. “So I wouldn’t claim that that study should be used as evidence that you ought not to be doing it this time around.”

For a candidate like O’Rourke, who began the race as a relative unknown, there is anecdotal evidence that the signs have helped him build his name identification.

Jo Johns is a retired physical education teacher who recently attended an organizing rally for O’Rourke in Weatherford.

She told the Tribune she first learned about O’Rourke by seeing his signs while driving to yoga class.

“I didn’t know who he was, and I wanted to know about him,” she added. “I saw Beto, Beto, Beto. I thought he must be a Republican because they’re everywhere.”

Shaw pointed back to the 2014 governor’s race, when Democrat Wendy Davis’ signs outnumbered her opponent, now-Gov. Greg Abbott, in some communities. Davis still lost by 20 points. But this time around, the political scientist suggests O’Rourke’s yard signs are possibly signaling momentum to voters, priming some who may have otherwise assumed Cruz was unbeatable that O’Rourke has a shot.

“In this race, it probably is more of a positive because it reinforces information you’re getting in public polls, stories you’re getting in the media and fundraising,” said Shaw.

My neighborhood is chock full of Beto signs. Literally, there’s multiple signs on every block. I do a lot of walking through the neighborhood with my dog, and not only are there tons of them, more keep popping up. Meanwhile, I have seen four Ted Cruz signs. Hilariously, three of them are accompanied by green signs with clovers on them that say “Make Beto Irish again”, to which the obvious riposte is “Sure, as soon as we make Ted Canadian again”.

Anyway, I think the Trib captures the dynamic of the sign skirmish well. Signs in and of themselves aren’t, well, signs of anything, but this year at least feels different. This year, the vast proliferation of Beto signs are both an indicator of enthusiasm and a means for expressing it. I do think it has helped to expand his name ID, and to signal to Democrats in red areas where they have felt isolated that they are not in fact alone. I don’t think it’s possible to isolate an effect related to this, and if we could it would probably be no more than a marginal one, but I do think this year that signs matter. I look forward to whatever research someone publishes about this after the election.

The Republicans really, really want to win SD19 by forfeit

Sure is what it looks like.

Pete Gallego

With early voting set to begin in less than two weeks, the Republican Party of Texas is continuing efforts to have Democrat Pete Gallego removed from the ballot, which if successful would leave only the GOP’s Pete Flores in the runoff election to fill a vacant seat in the Texas Senate.

Republicans argue that Gallego lives in Austin and not in Senate District 19, which stretches from San Antonio to the Big Bend region and the New Mexico border, in violation of a state law requiring candidates to live in the legislative district they hope to represent.

Gallego has denied the accusation, and a lawyer for the state Democratic Party believes the GOP’s legal case is weak and intended to heap negative publicity on Gallego, not produce a victory in court.

[…]

Gallego has said he lives in his mother’s home in Alpine, the small West Texas city where he was born and raised.

His campaign — which did not respond to several requests to discuss Gallego’s residency — has characterized the legal challenge as a desperate and unjustified attempt to steal a Senate seat in a reliably Democratic district.

“Pete Gallego has lived in Alpine since 1989 when he returned home to become a local felony prosecutor,” Gallego campaign manager Christian Archer said shortly after the GOP lawsuit was filed earlier this month. “Pete is registered to vote in Alpine, where he has always voted and where he pays his utilities.”

[…]

Texas law defines a candidate’s residence as “one’s home and fixed place of habitation,” which leaves some room for interpretation.

In its legal challenge filed in district court in Travis County, the state Republican Party alleges that Gallego resides in a Southwest Austin house that he purchased in 2000 with his wife, Maria Ramon, a lawyer with the Texas Office of Court Administration.

The party’s lawsuit points to a homestead exemption claimed for the Austin property — a tax break provided only for homes used as a “principal residence” — and a July column in the San Antonio Express-News that discusses photos showing Gallegos’s truck parked outside the Austin house in May and Gallego leaving the house on a Monday morning in July.

“It is now undisputed that Gallego does not actually live day-to-day in Alpine, and most likely has not done so since, at best, sometime in 2000,” the lawsuit said.

Archer told the Express-News in mid-August that the homestead exemption on the Austin house belonged to Gallego’s wife and that, in addition to paying utilities in Alpine, he also registered his car there.

Chad Dunn, a lawyer for the state Democratic Party, is not involved in the lawsuit but predicted that the GOP effort is doomed because the Texas Supreme Court long ago determined that only an opposing candidate has the legal standing to file suit in residency disputes.

“Knowing some of the lawyers who brought it, who know better, I only assume this was an effort to obtain some free campaign attention” at Gallego’s expense, Dunn said.

The Flores campaign did not join the lawsuit, though two voters from the district are part of the challenge.

See here and here for the background. For better or worse – and you have certainly seen me complain about this in the Dave Wilson case – Texas’ laws regarding residency are vague and basically not enforced. I guarantee you, if a court finds that Pete Gallego is ineligible to run in SD19, there will be a large number of existing legislators, of both parties, who will be vulnerable to the same kind of challenge. I’m sure the Republicans’ lawyers are aware of this. In the meantime, early voting begins on September 10. I fully expect both candidates will be on the ballot.

Valdez and Abbott come to terms on September debate

Good.

Lupe Valdez

Lupe Valdez, the Democratic candidate for governor, has agreed to debate the Republican incumbent, Greg Abbott, on Sept. 28 in Austin, ending weeks of uncertainty over whether the two would face off.

Earlier this summer, Abbott announced his RSVP for the Austin debate, which is being hosted by Nexstar Media Group. A week later, Valdez accepted an invitation to a different debate — Oct. 8 in Houston — balking at the timing of the Austin debate, which falls on a Friday evening in the middle of high school football season.

While the timing of the Austin debate has not changed, Valdez claimed victory Monday in getting a Spanish-language media partner — Telemundo — for the debate. Valdez’s campaign said Telemundo “will broadcast the debate live across the state on television and online, and provide a moderator and instantaneous Spanish translation for their viewers.”

“I’m glad to announce that after weeks of negotiations, we have succeeded in making our debate with [President Donald] Trump’s favorite puppet governor more inclusive, representative, and accessible to Texans across the state,” Valdez said in a statement that continued to press her desire for an in-studio audience and Spanish questions.
here for the background. Abbott of course disputed that he had conceded anything. The debate is still on a Friday, and he’s probably the one statewide Republican that isn’t too bothered by having it broadcast on Telemundo as well, so as concessions go this is small. But at least it’s happening.

One thing that isn’t happening is the o’Rourke-Cruz debate that was supposed to be this Friday.

U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke, the El Paso Democrat challenging Republican incumbent Ted Cruz in Texas’ U.S. Senate race, says a proposed Aug. 31 debate between the two “is not going to happen.”

“Friday in Dallas is not going to happen, but I’m convinced we will debate,” O’Rourke said Monday during an appearance at the 2018 Texas Disability Issues Forum in Austin. “I’m convinced there will be a number of debates.”

[…]

O’Rourke said Monday that Cruz’s campaign has “attempted to dictate” different aspects of the debate schedule, such the time, the moderators and which subjects the candidates could speak about.

“We’re working through those differences, and we’re trying to introduce more of a collaborative style to the negotiations than he may be used to,” O’Rourke said during the forum. “And so we’re confident that out of that, we’re going to come to something good.”

See here for the last update. I figure this will work itself out and there will be multiple debates, but for now there are still some bugs in the system. The Chron has more.

Beto and the downballot Dems

I don’t sweat this too much, but there are a couple of points to address.

Rep. Beto O’Rourke

“If there’s $20 in a room, $10 of it is going to Beto. That’s just happening right now,” said [Joanna] Cattanach, who’s challenging Republican state Rep. Morgan Meyer of Dallas this fall. “The rest of it goes, in order, to the congressional candidates, [state] Senate candidates and then, if you’re lucky, as a state House candidate you can get some of that too.”

With the 2018 midterms less than three months away, Cattanach and other Texas Democrats are facing an issue that’s not uncommon for candidates lower on the ballot: getting noticed when the name at the top of the ballot is getting the most attention.

What stands out this year, many candidates and operatives say, is the level of excitement O’Rourke is generating among the party’s base, a situation that has led to the U.S. Senate race dominating attention this summer — over virtually every other race on the ballot.

Despite the fanfare surrounding O’Rourke’s run, the race remains Cruz’s to lose. Texas hasn’t elected a Democrat statewide in nearly 25 years. Cruz won his Senate seat in 2012 by 16 points. Yet lower on the ballot, Democrats see races where a win is far more likely — if only they can get out of O’Rourke’s shadow.

But, as former Austin-based Democratic consultant Harold Cook points out, the only thing worse than having a popular name at the top of the ticket is not having one.

“If you have one Democrat that’s doing well, that’s going to help down-ballot races,” Cook said. “I can tell you that some Democrat in Texas is going to win a House seat who would not have won if Beto were not doing well at the top of the ballot. Beto is going to do whatever he can do to break up a straight-ticket Republican vote, and do a pretty good job increasing turnout.”

[…]

Even some Republicans consultants think down-ballot candidates have reason to worry about the focus on O’Rourke’s campaign against Cruz.

“If I were the Democrats, I’d be putting a lot more energy into competitive state House and state Senate races and stuff down the ballot. They have a real opportunity,” said Brendan Steinhauser, an Austin-based GOP strategist. “But that’s what happens, right? These big races do take up a lot of the time and energy of the volunteers and the money of the donors, and it’s going to be really, really difficult for any Democrat to win statewide — even O’Rourke.”

“So if I was a Democrat, I’d be saying, “I’m a state House candidate. I’ve got a shot to win. This race is competitive and if I just had $50,000 of what O’Rourke got, I can probably win this thing,” he added.

Once again I find myself in agreement with Brandon Steinhauser. We do need to be giving more money to State House candidates. There are some very winnable races that lack sufficient funding. To some degree that’s on the candidates themselves, but for sure there’s a lot less oxygen in the room for them after Beto and the top-tier Congressionals. We are all banking on the assumption that Beto and anger about Trump will help bring out Democratic voters who don’t normally vote in elections like this one, and that will help raise the tide for everyone. But that tide can always be made a little higher in a given locality, and there’s no substitute for ensuring that voters know who you are and what you’re running for.

That said, this is mostly an issue on the margins, and the existence of the enthusiasm for Beto is by far the biggest asset to everyone’s campaign. There’s also time to raise more money to help fund mailers and the like, and as noted in the story a lot of these candidates are getting spillover benefits from Beto. I can tell you that every candidate I’ve interviewed so far has spoken of the positive effects of his campaign. If you want to know what you can do right now to help Democratic candidates win, there are two main answers: Help register voters, and give some of your time, talent, and/or treasure to legislative and county candidates, or your local county coordinated campaign. A little of that will go a long way.

Stanart responds to Garcia

From the inbox:

Sen. Sylvia Garcia

Harris County Clerk Stan Stanart issued the following statement in regards to the letter received from Texas State Senator Sylvia Garcia, by way of social media and her attorney, that asserts a County Clerk has the power to order an election:

“I’m flattered that Senator Garcia and her attorney want to bestow upon me the power to order an election; but, frankly everyone from the Secretary of State’s Texas Election Division to the Harris County Attorney’s Office do not believe that I have any such authority.”

“I have been advised by the Secretary of State’s Office and Harris County legal counsel that the responsibility for calling an election to fill a State Senate vacancy lies with other public officials and that this authority has not been granted to a County Clerk under statute or the Texas Constitution.”

“I also understand that in this political season your attorney who sent your demand letter, is engaged to the Harris County Democratic Party Chair, and would like to make some political points by dragging me into this issue. I also understand that the likely reason you want to delay your resignation until after Jan 1, 2019, is to increase your state pension.”

“I won’t get into the legality of your resignation letter, but it seems that rephrasing it to make it clear that you are resigning on a specific date would save everyone a lot of time, money and drama.”

See here for the background. Can’t say this is a surprise, it seemed like a longshot based on an interesting reading of a particular clause in the Constitution. Maybe the argument would work better in a courtroom, but I wouldn’t want to bet my own money on that.

I’ve been reluctant to criticize Sen. Garcia over this because I do think Greg Abbott is being a jackass and the precedent Garcia cites of Leticia Van de Putte’s resignation letter is on point, but we’re past the point of academic debate, and this is not a suitable place for drawing a principled line in the sand. The downside far outweighs any benefit I can think of for winning this contest of wills. Suck it up and submit another letter with the language Greg Abbott is demanding. It’s stupid, but it’s not as stupid as delaying the election. The Chron has more.

ECPS: Cruz 38, O’Rourke 37

Closest result yet, but it comes with a couple of caveats.

Rep. Beto O’Rourke

A new Emerson College e-Poll finds the US Senate race neck and neck with Senator Ted Cruz at 38% and US Rep Beto O’Rourke at 37%; 4% are voting for someone else and 21% were undecided. In the Governor race, Gov. Greg Abbott has a 20 point advantage- 48% to 28% for Lupe Valdez a former sheriff of Dallas County, 3% were voting for someone else and 20% were undecided. The e-Poll was conducted 8/22-8/25, +/- 4.4 percentage points.

There is a stark difference in voter perception between the two Republican candidates running for re-election. Abbott has a 47% favorable and 33% unfavorable with 18% neutral and 2% never heard of him, Cruz has a 38% favorable and 44% unfavorable with 18% neutral and less than 1% have never heard of him.

The disparities in popularity and in the two elections appear to be driven by Independent voters. Ted Cruz has a 57% unfavorable rating among independents and a 25% favorable rating, conversely, Abbott, the other Republicans has a 41% unfavorable and 37% favorable rating among independents. These numbers play out in the ballot test where O’Rourke leads Cruz 45% to 25% among independents, while Abbott leads Valdez 38% to 27% among independents.

Adding to Cruz’s problem is that he faces a popular opponent, Beto O’Rourke has a 37% favorable and 25% unfavorable, 27% were neutral, while 11% had not heard of him. There is a generational divide between Cruz and O’Rourke voters. Among 18-34 year olds, O’Rourke leads by 19 points (47% to 28%); among 35-54 he leads by 8 points (45% to 37%), Cruz has a 14 point lead with those 55-74 (47% to 33%), and the incumbent Senator leads by 22 points among those over 75 (39% to 17%).

Of all the polls we’ve seen so far, this one has the lowest level of named candidates by respondents. In fact, all but one of the polls we’ve seen up till now had at least 80% of respondents pick either Cruz or O’Rourke. I don’t know that that makes this poll suspicious to me, but it is curious. The wide disparity between Cruz/O’Rourke and Abbott/Valdez, which is something we’ve discussed before, is a bit of an outlier as well, though in tune with the other most recent poll. ECPS has polled Texas twice that I know of, in 2016 and 2014, both times showing narrower Republican leads than the end result, though they were much closer to the mark in 2016 than 2014. Remember the mantra: It’s just another data point.

Be that as it may, this puts our 13-poll average at 46.23 for Cruz and 40.46 for O’Rourke. If we limit ourselves to the five polls done within the last 30 days, Cruz’s lead is a mere 3.4 points. It’s a tight race no matter how you look at it. Link via the Dallas Observer.

NBC News: Cruz 49, O’Rourke 45

It’s been three weeks since our last poll result.

Rep. Beto O’Rourke

In a head-to-head match up, Cruz held a 4-point lead over O’Rourke. Forty-nine percent of respondents backed Cruz, compared to 45 percent who supported O’Rourke. Six percent of respondents remain undecided. The poll has a margin of error of 3.8 percentage points.

Cruz has maintained a fairly strong favorability rating, with 49 percent of those surveyed viewing him favorably and 41 percent viewing him unfavorably. O’Rourke is far more unknown. Forty-one percent of respondents viewed him favorably while 23 percent of those surveyed had an unfavorable view. Thirty-six percent were either unsure of their opinion of O’Rourke or hadn’t heard of him.

[…]

The poll also showed Texas Gov. Greg Abbott with a daunting 19-point lead over former Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez, similar to other public polling of the race.

Additionally, President Donald Trump is just above water in the state: 47 percent of registered voters approve of his job performance, against a 45 percent disapproval rating.

You can see more details here. There are two things I want to note about this poll, which brings our 12-poll average to 46.9 for Cruz and 40.75 for O’Rourke. One is that O’Rourke’s 45% is the highest level he’s reached in any poll so far (he’s gotten a 44 from Quinnipiac and a couple of 43s before now; Bill White reached 44 once and 43 once in 2010) and the second highest of any Democrat in any poll since I’ve been tracking them, trailing the 46 Hillary Clinton got in two different weird WaPo/Survey Monkey polls in 2016. I had just been saying that I’d like to see some results with Beto above 43%, and lo and behold we have one. Now let me say that I’d like to see more of this, and we’ll see if my wish gets granted again.

The other point has to do with the difference in the Senate race and in the Governor’s race. Not all of the polls we have seen so far have included results for the Governor’s race, but some have. Here’s how they compare:

NBC News, Aug 21

Cruz 49, O’Rourke 45
Abbott 56, Valdez 37
Cruz -7, O’Rourke +8

Quinnipiac, Aug 2

Cruz 49, O’Rourke 43
Abbott 51, Valdez 38
Cruz -2, O’Rourke +5

Lyceum, Aug 1

Cruz 41, O’Rourke 39
Abbott 47, Valdez 31
Cruz -6, O’Rourke +8

Gravis, July 10

Cruz 51, O’Rourke 42
Abbott 51, Valdez 41
Cruz 0, O’Rourke +1

UT/Trib, June 25

Cruz 41, O’Rourke 36
Abbott 44, Valdez 32
Cruz -3, O’Rourke +4

Quinnipiac, May 30

Cruz 50, O’Rourke 39
Abbott 53, Valdez 34
Cruz -3, O’Rourke +5

Quinnipiac, April 18

Cruz 47, O’Rourke 44
Avvott 49, Valdez 40
Cruz -2, O’Rourke +4

Average differences: Cruz -3.3, O’Rourke +5
Average differences minus NBC and Lyceum: Cruz -2, O’Rourke +3.8

I think we all agree that Beto O’Rourke will do better than other Democratic candidates in November. If he does, there are two possible reasons for it. One is that some number of people will vote for him and then not vote in other races, and the other is that some number of people who otherwise vote Republican will cross over to vote for him. I don’t think we’ll really know how this shakes out until we see results, but I would guess that at this time, the poll results mostly reflect the higher profile of the Senate race, and to a lesser extent the potential for crossovers. Hillary Clinton got 300K to 400K more votes than most of the other downballot Dems in 2016, which translated to her doing four to seven points better than they did, while Bill White got about 400K more votes than his downballot colleagues in 2010. That translated to a 14 or 15 point improvement for him, as that was a much lower turnout election.

The distance between Beto O’Rourke and Lupe Valdez is similar to the distance between Hillary Clinton and other Dems in 2016, though as you can see there are two polls including this one that show a wide gap while the other five show much narrower differences. In a non-Presidential election like this, we could be talking a net 300K or so swing towards Beto if the polls are accurate. As we’ve seen too many times before, that’s only a big deal if the base Democratic vote is enough to put him close to the base Republican vote. The fundamentals have always been the same, we just have more data now. I for one would hesitate to make any projections or draw any conclusions beyond the basic observation that O’Rourke is polling better than Lupe Valdez, and will almost surely outperform her. We don’t know enough to say more, and if you’re inclined to take this one data point as destiny, you’re doing it wrong.

If Greg Abbott won’t call a special election in SD06, maybe Stan Stanart will

From the inbox:

Sen. Sylvia Garcia

Dear Mr. Stanart,

My firm and I, together with Robert Icesezen, Esq., have been engaged to represent Sen. Sylvia R. Garcia, individually and as the elected representative of the citizens of Texas Senate District 6. Governor Abbott has wrongly refused to order a special election to replace Senator Garcia, who recently served the Governor with a letter of resignation. Under the Texas Constitution, when the Governor won’t do the right thing, you must do it for him.

[…]

According to the Election Code, “an unexpired term in office” – like that of Senator Garcia – “may be filled only by a special election…” See Election Code 203.002. And, “[i]f a vacancy in office is to be filled by special election, the election shall be ordered as soon as practicable after the vacancy occurs…” Id 201.051(a) (emphasis added). This, someone must order a special election to fill the seat being vacated by Senator Garcia.

Under Section 13 of Article 3 of the Texas Constitution, that obligation falls first to the Governor. The Texas Constitution provides that “[w]hen vacancies occur in either House [of the Legislature], the Governor shall issue writs of election to fill such vacancies…” Importantly, under that same section of our Constitution, “should the Governor fail to issue a writ of election to fill any such vacancy within twenty days after it occurs, the returning officer of the district in which such vacancy may have happened, shall be authorized to order an election for that purpose.”

Governor Abbott should have ordered a special election for Senate District 6 by August 20, 2018. He has refused to do so. As the returning officer for Senate District 6 [1], it is your constitutional duty to do it for him. Only you can fulfill the Election Code’s mandate that a special election must be ordered under these circumstances.

See here for the background, and here for the Chron story. The letter is signed by Brian Trachtenberg, and it’s cc’ed to Abbott, County Judge Ed Emmett, and County Attorney Vince Ryan. My extremely-not-a-lawyer’s take on this is that the stated authority for Stanart to call the election seems to hang on the definition of “returning officer”, for which we have this footnote:

[1] – See Election Code 67.007 (a) (“For each election for a statewide or district office, a statewide measure, or president and vice-president of the United States, the county clerk of each county in the territory covered by the election shall prepare county election returns.”)

Someone more lawyerly than me will need to evaluate that. Assuming it is valid, then it becomes a question of whether Stanart will be any more inclined to take action than Abbott has been, and whether a judge would force the issue when the motion is filed. I have no idea what would happen next. And as entertaining as it is to speculate about obscure corners of the state constitution, the situation here is serious, and easily avoidable if Greg Abbott weren’t being such a jackass. Whether Sen. Garcia prevails via this legal gambit or sucks it up and writes another resignation letter, she needs to do whatever it takes to get that election scheduled.

Beto’s ad strategy

Nothing wrong with a little low-tech outreach.

Rep. Beto O’Rourke

Over the last year, U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke’s bid to unseat U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz has drawn national fanfare as a thoroughly modern, digital-first campaign. He regularly draws an audience of thousands to his Facebook page by livestreaming mundane moments on the campaign trail, and he has outpaced most every other campaign in the country with the millions he’s spent on digital advertising.

Yet the El Paso Democrat has been also waging a more under-the-radar effort via more old-school mediums. For the past few months, O’Rourke’s campaign has been running ads on local radio stations and in certain publications in an effort to court voters he may be less likely to reach online, part of a six-figure investment to supplement his already-robust presence online.

It has unfolded ahead of O’Rourke’s biggest foray into paid, non-digital media yet — a $1.3 million TV buy that is set to begin Wednesday across the state. But in some communities, it will not be the first time they have seen or heard O’Rourke advertising offline.

The radio ads, which have not been previously reported, have fallen into at least two categories: spots that advise listeners of an upcoming O’Rourke appearance in their area and a half-minute commercial in which he introduces himself as the candidate “running against Ted Cruz for the Senate because I believe in the people of Texas.”

[…]

Among the radio ads that O’Rourke has run to get out the word about his events have been in the Rio Grande Valley, where he has acknowledged he needs to do better after losing some counties there to a little-known opponent in the March primary. For example, back in May, O’Rourke ran minute-long radio ads on McAllen stations in the hours before he went block walking and held a town hall in the border city.

At least some of the radio and print ads appear to be aimed at black voters. The 30-second radio spot has aired on urban contemporary stations like KGGR in Dallas and KHVN in Fort Worth, and the print ads have shown up in African-American newspapers such as the Houston Defender and Dallas Examiner, touching on issues including jobs, education and health care.

You can listen to the radio spot and see a print ad at the link above. There’s a lot to like about this. It reaches out to voters who aren’t Internet users or regular TV watchers. It’s consistent with his visit-everywhere strategy. It addresses a weakness from the primary. The ads cross-promote his town halls and rallies, which are where the magic really happens for his campaign. The cost is low, so there’s no negative effect on the budget for larger ad expenditures. Knowing this is happening gives me an extra level of faith in his campaign. Well done.

It depends what the meaning of “intent” is

Give me a break.

Sen. Sylvia Garcia

It has been about three weeks since state Sen. Sylvia Garcia submitted a letter declaring her “intent to resign,” but whether it qualifies as an actual resignation has fallen into dispute — and has threatened to upend the timeline for Gov. Greg Abbott to call a special election for the Houston Democrat’s seat.

[…]

Still, Abbott has held off on calling a special election as his office and Garcia’s remain at odds over the validity of her letter. Abbott’s office does not believe Garcia’s use of the phrase “intent to resign” is good enough to trigger the process by which the governor can call a special election, while Garcia’s staff believes there is nothing wrong with the letter.

The clock is ticking on when Abbott can call the special election so that it coincides with the November general election. If he does not do it before Aug. 24, the next uniform election date on which he could call it is in May of next year. Still, he retains the option of calling an emergency special election that could occur take place on some other date.

In questioning Garcia’s letter, Abbott’s office attributes its reasoning to a 1996 Texas Supreme Court case — Angelini v. Hardberger — that involved a similar situation. Abbott was a judge on the court at the time.

“The governor’s position is that ‘intent’ to resign is insufficient to constitute an official resignation,” Abbott spokeswoman Ciara Matthews said in a statement. “The governor has made clear the only thing the Senator must to do to submit an effective resignation is delete the word ‘intent.’ The ball is in her court.”

Garcia’s office notes that her letter is very similar to the one former state Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, D-San Antonio, submitted to then-Gov. Rick Perry when she resigned in November 2014 to run for San Antonio mayor. That letter also used the phrase “intent to resign.” Perry scheduled a special election without any controversy, and Abbott, who took office in January 2015, called the runoff.

“It’s Sen. Garcia’s position that she has submitted a lawful, effective, valid resignation, and it was based on precedent, as recently as 2014, when Sen. Van de Putte submitted a letter of resignation almost identical to Sen. Garcia’s, and [Gov.] Perry called an election, and Sen. Van de Putte fulfilled the duties of her office until a successor was elected,” said John Gorczynski, Garcia’s chief of staff. “And we expect Gov. Abbott to call an election and set an election date by Aug. 20 because a resignation has been submitted and the governor hasn’t said anything to the contrary.”

See here for the background. On the one hand, Abbott is being a jackass. On the other hand, nothing is more important than getting that seat filled in a timely fashion, so if that means indulging Abbott’s pettiness and sending a substitute letter, suck it up and do it. There’s a time to stand on principle, and a time to say “screw it” and do what you have to do, and this is one of the latter. Let’s get this done.

Chron goes on a road trip with Beto

This covers a lot of ground we’ve been over before, along with some anecdotes of interaction with various voters. It also has a nice, concise summary of the nature of the Beto O’Rourke go-everywhere strategy.

Rep. Beto O’Rourke

O’Rourke’s visit came during a sweep of all 254 counties in Texas over the past year. Many of the miles were clocked in a white Dodge Grand Caravan. It was a trip that would have been easy to dismiss as a one-time campaign stunt. But this month, he was back in rural West Texas as he launched a 34-day road trip across the state.

It’s a new playbook, born of Democratic futility in Texas.

The first three days of O’Rourke’s journey took him 765 zig-zagging miles — from a friendly, Latin-flavored send-off in downtown El Paso to sparsely-attended stops in gun-friendly Republican strongholds like Muleshoe, in Bailey County, where he would get quizzed by skeptical locals about the Second Amendment.

The time and effort the El Paso congressman is investing in small-town Texas has become a hallmark of his small-dollar, no-PAC campaign to unseat incumbent GOP Sen. Ted Cruz, a former presidential candidate and conservative icon who won the state by 16 points in 2012.

It also represents a quantum shift in Democratic strategy in the Lone Star State, which has always relied on running up the numbers in the large urban enclaves of Austin, Houston and San Antonio. The desolate cow towns that dot the state’s vast expanses make wonderful backdrops for homey political campaigns, but the resources O’Rourke is throwing at his statewide strategy suggest that it’s about more than creating a Norman Rockwell tableau.

Democrats acknowledge that O’Rourke may not win over conservative rural voters in Archer County, near the Oklahoma state line, but he might be able to wrangle a few more votes here and there, enough to make a difference in a race that some polls say has tightened into single digits.

“You can’t get beat 80-20 in Brownwood, Texas, and get elected to the United States Senate,” said former Texas Land Commissioner Garry Mauro, the last Democrat to win statewide office — in 1994. “You have to show people that you are culturally attuned to them, and for Beto that should be easy. There’s nobody more Texan than Beto O’Rourke.”

[…]

All the same, O’Rourke’s long-shot quest to scavenge votes in the state’s most solidly Republican strongholds has its skeptics.

“You don’t have all the time and money in the world,” said Texas GOP strategist Brendan Steinhauser, who has done campaign work for former House Majority Leader Dick Armey and U.S. Sen. John Cornyn. “You’re looking at winning a statewide election in Texas, and some 8 million people are going to vote, more or less. How is it an efficient use of your scarce time and money to travel to small towns … to pick up five votes here or 10 votes there? The voters, especially Democratic voters, are still in the cities.”

O’Rourke’s answer is that the old playbook hasn’t been working.

“You’ve got this history where a Democrat hasn’t won statewide in more than 20 years,” said campaign spokesman Chris Evans. “You kind of got this question: What hasn’t been going right?”

Let’s be clear up front that both Mauro and Steinhauser are right, though in an off-year election we’re talking more like five million voters, not eight million. I’ve made all of these points before, and they remain the key aspects to the campaign. What we need to see is what effect the Beto strategy has had, in terms of his performance, and to an extent downballot Democratic performance, in places that have been hostile to Dems. The polls so far suggest some of this must be happening, but we don’t really know how much, and so we can’t begin to evaluate the question of how much value Beto got for the effort. And if we do deem this strategy a success in the end, can it be replicated by other candidates, or is O’Rourke essentially a unicorn? There will be much to analyze and argue about when all is said and done.

Two other points to note. One is that O’Rourke isn’t doing this all by himself – he has a large and growing army of volunteers knocking on doors and making calls for him. That’s a big deal, though how much different this is than what previous well-funded candidates like Wendy Davis and Bill White were able to do, and how easily it can be replicated by candidates to come, are questions I can’t answer at this time. And two, as important as it is for Dems to do better in places other than the big cities and the South Texas/Rio Grande Valley where they normally do well, they need to run up big margins in those places as well if they want to have a chance to win statewide. The good news, as we saw in that recent Trib story, is that O’Rourke is doing well in the urban areas. That’s as much a matter of inspiration and enthusiasm as anything else, and as such it’s not something that is endemic to this campaign. Beto has spent plenty of time in the big cities as well – there was a big rally with him in Houston just this past weekend – so again the question is what is the best allocation of resources between the base areas and the areas where improvement is needed. We’ll be finding out about that in November as well.

SD19 runoff date set

Mark your calendars.

Pete Gallego

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has picked Sept. 18 as the date of the special election runoff to replace convicted former state Sen. Carlos Uresti, D-San Antonio.

Early voting will run Sept. 10-14.

The runoff pits Republican Pete Flores against Democrat Pete Gallego. They were the top two finishers in the first round of the special election, which was held July 31 and included six other candidates.

The runoff date was first revealed Monday by lawyers appearing in Travis County court for a case challenging the eligibility of Gallego, the former congressman and longtime state lawmaker from West Texas. Abbott issued a proclamation officially setting the date of the runoff shortly after the hearing was over.

The hearing was in response to a Republican Party motion for a Temporary Restraining Order against the Texas Secretary of State from certifying candidates for the runoff, part of their effort to sue Gallego off the ballot for violating our non-existent residency laws. The motion was denied, so go figure. Anyway, the battle is now joined. Go throw Pete Gallego a few bucks if you want to keep Dan Patrick from increasing his grip on the Senate.

Ted and Trump

Two lousy tastes that taste worse together.

Not Ted Cruz

U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz has asked President Donald Trump to come to Texas to campaign for him.

During a campaign stop in Seguin [last] Monday, Cruz said he has reached out to his former rival for the White House to help him with his re-election effort against Democrat Beto O’Rourke.

“I would certainly welcome his support, and I hope to see him in Texas,” Cruz said, standing outside the Dixie Grill in Seguin. “I think we are likely to see the president down in Texas before the election.”

Cruz said while his relationship with Trump has had its “ups and downs” due to their 2016 GOP primary battle, he has tried to become an ally to the president. He said he has been in constant contact with the White House and Trump directly to offer his help in getting legislation through the Senate.

“Ups and downs” would be one way to describe it. Cruz is at least smart enough to realize that complacency is his enemy and he really is in trouble if The Base isn’t fired up, so if he needs to swallow a little humiliation to avoid that, he will. Of course, bringing in Trump will also serve to fire up the Dems, so Cruz or any other Republican in his position needs to feel secure that this is a net win for their side, which it may or may not be. I don’t buy the argument that this race is a toss-up – I’m going to need to see at least one poll that has O’Rourke in the lead for that – but Cruz clearly has a small margin for error. That may push him to take some higher-risk actions, of the kind that Greg Abbott would feel no need to do. This is one such action, whether he calculates it that way or not.

The meta-campaign for Senate

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

Rep. Beto O’Rourke

It’s the most backhanded of compliments.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

State GOP sues to toss Gallego off SD19 runoff ballot

Oh, good grief.

Pete Gallego

The Republican Party of Texas filed a lawsuit Friday aiming to kick Democrat Pete Gallego off the ballot in the special election runoff to replace convicted former state Sen. Carlos Uresti, D-San Antonio.

Gallego is heading to a runoff election against Republican Pete Flores. However, the state party claims in the lawsuit that Gallego lives in Austin, not in Senate District 19, which includes parts of San Antonio and West Texas.

“Pete Gallego has established a longtime pattern of misleading the voters of Texas regarding his place of residency. It’s common knowledge Gallego does not live in Senate District 19,” Texas GOP Chairman James Dickey said in a statement. “He has for years lived with his family in Austin, where his wife has a homestead exemption; this well-known and well-documented.”

[…]

Under state law, a candidate has to reside in the district he or she hopes to represent for a year before election day. Residency claims are notoriously hard to prove, however, because that doesn’t always mean that a candidate actually lives in the district.

Yeah, good luck with that. Let me add two words here: Brian Birdwell. I honestly can’t remember the last time one of these lawsuits succeeded, for the reason cited above. This is one part Hail Mary pass and one part (successful) gambit to get a bit of publicity for a campaign issue. I wouldn’t give it any more thought than that.

The range of Republican anxiety

Some folks are a little scared about all this “blue wave” talk and poll numbers and what have you.

Not Ted Cruz

As Ted Cruz took questions at a Republican women’s event [in Smithville] Saturday evening, Bastrop retiree Ronnie Ann Burt wanted to know: Should she really trust the growing barrage of chatter online that the senator’s re-election bid is in peril?

Cruz’s response: Believe it.

“It’s clear we have a real and contested race where the margin is much too close for comfort,” said Cruz, who’s facing a vigorous, massively funded challenge from U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke, D-El Paso.

Cruz’s stop in this small Central Texas town was part of a return to the campaign trail Saturday in which the incumbent cranked up his long-building warnings that Democratic enthusiasm in the era of President Donald Trump should not be discounted, even in a state as red as Texas.

The timing couldn’t have been more fitting: A trio of polls came out this week showing Cruz’s race tightening and a national political forecaster shifted the contest in O’Rourke’s favor. Meanwhile, Cruz launched his first TV ads Friday, including three targeting O’Rourke, and the challenger moved quickly to turn them into a fundraising boon for him.

Appearing Saturday afternoon at the conservative Resurgent Gathering in Austin, Cruz delivered a nearly 10-minute assessment of the uncertain political landscape he faces in November.

“The biggest challenge I have in this race … is complacency,” Cruz said. “People say all the time, ‘Oh, come on, it’s a Texas re-elect. How could you possibly lose?’ Well, in an ordinary cycle, that might be true. But this is not an ordinary cycle. The far left is filled with anger and rage and we underestimate that anger at our peril.”

Cruz added that there is reason to be skeptical of the polls — his campaign has criticized their methodologies — but the trendline “ought to be a cause for concern for everyone.”

[…]

Cruz’s remarks at events Saturday came a day after Gov. Greg Abbott offered a more reassuring forecast for November while addressing the Resurgent conference. He dismissed the idea of a “blue wave” in November as media hype that “sells papers” and reminded the audience that he ended up defeating his much-ballyhooed Democratic opponent, Wendy Davis, by over 20 points in 2014.

“Texas is going to stay red,” said Abbott, whose Democratic opponent, Lupe Valdez, has not caught traction in the way O’Rourke has against Cruz.

Cruz did not sound as sure as Abbott on Saturday — and his supporters appeared to get the message.

Cruz and Abbott are two sides of the same coin here. Cruz is quite right that complacency is a big potential problem for him, for the simple reason that if Republican turnout is less energetic than it has been in recent elections, Democrats have a smaller hill to climb to catch them. I’ve talked multiple times about how I’m hoping for Republicans to have a 2006-style year for turnout, as that would mean some 200K to 300K fewer votes than they got in 2014. This is Cruz’s main concern as well, and his message is simply “Don’t take this for granted”.

Abbott, on the other hand, is not wrong to observe that even with the recent polls, Cruz is still in the lead, and that other Republicans (most notably himself, not that he’s bragging or anything) are doing better than Cruz, that one UT/Trib poll result for Ken Paxton aside. Until such time as we start seeing poll results with one or more Dems in the lead, one can quite confidently say that the Republicans are ahead and thus favored to win. While that may run a bit counter to Cruz’s “we have to have a sense of urgency” message, Abbott is aiming at the media (to get them to run something other than a positive story about Beto O’Rourke and Democratic enthusiasm) and also at Dems, to say basically “don’t bother getting your hopes up, you still can’t win”. I don’t think he’s going to demoralize anyone, but it can’t hurt to try.

Finally, a word on the polls. Republican pollster Chris Wilson complained bitterly about that Lyceum poll, saying they had the samples all wrong. I don’t know if he has the same complaint about Quinnipiac and PPP and everyone else who has put out a result on this race, but I do know that he himself hasn’t published a result lately. Maybe he’s just lying low to let us all fall into a false sense of security, I don’t know. The average of all these poll suggests a six-point race, more or less, so go argue against that if you want to. It is certainly possible that pollsters are misreading the electorate this year, and thus skewing the numbers because they’re not polling the right mix of people. It’s also possible that Chris Wilson is one of those misguided pollsters.

July 2018 campaign finance reports: State Senate

In addition to having a full slate of Congressional candidates for the first time since the 90s, we have a nearly-full slate of contenders for the State Senate as well. Of the twelve Republican-held Senate seats up for election this cycle, eleven of them attracted Democratic contenders. Many of those districts are not particularly competitive, but some of them are, and a pickup of even one or two seats would be a big deal. Here’s a look at how those eleven have been doing. I did not do a report on the January finances, mostly because there were so damn many primary candidates and I just couldn’t get to it. But here we are now.

Kendall Scudder
Shirley Layton
Meg Walsh
David Romero
Mark Phariss
Gwenn Burud
Beverly Powell
Nathan Johnson
Rita Lucido
Steven Kling
Kevin Lopez


Dist  Name             Raised    Spent    Loans   On Hand
=========================================================
02    Scudder          60,060   28,143        0    18,115
03    Layton           11,828   12,040    2,000     1,174
05    Walsh            25,403   31,016    8,500    34,671
07    Romero            1,735      244        0     1,735
08    Phariss         220,043   86,019        0   128,981
09    Burud            14,544    8,910        0     1,389
10    Powell          265,807  136,025   20,000   140,749
16    Johnson         362,581  153,825    5,000   261,567
17    Lucido          178,869  128,663    3,000    71,355
25    Kling            60,617   23,015   18,000    19,974
30    Lopez            43,867   16,488        0     8,660

First things first: Congressional finance reports follow the same schedule, with reports due every quarter. There are 30-day reports due before elections as well, but every report is cumulative, so the quarterlies are always comparable. In Texas, reports are semi-annual – January and July – with 30-day and 8-day reports before elections. These reports are not cumulative – they just show what happened since the last reporting period. Things can get a little dicey during primary season, because not everyone will have the same reporting requirements. Kendall Scudder, for example, was unopposed in March, which exempted him from 30-day and 8-day reports, so his July report shows all activity for the first six months of the year. Most of the others were in two-candidate primaries. Beverly Powell’s report is from February 25, which is to say all activity since eight days before the March election. Rita Lucido is the only one who was in a May runoff, so the report linked above for her is all activity for the much shorter period from May 14 onward. Because of that, I added the Raised and Spent numbers from each of her reports this year to present the numbers in the table. She’d have shown half as much raised otherwise, which would not have been a fair reflection of her funding.

The top fundraisers are who you’d expect, as they represent four of the five districts that can be classified as competitive; Gwen Burud in SD09 is the outlier. Powell’s SD10 is the district formerly held by Wendy Davis and the most purple of them all. It’s hotly contested with a lot of outside Republican money going to Sen. Konni Burton. Expect to see even bigger numbers on the 30-day reports.

Nathan Johnson did a great job. His SD16 is the only one to have been carried by Hillary Clinton, though that includes a lot of crossovers. Still, Dallas County has seen a steady drain of Republican support, and there was one poll released that showed a very tight race there. Johnson is up against Don Huffines, who can write his own check and will surely spend whatever he needs to.

I was rooting for Mark Phariss to be the nominee in SD08, which is an open seat as Van Taylor departed to run in CD03. As one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit that eventually toppled Texas’ anti-same sex marriage law, he’s both a compelling figure and (I hoped) someone with good fundraising potential. I’m glad to be proven correct, but boy howdy is that district drenched in money.

The Republican primary for state Senate District 8 between Angela Paxton and Phillip Huffines was one of the most bitter in recent memory — and now the state’s most expensive. The two candidates spent more than $12 million in the Collin County race.

According to reports filed Monday, McKinney educator Paxton, wife of Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, spent $3.7 million in her campaign against Huffines, a Richardson real estate developer who spent $8.4 million. Paxton’s campaign included a $2 million bank loan from her husband’s campaign.

Despite being outspent by more than 2-1, Paxton secured her party’s nomination in March, with 54.4 percent of the vote.

[…]

State senators in Texas make only $7,200 a year, or $600 per month, plus a daily stipend of $190 for every day the Legislature is in session. That adds up to $33,800 a year for a regular session.

Daron Shaw, a government professor at the University of Texas at Austin, said candidates don’t decide to run for the legislature for the financial rewards, but for the career boost if they have their sights set on higher office.

“If you’re a Democrat or a Republican and you want to work your way up the food chain,” he said, “you look for opportunities, (like) open districts or to contest against an incumbent that you see is vulnerable.”

To put the District 8 primary numbers in perspective, the seat’s price tag even rivals spending for some competitive Dallas-area congressional seats in the general election.

There probably won’t be as much spent in the general, if only because of the lack of a Huffines brother, but still. Keep raising that dough, Mark.

Beyond that, Scudder, Steve Kling, and Kevin Lopez have all raised a few bucks in some super tough districts. As with the Congressional candidates in similar districts, anything they can do to give Democrats a reason to get out and vote will help. I’ve got more reports in the works, so stay tuned.

PPP: Cruz 46, O’Rourke 42

Once, twice, three times a poll result.

Rep. Beto O’Rourke

A new Public Policy Polling survey finds that the Texas Senate race between Republican incumbent Ted Cruz and Democratic candidate Beto O’Rourke is competitive as O’Rourke continues to close the gap. In the initial matchup in January, Cruz led O’Rourke 45-37, but the results for August show a closer race with O’Rourke only 4 points behind Cruz, 46-42.

Texans believe that special interest money in Texas elections is a problem and would rather elect Democratic candidate Beto O’Rourke to the U.S. Senate due to his campaign being entirely funded by individuals, while Republican incumbent Ted Cruz has accepted $1.3 million from corporate PACs. After learning that O’Rourke is not taking a dime from political action committees or special interest group PACs, voters in January supported him over Cruz 43-41, and O’Rourke retains and expands this lead in August, 46-43.

A plurality (48%) of voters believe special interest money in Texas elections is a major problem, and 24% believe it is a minor problem. Also, a majority of voters (56%) would be more likely to support a candidate who has pledged to not take any money from corporate special interests, which is good news for O’Rourke.

Key findings from the survey include:

– O’Rourke’s name recognition has grown since January as well as his favorability. In January, only 39% of voters had an opinion of him, and his favorability was 20% while 19% had an unfavorable opinion of him. Now 57% have an opinion of him with 31% having a favorable and 26% having an unfavorable opinion.
– A plurality of Texans (44%) think Cruz is more responsive to his big campaign donors than to ordinary Texans.

PPP surveyed 797 Texas voters from August 1-2, 2018. The margin of error is +/- 3.5%. 75% of interviews for the poll were conducted over the phone with 25% interviewed over the internet to reach respondents who don’t have landline telephones.

As noted above, this is the third PPP poll of the Texas Senate race, with all three being done on behalf of End Citizens United. There was no other info about this on the PPP webpage, so what you see here is everything I know about it. Adding this into the other 10 results and the average of the 11 polls so far (all but that WPA poll from last December) is 46.7 for Cruz and 40.4 for Beto. It remains a close race, but it sure would be nice to see 1) some more results that will bring down the average difference between the two; a result or two with Beto in the lead would not suck, either; and 2) some results with Beto above 43%. Beto is unquestionably doing better in the polls than any previous Dem since I’ve been tracking this stuff. But “doing better” and “in a position to be called the favorite” are two different things. Here’s hoping.

Quinnipiac: Cruz 49, O’Rourke 43

Two polls in one week.

Rep. Beto O’Rourke

A new poll released Wednesday morning suggests a tightening race between U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz and U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke.

The newly released poll from Quinnipiac University gives Cruz a 6-point lead: 49 percent of registered Texas voters reported backing the Republican incumbent while 43 percent said they support O’Rourke, an El Paso Democrat. The poll’s margin of error is 3.5 percent. The results are closer than a poll Quinnipiac released in late May, which showed Cruz holding an 11-point lead over his opponent.

“U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz has a slight, by no means overwhelming, lead,” said Peter Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac Poll. “Congressman Beto O’Rourke has done a good job making the race competitive. With three months until Election Day, he is clearly in contention. A Democratic victory in the Lone Star state would be a serious blow to GOP hopes of keeping their U.S. Senate majority.”

The poll found 50 percent of Texas voters had a favorable view of Cruz while 42 percent had an unfavorable view. O’Rourke, on the other hand, had a 33 percent favorability rating, with 43 percent of voters not knowing enough about the congressman to form an opinion of him.

You can see the Quinnipiac writeup of the poll here. They also show Greg Abbott leading Lupe Valdez in the Governor’s race 51-38. This Q-poll lands right in the middle of the other two. Remember when the second one, showing an 11-point lead for Cruz, was considered the “correct” poll? Averages are more useful than single results, and with this result our averages are 46.5 for Cruz and 40.2 for Beto. A persistent lead for Cruz, but not a big one.

And thus the continued closeness of this race has caused it to draw national attention.

Democrat Beto O’Rourke of El Paso had a very good day Wednesday. Publicly, two new polls showed him in striking distance of incumbent Republican U.S. Senator Ted Cruz. Privately, his Wednesday might have been even better. That’s because Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, of New York, and about a dozen other senators in the Democratic leadership suddenly became interested in the Texas race. That was followed by a serious look at Texas from officials of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, whose sole function is to help finance Democrats to win seats in the upper chamber of Congress. The DSCC hasn’t shown much interest in Texas for a least a generation.

The senators held a briefing on Capitol Hill Wednesday morning with at least four political polling companies about the time that the first poll, the Texas Lyceum 2018 Poll, showed Cruz with a two-point lead over O’Rourke: 41 to 39 percent. Hours later, a Quinnipiac University Poll had Cruz leading O’Rourke by a margin of 49 to 43 percent. This is the third poll that Quinnipiac has released of likely Texas voters this election season and the six-point difference in Wednesday’s poll represents momentum by O’Rourke who was down by 11 percentage points when its last poll was released May 30.

Numbers such as these, combined with O’Rourke raising more money than Cruz in two consecutive quarters, had at least one of the pollsters present at Wednesday’ meeting declare to Schumer and his colleagues that there was a potential path to victory for Democrats in Texas, according to at least one witness present. Schumer took great interest in that assessment and began digging deeper, the witness told Texas Monthly.

There are two things that are interesting about this. One is that as we know, Democrats have a lot of seats to defend in red states this year. Conventional wisdom was that they’d be spending nearly all their resources on defense, plus Nevada and Arizona. For them to even have a meeting to talk about Texas means they’re feeling pretty good about their position, and can look to spend some money elsewhere. It also means they think there’s a chance that Texas could be in play. Maybe not a great chance, but a non-trivial one, which could grow in magnitude if the national environment gets friendlier. I suspect this is more of a move to explore options in the event of such an upgrade to the national atmosphere than anything approaching a commitment to Beto and Texas, but even that tells you something.

Lyceum: Cruz 41, O’Rourke 39

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

Rep. Beto O’Rourke

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

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

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

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

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

Registered voters:

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

Likely voters:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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