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Susan Strawn

It’s not crazy to think that a downballot Democrat could win statewide this year

I’ll get to that headline in a minute. I’ve got some reading to sort through first. We’ll start with the most pessimistic, or perhaps the least blue-sky, story of how things are likely to go.

Arizona. Georgia. Utah. Indiana. Is Texas next?

Across the country in recent days, GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump has suffered polling collapses in a slew of traditionally conservative states. The deterioration raises the question: Is Trump such a catastrophic Republican standard-bearer that Democrats could actually poach their ultimate white whale, the Lone Star State?

No.

That’s the consensus of a raft of state and national Democratic insiders who discussed with the Tribune the possibility of Hillary Clinton winning Texas in November.

“I think that it could set off a little bit of a panic among Republicans, but you’re not going to see banners flying and people marching into Texas saying, ‘We’re gonna turn Texas blue,'” said Matt Angle, a Democratic operative with Texas roots.

[…]

So, what would an incremental victory look like for Texas Democrats on Election Day?

Party infrastructure was the mantra in several interviews. The aim is to excite dormant Texas Democratic voters into volunteering for the first time in a generation, even if it is out of distaste for Trump. Even now, Texas volunteers are phone banking to battleground state voters elsewhere in the country.

“We know it’s going to be a multi-cycle endeavor, but these numbers reinforce that we are making significant movement, particularly with Texas’ diverse new majority,” said Manny Garcia, the deputy executive director of the Texas Democratic Party.

State Democrats are also cautiously hopeful they can make gains in the Legislature, and maybe lay the groundwork for a viable campaign against U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz in 2018 when he is up for re-election.

Amid the cautious optimism, Democrats are willing to concede that anything is believable given the erratic nature of the Trump campaign.

Former U.S. Rep. Martin Frost, an Arlington Democrat, echoed many Democratic insiders when he said he has heard no chatter about competing for Texas in the fall.

“This is a crazy election,” he said. “Anything can happen, but I still think Texas is a reach.”

A more optimistic take on where things stand.

The [PPP] poll shows Trump leading Clinton by a 44-to-38 percent margin, with his strongest support among senior-age Texans, especially men. Among that group, the New York business tycoon holds a 63-33 percent lead.

With voters under age 65, Clinton leads 49-35. For those under 45, she leads Trump 60-35.

Among nonwhite voters in Texas, Clinton has a 73-21 percent lead, according to the poll conducted by the Democrat-leaning polling firm Friday through Sunday of 944 likely voters; the poll has a margin of error of plus- or minus-3.2 percentage points.

That split, said Rice University political scientist Mark Jones, who has studied how the changing generational demographics of voters affects elections, could be the most significant statistic from the poll and other recent surveys that have highlighted a similar trend in Texas.

“This election is an outlier because Trump in many ways transcends ideology and party,” Jones said. “The older the voters, the more likely they are to vote Republican. The younger the voters, the more likely they are to vote Democratic. And the Republicans’ base in Texas is growing older.”

[…]

Statewide, an estimated 14 million Texans are registered to vote, an increase of about 1 million voters over the last four years, according to the Texas Secretary of State’s Office, which oversees elections. Whether those are new Republicans or Democrats or independents is unknown, and party affiliation is determined by which primary a voter casts his or her ballot.

Officials in fast-growing Williamson County, in staunchly conservative GOP territory just north of Austin, said their registration numbers are up significantly.

During the 2008 presidential race, Williamson County accounted for just more than 220,000 of the state’s registered voters. The most current figures put Williamson County’s voter total at 294,329.

In Fort Bend County, a fast-growing GOP suburban stronghold southwest of Houston, elections administrator John Oldham said registrations have grown by 25 percent since 2008. That has added nearly 100,000 new voters to the rolls in just under eight years, he said.

Oldham estimated that about half of recently registered have not had Anglo or Hispanic surnames. Many have last names traditionally associated with Asian, Middle Eastern and African heritages, he said.

“That’s where we’re seeing a lot of growth,” he said.

For Brandon Rottinghaus, a political scientist at the University of Houston, surburban areas like Fort Bend County are the places to watch in November.

“Republicans in Texas have dominated the suburban vote, and that’s been one reason for their success,” Rottinghaus said. “But in this election, Trump is doing poorly among these voters – the suburban women, college-educated voters who are younger. (Gov. Greg) Abbott and (U.S. Sen. Ted) Cruz still do well there, but crossover voting in the suburbs could cause a moment that might allow the Democrats to do better.

“That is how the Republicans got their foot in the door in congressional elections years ago,” he added.

And finally, an X factor to consider.

There are now 272 electoral votes in states that RCP rates as leaning toward Clinton, likely to go to her or solidly in her column. Another 112 come from states rated as tossups (plus Maine’s 2nd Congressional District, from which an elector is chosen independent of the statewide result). On Wednesday morning, Clinton had a lead in six of those eight states, including a statistically insignificant three-tenths-of-a-point edge in Deep South Georgia.

Furthermore, in talking to Democratic and Republican strategists in recent days, it has become clear that the polls could be significantly underestimating the Clinton margins that we’ll see on Election Day. Here’s why: Clinton has poured money into both television advertising and field organizing even in states where she has an outside chance of winning while Trump has been inactive.

Republican and Democratic experts in field organizing say that a tiptop organization can make a small but significant difference — maybe as many as four or five percentage points — in a particular state. That is, where Clinton’s building an operation and Trump isn’t, polls are likely underrepresentative of her strength.

In a chat last week on the social media platform Sidewire, former Iowa Republican Party Chairman Matt Strawn and GOP strategist Doug Heye lamented the absence of a Trump field operation on the ground in the battleground Hawkeye State.

“The boots have largely been outsourced to the RNC staff that’s been on [the] ground. They are hustling to staff up,” Strawn said. “And as everyone learned watching Hillary [and] Bernie battle during caucuses, if it comes down to mechanics versus message at the end … well, we know how that turned out.”

That last one isn’t about Texas at all, and it may be irrelevant to the discussion at hand, since Republican Presidential campaigns don’t bother investing in Texas for the same reason that Democratic ones don’t – there’s no reason to. But there is a correlation between the national level and the state level, and if there are concerns about Republican turnout nationally – and there are, and they go beyond worries about campaign infrastructure – then there are concerns about it here as well, if not necessarily as great.

Which leads me to a conclusion that I’ve seen only articulated once, briefly, in the Beatty memo, which is this: It’s not crazy to think that Texas Democrats could win a statewide race or two this November.

Note that I am not talking about the Presidential race. The Beatty memo suggests that the Railroad Commissioner’s race could go either way, as nobody knows who the candidates are. I’m thinking more about the races for Supreme Court and Court of Criminal Appeals, for which the Dems have a full slate of candidates. The same argument about nobody knowing who the candidates are holds, but there’s also the numbers, for all of these races.

Look at it this way: A six-point Trump win in Texas, which is consistent with that PPP poll, translates to roughly a 400,000-vote margin for Trump. To pick some numbers out of the sky, a victory by Trump of 4,000,000 votes to 3,600,000 votes – a drop of about 12.5% for Trump from Mitt Romney’s 2012 total, with an increase of about nine percent for Hillary Clinton over President Obama in 2012 – would translate to 52.6% for Trump to 47.4% for Clinton in a two-person race. That’s a little less than six percent, but grant me that much optimism. (For the record, 4.1 million votes for Trump to 3.6 million for Clinton would be 53.2% to 46.8%, or a 6.4 point difference, so assume we’re somewhere in the middle if you want.) All disclaimers aside, I think we can all agree that as things stand today, a result like this is in the ballpark.

Now here’s the thing: There’s always some level of dropoff from the Presidential level to the downballot level. In the three most recent Presidential elections, there has been much more dropoff on the Republican side than on the Democratic side.


2004

Bush -  4,526,917
Kerry - 2,832,704

Candidate         Votes   Dropoff   Drop %
==========================================
Carrillo      3,891,482   635,435    14.0%
Brister       4,093,854   433,063     9.6%
Keasler       3,990,315   536,602    11.9%

Scarborough   2,872,717       N/A      N/A
Van Os        2,817,700    15,004     0.5%
Molina        2,906,720       N/A      N/A


2008

McCain - 4,479,328
Obama  - 3,528,633

Candidate         Votes   Dropoff   Drop %
==========================================
Williams      4,003,789   475,539    10.6%
Jefferson     4,092,181   387,147     8.6%
Wainwright    3,926,015   553,313    12.4%
Johnson       4,018,396   460,932    10.3%
Price         3,948,722   530,606    11.8%

Thompson      3,406,174   122,459     3.5%
Jordan        3,374,433   154,200     4.4%
Houston       3,525,141     3,492     0.0%
Yanez         3,428,179   100,454     2.8%
Strawn        3,482,718    45,915     1.3%


2012

Romney - 4,569,843
Obama  - 3,308,124

Candidate         Votes   Dropoff   Drop %
==========================================
Craddick      4,336,499    233,344    5.1%
Hecht         4,127,493    442,350    9.7%
Keller        4,257,024    312,819    6.8%

Henry         3,057,733    250,391    7.6%
Petty         3,219,948     88,176    2.7%
Hampton       3,163,825    144,299    4.4%

Republicans did better in 2012 than in 2008, to which I attribute greater enthusiasm on their part, which led to more straight-ticket and general downballot voting. They obviously had a lot of enthusiasm in 2004, but they also had some crossover votes at the Presidential level, as well as (I believe) a decent number of people who turned out just to vote for President. Dems, on the other hand, had less dropoff in every race except one, and in most cases the difference between R dropoff and D dropoff was large. I attribute that in one part to good messaging about straight-ticket voting, especially in 2008, and one part being that if you bothered to show up and vote for a Democratic Presidential candidate in Texas, you were probably pretty committed to the party as a whole.

I think this year combines the lack of enthusiasm on the Republican side that we saw in 2008, plus the possibility of people showing up to just vote for Trump and nobody else, like in 2004. Against that, some number of people who normally vote for Republican Presidential candidates will do something else in that race this year, then vote normally after that. Put it all together, and I think the likelihood of Republican dropoff in the 2004 and 2008 ranges is a reasonably likely outcome this year.

If that is the case, and if we are indeed headed for a Presidential race with roughly a six-point differential between Trump and Clinton, then the math is clear. Four million less ten percent is 3.6 million, or what I’m projecting Clinton to get. Sure, there will be some Democratic dropoff as well, but you could have 11 or 12 percent loss on the R side, with only one percent or so for a given D. That will vary from candidate to candidate for reasons none of us can predict or will understand, but that’s my whole point: Under these conditions, we’re basically at a coin toss for downballot statewide races. And if that happens, we could see one or more Democrats squeak past their opponents and win their races. Looking at the numbers for the two most recent elections above, Sam Houston and Susan Strawn would have won in this environment, with Mark Thompson, Linda Yanez, and Michelle Petty (2012) falling just short. All they needed was for the Presidential race to have been sufficiently close.

Now as always, this comes with a pile of caveats – the election is still three months away, this is based on one poll, even a seven or eight point lead for Trump would almost certainly render all this moot, there could be a whole lot of Johnson-plus-downballot-GOP voters, etc etc etc. I’m absolutely not saying this will happen, nor am I saying it is likely to happen. I am saying it is possible, and conditions could become better for it rather than worse. I wouldn’t have said this a month ago, and the next poll result may make me want to throw this whole post into the trash, but my original statement stands: As things look right now, it’s not crazy to consider the possibility that at least one downballot statewide Democrat could win this fall.

So now that we’ve had this thought, what are we going to do about it? I’ll address that in the next post.

On defining success

It depends on what your goals are.

Suppose you were a Texas Democrat and a realist.

You want your candidates to win in November and to break the spirit-killing string of losses that started after the statewide elections in 1994.

But you have been scratching for reasons that this year will be different, from the two women at the top of the Democratic ticket to the Battleground Texas organizing efforts to the current Republican tilt to the right that — to Democrats, anyway — seems out of step with mainstream voters.

But the realist within is thinking about Nov. 5, and how to keep the embers going on the day after an election that — unless there is an upset — will mark another set of Republican victories.

Short of winning a statewide election, what would constitute good news for Texas Democrats in November?

Jeremy Bird, a founder of the Battleground Texas effort to build a Democratic grassroots organization in the state, has his eyes on volunteers, energized activists and the sorts of activity that could expand through 2016 and 2018. His group started a little over a year ago with talk of a six-year plan to make Democrats competitive in Texas. The somewhat unexpected rise of state Sens. Wendy Davis and Leticia Van de Putte as political candidates could accelerate that effort, even if neither takes office. His measure of a win, short of a victory: “Better than Bill White.”

White, a former Houston mayor, was the Democratic candidate for governor in 2010. He received 42.3 percent of the vote — better than any Democratic candidate for governor since Ann Richards’ loss in 1994, when she received 45.9 percent.

“Closing the margin is important; getting back to the Ann Richards numbers in 1994,” said Richard Murray, a political science professor at the University of Houston. “There’s not much opportunity for pickups in the Legislature, but closing the margin would help set the table for 2016.”

Glenn Smith, who managed part of Richards’ first campaign for governor in 1990, is not a fan of this kind of thinking.

“It’s my extremely strong opinion that you play every contest to win,” said Smith, who now runs the Progress Texas PAC, which supports Democratic candidates and causes. “You set everything on winning. There is nothing else. If you start even mentally thinking that we’re okay at 46, then you might end up at 42. You can’t get in that mind-set. It’s true in sports, in every competitive walk of life — you have to set a course to win. You can’t begin cutting the goal to something short of winning, or your plans will suck.”

I’ll settle this: They’re all right.

Look, there’s no question that winning is always the goal and that losing is failure. There are no consolation prizes, no moral victories, and no partial credit. Greg Abbott will govern the same way whether he wins by one vote or one million votes, just as Rick Perry did when we were all calling him “Governor 39%”. So will Dan Patrick, and so will the rest of them. Another shutout means another four years of the same old shit we’ve had since George Bush was first elected.

That doesn’t mean all losses are created equal, however. Democrats haven’t just lost every statewide election since 1996, we’ve lost them badly. Here are the top five statewide Democrats by percentage of the vote in the Rick Perry era:

Year Candidate Office Pct ===================================== 2002 Sharp Lt Gov 46.03 2002 Mirabal Sup Ct 45.90 2008 Houston Sup Ct 45.88 2008 Strawn CCA 45.53 2006 Moody Sup Ct 44.88

It’s about changing the perception almost as much as it is about winning. Winning obviously does that splendidly, and it comes with a heaping helping of other benefits, but after all this losing, coming close will mean something, too. Going from “Democrats last won a statewide election in 1994” to “Democrats came closer to winning statewide than they had in any election since 1998” matters. It will make recruiting and fundraising a lot easier, and not just for the star candidate or two at the top but for candidates up and down the ballot. It virtually guarantees that Hillary Clinton contests the state in 2016. It puts Ted Cruz squarely in the crosshairs for 2018.

As such, I respectfully disagree with Jeremy Bird. Doing better than Bill White isn’t progress. We need to do better than John Sharp. I’ve been reluctant to say stuff like this out loud – it’s not my place to set expectations – but the question was going to come up sooner or later. It’s not just about vote percentage, either, but also about turnout, since that’s what Battleground Texas’ mission is. I’ve talked at length about turnout and how Democratic levels of turnout have been flat in the last three off-year elections. I can’t say offhand what a minimally-acceptable level of improvement in that looks like to me, but I feel confident saying that if we’re achieving Sharp levels of vote percent, we’re doing fine on turnout.

Let’s also acknowledge that the original mission of Battleground Texas was to make Texas competitive in future Presidential elections, and that when they first showed up Wendy Davis was just another State Senator and we were all (okay, I was all) doing fantasy candidate recruitment for Governor. Davis’ arrival on the scene and BGTx’s integration with her campaign changed their focus, but they were never supposed to be about 2014. The whole point was that unlike traditional campaign machines, BGTx would stick around and keep working for the next election and the one after that. Obviously, having serious candidates that have generated real excitement at the top of the ticket has jumpstarted BGTx’s efforts, but it’s reasonable to expect that BGTx has their own metrics and their own timeline.

So yeah, they’re all right. And just because I’ve drawn a line somewhere doesn’t obligate anyone to recognize or respect it. We all agree that winning >>> losing, but beyond that it’s all open to interpretation.

New map, new opportunities: Outside the urban areas, part 2

More districts to look at for Democratic opportunities outside of the traditional urban areas.

HD45

District: 45

Incumbent: Jason Isaacs (first elected in 2010)

Counties: Blanco, Hays

Best 2008 Dem performance: Barack Obama, 46.78%

Patrick Rose won this district in 2002, the only Democratic takeover of an existing Republican seat that year. Like many other Democratic legislators, he was swamped by the 2010 tide. The new HD45 drops Caldwell County, which was moderately Democratic at the downballot level in 2008; adding it in makes Susan Strawn, at 47.1%, the top Democratic performer. Rose always won with crossover appeal; as that was in short supply last year, he lost. If Hays County gets blue enough, crossover appeal won’t matter much, but until then a candidate will likely need at least a few Republican defectors to win. I don’t know what kind of Democratic organization exists in Hays right now, but there needs to be some for 2012.

HDs 52 and 149

District: 52
District: 149

Incumbent: Larry Gonzales (HD52, first elected in 2010); none (HD149)

Counties: Williamson (part) for each

Best 2008 Dem performance:Barack Obama for each, 46.18% in HD52, 45.92% in HD149.

Unlike a lot of other districts, Obama outperformed the rest of the ticket here, by three to six points in each case. I don’t know how that changes the dynamic, but I thought it was worth noting. Both districts are in the southern end of WilCo, the fastest growing and closest to Austin parts of the district. I don’t know how conducive they’ll be to electing Democratic reps in 2012, though obviously they both need to be strongly challenged, but it’s not hard to imagine them getting more competitive as the decade goes on. I don’t expect there to be too many boring elections in either of them.

HD54

District: 54

Incumbent: Jimmie Don Aycock (first elected in 2006)

Counties: Bell (part), Lampasas

Best 2008 Dem performance: Sam Houston, 49.01% (plurality)

This one was totally not on my radar. It was so unexpected to me that I figured Aycock, who won easily in 2006 and hasn’t faced a Democrat since, must have gotten screwed somehow by the committee. The 2008 numbers for his old district, in which Houston also got a plurality with a hair under 49%, says otherwise. HD54 swaps out Burnet County (now in HD20, one of the three Williamson County districts) for more of Bell but remains about the same electorally. Typically, downballot Democrats did better than the top of the ticket, with only Jim Jordan and JR Molina not holding their opponents under 50% (McCain got 51.20%, Cornyn 53.85%). I figure the 2008 result in HD54 was a surprise, but the 2012 possibilities should not be. One possible wild card: Aycock was a ParentPAC-backed candidate in 2006, and as far as I know he maintained that endorsement in 2008 and 2010. Back then, the main issue was vouchers, which have been dormant in recent years. Will Aycock’s vote for HB1 and its $8 billion cut to public education cost him ParentPAC support? If so, might that result in a primary challenge, or a general election opponent? That will be worth paying attention to, as it could affect other races as well.

Collin and Denton Counties

District: 64
District: 65
District: 66
District: 67

Incumbent, HD64: Myra Crownover (first elected in 2000)
Incumbent, HD65: Burt Solomons (first elected in 1994)
Incumbent, HD66: Van Taylor (first elected in 2010)
Incumbent, HD67: Jerry Madden (first elected in 1992)

Counties: Collin (66 and 67) and Denton (64 and 65)

Best 2008 Dem performance, HD64: Sam Houston, 41.98%
Best 2008 Dem performance, HD65: Barack Obama, 43.04%
Best 2008 Dem performance, HD66: Barack Obama, 40.21%
Best 2008 Dem performance, HD67: Barack Obama, 39.59%

I don’t actually expect any of these districts to be competitive in 2012. However, if the Democrats hope to have any chance to take the House before the next round of redistricting, they’ll need to be by the end of the decade. Collin and Denton have been two of the fastest growing counties in the state – each got a new district in this map – and they have been slowly but surely trending Democratic. They started at a pretty low point, of course, so they can trend for a long time before it becomes relevant, but as more and more non-Anglos move into the traditional suburbs, I expect the trend to continue. The question is how fast, and how much blood and treasure the Democrats will put into hastening it.

HD85

District: 85

Incumbent: None

Counties: Fort Bend (part), Wharton, Jackson

Best 2008 Dem performance: Susan Strawn, 45.29%

This is the new Fort Bend district, comprising territory that had previously been represented by John Zerwas (Wharton and part of Fort Bend) and Geanie Morrison (Jackson). As with the Denton and Collin districts, it’s probably out of reach in 2012, but it’s also likely to see a lot of growth and demographic change over the course of the decade, and as such ought to get more competitive over time. And again, it needs to be, as I don’t see a path to a Democratic majority that doesn’t include districts like this.

New map, new opportunities: Outside the urban areas, part 1

Here’s the first post in my series of analyses of the new districts. I’m using 2008 electoral data, since the next election is a Presidential year, and I feel confident that the districts were drawn with an eye strongly towards protecting Republican gains in such a year. Without further ado, here we go.

HD12

District: 12

Incumbent: None

Counties: McLennan (part), Limestone, Falls, Robertson, Brazos (part)

Best 2008 Dem performance: Sam Houston, 46.67%

This district contains parts of Jim Dunnam’s old district, with the eastern part of the old HD57 being chopped off and reconstituted to accommodate Marva Beck. Lack of an incumbent is a big part of the draw here. A big downside is the eight point spread from the top of the ticket – neither Obama nor Noriega cracked 40% – to the Sam Houston number, which suggests that any Democratic candidate may have to swim against the tide. Lack of an incumbent also means you can’t accuse the other guy of voting to gut public education. Not a top priority, and may never be on the radar, but deserves a decent candidate for the first go-round at least.

HD17

District: 17

Incumbent: Tim Kleinschmidt (first elected in 2008)

Counties: Lee, Bastrop, Caldwell, Gonzales, Karnes

Best 2008 Dem performance: Susan Strawn, 48.27% (plurality)

Big change in this district, which used to contain Burleson, Colorado, Fayette, and parts of Brazos. Basically, it shifted south. Bastrop is the population center, and it was a purple county in 2008, with Strawn and Sam Houston scoring pluralities there. The more it becomes an Austin suburb a la Hays and Williamson, the better the prospects for a win. This district was on the radar for Dems in 2008 as an open D seat and in 2010, and I expect it will continue to be.

HDs 32 and 34

District: 32
District: 34

Incumbent: Todd Hunter (HD32, first elected in 2008); Raul Torres and Connie Scott (HD34, first elected in 2010)

Counties: Nueces

Best Dem performance in 2008: For HD32, Sam Houston, 46.20%. For HD34, Sam Houston, 58.83%

HD32 can charitably be described as a reach if Hunter runs for re-election. Nueces County has been trending away from the Democrats, the three counties that were removed from HD32 (Aransas, Calhoun, and San Patricio) were a net winner for Juan Garcia, whom Hunter defeated in 2008, and Hunter has done very well both in terms of fundraising and moving up the ladder in his two terms. However, it’s the worst kept secret in the state that Hunter wants to run for Congress, and if that map is at all favorable to him this seat may be open in 2012. So keep that in the back of your mind.

I’ll be honest, I’m not really sure why Torres and Scott were paired, unless they were considered to be hopeless cases for salvation. This is the more Democratic part of Nueces, with all Dems in 2008 winning a majority, up to 20 points in their favor downballot. This has got to be one of the easiest pickup opportunities for the Dems in 2012.

HD35

District: 35

Incumbent: Jose Aliseda (first elected in 2010)

Counties: Atascosa, LaSalle, McMullen, Live Oak, Bee, San Patricio, Duval

Best 2008 Dem performance: Sam Houston, 50.77%

Republicans have been trying to carve out a South Texas district for themselves for awhile, and this one may be their best shot going forward. The good news for them is that McCain and Cornyn scored solid wins in 2008, with McCain getting nearly 55% and Cornyn 51%. The bad news is that Dems carried the rest of the races, with Houston, Strawn, and Linda Yanez all getting majorities. Aliseda got into one of the more entertaining kerfuffles during the House debate over HB150; I don’t know if he got what he wanted or not, but what he got is a very swingy district that may be a battleground through the decade.

HD41

District: HD41

Incumbent: Aaron Pena (first elected as a Democrat in 2002, switched parties after the 2010 election)

Counties: Hidalgo (part)

Best Dem performance in 2008: Sam Houston, 60.15%

I can’t think of a single seat the Democrats would like to win more than this one. Technically, Pena is the incumbent in HD40, and Veronica Gonzales is the incumbent in HD41, but as the Legislative Study Group noted:

CSHB150 also radically changes Hidalgo County districts in an effort to squeeze a partisan performing district out of the existing population. The incumbent in HD 40 would only represent 1.5 % of his current district, and the incumbent in HD 41 would only represent 1.1 % of her district. The gerrymandered map in Hidalgo County takes great pains to draw the incumbents in HD 40 and 41 into almost entirely new districts, narrowing down to one city block at times.

For this reason, the district numbers were swapped, thus giving Pena and Gonzales most of their previous constituents back. Despite being on the Redistricting Committee and drawing what one presumes was the best map he could for himself, Pena isn’t exactly sitting pretty. The low score among Democrats was Obama’s 54.83%, with everyone but Jim Jordan getting at least 56%. Do his constituents love him enough to overcome the party label or not? Assuming he does run for re-election, that is.

Peña said he is in employment negotiations with a law firm that would require him to move out of the Valley. If he does take the job, he said, he won’t seek office in 2012.

In other words, he’s got a graceful way out if he decides that he can’t win his custom-designed district. We’ll find out soon enough. More non-urban areas coming up next.

Population and voting trends: 2004 and 2008 judicial elections

So we’ve seen how county returns changed in the Presidential election between 2004 and 2008. Obviously, there are many factors that can affect a Presidential election, even when there’s not really an active campaign going on in the state. How do things look at the judicial level, which is probably a closer reflection of party ID? To try to answer that, I compared two races for the Supreme Court, and two for the Court of Criminal Appeals: Scott Brister versus David Van Os in 2004 and Dale Wainwright versus Sam Houston in 2008; Mike Keasler versus JR Molina in 2004 and Tom Price versus Susan Strawn in 2008. My observations:

– Houston improved on Van Os’ percentage by six and a half points, going from 40.76% to 47.31%; Strawn did a bit less than five points better than Molina, 42.14% to 46.86%. (Note that both 2008 races included a Libertarian candidate, while neither 2004 race did. All percentages are based strictly on R/D vote totals only.) In doing so, Houston cut the 2004 deficit by 875,000 votes, while Strawn improved by 616,000 votes over 2004.

– One corollary to that is that Houston gained in more counties than Strawn did. There were only 28 counties in which Houston’s deficit was greater than Van Os’, with Montgomery and Parker being the places he moved backwards the most. Strawn did worse in 69 counties, adding Orange and Jefferson to the biggest loser list. Recall that there were 107 counties in which Barack Obama lost ground compared to John Kerry.

– The 20 counties in which Obama lost the most ground from Kerry differed somewhat from the counties in which Houston and Strawn combined did worse than Van Os and Molina. Counties that appeared in the former list but not the latter were:

Bowie: Obama’s deficit increased by 3436 votes; Houston gained 1303 while Strawn lost 867.
Galveston: -3082 for Obama, +2720 for Houston, and -1307 for Strawn.
Jasper: -1488 for Obama, +866 for Houston, and -656 for Strawn.
Liberty: -1416 for Obama, +1185 for Houston, and +155 for Strawn.
Harrison: -1385 for Obama, +530 for Houston, and -11 for Strawn.
Johnson: -1280 for Obama, +2745 for Houston, and +2005 for Strawn.
Henderson: -1239 for Obama, +1076 for Houston, and +427 for Strawn.
Tyler: -1094 for Obama, +501 for Houston, and -260 for Strawn.
Van Zandt: -1075 for Obama, +656 for Houston, and +178 for Strawn.
Lamar: -993 for Obama, +2185 for Houston, and +1208 for Strawn.

Obviously, the worst 20 counties for Houston and Strawn were not identical to those for Obama, but I did not find any examples where Houston and Strawn combined to lose votes while Obama gained them.

The ten best counties for Houston and Strawn:

County Brister W'wright Change Van Os Houston Change Dem net ================================================================== FORT BEND 87,872 96,887 9,015 66,748 95,069 28,321 19,306 DENTON 132,244 138,359 6,115 56,112 86,738 30,626 24,511 COLLIN 165,017 167,840 2,823 64,159 100,302 36,143 33,320 HIDALGO 39,076 32,270 -6,806 60,122 87,197 27,075 33,881 EL PASO 62,780 50,627 -12,153 93,239 118,844 25,605 37,758 TRAVIS 142,841 127,796 -15,045 190,168 228,493 38,325 53,370 BEXAR 234,526 222,471 -12,055 212,415 260,152 47,737 59,792 TARRANT 327,136 320,585 -6,551 201,026 266,375 65,349 71,900 DALLAS 328,697 280,688 -48,009 324,165 406,857 82,692 130,701 HARRIS 555,454 523,101 -32,353 464,815 577,134 112,319 144,672 County Keasler Price Change Molina Strawn Change Dem net ================================================================== WILLIAMSON 77,666 80,967 3,301 42,377 61,373 18,996 15,695 DENTON 130,850 139,868 9,018 57,294 83,774 26,480 17,462 EL PASO 58,240 53,893 -4,347 99,152 115,154 16,002 20,349 HIDALGO 35,930 33,109 -2,821 64,087 86,441 22,354 25,175 COLLIN 164,805 169,377 4,572 64,188 96,476 32,288 27,716 TRAVIS 140,473 125,335 -15,138 190,769 228,492 37,723 52,861 TARRANT 321,497 322,531 1,034 206,841 263,585 56,744 55,710 BEXAR 224,983 215,807 -9,176 220,717 267,444 46,727 55,903 DALLAS 319,890 283,343 -36,547 329,484 402,483 72,999 109,546 HARRIS 540,632 521,753 -18,879 474,278 574,945 100,667 119,546

Williamson was Houston’s eleventh-best county, with a net gain of 18,502, while Fort Bend was Strawn’s eleventh-best county, with a net gain of 13,574. Not much variance on this end, in other words.

– Finally, I said in my previous entry that if 2012 is to 2008 as 2008 was to 2004, Texas would be a tossup state at the Presidential level. That’s true, but all else being equal, the Republican candidate would still win Texas by a bit more than 200,000 votes. That same level of improvement would be more than enough to win both of these judicial races, however. Sam Houston would win by more votes in 2012 than he lost by in 2008, while Strawn would win by about 150,000 votes. Given that even Republicans think the political landscape in Texas could be quite favorable to Democratic candidates, we may see as much interest in Supreme Court and CCA nominations as we saw in Harris County this year for district and county benches. All standard disclaimers apply, of course, but keep that in the back of your mind.

Next in the series will be a closer look at the 2002 and 2006 judicial elections, which will be done in two parts. As always, your feedback is appreciated.

US Attorney update

Mary Flood notes that while we still don’t have a nominee for US Attorney for the Southern District of Texas, we at least now have a list of finalists.

The committee met with the four folks whose names were sent by the Democratic Congressional delegation for U.S. Attorney in the Southern District of Texas —
Eric Reed
Susan Strawn.
Larry Veselka and
* assistant U.S. Attorney Cedric Joubert.

But they also met with two other assistant U.S. attorneys — ex-Harris County District Attorney Ken Magidson, who has been lauded for his handling on the Rosenthal-to-Lykos months, and civil prosecutor Daniel Hu.

She refers to this committee, which seems to have done a reasonably decent job of putting names together, though as predicted one that’s a little short on female names. We’ll see how long it takes to go from here to an actual appointee, and whether the Republicans in the Senate will be as needlessly obstructionist with this as they’ve been with so many other nominations.

The next US Attorney in Houston

Now that we finally have an Attorney General, we also have a lot of people who would like to work for him.

The U.S. attorney wannabes who confirmed for the Houston Chronicle that they are interested are Harris County District Judge Marc Carter, Galveston County District Judge Susan Criss, lawyer and ex-prosecutor Philip Hilder, Assistant U.S. Attorney Cedric Joubert, Assistant U.S. Attorney Ken Magidson, lawyer and ex-prosecutor Ricky Raven, lawyer and ex-prosecutor Eric Reed, lawyer Larry Veselka and lawyer and ex-prosecutor Susan Strawn.

U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin, is collecting applications. His office confirmed that Assistant U.S. Attorney Mark White III and Cameron County District Attorney Armando Villalobos have expressed interest in the job.

Some others whose names are being discussed have pulled themselves off or seem equivocal.

Brownsville lawyer Benigno “Trey” Martinez said he is out of the race since he decided not to uproot his family. Ex-Houston Police Chief Clarence Bradford said he was encouraged to seek the position but probably won’t.

The U.S. Southern District of Texas, headquartered in Houston, covers 43 counties and runs down the coast from Galveston to Brownsville and as far west as Laredo. The Houston-based U.S. attorney is one of four top federal prosecutors in Texas.

Those four prosecutors are Tim Johnson of the Southern District, who was an interim appointment, Johnny Sutton of the West District in San Antonio, James T. Jacks of the North District in the Metroplex, and Rebecca Gregory of the East District in Beaumont. I don’t know what the normal procedure is here for US Attorneys when there’s a new President, especially one of a different party, but I would assume at least one more of these offices will open up. Not to be too crassly political about it, but given the thinness of the Democrats’ bench for statewide office, these would be plum positions for someone with higher ambitions.

Most of those seeking the job are Democrats, though Magidson just finished filling a Republican term as Harris County district attorney. White’s father was the former Democratic Texas governor. Hilder and Veselka were active in President Barack Obama’s campaign.

And Judge Marc Carter is a Republican as well. I’m happy for him that he’s interested in the job, but with all due respect, he can get in line behind the Democratic hopefuls.