Off the Kuff Rotating Header Image

Ted Cruz

Using Beto 2018 to project Beto 2020

The NYT recently took a deep dive into the 2018 election data from Texas, and came out seeing a real swing state, partly because of Beto and partly for other reasons.

Mr. O’Rourke’s close result wasn’t because of an exceptional turnout that will be hard for other Democrats to repeat in 2020. Republican voters, defined as those who have participated in a recent Republican primary, turned out at a higher rate than Democratic ones. Neither the Hispanic nor youth voter share of the electorate was higher than it was in 2016, when President Trump won the state by nine points.

On the contrary, Democrats in 2020 can be expected to enjoy a more favorable turnout because presidential races tend to draw in more young and Hispanic voters. Mr. O’Rourke might have won Texas last November if turnout had been at the level of a contested presidential race, based on an Upshot analysis of Times/Siena poll responses, actual results and voter file data from L2, a nonpartisan voter file vendor.

The data yields an estimate of how every registered voter in Texas would have voted, based on a long list of geographic and demographic factors that predicted vote choice in the Times/Siena polling. Importantly, turnout in 2018 is among those factors, which allows us to fully untangle how much of Mr. O’Rourke’s strength was because of strong turnout among his supporters.

The data indicates that two opposing turnout trends influenced the results. The electorate was older, whiter and more Republican than the state as a whole — or than the 2016 electorate. But an O’Rourke supporter was generally likelier to vote than a demographically and politically similar supporter of Mr. Cruz. This was the pattern nationwide, so it is not obvious that this can be attributed to Mr. O’Rourke specifically; it could have been the favorable Democratic environment more generally.

Either way, the extra turnout boost probably cut Mr. Cruz’s margin of victory by two points.

Mr. O’Rourke might have won with a turnout of around 10 million voters. (The actual turnout was around 8.4 million.) Without the extra edge of a Democratic wave year, it might have taken 11 million votes, a number that is not out of the question in 2020 if Texas is contested as a battleground state.

So how did Mr. O’Rourke fare so well? He did it through old-fashioned persuasion, by winning voters who had voted for Republicans and for minor-party candidates.

[…]

No matter how you explain it, the president’s disapproval rating in Texas would seem to imply that there’s at least some additional upside for Democrats there, beyond what Mr. O’Rourke pulled off. And the president’s far lower approval rating among all adults (as opposed to among registered voters) hints at another opportunity for Democrats: mobilizing unregistered voters. In both cases, Hispanic voters could represent the upside for Democrats.

Mr. O’Rourke’s strong showing had essentially nothing to do with the initial vision of a Blue Texas powered by mobilizing the state’s growing Hispanic population. The Texas electorate was only two points more Hispanic in 2018 than it was in 2012, but President Obama lost the state by 16 points in 2012, compared with Mr. O’Rourke’s 2.6-point loss.

At the same time, Mr. O’Rourke fared worse than Mr. Obama or Hillary Clinton in many of the state’s heavily Hispanic areas, particularly in more conservative South Texas. This could reflect Mr. Cruz’s relative strength among Hispanic voters compared with a typical Republican.

Instead, Mr. O’Rourke’s improvement came almost exclusively from white voters, and particularly college-educated white voters. Whites probably gave him around 33 percent of their votes, up from a mere 22 percent for Mr. Obama in 2012.

I’ve been sitting on this for a little while, in part because of there being lots of other things to write about, and in part because I’ve been thinking about it. I want to present a few broad conclusions that I hope will help shape how we think about 2020.

1. I haven’t tried to study this in great detail, but my general sense since the 2018 election has been that Democratic base turnout could have been higher than it was, and that to carry the state of Texas in 2020, the Democratic Presidential nominee will need to aim for five million votes. Both of these are validated by this story.

2. The other point, about persuasion and flipping people who had previously voted Republican, is another theme I’ve visited a few times since November. Some of the districts that Dems won in 2018 – CDs 07 and 32 in particular – just weren’t going to be won by better base turnout. Better base turnout was always going to be needed, it just wasn’t going to be enough. Remember, in a Presidential year, John Culberson won CD07 by eleven points, and Republican judicial candidates won it by similar margins. There weren’t enough non-voting Democrats to make up for that.

3. The key to the above was Trump, and that statement in the story about “winning voters who had voted for Republicans and for minor-party candidates” (emphasis mine) was the mechanism. CDs 07 and 32 were on the map, as were other districts like SD16 and the Dallas County State Rep districts, because they had been carried by Hillary Clinton. You may recall that I was skeptical of these numbers because it was clear that Clinton won those districts because a number of nominal Republicans just didn’t vote for Trump. It was an open question to me what they’d do in the next election. Clearly, now we know.

4. To be more specific, the not-Trump voters, who include those who voted for Gary Johnson and Evan McMullen and Jill Stein as well as those who actually crossed over to Clinton and those who skipped the race entirely, really did vote for Democratic candidates in 2018, at least in some races. Those candidates included Beto, most of the Congressional Dems, Mike Collier, Justin Nelson, Kim Olson, most of the legislative Dems, and some other downballot Dems. Some Republicans held onto the not-Trumpers – Greg Abbott, Glenn Hegar, George P. Bush, and Christie Craddick – but by and large these people were quite willing to stray. The proof is in the districts where the Trump percentage from 2016 was the ceiling for these Republicans in 2018.

5. Given this, the basis for Texas as a swing state, as well as a Congressional battleground, in 2020, is precisely the idea that these voters will again not vote for Trump, and base Democratic turnout will be higher. Implicit in this is the idea that the not-Trump voters who were also not-Hillary voters will be more inclined to vote for the 2020 Dem, which I think is a reasonable assumption. Dems will have their work cut out for them – we’re talking a million more votes than Beto got, which was 200K more votes than Hillary got and 500K more votes than Obama ’08 got – but the path is clear.

6. For example, Beto carried Harris County by 200K votes, with 1.2 million votes cast. If turnout in Harris is 1.5 million – hardly crazy, assuming 2.4 million registered voters (registration was 2.3 million in 2018), which in turn would be turnout of 62.5%, basically a point higher than it was in 2016 – you can imagine a Dem carrying the county 900K to 600K, which is about where the Republican vote total has plateaued. That’s 20 percent of the way to the goal right there, and it doesn’t even assume a heroic turnout effort.

7. Do I think Democratic turnout in Texas will be better if Beto, or for that matter Julian Castro, is the nominee than if someone else is? Maybe, but honestly I don’t think it would be by much, if at all. I think it really is about Trump more than it is about who the Dem is. Beto was very much the right candidate at the right time in 2018, but I don’t believe 2020 depends on him. I do think Beto as a Senate candidate may well have outperformed any Dem Presidential candidate (with the possible exception of Castro) in 2020, but that’s not the situation we will have. As a Presidential candidate, I don’t think he’d be that much different.

8. Bottom line, keep registering voters, and keep talking to people who haven’t been habitual voters. We’re going to need everyone working together to make this happen.

Here comes the DCCC

National Dems really are serious about competing in Texas next year.

National Democrats are ratcheting up their Texas offensive yet again ahead of 2020.

The chairwoman of U.S. House Democratic campaign arm announced Tuesday morning that her committee will open a new satellite office in Austin. The move replicates the committee’s 2018 California playbook, when the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee had a substantive, on-the-ground presence in the Golden State and flipped seven U.S. House seats there.

“When it comes to places where House Democrats can go on offense, it doesn’t get any bigger than Texas,” said U.S. Rep. Cheri Bustos, D-Ill., the chairwoman of the DCCC. “In 2018, Texas Democrats proved that they can win in competitive districts. That’s why we are continuing our investments in the Lone Star State by opening a new DCCC:Texas Headquarters.”

The DCCC previously announced a national offensive effort for the 2020 elections that would install staffers in the Dallas, Houston, Austin and San Antonio suburbs. Monday’s announcement takes that initiative a step further, opening a central office in Austin with eight staffers including Texas Democratic operatives Roger Garza and Michael Beckendorf.

[…]

Back in 2017, the DCCC’s decision to open an office in Orange County – the home of President Richard Nixon – was met with skepticism. Democrats swept the county, picking up four seats and won three others to the north in Los Angeles County and in the San Joaquin Valley.

As for Texas Republicans, there are mixed emotions about this kind of spending and rhetoric.

A number of Republican insiders working in the state look back at the 2018 midterms as a perfect storm with Democrats benefitting from a uniquely talented standard-bearer in former U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke running against a polarizing incumbent in U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, and a statewide burst of organic enthusiasm that may already be subsiding.

But other Texas Republicans are anxious about the U.S. House map. Many of the concerned conversations are happening in private, but the Republican Party of Texas has been eager to ring the alarm and raise money off of these kinds of DCCC announcements.

Roger Garza is a Facebook friend of mine, and he worked on Rep. Colin Allred’s successful 2018 campaign. I approve of his hire.

I mean, we all know the story here. There’s a lot of action, and a lot of potential pickups for the DCCC in these locations. We saw what can happen last year, and there’s no reason to believe it can’t happen again this year. Buckle up, it’s going to be a wild ride.

No, we should not fear a competitive primary for Senate

This comes up all the time, for both parties. It’s way overblown.

Big John Cornyn

Democrats are closer than they’ve been in decades to winning statewide in Texas. But a looming clash between two of the party’s top prospects could blow their shot.

A pair of prominent Democrats — Rep. Joaquín Castro and MJ Hegar, a veteran who narrowly lost a House race last year —are seriously considering Senate campaigns, and a potential showdown between them is already dividing the party over who is best positioned to challenge three-term GOP Sen. John Cornyn.

Neither Hegar nor Castro has announced they’re running, but both have met with Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (N.Y.) to discuss it. And both have prominent Democratic supporters convinced they represent the party’s best option to turn Texas blue. But a divisive primary would likely leave the eventual nominee damaged and cash-depleted, making the uphill climb to unseat Cornyn that much steeper.

[…]

So far in the Senate race, Hegar appears to be moving faster than Castro. She met with Schumer in New York in early March, right after O’Rourke announced he would forgo another campaign to run for president instead.

Hegar wrote an email to supporters last week that she was “taking a very close look” at running for the Senate race and said the incumbent had shown a “complete lack of leadership” in Washington. Her timetable for an official announcement is not yet clear, but one source familiar with Hegar’s thinking said she remains “full steam ahead” on the race.

Castro’s intentions are less clear, according to conversations with more than a half-dozen Democrats in Washington and Texas. Castro met with Schumer last week to discuss the race, according to multiple sources familiar with the meeting. Texas Monthly published a story last month quoting a source familiar with Castro’s thinking that he was “all but certain” to enter the race, which many Democrats interpreted as a hint an announcement was imminent.

But Castro has not publicly signaled what his plans are in the weeks since, leaving most Democrats uncertain if he will run — and some frustrated by his indecision.

“I’m going to kill him,” said one source close to Castro, exaggerating for effect to relate his frustration over the congressman’s equivocation.

Castro declined multiple requests to comment on his Senate deliberations outside the Capitol in the past week. His political adviser, Matthew Jones, said an announcement would be in the near future: “Joaquin will make his announcement about running for Senate on his own timeline and in a way that works best for the people of Texas and his own family.”

Hegar and Castro both have significant allies pushing for them to enter the race. Leaders at EMILY’s List have called for a woman to run in Texas, and Latino Victory Fund has launched a draft effort to push Castro into the race, including endorsements from four members of the state’s congressional delegation.

Texas Democrats are fully prepared for the possibility of a primary between Hegar and Castro, and it remains possible other candidates will enter the race — including Amanda Edwards, an African American city council member in Houston. Edwards told POLITICO in an interview she is seriously considering a bid, and that Hegar and Castro’s decisions wouldn’t influence hers. She has spoken to EMILY’s List and the DSCC about the race, and said a decision could come “sooner rather than later.”

[…]

Some top Democrats, however, argue a primary would actually be helpful, allowing candidates to sharpen their messages and introduce themselves to a wider set of voters.

“Nobody will be hurt in a contested primary, and you would have stronger candidates come out,” said Gilberto Hinojosa, chairman of the state Democratic Party, which recently launched a war room to attack Cornyn over the coming months. “Not that I’m hoping for a contested primary, but we’re not afraid to see that.”

Other Democrats are more nervous about the prospect. A contested primary would rob the candidates of months of time to focus solely on Cornyn and would drain resources in an extremely expensive state. The primary is in early March, earlier than any other state, and would allow ample time to pivot to the general election.

But if other candidates enter the race, and no candidate reaches 50 percent, the top two finishers would meet in a runoff at the end of May, robbing them of valuable time to raise money and build support to take on Cornyn. One veteran Democratic operative, requesting anonymity to speak candidly, said even the prospect of a runoff “hurts everyone.”

See here, here, and here for some background. Clearly, I need to revisit my assumption that Castro would have a clear path to the nomination if he declared his intention to run. The main inference to draw from this is that a lot of people really think Cornyn is beatable in 2020, in a way that basically nobody outside of Beto O’Rourke at this time in 2017 thought Ted Cruz was beatable. I mean, it seems obvious, but this is well beyond just putting one’s name out there. Castro, as noted many times, has a safe seat in a majority Democratic Congress, four terms of seniority, and is already a leading voice in that chamber. Hegar could let Castro run and ride his likely coattails, DCCC support, and her own strong campaign experience to as good a shot at winning CD31 as one could want. Amanda Edwards could cruise to re-election this fall, and then be in good position to run for Mayor in 2023. All three of them are willing to give it up for a chance to run statewide, even if they have to go through one or more other strong Democratic contenders in a primary. You don’t do that if you don’t have a firm belief you can win.

So what about it then, if two or three of them (plus the assorted minor candidates) meet in the primary? I see that as largely, almost entirely, positive for the reasons cited by “some top Democrats”. Nothing will get the candidates started earlier on engaging voters, raising money, pushing registration efforts, and so on like the need to win an election in March. Money spent on voter outreach in March is still money spent on voter outreach, and I’d argue there’s even more value to it early on. Sure, it could get nasty, and sure, people get tired of family fights when they have to go into overtime, but that’s a risk worth taking. I feel like I see this kind of hand-wringy story written about potential contested primaries in both parties every time they come up, and most of the time it makes no difference in the end. As I’ve said before, my main interest is in having a strong contender in every possible race, so to that end I’d prefer to see Hegar try again in CD31. But beyond that, come in whoever wants to come in. Let the best candidate win, and we’ll go from there.

Just a reminder, Will Hurd is still a Republican

That means he does Republican things.

Beto O’Rourke

Texas Republican Rep. Will Hurd said he would vote for Donald Trump in 2020 over his friend, former Texas Democratic Rep. Beto O’Rourke, should he decide to run and win the Democratic Party’s nomination.

“My plan is to vote for the Republican nominee,” Hurd told CNN’s Jake Tapper on “State of the Union.”

“So, you would vote for President Trump over Beto O’Rourke?” Tapper asked.

“It’s most likely that Donald Trump is the likely candidate, right,” Hurd said.

“So, Trump over O’Rourke?” Tapper pressed again.

“That’s very clear,” Hurd replied. “Unless Beto O’Rourke decides to run as a Republican, which I don’t think he’s planning on doing.”

Normally, “Republican Congressman says he will vote for Republican President” is not news, but this is Will Hurd and Beto O’Rourke, stars of a buddy road trip video, in which Beto’s refusal to campaign against Hurd in the latter’s hotly contested Congressional race caused a minor kerfuffle before full-on Betomania made everyone forget the whole thing. Hurd survived his race by less than a point, in a district that Beto carried by five points, and it’s safe to say that some Dems think Beto’s hands-off approach to Hurd and his race was a decisive factor.

It’s really hard to say what the effect actually was, but here’s a look at some numbers.


Dist     Beto   Litton     Cruz Crenshaw
========================================
CD02  129,460  119,992  132,559  139,188

Dist     Beto  Sanchez     Cruz   Wright
========================================
CD06  124,144  116,350  132,290  135,961

Dist     Beto Fletcher     Cruz     Culb
========================================
CD07  130,185  127,959  115,642  112,286

Dist     Beto   Siegel     Cruz   McCaul
========================================
CD10  154,034  144,034  153,467  157,166

Dist     Beto   Kopser     Cruz      Roy
========================================
CD21  177,246  168,421  177,785  177,654

Dist     Beto Kulkarni     Cruz    Olson
========================================
CD22  147,650  138,153  149,575  152,750

Dist     Beto    Jones     Cruz     Hurd
========================================
CD23  110,689  102,359  100,145  103,285

Dist     Beto McDowell     Cruz Marchant
========================================
CD24  136,786  125,231  127,534  133,317

Dist     Beto    Hegar     Cruz   Carter
========================================
CD31  139,253  136,362  145,480  144,680

Dist     Beto   Allred     Cruz Sessions
========================================
CD32  152,092  144,067  122,736  126,101

First things first: Beto outscored every Dem in each of these Congressional districts, ranging from leads of 2,026 votes over Lizzie Fletcher and 2,891 votes over MJ Hegar to 11,555 votes over Jan McDowell. He led Gina Ortiz Jones by 8,330 votes, and in most cases led the Dem Congressional candidate by about 10,000 votes.

On the other hand, Ted Cruz trailed each Republican Congressional candidate/incumbent except for three: John Culberson, Chip Roy, and John Carter. Cruz had more votes in each district except the two that were won by Democrats, CDs 07 and 32, and Will Hurd’s CD23. Cruz trailed Dan Crenshaw in CD02 by 6,629 votes and Kenny Marchant in CD24 buy 5,883 votes, but otherwise was usually with three to four thousand votes of the GOP Congressional candidate.

In every case, there were more votes cast in the Senate race than in the Congressional race. In some but not all of these Congressional races, there was a Libertarian candidate. In CDs 02 and 22 there were also Independent candidates, while in CD07 it was just Fletcher and Culberson. Generally speaking, where it was an R/D/L race, the Libertarian candidate for Congress got more votes than the Libertarian candidate for Senate. For example, in CD21, Libertarian Congressional candidate Lee Santos got 7,542 votes, while Libertarian Senate candidate Neil Dikeman got 3,333. That accounts for some of the differences between the races, but not all of it.

What I’m left with is the impression that there was a set of voters, consistent across Congressional districts, who voted for Beto but skipped most or all of the downballot races, including the Congressional race. At the same time, there was a smaller but equally consistent number of Republicans who did vote downballot, particularly in the Congressional race, but skipped the Senate race. I presume these people refused to vote for Cruz but didn’t want to go all the way and vote for Beto.

That leads to two key questions: One, were there nominal Republicans who crossed over to vote for Beto, and – crucially – other Democrats. We know there were in CD07, because we see it in the varying levels of support for Republican candidates, at the local level as well as at the state level. How many were there, and did they exist in equivalent levels in other districts? That I don’t know.

Two, could Beto have moved votes in the CD23 election? Beto gained a lot of renown giving other candidates visibility and opportunities to campaign at his events. The gap between hit vote totals and those of the Congressional candidates suggests to me that such support only went so far. If Beto had explicitly stumped for Gina Ortiz Jones, might it have helped her gain the 900 votes she needed to win? Maybe. Maybe it would have pushed some of those non-Cruz voters to not skip the Senate race. Maybe it would have helped Hurd convince some Republicans who think he’s a RINO squish that he’s better than they give him credit for. Actions cause reactions, and they don’t always work in the same direction.

I wish I could give a more definitive answer to the question, but I can’t. The difference in the race is small, but there weren’t that many people who voted in CD23 but skipped that race. I certainly understand the frustration. I get why O’Rourke partnered with Hurd – he was in the minority in Congress, and he needed someone on the team that had a chance to pass bills to advocate for border issues, on which the two of them largely agreed. The larger picture is that nothing was going to change until Congress changed, and flipping CD23 could have been necessary for that to happen. Part of Beto’s brand was a certain maverick-ness that caused him to skip certain political norms when that suited him. That led him to not turn on his ally. As Harold Cook says, people can feel how they want to about that. I feel like the real difference in the CD23 race was more Will Hurd and Gina Ortiz Jones than Beto O’Rourke, but I understand if you feel otherwise.

More looking forward to 2020

Gonna have some more of that sweet Congressional election action.

Smelling blood after picking up two Texas congressional seats in November – along with Beto O’Rourke’s narrow loss in the U.S. Senate race – House Democrats [recently] announced six new 2020 targets in the Lone Star State.

In a wish list of 33 GOP-held or open seats targeted nationally by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, Texas figures prominently as a potential battleground, particularly in the suburbs.

The targeted Texas lawmakers include Houston-area Republicans Michael McCaul and Pete Olson. Around San Antonio, the Democrats are putting two other Republicans in their sights: Freshman Chip Roy, a conservative stalwart who worked for U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, and moderate Will Hurd, who represents a heavily Latino border district.

Rounding out the list are Republicans John Carter of Round Rock and Kenny Marchant of Coppell.

“All six have suburban areas experiencing population booms and an increasingly diverse electorate. These factors gave Republicans a taste of what is headed their way.” said DCCC Chairwoman Cheri Bustos, an Illinois Democrat, in a memo released Monday.

“In 2020 a rapidly emerging Democratic coalition will make Texas a focal point of the House Democrats’ offensive strategy,” she continued.

Democrats noted that all six targeted Republicans in Texas won by five points or less, revealing electoral weaknesses in a state that has been dominated by Republicans for a generation.

In practical terms, the DCCC list indicates the group will be pouring money and organizational resources into those races, including recruitment efforts to help candidates who best match their districts.

It’s the shutdown target list plus Will Hurd. Not really a surprise, though I think overlooking CD02 is a bit short-sighted. There will be time to correct that. For their part, the Republicans will target freshman Reps. Lizzie Fletcher and Colin Allred. A priori everyone goes into 2020 as the favorite to hold their own seat, but suffice it to say there are many variables and a whole lot of potential for volatility. If Donald Trump is heading for a massive loss, who knows how many of these red seats could fall. If he’s back into the low-to-mid-40s approval ratings, there may be a lot of action but not much change. If things have gone south for the Dems – a bit hard to imagine now, but politics is weird these days – the Republicans could win back the seats they lost. Hard hitting analysis, I know, but at this point it’s all as meaningful as a split squad game during spring training. All we’re doing now it setting up the potential story lines. The Current and Mother Jones have more.

We’ll know soon enough if Beto is running for President

Thanks, Oprah.

Beto O’Rourke

Beto O’Rourke said Tuesday he will decide whether to run for president by the end of the month, signaling his closely watched deliberations over a 2020 run are entering their final stages.

The former Democratic congressman from El Paso and U.S. Senate nominee made the comment during an interview with media mogul Oprah Winfrey, who pressed him on his long-awaited decision — and whether he’s given himself a deadline.

“The serious answer is really soon,” O’Rourke replied. “Before the end of this month.”

[…]

The O’Rourke interview will air at 7 p.m. Feb. 16 on Winfrey’s OWN TV network. It will also be available on her “SuperSoul Conservations” podcast.

Winfrey tried several times to nail O’Rourke down on his 2020 decision to no avail. In a parting message, she said, “You seem like you’re getting ready to run.”

In the interview, O’Rourke also reflected on the lessons of his Senate campaign last year and the meeting he had with former President Barack Obama in the wake of the race. O’Rourke said Obama did not encourage him to run for president but that they discussed 2020 more generally — and the strain a White House bid can put on a family.

Getting a decision sooner rather than later would be nice, if only so we can sort out the who’s-running-against-Cornyn question in a reasonable fashion. Assuming the choice is between “running for President” and “running again for Senate” and not “running for something” and “not running for anything at this time”, I look at it this way: Beto’s odds of beating Donald Trump are higher than his chances of beating John Cornyn, but his odds of beating John Cornyn are higher than his chance of getting the chance to run against Trump. You need a clear assessment of how much higher those odds are in each of those comparisons if you want to make a rational, outcome-maximizing decision.

Not that these decisions are necessarily rational, of course. Beto’s gonna do what Beto thinks is best, however he arrives at that decision. I’m honestly not sure where “run for Senate” is on the list of choices for him, but I could believe it’s in third place, after “run for President” and “don’t run for anything”. If that’s the case, then where do Texas Dems stand in a no-Beto 2020?

But if O’Rourke doesn’t run against Cornyn, who will? The structural conditions that would make a Senate run in 2020 so enticing for O’Rourke would also be there for another Democratic candidate. You might think that ambitious Texas Democrats would be lining up to run, all but declaring their candidacies in the event that O’Rourke should decline to pursue the Senate seat. (If O’Rourke decides to run against Cornyn, he’ll almost certainly clear the Democratic field.) After all, O’Rourke discussed the possibility of running for Senate in 2018 in early November 2016. We’re already in February 2019. Where are the candidates?

“The conversations would be very quiet now,” said Matt Angle, the founder of the Lone Star Project, a progressive PAC. “You don’t want to say it would be really great if someone else runs and then Beto runs instead.”

[…]

When I spoke with Jason Stanford, a former Democratic strategist who is now an executive at the public relations firm Hill + Knowlton, he insisted that Democrats have a “deeper bench in Texas than people suspect.” He pointed to Dallas state representative Rafael Anchia, Dallas County judge Clay Jenkins, former gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis, and Mark Strama, a former Texas state rep who is now an executive at Google Fiber. These four people might make fine candidates and senators, but aside from Davis, they have almost no statewide profile. They’re not the names you’d expect to hear bandied about if Democrats thought the 2020 Senate seat was theirs for the taking.

Maybe O’Rourke will run for Senate after all. Maybe a new face like Allred or Garcia or Hegar will gamble their political future on a Senate run. Maybe a big-city mayor like San Antonio’s Ron Nirenberg will go for the prize. Maybe a lesser-known name from the bench like Anchia or Jenkins will catch fire. Kim Olson, the Democrats’ 2018 candidate for agriculture commissioner, has suggested she’s considering a 2020 run.

But some Democrats aren’t convinced a strong option will materialize. “If Beto doesn’t run for Senate, I’m not convinced we’ll have a strong viable candidate,” Harold Cook, a Democratic political operative, told me. “I fear that a lot of the most prominent Democrats who might want to run may well conclude that Beto got so close either because Beto is a one-of-a-kind candidate or that Cruz is so intensely disliked that no other opponent would fare as badly as he did.”

I’m more optimistic than that. As for the “who”, surely none of the just-elected members of Congress would run for Senate in 2020, and it looks a lot like most if not all of the just-missed Congressional candidates from 2018 will try again, so they’re off the list. One person that I suggested as a possibility but is omitted here is Justin Nelson. Maybe he’s hoping that AG will be on the ballot in 2020 following a conviction of Ken Paxton. Or maybe Senate isn’t his thing. I continue to believe there are plenty of good candidates available, and one of them will step up if Beto doesn’t choose this path. Big John Cornyn is expecting and preparing for a fight, and he’s going to get it, one way or another.

Cornyn’s 2020 strategy

I have three things to say about this.

Big John Cornyn

As the Texas GOP Party chairman from 2010 to 2015, Steve Munisteri warned that Republicans could no longer take the Lone Star State for granted and that the party needed to reach out to the state’s burgeoning minority population.

“I’ve consistently said since I first ran for state party chair that Texas should be considered a competitive swing state,” he said. “That was my whole schtick when I ran.”

On Wednesday, as he announced he would be leaving his White House job to join U.S. Sen. John Cornyn’s 2020 reelection campaign, Munisteri again sounded the alarm, joining other state GOP leaders in warning that once reliably red Texas could be in play in the next presidential election.

“Texas is not as solidly Republican as people think,” he said. “You need to treat this as a swing state.”

Munisteri cited U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz’s narrow win over Democratic challenger Beto O’Rourke, as well as a history of Democratic advances in Houston, Dallas and San Antonio going back to the 2008 presidential election.

“A decade ago, we lost the urban areas,” said Munisteri, who will be returning to Texas after two years in the Trump administration, where he serves as deputy director of the Office of Public Liaison.

[…]

“The Democrats are still riding the splash of the 2018 elections in hopes that it will carry over into 2020,” Dickey told the Chronicle. “But the reality is, they have shown Texas Republicans what can happen if any Republican stays home during these crucial elections. We are engaging a massive campaign effort which started the day after the election to ensure we not only will successfully defend Republican seats, we regain the seats Democrats won from the Beto bump of 2018.”

[…]

The Cornyn campaign said Munisteri will serve as chief liaison to the state party and its “2020 Victory” effort. As party chairman, Munisteri was credited with helping encourage minority outreach, hiring Spanish speaking staffers, and increasing the number of Republican office holders in the state by nearly 70 percent.

“I gained a great deal of respect for Steve when he successfully led our party to new heights as chairman of the (Texas Republican Party) and have been proud to work with him in Washington as he’s served President Trump in the White House,” Cornyn said in a statement Wednesday.

[…]

Despite Cornyn’s seemingly clear path to a fourth term, Munisteri, like other top Republican Party officials, warns that the Texas GOP cannot glide into 2020, despite the party’s generational dominance.

“It’s a competitive state,” he said. “It’s just that we keep winning the competition.” To continue that dominance, he believes that Cornyn is committed to campaigning in the Hispanic community, the fastest-growing segment of the Texas electorate.

In a minority-majority state, Munisteri said, Republicans have little choice but to find messages that resonate with minority voters, particularly Hispanics. “If the party doesn’t look on the inside the way it looks on the outside, it means that we have work to do. I also believe in the depths of my bones this is not just about being pragmatic and trying to win votes. There’s a moral element to that.”

One challenge facing Republican outreach to Latinos in Texas in 2020 could be Trump’s aggressive rhetoric on illegal immigration and his continuing campaign for a border wall – the central sticking point in a 35-day partial government shutdown.

But Munisteri noted that despite Trump’s focus on illegal immigration, exit polls showed that he won nearly 29 percent of the Hispanic vote nationally in 2016, a slightly larger share than that of Mitt Romney, the 2012 GOP nominee. Trump did slightly better with Hispanics in Texas, though he only beat Hillary Clinton by 9 points – a margin that raised the eyebrows of strategists in both parties.

1. Everyone’s fully on board with the idea that Republicans were spooked by what happened last year, right?

2. The bit where Munisteri talks about what happens when Republicans don’t turn out is the most interesting part of the story. Turnout, at least statewide, wasn’t the Republicans’ problem last year. Greg Abbott got almost as many votes as Donald Trump did in 2016. They clearly left some votes on the table – I believe Dems did as well, despite blowing past all previous high-water marks – which leads me to wonder what Munisteri thinks the GOP’s natural level of turnout should be for a Presidential election. Eva Guzman was the high scorer in 2016, with almost 4.9 million votes (Trump got just under 4.7 million). What does Munisteri think the top of the Republican ticket – which is to say, Trump and Cornyn – will get in an “all things being equal” context? GOP Presidential candidates ranged between 4.4 million and 4.7 million from 2004 to 2016. I think Guzman’s total is a perfectly reasonable target for next year; it would mean Dems would have to exceed Beto’s total by nearly a million votes in order to win. Does Steve Munsteri think they can do better than that? I’d be interested to hear it.

The challenge Munisteri and the GOP faces is that as we saw in 2018, Dems had a majority in the most populous parts of the state, which is also where all the growth has been. They achieved that by turning out reliable voters, bringing in a ton of new voters, and getting a significant number of votes from people who had previously been voting Republican. Republicans can get some growth from new voters and irregular voters, though that pool is much shallower for them than it is for Dems. They will probably get a few of the pre-2018 voters who abandoned them last year back; surely the mainstream, establishment man Cornyn will do better with that crowd than Ted Cruz did. They might be able to woo a few disgruntled or disillusioned Dems. I don’t think any of that will amount to much, but they do start out with a lead, so they don’t need it to be too much. How much potential does Steve Munisteri think there is for growth? Again, I’d love to know.

3. This again is why I will base my vote in the primary in part on who I think will do the most to fight for Texas in 2020. We can and should build on what we did in 2018, but it’s not going to happen on its own, and it’s not going to happen without a fight from the Republicans. Republicans think Texas is a swing state now. Dems need to act accordingly. Politico has more.

Cornyn is not waiting on 2020

It’s what I’d do if I were Big John Cornyn.

Big John Cornyn

John Cornyn and other politicians say an incumbent should run in one of two ways: scared or unopposed.

Given that philosophy, Texas’s senior senator is having nightmares about his 2020 re-election bid.

Nothing wrong with being scared, especially if it’s early enough to stage the best campaign possible.

For Cornyn, running scared means being prepared.

He has already started his re-election bid, the earliest he’s fired up his machine since beating former Dallas mayor Ron Kirk in 2002.

[…]

After November’s election, Cornyn said he was aware that O’Rourke could challenge him in 2020. And even if the El Paso Democrat opted instead for a run for president, he certainly would receive a significant challenge.

Cornyn has called Cruz’s near loss and the Democratic Party push in the midterm elections a “confluence of events” that served as a “wake-up call.”

What’s more, from 2007 to 2011 he served as chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, getting a ground view of winning and losing campaigns across the country.

“We’re thinking through this and trying to be prepared,” Cornyn told The Dallas Morning News. “I can’t predict for you what 2020 will be like, but we will be ready.”

Cornyn will not be caught by surprise like Ted Cruz was, and he will not have to scramble to build a ground game like Ted Cruz did. He also benefits from the simple fact of not being Ted Cruz. He’s also going to be running in a Presidential year, with Donald Trump actually on the ballot. As well as Dems did last year, they clearly left votes on the table in some of their stronger districts. There’s room to grow, and as things stand right now I expect them to build on what happened in 2018. Cornyn is in for a tough race. He clearly knows that.

That said, it sure would be nice to get a better idea of who his opponent will, or at least may, be. Beto O’Rourke has the right to take as much time as he feels he needs to decide what he wants to do next, but in the meantime the potential field to challenge Cornyn is frozen. No one wants to jump into this race now, not knowing if Beto will choose to run again for Senate. It will be harder for any prospective candidates to fundraise, and it will be harder to line up institutional and volunteer support. I don’t expect Beto to take too long to make up his mind – as some people have observed, it’s going to start getting difficult to hire experienced campaign staff for a Presidential race soon, as more and more Dems make their own candidacies known – but it sure would be nice if we had an answer by, say, the end of March. People were already posting finance reports for Congress by the end of Q2 in 2017, remember. That helped a lot down the line. Beto is the big piece of the puzzle for Texas that needs to fall into place first. Here’s hoping he figures out his path sooner rather than later.

What if he does it anyway?

That’s my question.

Gov. Greg Abbott, the state’s two Republican U.S. senators and a bipartisan group of 20 U.S. House members released a letter stating their staunch opposition to raiding Texas’ hard-fought Harvey money.

“Recent reports have indicated that your administration is considering the use of U.S. Army Corps of Engineers funds, appropriated by Congress and intended for Hurricane Harvey recovery and mitigation efforts, in an effort to secure our southern border,” they wrote. “We strongly support securing the border with additional federal resources including tactical infrastructure, technology, ports of entry improvements and personnel. However, we are strongly opposed to using funds appropriated by Congress for disaster relief and mitigation for Texas for any unintended purpose.”

Congressional signatories included nine lawmakers from the Houston metropolitan region: Republican U.S. Reps. Brian Babin, Kevin Brady, Dan Crenshaw, Michael McCaul, Pete Olson and Randy Weber; and Democratic U.S. Reps. Sylvia Garcia, Lizzie Fletcher and Sheila Jackson Lee.

Texans from other regions also signed on: Republican U.S. Reps. John Carter of Round Rock, Mike Conaway of Midland, Bill Flores of Bryan, Lance Gooden of Terrell, Kay Granger of Fort Worth, Will Hurd of Helotes, Kenny Marchant of Coppell and Roger Williams of Austin; and Democratic U.S. Reps. Henry Cuellar of Laredo, Vicente Gonzalez of McAllen and Filemon Vela of Brownsville

See here for the background. That certainly is a letter. Nicely typed, good sentence structure, no spelling errors as far as I could tell. Now what happens if and when Donald Trump goes ahead and declares an emergency and tries to tap into these funds anyway, because Ann Coulter and Rush Limbaugh called him mean names again? What are you, Greg Abbott, and you, John Cornyn and Ted Cruz, and you, Republican members of Congress, going to do then? We wouldn’t be here in the first place if Donald Trump were a rational actor. He’s gonna do what he’s gonna do. What are those of you who enable him at every step going to do when that happens?

Precinct analysis: Collier versus Beto

The Trib looks at some numbers.

Rep. Beto O’Rourke

Mike Collier, the Democrat who ran for and lost the race for lieutenant governor last month, wasn’t the star of his party’s ticket. But by some measures, Collier did better in this year’s general election than Beto O’Rourke.

In 171 of the state’s 254 counties — counties O’Rourke famously visited during the campaign — Collier got more votes than the Democrat at the top of the ticket.

In terms of wins and losses, it wasn’t enough of a difference to make a difference: Texas Republicans won all of the statewide races. With this year’s victories, they’ve now done that a dozen times in a row, starting in 1996.

But the Democrats lost by smaller margins than usual. The state didn’t turn blue, as some of their most exuberant partisans had hoped, but it edged toward the purple territory that marks a swing state. Texas hasn’t had margins like this at the top of the ballot since 1998 — 20 years ago.

Overall, O’Rourke got more votes than Collier (or any other statewide Democrat) — more than 4 million of them in the general election. Justin Nelson, the party’s candidate for attorney general, got 3.9 million — coming in with 147,534 fewer votes than O’Rourke. Collier and Kim Olson, who ran for agriculture commissioner, weren’t far behind him.

O’Rourke beat U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, his Republican opponent, in 32 counties; by that measure, he outdid his Democratic ticket-mates. Nelson won in 31 counties, Olson in 30, Collier in 29 and so on. Lupe Valdez, the party’s candidate for governor, won in just 20 counties, the least of any of the statewide non-judicial candidates.

I remain fascinated by the fascination with the smaller counties, where a tiny fraction of the vote comes from in Texas. I mean, every vote counts, but you don’t get bonus points for winning a particular county. (Anyone remember the old Continental Basketball Association, where teams could win a point in the standings for outscoring their opponent in a single quarter? Politics isn’t like that.) Because the story doesn’t provide any more context about this Collier-versus-Beto comparison, I put together a spreadsheet that did the dirty work for me. Here are the top 21 counties in which Mike Collier got more votes than Beto O’Rourke:


County    C - B   P - C  Tot Vot
================================
BOWIE       584    -975   59,618
ANGELINA    567  -1,041   51,751
UPSHUR      526    -749   27,708
PANOLA      445    -575   16,392
GREGG       438    -944   69,893
TOM GREEN   437  -1,305   66,826
CASS        416    -450   20,119
LAMAR       403    -612   31,591
VAN ZANDT   396    -633   36,982
RUSK        334    -647   31,242
HARRISON    327    -636   44,462
HOCKLEY     281    -428   13,582
CARSON      264    -364    4,263
HUTCHINSON  247    -398   13,547
CHEROKEE    243    -327   27,949
FREESTONE   236    -351   11,978
HOPKINS     235    -392   22,706
LIMESTONE   235    -365   13,621
WOOD        234    -262   30,065
GRAY        231    -304   12,493
RANDALL     221  -1,304   87,827

The column “C – B” represents the difference between Mike Collier’s vote total and Beto O’Rourke’s vote total in the given county. The “P – C” column is the same thing for Dan Patrick and Ted Cruz. In every single one of these 171 counties, the Patrick-Cruz difference was bigger than the Collier-Beto difference. In other words, everywhere that Mike Collier picked up more votes than Beto, Dan Patrick had even fewer votes than Ted Cruz.

Before we talk about what that might mean, let me mention the last column in the table above. It represents the total number of registered voters in that county. I went to 21 on this list so I could include Randall County, which is easily the largest of the counties among the 171. Not surprisingly in the least, all of this occurred in the smaller counties. To put it in a bit of perspective, Collier garnered an extra 19,837 votes over Beto in these 171 counties combined. In Travis (21,534), Bexar (22,260), Harris (24,487), and Dallas (26,822), Beto’s vote total exceeded Collier’s by more than that. Like I said, there’s no bonus for winning a county.

So why did Collier do better in these places than Beto, despite Beto’s omnipresent campaign? Well, not to put too fine a point on it, but Ted Cruz also campaigned, and I’m betting he ran more ads and had more of a (borrowed from Greg Abbott) field game out in the rural areas than Dan Patrick did. While many Republicans in urban and suburban counties abandoned Cruz with vigor, their country cousins may have been less willing to put the Senate in play for the Democrats. Maybe in these parts of the state, it was Dan Patrick who was the least-liked Republican on the ballot. Justin Nelson also outperformed Beto in a bunch of counties, but he did so in 149 of them, and the difference was as much as 100 votes in only two of them, Van Zandt and Hopkins. It’s worth thinking about these things, but it’s the sort of task you should give to a summer intern, not a senior analyst. It’s interesting, but in the end it’s not that big a deal.

How Dems took Hays County

Three cheers for Texas State University.

As the dust settles after last week’s election, the political identity of Hays County hangs in the balance: Is it red or blue?

The rapidly growing Central Texas suburban county — Texas’ 22nd-largest by registered voters – hadn’t voted for a Democrat at the top of the ticket since 1992. In this year’s general election, however, it gave U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke, D-El Paso, a 15-point edge over Republican incumbent U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz. It was the first time in 13 general elections that the county flipped, even though it has become increasingly blue in recent elections.

What exactly fueled the flip is still unknown – and it’s most likely due to a slate of factors – but University of Houston political science professor Brandon Rottinghaus said the “off-the-charts-big” student turnout at Texas State University played a big role.

Turnout was so large during early voting that students reported waiting in lines for more than an hour. After the Texas Civil Rights Project threatened to sue the county amid allegations that it was suppressing the college student vote, Hays County commissioners extended early voting on the Texas State campus and created an additional Election Day voting site.

Hays County election data indicates that Texas State students took advantage of the extended voting opportunities. The 334th precinct, which includes the on-campus LBJ Student Center voting location, saw the largest increase in voters from 2014 to 2018 of any precinct in Hays County. A total of 1,942 voters cast their ballots this election. That’s more than five times the 373 voters who cast their ballots in the 334th precinct in 2014, and significantly higher than the 1,406 voters who cast their ballots in that precinct in 2016, a presidential election year.

[…]

But in a county where more than 80,000 voters cast ballots this past election, experts say there are factors other than a robust young voter turnout that contributed to the flip.

Mark Jones, a political science professor at Rice University, said that Hays County was not as red as other parts of the state heading into the election, but he said it turned blue “much more abruptly than other counties.”

He chalks up the the switch, in part, to poor performances by statewide Republican candidates.

“Statewide Republicans were down across the board due to the unpopularity of Donald Trump and the popularity of Beto O’Rourke,” Jones said.

Republican incumbents like Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, Attorney General Ken Paxton and Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller faced strong challenges from their Democratic opponents as votes from across the state poured in on election night, even as Hays County handed double-digit advantages to their Democratic challengers.

Jones also said that Hays County may have flipped this election because of the “Austin creep.”

“Metro Austin” — known for its liberal politics — “is increasingly moving north into Williamson County and south into Hays County because home prices in Austin are rising,” Jones said. “You’re getting more people who look, act, think and feel like Austin residents who move across the Hays County line.”

See here for some background. While it’s clear that Texas State students turned out in force, the magnitude of the Dems’ win in Hays County leads me more towards the “Austin creep” theory. It’s basically the same thing as what we’ve seen in Fort Bend and Collin/Denton, as voters from the nearby large urban county have been part of the population growth there. What I’d really like to see is a comparison of Hays County, which borders Travis to the southwest on I-35, and Bastrop County, which borders Travis to the southeast where US290 and SH71 go and where Ted Cruz increased his margin from 2012 to 2018 by a bit. Bastrop is clearly more rural than Hays and I’m sure that has a lot to do with it, but there’s also a lot of new development near the border with Travis, and it seems to me there’s a fair amount of “spillover” population as well. Does that part of Bastrop vote more like Travis, or is there a clear demarcation? The geography may also make a difference – the southwest part of Harris County that abuts Fort Bend is Democratic, but the south/southeast part of Harris that borders Galveston County is not, and I believe that has contributed to Galveston County getting redder. Maybe there’s a similar effect for Hays and Bastrop? I’m just speculating. Anyway, that’s another question I’d like to see explored. In the meantime, kudos to everyone who worked to make Hays County blue this year.

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

Close races do complicate things.

Rep. Beto O’Rourke

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

It’s the definition of gerrymandering.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The case against Beto (and Julian) for President

From Chris Hooks:

Rep. Beto O’Rourke

Democrats, taking advantage of the president’s unpopularity, stand a chance of winning control of more state legislatures in 2020 and building the foundations of their party, just as Republicans did in 2010. It’s a great opportunity, and yet Democrats seem singularly focused on the upcoming presidential primary. Democrats, God bless them, are slow learners.

The prospective field includes at least two Texans: one who drafted himself, and one who is being drafted by his followers. The first is Julián Castro, the former mayor of San Antonio and Obama’s secretary of Housing and Urban Development. He’s written a book, which seems to be a necessary precursor these days, and he’s building a PAC. Then there’s Beto O’Rourke, whom the media has been urging to run for president since at least this summer. (He said at a town hall on Monday that he and his wife “made a decision not to rule anything out.”)

Castro was, and in some quarters still is, seen as one of Texas’ great Democratic up-and-comers. O’Rourke started his campaign with little chance of success, but fought like hell. Castro, on the other hand, has stayed on the sidelines, which makes his ambitions for the presidency all the more odd. For years, Castro told allies he thought he could win a close statewide race, perhaps for governor or lieutenant governor or attorney general. But he didn’t like his chances if he started with a 10- to 20-point deficit. Given Democratic performance in Texas, it didn’t seem like his time had come yet. Beto, by contrast, jumped into what looked from the start like a 20-point race. Through Herculean effort, he closed it to less than a three-point gap. When it became clear that Beto was doing something real, many Democrats privately grumbled that Castro hadn’t run for governor or another statewide office.

Texas Democrats should fervently hope that neither Castro nor O’Rourke runs for president, for the simple reason that Texas needs them a lot more than the nation does. It’s important that a Democrat beat Trump in 2020, but only one person can win the nomination. Most failed presidential campaigns are high-risk bids for personal glory and a waste of time and money. Meanwhile, state government and Congress bend and shapes people’s lives in unseen ways. Texas is in dire need of strong Democratic candidates who can run good campaigns and reverse the damage that decades of Republican control has done to the state. In 2020, Senator John Cornyn will be up for re-election, and the governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general and other statewide offices will be chosen by voters in 2022.

Before I go on, let the record show that Nonsequiteuse was singing from this hymnal two weeks before Hooks:

Beto, we need you in Texas.

Your work here is not done. Our work here is not done. We knocked it out of the park in the state’s largest county. And we came painfully close in many other races. But we didn’t get the prize of putting Democrats in statewide offices. We’re still a state shamefully represented by a Lt. Gov. obsessed to a troubling degree with how and where people urinate, and a thrice-indicted Attorney General.

Please don’t abandon Texas. Don’t leave us to try to recreate what you’ve built. We know all too well what years of chronic under-investment and infighting does to Democrats’ chances on the ballot. It’s time to find out what happens when we do the opposite and keep doing it, over and over again.

You’ve shown you are willing to do the painstaking work that kind of movement requires.

Analyzing the numbers shows where the Democrats need to focus going forward, and your campaign shows what sort of outreach and activism turns citizens into voters. And you’ve got some great newly-elected Democrats from Congress on down who will be there to keep the work going, too.

So Iowa may be calling, and New Hampshire is going to love you, trust me. Speaking engagements on college campuses and with Democratic organizations around the county will be yours for the taking, and undoubtedly, podcasts and political talk shows are already clamoring to book you.

But, as one of my heroes would say, I sure hope you’ll dance with them what brung you. Keep talking with us, listening to us, and working alongside us in this Lone Star State.

As you know, I want Beto to run for Senate in 2020. There are other good options for this, including Julian Castro – I’d only considered Joaquin Castro, as he had expressed some interest in running for Senate in 2018 – but suffice it to say Beto is my first round draft choice. I agree that Texas needs him more than the cattle call of Democratic Presidential wannabes need him, and just because he’d have to survive a bruising primary against some really talented politicians, his odds of being elected to the Senate seem higher to me. Any way I look at it, this is the path I would point him towards.

As for Julian, he’s been talking about the Presidency for a couple of years, he has been a Cabinet secretary, he was on the short list for VP in 2016, etc. And not to put too fine a point on it, but in 2020 the choice for a statewide person who is not a judge is the Senate and the Railroad Commission. Neither Beto O’Rourke nor Julian Castro is going to run for Railroad Commissioner, so as far as 2020 goes, it’s US Senate or bust, at least in Texas.

So yeah, if we had to do it all over again, Julian should have run for Governor this year. He’d have surely done better than Lupe Valdez, though it’s hard to believe that the Dems left many votes on the table, given that Beto exceeded Hillary Clinton’s total from 2016. If we want to look all the way to 2022, there are two issues to consider. One is that Julian Castro will have been out of government for six years by then – everyone has a shelf life, like it or not – and if God willing 2022 is the first midterm of a Democratic administration, the climate could be a lot less hospitable than it was this year.

We’re getting way ahead of ourselves here. The key for 2020 is to build on what was done in 2018. I believe Beto is best positioned to do that, but Julian could also do it if Beto declines. (As could several other folks.) Julian is probably better placed to run for President if he wants to, and who knows, if he’s on the ticket that in and of itself could be a big boost for Texas Dems. But yeah, bottom line is I hope Beto resists the siren call to run for President. The most good he can do is here.

The decline and fall of the Republican Party in Harris County

It can be summed up in this table:


Dist   Romney  Trump   Cruz
===========================
HD126   62.1%  53.0%  51.5%
HD127   69.2%  61.2%  59.5%
HD128   72.4%  68.2%  66.8%
HD129   64.5%  55.3%  54.0%
HD130   75.9%  68.1%  66.0%
HD132   58.9%  50.0%  47.9%
HD133   68.1%  54.5%  54.3%
HD135   58.8%  48.9%  46.4%
HD138   59.2%  47.8%  46.5%
HD144   47.9%  38.4%  37.9%
HD150   68.5%  59.2%  57.0%

These were the last three high-turnout elections. You can see what happens to the Republican share of the vote in State Rep districts that had been held by Republicans after the 2010 election. (I am as per my custom ignoring the unicorn that is HD134.) Besides putting more districts into play – the Democrats now hold 14 of the 24 State Rep districts, and came within an eyelash of winning a 15th – it means the Republicans aren’t running up the score in their best districts, which gives them fewer voters overall in the county, and in overlapping places like CD07 and Commissioners Court Precinct 2. For comparison, here are the Democratic districts over the same time period:


Dist   Romney  Trump   Cruz
===========================
HD131   15.7%  13.3%  14.1%
HD137   34.5%  28.9%  28.7%
HD139   23.6%  20.6%  21.7%
HD140   29.0%  21.9%  21.9%
HD141   12.1%  12.6%  12.7%
HD142   22.0%  21.0%  21.1%
HD143   31.9%  26.0%  26.0%
HD145   38.3%  28.7%  28.3%
HD146   20.1%  17.3%  17.9%
HD147   20.3%  16.8%  16.8%
HD148   41.1%  30.5%  30.0%
HD149   40.1%  32.5%  34.8%

There are a few notable drops in Republican support between 2012 and 2016, mostly in HDs 140, 145, and 148, but overall the decline was less severe. Of course, in some of these districts they basically had nowhere further to fall. The strong Democratic districts also tend to have fewer eligible and registered voters overall, and lower turnout besides. By my count, there were 605,214 votes total cast in the ten State Rep districts the Republicans won in 2018, and 612,257 in the 14 Democratic districts. If you put HDs 132 and 135 back in the Republican column, as they were before the election, then the split was 729,298 votes in the twelve districts that started out with Republican incumbents, and 488,119 votes in the twelve Dem-held districts. They needed bigger margins in those Republican districts, they got the exact opposite, and the rout was on.

Does this mean the Republicans are forever doomed in Harris County? No, of course not. As I said, I was feeling pretty good after the 2008 elections too, and we know what happened next. But the dynamic is clearly different now. Harris County isn’t purple. It’s blue, and it’s blue because there are more Democrats than Republicans. Right now at least, modulo any future changes to the nature of the parties and who belongs to them, the Democrats’ biggest threat in Harris County is lousy turnout. We did get swept in the no-turnout year of 2014, but the margins in the judicial races and at the top of the ticket were much closer than the ones we had this year. Until something changes at a macro level, in any normal-or-better turnout scenario, there are going to be more Democratic voters than Republican voters in Harris County. That’s the threat that the Republicans face, and the trends are not in their favor. On top of the demographic shift in Harris County, Donald Trump helped push away some of the more reliable members of the GOP base this year. Maybe that won’t stick, but even if it doesn’t that doesn’t help them that much. The Harris County GOP can whine all they want to about straight ticket voting. That wasn’t even close to their biggest problem.

Precinct analysis: The two key CDs

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


CD07

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

State R avg         50.38%
State D avg         49.62%

Appeal R avg        51.63%
Appeal D avg        48.37%

County R avg        51.54%
County D avg        48.46%

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


CD02

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

State R avg         53.82%
State D avg         46.18%

Appeal R avg        54.30%
Appeal D avg        45.70%

County R avg        54.60%
County D avg        45.40%

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

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


CD07

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


CD02

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Precinct analysis: Beto does Harris County

He won pretty much everywhere you looked. So let’s look at the numbers:


Dist     Cruz     Beto   Dike   Cruz%   Beto%  Trump%  Clint%
=============================================================
CD02  132,390  129,160  2,047  50.22%  49.00%  52.38%  43.05%
CD07  112,078  129,781  1,843  45.99%  53.25%  47.11%  48.47%
CD08   17,552   11,299    219  60.38%  38.87%  
CD09   22,625   96,747    705  18.84%  80.57%  17.56%  79.70%
CD10   70,435   43,559    849  61.33%  37.93%  63.61%  32.36%
CD18   37,567  145,752  1,314  20.35%  78.94%  19.95%  76.46%
CD22   15,099   16,379    255  47.58%  51.62%
CD29   29,988   86,918    673  25.50%  73.92%  25.46%  71.09%
CD36   60,441   38,985    734  60.34%  38.92%
					
SBOE6 278,443  299,800  4,608  47.77%  51.44%  48.92%  46.59%
					
HD126  28,683   26,642    385  51.49%  47.82%  52.96%  42.99%
HD127  40,910   27,332    491  59.52%  39.77%  61.23%  34.90%
HD128  34,892   17,040    330  66.76%  32.60%  68.17%  28.75%
HD129  35,233   29,467    547  54.00%  45.16%  55.33%  40.06%
HD130  50,631   25,486    581  66.01%  33.23%  68.08%  27.94%
HD131   5,921   35,793    214  14.12%  85.37%  13.33%  84.31%
HD132  32,045   34,388    467  47.90%  51.40%  50.04%  45.68%
HD133  39,175   32,412    578  54.29%  44.91%  54.54%  41.11%
HD134  35,387   54,687    686  38.99%  60.25%  39.58%  55.12%
HD135  26,108   29,740    438  46.38%  52.84%  48.91%  46.80%
HD137   6,996   17,188    184  28.71%  70.54%  28.95%  66.96%
HD138  22,682   25,748    404  46.45%  52.73%  47.80%  47.83%
HD139  10,245   36,770    283  21.66%  77.74%  20.60%  76.12%
HD140   5,181   18,305    123  21.95%  77.53%  21.89%  75.07%
HD141   3,976   27,231    170  12.67%  86.79%  12.58%  85.20%
HD142   8,410   31,178    225  21.12%  78.31%  20.97%  76.20%
HD143   7,482   21,146    164  25.99%  73.44%  26.02%  71.03%
HD144   8,895   14,406    162  37.91%  61.40%  38.41%  57.72%
HD145	9,376   23,500    255  28.30%  70.93%  28.73%  66.91%
HD146	7,817   35,558    301  17.90%  81.41%  17.31%  79.44%
HD147	9,359   45,894    355  16.83%  82.53%  16.76%  79.00%
HD148  14,536   33,378    531  30.01%  68.90%  30.49%  63.83%
HD149  13,603   25,179    252  34.85%  64.51%  32.51%  64.25%
HD150  40,632   30,112    513  57.02%  42.26%  59.18%  36.62%
					
CC1    59,092  230,334  1,851  20.29%  79.08%  19.74%  76.83%
CC2   105,548  122,309  1,617  46.00%  53.30%  46.79%  49.48%
CC3   159,957  173,028  2,501  47.68%  51.58%  48.22%  47.63%
CC4   173,578  172,909  2,670  49.71%  49.52%  51.22%  44.42%

I threw in the Trump/Clinton percentages from 2016 for extra context. Note that for the Congressional districts, the numbers in question are only for the Harris County portion of the district. I apparently didn’t bother with all of the CDs in 2016, so I’ve only got some of those numbers. Anyway, a few thoughts:

– It finally occurred to me in looking at these numbers why the Trump/Clinton percentages from 2016 might be a decent predictor of 2018 performance, at least in some races. Trump’s numbers were deflated relative to other Republicans in part because of the other available candidates, from Gary Johnson to Evan McMullin and even Jill Stein. In 2018, with a similarly objectionable Republican and a much-better-liked Democrat, the vast majority of those votes would stick with the Dem instead of reverting back to the R. That, plus a bit more, is what happened in this race. We won’t see that in every race, and where we do see it we won’t necessarily see as much of it, but it’s a pattern that exists in several contests.

– Okay, fine, Beto didn’t quite win everything. He did come close in CD02, and he came really close in Commissioners Court Precinct 4, the most Republican precinct in the county. Steve Radack may be hearing some footsteps behind him in Precinct 3 for 2020. I’ll talk more about CD02 in another post.

– How about SBOE district 6, the one political entity subject to redistricting that I inhabit where the incumbent is a Republican? Trump made it look swingy in 2016, but the other Republican statewides were carrying it by 13-15 points. Mitt Romney won it by 21 points in 2012, and Greg Abbott carried it by 23 points in 2014. There aren’t that many opportunities for Dems to play offense in Harris County in 2020, but this is one of them.

– Beto was the top performer in 2018, so his numbers are the best from a Democratic perspective. As with the Trump/Clinton numbers in 2016, that means that I will be a bit of a killjoy and warn about taking these numbers as the harbinger of things to come in two years. There’s a range of possibility, as you will see, and of course all of that is before we take into account the political environment and the quality of the candidates in whatever race you’re now greedily eyeing.

– But that doesn’t mean we can’t speculate a little. Clearly, HD138 is the top target in 2020, with HD126 a bit behind. Farther out, but honestly not that far off of where HDs 132, 135, and 138 were in 2016, are HDs 129 and 133, with HD150 another step back from them. (I consider HD134 to be a unicorn, with Sarah Davis the favorite to win regardless of outside conditions.) The latter three are all unlikely, but after this year, would anyone say they’re impossible? Again, lots of things can and will happen between now and then, but there’s no harm in doing a little window shopping now.

More to come in the next couple of weeks.

An in-depth look at the Beto-Cruz race

Good long read from the Trib about the Senate race, which they published after I was well into my county vote analysis. There’s too much to summarize here, but I want to focus on a couple of points.

Rep. Beto O’Rourke

Organizationally, O’Rourke was on his own. Win or lose, he seemed determined to look at how Democrats had run statewide campaigns in the past and, as often as possible, do the opposite of that.

O’Rourke’s longtime chief of staff, David Wysong, left the congressman’s House office and took the lead on campaign strategy in Austin. Back in El Paso, O’Rourke chose a longtime friend and political novice, Jody Casey, to make the trains run on time as campaign manager. Until last year, she worked in sales at General Electric.

Early on, O’Rourke defied the conventional wisdom in Washington and Austin over how to run a modern Senate campaign. He vowed to not hire a pollster or rely on consultants.

“Since 1988, when Lloyd Bentsen won re-election to the Senate, Democrats have spent close to a billion dollars on consultants and pollsters and experts and campaign wizards and have performed terribly,” O’Rourke told the Tribune on the eve of his campaign kick-off in March 2017.

Consultant fees on U.S. Senate races – particularly ones in states the size of Texas – can translate into multi-million dollar paydays. None of O’Rourke’s closest advisers made more than $200,000, and they brushed off pitches from a number of the go-to Democratic hands.

Republicans were quick to jump on campaign finance reports that showed O’Rourke hiring some outside vendors, but the congressman and his campaign maintained that they were only relying on third parties where it was necessary. The aim, he insisted, was to avoid outsiders providing strategic advice designed to calibrate his message.

But the unorthodox approach didn’t stop there. O’Rourke pledged to visit all 254 Texas counties, even as the vast majority of voters live in less than a dozen. He tapped a staffer to livestream on Facebook hours of his time on the campaign trail – not just speeches and town halls but also O’Rourke doing his laundry and skateboarding through a Whataburger parking lot. The goal was to introduce himself to Texans in a way that no candidate had ever tried. Slowly but surely, the crowds showing up at his events in virtually every corner of the state began to grow larger. Donations, most of them small but hundreds of thousands of them, began rolling in – with some supporters motivated in part by O’Rourke’s emphatic refusal to accept money from PACs.

Along the way, O’Rourke’s campaign grew to a scale few would have imagined from the outset. Wysong initially planned for a staff of 60 people. By Election Day, he had hired about 1,000.

[…]

Heading into the final month, it became clear the campaigns were on different tracks when it came to a critical task: getting out the vote. O’Rourke was building a massive in-house operation, complete with hundreds of paid staff, tens of thousands of volunteers and over 700 “pop-up offices” across the state from which those volunteers could phone bank and organize block walks.

Much like the beginning of his campaign, O’Rourke stopped in places that a more traditional campaign might have passed on in those final days, like east Fort Worth, where the novelty of a nationally prominent candidate stopping by was not lost on African-American voters.

“He would feel or hear from people that he was visiting, ‘You haven’t been here,’ or ‘Not enough of this community is represented at your events,’ so we would try to make events more convenient to people that we were trying to attract,” Wysong said.

O’Rourke spent the final stretch of the campaign making multiple stops a day – sometimes in parking lots and parks that had little overhead cost – with a bullhorn in hand. The early voting stops were nearly always within walking distance of a voting location.

“We had to get a better bullhorn,” Wysong said.

Cruz, meanwhile, also hit the road during the period — going on a bus tour through Election Day — but had no comparable get-out-the-vote effort inside his campaign, and by all appearances, relied on the robust turnout machine created by another statewide official, Gov. Greg Abbott. Cruz even embraced the dynamic in the race’s closing days, using a Texas Tribune article about it as a rallying cry.

[…]

In the days after an election, those connected in any way to the losing side can often turn into a circular firing squad, quick to throw blame and I-told-you-so’s at others. Yet Tuesday night and throughout Wednesday, prominent Democrats around the state were unenthusiastic — even privately — to criticize the O’Rourke campaign’s execution. There were minor suggestions on how to improve on statewide campaigns in the future – that perhaps the 254-county strategy was misguided, that more needed to be done to appeal to Latino men, that O’Rourke should have hit Cruz sooner and harder.

But for the first time in a long time, Democrats in Texas were at peace about their most recent election.

“I’m not a good second-guesser because I’m a big believer that choices have consequences,” said Amber Mostyn, a prominent Houston Democratic donor. “So, if Beto had done something differently, as I would have advised, then there would be other consequences.”

There is also a sense across the state that something in the electorate may have shifted over the course of this race.

Still, there is fear among some Democrats that they may not be able to recapture the momentum and build on these gains without O’Rourke leading the charge, particularly with the added hurdle of the elimination of straight-ticket voting starting in 2020. When else could the stars align in this way — with a president who so motivated his opposition’s base, when so many talented candidates stepped forward to run down-ballot, and when someone with the star power of O’Rourke could lead the charge?

“If they can’t win yesterday, I don’t know when they win,” concurred Rob Jesmer, a longtime adviser to U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, and the former executive director of the Republican Senate campaign arm.

Other Republicans are not so confident. Under the hood, the damage was significant. There are no urban counties left in the state that support Republicans, thanks to O’Rourke winning there. The down-ballot situation in neighboring Dallas County was an electoral massacre, as was the situation in Harris County.

“This election was clearly about work and not the wave,” Mostyn said. “We have been doing intense work in Harris County for five cycles and you can see the results. Texas is headed in the right direction and Beto outperformed and proved that we are on the right trajectory to flip the state.”

Nervous Republicans also see the largest warning sign of all, beyond the frightening election returns in the cities: The Democrats now have a Texas farm team. But can they do anything without a charismatic standard-bearer like O’Rourke? And will he run again?

Like I said, read the whole thing. This one is going to be studied by political science types for years to come, either as a critical turning point or a massive missed opportunity. For me, I would say that the next Beto-wannabe should have access to a pollster, if only to know where they stand as the campaign goes along, and I would argue that while the idea of visiting all 254 counties is nice, some counties are more important than others. Job One for 2020 is building on what we accomplished this year, and that means enabling more growth in the places where Dems took big steps forward, and fostering it in the places where we’re still in the first stages of it. The smaller metro areas out in west Texas – Lubbock showed some real growth, for example, but places like Abilene and San Angelo still have a long way to go – and the fast-growing counties around San Antonio – we really need to step it up in Comal County – should be priorities. We also need to reckon with how we’re going to fund the next Beto, because not everyone is going to have the national spotlight like Beto. We need to develop grassroots fundraising capacity, which the Congressional candidates tapped into much more successfully than the other statewide candidates did. I think this year we finally realized that we actually do have the recipe for success, but we haven’t quite figured out how to put it all together. We’re closer than we’ve ever been, but we can’t take anything for granted. Let’s learn from this and make it better next time.

How Ted Cruz barely hung on

Let’s check some hot takes on what happened in the Senate race.

Rep. Beto O’Rourke

All in all, Beto improved upon Democratic gains in Texas’ 10 most populous counties, long central to their hopes of turning the state purple. But what about the suburban and more rural areas that make up the rest of the state?

The challenger managed to flip Nueces, Hays and Williamson counties, all which went for Trump in 2016. He even managed to reclaim Jefferson County, which was the only county Cruz lost in 2012 that Trump won in 2016.

Of the 30 most populous counties, Beto won or virtually tied in 14 of them. But Cruz was still able to stave off the challenger.

This comes from Cruz’s Republican base of support from smaller rural counties. Beto’s strategy of visiting all 254 Texas counties was not able to make up enough ground in these heavily red areas to overcome Cruz’s advantage.

Cruz was also able to reclaim some lost ground from 2016. He won back Kenedy County, which Trump lost by eight percentage point in 2016.

It may have been a tighter race than in years past, but Texas is still a Republican state regardless of the urban and suburban areas trending more Democratic.

Kinda lukewarm, actually. Mostly, that’s not nearly specific and detailed enough for my taste. Let’s see what the Observer has to say.

On average, outside the state’s 30 most populous counties, O’Rourke performed 2 percentage points better than Democratic gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis in 2014, according to an Observer analysis. While Davis picked up about 22 percent of the vote in those counties — home to 5.8 million Texans — O’Rourke got 24 percent. Hillary Clinton pulled 23 percent of the vote in those counties in 2016, the analysis shows.

In Nacogdoches County, where Davis got 24 percent in 2014 and Clinton garnered 30 percent, O’Rourke pulled 36 percent after visiting the town several times. In much smaller Bailey County, where a woman attending a Muleshoe town hall interrogated him about gun rights and rattlesnakes, O’Rourke nearly doubled Davis’ performance, pulling in 25 percent of the vote. In Abilene’s Taylor County, Beto won 26 percent of the vote compared to Davis’ 17 percent and Clinton’s 22 percent.

O’Rourke moved the needle from the last midterm by 4 percentage points in both Lampasas County, where he packed an event beyond capacity in August (and was heckled by a Trump supporter) and in Cooke County, where O’Rourke said he ate “the best fried pies of my life.” He also saw a 4-point increase in Kerr County in the western Hill Country.

But pockets of rural Texas — some in the Panhandle, West Texas and along the Gulf Coast — resisted Betomania and shifted further right on Election Day compared to 2016. For instance, Dallam County, at the Panhandle’s far northwestern corner, and nearby Castro and Cochran counties, favored Clinton over O’Rourke by a few points.

A bit better, but the problem with talking about percentages is that it gives no sense of the scope. A shift of one percentage point in Harris County this year equates to 12,000 votes, as there were 1.2 million votes cast. Most of those small rural counties that were Cruz’s strength don’t have 12,000 people in them, let alone votes. Kenedy County, cited in the Chron story, was carried by Cruz by the margin of 100 to 77. That’s one hundred votes for Cruz to seventy-seven votes for O’Rourke. I’m sure Ted Cruz is happy to say that he ruled Kenedy County, but I don’t think it was a key to his victory. In Dallam County, there were 1,114 total votes cast in the Senate race. In Castro County, 1,623 votes. There are literally hundreds of individual precincts in Harris County bigger than those. Yes, every little bit counts. I’m just saying these are very little bits, and as such their ability to tell us something about this election is limited.

What about those big counties? I’m glad you asked. Let’s look at this by comparing the 2012 Senate race, in which Ted Cruz beat Paul Sadler, to the 2018 race. It would usually be ridiculous to compare a Presidential year result with an off-year result like this, but as it happens these two years line up quite nicely, with 7,864,822 total votes cast in the former and 8,334,221 in the latter. Cruz defeated Sadler by the score of 4,440,137 to 3,194,927. As of right now, Cruz leads O’Rourke 4,244,204 to 4,024,777. How did the vote shift from one year to the next?

I put together a spreadsheet created from the county by county results for each race. I added columns to compare Cruz’s 2012 vote totals to his 2018 vote totals, and Sadler’s totals to Beto’s. I also added columns to compare the difference between Cruz and his opponent, and the change in those margins from 2012 to 2018. The idea here was to see where Beto gained on Cruz and by how much. A little sorting and summing, and I can present this to you:

Counties with 100K+ RVs: Beto +1,084,260
Counties with 50K to 100K RVs: Beto +13,921
Counties with 10K to 50K RVs: Cruz +58,177
Counties with less than 10K RVs: Cruz + 14,221

Overall, Cruz led Sadler by 1,245,210 votes. He is leading Beto by 219,427 votes, meaning that Beto closed the gap by 1,025,583 votes. Beto acheived all of that and more in the 26 counties that contain at least 100,000 registered voters, gaining 1,084,260 votes over Paul Sadler. He gained an additional 13,921 votes in the 19 counties with 50,000 to 100,000 RVs. Where Cruz gained ground over 2012 was in the 209 counties with 50,000 or fewer RVs, netting a total of 72,398 votes.

So yes, it is true that the smaller counties helped push Cruz forward, and that because there are so many of them, their cumulative effect adds up. But still, their total effect pales in comparison to the biggest counties, which by the way are also the places where the most population growth occurs. Would you rather improve your performance by ten percent in Dallam County or in Dallas County? It’s not even close. I would argue that you could in fact ignore nearly all of those small counties and work on adding to what Beto accomplished this year, and that would provide a clear path to victory. I mean, in 2020 when you could realistically think about 1.5 million votes being cast in Harris County, instead of the 1.2 million we had this year, you’d net another 40,000 votes at Beto’s level of performance. That’s a pretty big chunk of the gap that you have left to close.

Okay, fine, we know about the big urban counties. Democrats have done well in them for years, and while they did extra super well this year, there are still plenty of big suburban counties that make up the backbone of Republican support. Dems still have to overcome that. All right, then have a look a this:


County       Ted 12  Sadler   Ted 18     Beto
=============================================
COLLIN      189,142  96,726  186,625  164,852
DENTON      154,208  77,314  158,509  134,295
FORT BEND   115,580  98,345  111,190  141,846
WILLIAMSON   92,034  60,279   99,696  105,469
HAYS         30,217  24,795   33,169   45,355
MONTGOMERY  135,276  32,608  137,231   51,124
BRAZORIA     69,497  33,744   65,470   45,068
BRAZOS       36,837  16,404   35,724   27,642
LUBBOCK      62,650  24,299   58,709   31,976
BELL         48,913  33,427   47,279   38,191
NUECES       48,008  43,526   45,875   47,265
MIDLAND      35,202   7,826   31,167    9,085
RANDALL      40,815   7,256   37,767    9,324
GALVESTON    66,912  39,443   66,436   43,858
MCLENNAN     47,075  25,102   45,836   28,426
ECTOR        23,629   7,770   20,958    9,209

What should jump out at you in this chart, which isn’t just suburban counties, is that Cruz’s numbers were at best flat from 2012, while Beto added huge sums to Sadler’s tally. That as much as anything should scare the pants off of Republicans. You can write off Harris and Dallas and Travis if you want, but when you’re also losing Fort Bend and Williamson and getting close to parity in Collin and Denton, that’s a big problem. Sure, Montgomery was still strong, but the advantage went from 103K to 86K. That’s not the direction you want to go. The biggest county that was strong for Republicans and in which Cruz increased his lead while both he and Beto both gained votes was Comal County, which is basically Montgomery County’s younger brother. The total vote grew by about 12K, with Cruz gaining a bit less than a thousand overall. The rate of change is still positive, but not by very much, and not by enough to offset those other losses. To summarize:

Ted 12 total = 1,195,995
Ted 18 total = 1,181,641

Sadler total = 628,864
Beto total = 932,985

In those 16 counties, none of which are the big urbans or the Rio Grande/South Texas area, Ted Cruz lost 14K votes while Beto picked up 304K. Maybe this year was an aberration, and Beto was a unicorn. These trends should still really worry you if you’re a Republican. Speaking as a Democrat, they sure make me optimistic.

Texas and Tarrant

The Trib looks at Beto O’Rourke’s campaign focus on Tarrant County.

Fort Worth and its outlying ranches and suburbs are mostly a backwater in Texas politics. Gerrymandered to the hilt, the national parties have mostly ignored this county.

But since Trump’s election, things have changed here thanks to organic Democratic activism and O’Rourke’s high-risk bet to stake his entire statewide strategy on flipping this county to his party.

“Tarrant County is where the energy is, where the excitement is, where they’re blowing the early voting totals from the last midterm out of the water,” he said on Friday, while campaigning on the southeast side of town. “It’s why we are so encouraged.”

But Julie McCarty, the president of the Northeast Tarrant County Tea Party, is not buying any of it.

“I have no worries about Tarrant County,” she emailed to the Tribune. “We are solidly red this go-round, though there are pockets that may be pink. Of course any area that threatens to change is always a concern so we will watch the results carefully and plan accordingly.”

O’Rourke’s strategic gamble would have sounded nuts only four years ago. One by one over the years, other Texas urban counties fell to the Democrats, but Tarrant County remained the largest Republican county in the state and a pivotal part of GOP domination of the rest of the state.

Between 2000 and 2014, each Republican presidential, U.S. senate and gubernatorial nominee carried the county by an average of 19 points. As recently as 2014, U.S. Sen. John Cornyn won Tarrant County by 24 points.

Then came Donald Trump.

With him at the top of the ticket, the GOP’s 2016 margin in Tarrant shrank to nine points — the same spread with which Trump carried the entire state.

And if O’Rourke is successful at turning Tarrant County blue next month, he will push Texas deeper into a political territory where cities are pitted against suburban and rural areas.

As the story notes and as I have observed before, the Presidential results in Tarrant County have been a pretty close match to the statewide results. You could therefore make the reductionist argument that if you can win Tarrant, you can win the state. It’s probably more accurate to say that as a county that is in parts urban, suburban, exurban, and rural, Tarrant is a decent microcosm of the state and thus a reasonable proxy for it. The Star-Tribune follows this line of thinking.

Polls show Cruz is well positioned to win his re-election bid in this reliably red state. But the money pouring into O’Rourke’s campaign, as well as the mass of yard signs declaring “Beto” planted in yards across the state, give some pause.

“Republicans want to defend (Tarrant County) as much as Democrats want to flip it,” said Brandon Rottinghaus, a political science professor at the University of Houston. “The Cruz campaign is hungry to get the base out in the state’s largest urban Republican county and the O’Rourke campaign is fighting for swing voters and to activate Democrats who only vote in midterms.

“Tarrant County can flip if and only if Republican turnout is lackluster and Democratic turnout is blockbuster,” he said. “The elements are in place for this to happen in a surprisingly competitive midterm election, but Tarrant flipping blue is more likely in a presidential election year.”

Is it? Here’s the same comparison for the last three non-Presidential years, substituting in the Lt. Governor results for the Presidential results, so as to avoid the weirdness of 2006:


Year  Candidate   Tarrant   Texas
=================================
2006   Dewhurst    58.77%  58.19%
2006   Alvarado    37.06%  37.35%

2010   Dewhurst    61.67%  61.78%
2010   ChavThom    34.97%  34.83%

2014    Patrick    57.07%  58.14%
2014 V de Putte    39.53%  38.71%

Seems like the same formula is true in the off years as well, with a slight tick in favor of a more Democratic Tarrant County in 2014. None of this is predictive of anything, but I can understand the reason for the focus. I’m sure I’ll check back after the election to see if this pattern holds.

Change Research: Cruz 49, O’Rourke 49

Make of this what you will.

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

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

Early voting, Day 11: Almost done

Before we get to the numbers, here’s my new favorite quote of the cycle:

“If Ted Cruz had Beto’s campaign manager he’d be leading by 20 points,” said Dan Rogers, the Republican chairman in Potter County, where Cruz drew about 600 people at rally on Wednesday night as kids were out trick-or-treating.

And if the referees weren’t biased against him, and the sun wasn’t in his eyes, and the traffic lights were better timed, and the dog hadn’t eaten his homework, and so on and so forth. There’s gotta be at least a master’s thesis in plumbing the psychological depths of that wistful thought.

But that’s not what you came here for. Here are the totals for Thursday, and here are the daily totals from 2010, from 2014, and from 2016, as well as a spreadsheet with totals from 2004, 2008, 2012, and 2016. The running tallies:


Year    Mail    Early    Total
==============================
2010  49,202  332,892  382,094
2014  64,729  255,652  320,181
2018  85,665  670,212  755,877

2008  52,502  591,027  643,529
2012  64,024  614,131  678,155
2016  91,817  777,575  869,392

A return to Monday’s level, but not a step up. We’ll surpass the final total for 2010 tomorrow, and if the usual pattern of the last day being busy holds, I’d expect us to finish up at around 850K. That’ll be a bit higher by the time Tuesday rolls around, as more mail ballots arrive. I’ll put together another set of projections for final turnout once we know what we’ve got. I feel like we’ve got a solid shot at topping the total turnout from 2008 and 2012, which is to say about 1.2 million. I’ll let you know after the Friday numbers come in. Until then, do what you can to make sure everyone you know gets out and votes.

Emerson College: Cruz 50, O’Rourke 47

I’m just going to quit making predictions about when we’ve seen the last poll for this cycle.

Rep. Beto O’Rourke

Texas Sen. Ted Cruz (R) holds a 3-point lead over his Senate challenger Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D) ahead of next week’s midterm elections, according to a new poll.

Cruz leads O’Rourke 50 percent to 47 percent among likely voters surveyed in the Emerson College poll released Thursday, with 2 percent of those surveyed still undecided.

The poll of 781 likely voters in Texas was conducted Oct. 28-30 and has a margin of error of 3.7 percentage points.

The poll shows a somewhat tightened race compared to a previous Emerson College poll released in early October, which found Cruz with a 5-point lead over O’Rourke, 47 percent to 42 percent among likely voters polled.

[…]

The Emerson poll released Thursday also showed Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) with an 8-point lead over his Democratic challenger Lupe Valdez in the governor’s race. Abbott has the support of 51 percent of likely voters surveyed compared to Valdez’s 43 percent.

Polling info is here. So we have the UT-Tyler poll (less than four points), the Quinnipiac poll (five points), the UT-Trib poll, and this one, with three of these polls showing a closer race than the previous time they polled. This is also the closest result we’ve seen in the Governor’s race, in stark contrast to the UT-Tyler poll. Of the six polls we’ve seen in the past two weeks, Cruz has led by three in one, by four in two, by five in two, and by six in one. That’s a close race, close enough that if the polls are a little off, they could be getting it wrong. All focus needs to be on getting the people who haven’t voted yet out to the ballot box.

UT-Tyler: Cruz 47.0, O’Rourke 43.4

Okay, fine, this is the final poll of the cycle.

Rep. Beto O’Rourke

Republican U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz leads challenger U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke, D-El Paso, by 3.6 percentage points among likely voters in a new University of Texas at Tyler poll released Wednesday.

According to the poll, which is the first one released by the university, 47 percent of the 905 likely voters surveyed online and on the phone said they would vote for Cruz, while 43.4 percent said they would vote for O’Rourke; 5.7 percent said they were “not sure,” and 3.9 percent chose “other.”

Among registered voters in the poll, Cruz’s lead was slightly larger at 4.3 percentage points, with 46.5 percent of respondents saying they would vote for Cruz, 42.2 percent saying they would vote for O’Rourke, 7.7 percent saying they were “not sure” and 3.5 percent choosing “other.”

The poll follows a slate of polls that show Cruz’s lead over O’Rourke narrowing. A Quinnipiac University poll released Monday said Cruz was up by 5 percentage points, and a University of Texas/Texas Tribune poll released Friday showed Cruz up by 6.

The UT-Tyler poll was conducted Oct. 15-28 and surveyed 1,033 adults. The margin of error among likely voters was 3.26 percentage points, while the margin of error among registered voters was 3.03 percentage points, according to Mark Owens, a political science professor at UT-Tyler who helped run the poll.

You can see the poll data here. I’ve no idea how UT-Tyler is as a polling outfit, but we’ll see how they do. I’m not sure why you wouldn’t ask respondents if they have already voted if your time in the field includes a week of early voting, but maybe that’s just me. The poll also has Greg Abbott up by 20 on Lupe Valdez, which is easily the largest difference between that race and Beto/Cruz. They have Valdez down in the low 30s. As you know, I don’t think there will be nearly that much separation between Beto and Lupe – some, but not double digits. The overall sample seems a bit Republican-leaning, based on their Trump/Clinton numbers, but perhaps that’s a function of their likely voter screen. Anyway, I’ll say again that I think this will be the last poll result we’ll see before we see the canonical one that counts.

“The least-discussed vulnerable Republican on the ballot”

From Grits:

Grits does not expect Beto O’Rourke to win. But if he were to pull off the upset, many other dominos could fall in succession as a result, with at least three Republican senators, Texas’ Attorney General, and potentially even the Lt. Governor at risk. Another race likely to flip if Dem turnout goes that high is Presiding Judge of the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. Incumbent Sharon Keller won her primary with only 52% of the vote, and CCA races have consistently been among the lowest vote-getters over the years among Republican statewide officials. There is no Libertarian in the race, so the Democrat, Maria Jackson, should get all the anti-incumbent vote. If, on election night, the US Senate race at the top of the ticket is competitive, or heaven forbid, Beto pulls an upset, check down the ballot for this race; it may flip, too.

It’s a little more complicated than that. The basis of this idea, which Grits has advanced before, is that in past elections Republicans have tended to drop off and not vote in downballot races more than Democrats have. If that is the case, and if the top of the ticket features a close race, then it stands to reason that other statewide races would be closer, and might even flip. I made the same observation early in the 2016 cycle when the polls were more favorable to Hillary Clinton in Texas. We seem to be headed for a close race at the top of the ticket this year, so could this scenario happen?

Well, lots of things can happen, but let’s run through the caveats first. First and foremost, Republicans don’t undervote in downballot races at the same pace in off years as they do in Presidential years. Here’s how the judicial vote totals from 2014 compared to the top of the ticket:


2014

Abbott - 2,796,547
Davis - 1,835,596

Candidate         Votes   Dropoff   Drop %
==========================================
Hecht         2,757,218    39,329     1.4%
Brown         2,772,824    23,723     0.8%
Boyd          2,711,363    85,184     3.0%
Richardson    2,738,412    58,135     2.1%

Moody         1,720,343   115,253     6.3%
Meyers        1,677,478   158,118     8.6%
Benavides     1,731,031   104,565     5.7%
Granberg      1,671,921   163,375     8.9%

Maybe if the hot race that year had been more closely contested we’d see something more like what we’ve seen in Presidential years, but so far this isn’t encouraging for that hypothesis.

The other issue is that it’s clear from polling that Beto is getting some number of Republican votes. That’s great for him and it’s a part of why that race is winnable for him, but the Republicans who vote for Beto are probably going to vote for mostly Republicans downballot. The end result of that is judicial candidates who outperform the guy at the top. Like what happened in 2016:


Trump    = 4,685,047
Lehrmann = 4,807,986
Green    = 4,758,334
Guzman   = 4,884,441
Keel     = 4,790,800
Walker   = 4,782,144
Keasler  = 4,785,012

So while Trump carried Texas by nine points, these judicial candidates were winning by about 15 points. Once more, not great for this theory.

Now again, nine points isn’t that close, or at least not close enough for this scenario to be likely. (I had suggested a maximum six-point spread in 2016.) Nine points in this context is probably a half million votes, and undervoting isn’t going to cut it for making up that much ground. But if Beto is, say, within four points (or, praise Jeebus, he wins), and if the reason he’s that close is primarily due to base Democratic turnout being sky high and not anti-Cruz Republicans, then the rest of the statewide ballot becomes very interesting. I personally would bet on Ken Paxton or Sid Miller going down before one of the Supreme Court or CCA justices, but the closer we are to 50-50, the more likely that anything really can happen. You know what you need to do to make that possible.

Quinnipiac: Cruz 51, O’Rourke 46

One last poll for the road.

Rep. Beto O’Rourke

U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, leads El Paso Democrat Beto O’Rourke by 5 percentage points, according to a new poll from Quinnipiac University.

The poll, released Monday with just a over a week left before Election Day, found that 51 percent of likely voters favor Cruz and 46 favor O’Rourke, with just 3 percent undecided. Early voting in Texas is well underway, with numbers at historic highs that have given both campaigns reason for optimism.

[…]

“With a week to go, Texas U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz remains in front, with a slim lead over U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke. O’Rourke is within striking distance, but time is running out in a race that Democrats have hoped would deliver an upset victory that would be key to a Senate takeover,” Peter A. Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Poll, said in a news release.

The polling memo is here. Add this to the pile of other polls from October. The last Q-poll had it as Cruz 54, O’Rourke 45, but you should never read too much into any one poll. This poll also had Abbott leading Valdez 54-40, which is a more modest lead for Abbott than some other polls have shown. At this point, any other results, if they exist, would need to take into account people who have already voted. And when it’s all over, I’ll be very interested to hear from pollsters about how accurate their turnout models wound up being.

The eSlate issue

Everyone please take a deep breath.

Some straight-ticket voters have reported that voting machines recorded them selecting the candidate of another party for U.S. Senate, exposing a potential problem with the integrity of the state’s high-profile contest between U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz and Congressman Beto O’Rourke and leading good government groups to sound the alarm.

Several Democratic voters, for example, have complained the voting system indicated they were about to cast a vote for Cruz, a Republican, instead of Democrat O’Rourke as they prepared to send it. Some said they were able to get help from staff at the polling place and change their votes back to what they intended before finalizing their ballots.

Most of the 15 to 20 people who have complained to the state so far said that their straight-ticket ballot left their vote for U.S. Senate blank, according to Sam Taylor, communications director for the Secretary of State. A spokesman for the Texas Civil Rights Project said the group has received about a half dozen complaints, mostly of Democratic straight ticket voters whose ballots erroneously included a vote for Cruz, and one Republican straight ticket voter whose ballot tabulated a vote for O’Rourke.

The problem occurs on the Hart eSlate voting machine when voters turn a selection dial and hit the “enter” button simultaneously, according to the state. Eighty-two of the 254 counties in Texas have these machines, although complaints have only come from Fort Bend, Harris, McLennan, Montgomery, Tarrant and Travis counties, according to Taylor.

The issue with the eSlate machine first surfaced in the 2016 presidential election. The Secretary of State’s office described it as user error at that time, and said the same of this year’s problems in an advisory sent to election workers issued this week.

“It does pop up from time to time,” said Taylor. Voters should “double and triple check and slow down” before casting their ballots, he said.

Although the state sent the advisory, the Civil Rights Project contends that more should be done to ensure voters understand the potential for wrongly recorded votes.

The group is pushing the state to post advisories to inform voters at the polls about the problem, and how to detect it.

“This is not an isolated issue but a symptom of a wider breakdown in Texas’s election systems,” said Beth Stevens, the organization’s voting rights director. “Texas voters should have full confidence that when they use a voting machine they are indeed casting their ballot of choice.”

I would dispute that this problem first surfaced in the 2016 election. We’ve heard a variation of problems like this going back to at least 2008. Here’s a post I wrote back then, in which there was confusion – some of which was being spread intentionally – about voting straight ticket and then clicking again on Obama/Biden, which of course would have the effect of canceling the vote in that race. This particular complaint may be relatively new, but reports of the voting machines not doing what the voters thought they were going to do have literally always been with us. It’s one part bad interface design, and one part user error.

The solution – for now – really is to review your ballot before you press the “cast vote” button. I do that in every election, because it’s always possible to not click what you thought you’d clicked, just like it’s possible to do that on your computer or tablet or cellphone. Election officials can and should do a more thorough job of educating voters about the voting machines – there are always new voters, and there are always voters who are not confident with electronic gadgets, and these people have as much right to vote the way they want to vote as anyone else – but the bottom line remains the same. Review your ballot before you commit to it, just like you review other transactions.

Here’s that advisory from the Secretary of State, and here’s the press release and letter to the SOS from the Texas Civil Rights Project. The TCRP is 100% correct that Texas needs to upgrade its voting machines, both to improve the interface and also to bolster security. As someone who works in cybersecurity, it’s unthinkable that we have voting systems that provide neither redundancy nor an audit trail. We know what a better system looks like, we just need a government that is willing to invest in it. We just need to vote in sufficient numbers to make that happen. The Trib has more.

Omnibus polling update

One last Trib poll:

Rep. Beto O’Rourke

Republican Ted Cruz leads Democrat Beto O’Rourke 51 percent to 45 percent in the Texas race for the U.S. Senate, according to the latest University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll. Libertarian Neal Dikeman was the choice of 2 percent of likely voters and another 2 percent said they would vote for someone else.

Democratic and Republican voters, as might be expected, lined up strongly behind their respective party’s candidates. But independent voters, a group that often leans to the Republicans in statewide elections, broke for O’Rourke, 51 percent to Cruz’s 39 percent.

“The major Senate candidates were trying to mobilize their partisans, without a lot of attempt to get voters to cross over. And it looks like they’ve done that,” said Jim Henson, co-director of the poll and head of the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas at Austin. “If you look for Republican defections to Beto O’Rourke, they’re not there. But the independents break to the Democrat instead of the Republican in that race.”

The poll of likely Texas voters was conducted before early voting in the general election began this week.

In several other races for statewide office, Republicans hold double-digit leads over their Democratic opponents.

They have Abbott up 56-37, Patrik up 53-35, and Paxton up 48-36. In these races, the Dems don’t get the independent vote like O’Rourke did, and their level of support among Dems is lower, which I will attribute to the usual cause of lower name recognition. As pollster Joshua Blank says later in the piece, the Dems voting for O’Rourke are very likely also going to vote for Lupe Valdez, Mike Collier, and Justin Nelson. A companion piece is about who is saying they will vote this year.

This post was begun before that poll was published, with the intent of capturing the other Senate race results that we’ve had in the past two to three weeks. Here they all are, from FiveThirtyEight, many of which have not been in the news.

Oct 21 – End Citizens United – Cruz 50, O’Rourke 46

Oct 18 – Ipsos – Cruz 49, O’Rourke 44

Oct 14 – Tulchin – Cruz 49, O’Rourke 45

Oct 13 – CNN/SSRS – Cruz 52, O’Rourke 45

Oct 13 – WPA – Cruz 52, O’Rourke 43

Oct 11 – Siena/NYT – Cruz 51, O’Rourke 43

Oct 5 – Emerson College – Cruz 47, O’Rourke 42

There are also the Quinnipiac poll that had Cruz up 54-45, and the CBS/YouGov poll that had Cruz up 50-44. All of these are Likely Voter polls. FiveThirtyEight ran everything through their algorithms and came up with an aggregate 5.8 point lead for Cruz, though their forecast for the actual vote share is 51.8 to 46.6, or a 5.2 point margin. They project turnout of just under 7 million, which needless to say would shatter records for a midterm election in Texas and which our first week of early voting turnout suggests is very much in play. They give O’Rourke a 21% chance of winning. We’ll see if any of that changes as the actual voting continues.

The Beto-Abbott voters

I have three things to say about this.

Rep. Beto O’Rourke

Barring divine intervention, Greg Abbott will handily beat Lupe Valdez — the only real question is by how much. The floor, if there is one, is Wendy Davis’ crushing loss to Greg Abbott by 20 percentage points in 2014. Abbott has the money, the power of incumbency, the “R” behind his name and more cash than an offshore account in the Cayman Islands. At the one and only gubernatorial debate, Abbott barely even acknowledged Valdez’s presence onstage, instead reciting anodyne talking points while making minor news about an extremely modest marijuana measure.

To her credit, Valdez has done more than a lot of bigger-name Democrats who have been “up and coming” for so long they’ve worn out the phrase: She is running. But even an extraordinary Democratic candidate running a flawless campaign would face difficult odds against Abbott, whose lackluster governing style doesn’t seem to bother the Republican electorate. That, I think it’s fair to say, does not describe Valdez or her campaign.

Interestingly, there is an unusually energetic Democratic candidate running a well-above-average statewide campaign this cycle — Beto O’Rourke affords us a rare opportunity to see just how much of a difference all that makes. Polls consistently show Abbott leading Valdez by 10 to 20 percentage points, while Ted Cruz appears to have a much narrower single digit lead over O’Rourke. That’s a remarkably steep drop-off. Are there really that many voters who will vote for Beto O’Rourke and Greg Abbott? I want to meet these strange folks! In any case, the Abbott/Valdez and Cruz/O’Rourke results will be meaningful, but imperfect, data points to gauge the “Beto effect.”

1. You know, just in 2016 Hillary Clinton got about 300,000 votes that otherwise went to Republicans. And in 2010, Bill White got even more than that. So maybe the Beto-Abbott voter this year looks like the Bill White-David Dewhurst voter from 2010, or the Hillary Clinton-pick a Republican judge voter from 2016. It’s not that mysterious, y’all.

2. No question, Beto polls better than Valdez – the difference was generally small early on but is more pronounced now – and I certainly don’t question the notion that he will draw more votes, possibly a lot more votes, than she will. That said, it’s not ridiculous to me that part of the difference in the polls comes from Beto’s name recognition being higher than Lupe Valdez’s. We’ve seen it before, when pollsters go past the top race or two and ask about races like Lite Guv and Attorney General and what have you, the (usually unknown) Democratic candidate hovers a good ten points or more below their final level of support. It may be that one reason why Beto and Valdez were closer in their levels of support early on because he wasn’t that much better known than she was at that time. My best guess is that Valdez will draw roughly the Democratic base level of support, whatever that happens to be. Maybe a bit less if Abbott draws some crossovers, maybe a bit more if she overperforms among Latinos. In the end, I think the difference in vote total between Beto and Valdez will come primarily from Beto’s ability to get crossovers, and not because people who otherwise voted Democratic did not support Valdez.

3. Of greater interest to me is whether the Rs who push the button for Beto will also consider doing so for at least one other Democrat. Mike Collier and Miguel Suazo have both been endorsed by the primary opponents of the Republican incumbents they are challenging, the Texas Farm Bureau and other usual suspects are declining to endorse Sid Miller even if they’re not formally supporting Kim Olson, and we haven’t even mentioned Ken Paxton and Justin Nelson. Plus, not to put too fine a point on it, but those Congressional districts that have drawn so much interest because of their being carried by Hillary Clinton were ten-points-or-more Republican downballot. (CD07 and CD32 specifically, not CD23.) The game plan there and in other districts that the Dems hope to flip – not just Congressional districts, mind you – is based in part on persuading some of those not-Trump Republicans to come to the other side, at least in some specific races. The question is not “who are these Beto-Abbott voters”, but whether the ones who vote for Beto are the oddballs, or the ones who vote for Abbott.

Endorsement watch: Of course it’s Beto

The Chron finally corrects an old and egregious error.

Rep. Beto O’Rourke

With eyes clear but certainly not starry, we enthusiastically endorse Beto O’Rourke for U.S. Senate. The West Texas congressman’s command of issues that matter to this state, his unaffected eloquence and his eagerness to reach out to all Texans make him one of the most impressive candidates this editorial board has encountered in many years. Despite the long odds he faces – pollster nonpareil Nate Silver gives O’Rourke a 20 percent chance of winning – a “Beto” victory would be good for Texas, not only because of his skills, both personal and political, but also because of the manifest inadequacies of the man he would replace.

Ted Cruz — a candidate the Chronicle endorsed in 2012, by the way — is the junior senator from Texas in name only. Exhibiting little interest in addressing the needs of his fellow Texans during his six years in office, he has kept his eyes on a higher prize. He’s been running for president since he took the oath of office — more likely since he picked up his class schedule as a 15-year-old ninth-grader at Houston’s Second Baptist High School more than three decades ago. For Cruz, public office is a private quest; the needs of his constituents are secondary.

It was the rookie Cruz, riding high after a double-digit win in 2012, who brazenly took the lead in a 2013 federal government shutdown, an exercise in self-aggrandizement that he hoped would lead to the repeal of the Affordable Care Act. Cruz, instead, undercut the economy, cost taxpayers an estimated $2 billion (and inflicted his reading of Dr. Seuss’s “Green Eggs and Ham” on an unamused nation). Maybe the senator succeeded in cementing in his obstructionist tea party bona fides, but we don’t recall Texans clamoring for such an ill-considered, self-serving stunt.

Cruz’s very first vote as senator was a “nay” on the Disaster Relief Appropriations Act, a bill authorizing $60 billion for relief agencies working to address the needs of Hurricane Sandy victims. More than a few of Cruz’s congressional colleagues reminded him of that vote when he came seeking support for Hurricane Harvey relief efforts. Cruz’s Texas cohort, U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, was effective in those efforts; the junior senator was not.

Voters don’t send representatives to Washington to win popularity contests, and yet the bipartisan disdain the Republican incumbent elicits from his colleagues, remarkable in its intensity, deserves noting. His repellent personality hamstrings his ability to do the job.

“Lucifer in the flesh,” is how Republican former House Speaker John Boehner described Cruz, adding: “I get along with almost everyone, but I have never worked with a more miserable son of a bitch in my life.”

I never understood why the Chron thought it was a good idea to endorse Cruz in 2012, something that other major papers did not do. I thought it was clear at the time that he would never be anything like the Senator he was succeeding, Kay Bailey Hutchison, and I couldn’t fathom how it was they didn’t see him for what he was. Better late than never, I guess.

Over the weekend, the Chron dumped a massive number of endorsements in the remaining races. I’ll try to highlight and summarize the ones of interest over the rest of this week. They skipped State Rep races in which the incumbent was unopposed, in case you’re wondering about that.

Trump’s slightly less tiny Ted rally

It’s true what they say, size does matter.

Not Ted Cruz

President Donald Trump’s rally Monday in Houston with U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz has been moved to a bigger venue.

Originally set to take place at the NRG Arena, the event will now be held at the Toyota Center, Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale announced in a tweet Thursday afternoon, describing the demand for tickets as “HUGE and unprecedented.” The Toyota Center can hold about twice as many people as NRG Arena — roughly 10,000 versus 19,000.

Trump set expectations high set two months ago, when he announced he would come to Texas in October to hold a rally with Cruz at the “biggest stadium we can find.” Neither NRG Arena nor the Toyota Center are among the state’s largest venues.

See here for the background. I’m sorry, this will never be not funny to me. I should have something more intelligent to say, but I’m too busy giggling.

What are your turnout scenarios?

I keep thinking about this:

County Clerk Stan Stanart predicts up to a million Harris County residents could be casting ballots in a string of hotly-contested races.

As you’ve heard me say many times, the Democrats’ main issue in off year elections in Texas has been that the base vote has not really increased at all since 2002. With the exception of the occasional Bill White or John Sharp, it generally tops out at about 1.8 million, which is what Wendy Davis collected in 2014. This year, there are multiple factors that strongly suggest Dems will blow past that number. The national environment, the plethora of candidates, as well as their terrific success at fundraising, the tremendous level of engagement, and on and on. But right up in there is the increase in voter registration, at the state level as well as here in Harris County. What do the numbers from the past suggest to us about the numbers for this year?

Let’s start with some basics:


Year      Harris      State   Ratio
===================================
2002     656,682  4,553,979  14.42%
2006     601,186  4,399,068  13.67%
2010     798,995  4,979,870  16.04%
2014     688,018  4,727,208  14.55%

Year      Harris   Register      TO
===================================
2002     656,682  1,875,777  35.01%
2006     601,186  1,902,822  31.59%
2010     798,995  1,917,534  41.67%
2014     688,018  2,044,361  33.65%

The first numbers are the turnout figures in Harris County and statewide in each of the last four off year elections. I wanted to see how big the share of the Harris County vote was. YThe second numbers are more familiar, turnout and registered voter totals for Harris County. Let’s use these to get a sense of the range of outcomes for this year. We know that we have about 2,316,000 registered voters in Harris County, based on the news reports we’ve seen. (The exact figure has not been released.)

2,316,000 at 31.59% = 731,624
2,316,000 at 33.65% = 779,334
2,316,000 at 35.01% = 810,831
2,316,000 at 41.67% = 965,077

You can see where Stanart came up with that “up to a million” figure. It’s hardly implausible, based on past performance. Even the fairly modest 35% turnout projection would give us a new record for an off year. Now what might this translate to at the state level?

731,624 at 16.04% = 4,566,941
731,624 at 13.37% = 5,352,040
965,077 at 16.04% = 6,016,689
965,777 at 13.67% = 7,034,967

Six million may well be the over/under total. The Upshot is predicting a range of 6.3 million to 7.2 million, based on the polling data they’ve seen.

Which leads to the next question. If six million is accurate, and Beto O’Rourke is headed to a 45% performance, that’s about 2.7 million votes. Remember when I said that Wendy Davis got 1.8 million in 2014? That’s a 50% improvement over her. Even if you buy into the idea that Lupe Valdez is heading for a 20-point loss, she’d still collect 2.4 million votes out of 6 million. The flip side of this is that Ted Cruz would collect 3.3 million votes, and Greg Abbott would get 3.6 million. That’s a ten percent improvement over the 2010 baseline for Cruz and 20% for Abbott, and it’s about an 18% improvement over 2014 for Cruz and 36% over 2014 for Abbott.

Frankly, all of those numbers seem outrageous to me. Not unrealistic, certainly not impossible, just amazing. A more modest scenario might be the 810K in Harris County, and Harris being about 14.5% of the state total. That gives an estimate of 5.6 million overall, with Beto’s being a bit more than 2.5 million and Lupe Valdez’s 40% translating to 2.24 million. Still a big boost over 2014, no matter how you slice it. You have to contort things to an unrealistic place to not reach historic numbers.

Personally, I do believe Democratic base turnout will be up, quite possibly a lot, over 2010 and 2014. It almost has to be for Beto to be within ten points. Given that Beto is clearly outpolling Lupe Valdez, his vote total will be even higher. You could assume that he’ll still be in the Bill White zone of 2.1 million or so votes, with Valdez doing a Wendy Davis-like 1.8 million. That would imply about 2.5 to 2.6 million votes for Cruz and 2.8 to 2.9 million votes for Abbott. Do you believe that overall turnout will be static from 2014? This scenario leads to a turnout rate of 29.5%, roughly 4.67 million voters out of 15.8 million registered. That seems far more unrealistic to me than the various vote-increasing totals.

I don’t have any conclusions to draw. I’m putting this out here because this is what the numbers we have are saying. What I want to know is, what are the experts saying? What turnout situation do the pollsters expect? The political scientists? The campaigns themselves? I’ll be happy to see a range of possibilities from them as well. It’s easy to say, oh, Quinnipiac has Beto down by 9, it’s all over, but what do you think that means the final score will be? How did you arrive at that? These are the things I think about when I see new polls.

Trump’s tiny Texas rally for Ted

Aww, how cute.

Not Ted Cruz

President Donald Trump will make good on his promise to help Texas Republican Ted Cruz, announcing plans to hold a large rally next Monday night in Houston.

The Trump campaign on Monday said the next stop on the president’s midterm campaign tour will be at the NRG Arena, which its website states can hold “less than 10,000” people near the larger NRG Stadium.

In August, Trump said he would do a “major rally” for Cruz in the “biggest stadium in Texas we can find.”

The NRG Arena is not the state’s largest stadium. That honor goes to Kyle Field at the Texas A&M University campus with its seating capacity of 102,733.

That’s the biggest stadium he could find? Really? Maybe that was the biggest stadium he felt like finding. Or the biggest he thought he might have a shot at filling up. Or the biggest stadium he thought Ted Cruz deserved. I could do this all day. I’ve seen some folks suggest on Facebook reserving tickets, then not attending so there will be lots of empty seats. I’ve no idea how well that might work, but I do see people going through with it (you have to go to Trump’s campaign webpage for, and I’d sooner eat paste than link to it, so you’re on your own if you want in), so we’ll see if it has any effect. But seriously, the “biggest stadium in Texas”? It wouldn’t even be the biggest stadium in HISD. Never believe a word Trump says.

CD31 “live poll” Carter 53, Hegar 38

Not a great result in CD31, where Democratic challenger MJ Hegar and her fundraising and amazing vidoes have moved this race against Rep. John Carter into lean-Republican territory on multiple forecasters’ lists, with two minor caveats and one addendum. Nate Cohn of The Upshot notes that “Hegar, despite being a national phenom, still has extremely low name-ID (but highly positive among those who know her) so some upside for her”. I would suspect that more of the “unknown/no decision” respondents may go her way. Carter won in 2014 by a 64-32 margin, and in 2016 by a 58.4-36.5 margin, so even this meh result is a step in the right direction. The same poll also has Ted Cruz leading Beto O’Rourke 52-43, which as Cohn notes is “consistent with about Cruz +4 or 5 statewide”, as Trump carried CD31 by 13 points while winning statewide by 9 in 2016. The Upshot is going to revisit a few Congressional districts next, so we’ll see what else they’ve got for us.

O’Rourke raises $38 million in Q3

That’s a lot.

Rep. Beto O’Rourke

U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke, D-El Paso, raised $38.1 million for his U.S. Senate campaign in the third quarter, a new record for the largest fundraising quarter ever in a U.S. Senate race, according to his campaign.

The haul more than tripled Republican incumbent Ted Cruz’s fundraising for the past three months, which Cruz has said was over $12 million. O’Rourke has consistently raised more than Cruz in the race, but this is the widest gap yet. The $38.1 million is by far the largest amount raised in a quarter by a Senate candidate, surpassing Republican Rick Lazio’s record of $22 million in 2000 for his bid against Democrat Hillary Clinton in New York.

O’Rourke’s campaign said the $38.1 million came from 802,836 individual contributions, and a majority of it came from Texas.

“The people of Texas in all 254 counties are proving that when we reject PACs and come together not as Republicans or Democrats but as Texans and Americans, there’s no stopping us,” O’Rourke said in a statement. “This is a historic campaign of people: all people, all the time, everywhere, every single day — that’s how we’re going to win this election and do something incredible for Texas and our country at this critical moment.”

Not to put too fine a point on it, but if O’Rourke had raised $38 million over the entire two-year cycle, it would have been impressive, and at least on par with, if not more than what the incumbent Cruz raised over that time. (Cruz’s $12 million for this quarter is not too shabby in its own right, but my guess is that without the pressure from the Beto machine, he’d have eased up a bit on the accelerator.) The real question is, what do you do with all that money?

In a press release announcing the haul, O’Rourke’s campaign said that they’re launching a “weekend of action” in which they intend to knock on 102,733 doors and make 102,733 phone calls. (That number is the exact capacity of Texas A&M’s Kyle Field, the largest stadium in Texas—perhaps a response to Trump’s vow in August to hold a rally for Ted Cruz in “the biggest stadium we can find.”) Those doors can be knocked on and those calls can be made by volunteers, but also by paid staff hired out of those record fundraising dollars. The campaign can use the money to stake into the ground more of the “Beto for Senate” signs that have become ubiquitous in certain parts of the state. It’ll pay for gas for the well-publicized pickup truck O’Rourke has driven from campaign rally to campaign rally. It can buy stamps for direct mail, or pay for radio, print, and TV advertising in Texas’s nearly twenty distinct (and often expensive) media markets.

It can also buy him more digital advertising, a form of spending that his campaign has invested more money in than any Senate candidate by a wide margin. On Facebook, O’Rourke’s campaign alone has outspent the entire 2018 Senate field—Democrats and Republicans combined—by nearly 30%. Digital ads were considered instrumental to Trump’s 2016 victory.

Much of the efficacy of O’Rourke’s fundraising haul will be determined by the infrastructure his campaign already has. The press release says that he’s built “the largest field operation in Texas history,” and his campaign currently employs about 300 staffers, a huge number. That could give him a place to put the additional short-term workers these numbers would allow him to bring in for a final push. Three and a half weeks is an eternity in politics, but a short time in the world of recruiting, hiring, training, and deploying workers—a challenge of the O’Rourke campaign will probably be to split the difference.

Well, first of all I hope he’s already been spending it, because there’s only so much you can do in four weeks. I hope some of this is earmarked for more traditional TV and radio advertising, with an emphasis on Spanish language ads in the appropriate places. To the extent that it’s legal, I hope some of it is spent boosting other Democrats in key races. People who are turning out for the Congressional candidates (*) and legislative candidates in various races will be voting for Beto, too. I hope some of it is intended to help with the GOTV efforts going on in the key counties. You could pay for an awful lot of rides to the polls, and stamps for vote-by-mail ballots, with that kind of scratch.

I’m just a voice in the peanut gallery, but you get the idea. Spend it on things that make sense, that’s all I ask. Just remember, Beto may have a crap-ton of small-dollar donors, but Ted Cruz has a gang of billionaires backing him, so whatever the disparity in their FEC reports, Cruz will have what he needs to fight, too. Martin Longman has more.

(*) Our Congressional candidates are doing pretty well for themselves, too, but that doesn’t mean they couldn’t use some more help. The legislative candidates would surely not mind a boost, either.