Off the Kuff Rotating Header Image

Texas

Chron goes on a road trip with Beto

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

Rep. Beto O’Rourke

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

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

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

SD19 runoff date set

Mark your calendars.

Pete Gallego

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

Early voting will run Sept. 10-14.

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

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

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

Ted and Trump

Two lousy tastes that taste worse together.

Not Ted Cruz

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

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

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

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

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

The end of the voter ID fight

I guess that’s it.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

After seven long years of litigation, opponents of Texas’ voter ID law say the case is over.

In a court filing on Wednesday, opponents of the law requiring Texas voters to present photo identification to vote told a federal district judge that the case was settled and that they would not pursue any other remedies or changes to the law they first challenged in 2011 as discriminatory against voters of color.

Because neither party in the case asked for rehearing or attempted to kick it up to U.S. Supreme Court, “the substantive merits and remedy phases of this long-standing case are over,” they wrote.

The filing follows the state’s June request to U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos of Corpus Christi to reconsider previous findings that the state’s voter ID law was enacted to purposefully discriminate against Hispanic and black voters. That request came two days after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Texas lawmakers did not intentionally discriminate when they signed off on congressional and state House maps in 2013 — a decision that Texas argued “cast irremovable doubt” on previous decisions against the voter ID law.

[…]

In Wednesday’s filing, opponents of the law asked the court to dismiss the state’s request because there was nothing left to pursue in the case given the 5th Circuit’s ruling that the changes made to law in SB 5 were “an effective remedy” to the original 2011 law that was deemed legally defective.

They also described Texas’s arguments that “new Supreme Court precedent has somehow changed the standard for discriminatory intent that this Court applied in prior holdings” as “frivolous.” The only remaining issues in the case are fees and costs related to the litigation, according to the plaintiffs.

See here and here for the background. We may still be sparring over legal fees when the 2021 Lege convenes with the task of drawing the next decade’s districts, but that’s not going to affect what anyone has to do to vote. As we’ve seen quite a bit lately, this is going to require a political solution. At the federal level, with a new Congress and a new President, a new Voting Rights Act can be passed. At the state level, the voter ID law can be repealed, though at what point the conditions would apply that would allow for that is unclear, to say the least. But this is where we are and where we’ll need to go.

The meta-campaign for Senate

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

Rep. Beto O’Rourke

It’s the most backhanded of compliments.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We really need to replace our crappy old voting machines

This is embarrassing.

Local election administrators in Texas are eager to replace voting machines purchased more than a decade ago in time for the 2020 presidential election. Increasingly susceptible to malfunctions, upkeep for the aging machines can exceed $300,000 annually in the biggest counties. Election experts have also raised security concerns about the paperless electronic devices used in most of the state.

The little help Congress has offered comes in the form of recent funding that will be used for cyber updates and training, not voting machines. And state leaders have shown no interest in chipping in, even as scrutiny over the security of the country’s election systems ratchets up in the face of Russian attacks.

In 2017, budget writers in the Texas Legislature seemed lukewarm to the idea of replacing aging equipment. Legislation that would have created a state fund for new voting equipment died without getting a committee vote in the House. The bill received a late-session hearing during which one lawmaker on the panel, Representative Pat Fallon, R-Frisco, asked county officials to shorten their testimony because a college basketball championship game had just tipped off.

“I hope we don’t have to wait until a crisis, but we are walking on thin ice when it comes to the integrity of our voting machines,” said state Representative Celia Israel, an Austin Democrat and the sponsor of the 2017 legislation.

More than 200 of Texas’ 254 counties still need to replace their voting machines and it appears unlikely that all will be able to do so in time for the next presidential election. The full price tag, according to election officials, is around $350 million — and local officials are having to find inventive ways to cover the costs. Travis County, for example, is expected to announce the winner of a new voting machine contract this week and plans to sell local bonds to come up with the anticipated $15 million.

The situation has grown dire. Some counties are using equipment that’s no longer manufactured. Machine failures are growing more common and it’s becoming harder to find replacement parts. County workers often have to scour eBay and Amazon to locate bygone tech relics such as as Zip disks and flash drives compatible with older machines.

Yeah, ZIP drives. Remember them, from the 90s? If you are relying on this kind of technology today, You Are Doing It Wrong. There’s no excuse for this – even if one thinks the counties should pay for the upgrades themselves, the cost cited in that penultimate paragraph is something like 0.3% of the state’s annual expenditures. It would be super easy to solve this if we gave a shit, but clearly our Republican leaders do not. But hey, I’m sure nothing bad will ever happen.

CD06 poll: Wright 48, Sanchez 39

Via Patrick Svitek on Twitter, I learned of a recent PPP poll in CD06. Here’s the polling memo, and here’s the information you’re most interested in:

Q1 Do you approve or disapprove of President Donald Trump’s job performance?


48% Approve
46% Disapprove
 5% Not sure

Q2 If the election for U.S. House of Representatives were held today, would you vote for the Democratic or Republican candidate in your District?


45% Democratic candidate
49% Republican candidate
 6% Not sure

Q3 If the candidates for U.S. House of Representatives this fall were Democrat Jana Lynne Sanchez and Republican Ron Wright, who would you vote for?


39% Jana Lynne Sanchez
48% Ron Wright
13% Not sure

Not exactly sure why there’s a dropoff from the generic Democrat to Jana Sanchez, but that’s not a terribly unusual event in polls. Smokey Joe Barton won in 2016 by 19 points, and he won in 2014 by 25 points, so whichever result is closer to the truth represents a much tighter race than we’ve seen recently. As noted in other contexts, this is consistent with statewide polling showing narrower than usual margins. I hope we see more Congessional-level polls in the state going forward.

State GOP sues to toss Gallego off SD19 runoff ballot

Oh, good grief.

Pete Gallego

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

The range of Republican anxiety

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

Not Ted Cruz

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

Cruz’s response: Believe it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

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

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

The DACA hearing

I don’t know about this.

The state of Texas will continue to incur irreparable financial harm if an Obama-era immigration program isn’t halted immediately, attorneys for the state argued in Houston on Wednesday.

But lawyers representing nearly two dozen recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program countered by saying Texas sat back for six years and did nothing, and its attorneys have yet to prove the harm the state claims it has faced since the program was implemented in 2012.

Those were just two of the arguments presented to U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen on Wednesday after Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton sued the Trump Administration in May to end the 2012 program, which protects immigrants brought into the U.S. as children from deportation and allows them to obtain a two-year work permit.

[…]

MALDEF and New Jersey said Texas could have filed suit in 2012 or amended its 2014 complaint aimed at DAPA to also include DACA, but instead waited six years to take action. They also argued that while DAPA would have benefitted more than 4 million people, DACA has a much smaller pool of potential applicants. Nina Perales, MALDEF’s vice-president of litigation, said there are only about 702,000 DACA beneficiaries in the country today.

The state of Texas defended its timing by arguing it was waiting for the DAPA outcome to come down and was subsequently encouraged by President Trump’s announcement in September 2017 that DACA was going to be phased out.

Perales also argued against Texas’ assertion that the coalition of states suing to end the program have spent hundreds of millions of dollars to provide DACA recipients with education, health care and law enforcement services. She said the plaintiffs also cite in their evidence the cost of unaccompanied minors who came to the country after 2014, while DACA applies only to people who were in the country from 2007 or before.

She made a similar counter argument to Texas’ claim that it has spent vast sums of money providing healthcare to only DACA recipients.

“What Texas does is it estimates the cost of serving undocumented individuals statewide and applies it to DACA,” she said. “Undocumented immigrants are eligible for a few state funded programs but they are eligible for those regardless of DACA or not.”

She added after the hearing that the evidence actually shows that Texas benefits from DACA recipients working and participating in society.

Throughout Wednesday’s proceedings, Hanen peppered both sides with questions, often interrupting the attorneys and pressing them for more evidence to justify their claims. He also asked the attorneys to submit by Monday a brief on whether DACA violated the federal Administrative Procedures Act if applicants are subject to individual discretion. Hanen ruled in 2015 that DAPA violated the APA, which governs how federal regulations are made

Perales said after the hearing that she was pleased by the judge’s desire for more details.

“The judge was very patient, he allowed each side to get up and make its arguments,” she said. “I was encouraged by the judge’s curiosity and interest in additional questions.”

See here, here, and here for some background. I think we can take it on faith that Paxton’s arguments are more pretext than anything else, but there’s a reason he picked this court and this judge for this lawsuit. We just had a ruling from another federal court that ordered DACA to be restarted, so if Paxton wins here we’re on a direct course to the Supreme Court, and who knows what from there. ThinkProgress, Mother Jones, and Daily Kos have more.

July 2018 campaign finance reports: State House

We’e seen a lot of very good campaign finance reports, all of which speak to the enthusiasm and engagement of Democrats this cycle. This batch of reports is not as good. These are July reports from State House candidates, take from the most competitive districts based on 2016 results. Let’s see what we’ve got and then we’ll talk about it.

Amanda Jamrok – HD23
Meghan Scoggins – HD28
Dee Ann Torres Miller – HD43
Erin Zwiener – HD45
Vikki Goodwin – HD47
James Talarico – HD52
Michelle Beckley – HD65
Sharon Hirsch – HD66
Beth McLaughlin – HD97
Ana-Maria Ramos – HD102
Terry Meza – HD105
Rep. Victoria Neave – HD107
Joanna Cattanach – HD108
Brandy Chambers – HD112
Rhetta Bowers – HD113
John Turner – HD114
Julie Johnson – HD115
Natali Hurtado – HD126
Alex Karjeker – HD129
Gina Calanni – HD132
Allison Sawyer – HD134
Jon Rosenthal – HD135
John Bucy – HD136
Adam Milasincic – HD138


Dist  Name             Raised    Spent    Loans   On Hand
=========================================================
023   Jamrok            3,914    4,244      323       191
028   Scoggins         15,545    8,516    3,000     6,499
043   Torres Miller    10,043    9,109   10,000    10,934
045   Zwiener          42,493   30,608    3,100     5,341
047   Goodwin          97,681  112,871   55,000    46,515
052   Talarico        118,017  120,938   25,000    71,428
065   Beckley          20,609   18,785   10,000     5,143
066   Hirsch           28,597    7,042        0    35,387
097   McLaughlin       19,154   14,713        0    12,314
102   Ramos            28,157   19,562      650    18,205
105   Meza             19,439   10,899        0    10,179
107   Neave           133,759   68,017        0    95,765
108   Cattanach        71,919   17,855        0    53,234
112   Chambers         51,220   22,778        0    23,000
113   Bowers           11,541   14,055        0       216
114   Turner          205,862  103,338    7,000   259,765
115   Johnson         204,965  143,261        0   201,005
126   Hurtado           2,989       90        0     1,906
129   Karjeker         59,746   24,474        0    34,527
132   Calanni           3,939      634      750     3,305
134   Sawyer           22,510   16,559        0    20,973
135   Rosenthal        11,143    2,830    1,750     7,312
136   Bucy             90,301   66,723   46,375    69,680
138   Milasincic       35,762   23,553        0    42,009

As with the State Senate candidates, some of these candidates’ reports reflect the full January through June time frame, some begin eight days before the March primary (for those who had a contested primary), and the reports for Erin Zwiener and Vikki Goodwin begin eight days before the May runoff, as they had to win those races to get this far. Some of the candidates for districts you saw in that earlier posts are not here because they didn’t raise anything worth mentioning. Victoria Neave in HD107 is an incumbent, having flipped that district in 2016; everyone else is a challenger. What’s here is what we’ve got to work with.

The numbers speak for themselves, and I’m not going to review them district by district. Candidates in Dallas County have done pretty well overall, though we could sure stand to do better in HDs 105 and 113, which are two of the best pickup opportunities out there. James Talarico and John Bucy in Williamson County are both hauling it in, but I wonder what they’re spending all that dough on, as neither of them had primary opponents. Alex Karjeker in HD129 is off to a strong start, but he’s not exactly in the most competitive district in Harris County. The good news here is that Annie’s List recently announced their endorsements of Gina Calanni and Allison Lami Sawyer, which ought to boost their numbers. *They also endorsed Lina Hidalgo for County Judge, which is great for her but outside the scope of this post.) Prior to that, the only challengers among the Annie’s List candidates were Julie Johnson in HD115 and Senate candidate Beverly Powell. I very much hope they will ramp up their support of legislative contenders, because we can clearly use all the help we can get.

Now to be sure, there’s a lot of money out there going to turn out Democratic voters. It’s likely that money going to the campaigns for Congressional candidates and Beto O’Rourke will bring them out for the other races as well. But this is an all-hands-on-deck situation, and State Rep campaigns are very well suited for door-knocking and other close-to-the-ground efforts. If you’ve already made donations to Beto or a Congressional candidate, that’s great! But if you haven’t given yet or you’re looking to give again, consider dropping a few coins on a State Rep candidate or two. That looks to me to be your best bang for the buck.

San Antonio looking at driverless car pilot program

Interesting.

Driverless cars could be sharing the road with San Antonio motorists in the not-too-distant future.

The City is requesting information about a potential autonomous vehicle pilot program that would inform how driverless cars are eventually used and regulated.

“As part of planning for the future, the City is seeking to better understand how emerging technology, such as autonomous vehicles, may improve connectivity by filling transportation service gaps, improve safety by reducing potential driver error, and also shift the focus to moving people and not just vehicles,” City officials stated in a request for information, or RFI. Issued Friday, the RFI calls for responses to be submitted by Aug. 20.

[…]

The City Council’s Innovation and Technology Committee in June identified three zones in which to test so-called smart city technology, innovation geared toward making residents’ lives more efficient. The Medical District, Brooks, and downtown were chosen as proving grounds for future initiatives that would be eventually be rolled out citywide.

City officials have said the medical center would likely serve as the local nexus of autonomous vehicle testing.

You can see a copy of the RFI here. The city had announced its intention to make this request back in May. Here’s a bit more about what this means.

The RFI is part of the city’s overall transportation plans for the expected population increase in the region, which will mean millions more vehicles on the roads in the coming years. Potential pilot projects may include autonomous vehicles used within properties like Brooks — the 1,300-acre, mixed-use development on the city’s South Side — which could be used in conjunction with a VIA Metropolitan Transit bus route, or the 900-acre campus of the Medical Center, which has more than 27,000 medical facilities and tens of thousands of employees. Other options include an autonomous shuttle on Joint Base San Antonio military installations or between those properties.

The city of Frisco is doing something like this, though they are (or should be) already at the implementation phase. As an enhancement to transit, using fixed routes in last-mile locations, it makes a lot of sense. I figure something like this will eventually come to Houston – I’m sure Metro is thinking about this sort of thing – but until then I’m happy to wait and see what other cities’ experiences are.

July 2018 campaign finance reports: State Senate

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s been three years since Ken Paxton was indicted

Surely that’s worth noting.

Best mugshot ever

It’s been three years since Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton was indicted for securities fraud, and his Democratic challenger marked the date — with cake.

Justin Nelson, a Houston attorney vying to strip the Republican incumbent of his title, released a YouTube video campaign ad on Thursday wishing Paxton, “Happy birthday to your criminal charges.” The short video, which was recorded to appear like a baking tutorial, also criticizes Paxton for campaign contributions and n incident where he took — then returned — a local lawyer’s $1,000 Montblanc pen.

“On August 3rd, 2015, Indicted Ken Paxton was arrested, booked, and had his mugshot taken,” the video’s description says. “Since Paxton’s criminal charges just turned three, here’s a delicious way to celebrate their birthday!”

[…]

Without a large campaign fund for traditional media, Nelson has turned to YouTube to get his message out, releasing four videos in the last month.

You can see those videos here; they haven’t gotten much traffic yet, but it only takes one to go viral. And, um, Happy Indictment Day.

One federal court orders DACA restored

But hold on, because there’s another ruling to come.

A federal judge on Friday upheld his previous order to revive an Obama-era program that shields some 700,000 young immigrants from deportation, saying that the Trump administration had failed to justify eliminating it.

Judge John Bates of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia gave the government 20 days to appeal his decision. But his ruling could conflict with another decision on the program that a federal judge in Texas is expected to issue as early as [this] week.

[…]

Bates ruled in late April that the administration must restore the DACA program and accept new applications. He had stayed his decision for 90 days to give the Department of Homeland Security, which runs the program, the opportunity to lay out its reasons for ending it.

Kirstjen Nielsen, the homeland security secretary, responded last month, arguing that DACA likely would be found unconstitutional in the Texas case and therefore must end. She relied heavily on the memorandum that her predecessor, Elaine Duke, had issued to rescind the program and said the department had the discretion to end the program, just as the department under Obama had exercised discretion to create it.

Bates, who was appointed by President George W. Bush, did not agree. He called the shutdown of the program “arbitrary and capricious” and said Nielsen’s response “fails to elaborate meaningfully on the agency’s primary rationale for its decision.”

That’s the good news. The bad news is that federal judge Andrew Hanen will have a hearing in Houston on Wednesday the 8th on the Paxton lawsuit that seeks to put an end to DACA, and everyone seems to think that Hanen will (as has been his custom) give Paxton what he’s asking for. Which will force the matter to SCOTUS, and Lord only knows what happens next. I have more on the Texas case here and here, and see Mother Jones and ThinkProgress for more on the DC court’s ruling.

From the “Many are called, but few are chosen” department

Here are your non-standard choices for the November election.

Independent candidates

Candidates unaffiliated with a political party are allowed access to the general election ballot as long as they file the necessary paperwork and gather a certain number of signatures — depending on the office sought — from people who didn’t attend either the Republican or Democratic party conventions this year or vote in either party’s primary.

“It’s up to their personal campaign on how they want to portray themselves [but] when you’re an independent, you haven’t attended the convention of another party,” said Sam Taylor, a spokesman for the secretary of state’s office.

Independent candidates were required to register with the appropriate office by June 21. This year, eight candidates are registered as independents — seven in congressional races and another vying for a state House seat. None are running for statewide office. Independent U.S. Senate candidate Jonathan Jenkins missed the filing deadline for the November ballot.

Here’s the full list of independent candidates:

  • Scott Cubbler in the 2nd Congressional District in the Houston area.

  • Benjamin Hernandez and Kesha Rogers in Houston’s 9th Congressional District.

  • Ben Mendoza in El Paso’s 16th Congressional District.

  • Kellen Sweny in the Houston area’s 22nd Congressional District.

  • Martin Luecke in Texas’ 25th Congressional District, which spans from Fort Worth to Austin.

  • James Duerr in Texas’ 27th Congressional District along Texas’ Gulf Coast.

  • Neal Katz, in Texas House District 6 in Tyler.

Write-in candidates

Five parties in Texas made an effort this year to get November ballot access — America’s Party of Texas, the Christian Party of Texas, the Green Party of Texas, None of the Above and the Texas Independent Party. However, none of the parties secured the nearly 50,000 valid signatures needed for ballot access this fall.

There’s a last-ditch effort these parties can utilize, however: filing a declaration of write-in candidacy. The window to file declarations opened on July 21 and will close Aug. 20, Taylor said.

As of Friday, Taylor said, only one candidate had filed a nominating petition: Samuel Lee Williams Jr. (who will appear on the ballot as Sam Williams). According to his campaign filing, Williams is running as a candidate for the Independent Party against Democrat Veronica Escobar and Republican Rick Seeberger in the race fill the U.S. House seat that’s being vacated by Beto O’Rourke, D-El Paso.

But don’t be surprised if more write-ins file to get on the ballot over the next several weeks. Jan Richards, a Green Party of Texas candidate for governor, told The Texas Tribune she plans to send her paperwork to the secretary of state’s office in the final days leading up to the declaration deadline — but first she said she needs to collect the $3,750 needed to be eligible as a write-in. She said she wasn’t aware of other candidates in her party that planned on doing the same.

The Libertarians have a full slate, but that’s boring since they do that all the time. The number of official Independent candidates is a lot less than the number of people who originally expressed interest in being an independent candidate, which 1) is completely unsurprising, and 2) is another reminder that actually being a candidate requires a higher level of commitment and follow-through than talking about being a candidate. Sadly, the final list does not include Yvette “Will Rap 4 Weed” Gbahlazeh, but one presumes she has a ready way to console herself for that. The main effect any of these candidates are likely to have will be to make it that someone can win a race with less than 50% of the vote. This was a more common occurrence last decade, before the 2011/2013 redistricting, but it does still happen – Rep. Will Hurd in CD23 has won both his races with less than half the vote – but given the environment this year and the competitiveness in more districts than usual, anything is possible.

Lots of Harvey waivers out there

And good for the school districts that got them.

The vast majority of Houston-area school districts will be eligible for academic accountability waivers this year due to Hurricane Harvey, meaning they will be labeled “not rated” unless they score an “A” grade for excellence, the Texas Education Agency announced Wednesday.

The list of waiver-eligible districts includes 19 of the region’s 25 largest school districts. The six exceptions: Conroe, Klein, Pearland, Tomball, New Caney and Magnolia independent school districts. About 110 school districts were deemed eligible for waivers statewide, stretching from Port Aransas to Houston to Beaumont.

TEA officials on Wednesday also released the full list of roughly 1,200 Houston-area schools that will be eligible for campus-level accountability waivers, which will preclude them from receiving an “improvement required” label this year. The list, as expected, includes six Houston ISD campuses that would have triggered major state sanctions had any one received an “improvement required” rating this year. Four other HISD schools that could trigger sanctions this year are not among the waiver-eligible campuses.

[…]

Most Houston-area districts likely will not receive a letter grade for academic performance in 2018, the first year of the state’s new “A”-through-”F” accountability system, after qualifying for waivers. In previous years, districts were labeled “met standard” or “improvement required.” Campuses still will receive those two ratings in 2018, with the “A”-through-”F” system extending to schools in 2019.

In some districts, including those closed for 10 days or more due to Harvey, every campus also will be exempt from receiving an “improvement required” rating. Those districts include Alief, Fort Bend, Katy, Pasadena and Spring.

In other areas, the district and some — but not all — campuses will be eligible for accountability waivers. In Houston ISD, for example, 185 out of 285 campuses are waiver-eligible.

[…]

Klein ISD Superintendent Bret Champion said he believed any district that lost instructional time due to Harvey should receive an exemption. Klein ISD closed for seven days after Harvey, with one of its 53 campuses shuttered for the entire school year due to storm damage.

“There wasn’t a soul who wasn’t impacted by Harvey is some way, shape or form,” Champion said.

See here and here for some background. I personally agree with Bret Champion, but I wasn’t asked for my input. The stakes are higher for HISD than they are for other districts, but even without that I say the disruption was enough that a do-over for all was warranted. We’ll see what the effect of taking a less-broad approach will be.

PPP: Cruz 46, O’Rourke 42

Once, twice, three times a poll result.

Rep. Beto O’Rourke

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

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

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

Key findings from the survey include:

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

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

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

Stalking Sessions

It sure would be sweet to beat Pete.

Rep. Pete Sessions

The man who engineered the 2010 Republican takeover of the House is racing to save himself in his own election this year — and he admits, in so many words, that President Donald Trump isn’t helping.

Texas Rep. Pete Sessions, a longtime party leader and former House GOP campaign chief, is confronting a treacherous political landscape back at home — a well-funded Democratic opponent with a boffo résumé, a rapidly diversifying and more liberal district, and, perhaps most critically, a constituency of well-educated and upper-income suburban voters who increasingly are turning on the president.

His predicament underscores the grave danger confronting Republicans this fall. As the party braces for an electoral drubbing that threatens to wipe out the majority they won eight years ago, the list of incumbents under duress is growing ever longer — and even powerful lawmakers like Sessions, a sharp-elbowed tactician who hasn’t faced a serious reelection contest in over a decade, are suddenly trying to survive a Trump-fueled bloodbath. In Texas alone, Democrats are targeting three Republican incumbents who’ve been in office for over a decade.

In an interview this week, Sessions, who was first elected in 1996, was careful not to overtly criticize the president — he praised some aspects of Trump’s record, including on national security. But the Texas congressman pointedly declined to say whether he’d campaign as an ally of the president, who narrowly lost Sessions’ North Dallas district in 2016. And he appeared to concede that some in the business-friendly area — which is home to a number of prominent country club-style Republicans, including former President George W. Bush — have soured on the bombastic commander in chief.

[…]

It’s a far cry from 2010, when Sessions, then the National Republican Congressional Committee chairman, helped to orchestrate a historic 63-seat wave that catapulted his party into power.

Sessions took a startlingly aggressive approach to target powerful Democrats long seen as politically untouchable, recruiting challengers against powerful committee chairmen and other veteran lawmakers who hadn’t faced tough races in years. Many were caught flat-footed and either lost their races or chose not to seek reelection.

This time, the roles are reversed — and it’s Sessions, now serving as the gavel-holder on the influential Rules Committee, who’s under siege.

The prospect of exacting revenge on the Texas congressman has thrilled national Democrats. A super PAC allied with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi plans to spend over $2 million on TV ads in support of Sessions’ opponent, Colin Allred, a former NFL player-turned-attorney and ex-Obama administration official. Major party figures, including former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick and former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro, are flooding into the district to campaign with the 35-year-old upstart.

We know Sessions hasn’t faced a serious challenger since the 2011 redistricting. As it happens, the best-funded opponent he’s had since defeating Martin Frost in 2004 was in 2010, when Grier Raggio raised $669K. Still, add that to the totals of his 2008 and 2006 opponents, plus the ones from this decade, and it’s still less than what Colin Allred has raised so far. Money isn’t everything, of course, and CD32 was still basically a 12-point district in 2016 outside of the Presidential race. G. Elliott Morris currently gives Dems a 40.7% chance of winning there; for comparison, he has CD07 at 51.2% and CD23 at a whopping 84.7% to flip. Sessions is a big fundraiser and has a reputation as a tough campaigner. Beating him won’t be easy. But it sure would be awesome.

Quinnipiac: Cruz 49, O’Rourke 43

Two polls in one week.

Rep. Beto O’Rourke

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lyceum: Cruz 41, O’Rourke 39

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

Rep. Beto O’Rourke

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

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

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

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

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

Registered voters:

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

Likely voters:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Trib profiles Kim Olson

I have four things to say about this:

Kim Olson

Wherever she goes, Kim Olson carries with her packets of wildflower seeds advertising her campaign to unseat Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller.

Olson calls the seed packets her “calling card.” She distributes them to everybody she meets on the campaign trail, from fellow Democrats at fundraisers in Austin to farmers selling pickles at outdoor markets in conservative West Texas. After lunch last week at an eatery in Midland, Olson had one of her supporters slip a seed packet into the bill.

Olson, a third-generation farmer, has only slightly less cash on hand than her Republican opponent, and over the last few months, she has established herself as the most outspoken feminist on the statewide Democratic ticket, with a loyal following of women who admire her barnstorming speeches. Although every Texas Democrat running this year faces an uphill battle in a state dominated by Republicans, experts in both parties say that Olson, 60, stands as good a chance as anyone on the Democratic slate of winning statewide office. Olson has pledged to visit all 254 counties in Texas — a feat recently achieved by fellow Democrat U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke, who’s running for U.S. Senate — and meet with voters in conservative areas that Democrats typically avoid.

“The only way we’re gonna make a difference is if we go to them,” she said at a fundraiser earlier this month. “You’ve got to walk their fields, you’ve got to visit their farms, you’ve got to sit at their family dinner tables, because the last time I checked representative government was going out and listening.”

Olson, who has short gray hair and wears blue jeans and work boots, travels the state in a white pickup truck, where she stores cardboard boxes stuffed with seed packets. But for all their utility on the campaign trail, those packets hint at a potentially damaging episode from Olson’s past. In red lettering on the back of each packet is Olson’s military rank: retired Air Force colonel. In speeches at fundraisers and conversations with voters, Olson often touts her military credentials, particularly when she pitches her campaign to Republicans. The circumstances of her retirement from the Air Force, however, may represent her most serious political vulnerability.

1. Kim Olson is a legit badass with a ton of charisma – to use Molly Ivins’ formulation, she has a lot of Elvis in her – and she’s going up against the biggest chucklehead in the state. Yet it’s not clear that her likelihood of winning is the best amongst non-Beto statewide Dems. I’ve heard more than one expert make the same observation about Justin Nelson and his campaign against Ken Paxton. Suffice it to say that if merit were the determining factor, both would win in landslides.

2. I’m a fan of the visit-every-county style of campaigning, but I’m also a fan of keeping such things in perspective. One can only reach so many voters via this method. Even with the huge crowds Beto O’Rourke gets at his events, we’re looking at five million or more voters this November, so it’s hard to imagine even ten percent of them seeing Beto at a live event. With all due respect to Olson, her events are probably not as well-attended as Beto’s. These visits are a great way to touch base with the faithful, and especially for those in places that don’t get visited often one can hope those people will do their own leg work for you. It still really helps to have the resources to reach voters by other means.

3. You can read the rest of the article for the retirement incident. The short version is that (at least if one accepts Olson’s account) it was a bit of carelessness and a lot of appearance-of-impropriety rather than anything substantial. Which Miller will no doubt turn into The Worst Thing Ever, though to do so will require him to engage with Olson in some fashion, which he has been loath to do. Miller himself doesn’t have a lot of money, so a big negative-ad campaign seems unlikely. So it’s a bit hard to guess how this might play out. I suppose one advantage of being in a lower-profile campaign is that stuff like this tends to stay under the radar as well – this Trib article was the first I’d heard of it.

4. Sid Miller’s brand is his relentless oafishness, and as is often the case with politicians like him who are inexplicably successful despite everything about them, his trash mouth has not been a net negative for him. That said, you have to think there’s a decent chance he will say something truly offensive, the sort of thing that would make Clayton Williams’ rape humor look like knock-knock jokes. He has no filter, he never expects to suffer consequences for his actions, and you just know there’s a deep well of misogyny within him. It’s very easy to imagine him letting loose about about being challenged by a girl, and if that happens, who knows? He may well bring more publicity to this race – and his opponent – than he wanted, and maybe he’ll do just enough to get some Republican women to decide they’ve had it with him. Again, it’s hard to know how to evaluate this possibility. I’m just observing that the odds of it happening are greater than zero.

Gallego versus Flores in the SD19 runoff

Get set for a noisy runoff.

Pete Gallego

Republican Pete Flores and Democrat Pete Gallego are headed to a runoff in the special election to replace convicted former state Sen. Carlos Uresti, D-San Antonio.

With all precincts reporting Tuesday night, Flores led Gallego by 5 percentage points, 34 percent to 29 percent, according to unofficial returns. At 24 percent, state Rep. Roland Gutierrez of San Antonio came in third in the eight-way race, and he conceded in a statement. The five other candidates were in single digits, including Uresti’s brother, outgoing state Rep. Tomas Uresti of San Antonio.

The first-place finish by Flores, who unsuccessfully challenged Carlos Uresti in 2016, is a boon to Republicans in the Democratic-leaning district. In the home stretch of the race, he benefited from a raft of endorsements from Texas’ top elected officials including Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and U.S. Sens. John Cornyn and Ted Cruz.

[…]

Flores, a former Texas game warden, was the best-known of three Republicans on the ballot Tuesday. He received 40 percent of the vote against Carlos Uresti two years ago in SD-19, which encompasses a 17-county area that starts on San Antonio’s East Side and sprawls hundreds of miles west.

Flores is being given a lot of credit for finishing first and for leading the vote on Tuesday, likely helped by the late endorsements he got from Greg Abbott and Dan Patrick. That said, he was (barely) in third place after early voting, and the overall partisan tally was 59.3% to 39.6% for the Democratic candidates combined versus the Republicans. That’s in a district that went for Carlos Uresti 55.9 to 40.4 in 2016 (and Uresti was the best-performing Dem in 2016), and was basically 50-50 in 2014. In other words, Dems outperformed their 2016 baseline by four points (more like seven points if you compare to other races) and outperformed their 2014 baseline by about 19 points. Call me crazy, but that doesn’t look like a bad result to me.

Now of course, the Republicans are going to pour a bunch of money into the runoff, in part because Flores made a decent showing and in part because winning that seat (which won’t come up for election again until 2020) would give them a commanding 21-10 margin in the Senate pending any Democratic pickups this November. This seat has a lot of value, in both real and symbolic terms. Pete Gallego is the favorite, but nothing can be taken for granted here. I don’t know exactly when the runoff will be, but this is the race you need to be paying attention to right now.

The Trib looks at the AG race

There’s case that this is the second-most interesting statewide race on the ballot.

Justin Nelson

Three years ago almost to the day, a Collin County grand jury indicted Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton for securities fraud. As the state’s top lawyer turned himself into a jail in his hometown of McKinney and smiled for his mug shot, Democrats couldn’t help but feel optimistic. The last time Texas elected a Democrat for attorney general was over two decades ago. Paxton’s legal troubles could potentially serve, they hoped, as the springboard to breaking that streak.

What perhaps no one could have foreseen back in 2015 was the dizzying array of twists and turns the legal case against Paxton would undergo. Three summers later, there is still no trial date in sight and one is unlikely to emerge before Election Day.

Yet despite avoiding a challenge from within his own party this year – arguably the biggest political threat for a statewide official in deep-red Texas – the political fallout from Paxton’s indictment remains to be seen. In November, he’ll face his first actual test of it at the ballot box: a challenge from Democrat Justin Nelson. The well-credentialed Austin lawyer is framing the race as a crystal-clear referendum on the charges that have dogged Paxton for the vast majority of his first term.

“The question that voters will have is who voters want to hire as a lawyer for Texas, for all Texans,” Nelson said in a recent interview. “Voters will be able to choose me, someone who has clerked for Justice Sandra Day O’Connor on the Supreme Court, who has taught at the University of Texas law school, Texas Super Lawyer, a partner at a successful law firm, versus my opponent, who it’s embarrassing that he’s indicted for fraud in one of the most heavily Republican counties in Texas.

“And I think that when voters see that contrast, it will be integrity versus indictment.”

[…]

In Nelson, Democrats have ample reason to be optimistic. He brings an impressive resume to the race as a clerk for former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor and current partner at Houston-based litigation powerhouse Susman Godfrey. That network that comes with that — as well as Nelson’s own wealth — has allowed him to build a bigger war chest than any other Democratic statewide candidate beside U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke, who is running a far more high-profile race to unseat U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz. Still, Paxton maintains a wide cash-on-hand advantage.

In addition to Nelson’s fundraising, Democrats have been buoyed by a pair of public polls that suggested the race may be close. A recent University of Texas/Texas Tribune poll found Paxton leading Nelson among registered voters by just 1 percentage point, but 26 percent of voters had yet to pick a candidate.

“I feel really good about his race,” said state Sen. Sylvia Garcia, D-Houston, ranking Paxton and Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller as ripe targets for Democratic upsets in November. “[Nelson’s race] is particularly compelling because … I’ve seen people react when you talk about an indictment and an attorney general — I mean, this is our lawyer, and they can’t get their head around the idea that our own lawyer is under indictment. They’ll easily concede, ‘Yeah, he’s innocent until proven guilty’, but it’s the whole image — it’s the whole cloud over the work — it just doesn’t sit easy when you hear about that.”

To be sure, Nelson is not building his challenge entirely around the incumbent’s legal troubles. Nelson also is campaigning on issues like ending gerrymandering, which was the topic of a pub crawl he led last month in Austin that touched three congressional districts in a five-block radius. During an interview at the last stop — at Easy Tiger in downtown Austin — Nelson said he would use his platform as attorney general to fight partisan gerrymandering in particular through written opinions, through the litigation process and at the Legislative Redistricting Board, where the attorney general has a seat. Nelson and Paxton were already on opposite sides of the issue before their race began, having signed on to dueling amicus briefs in the Wisconsin gerrymandering case that the U.S. Supreme Court declined to decide on last month.

Nelson has raised (and loaned himself) a few bucks, he’s got the national Democratic Attorney General Association in his corner, and there’s that one-point poll result; another poll from the Texas Lyceum that includes the AG race will be out next week. And then there’s the wild card of the Paxton trial, and how much the publicity for that has eroded Paxton’s natural advantage as a Republican. Going in on redistricting as an issue is a good idea as well. The main questions as always are how much does the average voter already know about this stuff, how much do they care, and how effectively can Nelson get his message out? Justin Nelson is a very appealing candidate, but he has to overcome the tide. That’s what this boils down to.

Typhus in Galveston

An infectious disease update for you.

Typhus fever, a disease carried by fleas and once thought to be eradicated, is rearing its head in Galveston County, county health officials said on Monday.

The Galveston County Health District reported that 18 cases of typhus fever have been reported so far in 2018, up from 17 reported for all of 2017. The disease has rebounded in other parts of Texas in the last decade.

“I believe we are seeing an increase in reported cases because physicians now know what symptoms to look for,” said Randy Valcin, Galveston County Health District’s director of epidemiology and public health preparedness, in a written statement. “Typhus has been around for a number of years, but physicians are testing more and we’re seeing those results.”

Typhus symptoms, which include fever, headache, muscle pain, anorexia, rash, nausea and vomiting, are often confused with a number of viral ailments. People become infected when they come in contact with infected flea feces through open wounds, scratching and even breathing in the infected feces. Symptoms usually present about 7 to 14 days after exposure to the virus.

Murine typhus is a flea-borne illness, now believed to be carried mostly by opossums and other backyard mammals that spread them to cats and dogs, which then bring them indoors. Historically, typhus was carried by rats, before aggressive use of DDT, a pesticide, in the mid-1940s largely eliminated the problem in most U.S. areas. Before the use of DDT, typhus fever peaked in the United States with 5,400 reported cases. By 1956, there were less than 100 reported cases. The use of DDT has since been banned.

The disease is often mild, and treatable with antibiotics. But left untreated, severe illness can cause damage to one or more organs, including the liver, kidneys, heart, lungs and brain.

Over the last 15 years, typhus has been making a comeback in Texas. In 2017, the Chronicle reported the number of Texas cases rose from 30 in 2003 to 364 in 2016, and the number of Harris County cases from zero to 32. Eight Texas deaths have been attributed to the infection since 2003, with more than a quarter of cases reported to the state health department involve children from 6 to 15 years old.

See here for some background. Like Zika, typhus is a tropical disease, and one reason we’re seeing it here now is because of climate change. Basically, the conditions under which these diseases, and the insects that carry them, now exist in a much broader and less-equatorial range. We can accept that as the new normal or we can try to maybe do something about that, I dunno. Just a thought.

The STEM candidates

If there was ever a year for scientists to run for office, this was it.

Across the country, hundreds of candidates with academic or professional experience in science, technology, engineering and mathematics have left their businesses and laboratories to compete in state legislative contests, congressional elections and even governor’s races. These scientists-turned-politicians constitute the largest wave of such candidates in modern U.S. history, according to 314 Action, an advocacy group that works to elect STEM professionals to public office.

Like the similar surge of women running for office this year, many of these first-time candidates entered the political arena in response to Trump’s election, frustrated with the United States’ withdrawal from the Paris climate accord and energized by the inaugural Marches for Sciences held on Earth Day in April 2017.

“Attacks on science didn’t start with the Trump administration,” said Shaughnessy Naughton, a former congressional candidate who founded 314 Action — named for the first three digits of pi — in 2014. “But they’ve taken what felt like a war on science and turned it into a war on facts, and that has been a catalyst for getting scientists involved.”

Over the course of the election cycle, more than 150 candidates with STEM credentials announced campaigns for Congress across the country, according to VoteSTEM, another organization that advocates for scientists to run for office. Eleven of those candidates were in Texas.

Ultimately, only two of the congressional hopefuls in Texas, both of them Democrats, survived the primaries — Joseph Kopser, an engineer running in District 21, which covers a portion of Austin, and Rick Kennedy, a computer scientist competing in District 17 in Central Texas. But around the state, candidates like [Allison] Sawyer [in HD134] remain in contention for a range of local positions, including seats in the state Legislature and on the State Board of Education.

And although many of these candidates face long odds in November, the current political environment, in which officials invoke “alternative facts” to justify inaccurate claims, could prove favorable to politicians schooled in the scientific method, said Colin Strother, a longtime Democratic strategist in Texas.

Candidates who favor “making data-driven decisions based on evidence and facts” will have a good chance in the upcoming elections, Strother said. “That worldview is a winner.”

[…]

Other Texas candidates with STEM backgrounds express similar frustrations at the status of scientific discourse in national politics. Carla Morton, a neuropsychologist running for the State Board of Education as a Democrat, said she remembers feeling dismayed when Trump posited a connection between vaccines and autism, a dubious claim backed by little scientific evidence. And Michelle Beckley, a Democrat with a bachelor’s degree in biomedical sciences who is running for a state House seat in Carrollton, said she wishes politicians would act on data showing the prevalence of gun violence across the country.

Morton is running in SBOE11, where incumbent Pat Hardy went unopposed in 2012 (SBOE members have six-year terms), and which is a fairly red district. Beckley is running in HD65 against Rep. Ron Simmons; Donald Trump carried it with 48.1% of the vote in 2016, but it was more like a ten-point Republican district downballot. Kopser and Sawyer are more likely to win than either of them, but all four are underdogs. Still, they’re all worth watching, and to the extent they can make the debate about what is real versus what is some yahoo’s fever dreams, we’ll all be better off.

Beto mostly accepts Cruz’s debate terms

Looks like we’re on.

Rep. Beto O’Rourke

Beto O’Rourke, the Democratic nominee in Texas’ U.S. Senate race, is accepting Republican incumbent Ted Cruz’s proposal to debate five times over the next three months, though O’Rourke also is suggesting a few changes to the plan — including having a sixth debate in his hometown of El Paso.

“I look forward to debating Senator Cruz and am grateful for the schedule you have proposed,” O’Rourke wrote in a letter Friday to Cruz strategist Jeff Roe. “I would suggest only a few small changes.”

Roe quickly responded to O’Rourke, writing in a letter that the plan “isn’t an open negotiation” and largely not entertaining any of O’Rourke’s suggested changes. Roe, however, did express openness to having a debate in El Paso — not as a sixth meeting, but as a replacement for one of the five previously named cities.

[…]

“At each debate, our fellow Texans should be able to raise any issue and do so in an unscripted town hall format,” O’Rourke wrote. “Those issues should include ones you have already proposed and those you did not, including, but not limited to: serving our veterans, public education, money in politics, farming and ranching, the environment, civil rights and social security.”

In his response, Roe did not directly address O’Rourke’s ask for the town-hall format but said “most of the topics you suggested will already be included in the broad topics” the Cruz campaign initially outlined.

See here and here for the background. Sounds like the main points are agreed on, and while there may be some tweaking around the edges, what you see is more or less what you’re going to get. May others follow this example (they won’t).

Checking in on SD19

Election Day is Tuesday.

Carlos Uresti

Long before the seat opened up here in Texas Senate District 19, state Rep. Roland Gutierrez was traveling the massive district, making friends as far west as Big Bend National Park’s Brewster County in anticipation of the fate that would ultimately meet the embattled incumbent, Carlos Uresti.

Late Thursday morning, though, Gutierrez found himself much closer to home, knocking on doors in the heart of his House district on San Antonio’s southeast side, where he encountered a number of familiar faces. He reminded them he has represented them for 13 years — three as their City Council member, 10 as their state representative.

Gutierrez is going to need all the support he can get in the area Tuesday, when voters head to the polls in the eight-way race to replace Uresti, who resigned last month after being found guilty of 11 felonies including securities fraud and money laundering. Gutierrez’s toughest opponent is fellow Democrat Pete Gallego, who entered the abbreviated special election with loads of name recognition as a former congressman and longtime state lawmaker from West Texas.

“I don’t think there’s any doubt in anyone’s mind that we’re the underdog in this thing,” Gutierrez said in an interview, noting the millions of dollars that have been spent in Gallego’s congressional races building his name ID in the area. “At the end of the day, you need more than that. You need certainly all of the elements of character and integrity and desire, but you’ve got to put in the work.”

Complicating the dynamic between Gallego and Gutierrez is a growing Republican effort to unify behind a single candidate — Pete Flores, who ran against Uresti in 2016 — and send him to a runoff in the Democratic-leaning district. That movement became clearer than ever Thursday when Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick jumped into the fray, endorsing Flores over his two lesser-known GOP rivals.

“We feel like we’re likely in the range and we have a good chance to be in a runoff,” said Matt Mackowiak, a Republican strategist working for Flores. “We’re doing more this week than we’ve ever done.”

[…]

Gutierrez outspent Gallego more than 2 to 1 in the first 21 days of July — $251,000 to $97,000 — working to overcome his disadvantages, according to their latest filings with the Texas Ethics Commission. Part of Gutierrez’s spending went toward a TV buy attacking Gallego as a “career politician,” telling voters they “fired him from Congress, and now he wants to bring his tired ideas to our Texas state Senate.”

Gallego, for his part, is more than okay with being the known entity in the race, a steady presence after the stormy waters of the recent Uresti era. The former state senator was sentenced to 12 years in prison last month in the fraud case, which stemmed from his work with a now-defunct oil field services company that was found to have perpetrated a Ponzi scheme.

“The experience, the roots, the knowledge — all of those, I think, make me the best candidate,” Gallego said in an interview. “I think people want a familiar face. These are really difficult times.”

See here for some background. Carlos Uresti won re-election over Pete Flores in 2016 by a 55.9 to 40.4 margin, and Uresti was the best performer among Democrats. It’s entirely plausible to me that Flores will make it to the runoff, and honestly I’m a little surprised that Republicans hadn’t lined up behind him before now; Patrick’s endorsement came after the end of early voting. A Pete Gallego-Roland Gutierrez runoff is also possible – I’d very much prefer that – but as is always the case with special elections it depends on who shows up. As has been the case with the other two specials so far, this one has felt pretty quiet so far, but a D-versus-R runoff would change that. If you’re in the district, how has this race looked to you?

The Prairie View cricket complex

I love stories like this.

Growing up, Tanweer Ahmed’s mother, Kalsoom, always discouraged him from playing cricket. They were a poor family. His mother sold vegetables and milk from the few cows they had in his hometown of Sialkot in Punjab, Pakistan.

“Cricket doesn’t cost that much, but every penny matters when you don’t have anything,” Ahmed said.

Kalsoom put those pennies toward getting him and four siblings through the best school in the city. He had one school uniform, one pair of shoes, and one pair of clothes to wear at home.

“That’s all we could afford,” he said.

Today, Ahmed is owner of more than 150 franchise restaurants in four states, plus an energy company and half of a medical research venture. And he is busy pouring millions of his own dollars into building one of the nation’s largest cricket complexes. It will serve children and adults when it opens in early September, and later it could host professional international matches.

The project is rising from the plains of Prairie View, less than a 15-minute drive from the Grand Parkway on the outskirts of Houston, in prominent view of drivers on the newly refurbished U.S. 290.

Plans for 10 to 12 fields on 86 acres have raised eyebrows among some locals who question the viability of such a facility in the rural expanse around a college town of about 6,000. But this is no quixotic attempt to recapture some piece of a lost childhood far from home. Houston has been waiting for this, observers say. If he builds it, players will come.

“There’s certainly a large demand” in Houston, said Eric Parthen, U.S. project manager for the International Cricket Council, which is not involved in the project. “It will immediately be one of the larger facilities in the country, if not the largest.”

A recent study by the council, in concert with the market research firm Nielsen, found 200,000 people playing the game in the United States, and it counted millions of fans.

“It’s untapped potential in the youth market,” Parthen said. “The U.S. has the largest immigrant population in the world, a lot of those coming from South Asian cultures, and these are children growing up in families passionate about cricket.”

I would assume this venue will be of great interest to the nascent Houston Cricket League, as well as the US cricket team. It’s not hard to imagine Ahmed’s venture becoming not just the premier location for cricket in the US, but also a major attraction for the region. I wish him all the best with this project.

Paxton joins the wimp brigade

Seems fitting.

Attorney General Ken Paxton said in a TV interview that he would be “happy to debate anybody on the issues” as he seeks re-election this fall, but he is now backing off that offer by refusing to debate Democrat Justin Nelson as voters decide who to hire as the state’s top lawyer.

Paxton instead “will communicate directly with the voters,” his campaign spokesman, Matt Welch, wrote in an emailed statement Thursday in rejecting Nelson’s invitation to debate.

Welch did not respond when asked if Paxton’s previous offer to debate was sincere.

“I’m happy to debate anybody on the issues and I look forward to it,” Paxton said on C-SPAN’s “Newsmakers” program in November.

See here and here for the background. No one should be surprised by this. All bark no bite, all hat no cattle, all hawk no spit – pick your cliche to to describe these yellow bellies. I doubt Paxton, along with Dan Patrick and Sid Miller and George P. Bush, can feel shame, but they can probably feel ridicule, and they deserve all the Bronx cheers they get. If they refuse to debate because they don’t want to give publicity to their opponents, then let’s make their refusal to debate a story. They should not be allowed to run away and hide.

Republicans and Independents

Something to ponder.

The good news for President Trump in the latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll — half of which was conducted before and the day of the Helsinki presser with Putin, half of which was conducted afterward — is that his standing with the GOP base is stronger than ever.

Eighty-eight percent of Republican voters in the poll approve of Trump’s job — the highest of his presidency — and 29 percent of all voters strongly approve of his performance, which is another high for him. “The more Trump gets criticized by the media, the more his base seems to rally behind him,” says Democratic pollster Fred Yang, who co-conducted the NBC/WSJ poll with the Republican team from Public Opinion Strategies.

Trump’s approval rating in the poll is 45 percent among all registered voters (up 1 point from June), while 52 percent disapprove, including 44 percent who do so strongly.

The bad news for the president is that his standing — plus the GOP’s — is now worse with independents than it was a month ago. Just 36 percent of independents approve of Trump’s job (down 7 points from June). What’s more, independents prefer a Democratic-controlled Congress by more than 20 points, 48 percent to 26 percent. In June, the Dem lead among indies was just 7 points, 39 percent to 32 percent.

As you know, I’ve been looking for signs of Republican disapproval with Trump as a potential catalyst for lower turnout among GOPers this year. That does not appear to be happening, though voter enthusiasm (as noted in this poll as well) continues to tilt towards Dems. However, there is a potential alternate explanation for the durability of Trump’s support among the Rs:

Voters have to identify themselves with a political party, and that identification isn’t stable; it ebbs and flows with events and circumstances. Trump might win high marks from most Republicans, but the pool of Republican voters might be smaller than in the past. Far from standing tall over the entire GOP, Trump’s base may have eroded significantly from where it was at the beginning of his administration.

According to the Pew Research Center, Republican Party identification fell 3 points, to 26 percent, from 2016 to the end of 2017. The number of self-identified independents increased at the same time, from 34 percent to 37 percent, while the number of Democrats remained steady. Gallup shows a similar change: From November 2016 to November 2017, there was a 5-point drop in the number of people who called themselves Republicans, from 42 percent to 37 percent. Democratic self-identification remained unchanged at 44 percent.

The sheer size of the United States makes it easy to find vocal support for anyone and anything, and Donald Trump has his vocal supporters. But their staunch commitment overshadows the reality: a shrinking base for a president who won by the skin of his teeth, reliant on a small group of voters in just a handful of states. His scandals and outrages—controversies and improprieties—have had an effect. Even rank-and-file GOP reactions to Helsinki are revealing; according to CBS, 21 percent of Republican voters disapproved of the president, a striking number given typical partisan loyalty.

Charles Franklin had a Twitter thread about this, for which the short version is that this isn’t really a sign of long-term decline in the number of Republicans compared to Democrats. But the data is volatile, so when there is a dip in the cycle it could have an effect on Texas. I return now to that Gardner Selby piece about the Civiqs polling data:

O’Rourke’s camp didn’t offer a comment about the poll’s claim. But Chris Wilson, who conducts polls for Cruz’s campaign, drew on a Moulitsas-tweeted illustration breaking out the demographics of the results to suggest by phone that Republican respondents to the poll outnumbered Democrats by insufficient percentage points. [director of Civiqs Drew] Linzer separately told us the results imply that 31 percent of respondents identified as Democrats, 36 percent as Republicans and 33 percent as independents.

Wilson said that considering Republicans’ prevalence in statewide races since 1994, any poll projecting fall results should query more Republicans — perhaps making the sample 40 percent Republican, 30 percent Democratic and 20 percent independent.

Linzer said that the poll reflected the partisan mix of Texas registered voters.

I don’t know how good anyone’s state-levevl data is, but it is the case that some of the poll variance we’ve seen is rooted partially in the partisan mix the pollster used. Beyond that is another question I bring up a lot. How much do the national trends affect Texas? It sure seems like the answer is “in a proportionate fashion”, as we saw in the Dem direction in 2006 and 2008 and in a Republican direction in 2010 and 2014, but every year is its own universe. If there is a trend towards fewer self-identified Republicans, to what extent is that the case here? Or is it the case that the Texas GOP has some level of insulation from these slings and arrows? Obviously, the answers to those questions affect not only the assumptions one makes when polling, but ultimately the final result. I just want to make sure we’re thinking about that.

Don’t expect any other debates

Cowardice + lack of incentive = avoiding engagement.

Land Commissioner George P. Bush (son of Jeb and nephew to George W.) has no plans to go one-on-one with his challenger, Miguel Suazo — at least, not as of Tuesday, July 24.

“At this point, we’re not planning to do a debate, but we always assess things as we go forward,” Bush campaign spokesman Lee Spieckerman told The Dallas Morning News. And why not? “Voters are very aware of Commissioner Bush’s record, which is the main thing. … His performance speaks for itself.”

But perhaps it’s the spokesman for Sid Miller, the perpetually be-Stetson-ed commissioner of agriculture, who said it best. Miller’s got 719,000 followers on Facebook, after all, where he’s shared his thoughts on refugee “rattlers,” drag queens and Whoopi Goldberg. Why give his challenger a slice of that “free publicity?”

“It’ll be a cold day in Texas before we give our opponent the opportunity to have free name recognition by having a debate,” Todd M. Smith told The News on Tuesday. “As the lieutenant governor said, there’s not anybody in Texas who doesn’t know where Sid Miller stands on the issues.”

[…]

Kim Olson, who is seen as both forceful and folksy, accused Miller of running scared.

“Candidates should earn their votes, and the only way to do that is to present yourself,” Olson, a retired Air Force colonel, told The News. “It is suspect when an incumbent will not defend his record or present a vision of the future.”

Collier accused Patrick of ensconcing himself away “in his bunker, sending out audio snippets to the few supporters that remain, that are chock full of spin and nonsense,” to which Blakemore shot back with a long list of Patrick’s campaign events over the last two days, including a meeting with the Dallas Police Association, folks from UT Southwestern and a group of conservative women in Tomball.

And Suazo, the energy lawyer who wants to run the Alamo and manage the state’s mineral rights as land commissioner, said Bush should live up to his name: “Every other candidate named George Bush has debated, except this one. That’s because his record is indefensible and he knows that I’ll beat him.”

Attorney General Ken Paxton’s spokesman did not return calls and emails requesting comment. In a November television appearance, Paxton (who was indicted in July 2015 and is awaiting trial on fraud charges) said he would “be happy to debate anybody on the issues and look forward to it.

It was unclear if he meant an election opponent. Paxton refused to meet his challenger in 2014. His opponent this time around is Justin Nelson, a Houston attorney. On Wednesday, the Nelson campaign released a video featuring a clip of Paxton’s November appearance where he says he’d be “happy to debate anybody.”

“Sounds good, Ken,” the ad says. “Ready when you are.”

See here for the background, and here for the comparison to Ted Cruz. I love how Patrick sends his spokesperson out to fight his verbal battles for him. The Warner Brothers cartoon image of a small yappy dog hiding behind his bulldog friend while barking at a cat really comes to mind. And while one has to give Sid Miller some props for being honest about why he doesn’t want to debate anyone, especially not an icky girl like Kim Olson who surely has cooties, it’s hilarious and entirely in character that he cites Dan Patrick’s reasoning, as he lacks the originality to come up with his own. If it’s not a Facebook meme, it’s too complicated for Miller. Again, I get the rationale for not wanting to give publicity to an underfunded opponent, but the lack of confidence in their own abilities is startling. What a bunch of chickens.

What’s the deal with that Civiqs poll?

Last week, Markos at Daily Kos posted this:

I didn’t want to believe Politico’s, “Beto-mania sweeps Texas.” But a look at our Civiqs Texas data (which we poll for our own use, not for any client), and holy shit, it’s real!

Yup. That’s the odious and treason-enabling Ted Cruz leading by just TWO POINTS.

For context, our numbers in the Texas governor’s race look more as you’d expect, with Republican incumbent Gov. Greg Abbott leading Democratic challenger Lupe Valdez 51-41. So where is Cruz struggling?

There’s the typical 2018-style gender gap, with Cruz leading among men 54-41, and losing women 43-51. Cruz is winning white people 59-36, while losing Latinos 70-24, and black voters 79-14. O’Rourke is winning 18-34 voters 55-37, while losing the 65+ set 58-38. The future looks bright, but we can’t afford to wait for the future! A lot will be riding on O’Rourke’s ability to get out the young vote. Do-or-die, pretty much.

In the end, with both candidates solidifying the support of their base, everything will turn on O’Rourke’s ability to squeeze out the most votes from self-styled independents.

There’s another graph showing Beto leading Cruz 49-44 among indies, but that’s not the point I’m working on here. The point is that Civiqs has Cruz up only two on O’Rourke, which is the closest the race has been shown to be, and it’s got Republicans – perhaps sincerely, perhaps performatively – freaked out, as a recent fundraising email shows.

You’d think a poll like this would set the world on fire, but other than the GOP email there hasn’t been much out there. This is probably because Civiqs uses some non-standard methodology. Here’s Gardner Selby doing an explainer/fact check thing on it:

To our inquiry, the director of Civiqs, Drew Linzer, told us the poll showing O’Rourke just behind Cruz, available to Civiqs subscribers, was accurately portrayed by Moulitsas.

By email, Linzer further said the poll, not commissioned or sponsored by a client, relied on responses since February 2017 from respondents engaged over the web as volunteers for Civiqs survey panels who self-identified as Texas residents and registered voters.

Civiqs says in the methodology section of its website that it maintains a growing list of Americans who have agreed to take polls at civiqs.com. Panelists reside in all 50 states and Washington, D.C., and match the contours of the United States along key geographic, demographic and ideological lines,” Civiqs says.

We asked Linzer, a former political scientist at Emory University, to talk about relying on responses collected over more than 17 months. “The lengthy timeframe,’Linzer replied, “enables Civiqs to perform long-term daily tracking in a sustainable, methodologically rigorous manner.” Civiqs, he said, applies “specialized trendline fitting statistical models” to ensure the results match current public opinion.

Linzer said by phone that for the Texas poll, Civiqs emailed 40 to 50 respondents a day, asking each one about their Texas residence and registered voter status and stance on the Senate candidates, with those results over time feeding the trend line.

As of July 4, the latest date shown on the trend line posted by Moulitsas, “the most recent day’s worth of data has the greatest impact on the result,” Linzer said, though responses from previous days mattered a lot, too, he said. Linzer said responses gathered in 2017 also contributed to the result, but only “infinitesimally so.”

“It’s complicated. It is a little different from what a traditional pollster does” in reaching one set of respondents over a few consecutive days, Linzer said.

Make of that what you will, basically. FiveThirtyEight doesn’t include Civiqs in its pollster rankings, perhaps (I’m hypothesizing) because Civiqs’ methodology is such that they don’t meet the 538 definition of a “pollster”. Whatever the case, I’m glad Selby wrote about this because I had no idea what to make of this. I still don’t, but at least I feel like I understand the dimensions of the question better. Also, I’m going to get a second post out of this, which is always a good thing from my perspective. You’ll have to wait till tomorrow on that one.

Cruz proposes five debates

All on Fridays, but at least he’s offering something.

Rep. Beto O’Rourke

U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, has challenged Democratic opponent Beto O’Rourke to five topical debates before Election Day, about three months after O’Rourke challenged Cruz to six.

Cruz strategist Jeff Roe sent a letter Wednesday to O’Rourke, an El Paso congressman, proposing the following debate schedule:

  • Aug. 31 in Dallas on “Jobs/Taxes/Federal Regulations/National Economy”
  • Sept. 14 in McAllen on “Immigration/Border Security/Criminal Justice/Supreme Court”
  • Sept. 21 in San Antonio on “Foreign Policy/National Security”
  • Oct. 5 in Houston on “Energy/Trade/Texas Economy”
  • Oct. 12 in Lubbock on “Healthcare/Obamacare”

Roe said the debates would all take place on Friday evenings “because the Senate is expected to be in session during that time.” The debates would each be an hour long and vary in format — some would be town hall-style, while others would feature the two candidates seated or standing at podiums.

“As Senator Cruz has long believed, our democratic process is best served by presenting a clear and substantive contrast of competing policy ideas, and these five debates will be an excellent way for both you and the Senator to share your respective visions with Texas voters in the weeks leading up to the November election,” Roe wrote to O’Rourke.

See here for some background, and compare Cruz’s response to Dan Patrick’s sniveling wimpery. Maybe someone should email that last paragraph to Allen Blakemore and ask him what Danno thinks of that. Obviously, Cruz can’t hide behind the “unknown and underfunded opponent” dodge, but does anyone seriously believe that people are less familiar with where he stands versus where Dan Patrick stands? Ted Cruz is many lousy things, but on this one issue he’s at least not a chicken. The DMN has more.