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On special election runoff turnout and HD125

I figured a story like this was inevitable after Round One of the HD125 special election, in which Republican Fred Rangel got 38% of the vote and four Democrats combined to take the rest, with three of them being close to each other and thus farther behind Rangel. Ray Lopez will face Rangel in the runoff, for which a date has not yet been set.

Justin Rodriguez

Democratic Party officials and Lopez’s campaign remain adamant that they are in position to win the runoff and keep the seat. The four Democrats, combined, received more than 60 percent of the vote, they point out. And District 125 hasn’t elected a Republican since it was redrawn in 1992 to include more West Side voters.

But to others, the result immediately recalled San Antonio Democrats’ not-so-sterling track record in recent special elections. Electoral history and district demographics have not protected Democrats in those runoffs over the last few years: They have lost the last three off-cycle races in San Antonio, each of which occurred in traditional party strongholds.

In early 2016, Republican John Lujan scored an upset in a South Side legislative seat over Democrats Tomás Uresti and Gabe Farias. Uresti would defeat him nine months later in the general election.

Later that year, Independent Laura Thompson won election to an East Side legislative seat after Bexar County Dean Ruth McClendon’s death, also overcoming multiple Democrats. Rep. Barbara Gervin-Hawkins put the seat back in Democratic hands in the next general election.

And in perhaps the most painful loss for Democrats, Republican Pete Flores won a state Senate seat last year that includes much of San Antonio. Flores flipped a seat that hadn’t gone to the GOP since Reconstruction, and his victory sealed a two-thirds Republican supermajority in the Texas Senate.

That race has some conspicuous similarities to Tuesday’s election in District 125. For one, the man who engineered Flores’ upset, Matt Mackowiak, is now running Rangel’s campaign. For another, multiple Democrats split the party’s vote, allowing the Republican to plunge ahead.

[…]

“It’s a very simple game of math in a special election,” [Rep. Trey Martinez-Fischer] said. “When you’re running a race in a Democratic district you’re going to have multiple Democrats running for that position, and it’s always going to be that one Republican that has a universe of voters to himself.”

The Democrats believe that will change in a mano-a-mano, Democrat vs. Republican, runoff, and Democratic members of the Legislature are now rallying around Lopez. But they had a similar conviction — ultimately to no avail — that Flores wouldn’t prevail in what had been a Democratic district for more than a century.

Their logic isn’t reflective of the political reality of special elections, according to Mackowiak. The voters who chose Democrats Rayo-Garza or Art Reyna won’t necessarily show up again for Lopez in the runoff election.

“It’s just not transferable,” Mackowiak said. “Special elections are about motivation and enthusiasm.”

That sentiment was echoed by Larry Hufford, a professor of political science at St. Mary’s University.

“These small groups are so committed to their candidates,” Hufford said. “They say, ‘Well, my candidate didn’t win, forget it.’”

Those factors give Rangel an edge, Hufford said, especially if turnout drops in the runoff. If Rangel brings out the same number of voters, it puts him in a good position to win the majority while Lopez tries to inspire voters who backed Democrats no longer in the race, the professor added.

See here for the background. There are two claims being made here, that Bexar County Dems have had a spotty recent record in legislative special elections, and that the key to winning special election runoffs is to hold onto more of your own voters from round one than the other guy (if you’re the leader, that is) because getting new voters is too hard. Let’s take these one at a time.

First, the two special elections from 2016 are basically meaningless for these purposes. The reason why is because they were basically meaningless as special elections. They were for the purpose of serving the remainder of the 2015-2016 term, at a time when the Lege was not in session and not going to be in session. Neither John Lujan nor Laura Thompson ever filed a bill or cast a vote as State Rep, because there were no opportunities for them to do so. Tomas Uresti, who lost in that January 2016 special election runoff to John Lujan, went on to win the Democratic primary in March and the November general election, ousting Lujan before he ever did anything of note. Barbara Gervin-Hawkins, the November nominee in HD120, didn’t bother running in the summer special election for it. Those special elections didn’t matter.

As for the turnout question, I would remind everyone that there were three legislative special elections plus runoffs from 2015. Here’s what they looked like:

2015 Special Election, House District 123


Melissa Aguillon  DEM   1,257   17.69%
Diego Bernal      DEM   3,372   47.46%
Roger V. Gary     LIB     103    1.45%
Paul Ingmundson   GRN      81    1.14%
Walter Martinez   DEM     780   10.98%
Nunzio Previtera  REP   1,512   21.28%

Total = 7,105

Special Runoff Election State Representative, District 123


Diego Bernal      DEM   5,170   63.67%
Nunzio Previtera  REP   2,950   36.33%

Total = 8,120

Diego Bernal got 1,798 more votes in the runoff – there had been 2,037 votes that went to other Dems in the initial election. Nunzio Previtera got 1,438 more votes in the runoff even though he’d been the only Republican initially.

2015 Special Election, Senate District 26


Trey Martinez Fischer  DEM   8,232   43.28%
Alma Perez Jackson     REP   3,892   20.46%
Jose Menendez          DEM   4,824   25.36%
Joan Pedrotti          REP   1,427    7.50%
Al Suarez              DEM     644    3.39%

Total = 19,019

Special Runoff Election State Senator, District 26


Trey Martinez Fischer  DEM   9,635   40.95%
Jose Menendez          DEM  13,891   59.05%

Total = 23,526

Remember how some idiot bloggers called for Sen. Menendez to concede rather than bother going through with the runoff, so the next special election could take place more quickly? Good times. After smoking TMF in said runoff, some other people claimed he won on the strength of Republican turnout in round two. For what it’s worth, there were 5,319 Republican votes in round one, and Menendez gained 9,067 votes overall. Make of that what you will. Also, for what it’s worth, TMF boosted his total by 1,403.

2015 Special Election, House District 124


Nathan Alonzo    DEM    467   23.81%
Delicia Herrera  DEM    555   28.30%
Ina Minjarez     DEM    828   42.22%
David L. Rosa    DEM    111    5.66%

Total = 1,961

Special Runoff Election, House District 124


Delicia Herrera  DEM  1,090   45.02%
Ina Minjarez     DEM  1,331   54.98%

Total = 2,421

The two runoff candidates combined for 1,383 votes in round one, while the two also rans got 578. Assuming all 578 voted again in the runoff, there were still another 460 people participating.

My point, in case I haven’t beaten you over the head with it enough, is that in all of these elections, there were more votes in the runoff than in the first round. That means – stay with me here, I know this is tricky – it’s possible for a candidate to win the runoff with extra votes from people who didn’t vote initially. It’s even possible for the second place finisher to win, in part by bringing in new voters. See, when not that many people vote the first time, there are actually quite a few habitual voters out there to round up. Who even knew this was a thing?

Yes, the SD19 still stands out like a turd on the sidewalk. SD19 encompasses more than just Bexar County, and there was some genuine resentment from third place candidate Roland Gutierrez, which likely hindered Pete Gallego in the runoff. (There were also many questions raised about the effectiveness of Gallego’s campaign.) Here, as it happens, third place finisher Coda Rayo-Garza has conceded after the remaining mail ballots arrived and endorsed Ray Lopez, so at least that bit of history won’t repeat itself. HD125 is more Democratic than SD19, so there’s a larger pool of dependable voters that Lopez can call on. He’s got work to do and ground to make up, and he certainly could lose if he doesn’t do a good job of it. But if we look at the history of Bexar County special legislative elections going all the way back to 2015 instead of just to 2016, we can see that the picture is a bit more nuanced than Matt Mackowiak and Larry Hufford make it out to be.

On to the runoff in HD125

We could still have a recount, given how close the race for second place was.

Justin Rodriguez

A Republican and a Democrat are moving on to a runoff in the race to replace ex-state Rep. Justin Rodriguez, D-San Antonio, in a traditionally Democratic district.

With all precincts reporting Tuesday night, Republican Fred Rangel got 38 percent of the vote and Democrat Ray Lopez had 19 percent, according to unofficial returns. The third-place finisher, Coda Rayo-Garza, narrowly missed the runoff, coming in 22 votes behind Lopez, a former member of the San Antonio City Council.

The two other Democrats in the race, Art Reyna and Steve Huerta, netted 17 percent of the vote and 6 percent, respectively.

[…]

Rangel, a businessman and activist, was boosted in recent days by endorsements from two top Texas Republicans, first Gov. Greg Abbott and then U.S. Sen. John Cornyn. Rangel’s candidacy — and runoff berth — evokes that of Pete Flores, the Pleasanton Republican who flipped a state Senate seat last year after advancing to the overtime round of a special election.

See here for the early vote update, and here for the unofficial election night totals. Turnout was 6.05%, and a bit more than sixty percent of the vote was cast early. We’ll need to see if Coda Rayo-Garza asks for a recount, which she’d be well within her rights to do as she trails Ray Lopez by 0.36 percentage points. Assuming nothing changes – and as you know, I never expect a recount to make any difference – it will be Rangel versus Lopez in the runoff.

Let’s talk about Rangel’s significant lead over Lopez for a minute. Lopez, Rayo-Garza, and Art Reyna are all bunched together in second through fourth place, with their votes distributed very evenly. Lopez and Rayo-Garza combined to outscore Rangel; add in Reyna and the three got about 56%, with the fourth Dem getting another six and a half. On the one hand, Rangel outperformed Donald Trump in 2016 (though Hillary Clinton trails the four Dems in total by about two and a half points), and did better than Republicans other than Greg Abbott in 2018. It’s a respectable performance – better, in fact, than Pete Flores relative to the 2016 baseline. On the other hand, HD125 is more Democratic overall than SD19, so in any remotely normal turnout scenario, Lopez should win without too much difficulty. One hopes that Bexar County Dems will not want to let another winnable special election slip through their fingers. If Rayo-Garza and Reyna endorse Lopez for the runoff and no one is asleep at the wheel, Lopez should win. It’s not a slam dunk, but it’s not really any harder than a free throw. Don’t screw it up, y’all.

UPDATE: The Rivard Report has more.

Early voting ends in HD125

I have to admit, I’d totally forgotten about this special election.

Justin Rodriguez

The special election for Texas House District 125 has been on a characteristically slow roll as early voting closed Friday in the contest to fill former State Rep. Justin Rodriguez’s seat.

Out of the 103,494 voters registered in the district, 3,354 cast ballots during early voting, putting turnout just above 3 percent. Election day is Tuesday, Feb. 12, with polls open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. in the Northwest San Antonio district.

Bexar County Elections Administrator Jacque Callanen said she expected a low turnout during a special election.

People usually prefer to vote early rather than wait for election day, Callanen said, estimating that about 50 to 60 percent of voter turnout comes from early voting during an election. Based on that number, election day should draw another 2 percent of total registered voters in the district, she said. She predicted total turnout would be between 4 percent and 4.8 percent.

“If we can get 5 percent on this [election], that would be good,” she said.

Five candidates are up for Rodriguez’s House seat that became vacant in January when he was sworn in as Bexar County Commissioner for Precinct 2. Former HD 125 Rep. Art Reyna, former District 6 City Councilman Ray Lopez, policy advocate Coda Rayo-Garza, and activist Steve Huerta are the four Democratic candidates, while businessman Fred Rangel is the only Republican in the race.

Just as a reminder, that’s right in line with the turnout for HD145, though in this case the majority of the vote would be cast early. If Tuesday in HD125 is like Election Day was in HD145, then they will exceed seven percent turnout. We’ll know soon enough. Unlike HD79, where Democrat Art Fierro was elected in one round, or HD145, where Dems Christina Morales and Melissa Noriega will face each other in the runoff, there’s a decent chance of a D-versus-R runoff here. This district just isn’t quite as blue as the other two, and the Republican here has Greg Abbott’s endorsement; the establishment largely ignored the other two races. This one could be a lot noisier in the runoff.

Speaking of runoffs, I have not yet seen a date set for HD145. However, based on my reading of the election code, I believe the deadline for the result of the January 29 election to be canvassed is Tuesday the 12th (same day as the HD125 election), and it has to occur between 12 and 25 days after that, on a Tuesday or a Saturday. Based on that, my money is on the runoff occurring on Saturday, March 2, which would mean early voting would run from Wednesday the 20th through Tuesday the 26th. I Am Not A Lawyer, but I do know these things are prescribed by law, and the options are limited. Again, we’ll know soon enough.

Cornyn’s 2020 strategy

I have three things to say about this.

Big John Cornyn

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

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

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

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

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

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

[…]

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

[…]

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cornyn is not waiting on 2020

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

Big John Cornyn

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

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

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

For Cornyn, running scared means being prepared.

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

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

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

Morales and Noriega in runoff for HD145

No surprises here.

Sen. Carol Alvarado

Democrats Christina Morales and Melissa Noriega appeared headed for a runoff in the special election Tuesday to fill state Sen. Carol Alvarado’s seat in the Texas House.

Early voting and absentee ballot totals showed Morales, a city planning commissioner and the CEO of an East End funeral home, leading Noriega by a few percentage points, though neither candidate was within striking distance of the 50 percent needed to avoid a runoff.

Republican Martha Fierro was a distant third among the eight candidates vying for the seat in Texas House District 145.

[…]

The district runs from the Heights through downtown, along Interstate 45, to parts of Pasadena and South Houston.

If Morales or Noriega do not break 50 percent Tuesday, it will be up to Gov. Greg Abbott to schedule a date for the runoff.

That was the early report from the Chron. The final tally had Morales with 35.78%, Noriega with 31.13%, Fierro at 25.20%, and no one else above three percent. Turnout, by the way, was 3,481 votes, or 4.77% of registered voters. Remember how I said that turnout in the SD06 special election had been 4.69%, which would be 3,430 votes in HD145? And when I said that turnout on Tuesday (which was 1,888) could very well exceed early turnout (which was 1,593)? Yeah.

The runoff, which I’m guessing will be in the first week of March, should be a more spirited affair, now that there’s more time to campaign. You heard it here first: Turnout in the runoff will exceed turnout in this election. It looks like this will be the only runoff as well, as Art Fierro looks headed for a clear win in HD79. Next up, the special election in HD125, for which early voting starts Monday. We’re getting closer to full strength in the Lege. Congratulations to Christina Morales and Melissa Noriega, and best of luck in overtime.

UPDATE: It’s official, Art Fierro wins without a runoff in HD79.

Today is Election Day in HD145

From the inbox:

Today is Election Day for approximately 71,000 registered voters in Texas State Representative District 145. All polling locations for the Special Election to Fill a Vacancy will be open from 7:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m.

District 145 includes parts of Pasadena, Houston, and South Houston which runs from Beltway 8 South along I45 all the way North of downtown.

“I encourage voters to visit www.HarrisVotes.com to find out if they are eligible to participate in this election,” stated Harris County Clerk Dr. Diane Trautman.

At the end of the Early Voting period, only 1,526 votes had been cast in the election. With eight candidates on the ballot, one of them must receive 50 percent plus one vote in order to prevent a runoff election.

State Representative District 145 registered voters can find their sample ballot, as well as their Election Day location, by visiting www.HarrisVotes.com or by calling the Harris County Clerk’s office at 713.755.6965.

You can see the full list of polling places here. It’s plausible to me that today’s turnout could exceed the early vote total, in part just because there’s been more time to alert people about the need to vote. I’ll say again, whatever turnout we get here, we’ll exceed it in the runoff. Today is also Election Day for HD79, and just when you think it’s safe early voting starts Monday for HD125. Do your duty, y’all.

UPDATE: Here’s the Trib story about the two elections. Clearly, we need to root for Art Fierro to win in HD79.

Early voting ends in HD145

Turnout ticked up considerably on Friday, which is an alternate headline for the one given to the Chron story.

Early voting to fill state Sen. Carol Alvarado’s former seat in the Texas House ended Friday with just 1,528 ballots recorded, setting up what could be one of Texas’ lowest-attended special elections of the last few decades.

Registered voters in House District 145 now have one more chance to weigh in on their next representative in the Legislature’s lower chamber: Election Day is Tuesday, with polls open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

The early voting tally is about 2 percent of the registered voters in the district, which runs from the Heights through downtown, along Interstate 45, to parts of Pasadena and South Houston.

[…]

The lowest turnout in a Texas legislative special election since at least 1992 occurred in May 2016, when state Rep. Jarvis Johnson won the House seat vacated by Mayor Sylvester Turner, according to Texas Election Source publisher Jeff Blaylock. That election drew 1,841 voters.

See here for my previous update on HD145, as well as my explanation for why voting has been so slow. The comparison to the 2016 special election for HD139 isn’t really a good one, because that election was completely without consequence. It was for the last few months of now-Mayor Sylvester Turner’s unexpired term, during which the Lege was not in session and was not about to do anything. The real election in HD139 was the Democratic primary, which had already been won by Rep. Johnson. All the special did was give him a leg up in seniority over his fellow members of the legislative class of 2016. There was no campaign for this, and he had one token opponent.

A better comparison would be to the March 31, 2015 special election in HD124. Like this one, that was to fill a legislative vacancy following a special election to fill a vacancy in the State Senate. Those voters had an even better claim to fatigue, as the SD26 special election had gone to a runoff, so this was their third post-November campaign. A mere 1,961 people voted in that election, which was 2.25% turnout of the 88,006 registered voters.

The 1,528 voters so far in HD145 represent 2.15% turnout of the 71,229 registered voters (that figure is as of last November). HD145 will easily surpass HD124 in turnout as a percentage of registered voters, as it has already surpassed it in total voters. As I suggested in my earlier post, the turnout in the SD06 special election was 4.69%, and 4.69% turnout in HD145 would be 3,340 voters. We’re a bit short of halfway there now, but it’s certainly doable on Tuesday.

Oh, and I mentioned that the 2015 HD124 election also had a runoff. Turnout in the HD124 runoff was 2,439 voters, or 2.77% of registrations, in an election that was exactly three weeks later. We saw the same pattern in the runoff for SD06 in 2013 and the runoff for City Council District H in 2009, both of which had higher turnout than the original elections. The runoff in HD145, I boldly predict right now, will have higher turnout than this election has.

Slow going so far in HD145 special election

Still a week of early voting to go, but so far just a handful of ballots have been cast.

Voters in Texas’ 145th House District are trickling to the polls for the first week of early voting in a sluggish special election to replace state Sen. Carol Alvarado in the lower chamber.

Four days in, a mere 359 voters have cast ballots in person or by mail, amounting to less than one percent of the district’s registered voters. Polls will remain open each day through Sunday, close Monday for Martin Luther King Jr. Day, and reopen Tuesday through Jan. 25.

[…]

The low turnout is typical for special elections, such as last month’s Senate District 6 special election won by Alvarado, D-Houston. Less than 5 percent of registered voters turned out, some of whom are being asked to return to the polls once again.

In that race, Fierro received 23 percent of the vote, bringing her close to a second-place finish but far behind Alvarado’s 50 percent showing.

Even on uniform election dates, turnout tends to run low in District 145, which runs from the Heights through downtown to parts of Pasadena and South Houston. During the 2016 midterms, about 33,500 of the district’s 71,000 registered voters cast ballots, the sixth-lowest vote total of Harris County’s 24 state House districts.

Only Morales and Noriega appear to be raising and spending significant funds on the race, according to campaign finance reports filed this week.

Through Dec. 31, Morales had raised about $20,000, lent herself $5,000 and spent $4,000. She headed into the final month of the race with about $23,000 cash on hand, her finance report showed.

Noriega maintained a similar campaign balance — $22,600 — on Dec. 31, much of which came from $21,750 in personal loans. She reported raising about $5,200 and spent $2,100.

The recent special election in SD06 had 4.69% turnout. If you project that for HD145, you would end up with 3,341 voters in HD145. We’re not exactly on track for that now, but there’s still time.

And time is the single biggest factor in play here. We knew for months there was going to be a special election in SD06 – we knew it since March, when now-Rep. Sylvia Garcia won the Democratic primary for CD29. Now-Sen. Carol Alvarado and Rep. Ana Hernandez announced their candidacies shortly after, and were campaigning all along. We only knew for sure there would be an election in HD145 after Alvarado won that race in December, and only Christina Morales announced her interest in the race in advance of the filing period. Filing ended just eleven days before early voting started. People just haven’t had much time to realize that there’s another election happening, and the candidates have had even less time to tell them.

Another factor is the lack of mail ballots. Of those 359 total votes through Thursday, only two – yes, two – were mail ballots. Only 169 ballots had been mailed out to voters as of Thursday. There were 6,706 votes cast by mail in the SD06 election, nearly 44% of the total turnout. There were 2,405 mail ballots cast in HD145 in the November election, which is only seven percent of the total votes from that election. That’s actually almost the same percentage of mail ballots as there were in SD06 in 2016, so the difference is not how many mail voters there are, it’s how many of them requested and returned ballots for the special election. I have to assume that’s a function of campaigns, and that’s a tall order when your campaigns have so little time. It’s also a factor of money, which most of these campaigns don’t have, but Alvarado and Hernandez did going into their race.

So yes, the turnout is going to be tiny, and that makes the outcome more random than it would be in a different context. The runoff will involve more time – they’re about five weeks after the first round special election – and more money as the donor class has a clearer idea of who they might want to support. That leads to higher turnout in those races. For now, we’re up to 492 total votes cast as of Friday, five of which came via mail. We’ll see where we are in a week.

Meet KP George

He’s the new Fort Bend County Judge.

KP George

In December, that strange suspended-in-motion month between his election and taking office, K.P. George was checking out the quaint old domed Fort Bend County Courthouse, soon to be his domain. In November, to the surprise of almost everyone outside his campaign, George had been elected Fort Bend’s county judge — which is to say, the top boss of one of the United States’ fastest-growing counties, with 765,000 residents, nearly 3,000 employees, and an annual budget over $370 million.

When George takes office on Jan. 1, he’ll become arguably the most powerful Indian-American in U.S. government — as well as a potent symbol of the new Fort Bend, and of Asian-Americans’ growing power in Texas and American politics.

[…]

And still, to most political insiders, George’s election came as a surprise. “He was not someone on our radar,” said Gautam Raghavan, executive director of the Indian-American Impact Fund. “It wasn’t a race we engaged in. In hindsight, that’s a lesson for us: In some of these places with fast-shifting demographics, like the Texas suburbs, there are huge opportunities for us.”

“For Republicans in Fort Bend County, Donald Trump is a real liability,” [Rice poli-sci professor Mark] Jones said. “Socially and fiscally conservative Asian-Americans used to vote for more Republicans. But Trump’s rhetoric and policies are seen as anti-immigrant — anti-Latino, but also anti-Asian.”

“Many Trump administration policies, such as targeting Muslims as terrorists, don’t play well with Asian-Americans…. Indian-Americans may not love Pakistanis, but the same racial discrimination that targets Pakistanis targets them.

“In Fort Bend, there was a double whammy for Republicans. A much larger proportion of Asian-Americans voted for Democrats, and Asian-Americans also turned out at a much higher rate than they had previously.”

Observers have long predicted that Texas’ changing demographics will eventually turn the most Republican of states into one that’s more bipartisan or even reliably Democratic. That’s already true of Texas’ cities. Now the battles have shifted to the suburbs.

Notably, George is a Democrat. “It’s a historic election for Texas,” said Jones — Fort Bend is the first exurb to elect a Democrat to the top of its county government. “It could portend the future for diverse counties such as Denton and Collin.”

I’m honestly surprised that this race wasn’t on the radar of any national organizations like the Indian-American Impact Fund. George was not a novice politician – he’d been twice elected to the Fort Bend ISD board of trustees. Fort Bend had been trending Dem for some time, and fit in every way the profile of the suburban, diverse, won-by-Hillary-in-2016 Congressional districts that were so hotly contested. Outgoing Judge Bob Hebert had served for a long time, but didn’t have the bipartisan cred that Ed Emmitt had, which might have helped him ride out the wave. This race should have been seen as a prime opportunity, and if it wasn’t that was a failure of imagination.

And yes, I believe this is a leading indicator for other suburban counties. Williamson County didn’t elect anyone countywide despite being carried by Beto O’Rourke, MJ Hegar, and Justin Nelson, but it did elect two Democratic State Reps and two JPs, while a Dem County Commissioner candidate fell just short. Dems didn’t carry any race in Denton or Collin, but elected a State Rep in Denton while just missing on two in Collin, and a JP in Denton County. It was a big step forward. There are no guarantees for 2020, of course, but the obstacle of credibility – the belief that it’s really possible a Dem could win – has been cleared. That can only help.

Eight file for HD145

It’s a big field.

Sen. Carol Alvarado

Eight candidates filed by Thursday’s 5 p.m. deadline for the Jan. 29 special election to fill the Texas House seat vacated by Sen. Carol Alvarado, D-Houston. Early voting begins Jan. 14, a little more than a month after Alvarado won an open spot in the upper chamber.

The field consists of six Democrats — Elias De La Garza, Oscar Del Toro, Ruben Gonsalez, Christina Morales, Alfred Moreno and Melissa Noriega — Libertarian Clayton Hunt and Republican Martha Fierro, the third-place finisher in last month’s race for Senate District 6, which overlaps with part of Alvarado’s old House district.

[…]

Morales, the president and CEO of an East End funeral home, announced her candidacy the day after Alvarado’s win.

“I definitely feel like I’m well connected to the constituents of District 145. I know them intimately, especially through my business,” she said. “We hear their stories daily. We help them through their darkest hour.”

Morales has assembled a campaign team made up of Alvarado’s staffers, including consultant Jaime Mercado, lead strategist Marc Campos and campaign manager Linh Nguyen.

“I wanted a team that knew the district the way I know the district and would be capable of delivering my messages,” she said.

Noriega previously held the House District 145 seat when her then-husband, Rick Noriega, was deployed to Afghanistan during the 2005 legislative session. The thought of running entered her mind in 2017, when former U.S. Rep. Gene Green announced he would retire, setting off a chain reaction that ultimately left the seat open.

Part of Noriega’s pitch, she said, is that the special election winner will be sworn in amid a session that spans just 140 days — and she would be able to assimilate quickly because of her experience, she said.

“There are still people there that I know from before,” she said, mentioning presumptive House Speaker Dennis Bonnen, an Angleton Republican.

Noriega has also served as an at-large member of Houston City Council and worked for Houston ISD, while keeping an eye on the Legislature from afar.

“Last session, there was a lot of time spent on things that probably don’t benefit Texas,” she said. “There’s an opportunity to work with people and be collegial in a way that’s productive. That I think is still there.”

I’m going to say two things up front. One is that I’m not going to have time to do interviews before early voting starts. In the likely event of a runoff, I will see about doing interviews with the two finalists. And two, as someone who lives in HD145, I’m voting for Melissa Noriega. She’s a dear friend, she’s been there before, she was an excellent member of City Council, I trust her completely. I see no point in being coy about that.

I fully expect this race to be very low turnout – candidates may have been thinking about running for weeks, but no one has been campaigning before now, and early voting starts in just over a week. Turnout will be higher in the runoff, as there will be more time for the campaigns to develop and focus voters’ attention. It’ll still be low, but it will be higher than the January election. This is one of those times where endorsements will make a difference, as they will serve as one of the few things people will be able to hear about the candidates before they have to vote. For those of you in HD145, which needless to say includes a lot of people who just went through the SD06 special election, it’s time to get ready to vote again. The Trib, which also has the lineup for the HD79 special election, has more.

The losers of 2018

Allow me to point you to the Observer’s list of six Texas political players who lost power in 2018. I’d call it five-sixths of a good list, plus one entry I don’t quite understand.

3) Bexar County Democrats

Want to understand the dysfunction and ineptitude of Texas Democrats? Look no further than Bexar County, where the local party is dead broke and mired with infighting. It’s a small miracle that Democrats were able to flip 24 county seats in November. But they still managed to bungle several other potential pickups.

After felon Carlos Uresti resigned from his San Antonio state Senate seat this year, Pete Gallego and the local party apparatus managed to lose the special election runoff, handing over a predominately Hispanic district that Democrats have held for 139 years to Republican Pete Flores. Ultimately, losing that seat allowed Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick to keep his GOP supermajority in the upper chamber, as Democrats picked up two Dallas senate districts in November.

On top of that, San Antonio native Gina Ortiz Jones narrowly lost her bid to oust “moderate maverick” Will Hurd in the 23rd Congressional District. In a blue wave year, the perennial swing district that stretches from San Antonio to the western border should have been a gimme. But Ortiz Jones ultimately lost by about 1,250 votes — a margin that a functioning local party in the most important part of the district easily could have made up.

Then there’s Julián Castro, the Alamo City’s hometown hero. Along with his twin brother, the supposed face of the Democratic Party’s future decided to sit out the most important election cycle of his career because he didn’t want to risk sullying his profile with a statewide loss in Texas. Then he watched from the sidelines as some nobody from El Paso became a political phenom and now sits atop the 2020 presidential wishlists.

Castro also wants to run for president and is scrambling to lay down his marker in a crowded Democratic primary field, as if nothing has changed since he became a party darling in the late 2000s. The thing is, political power doesn’t last if you try to bottle it up to use at the most opportune time.

My first thought is, do you mean the Bexar County Democratic Party? The Democratic voters of Bexar County? Some number of elected officials and other insider types who hail from Bexar County? Every other item on the list is either an individual or a concise and easily-defined group. I don’t know who exactly author Justin Miller is throwing rocks at, so I’m not sure how to react to it.

Then there’s also the matter of the examples cited for why this nebulous group deserves to be scorned. Miller starts out strong with the Pete Flores-Pete Gallego special election fiasco. Let us as always look at some numbers:

SD19 runoff, Bexar County – Flores 12,027, Gallego 10,259
SD19 election, Bexar County – Flores 3,301, Gallego 3,016, Gutierrez 4,272
SD19 2016 election, Bexar County – Uresti 89,034, Flores 54,989

Clearly, in two out of three elections the Bexar County part of SD19 was key to the Democrats. Carlos Uresti’s margin of victory in 2016 was about 37K votes, which as you can see came almost entirely from Bexar. The first round of the special election had the two top Dems getting nearly 70% of the vote in Bexar. It all fell apart in the runoff. You can blame Pete Gallego and his campaign for this, you can blame Roland Gutierrez for not endorsing and stumping for Gallego, you can blame the voters themselves. A little clarity, that’s all I ask.

As for the Hurd-Ortiz Jones matchup, the numbers do not bear out the accusation.

CD23 2018 election, Bexar County – Hurd 55,191, Ortiz Jones 50,517, Corvalan 2,260
CD23 2016 election, Bexar County – Hurd 59,406, Gallego 45,396, Corvalan 6,291

Gallego trailed Hurd by 14K votes in Bexar, while Ortiz Jones trailed him by less than 5K. She got five thousand more votes in Bexar than Gallego did. Hurd had a bigger margin in Medina County and did better in the multiple small counties, while Ortiz Jones didn’t do as well in El Paso and Maverick counties. They’re much more to blame, if one must find blame, for her loss than Bexar is.

As for the Castros, I don’t think there was room for both of them to join the 2018 ticket. Joaquin Castro, as I have noted before, is right now in a pretty good position as a four-term Congressperson in a Dem-majority House. I hardly see how one could say he was wrong for holding onto that, with the bet that the House would flip. Julian could have run for Governor, but doing so would have meant not running for President in 2020, and might have ended his career if he’d lost to the surprisingly popular and extremely well-funded Greg Abbott. Would Beto plus Julian have led to better results for Texas Dems than just Beto did? It’s certainly possible, though as always it’s easy to write your own adventure when playing the counterfactual game. I agree with the basic premise that political power is more ephemeral than anyone wants to admit. I think they both made reasonable and defensible decisions for themselves, and it’s not at all clear they’d be better off today if they’d chosen to jump into a 2018 race. Life is uncertain, you know?

From the “If at first you don’t succeed” department

Three Dem Congressional candidates from 2018 may try again in 2020.

Todd Litton

Among the typically deep-red districts that came down to single digits were three races around Harris County. Incumbent Reps. Michael McCaul, R-Austin, and Pete Olson, R-Sugar Land, won by margins of 4.3 and 4.9 percentage points in Texas’ heavily gerrymandered 10th and 22nd Congressional Districts. Rep.-elect Dan Crenshaw, R-Spring, won by more than 7 points an open race for the 2nd Congressional District, one also drawn to elect Republicans.

In recent elections, the districts had gone to Republicans by no fewer than 19 percentage points, with margins as high as 38 points.

Now, as they parse the results and consider what comes next, Democrats in these races must grapple with important questions. Did they come close because of a boost from Democrat Beto O’Rourke’s Senate bid and anger among voters prodded to the polls by President Donald Trump, or did they offer a preview of what is to come? Is a 40-something percent result the ceiling, and if not, where might they find more votes?

All three losing Democrats — Todd Litton, Mike Siegel and Sri Preston Kulkarni — said they may take another swing at the districts in 2020, when Trump could appear atop the ballot and galvanize even more voters than in 2018.

[…]

Litton acknowledged he was unlucky to draw an opponent as tough as Crenshaw, saying the former Navy SEAL “was not your standard first-time candidate.” For now, the defeated Democrat plans to see how Crenshaw’s first term goes, and decide later if he wants to run.

“I’d consider it. I don’t know that I’m going to do it,” said Litton, who directed an education nonprofit before seeking office. “We’ll see how Dan does and what he says.”

[…]

Mike Siegel

Texas’ 10th Congressional District covers much of the rural area between Travis and Harris counties, stretching across nine counties from Katy and Cypress all the way through downtown Austin to Lake Travis. It is one of four GOP-held districts dividing up deep-blue Travis County, the only county Siegel won.

Compared to McCaul’s 2016 race, turnout this year grew by more than 3,400 votes in Travis County, where McCaul’s support fell by about eight percentage points. In the remaining eight counties, turnout fell by 8,200 votes from two years ago, and McCaul’s support dropped from 70 percent to 65 percent.

All told, McCaul lost ground in every county from 2016, though his support dipped by fewer than two percentage points in Austin, Colorado, Fayette, Lee and Washington counties — all areas where Siegel failed to break even 23 percent.

[…]

One reason for Democratic optimism, Siegel said, is the changing nature of Bastrop and Waller counties, located next to Travis and Harris, respectively. Two years ago, McCaul won Bastrop and Waller by 22 and 32 percentage points, respectively, while this year the margin was 11 and 25 points. Siegel also drew 36 percent of the vote in Harris County, about 7 points ahead of Cadien in 2016.

[…]

Sri Kulkarni

Olson never had won a general election by fewer than 19 points — his margin in 2016 — but several trends gave Kulkarni reason to contest the district. Notably, it shifted 17.5 points in favor of Democrats from the 2012 to 2016 presidential election, the fourth most dramatic change in the country.

Kulkarni’s preliminary data also found that both parties had ignored major swaths of the district. In particular, Asian residents make up about 20 percent of the district’s population, far more than any other Texas congressional district, but Kulkarni found that three-quarters of Asian voters had not been contacted by any political party.

Kulkarni’s efforts hinged on turning out the scores of college-educated immigrants who moved to the district during the last several years. He ultimately lost by 4.9 percentage points, a result he attributes partly to not reaching enough Hispanic voters. He did not rule out giving it another shot in 2020.

“If I’m the best candidate, I’ll run again,” Kulkarni said. “I don’t want to throw away all the hard work that we did in organizing here, because going from 19 points two years ago or 34 points four years ago, to 4.9 — there’s obviously a change going on in terms of who’s participating.”

A few general thoughts…

1. Obviously, it’s very early to say who may or may not be running in 2020. Even if all three of these guys say they’re in, they could face primary opponents, and who knows what might happen in a Presidential-year primary, where I think we might see 2008-level turnout. That said, there are always advantages to getting in early – among other things, you can start fundraising right away – and whether we like it or not, the 2020 campaign is already underway. Take all the time you need to decide, but don’t take any longer than that.

2. Of the three, Litton or anyone else in CD02 will likely have the toughest race. Dan Crenshaw has star potential, and he doesn’t yet have any Trump stink on him. He also had the biggest margin of victory in 2018. On the other hand, he will have to start making tough choices about Trump and the Trump agenda, and with CD07 in Democratic hands, CD02 is (along with County Commissioner Precinct 3) the top target for Team Blue in 2020. In addition, no one has to be convinced now that CD02 is worth targeting. It will be on the national radar from the beginning, which will help.

3. That “key for Democratic optimism” paragraph about CD10 is the key for 2020. The Harris County part of the district is fast-growing, and offers a lot of opportunity to find, register, and turn out new Dem voters that year. Looking at the 2016 and 2018 election returns, there were 21K more voters this year in the Harris part of CD10 than there were two years ago. Turnout was 69% in there in 2016, and 59% in 2018, though that meant 6K more voters thanks to the larger voter pool. I feel like if you can get the Dem number in Harris County above 40%, you can win this district. You’ll still need a strong showing in Travis, and there’s room for growth as noted in Bastrop and Waller, but if you get to 40% in Harris I feel like this one is in reach.

4. As noted before, Pete Olson may or may not make it to the ballot in 2020. Generally speaking, having an open seat makes it more winnable for the opposing party. That may be less true in the Trump era, but an open seat will definitely push this up a notch on the national radar. If Kulkarni runs again, my advice is “keep doing what you’re doing”. If it’s someone else, my advice is “do what Sri Kulkarni did, and do more of it”.

Normally, this is the time when I say things like “I want to get through 2019 before I start thinking about 2020”. This is the world we live in now. 2019 is important, but given that everyone who wants to run in 2020 will have to file for office before 2019 is over, we really do have to be thinking about it now.

The Harris County GOP has not hit bottom yet

I have four thing to say about this.

Never forget

Drubbed. Shellacked. Whooped. Walloped. Routed.

However you want to describe November’s midterm election, it was disastrous for Harris County Republicans. They were swept from the remaining countywide posts they held — the other shoe to drop after Democrats booted the Republican sheriff and district attorney two years ago — and lost all 55 judicial seats on the ballot. For the first time in decades, Democrats will hold a majority of Commissioners Court.

The path forward for the local GOP is unclear. The party’s statewide slate went undefeated yet rebuked by Harris County voters, raising questions about whether its pitch to rural voters alienated urban ones. In the state’s most populous county, and his home base, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz got just 41 percent of the vote.

Harris County Republican Party Chairman Paul Simpson, however, is optimistic. He said several local Republicans would have won, chief among them County Judge Ed Emmett, if straight-ticket voting had been eliminated before the election. Republicans in the Texas Legislature decided to retire the straight-ticket option after 2018, which traditionally benefited their party, but proved disastrous for the GOP in urban counties this cycle.

“Pendulums will swing back,” Simpson said. “I’m confident in the near future, we’ll be back.”

Scholars and Emmett, the county executive for 11 years before his upset loss, offered a less rosy assessment — that of a party catering to a largely white, graying base that is failing to adapt to changing demographics and awaiting the return of a “normal” electorate that has ceased to exist. November 2018 should be a wake-up call, they say, but they wonder if the local Republican Party is listening.

“If you look at ’18 as a turning point for Harris County, there’s nothing data-wise that would give you any indication this was an aberration and not a structural change,” said Jay Aiyer, who teaches political science at Texas Southern University. “If anything, you could see it actually swinging harder to the Democrats in ’22.”

Mark Jones, who studies Texas politics at Rice University, offered a more tepid view. He said the broad unpopularity of President Donald Trump drove some voters to the polls this fall who may not have participated otherwise.

“If you take Trump out of the equation and put in a more liberal Democrat … it’s not clear to me that Democrats have the same level of advantage,” Jones said. “The county is trending from red, to pink, to purple. But I would not say Harris County is blue.”

[…]

Republicans have not won a countywide post in a presidential election year since 2012. University of Houston political science professor Brandon Rottinghaus said the local GOP would be wise to lower its expectations for 2020, which likely will feature an unpopular president at the top of the ticket.

“The Republicans need to show they’ve still got a pulse after the disaster that befell them in ’18,” Rottinghaus said. “That’s about the best they can hope for in a presidential year.”

Simpson, who has led county Republicans since 2014, said the party will focus on recruiting fresh candidates who can appeal to a wide swath of voters, rather than the sliver of partisans who vote in primaries. He lauded the success of Dan Crenshaw in the 2nd Congressional District, a young, charismatic combat veteran who beat better-funded candidates in the primary.

Crenshaw’s win, Simpson said, showed candidates “can be conservative and still be cool.”

The Texas 2nd, however, is a district drawn for Republicans that has a far greater proportion of white residents than Harris County as a whole.

1. I’ve said all there is for me to say about straight ticket voting. The embedded image is a reminder that Republicans used to be big fans of straight ticket voting. Turns out that straight ticket voting works really well for the party that has more voters to begin with. There’s an awful lot of Republicans in this state who never contemplated the possibility that they would not be the majority party.

2. As noted in the title of this post, Republicans in Harris County have not hit rock bottom quite yet. One thing I discovered in doing the precinct data analyses is that Beto O’Rourke carried all eight Constable/Justice of the Peace precincts. I didn’t write about that in part because I didn’t quite believe it, but there it is. The three Republican Constables and three of the six Republican JPs are on the ballot in 2020. It is entirely within the realm of possibility that after the 2020 election, the only Republicans holding county office will be the three JPs in Place 2 (the of-year cycle), County Commissioner Jack Cagle, and the three not-at-large HCDE Trustees. Those last three JPs could then be wiped out in 2022, along with the HCDE Trustee for Precinct 2, with the Trustee for Precinct 3 (who won this year by less than a percentage point) on track for elimination in 2024. Yes, lots of things can change, and I’m assuming that Commissioner Steve Radack will either be defeated in 2020 or will step down and the Republicans will fail to hold his seat. My point is, the Republicans not only have very little left, what they have is precarious and fragile, and there are no obvious opportunities to make gains in county government.

(You may now be saying “But Adrian Garcia will have to run for re-election in 2022, and he won a close race this year under favorable circumstances, so he could lose then.” Yes, but do you know what happens between now and the 2022 elections? The County Commissioner precincts undergo redistricting. Jack Morman benefited from that process after his win in 2010; what I wrote here was premature but in the end turned out to be accurate. I guarantee you, Precinct 2 will be friendlier to Commissioner Garcia’s re-election prospects, and if a Dem wins in Precinct 3 in 2020, it will be friendlier to that Commissioner’s prospects in 2024 as well.)

Legislatively, Dems have more targets (HDs 138, 134, and 126, with longer shots in 129 and 133 and even 150) than they have seats to defend. Lizzie Fletcher will have to defend CD07, but Dan Crenshaw will have to defend CD02, and he didn’t win his seat by much more than Fletcher won hers by (7 points for Crenshaw, 5 points for Fletcher). CD10 and CD22, which cover more than Harris County, are already on the national radar for 2020 as well. We’re not watching the battleground any more, we’re in the thick of it.

3. The Republicans’ problems in Harris County run deeper than Donald Trump. Every statewide elected official, most especially Dan Patrick (here shilling for the ludicrous “wall”) and Ken Paxton, who is spending all of his energy outside his own criminal defense on destroying health care, is a surrogate for Trump. People were just as fired up to vote against Patrick, Paxton, and Sid Miller as they were to vote against Ted Cruz, and the numbers bear that out. They’ll get another chance to do that in 2022, so even in a (please, God, please) post-Trump landscape, there will still be reminders of Trump and reasons to keep doing the work that we started in 2018.

4. All that said, we know two things for sure: One is that there are more Democrats than Republicans in Harris County, which is a combination of demographic trends, Donald Trump laying waste to American values, and sustained voter registration efforts. Two, Republicans have been unable to compete in a high-turnout election in Harris County since 2008. (2010 was a relatively high turnout year, for an off year, but it was still only 41.7%, quite a bit less than this year’s 52.8%.) It is a reasonable question to ask if Dems can be dominant in a low-turnout scenario. 2014 was a terrible year for turnout, and Republicans swept the county, but with the topline Rs mostly winning by four to six points. There’s definitely a scenario under which Rs could do well in 2022 and in which the demographic and political patterns we have seen do not fundamentally change. It’s hard to see how they compete going forward without a serious effort to rebrand, and every day that Donald Trump and Dan Patrick and Ken Paxton and Sid Miller are in office, that rebranding becomes harder to do. Lots of things can change. The Republican Party needs to be one of them.

Early voting concludes in SD06

Tomorrow is Election Day.

Sen. Sylvia Garcia

Early voting concluded Friday in the special election to replace Sylvia Garcia in Senate District 6, and the low turnout is about what the Harris County clerk expected.

More than 1,097 voters cast ballots Friday either in person or by mail, bringing the early voting tally to 10,011.

Turnout typically spikes on the last day of early voting, but heavy rains that began Friday afternoon may have encouraged residents to wait until regular balloting on Tuesday. Harris County Clerk Stan Stanart expects just shy of 20,000 of registered voters the district to participate, for a turnout of about 6 percent.

The race features four candidates: Democratic state Reps. Carol Alvarado and Ana Hernandez, Democratic consultant Mia Mundy and Harris County Republican Party precinct chairwoman Martha Fierro.

[…]

If no candidate receives 50 percent of the vote, a runoff election will be held. If Alvarado or Hernandez ultimately prevails, Harris County must hold a special election, likely in January, to fill her House seat in the Legislature. That election would be overseen by incoming county clerk Diane Trautman, who defeated Stanart in November.

Polls will be open Tuesday from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Residents can find their voting location at HarrisVotes.com.

Here’s the final daily Early Voting report. For comparison purposes, there were 8,690 total early votes in the January 2013 special election, and 9,586 total early votes in the March 2013 runoff. So, while it’s fair to say that early voting was light, it is also the case that more people turned out than in either of the 2013 SD06 specials. That doesn’t mean final turnout will be higher, given the trends in early voting, but early voting was cut short on Friday at the Moody Park location because of the weather, so we may get some votes shifted to Tuesday because of that. For what it’s worth, here are the recent numbers for similar elections in the county:

District K, May 2017 – 3,604 early, 5,135 total = 70.19% early
HISD VII runoff, December 2016 – 3,926 early, 6,585 total = 59.62% early
HD139, May 2016 – 1,433 early, 1,855 total = 77.25% early
SD04 runoff, August 2014 – 2,362 early, 3,388 total = 69.72% early
SD04, May 2014 – 2,689 early, 4,080 total = 65.91% early
SD06 runoff, March 2013 – 9,586 early, 18,252 total = 52.52% early
SD06, January 2013 – 8,690 early, 16,511 total = 52.63% early

The county is planning for about 20K total votes (remember that some absentee ballots are still coming in), so we’ll see. You can find your Election Day polling location here. Get out there and vote.

The potential for more

Beto O’Rourke came very close to beating Ted Cruz. How much closer can Dems get in 2020?

Rep. Beto O’Rourke

As newly updated election results showed U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz’s victory was even tighter than first realized, Democratic-led voter registration groups are saying they’ve never felt closer to turning Texas into a true battleground.

Cruz’s margin of victory fell to just 214,901 votes, according to official results certified by Gov. Greg Abbott this week. That is about 5,000 votes closer than unofficial results showed last month.

Cruz won the race 50.9 to 48.3 percent — the closet U.S. Senate race in Texas since 1978.

While O’Rourke lost, groups like Battleground Texas say that margin of defeat is nearly four times closer than they thought was even possible and it has them itching to get to work on 2020.

“We can register that gap,” said Oscar Silva, executive director of Battleground Texas, a group that runs an aggressive registration program targeting potential Democratic voters.

The state saw twice that number of voters just registered between March and October, and Silva noted that every year 300,000 more Texas high school students come of age to register.

He said while many people suggest that 2018 was a one-year blip because of O’Rourke’s campaign, groups like Battleground Texas have been on the ground building an infrastructure that has lasting implications.

“That is sustainable,” he told the American Association of Political Consultants at a conference in Austin on Wednesday.

Battleground Texas said its data shows that, during early voting, nearly one out of every 25 voters under age 35 was registered by the group. Silva added that 69 percent of the people the group registered this year were voters of color, helping the electorate to begin to look more like the state’s overall minority-majority population.

Just a reminder, when BGTX showed up on the scene in 2013, their initial goal was to make Texas a competitive state for the 2020 Presidential election. Whatever amount of credit you give them at this point, we seem to be on track for that. I do believe that a big key to that is voter registration, which has been way up statewide and in Harris County. Look at it this way: If we get registration in Harris County into the 2.4 million to 2.5 million range for 2020, we could very reasonably aim for total turnout in the 1.5 million zone. Set a goal of 900K Democratic votes for a Presidential candidate in Harris County, and you’re talking a margin of victory in the 300K range. (I am, let’s just say skeptical, that Republicans will be able to push their turnout number much past the 600 to 620K they reached in 2016.) Beto won Harris County by 200K, and he lost the state by 215K. By this math, which I admit is ambitious, you’ve just that deficit almost in half. Obviously, I’m making a lot of other assumptions in here, but you get my point. More voters registered means more voters to turn out, and that’s a winning formula, one we have finally demonstrated we can achieve. Keep on keeping on.

How Dems took Hays County

Three cheers for Texas State University.

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

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

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Precinct analysis: One final look at judicial races and undervoting

This one is short and sweet, and really could have been the entry level way of looking at the question “who is more likely to lose voters down the ballot when straight ticket voting is gone, Dems or Republicans?” We agree that there are a ton of judicial elections on the Harris County ballot. It’s more in the off years than the Presidential years, and this year there were 67 such races, including the 1st and 14th Courts of Appeals, but not including the statewide positions and the JP races. These are the races where we’d expect those fabled “fatigued” voters to give up and skip to the “cast ballot” button, thus leaving some candidates out in the cold. What actually happened this year, with this ridiculously long ballot?

Well, the way I look at it here is to look at the vote totals for each party’s candidates as we get further and further down the ballot. To smooth out the variances a bit, I grouped the judicial races into fives, and averaged the vote totals for each party. Here’s how that looked for 2018:


 R avg    D avg
===============
525,105  659,269
532,722  649,946
534,714  647,210
531,416  649,545
529,551  651,147
526,579  653,219
522,370  657,782
522,130  657,317
521,753  656,926
527,228  650,895
524,574  653,409
520,817  656,424

The last group has seven races in it, as there were 67 in total. The first five appellate races are for whatever the reason different than everything that comes after them, but as you can see the total range of votes is fairly limited. Once again, we see that – again, with an odd blip three from the end – Dems do a better job of hanging onto their voters than the Republicans do. Here’s how this looks as a chart:

Again, I think the data is a bit mixed, and we don’t really know how the people who have been voting straight tickets will behave once that’s not an option. My point continues to be that it’s ridiculous and unsupported by the data to make assertions about what will happen once this change is implemented. Among other things, voters (and parties and candidates) have two years to absorb the idea of the change and to make adjustments for it. Here in Harris County, as in some other bigger counties, we can now take steps to ensure that the longer time it takes to complete a ballot will not lead to longer lines and voter frustration, so that may help mitigate the more unsavory parts of this change. It may well be when all is said and done and we have some more elections under our belt that Dems do see more dropoff in their races. I don’t think that will happen, or if it does that it will be a significant effect, but it could. Whatever does happen, let’s remember what was said before anyone could know for sure.

Precinct analysis: Undervoting in judicial races

Last time, we looked at undervoting by State Rep district in the two city propositions, which were at the very end of the 2018 ballot. That showed a somewhat greater likelihood of people in Democratic districts to skip those races, which was the first real evidence to support the assertion that Dems might suffer more in the post-straight ticket world. I said this was suggestive but far from conclusive, since we were looking at non-partisan referenda, with no candidates involved.

So with that in mind, let’s look at undervoting in a few of the judicial races that were on the ballot this year. These are also low profile and deep into the ballot, but they do provide the cue of party identification. What if any patterns do we see in the tendency to not vote in these races? To try to answer this, I looked at six judicial races, three of the first ones that appear and which have an overall low undervote rate, and three that appear near the end and which have an overall high undervote rate.


55th Civil Court

Dist       Rep     Dem   None     Rep%    Dem%  Under%
======================================================
HD126   30,233  24,644  1,355   55.09%  44.91%  10.85%
HD127   42,637  24,900  1,574   63.13%  36.87%  10.12%
HD128   35,499  16,006  1,166   68.92%  31.08%  10.70%
HD129   37,342  26,324  2,023   58.65%  41.35%  12.24%
HD130   52,602  22,821  1,669   69.74%  30.26%  10.04%
HD131    6,328  35,416    803   15.16%  84.84%   9.40%
HD132   33,591  32,514  1,267   50.81%  49.19%   9.54%
HD133   43,482  26,449  2,625   62.18%  37.82%  12.38%
HD134   43,229  43,298  4,447   49.96%  50.04%  13.50%
HD135   27,503  27,919  1,288   49.62%  50.38%  10.82%
HD137    7,664  16,339    651   31.93%  68.07%  12.07%
HD138   24,343  23,390  1,477   51.00%  49.00%  12.93%
HD139   11,101  35,586  1,187   23.78%  76.22%  11.00%
HD140    5,470  17,978    604   23.33%  76.67%  14.49%
HD141    4,035  27,344    456   12.86%  87.14%   8.83%
HD142    8,754  30,706    762   22.18%  77.82%   9.07%
HD143    7,706  20,648    883   27.18%  72.82%  14.69%
HD144    9,282  13,946    589   39.96%  60.04%  13.11%
HD145   10,224  22,188  1,053   31.54%  68.46%  13.19%
HD146    8,664  34,224  1,237   20.20%  79.80%  11.43%
HD147   10,994  43,284  1,603   20.25%  79.75%  11.21%
HD148   17,180  29,480  2,205   36.82%  63.18%  14.28%
HD149   14,500  24,179    994   37.49%  62.51%  13.36%
HD150   42,340  27,688  1,648   60.46%  39.54%  10.41%

113th Civil Court

Dist       Rep     Dem   None     Rep%    Dem%  Under%
======================================================
HD126   30,196  24,706  1,330   55.00%  45.00%  10.65%
HD127   42,466  25,062  1,582   62.89%  37.11%  10.17%
HD128   35,412  16,121  1,137   68.72%  31.28%  10.43%
HD129   37,111  26,583  1,994   58.26%  41.74%  12.07%
HD130   52,495  22,970  1,628   69.56%  30.44%   9.79%
HD131    6,340  35,364    843   15.20%  84.80%   9.87%
HD132   33,499  32,612  1,263   50.67%  49.33%   9.51%
HD133   43,377  26,602  2,576   61.99%  38.01%  12.15%
HD134   42,809  43,765  4,399   49.45%  50.55%  13.36%
HD135   27,447  27,985  1,278   49.51%  50.49%  10.74%
HD137    7,652  16,353    649   31.88%  68.12%  12.03%
HD138   24,316  23,460  1,434   50.90%  49.10%  12.55%
HD139   11,015  35,683  1,175   23.59%  76.41%  10.89%
HD140    5,397  18,035    619   23.03%  76.97%  14.85%
HD141    4,031  27,310    494   12.86%  87.14%   9.56%
HD142    8,737  30,727    758   22.14%  77.86%   9.02%
HD143    7,650  20,712    875   26.97%  73.03%  14.55%
HD144    9,214  14,003    600   39.69%  60.31%  13.35%
HD145   10,086  22,309  1,071   31.13%  68.87%  13.42%
HD146    8,650  34,212  1,264   20.18%  79.82%  11.68%
HD147   10,915  43,365  1,600   20.11%  79.89%  11.19%
HD148   17,005  29,665  2,194   36.44%  63.56%  14.21%
HD149   14,447  24,233    993   37.35%  62.65%  13.35%
HD150   42,295  27,745  1,635   60.39%  39.61%  10.33%

157th Civil Court

Dist       Rep     Dem   None     Rep%    Dem%  Under%
======================================================
HD126   30,042  24,846  1,343   54.73%  45.27%  10.76%
HD127   42,272  25,265  1,573   62.59%  37.41%  10.12%
HD128   35,281  16,231  1,159   68.49%  31.51%  10.63%
HD129   36,933  26,762  1,993   57.98%  42.02%  12.06%
HD130   52,322  23,142  1,628   69.33%  30.67%   9.79%
HD131    6,238  35,494    815   14.95%  85.05%   9.54%
HD132   33,353  32,753  1,266   50.45%  49.55%   9.54%
HD133   43,043  26,911  2,601   61.53%  38.47%  12.27%
HD134   42,716  43,888  4,370   49.32%  50.68%  13.27%
HD135   27,295  28,129  1,286   49.25%  50.75%  10.81%
HD137    7,550  16,442    662   31.47%  68.53%  12.27%
HD138   24,070  23,719  1,420   50.37%  49.63%  12.43%
HD139   10,938  35,770  1,166   23.42%  76.58%  10.81%
HD140    5,375  18,069    607   22.93%  77.07%  14.57%
HD141    3,982  27,377    475   12.70%  87.30%   9.19%
HD142    8,699  30,765    756   22.04%  77.96%   9.00%
HD143    7,588  20,773    876   26.76%  73.24%  14.57%
HD144    9,133  14,084    600   39.34%  60.66%  13.35%
HD145    9,994  22,398  1,074   30.85%  69.15%  13.45%
HD146    8,552  34,330  1,244   19.94%  80.06%  11.49%
HD147   10,860  43,432  1,589   20.00%  80.00%  11.12%
HD148   16,924  29,752  2,189   36.26%  63.74%  14.17%
HD149   14,398  24,291    984   37.21%  62.79%  13.23%
HD150   42,017  28,012  1,646   60.00%  40.00%  10.40%  

Crim Ct 9

Dist       Rep     Dem   None     Rep%    Dem%  Under%
======================================================
HD126   29,830  24,865  1,537   54.54%  45.46%  12.31%
HD127   42,199  25,096  1,815   62.71%  37.29%  11.67%
HD128   35,154  16,210  1,306   68.44%  31.56%  11.98%
HD129   36,365  27,045  2,278   57.35%  42.65%  13.78%
HD130   52,079  23,117  1,896   69.26%  30.74%  11.41%
HD131    6,169  35,441    936   14.83%  85.17%  10.96%
HD132   33,179  32,735  1,459   50.34%  49.66%  10.99%
HD133   41,803  27,603  3,148   60.23%  39.77%  14.85%
HD134   39,653  46,022  5,296   46.28%  53.72%  16.08%
HD135   27,110  28,157  1,443   49.05%  50.95%  12.13%
HD137    7,498  16,405    750   31.37%  68.63%  13.90%
HD138   23,827  23,757  1,626   50.07%  49.93%  14.23%
HD139   10,811  35,768  1,293   23.21%  76.79%  11.99%
HD140    5,379  18,029    644   22.98%  77.02%  15.45%
HD141    4,005  27,279    551   12.80%  87.20%  10.66%
HD142    8,698  30,678	  843   22.09%  77.91%  10.03%
HD143    7,576  20,721    940   26.77%  73.23%  15.64%
HD144    9,172  14,023    621   39.54%  60.46%  13.82%
HD145    9,829  22,420  1,215   30.48%  69.52%  15.22%
HD146    8,249  34,479  1,398   19.31%  80.69%  12.92%
HD147   10,283  43,791  1,806   19.02%  80.98%  12.63%
HD148   16,219  30,145  2,500   34.98%  65.02%  16.19%
HD149   14,267  24,365  1,041   36.93%  63.07%  14.00%
HD150   41,803  28,015  1,856   59.87%  40.13%  11.73% 

Crim Ct 10

Dist       Rep     Dem   None     Rep%    Dem%  Under%
======================================================
HD126   29,452  25,205  1,574   53.89%  46.11%  12.61%
HD127   41,583  25,678  1,850   61.82%  38.18%  11.90%
HD128   34,899  16,440  1,331   67.98%  32.02%  12.21%
HD129   35,939  27,475  2,275   56.67%  43.33%  13.77%
HD130   51,686  23,502  1,905   68.74%  31.26%  11.46%
HD131    5,983  35,592    971   14.39%  85.61%  11.37%
HD132   32,929  32,966  1,478   49.97%  50.03%  11.13%
HD133   41,082  28,334  3,138   59.18%  40.82%  14.80%
HD134   38,613  47,031  5,328   45.09%  54.91%  16.18%
HD135   26,847  28,401  1,461   48.59%  51.41%  12.28%
HD137    7,324  16,567    762   30.66%  69.34%  14.13%
HD138   23,483  24,083  1,644   49.37%  50.63%  14.39%
HD139   10,567  35,974  1,330   22.70%  77.30%  12.33%
HD140    5,243  18,158    648   22.41%  77.59%  15.55%
HD141    3,929  27,329    576   12.57%  87.43%  11.15%
HD142    8,543  30,818    858   21.70%  78.30%  10.21%
HD143    7,390  20,879    967   26.14%  73.86%  16.08%
HD144    8,991  14,211    615   38.75%  61.25%  13.69%
HD145    9,670  22,571  1,224   29.99%  70.01%  15.33%
HD146    8,056  34,654  1,415   18.86%  81.14%  13.07%
HD147   10,087  43,932  1,861   18.67%  81.33%  13.02%
HD148   15,808  30,508  2,547   34.13%  65.87%  16.49%
HD149   14,075  24,529  1,068   36.46%  63.54%  14.36%
HD150   41,459  28,345  1,871   59.39%  40.61%  11.82%


Probate Court 4

Dist       Rep     Dem   None     Rep%    Dem%  Under%
======================================================
HD126   30,387  24,311  1,532   55.55%  44.45%  12.27%
HD127   42,669  24,596  1,844   63.43%  36.57%  11.86%
HD128   35,440  15,919  1,311   69.00%  31.00%  12.03%
HD129   37,372  26,067  2,250   58.91%  41.09%  13.61%
HD130   52,671  22,515  1,906   70.05%  29.95%  11.47%
HD131    6,425  35,169    953   15.45%  84.55%  11.16%
HD132   33,759  32,171  1,444   51.20%  48.80%  10.88%
HD133   43,453  26,046  3,056   62.52%  37.48%  14.41%
HD134   42,830  43,007  5,134   49.90%  50.10%  15.59%
HD135   27,621  27,648  1,440   49.98%  50.02%  12.10%
HD137    7,696  16,214    744   32.19%  67.81%  13.79%
HD138   24,436  23,142  1,631   51.36%  48.64%  14.27%
HD139   11,236  35,313  1,324   24.14%  75.86%  12.27%
HD140    5,474  17,937    640   23.38%  76.62%  15.36%
HD141    4,126  27,136    571   13.20%  86.80%  11.05%
HD142    8,912  30,439    867   22.65%  77.35%  10.32%
HD143    7,680  20,605    952   27.15%  72.85%  15.83%
HD144    9,248  13,948    621   39.87%  60.13%  13.82%
HD145   10,235  21,997  1,231   31.75%  68.25%  15.42%
HD146    8,760  33,962  1,404   20.50%  79.50%  12.97%
HD147   11,217  42,809  1,851   20.76%  79.24%  12.95%
HD148   17,153  29,185  2,525   37.02%  62.98%  16.35%
HD149   14,556  24,074  1,042   37.68%  62.32%  14.01%
HD150   42,460  27,401  1,815   60.78%  39.22%  11.47%

As before the undervote rate is calculated by subtracting out the straight ticket votes from the total turnout in each district, so the percentage is (undervotes) / (non-straight ticket votes). There are three things to note here.

1. Three strong Democratic districts, HDs 131, 141, and 142, are consistently among those with the lowest undervote rates. Two strong Republican districts, HDs 129 and 133, are consistently among those with the highest undervote rates. There are also Democratic districts (HDs 140, 143, 145, 148) with high undervote rates, and Republican districts (HDs 126, 127, 128, 130, 150) with low undervote rates. The message is mixed.

2. If we zoom in on the most even districts – HDs 132, 134, 135, and 138 – we see that as we move from the races with overall low undervote rates to the races with the overall high undervote rates, the Democratic percentages in these districts increased in two of the three races. This is also the case for Democratic majority districts – look at HDs 144, 145, 146, and 147, for example. In other words, the voters that are dropping off are for the most part not those that are voting for Democratic judicial candidates.

3. Pulling back out to the bigger picture, the total number of votes affected here is really small. Look at HD148, one of the highest-undervote districts. The total number of undervotes there ranges from 2,189 to 2,545, a difference of 356 votes. As I said weeks ago, the range of undervotes in these judicial races is something like 31K to 36K, so maybe about five thousand more people drop off at the bottom of the ballot than in the middle, where we start voting for judicial candidates. That’s not a lot of votes! The Democratic judicial candidates in 2018 all won by at least 100K votes. The closest judicial race in 2016 was decided by 23K votes. You’d need to have a really big dropoff rate and a really big partisan differential for there to be a chance this could have an effect. There is zero evidence for either of these.

Now look, I admit that I am not a Professional Political Scientist. If I were, I’d probably being doing linear regressions or other fancy mathematical analyses to try to rigorously tease out possible correlations. I’m just a lowlife blogger fooling around in Excel while I watch the Texans game. But again, that’s my whole point about these ridiculous claims about “voter fatigue” and “Republican voters are more committed”, which is SHOW ME THE FRICKING EVIDENCE FOR THESE CLAIMS. I’m doing my amateur-level best to try and find it, and I can’t. If anything, I’m finding evidence for the opposite. Prove me wrong! I double dog dare you!

Anyway. I still have one last post on this topic, then I will go back to looking at precinct data in the way you’re more used to me looking at it. I hope you have found this useful.

The changing tides in Central Texas

From the Statesman:

Rep. Beto O’Rourke

Six Democrats came within 5 points or fewer in six Texas races, including three districts in Central Texas where Republicans traditionally win easily.

Democrats now hold 13 of 36 Texas congressional seats.

“This is about persistence. This is about a long-term strategy. We did not make it in those races now, but we are further along than ever before,” Tom Perez, Democratic National Committee chairman, told reporters after the election.

Perez, political experts and several Texas Democratic congressional candidates credited Democratic Senate candidate Beto O’Rourke for energizing the electorate and driving up turnout. Whether O’Rourke will be on the ballot again in 2020 could affect outcomes down the ballot.

O’Rourke “inspired so many young people and new voters and established a baseline that is far higher,” Perez said.

O’Rourke, who lost to U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, by 2.6 percentage points, is said to be pondering a run for president (along with as many as three dozen other Democrats), but has told his inner circle he is not tempted to run again for the Senate in 2020, when U.S. Sen. John Cornyn is up for re-election.

“Is Beto on the ballot for Senate or president?” Rice University political science professor Mark Jones said of 2020. “That’s a major question. That improves prospects for Democrats.”

But Kopser and other Democrats said there was more going on than an appealing candidate at the top of the ticket boosting down-ballot candidates with him.

“The Beto bump was very real, but I believe out of all the districts of the 36 congressional districts in Texas, we not only benefited from the Beto bump, but we added to it,” said Kopser, who ran in the 21st Congressional District, represented for three decades by retiring U.S. Rep. Lamar Smith, R-San Antonio. The district includes liberal enclaves of Central and South Austin, as well as parts of San Antonio and a swath of the deeply conservative Hill Country.

Kopser, an Army veteran who appealed to some GOP voters as a centrist who voted for Ronald Reagan, garnered 37,000 more votes than the district’s Democratic candidate in 2016, narrowing a 73,000-vote gap to less than 10,000. He lost by 2.8 points.

[…]

“What made the race so close was the fact that for too long people here in this district have only been presented with one real option. I grew up here, so I understand the values of this district and ran my campaign with an intentional effort to connect with voters in a transparent way,” Hegar said in emailed answers to questions from the American-Statesman. “We closed the gap by talking to people and being available to them for honest, transparent conversations, which is not something we’re accustomed to here.”

She said O’Rourke helped her campaign and she helped his: “We turned out voters who cast their ballots for him, and vice versa.”

“I am not ruling out running in 2020, and I do have several options that I’m weighing at the moment. I’m actively considering the ways in which I can best continue serving my country,” Hegar said.

[…]

Perhaps the biggest Election Day surprise was U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul’s close call in the 10th Congressional District, which stretches from Lake Travis to the Houston suburbs.

McCaul, R-Austin, the House Homeland Security Committee chairman, had skated to re-election by 18.9 points two years ago but this time won by just 4 points over Mike Siegel, a first-time candidate who was on leave from his job as an attorney for the city of Austin. McCaul won just 26.9 percent of the vote in Travis County.

“I think it was multilayered,” Siegel said of the reasons for his strong performance. “I raised more than $500,000. There were changing demographics with 25 percent of the district in Austin and Travis County.”

And he suggested that McCaul wasn’t used to competition: “There hadn’t been a substantial challenge since 2008.”

“The Beto effect,” he said, “was that excitement level he brought to the campaign. He definitely was a significant factor.”

“I’m very open to running again,” Siegel said. “I’m back at City Hall, and a lot of people are reaching out to me, encouraging me to run again.”

Even though she lost by nine, I’d include Julie Oliver and CD25 as a district to watch in 2020. Dems are going to have to make some progress in rural and exurban areas to really compete there, but after what we’ve seen this year you can’t dismiss the possibility. I’m sure someone will be up for the challenge.

Also on the “central Texas was a big key to Dem success in 2018” beat is the Chron.

“This is a major structural problem for the GOP going forward,” said Jay Aiyer, a political science professor from Texas Southern University.

Texas’s population growth has been dramatic in the urban and suburban communities along I-35, while areas that the GOP has long relied on in West Texas and East Texas are losing both population and voters. In other words, the base for the Democrats is only growing, while the GOP base is growing a lot less or even shrinking in some cases, Aiyer said.

[…]

Four years ago, U.S. Sen. John Cornyn won the I-35 corridor by nearly 350,000 votes over his Democratic opponent David Alameel. But O’Rourke carried those same counties by more than 440,000 votes. That is a nearly an 800,000-vote swing in just four years.

And the impact of the blue spine went well beyond O’Rourke’s race.

– Five Republican candidates for Congress in Texas, almost all of them big favorites, survived their races with less than 51 percent of the vote. All five of their districts are along the I-35 corridor, making them instant Democratic targets for 2020.

– In the Texas House, Democrats flipped 12 seats previously held by Republicans. Ten of those are along I-35.

-In the Texas Senate, Democrats flipped two seats, both along I-35. And they nearly took a third seat north of Dallas, where Republican Angela Paxton won just 51 percent of the vote.

Those results were no one-year fluke, says Manny Garcia, deputy executive director of the Texas Democratic Party. He said even in 2016, Democrats could see how suburban and urban cores along I-35 were changing, which made the party get more aggressive in recruiting candidates there, even in districts that were thought of as solid Republican areas.

“The fundamentals of Texas are shifting,” Garcia said.

What’s changing I-35 is what’s changing the state, said Aiyer. The state is growing more diverse and more urban as people move to the major cities. As those cities become more expensive, people are moving to surrounding counties for cheaper housing and taking their political views with them, he said.

There is a clear trend line since 2014. That year, Cornyn won the I-35 corridor by almost 350,000 votes. Two years later, Hillary Clinton at the top of the ticket won it by just over 115,000 votes. This year, O’Rourke won by an even bigger margin: 440,000.

In 2014, 11 of the 16 congressional districts that touch I-35 were held by Republicans, including 10 in which the Republican won 60 percent of the vote or more. This year, only two of those 11 Republicans topped 60 percent.

The main point here is that this corridor is a huge part of Texas’ population growth, and if that growth correlates with Democratic voting strength, then we really are in a competitive state. You can talk all you want about how Ted Cruz won big in the small counties. By its very nature, that comes with a limited ceiling. I’d rather be making hay where there people are.

Precinct analysis: Undervotes in the city

We’ve previously discussed non-partisan initiatives at the end of the ballot and how often people have undervoted in them in the past. Now let’s take a closer look at the two ballot items from this year.


Dist    A Yes    A No  A Under  A Under%
========================================
HD127  16,846   9,479    4,882    15.64%
HD129  15,278   6,940    4,410    16.56%
HD131  22,871   7,418    6,460    17.58%
HD133  37,434  15,266    9,363    15.09%
HD134  49,237  14,002    9,575    13.15%
HD137  14,463   5,022    5,140    20.87%
HD138  13,013   5,957    3,778    16.61%
HD139  18,245   6,560    4,406    15.08%
HD140   5,583   2,110    2,333    23.27%
HD141  10,341   2,964    3,766    22.06%
HD142  11,785   3,801    3,631    18.89%
HD143   6,577   2,596    2,831    23.58%
HD145  16,414   6,054    5,499    19.66%
HD146  28,706   8,365    7,047    15.97%
HD147  37,676   9,694    8,510    15.23%
HD148  31,230  10,823    6,811    13.94%
HD149  10,172   3,415    4,790    26.07%

Dist    B Yes    B No  B Under  B Under%
========================================
HD127  16,228  11,551    3,427    10.98%
HD129  13,701   9,714    3,215    12.07%
HD131  19,942  11,552    5,255    14.30%
HD133  29,272  25,394    7,403    11.93%
HD134  32,928  32,079    7,810    10.73%
HD137  13,183   7,161    4,282    17.39%
HD138  11,813   7,901    3,035    13.34%
HD139  14,426  11,165    3,621    12.40%
HD140   5,797   2,411    1,818    18.13%
HD141   7,965   5,687    3,420    20.03%
HD142   9,533   6,613    3,070    15.98%
HD143   7,091   2,784    2,130    17.74%
HD145  16,267   7,699    4,000    14.30%
HD146  23,173  15,199    5,753    13.04%
HD147  28,968  19,939    6,971    12.48%
HD148  26,125  17,719    5,020    10.27%
HD149  10,261   4,250    3,866    21.04%

Remember that these are city of Houston elections, so only people in the city voted on them. The missing State Rep districts are the ones that are mostly not in Houston, and for the most part had only a handful of votes in them. Again, Prop A was the Renew Houston cleanup measure, which had little to no campaign activity around it, while Prop B was the firefighter pay parity proposal and was higher profile, though not that high profile given the intense interest in and barrage of ads for other races. Here for the first time you might entertain the idea that there’s some merit to the claim that Democratic voters might be more inclined to drop off before they get to the bottom of the ballot than Republican voters. Only HDs 139, 147, and 148 are on the lower end of the undervote spectrum. It’s suggestive, but far from conclusive. Remember, these are non-partisan ballot initiatives, not races between candidates who are clearly identified with political parties. We’ll examine that data in another post. This is also only one year’s worth of data. I may go back and take a closer look at the 2010 Renew Houston and red light camera referenda, but I don’t know how directly comparable they are – there was more attention paid to those two issues, and the political environment was very different. (I am amused to note that the Chron editorial board was blaming straight ticket voting for the demise of red light cameras, because of course straight ticket voting is history’s greatest monster, or something like that.) I’m going to take a closer look at undervoting in judicial races in another post. For now, if one wanted to make a principled and data-driven case that Republicans are more likely to vote all the way down the ballot than Democrats, you might cite the city referenda from this year. It’s one piece of data, but at least it’s something. As you’ll soon see, however, you’re going to need more than this.

SD06 early voting update

Slow so far, which is what you’d expect.

Sen. Sylvia Garcia

More than 5,000 voters had cast ballots as of Friday in the special election to replace Sylvia Garcia in Senate District 6.

The Harris County Clerk’s Office reported 1,580 in-person votes and 3,788 returned mail ballots, bringing the total through the first five days of early voting to 5,368 ballots cast.

Four candidates — Democratic state Reps. Carol Alvarado and Ana Hernandez, Democratic consultant Mia Mundy and Harris County Republican Party precinct chairwoman Martha Fierro — are seeking the seat.

[…]

University of Houston political science professor Brandon Rottinghaus said Alvarado is most likely to win, since she has out-raised her opponents and secured key endorsements.

“She has more geographic overlap with her district, and she was on TV with ads,” he said. “In a race like this it’s going to be a sprint to the finish line, and that’s going to go to the best-prepared candidate.”

Hernandez and Alvarado’s House districts occupy portions of Senate District 6. If either wins, Harris County must hold another special election to fill the House seat she will vacate.

Here’s the daily EV report through Friday. Early voting continues through this Friday, with Election Day on Tuesday the 11th. Turnout for the January 2013 special election, which took place following the death of Mario Gallegos, was 16,511 voters, with about 8,600 of those votes being cast early. For the March runoff between outgoing Sen. Garcia and Rep. Alvarado, turnout was 18,252, with about 9,500 votes being cast early. I suspect that if this one goes to a runoff, we’ll see something similar. Anyway, get out and vote while you can.

The case against Beto (and Julian) for President

From Chris Hooks:

Rep. Beto O’Rourke

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

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

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

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

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

Beto, we need you in Texas.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Precinct analysis: Straight ticket voting by State Rep district

As advertised:


Dist    Str R   Str D  Str L  Turnout   Str R%	Str D% Str L%   Total
=====================================================================
HD126  24,093  19,491    269   56,336   42.77%  34.60%  0.48%  77.84%
HD127  34,178  19,157    312   69,198   49.39%  27.68%  0.45%  77.53%
HD128  29,034  12,583    221   52,737   55.05%  23.86%  0.42%  79.33%
HD129  29,064  19,883    342   65,816   44.16%  30.21%  0.52%  74.89%
HD130  42,728  17,471    355   77,175   55.37%  22.64%  0.46%  78.46%
HD131   4,777  29,161    139   42,617   11.21%  68.43%  0.33%  79.96%
HD132  27,287  26,561    343   67,466   40.45%  39.37%  0.51%  80.32%
HD133  31,498  19,758    335   72,795   43.27%  27.14%  0.46%  70.87%
HD134  27,315  30,634    395   91,273   29.93%  33.56%  0.43%  63.92%
HD135  22,035  22,541    301   56,778   38.81%  39.70%  0.53%  79.04%
HD137   5,701  13,487    148   24,730   23.05%  54.54%  0.60%  78.19%
HD138  18,837  18,746    288   49,297   38.21%  38.03%  0.58%  76.82%
HD139   8,132  28,811    205   47,936   16.96%  60.10%  0.43%  77.49%
HD140   4,254  15,577    116   24,114   17.64%  64.60%  0.48%  82.72%
HD141   3,234  23,341    130   31,872   10.15%  73.23%  0.41%  83.79%
HD142   6,857  25,315    158   40,734   16.83%  62.15%  0.39%  79.37%
HD143   5,895  17,220    156   29,283   20.13%  58.81%  0.53%  79.47%
HD144   7,365  11,849    154   23,861   30.87%  49.66%  0.65%  81.17%
HD145   7,433  17,922    220   33,558   22.15%  53.41%  0.66%  76.21%
HD146   5,983  27,257    183   44,246   13.52%  61.60%  0.41%  75.54%
HD147   7,384  34,054    282   56,014   13.18%  60.80%  0.50%  74.48%
HD148  11,270  21,910    351   48,976   23.01%  44.74%  0.72%  68.46%
HD149  11,660  20,469    211   39,778   29.31%  51.46%  0.53%  81.30%
HD150  34,046  21,560    352   71,783   47.43%  30.03%  0.49%  77.95%

HDs 133, 134, and 148 are the outliers, otherwise each district is in a band between 74 and 84%. For what it’s worth, HDs 134 and 148 were the two best State Rep districts for Gary Johnson in 2016; HD133 was fourth best, also trailing HD129, but nearly a point behind the top two. HDs 1334 was also the best district for Evan McMullin and tied for best for all write ins, while 134, 133, and 148 were numbers 1, 2, and 4 respectively for most undervotes for President in 2016. That all makes sense in context.

One other point to note here is one that reinforces the point I made before about the decline of the Republican Party in Harris County. The Democratic districts are very strongly Democratic. The Republican presence in them is tiny. The Republican districts, on the other hand, sure seem to have a decent number of Democrats in them; in the cases of HDs 132 and 135, more than the number of Republicans. This is very much a function of where the population growth is in Harris County, and as that population has increased, so has the Democratic share of that district, and the county as a whole. The Republicans’ problem in Harris County was and is too many Democrats. Straight ticket voting didn’t help them, but then nothing was going to help them. They have themselves, and their continued embrace of Trump and Trumpism, to blame.

Still more about straight ticket voting

And I’m still complaining about how the subject is being approached and discussed.

Fewer than half of Texans voted straight ticket in 1998, according to research by Austin Community College political scientist Stefan Haag, but that has jumped to close to two-thirds in four straight elections since 2012.

Both Democrats and Republicans benefitted from straight-party voting this year, said Mark Jones, a political scientist at Rice University. “Straight-ticket voting tends to benefit the majority party in whichever jurisdiction you’re operating. And so therefore it benefitted the Republican Party statewide, but it worked to the detriment of Republicans in the major urban counties, with Harris County and Dallas County being the two leading examples, but also the 1st, 14th and 5th court of appeals districts, where it also worked to their detriment,” Jones said, referring to Democratic sweeps of appellate judge races in some areas.

Texas doesn’t track statewide numbers on straight-party voting, so compiling data requires a county-by-county search. Texas Monthly looked at the state’s 40 most-populous counties, which accounted for 83 percent of the votes Texans cast in the 2018 midterm. That approach is similar to that used by Haag, who has been tracking straight-ticket voting in Texas since 1988 by looking at counties that account for 80 percent of the statewide vote. Here’s what we found:

[…]

The end of straight-ticket voting likely will help the Republicans check the Democrats’ recent momentum in the 2020 election, at least in lower-profile races, University of Houston political scientist Brandon Rottinghaus said. “Only the most committed voters are likely to continue to vote all the way down the ballot. Republicans have more committed voters than Democrats at this point. So I think that advantage will shift back towards the Republicans in those down-ballot races.”

[…]

Jones and Rottinghaus said the end of the straight-party option could have profound impact on elections. Many voters will “roll off” the ballot after voting at the top of the ticket, leaving down-ballot races blank. Other voters may be pushed away from polls because of hours-long lines.

“I would say that we are very likely to see down ballot drop off. Most voters saw greatly from voter fatigue by the time they are at page three of the ballot and because of very long ballots we’ve got in the state it’s very likely that people just grow frustrated and simply stop voting,” leaving numerous races blank, Rottinghaus said.

There are some interesting statistics in the story, which you should go read, about big counties and smaller counties and Republican versus Democratic places. Dems appear from the numbers given to have been more likely to vote a straight ticket this year, which I would attribute to their overall enthusiasm level and the desire to send a message to Donald Trump and his enablers. Republicans still voted a heavy straight ticket as well, and in the end given that there were more Republicans voting overall, there were probably more Republican straight ticket voters. You have to check that on a county by county basis to know for sure, and I for one don’t have the time for that.

But of course it’s the unsupported assertions by the usual political science talkers that are driving me crazy. What evidence do you have for “voter fatigue”? What evidence do you have that Republicans are “more committed”? At least I’m willing to cite some actual numbers. What do you have, Brandon Rottinghaus and Mark Jones? Show your work, like you’d make a student do. I will say, if you look at Harris County results, the undervote rate in the judicial elections creeps upward as you go farther down the ballot. In those ranges I cited in that link above, the low end was always from the one of the first races, and the high end was always close to the bottom. But races like County Clerk and others that come after the judicial races have lower undervote rates, so it’s not just about “fatigue”, it’s about how much a voter knows about the race. The County Judge race this year had an undervote rate of 1.81%, on par with the statewides way up near the top of the ticket. Someone needs to show me some actual data that illustrates either of these effects – and states precisely what they are, in a scientific manner – before I will believe them.

But hey, you know what else we have? We have some non-partisan bond and ballot referenda, all of which appear at the very bitter end of the Harris County ballot, and not just from this year. Why don’t we take a look at some of these and see what the undervote rates have been?


2018 City of Houston

Prop A - 16.80%
Prop B - 13.37%

Prop A was the Renew Houston cleanup measure, while Prop B was the firefighter pay parity proposal. The undervote numbers roughly correspond to the “effective” undervote rates I calculated for the 2018 judicial races. Note that for stuff like this, it’s the straight ticket voters who may be dropping off, since they would still have to scroll down to vote on these things. But overall, most people made their way down to the bottom and cast a vote, with the higher profile issue not surprisingly getting more action.


2012 Metro

Mobility referendum - 21.66%


2012 City of Houston

Prop 1 - 26.84%
Prop 2 - 29.03%

Prop A - 23.91%
Prop B - 22.96%
Prop C - 24.84%
Prop D - 24.47%
Prop E - 24.56%


2012 HCC

Prop 1 - 22.88%


2012 HISD

Prop 1 - 18.98%

The Metro referendum was the one that gave the agency a greater share of sales tax revenue. The first two city propositions were charter amendment cleanups that I couldn’t tell you anything about, while the next five were all bonds, as were the HCC and HISD issues. Typically, the HISD one got the most attention, and thus had the lowest undervote rate. Remember that in 2012, the “effective” undervote rate was higher than it was this year.


2010 City of Houston

Prop 1 - 14.38%
Prop 2 - 18.93%
Prop 3 - 11.80%

Prop 1 was Renew Houston, Prop 3 was the red light camera referendum, and Prop 2 was something that I remember zero about. These undervote rates are pretty low, especially for the super-high-profile red light referendum.

Remember, these elections don’t involve people or parties, and they are at the end of the ballot. To whatever extent voters get “tired” and drop off, these are the place where you would see it. Straight ticket votes would not affect them, and voters have no partisan cues to go by. Some of these issues are confusing, and more than a few were very low profile. If anything, I’d expect these to represent the high end of voter dropoff in a “no straight ticket” context. Obviously, we won’t really know till we start seeing the election results in 2020 and beyond. But at least we can see that the overall dropoff rate isn’t that crazy – at the high end, it’s about what we see in an At Large City Council race, and at the low end it’s like a district Council race. Again, my expectation is that in a partisan context, with the trends we’ve observed, the actual undervote rates we’ll see will be less than this. But we’ll see. And at least I’m willing to put up my data.

On straight tickets and undervotes

As we know, straight ticket voting in Texas is now officially a thing of the past. It will not be an option in 2020, the next time there will be partisan elections. Thanks to the success of Democratic candidates in 2018, particularly in Harris County, there have been a bunch of questionable takes about how the existence of straight ticket voting was the propellant for these victories. I’ve scoffed at the implicit assumption in these stories that Democrats would undervote in disproportionate numbers in the downballot races once the straight ticket option was gone, and that got me to thinking. What do we know about the undervote rate now?

In every race, some number of people don’t vote. That number is reported by the County Clerk in the election returns. Higher profile races, district races, races at the top of the ticket, these tend to have higher participation. Judicial races, which are lower profile and at the end of the ballot, those unsurprisingly tend to be the ones with the most undervotes. If these are the races most likely to be affected by the loss of the straight ticket option, then what might that effect be?

That’s the question I wanted to try to answer. So, I looked at the undervote rates in past elections, to see if there were any trends. First, though, I needed to establish what the real undervote rate is. By definition, the people who vote straight ticket are voting in each contested election, so only the people who don’t vote a straight ticket can undervote. Thus, I started out by subtracting the combined straight ticket totals for the year, and calculated the undervote rates based on the remaining tallies. Here’s what this looks like:


Year  Regular  Lo under  Hi under  Lo pct  Hi pct
=================================================
2002  296,924    46,505    58,319  15.66%  19.64% 
2006  314,606    48,626    57,970  15.46%  18.43%
2010  264,545    38,014    45,326  14.37%  17.13%
2014  219,892    27,360    33,280  12.44%  15.13%
2018  287,429    33,572    39,564  11.38%  13.76%

2004  389,898    81,724    85,333  20.96%  21.89%
2008  449,307    81,416    89,306  18.12%  19.88%
2012  386,475    66,435    73,387  17.19%  18.99%
2016  451,827    63,226    69,344  13.99%  15.35%

“Regular” is what I called the number of votes cast by those who did not vote a straight ticket. As you can see, even as turnout has varied greatly from year to year, the number of “regular” voters has remained relatively static. The next two numbers represent the range of undervote totals for the judicial races, and the numbers after them are the rates for the undervotes, adjusted to account for the straight ticket voters.

What we see from this is that even as straight ticket voting has increased, the number of people not voting in judicial elections has decreased, relatively speaking. I would attribute that to the overall increase in partisanship in recent years. That suggests to me that when straight ticket voting goes away, voters are still going to be likely to vote in all, or at least nearly all, of the races on the ballot. There will be more undervotes than there are now – as I previously observed, the undervote rate as calculated by the County Clerk over all voters was in the three to four percent range this year. It will end up between that and the lower end numbers I show above. Do bear in mind that for City of Houston elections for At Large Council spots and for City Controller, the undervote race is often above twenty percent. We’re not going to see anything like that in even-numbered years. The vast majority of voters are going to completely fill out their ballots. We’ll see what the numbers look like in 2020, but I see no reason why the trends we see here won’t continue.

The decline and fall of the Republican Party in Harris County

It can be summed up in this table:


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

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


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

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

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

Precinct analysis: The two key CDs

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


CD07

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

State R avg         50.38%
State D avg         49.62%

Appeal R avg        51.63%
Appeal D avg        48.37%

County R avg        51.54%
County D avg        48.46%

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


CD02

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

State R avg         53.82%
State D avg         46.18%

Appeal R avg        54.30%
Appeal D avg        45.70%

County R avg        54.60%
County D avg        45.40%

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

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


CD07

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


CD02

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And now for some statewide whining about straight ticket voting

I have four things to say about this.

Straight-ticket voting will end before the 2020 elections, bringing Texas into line with the vast majority of states. But the change didn’t come early enough to save Emmett — or a host of other down-ballot Republican candidates like judges, who are disproportionately affected by the practice by virtue of their low profiles and low ballot placement.

Republicans — who lost numerous down-ballot officials, a dozen state House members and scores of judges, particularly in big cities — in some ways brought those losses upon themselves: The law that ended straight-ticket voting was written and approved by GOP lawmakers. It was originally set to go into effect before this year’s elections, but was at the last minute delayed until 2020.

If the top culprit for down-ballot Republican losses last week is a certain El Paso Democrat credited with drawing flocks of new voters to the polls, the second spot might go to straight-ticket voting. Yes, the argument goes, a lot of new Democrats came to the polls to cast their ballots for U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke in his campaign for U.S. Senate. In the process, many voted for other Democrats down the ballot who they knew little or nothing about. But without the one-punch option, GOP operatives argue, many of those voters would have walked out before dooming Republicans at the bottom of the ballot.

Straight-party voting “is the story” of this year’s election, said Dallas County GOP Chair Missy Shorey, whose county saw a rout of local Republicans.

Among the casualties: 12 members of the Texas House, many of them in the Dallas area; two state senators representing North Texas districts; down-ballot county officials in a host of purpling regions; and nearly two dozen Republican judges on state appeals courts.

After the 2020 elections, when straight-ticket voting ends, candidates will still appear beside their party affiliations, but most strategists expect fewer voters will make it all the way down to the local races. It’s hard to say what the statewide impact of that will be — many Republicans straight-ticket vote, too, and voters can still choose to select all the candidates in their chosen party manually — but in the wake of a tough election for down-ballot Republicans, especially on the fringes of the state’s biggest cities, some are wishing the option had ended in 2018.

At first, that was the plan. Republican state Rep. Ron Simmons’ House Bill 25, which ended straight-ticket voting, was originally set to go into effect before the 2018 midterms; it passed the House with that language, and made it all the way to the Senate floor. Just before the bill passed in the upper chamber, Republican state Sen. Kelly Hancock, of North Richland Hills, tacked on an amendment delaying the effective date to 2020.

The delay, some local GOP officials said, particularly doomed down-ballot Republicans in or near urban areas like Houston, Dallas and Austin.

“I’ve been warning about it for years,” said Harris County GOP Chairman Paul Simpson. “At the last minute, they put it back in for 2018, and I told some legislators then, ‘2018 will not be the same as 2014.’”

[…]

No one predicted the consequences better than the lieutenant governor, who warned of such an outcome during campaign season.

“Their plan was to give all the money, on the Democratic side, to Beto the Irishman O’Rourke,” Patrick warned at a New Braunfels campaign event in October. “Understand their strategy. If they can get to 4 or 5 [percent margin], if they can get a 75 or 80 percent straight-ticket vote on their side, guess what? Beto loses. But then they pick up judges down ballot. They pick up House members down ballot. They pick up state senators down ballot. They pick up local races down ballot.”

Emmett faulted the upper chamber, which Patrick leads, for failing to prevent that possibility.

“When the state Senate decided to keep straight-ticket voting for one more year, a lot of us thought that was a really dumb decision,” Emmett told a Houston TV station shortly after his loss last week. “It turned out to be even dumber than any of us could’ve predicted.”

1. Once again, I am old enough to remember the 2010 election, and how Republicans who voted straight ticket helped to sweep out a dozen or so Democratic State House members who had represented mostly rural areas, where the locals generally voted Republican but had continued to support Democrats in downballot races. I know that was, like, a hundred years ago, and I acknowledge that the Trib story acknowledged that Republicans have also been known to cast straight party votes, but seriously, enough with the whining.

2. To some extent, I feel like these stories are as much about Republicans trying, and failing, to come to grips with what happened. They’re not used to losing races like these, they’re certainly not used to losing races in counties like Denton and Williamson and Fort Bend, and they’re not used to sweating it out at the statewide level. It can’t be because of anything they did, and it can’t be because of Dear Leader Trump, so obviously it must be due to something they couldn’t control and wasn’t fair. Darn that Beto O’Rourke and his widespread appeal to voters across the spectrum! How dare he do this to us?

3. If you must take this complaint seriously, the logic behind it is that more Democrats would not have voted in these downballot races than Republicans if straight ticket voting were not an option. I have no idea where this notion comes from, other than an obvious disdain for people who vote Democratic from Republican officeholders, but I doubt there’s any actual political science behind it. (At least, I haven’t seen any actual political scientists claim that there is merit to the idea that Republicans will benefit from the elimination of straight ticket voting.) Well, there is the fact that a long ballot means that it will take longer for each person to vote if they can’t be one-and-done, and so maybe the lines at voting locations in Democratic (read: minority) neighborhoods will be even longer, thus discouraging more people from bothering. If we’re going to entertain this otherwise unsupported, and only implicitly stated, assumption, we should at least try to pin down what underpins it. Be that as it may, in the five statewide judicial races with both a D and an R, there were about 663K Democratic votes cast in Harris County and about 521K Republican votes. With there being 410K straight ticket Republican votes and 515K Democratic straight ticket votes, that means about 78% of each party’s voters picked the straight ticket option. Each party will have some work to do to get their people to understand the new world in 2020.

4. Going farther down the ballot, in the appeals court races the undervote rate ranged from about 31K to 33K, and in the district court races it ranged from 33K to 36K. About 292K voters overall in Harris County did not vote a straight ticket, so the actual undervote rate was in the 11-12% range. My guess is that in two years’ time, with education from the parties and with the recognition that some straight ticket voters all along would have clicked all the buttons if they needed to, the undervote rate will be less than ten percent, maybe more like eight percent. I’m just guessing, and I certainly could be wrong. We’ll know much more in another decade or so, after we’ve had a few of these under our belts. What I do know is that if Republicans think that the single greatest adversary they faced in 2018 was the straight ticket option, I believe they will be surprised and disappointed again in 2020.

The Fort Bend blue wave

Let’s not forget that what happened in Harris County happened in Fort Bend, too.

KP George

Across the state, the “blue wave” that had long been a dream of the Democratic Party faithful failed to materialize in Tuesday’s midterm elections, with Republicans sweeping every statewide office for the 20th consecutive year, albeit by closer-than-expected margins.

But in Fort Bend County — the rapidly growing suburb southwest of Houston often heralded as a beacon of diversity — Democrats had their best election day since the political power base in Texas shifted from Democrat to Republican decades ago.

Political analysts attributed the near sweep in part to the county’s growing diversity, which also was reflected in the backgrounds of some of the winners: Middleton, who defeated Republican Cliff Vacek, is African-American, and Democrat KP George, who unseated longtime County Judge Robert Hebert, was born in India.

[…]

In Fort Bend County elections Tuesday, Democrats ousted Republican incumbents for county judge, Precinct 4 commissioner and district clerk. Middleton won the open district attorney race, and all 22 Democrats who ran for judicial positions — state district courts, appeals courts and county courts-at-law — prevailed; the lone Republican victor was opposed only by a Libertarian candidate.

Fort Bend County voters favored Democrats over Republicans for every statewide office on the ballot except governor. And even in that race, Gov. Greg Abbott, who won 56 percent of the statewide vote over challenger Lupe Valdez, managed only a slim plurality in Fort Bend County, besting Valdez by a mere 720 votes out of more than 250,000 cast.

Only in legislative campaigns did the Democrats fall short. Sri Kulkarni, who failed in his bid to unseat Republican U.S. Rep. Pete Olson in the multi-county 22nd Congressional District, lost in his district’s portion of Fort Bend County by 5 percentage points, roughly the same as the district-wide margin. Republican state Reps. Rick Miller and John Zerwas defeated Democratic challengers.

I agree that Fort Bend’s diversity played a big role in the result, but Fort Bend has been very diverse for years now. Democrats have come close before – Barack Obama got 48.50% in Fort Bend in 2008 – but they were never quite able to break through. This was the year it all came together, and I’d say it was a combination of demography, voter registration, Betomania, and the same disgust with Donald Trump from college-educated voters as we saw in Harris County and pretty much everywhere else. None of this really a surprise – we saw what was happening in Commissioners Court Precinct 4 in 2016 – but it still feels a bit unreal that it actually happened. The suburbs have long been the locus of Republican strength in Texas. That’s not true any more, and I think it’s going to take us all a little time to fully absorb that. In the meantime, I know some very happy people in Fort Bend right now. KUHF has more.

How Lizzie Fletcher won

I have three things to say about this.

Lizzie Fletcher

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

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

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Initial thoughts: Congress

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

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

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


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

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

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

An in-depth look at the Beto-Cruz race

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

Rep. Beto O’Rourke

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Initial thoughts: The Lege

Live by the gerrymander, die by the gerrymander.

At the end of the 2011 legislative session, state Rep. Rafael Anchia, a Dallas Democrat, sat down to dinner with a Republican colleague from the Texas House. Anchia was exhausted and incensed.

It had been a brutal six months for House Democrats, who were down to 48 seats in the 150-seat chamber. After riding a red wave in the 2010 election, Republicans used their new House supermajority to redraw Texas’ political maps following the once-a-decade census in a way that would help them hold onto their gains. They all but assured GOP control of the House for the next decade and secured almost 60 percent of the seats in Dallas County, even though the county was already reliably blue.

Anchia recalled telling the Republican colleague, who he declined to name, that Dallas Democrats were “getting screwed.” But the colleague offered a puzzling piece of solace: “There’s not going to be one [Dallas] Republican left by the end of this decade.”

Seven years later, that political forecast almost became reality. Amid their zeal for control, Republicans in 2011 opted for keeping their numbers up in the county and dismissed the possibility of creating a district with a black and Hispanic majority that could’ve made their seats safer in a Democratic wave election. Going into Election Day, Republicans held seven of the 14 House seats in Dallas County. But a collapse of the Republican-leaning redistricting scheme has left them with just two seats — and even those were won by narrow margins.

“The lesson is you can get too clever in gerrymandering,” said Michael Li, a redistricting expert with the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University.

[…]

As far as Democrats and redistricting experts are concerned, Republicans could have opted to create a new “opportunity district” for the county’s growing population of color. That would’ve reduced the number of voters of color in Republican districts, giving the GOP more of a cushion through the decade, but it would have also likely added another seat to the Democrats’ column.

Opting instead for more power, the Democrats alleged, the Republicans packed and cracked Latino voters across the county to diminish their voting strength overall and ensure a GOP majority.

But Republicans “shaved those things off a little too close because they got greedy,” said Jose Garza, a voting rights lawyer who helped challenge the GOP’s mapmaking. And in a wave election like this, the vulnerable Republican majority loses its edge, he added.

Here’s my precinct analysis from 2016 for Dallas County. I had some thoughts about how this year might go based on what happened in 2016, so let me quote myself from that second post:

“So the best case for the Republicans is a clear win in six districts, with two tossups. Democrats can reasonably hope to have an advantage in eight districts, and in a really good year could mount a decent challenge in 11. These are Presidential year conditions, of course, though as we’ve discussed several times, there’s every reason to believe that 2018 will not be like 2010 or 2014. It still could be bad – Dems will definitely have to protect HD107 – but if the off-year cycle has been broken, there are a lot of opportunities in Dallas to make gains.”

In actuality, Dems won twelve of fourteen races, with a recount possible in one of the two losses. Clearly, I did not see that coming. The supercharged performance in Dallas County overall contributed not only to these results, but also the wins in SD16 and CD32. If this is the new normal in Dallas County, Republicans are going to have some very hard choices to make in 2021 when it’s time to redraw the lines.

And by the way, this lesson about not being too greedy is one they should have learned in the last decade. In 2001, they drew the six legislative districts in Travis County to be three Ds and three Rs. By 2008, all six districts were in Democratic hands. The Republicans won HD47 back in the 2010 wave, and the map they drew this time around left it at 5-1 for the Dems. Of course, they lost HD47 last week too, so maybe the lesson is that the big urban areas are just unrelentingly hostile to them. Not a very useful lesson, I suppose, but not my problem.

Anyway. Here were the top legislative targets for 2018 that I identified last cycle. Let’s do an update on that:


Dist  Clinton% Burns%  Dem18%  Rep18%
=====================================
105     52.1%   49.0%   54.7%   45.3%
113     49.1%   46.4%   53.5%   46.5%
115     51.5%   45.8%   56.7%   43.3%
134     54.7%   45.4%   46.8%   53.2%
102     52.3%   45.3%   52.8%   47.2%
043     43.6%   44.3%   38.9%   61.1%
112     48.3%   43.9%   48.9%   51.1%
135     46.6%   43.7%   50.8%   47.7%
138     47.6%   43.6%   49.9%   50.1%
114     52.1%   43.3%   55.6%   44.4%
132     45.5%   42.7%   49.2%   49.1%
136     46.7%   42.7%   53.3%   43.8%
065     46.1%   42.4%   51.1%   48.9%
052     45.3%   42.2%   51.7%   48.3%
054     43.6%   42.0%   46.2%   53.8%
045     44.2%   41.7%   51.6%   48.4%
026     45.5%   41.0%   47.5%   52.5%
047     46.5%   40.5%   52.3%   47.7%
126     42.7%   39.8%   45.2%   54.8%
108     50.3%   39.6%   49.7%   50.3%
066     45.5%   39.5%   49.7%   50.3%
067     43.9%   38.9%   48.9%   51.1%
097     42.1%   38.5%   47.2%   50.9%
121     42.7%   38.0%   44.7%   53.2%

“Clinton%” is the share of the vote Hillary Clinton got in the district in 2016, while “Burns%” is the same for Court of Criminal Appeals candidate Robert Burns. I used the latter as my proxy for the partisan ratio in a district, as Clinton had picked up crossover votes and thus in my mind made things look better for Dems than perhaps they really were. As you can see from the “Dem18% and “Rep18%” values, which are the percentages the State Rep candidates got this year, I was overly pessimistic. I figured the potential was there for growth, and hoped that people who avoided Trump could be persuaded, but I did not expect this much success. Obviously Beto was a factor as well, but it’s not like Republicans didn’t vote. They just had nowhere near the cushion they were accustomed to having, and it showed in the results.

All 12 pickups came from this group, and there remain a few key opportunities for 2020, starting with HDs 138, 54, 26, 66, and 67. I’d remove HD43, which is moving in the wrong direction, and HD134 continues to be in a class by itself, but there are other places to look. What’s more, we can consider a few districts that weren’t on the radar this year to be in play for 2020:


Dist  Clinton% Burns%  Dem18%  Rep18%
=====================================
014     38.1%   34.7%   43.6%   56.4%
023     40.7%   40.5%   41.1%   56.8%
028     42.7%   38.9%   45.8%   54.2%
029     41.0%   38.9%   
032     41.9%   39.5%
064     39.5%   37.4%   44.5%   52.8%
070     32.2%   28.8%   38.2%   61.8%
084     34.8%   32.1%   39.8%   60.2%
085     40.9%   39.7%   43.5%   46.5%
089     35.4%   32.1%   40.4%   59.6%
092     40.2%   37.9%   47.4%   49.8%
093     40.0%   37.5%   46.1%   53.9%
094     40.5%   37.7%   43.9%   52.5%
096     42.3%   40.6%   47.2%   50.9%
129     39.8%   36.3%   41.8%   56.5%
150     36.3%   33.5%   42.2%   57.8%

Dems did not field a candidate in HD32 (Nueces County), and while we had a candidate run and win in the primary in HD29 (Brazoria County), he must have withdrawn because there’s no Dem listed on the SOS results page. Obviously, some of these are reaches, but given how much some of the districts above shifted in a Dem direction, I’d want to see it be a priority to get good candidates in all of them, and find the funds to help them run robust campaigns.

Two other points to note. One is that the number of LGBTQ members of the House went from two (Reps. Mary Gonzalez and Celia Israel) to five in this election, as Reps-elect Erin Zwiener, Jessica Gonzalez, and Julie Johnson join them. We just missed adding one to the Senate as Mark Phariss lost by two points to Angela Paxton. Other LGBTQ candidates won other races around the state, and that list at the bottom of the article omits at least one I know of, my friend and former blogging colleague KT Musselman in Williamson County.

And on a related note, the number of Anglo Democrats, a subject that gets discussed from time to time, has more than tripled, going from six to seventeen. We began with Sens. Kirk Watson and John Whitmire, and Reps. Donna Howard, Joe Pickett, Tracy King, and Chris Turner, and to them we add Sens-elect Beverly Powell and Nathan Johnson, and Reps-elect Erin Zwiener, Vikki Goodwin, James Talarico, Michelle Beckley, John Turner, Julie Johnson, Gina Calanni, Jon Rosenthal, and John Bucy. You can make of that what you want, I’m just noting it for the record.

UPDATE: As noted in the comments, added Rep. Tracy King to the list of Anglo Dems.