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Wendy Davis

A look at how Democratic legislative challengers did against the spread

It’s been long enough since the election that I feel like I can go back and look at some numbers. Not a whole lot of good out there, but we’ll try to learn what we can. To start off, here are all of the Democratic non-incumbent candidates for the State House and a comparison of their vote total and percentage to those of Bill White and Linda Chavez-Thompson from 2010:

Dist Candidate Votes White LCT Cand% White% LCT% ============================================================ 014 Metscher 6,353 9,980 7,540 28.5 36.3 27.8 016 Hayles 4,744 8,490 5,995 13.6 22.5 15.9 017 Banks 12,437 17,249 12,852 35.4 43.3 32.8 020 Wyman 10,871 15,512 11,232 22.7 31.4 22.9 021 Bruney 9,736 13,174 10,499 25.6 31.3 25.3 023 Criss 14,716 19,224 15,866 45.4 50.1 41.8 026 Paaso 11,074 16,104 12,290 30.3 37.0 28.4 043 Gonzalez 10,847 14,049 12,635 38.6 45.8 41.7 044 Bohmfalk 9,796 13,369 9,847 24.3 32.1 23.7 052 Osborn 12,433 12,896 10,539 38.5 39.4 32.4 058 Kauffman 6,530 10,672 6,913 19.5 29.0 18.9 061 Britt 7,451 10,103 6,725 17.0 23.4 15.6 063 Moran 9,016 10,797 8,107 22.7 27.4 20.6 064 Lyons 12,578 12,238 9,722 33.8 38.0 30.3 065 Mendoza 10,419 10,926 8,921 35.7 37.3 30.5 083 Tarbox 6,218 9,664 6,250 18.7 25.9 16.8 084 Tishler 6,336 9,444 6,969 27.3 33.7 24.9 085 Drabek 9,628 14,460 10,758 33.4 44.8 33.6 087 Bosquez 3,656 6,945 4,736 15.6 25.4 17.4 089 Karmally 11,105 11,192 8,925 28.4 31.7 25.4 091 Ragan 9,346 10,214 8,039 28.2 32.2 25.4 092 Penney 12,553 12,374 10,020 36.4 35.7 29.0 094 Ballweg 16,461 14,852 12,247 40.5 37.1 30.7 102 Clayton 12,234 15,709 12,110 37.5 44.1 34.3 105 Motley 10,469 11,766 9,793 42.7 43.8 36.7 106 Osterholt 9,586 9,112 7,212 27.5 30.1 23.8 107 Donovan 13,803 14,878 11,936 45.0 46.3 37.5 108 Bailey 16,170 17,401 12,859 39.3 42.0 31.3 113 Whitley 12,044 13,483 11,575 40.6 44.8 38.7 115 Stafford 11,761 12,428 9,955 39.5 39.8 32.0 129 Gay 12,519 17,441 12,896 32.2 37.5 28.0 132 Lopez 10,504 12,016 9,677 33.8 37.9 30.8 133 Nicol 11,728 19,800 12,595 25.4 35.7 22.9 134 Ruff 20,312 31,553 21,380 38.8 51.0 35.1 135 Abbas 10,162 13,971 11,005 34.1 39.6 31.4 136 Bucy 15,800 14,742 12,031 41.1 39.7 32.6 138 Vernon 8,747 12,918 9,878 33.2 40.5 31.2 150 Perez 10,317 13,086 9,829 26.8 31.0 23.4

The most encouraging numbers come from Williamson and Tarrant Counties. I discussed the race in HD94 before the election, where the combination of Wendy Davis’ presence on the ballot plus the outsized wingnuttery of Republican candidate Tony Tinderholt helped boost the performance of Democratic challenger Cole Ballweg. Tina Penney, running in HD92 against freshman Jonathan Stickland, also benefited. We’ll want to see what the full comparisons for this year look like, but Tarrant Dems ought to look to those two districts for a place to try to make further gains in 2016.

Nearby in Denton County, Emy Lyons in HD64 and Lisa Osterholt in HD106 both exceeded Bill White’s vote total, though not his percentage. I don’t know offhand where those districts are relative to the city of Denton, but it wouldn’t surprise me if the fracking ban referendum helped them a bit. These results are a reminder of two things – the importance of local issues in engaging voters in off years, and that it’s not enough in places like Denton County to increase vote totals. You have to keep up with the overall population increase as well. Otherwise, you’re falling farther behind even as you move forward. I’ll give Sameena Karmally in Collin County’s HD89 a nod for a decent showing in that tough district as well, with the same caveat about keeping up with the overall growth.

In Williamson, John Bucy’s strong showing in HD136 against freshman Tony Dale should make it a top target for 2016. Bucy nearly equaled President Obama’s 41.2% in HD136 from 2012, so there’s plenty to build on there. Chris Osborn didn’t do too badly in HD52, either. Note that in each district, the Libertarian candidate scored around five points – 5.03% in HD52, and 4.70% in HD136 – so the win number in each of those districts could wind up being less than 48%.

Finally, in Dallas County, the Battleground-backed candidates all fell short, but generally didn’t do too badly, and they continue to offer the best pickup opportunities for continuously Republican-held seats in HDs 105, 107, and 113. An ambitious goal for the Presidential election year would be to win back HDs 117 and 144, and take over 105, 107, 113, and 136. With no statewide race above the level of Railroad Commissioner but Presidential year turnout – if we work at it – to make things more competitive, I see no reason not to view that as a starting point.

That’s not all we should focus on, of course – I agree with Campos that we should put a lot of effort into local race around the state, which in Harris County means finding and funding a challenger to County Commissioner Steve Radack. Frankly, we should be doing that in 2015 as well, in municipal and school board races. Maybe that will help some people understand that we hold elections in the other three years, too, and their participation in those elections is needed and would be appreciated. This is something we all can and should work on.

The Battleground effect in legislative races

So here’s a crazy idea. Rather than judge Battleground Texas by our own beliefs about how things should have gone, what say we take a look at the actual numbers of a few races and see what they tell us? In particular, let’s look at the numbers in the Blue Star Project races, which were legislative elections in which BGTX engaged directly. There was SD10 and eight State House races; I’m going to throw in CD23 as well even though BGTX did not specifically get involved there. I’m going to compare the performance of the Democratic candidates with those of Bill White, since everyone is obsessing about the White numbers even though about 15% of his vote total came from Republicans, and with Lt. Gov. candidate Linda Chavez-Thompson, since I believe her totals are a more accurate reflection of what the base Democratic turnout was in 2010. Here’s what I’ve got:

Dist Candidate Votes Pct White Pct LCT Pct Needed ================================================================== CD23 Gallego 55,436 47.7 55,762 45.6 47,950 40.2 57,902 SD10 Willis 80,806 44.7 76,920 44.6 66,783 38.8 95,485 023 Criss 14,716 45.4 19,224 50.1 15,866 41.8 17,703 043 Gonzalez 10,847 38.6 14,049 45.8 12,635 41.7 17,274 105 Motley 10,469 42.7 11,766 43.8 9,793 36.7 13,588 107 Donovan 13,803 45.0 14,878 46.3 11,936 37.5 16,880 108 Bailey 16,170 39.3 17,401 42.0 12,859 31.3 24,954 113 Whitley 12,044 40.6 13,483 44.8 11,575 38.7 17,639 117 Cortez 11,519 47.3 10,247 48.0 8,829 42.2 12,832 144 Perez 5,854 49.3 8,411 52.7 7,273 46.0 6,010

It’s a mixed bag. The best performances came from Libby Willis in SD10 and Phillip Cortez (one of two incumbents on BGTX’s list) in HD117. Both exceeded White’s totals and far surpassed Chavez-Thompson’s. This is partly a reflection of what happened in Tarrant and Bexar Counties, respectively. In Tarrant, not only did Wendy Davis beat Bill White’s numbers in her backyard, so too did Leticia Van de Putte and Sam Houston, with Mike Collier just behind. White and Van de Putte were the only ones to carry Bexar for the Dems, with VdP being the high scorer, but Davis came close to White’s number and downballot Dems improved by about 20,000 votes. Willis and Cortez both beat the spread, but not by enough.

Gallego, who again was not directly assisted by BGTX, and the four Dallas County candidates all fell short of White but exceeded, in some cases by a lot, Chavez-Thompson. As I said above, I think topping LCT’s totals represents an improvement in base turnout from 2010, and again that’s consistent with what we saw in Dallas overall, as White was the standard-bearer while the top four Dems all surpassed Chavez-Thompson. Gallego did about as well in Bexar as Ciro Rodriguez did in 2010, and there’s no one place where he did worse, though he could have used more turnout in Maverick County.

The other three results are just bad. Turncoat Dem Lozano carried Jim Wells and Kleberg counties even as all the statewide Dems won in Jim Wells and most of them carried Kleberg despite generally losing it in 2010. Davis didn’t win Kleberg, and she scored lower in Jim Wells than several other Dems. That may have been a contributing factor, but on the whole it was fairly marginal. Still, that needs to be understood more fully, and someone needs to come up with a strategy to keep Dems from crossing over for Lozano if we want to make that seat competitive again.

Criss had a tough assignment, as HD23 has been trending away as places like Friendswood have made Galveston County and that district more Republican. Unlike the other two Dem-held State Rep seats that were lost, HD23 isn’t going to flip to “lean Dem” in 2016. Turnout by both parties was down in HD23 from 2010, and it’s probably the case that White was a boost there four years ago. Better turnout could have gotten her closer, but Susan Criss was always going to have to persuade some Rs to support her to win. I will be very interested to see what the Legislative Council report on this one looks like when it comes out.

The loss by Mary Ann Perez was the worst of the bunch, partly because it looked like she was up in early voting and partly because Harris was alone among the five largest counties in not improving Dem turnout. You can ding BGTX or whoever you like as much as you want for the latter, but the candidate herself has to take some responsibility, too. Winning this seat back needs to be a priority in 2016, and making sure it stays won needs to be a bigger priority after that.

So like I said, a mixed bag. The 2010 numbers were pretty brutal overall in these districts, and where there were improvements it was encouraging, and offers hope for 2016. Where there wasn’t improvement was disappointing, and needs to be examined thoroughly to understand what happened. I’d give the project a final grade of C – there’s some promise going forward and some lessons to be learned, but while improvements are nice, results are necessary.

First impressions of the 2014 results

My initial thoughts, for what they are worth.

– Let me begin by saying that for all the criticism I had of the UT/Texas Trib’s polling and the skepticism of Internet-sample methodology, they were fairly accurate in the end. In particular, the last YouGov result just about nailed it. I still think what they do is more alchemy than anything else, and their subsample results often look ridiculous, but however they did it, they got it right and they deserve credit for it.

– I’m sure we’re about to be deluged with critical stories about Battleground Texas and public doubts about their future viability – the Trib and the Observer are already on it – but I have to ask, given the way this election went nationally, why they are more deserving of scorn than anyone else. In particular, how did they do any worse than the DCCC, DSCC, and DGA? The DSCC’s fabled “Bannock Street Project”, which was supposed to save the Senate by increasing Democratic turnout in battleground states, was a spectacular dud. Democratic candidates for Governor lost in such deep red states as Illinois and Maryland. Hell, the chair of the DGA, Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin, who pooped on Wendy Davis’ campaign a few months ago, failed to get a majority of the votes in his own election. BGTX doesn’t have much to brag about today, and I have no doubt they could have done plenty of things better. But I know a lot of people – friends of mine – who worked their tails off for BGTX and the Davis campaign, and I will not demean the work they did. If you want to criticize them, go right ahead, but please be specific about your complaints. I’m not going to pay attention to any generalized rants.

– Davis didn’t come close to matching Bill White’s vote total, and no statewide Dem reached 40% of the vote. That’s the harsh truth, and there’s no sugarcoating it. The funny thing is, though, for all the talk about turnout being down, it wasn’t actually Democratic turnout that was down. Here’s a comparison of the vote totals for the Democrats running for the top four offices over the last four non-Presidential cycles:

2002 2006 2010 2014 ======================================================= Governor 1,819,798 1,310,337 2,106,395 1,832,254 Lt Gov 2,082,281 1,617,490 1,719,202 1,810,720 Atty Gen 1,841,359 1,599,069 1,655,859 1,769,943 Comptroller 1,476,976 1,585,362 N/A 1,739,308

Davis didn’t peel crossover votes away from Abbott the way White did from Rick Perry, but beyond that I don’t see a step back. If anything, it’s an inch or two forward, though of course that still leaves a thousand miles to go. Where turnout did decline was on the Republican side. Greg Abbott received about 360,000 fewer votes than he did in 2010. Given the whipping that Republicans were laying on Dems across the country, one might wonder how it is they didn’t do any better than they did here.

One thing I’m seeing, and I’ll have more to say about this tomorrow, is that some people seem to think that because Davis got about 265K fewer votes than Bill White that means that overall Democratic turnout was down by that amount. In a word, this is baloney. White drew the votes of some 300K people that otherwise voted Republican. Their presence in his tally was nice for him, and would have been critical in a different year, but they had nothing to do with Democratic turnout. I am at a loss for why people are making that claim, and why they are overlooking or ignoring the gains in the races just below the Governor’s race, where a coordinated turnout effort would have an effect. Like I said, more about this tomorrow.

– Harris County wasn’t any prettier than the state was, and here in Harris there were declines in the vote totals of both parties. I’ve been looking at the statewide results more closely to see where the gains and losses were, and my initial impression is that the other big counties did move forward in ways Harris did not. The mail program was a success, but it seems clear that it mostly shifted behavior. If there was a net gain, in terms of votes we wouldn’t have had at all without the mail program, it means that in person turnout efforts were that much less successful. If we’re going to be introspective, that’s the place to start.

– All that said, if I’m newly-elected Harris County DA Devon Anderson, I’d take a few minutes to be concerned about the fact that I have to be on the ballot again in 2016. Consider this: By my calculation, the average Republican judicial candidate who had a Democratic opponent received 359,759 votes. The average Dem judicial candidate got 297,311. Anderson received 354,098 while Kim Ogg got 311,094. To put it another way, Ogg got crossover votes, which stands both her and Anderson in contrast to Pat Lykos in 2008 and Mike Anderson in 2012. Frankly, if she’s up for it, I’d tell Kim Ogg to keep running and start fundraising now for 2016. Assuming the patterns from the last two Presidential years hold here, she’d have a real shot at it.

– Along the same lines, of the five legislative seats the Dems lost (three in the House, one each in Congress and the Senate), HDs 117 and 144 should flip back in 2016, and if I were Pete Gallego I’d keep running for CD23 as well. (If he doesn’t want to run any more, allow me to be the first to hop on the Mary González bandwagon.) If Susan Criss can’t win HD23, which had been trending red for some time, I doubt anyone can. As for SD10, it’s not up again till 2018, but for the record, Libby Willis basically hit the Bill White number, which suggests she drew a non-trivial number of crossovers. Someone ought to take another crack at that one next time around but bear in mind this was always going to be a tough hold. I strongly suspect that if Wendy Davis had decided to run for re-election instead that we’d still be mourning her defeat.

– One prize Dems did claim was knocking off longtime Bexar County DA Susan Reed. Republicans claimed a victory over DA Craig Watkins in Dallas, where he was his own worst enemy. I refer you to Grits for more on that.

– Other results of interest: You already know about the Denton fracking ban. The Katy and Lone Star College bond initiatives passed. Austin Council Member Council Member Mike Martinez and attorney Steve Adler are in a runoff for Mayor; other Council race results, the first single member district elections in Austin, are here. And finally, Old Town Tomball repealed its ban on alcohol sales. Pour one out, y’all.

– Finally, a word on the matter of the efficacy of campaign ads, in particular negative ads. Yesterday morning after we dropped off the kids at school, Tiffany mentioned to me that Olivia’s understanding of the Governor’s race was that if Abbott won, there would be more standardized tests, which did not please her. “He wants to test four-year-olds!” she said. “That’s just wack!” I will simply note that at no time this year did I ever discuss the Abbott and Davis pre-k plans with her, and leave it at that.

Two in Tarrant to watch

Tarrant County isn’t often an electoral battleground, but this time it is, at least in two legislative races.

Libby Willis

[HD94 Republican nominee Tony] Tinderholt’s race is one of two legislative contests in Tarrant County where Democrats are pinning their hopes on Republican voters soured by the most conservative elements of their party.

The second is a race to fill the Senate seat left open by Democratic gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis. There, in a district dominated by Republicans until Davis’ election, Democrat Libby Willis faces Konni Burton, a grassroots activist from Colleyville who touts the rare endorsement of U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz.

Like Tinderholt, who ousted Diane Patrick, an eight-year incumbent, in a primary upset, Burton sailed to GOP victory by questioning the conservative credentials of other Republicans. Now, in the general election, both candidates are under fire from their opponents for positions on abortion, gun rights and illegal immigration that Democrats say are out of sync with mainstream voters.

“I’m looking for those people who just don’t care about the partisan nonsense,” said Cole Ballweg, the Arlington businessman running against Tinderholt. “I’m looking for those people who’re more like me, who say, ‘What is really going to move the needle for my community, for my schools, for my kids?’ And there’s actually a lot of them out there.”

[…]

Ballweg acknowledged that it would take a “miracle” for a Democrat to carry Arlington’s staunchly Republican House District 94.

“I understand that so many of these people are still going to vote against me,” Ballweg said. “But you know what, they’re a lot more reasonable than a lot of people give them credit. They don’t want rifles in their streets; they don’t want angry, off-the-rails rhetoric about the border or anything else.”

The contest for the state Senate seat is closer. With advertising buys still rolling in, Willis and Burton have each spent over $1 million getting their message to Tarrant County voters since May, according to Texas Ethics Commission data.

Burton has raked in high-dollar donations from prominent conservative backers, including $100,000 from Midland oil and gas developer Tim Dunn and Texans for Lawsuit Reform, which has spent more than $300,000 on last-minute direct mail and television ads on her behalf.

Willis has received substantial sums from Democratic donors, including Houston trial lawyer Steve Mostyn, who has contributed a combined $850,000 to her campaign through his law firm and Back to Basics, the political action committee he funds. She has also received support from Planned Parenthood, the Democratic organizing group Battleground Texas and Annie’s List, which helps Democratic female candidates run for office.

But in her run for the high-profile swing district, Willis has also made inroads with groups otherwise supporting a slate of primarily Republican candidates, like the Texas Medical Association and the statewide law enforcement association known as CLEAT.

The former teacher and past president of the Fort Worth League of Neighborhood Associations has attempted to draw a sharp contrast with her opponent, billing herself as a coalition builder and Burton as a partisan.

“I have so many Republicans saying, ‘I am not a Tea Party person, I am not extreme, I am just not that far out there.’ And they are voting for me,” Willis said. “A lot of them are voting for a Democrat for the first time in their lives, and they are voting for me.”

I’ve written about the SD10 race before, both as a benchmark of success and an example of what else Battleground Texas is doing. I continue to believe that Libby Willis has at least as good a chance to hold this seat with Wendy Davis running for Governor as Davis would have with a mystery candidate for Governor. Early voting was up in Tarrant County, and one presumes these races as well as the Governor’s race were the driving forces behind that. As for the HD94 race, it would be nice to think that Republicans would be “soured by the most conservative elements of their party”, but one expects that if they were then Tinderholt would have lost in the primary to Rep. Diane Patrick, who had a solid reputation and was on Tom Craddick’s leadership team. I’ll hope for the best here, and I won’t be surprised if Cole Ballweg exceeds the partisan norm, but I’m not expecting more than that.

Don’t expect the Kathie Glass effect to be much

Seems like every four years we talk about the possible effect of third party candidates on various races. Usually, it’s in the context of legislative races, where some candidates have won with less than 50% in recent years and one could make a case that the presence of a (usually) Libertarian candidate might have had an effect on the outcome. The subject came up for the Governor’s race a little while back, and I’m here to tamp down on any irrational exuberance.

Hop on the bus, Gus. Or don’t. Your call.

Don’t forget 1990.

That was the year a third-party candidate made a potentially game-changing difference in the Texas governor’s race, drawing slightly more than the number of votes separating Democratic winner Ann Richards from Republican Clayton Williams.

And while third-party gubernatorial candidates did not participate in Friday’s debate between Greg Abbott and Wendy Davis, they could help decide who will be the next governor of Texas.

“Third-party candidates can mean a big difference in close elections,” said Allan Saxe, an associate political science professor at the University of Texas at Arlington. “Third parties can rarely win. Generally, [they] play a spoiler role.”

[…]

Observers say this year’s Nov. 4 general election could provide a number of close races where a third-party candidate might change the entire dynamics of a race.

“In these contests there exists the possibility that were one or more third-party candidates not on the ballot … the outcome of the election would [be] different,” said Mark P. Jones, a political science professor at Rice University in Houston.

[…]

Political analysts say third-party candidates could make a difference in the governor’s race.

Abbott, the state’s attorney general and GOP nominee, squares off against Davis, a state senator from Fort Worth and Democratic nominee. Libertarian Kathie Glass and Green Party candidate Brandon Parmer are in the race as well.

If the race tightens up, Glass and Parmer combined could draw as little as 4 percent of the vote and impact the result.

“That could mean the difference in a very close election,” Saxe said.

After all, in 1990, Richards won by claiming 99,239 more votes than Williams, and Libertarian Jeff Daiell earned 129,128 votes.

“Overall, the principal impact of the Libertarian Party and Green Party candidates this fall will be to provide voters with a different perspective on how to address many of the key challenges facing the state today,” Jones said.

A key example, he said, is Glass, “who is far and away running the most visible and vibrant campaign of any third-party candidate in Texas.”

I will admit, I saw the Kathie Glass Bus on the side of the road as we were heading back from Austin on 290 a couple of weeks ago. I was tempted to take a picture of it, but I was driving at the time, and I didn’t think Tiffany would have appreciated me hauling out my cellphone at that moment. Maybe some other time. In any event, I will admit that as far as that goes, Glass’ campaign has been more visible than some other Libertarian campaigns of recent years.

Nonetheless, I’m going to play spoiler as well. Here’s a compilation of all third-party candidate performances in Texas gubernatorial races since 1990. See if you can spot the problem.

Year Lib Green Other Total Win % ======================================== 1990 3.32 0 0.30 3.62 48.19 1994 0.64 0 0 0.64 49.68 1998 0.55 0 0.02 0.57 49.72 2002 1.46 0.70 0.05 2.21 48.90 2006 0.60 0 0.01 0.61 49.69 2010 2.19 0.39 0.14 2.72 48.64

Notice how in none of these six elections how the combined Lib and Green (and write-in, which is what the Other above represents) total has reached four percent? In fact, outside of 1990, it’s never reached three percent? This could be the year that it happens – the Kathie Glass Bus is quite impressive, after all – but if you’re going to write this story, you ought to acknowledge the history. Don’t get our hopes up without justification.

It’s my opinion from looking at as many election results as I’ve seen over the years that the higher the profile the race, the lower the ceiling for third party candidates, our wacky 2006 Governor’s race excepted. Honestly, outside of the hardest of the hardcore political junkies and members of the third parties themselves, I doubt more than a handful of people even know who the L and G nominees are. With all due respect to Kathie Glass and her bus, the people that will be voting for her are basically the people that always vote Libertarian and the people that for whatever the reason didn’t like the nominee from the party that they tend to vote for no matter how much they protest their “independence”. Frankly, if the base party vote is reasonably close to even overall – which at this point I don’t think is likely, but I could be wrong – the place where an L and/or G candidate could affect the outcome is down ballot. I went through this exercise before, to show that one doesn’t need to get 50% of the vote to win most statewide races in Texas due to the presence of other candidates, and as you can see the higher totals for third party candidates tend to be in the lower profile races. I’m not saying that Kathie Glass and Brandon Parmer can’t have an effect on the outcome of the Governor’s race. I am saying that if I had to pick one race where there might be an effect, I’d probably pick Railroad Commissioner or Supreme Court justice. I promise to look at this again after the election.

Final 2014 EV thoughts

Here’s the Chron story about how early voting went.

EarlyVoting

“Each (side) is emphasizing areas of comparative advantage, but the overall pattern seems to be unimpressive in terms of overall turnout,” said Jim Henson, who directs the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas at Austin. “I don’t see anything in the voting numbers as we have them so far to suggest a disruption in the normal pattern.”

Based on numbers kept by the secretary of state’s office, nearly 1.5 million people had voted early through Thursday in Texas’ 15 biggest counties, barely topping the same number at this point in 2010. The early voting turnout rate was down more than 7 percent.

“The numbers for early voting in this 2014 election cycle are comparable to what we saw in 2010,” said Alicia Pierce, a spokeswoman for the office, echoing not only Republicans but also independent experts who have been crunching the numbers on their own.

Polling stations in Harris County experienced a surge on Friday, the last day to cast a ballot in-person before Election Day on Nov. 4. Workers processed 51,628 voters – the highest daily number of the early-voting period.

But overall, early turnout in Harris County dropped 16 percent compared to the midterm count four years ago, from 444,648 to 375,247 this cycle.

In-person voters numbered 307,280 for the dozen days of early voting, compared to the final early number in 2010 – 392,536.

Still, more mail-in ballots were returned this cycle, 67,967 compared to 52,112 in 2010, which may suggest that efforts to get more people to vote using that method worked.

Harris County Clerk Stan Stanart said he expects a non-record-breaking turnout of about 300,000 voters on Tuesday. “Voters, they do their own thing,” he said, adding that state and national moods appear to influence turnouts.

The analysis of Friday’s batch of votes was that it was a good day for the Democrats, which brought the projected Dem share of the overall early vote in Harris County to 46.7%. That happens to be a very conducive number for some back-of-the-envelope math. With turnout so far at 375K, this puts Democrats down about 25K votes, 200K to 175K. That’s without taking into account the Greens and Libs, the extra mail ballots that will arrive by Tuesday, and undervotes, but it’s close enough for these purposes. If we accept Stan Stanart’s guess of 300K turnout for Tuesday, that means Dems need a win of 162,500 to 137,500 for a 50-50 county. That’s roughly a 54.2-45.8 spread for the Ds, or an improvement of 7.5 points over EV. In 2010, Dems improved by about 7 points from EV to E-Day (39% to 46%). So it’s doable, though obviously a bit of a stretch.

One thing to note from this is that if this projection is accurate, Dem turnout in Harris County will be up a smidge from 2010 – could be a slightly larger smidge if the projection underestimates the Dems, or it could be that there is no smidge if it’s an overestimate – while Republican turnout is down considerably. That shouldn’t be a big surprise – 2010 was fueled by a huge wave of previously Presidential-year-only Republican voters. I’ve said all along that while we ought to expect some of them to show up this year, it’s unlikely they all would. It stands to reason that a lack of these surge voters would have an effect. I suspect that this pattern will hold around the state, with perhaps some local variations here and there, like in Bexar County, but I have no data to verify this. What this means for final state totals remains to be seen. Let’s assume that the Rs have something like 2002 turnout, which is to say between 2.7 million and 2.8 million. If Dems can reach or edge past the Bill White line – say 2.1 or 2.2 million – that puts them at 43 or 44 percent, more or less. If that’s true for the whole ticket and not just one Bill White-like candidate, I’d count that as solid progress, if perhaps a bit short of my fonder hopes. It would also still be a double-digit loss, likely between 12 and 14 points. You can close a lot of the gap from 2010 and still have a lot more gap left to close. If however we’re looking at no more than an “up a smidge” situation statewide, so that Dems are still in the 1.8 million range, we’re looking at a 20-point loss. I’d be hard pressed to find anything positive about that regardless of what else might have happened.

None of this should be taken as gospel. I’m extrapolating from a limited data set. It would have been awesome to have seen some clear evidence of a Democratic surge, but I don’t. There is room to make up ground on Election Day, though, so keep at it till the final bell rings. Remember also that when BGTX first arrived, back when no Democrats were running for Governor, they were talking about a multi-year process, with a target date of 2020. Whatever does happen, we have to build on it. Move forward or get left behind.

Finally, a small point of disagreement with my friend PDiddie. If Susan Criss holds HD23, I see no way the Dems lose any seats in the Lege. The most likely outcomes range from -1 to +3 for the Dems, depending on HD23, those two Dallas districts, and HD43. There are Dem incumbents that would have to sweat it out in a year more like 2010, but there’s no evidence to suggest we have that kind of year.

2014 Day 11 Early Vote totals

But first, a little Republican angst.

EarlyVoting

The Republican Party of Bexar County has issued a series of desperate pleas to conservative voters, saying “the Democrats are beating us on base turnout,” but two of the Texas party’s biggest names converged on San Antonio to get any complacent GOP voters off their couches.

U.S. Sen. John Cornyn and gubernatorial candidate Greg Abbott rallied supporters on Wednesday at Alamo Café, echoing concerns of local GOP leaders that loyalists who usually vote early aren’t all doing so.

“It’s a risk when people feel you’re going to win. They feel ‘why bother?’ That’s why events like this are so important, to encourage people to vote,” Cornyn said.

“We noticed that our base is sagging a bit,” said Bexar County GOP Chairman Robert Stovall.

“For the first time, I hope Republicans are right,” quipped his Democratic counterpart, Manuel Medina.

Both parties are armed with overnight data from early voting that ends Friday. While Republicans are anxious about their turnout numbers, Democrats are buoyed by theirs.

I have no insight into Bexar County, and it’s often difficult to distinguish between truth and bluff in this kind of story, but I like the sound of this anyway. It is credible to me that Bexar could be overperforming thanks to the presence of Leticia Van de Putte, as Tarrant appears to be doing for Wendy Davis and Harris did in 2010 for Bill White. Be that as it may, I think we can take this at face value.

And then there’s this from the Quorum Report, via email from the Davis campaign:

As we’ve said from time to time at Buzz Central, if Texas is a battleground, Harris County is ground zero. Perhaps never before has that seemed so true. Conservative activists, including the local GOP’s new and old leadership, are said to be waging all-out war to try to keep Sen. Wendy Davis’ performance in Harris County from affecting their down ballot candidates. There has been much grumbling in recent weeks from local Republican judicial candidates who feel that not enough has been done to turn out the GOP vote.

Longtime conservative activist and donor Dr. Steve Hotze – a major financial contributor to Sen.Dan Patrick – recently sent out mailers and emails pleading for Christian conservatives to get out the vote.

In offering what he called a “Contract with Texas,” Hotze said “Republicans are in trouble in Harris County. For the first time in over two decades the Democrats have matched the Republicans in Early Ballots by Mail which Republicans historically have led by a 2 to 1 margin.”

Hotze went on to explain that he’s seen polling that shows Attorney General Greg Abbott running behind Sen. Davis by just 1 percent in Harris County. Some reliable sources tell QR they have seen similar polling.

“This adversely affects the down ballot races,” Hotze wrote. “Republican District Attorney Devon Anderson is in a dead heat with Democrat challenger Kim Ogg,” he said.

“The Republican judges are running neck in neck with the liberal Democrat judicial candidates. Obama’s Battleground Texashas registered over 1,000,000 new voters in Texas.”

And with that, here are your Day 11 EV totals, and here are the full 2010 EV totals. In this case, skepticism is warranted. The evidence we have is that Republicans have an eight or nine point lead, which is smaller than what they’re used to for off year elections, but still nothing to sneeze at. Whatever the polls say – the KHOU poll is the only Harris County-specific public data of which I am aware – the actual vote rosters tell us more. The good news, from the Dem perspective, is that we have more base voters left to motivate. The bad news is that there ain’t much time left to do that, and I’m not sure anyone knows why the numbers haven’t been higher. But hey, at least you know that we’re not the only ones that have been sweating.

2014 Day Eight EV totals

But first, a few words about the overall picture.

EarlyVoting

The number of Texans voting early at the polls is down significantly in Harris County compared with the last midterm election, a potential warning sign that pundits say may mean Democrats will suffer worse defeats than those seen in the 2010 countywide Republican sweep.

In-person turnout during the first seven days of early voting is 33 percent less than in 2010, a drop masked by a huge surge in vote-by-mail ballots that inflated the first day’s returns. Texas Democrats launched a coordinated vote-by-mail program this year to target the state’s elderly voters, and the Harris County Democratic Party supplemented that effort with its own absentee operation.

Together, the numbers of votes by mail increased by 17,000 on the first day over the last midterm election’s haul, but that increase was quickly been nullified by a daily drop of 5,000 to 8,000 in-person ballots. Vote-by-mail ballots are received and counted mostly on the first day, so it is not expected that the massive uptick seen on day 1 will repeat, while the in-person decline may persist throughout this week.

At the end of the first week, about 195,000 total votes have been cast – 13 percent less than the number at this point in 2010, when former Houston mayor Bill White ran as the Democratic candidate for governor but local Democrats still suffered heavy losses.

Democrats would need a large turnout statewide – especially in Harris County, the epicenter of Texas’ efforts to turn the state blue – to earn surprise victories on Election Day. The lower turnout could spell trouble for Democratic candidates, including Kim Ogg, the district attorney who stands as the Democrats’ best chance to win a countywide offiice this fall.

“Clearly, they’re down in the count,” said Brandon Rottinghaus, a political scientist at the University of Houston. “You’ve got this hidden pocket of Democratic voters that voted in 2008 that clearly aren’t deciding to show up in 2014.”

Rottinghaus noted that turnout was weak at the Acres Home and Metropolitan Multi-Service Centers, which typically are heavily Democratic.

Early voting typically increases daily during the second week, which has longer hours, and spikes on Friday, the final day. That gives Democrats a chance to reverse the trend, said Lane Lewis, the county’s Democratic Party chairman.

“The challenge that’s going on right now is our base vote,” said Lewis, “but the second week of early voting is always our strongest week, so I’m very optimistic.”

Here are the Day Eight totals and the full 2010 EV totals. No question, early voting totals are down overall, though as it happens Acres Homes had its best day yesterday while the Metro Multi-Service Center had its second best day. Actually, nearly every EV location in a Democratic State Rep district had its best day yesterday, which was not the case for the GOP SRDs. Dem turnout was similarly up on the second Monday in 2010, but so was GOP turnout.

What I’m saying, and what I have said before, is that “turnout” includes Republicans, too. What matters is who shows up. Republicans have had the best of it so far, no doubt. Dems have done better than they did in 2010, but that’s a low bar to clear, and the general consensus is about a 55-45 lead for the GOP. That said, Dems had their best day on Sunday, and yesterday looks to me like it was pretty good as well. The opportunity is there to make up some ground.

Early voting in the top 15 counties remains up overall compared to 2010, though this continues to be due to strong mail ballot numbers. The Davis campaign has argued that the vote so far has been less white than it was in 2010. The guts of their argument, from the Quorum Report via email:

In what has been a historically strong period for Republicans in early voting because of the truncated hours (8-5), the Davis team counters that 4% more African American voters have participated than in 2010 and 12% more Hispanic voters.

It is Republicans that have faded so far in this mid-term election the Davis people say. Historically, it is women, minorities and young people that vote in presidential years but then disappear two years later. Not so this time.

To bolster their argument, campaign spokesman Zac Petkanas told QR that by their analysis, 602,343 anglos had voted at this point in the anti-Obama tidal wave of 2010. In stark contrast, only 587,098 anglos had voted five days in to this election. In other words, white participation (from which Republicans derive most of their votes) had dropped by around 15,000 votes and minority participation increased by 16,000 votes.

I don’t have access to that data, but even if true that would represent a narrowing of the gap, not a closure of it. And as encouraging as that would be, it’s important to remember that the gap in 2010 was pretty fricking huge, like 25 to 30 points in the non-gubernatorial race. Cut that in half and you’re still looking at a double-digit deficit. The Trib acknowledges the issue in a way that I haven’t seen them do before.

Part of politics is persuasion — getting people who are likely to vote for a particular candidate to turn out. Another strategy is to get people who are not as likely to vote — and who, if they voted, would choose a particular candidate — to go to the polls.

That second group is the target for Democrats this year, and part of their rationale when they complain about political polls that show Republicans winning all of the statewide races. Those surveys concentrate on likely voters. If new people are voting and the pollsters do not have them in sight, the reasoning goes, the outcome on Election Day will be something other than what the pollsters and pundits are forecasting.

Whether that is the case will be clear in less than two weeks.

Ross Ramsey could easily have been giving me the side-eye as he wrote that. I would point out that pollsters have wrestled with that question as well, at least to some extent. That may be why, as I noted before, some have this as about a ten point race while others have it at sixteen or more. I’ll be keeping an eye on the Harris totals as we go to get a better feeling for that.

2014 first week EV totals

EarlyVoting

Here they are, and here are the full 2010 EV totals. Democrats still have a lot of work to do, at least in Harris County. I sure hope it happens, that’s all I can say.

We’re already seeing postmortems for this election – I guess some people like to be ahead of the game – and so we have this effort from yesterday’s op-ed pages. Author William Thorburn makes some valid points, but I think he’s reaching a bit here:

Battleground Texas, with its commitment to expanding the Democratic base by registering more voters and turning them out, had its first test with the 2014 Democratic primary. This year, 555,000 Texans cast a ballot in the Democratic primary, a total that for the third straight election year has been decreasing rather than increasing. In fact, this year’s total of Democratic primary voters is lower than in any year since 1920 when 450,000 voted. In 1920, however, the state’s total population was only 4,723,000, as contrasted with a current population of 26 million plus.

Having failed to recruit candidates for many county and state legislative offices, with no one willing to conduct a primary in 22 counties, and the lowest primary turnout in more than 90 years, the remaining test for Battleground Texas and the state Democratic Party is the performance of its statewide candidates next week. Should this year’s slate of candidates fail to do much better than those in recent elections, one must wonder whether Democratic big-dollar donors will continue to pour money into Battleground Texas or move their contributions and resources to more favorable territory.

I don’t recall candidate recruitment being part of BGTX’s mission statement. In fact, I’m pretty sure the county parties would have resented it like hell if they had tried. Be that as it may, his point about primary turnout is a bit weak. In 2002, with hot races for Governor and US Senate, Dem primary turnout topped one million; in 2006, with snoozers across the board, it was half that; and in 2010, with Bill White duking it out with Farouk Shami, it about 700K. Yet as we know, base Democratic turnout in each year was about the same. In 2008, during the most exciting Democratic primary in at least a generation, turnout was 2.8 million. In 2012, it was less than one fifth of that. In each case, November turnout was about the same. I don’t dispute his larger points, but there’s no correlation here.

Anyway. It’s the last five days of early voting. No time to lose. Let’s hope the numbers improve.

UT/Trib: Abbott 54, Davis 38

More of the same from the Trib’s pollsters.

Republican Greg Abbott has a 16-point lead over Democrat Wendy Davis in the closing days of this year’s general election for governor, according to the latest University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll.

Abbott has the support of 54 percent of likely voters to Davis’ 38 percent. Libertarian Kathie Glass has the support of 6 percent, and the Green Party’s Brandon Parmer got 2 percent.

“The drama of the outcome is not who wins, but what the margin will be,” said Jim Henson, co-director of the poll and head of the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas at Austin. “Wendy Davis has not led in a single poll in this race.”

Among men, Abbott holds a 61-32 lead in this survey. And he leads by 2 percentage points — 48 to 46 — among women.

Abbott leads among likely voters who dropped out of high school all the way up to those with post-graduate degrees. Davis leads with voters who said they never attend church services, but Abbott leads with every group that did, no matter how frequently or infrequently. With Anglo voters, he holds a 62 percent to 31 percent advantage. Davis leads 75 to 19 among black voters and narrowly — 48 to 46 — among Hispanic voters.

“It should be a really interesting, contentious race,” said Daron Shaw, a government professor at UT-Austin and co-director of the poll. “And yet, it doesn’t seem to have penetrated the public consciousness. Certainly, nothing down-ballot has.”

Most of the statewide races are not as close as this one, the poll found — and Republican candidates hold the lead in each one.

It’s more of the same for the other races as well. You know my issues with their methodology, so I’ll just note two points. One is that since August, Internet-based pollsters UT/TT and YouGov have shown Greg Abbott with a wider lead than the phone-based pollsters have, with the exception of that KHOU poll. It’s either about a 16-point race or about a ten-point race, depending on who you think is more believable. Also, if you take the UT/TT poll’s word for it, Davis’ problem isn’t so much turning out her base as it is holding on to them in the first place. When was the last time a Republican candidate in Texas won nearly 20% of the African-American vote? We’ll see what the exit pollsters have to say about that. In the meantime, early voting continues. Let’s just concern ourselves with taking care of our own business there.

On Greg Abbott and who gets to get married

As you may have heard, Peggy Fikac got to ask Greg Abbott the obvious question about how exactly the state’s law against same-sex marriage, which Abbott is diligently defending in court, differs from the old laws that once banned interracial marriage, and would he have defended those as well since he claims he’s just doing his job as the state’s lawyer.

RedEquality

It didn’t take Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott any time at all to decide that not answering that question was the best course during a meeting with the San Antonio Express-News Editorial Board.

“Right now, if there was a ban on interracial marriage, that’s already been ruled unconstitutional,” Abbott pointed out. “And all I can do is deal with the issues that are before me … The job of an attorney general is to represent and defend in court the laws of their client, which is the state Legislature, unless and until a court strikes it down.”

When I said I wasn’t clear if he was saying he would have defended a ban on interracial marriage, he said, “Actually, the reason why you’re uncertain about it is because I didn’t answer the question. And I can’t go back and answer some hypothetical question like that.”

Asked about the similarities some see between the ban on gay marriage and past prohibitions on interracial marriage, Abbott said, “Well, the Supreme Court has disagreed with that” by holding that sexual orientation isn’t due protected-class status in the way that race is.

[…]

“What kind of state would we live in if the public policies of this state were allowed to be determined by the attorney general? The attorney general would have a super veto over the elected representatives, and that would be a chaotic form of government, contrary to our fundamental constitutional principles,” he said. “It would be way beyond the separation of powers. It would be a dictatorship… by the attorney general.

“Believe me, I would love it,” he added, “The state would look a whole lot more like me right now if I did abandon my role and exercised my magic wand and decided what cases I would defend and which I didn’t, and therefore allowed me to dictate policy in this state.

“But I think that by doing what I do, I am maintaining the policy that I think is appropriate, and that is for each elected official to fulfill their constitutional obligations,” he said.

Not surprisingly, this broke the Internet as people around the globe reacted with gasps, guffaws, facepalms, and sputtering outrage. The Wendy Davis campaign was swift to jump all over this. One reason for the outpouring was the basic fact that Abbott’s answer was, in a word, a crock. The DMN points out one problem with it:

Other attorneys general, citing their oath of office to uphold the Constitution, have refused to defend certain policies, laws and judgments.

John Cornyn, now a Republican U.S. senator, as attorney general voluntarily dropped an appeal of a death penalty case and sought a new punishment hearing. He determined he could not defend the punishment meted out to a black defendant after the state presented an expert witness who had testified that blacks are more inclined to violence.

Former Attorney General Jim Mattox, a Democrat, refused to defend a state law that criminalized homosexual conduct. He dropped the appeal of that law.

In other words, previous attorneys general have felt free to follow their conscience when they thought that the situation merited it. The Observer cites an example of Abbott’s folly by sticking to his mantra.

But while the Attorney General may have to mount some kind of defense of the state, he has “a tremendous amount of discretion” over how aggressively to prosecute those cases, how “effectively” to prosecute cases, and which cases to bring to court. Abbott has been using his stint as AG to campaign for governor for years—he’s brought failed case after failed case against the federal government, costing Texas taxpayers millions. But his hands are tied when it comes to gay marriage and school finance, he insists. He has to aggressively defend bad laws to the last.

Abbott’s tenure has included a number of instances in which he pursued comically bizarre legal arguments in cases for which he could have no reasonable hope of victory—seemingly forfeiting his powers of discretion. In 2008, Abbott chose to defend the state’s ban on the sale of sex toys, a case that emerged from the fallout of Lawrence v. Texas. Over the years, Abbott has deployed novel legal arguments against gay marriage. But this wasn’t a case about gay marriage, a subject that still animates sincere moral disagreements. This was a case about every American’s god-given right to buy dildos.

At the time, anti-sex toy laws were widely understood to be unconstitutional, but Abbott suited up for battle. The state, his lieutenants argued with straight faces before the 5th Circuit, had an interest in “discouraging prurient interests in autonomous sex and the pursuit of sexual gratification unrelated to procreation.” The state of Texas has a pressing interest, Abbott said, in discouraging you from masturbating or blowing your boyfriend. That was just six years ago.

By the way, the law that criminalized gay sex, which was the basis of the Lawrence v. Texas case, is still on the books in Texas, as our Republican-dominated Legislature has not seen fit to repeal it. If the Legislature instead decided to amend that law by offering reparative therapy as an alternate sentencing option for defendants – an action that would clearly be unconstitutional on its face but would nevertheless represent the will of his client – would he feel compelled to defend that?

I know, I know, that’s another hypothetical, and Greg Abbott doesn’t do hypotheticals. So let me ask this instead: Can Greg Abbott name one instance in his time as Attorney General when he had to defend a law or regulation that he didn’t support or approve of? Putting aside the obvious discretion he has used in deciding what lawsuits to file and what defendants to file them against, can he cite an example of a law he didn’t like but had to defend? I kind of suspect the answer to that is “no”. Maybe that’s not fair to him – maybe the opportunity just never arose – but regardless, it would put his “just doing my job” claim into some perspective. It’s a lot easier to just do your job when your job involves doing things you like and want to do. It’s a little different when you do something with the same vigor and diligence for a cause you wouldn’t have chosen to support but are compelled to because it’s your job. BOR and Lone Star Q have more.

2014 Day Three EV totals

But first, a little angst.

EarlyVoting

I feel a bit uncomfortable after Day Two of Early Voting in Person. Here are a couple of concerning tweets from yesterday:

Scott Braddock ‏@scottbraddock 2h2 hours ago
Those Harris County early vote totals are not good for Democrats. *If* Texas is a battleground, #Houston is ground zero #TxLege

And:

Teddy Schleifer @teddyschleifer • 5h 5 hours ago
Dems excited by big vote-by-mail numbers here in Harris County, but in-person down 25%. Not good for them. #HOUNews | http://blog.chron.com/houstonpolitics/2014/10/in-person-early-vote-turnout-still-down-in-harris-county/ …

Here is from Chron.com:

The number of voters showing up at Harris County’s 41 early-vote locations was down by 25 percent for the second straight day on Tuesday, according to tallies released by the County Clerk.

A total of 20,380 registered voters cast a ballot on Tuesday, more than 7,000 fewer voters than cast one on the first Tuesday of early voting during the last midterm election in 2010. While Monday’s results revealed a massive increase in the number of mail ballots received this fall, the number received on Tuesday slightly trailed those seen on the corresponding Tuesday in 2010. A majority of the vote-by-mail ballots typically arrive on the first day.

A total of 21,612 votes were cast Tuesday, 1,232 of them mail ballots. On Monday, the first day of the two-week early-voting period, 61,735 total votes were cast.

A Commentary review of Early Voting locations likely frequented by African American and Latino voters shows a slight decrease in voter turnout as compared to the 2010 numbers after Day Two. Sure Dems are doing better with the mail ballots but we have to increase the Early Voting in Person numbers – or else. What is happening out there?

Here are your Day Three totals, and here are the full 2010 EV totals. As was the case with Day Two, in person totals are below what they were in 2010, though there were more absentee ballots received. The grand total so far for 2014 is 107,433, while the comparable total for 2010 was 107,782, so we are now officially a smidgen behind 2010. Does that mean we’re doomed?

Well, that depends on who is turning out. We’ve been through this before, but let’s remember, “turnout” doesn’t just mean Democrats. Republican voters count towards “turnout” too, and as you may recall they turned out like gangbusters in 2010. One of the prerequisites for Democrats doing well, or at least doing better, this year was for Republican turnout to come back down to earth. If what we’re got here is a Democratic increase combined with a Republican decrease, that would be pretty good, no?

Now bear in mind, the early vote gap – both in person and mail ballot – from 2010 in Harris County was pretty massive. A review of the 2010 numbers suggests it was about 59-39 in favor of the GOP, with mail ballots going 68-31 and in person early votes being 58-40. There’s a lot of room for Ds to go up and Rs to go down without the leader changing.

There are two indicators to suggest that the gap has narrowed considerably, though not all the way. One is that while Campos’ observation about Latino EV locations is accurate, it’s not the whole story. Here are the three day totals for the heaviest EV locations in GOP districts, then and now:

Location name SRD 2010 2014 ===================================================== Champion Forest Baptist Church 126 4,110 3,206 Kingwood Branch Library 127 4,075 2,823 Freeman Branch Library 129 4,190 3,044 Cypress Top Park, Cypress 130 3,548 3,052 Trini Mendenhall Community Center 138 3,839 3,048

Those are some pretty steep declines. Some of this I would attribute to the large increase in absentee votes, as I believe some of that represents people changing their behavior from voting early in person to voting by mail. Some of it I would (hopefully) attribute to the surge of 2010 Republican voters abating. Greg’s Day Two analysis, which suggests mail ballots are running about 50-50 and overall turnout being about 46% Dem, supports that. No question, we’d like to see Dem in person performance improve, but those mail ballots count, too, and they’re clearly making a difference. The usual pattern is that Dems turn out big on Saturday and generally participate more in Week 2, so we’ll see if that holds. Right now, all signs clearly point to Dems doing considerably better than they did in 2010. Doing better than 2010 is not that high a bar to clear, of course, so there’s still room to go up. Just don’t fixate on the “total turnout” number without at least considering where that turnout is coming from.

At the state level, the picture is interesting. The two day EV results for 2014 on the SOS webpage show an overall increase over 2010, fueled entirely by the massive uptick in mail ballots. Democratic counties like Dallas, Travis, El Paso, Hidalgo, and Cameron are up a bit. So are Republican counties like Montgomery, Collin, Williamson, and Denton, but Galveston is down and Fort Bend is flat. Tarrant is way up, but that’s Wendy Davis’ home turf. Again, it’s a function of who is showing up. I don’t have enough information to make any guesses.

Bottom line, keep calm and keep working to turn out our voters. There’s a Walk2Vote event at UH-Downtown tomorrow, to turn students out there. If you really want to make a difference, consider helping out with Drive for Democracy, which aims to help people who need a ride to the polls get them. I’m told they have identified around 1000 voters who need a ride to the polls and are recruiting volunteers to help with those rides. I can’t think of a better way to get involved. Check ’em out, and sign up to help if you can.

More on the voter registration numbers

Wayne Slater has a contrarian perspective on the voter registration numbers.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Getting new voters begins with registering new people. When the secretary of state last week announced a record-high 14 million Texans are registered to vote, Battleground Texas trumpeted that number as evidence their efforts are working. Not so much, it turns out, according to the actual numbers.

For example, voter-registration in the top five Democratic-rich South Texas counties where Davis expects to do well is up 5.8 percent from the last time there was a governor’s race – slightly better than the average statewide. But voter registration in five top GOP-rich suburban counties is up a whopping 13.8 percent.

The Davis camp hopes for a good showing in Dallas County and Harris County, especially among Democratic-leaning black and Hispanic voters. Dallas County voter registration is up about 5 percent from four years ago. Harris County is up over 6 percent. And voter registration in Travis County where Battleground Texas has a strong presence is up 8.4 percent.

But the real voter-registration increases this election are in suburban GOP strongholds like Fort Bend County (17.5 percent), Collin County (14.3 percent), Rockwall County (12.9 percent), Denton County (11.6 percent) and Williamson County (14.2 percent).

Does that mean Battleground Texas has failed to deliver on its much-ballyhooed promise to register new voters? Not necessarily. In the big South Texas counties they say they’ve targeted, the increase in registered voters is a lot better this year than four years earlier. For example, in Hidalgo County, voter registration is up 7.5 percent from 2010. Four years earlier, when Democrat Bill White was on the ballot, voter registration grew 5.9 percent in from 2006 to 2010. The same thing for Cameron County, where voter registration this time has grown twice as much as it did between 2006 and 2010, the last governor’s race.

Three things here:

1. Comparing percentage increases can be misleading, because things that are smaller to begin with can have sizable percentage increases without actually increasing all that much. Rockwall County, for example has 51,787 registered voters in it. That’s an increase of 5,944 over their 2010 number of 45,843. That doesn’t crack the top 20 total increases as I noted in my previous post, and the total number of registered voters in Rockwall County is less than the increase in registered voters in Dallas County, which grew by 58,086.

2. We can argue over the numbers all we want, or at least until we start seeing some data about who actually voted, but who was registered matters at least as much as how many of them were. As I’ve said before, some of the increase in voter registration is the natural result of population growth. We know that Battleground Texas has focused a lot of resources on voter registration. One presumes they’re smart enough to target people that will be likely to go Democratic if they vote. There may have been some concerted Republican effort to register like-minded voters – I don’t know, and the story Slater links to doesn’t address the question – but again, one would think that if there were something comparable on the GOP side it might have warranted some attention from the press. Be that as it may, we don’t have to guess, or at least we don’t have to guess blindly on insufficient data. The various county clerks and elections administrators could provide, if asked by a professional reporter, more detailed information about where those new voters came from – what precincts, for example, whose more fine-grained electoral information might provide a richer illustration – and about their racial and ethnic composition. We don’t have enough information here to base a judgment on this, but that doesn’t mean that information doesn’t exist. It’s there if a professional political reporter wants to find out about it.

3. All that said, the burden of proof remains with BGTX. They are trying to do something that hasn’t been done before, and some level of skepticism is warranted until we see evidence of success in the results. A lot of those heavily GOP counties Slater cites have been slowly trending Democratic in Presidential years, but outside of Fort Bend the increase in Democratic votes from 2006 to 2010 failed to keep up with the growth in registered voters. That’s the challenge, and that’s what it will take to move the needle in the GOP strongholds. The good news is that we should have some idea of how this is going as soon as we have data about who is voting early. Whether the good news continues from there, that’s the question.

2014 Day Two EV totals

Here’s Houston Politics with the nickel summary.

EarlyVoting

The number of voters showing up at Harris County’s 41 early-vote locations was down by 25 percent for the second straight day on Tuesday, according to tallies released by the County Clerk.

A total of 20,380 registered voters cast a ballot on Tuesday, more than 7,000 fewer voters than cast one on the first Tuesday of early voting during the last midterm election in 2010. While Monday’s results revealed a massive increase in the number of mail ballots received this fall, the number received on Tuesday slightly trailed those seen on the corresponding Tuesday in 2010. A majority of the vote-by-mail ballots typically arrive on the first day.

A total of 21,612 votes were cast Tuesday, 1,232 of them mail ballots. On Monday, the first day of the two-week early-voting period, 61,735 total votes were cast.

For the second straight day, the poll location at the Metropolitan Multi-Service Center served the highest number of voters: 1,401.

I would expect that last bit to be true most if not all days of EV. Your Day Two EV totals are here, and here are the full 2010 EV totals. In person totals are down for each of the first two days, but thanks to the massive absentee ballot haul on Day One, overall turnout remains up in Harris County, going from 79,221 after two days in 2010 to 83,347 in 2014. This year may not keep up with 2010 if Wednesday is like Monday and Tuesday, however. In addition, the single biggest day for mail ballots to be returned in 2010 was Thursday of the first week, when 5,825 of them arrived. We’ll keep an eye on those developments.

A couple of reports from Day One around the state. Here’s Zachary Roth:

In Tarrant County, which contains Davis’s home base of Fort Worth, 29,391 people voted Monday, nearly three times the comparable number for 2010. Heavily Hispanic El Paso County also saw a nearly threefold increase.

Harris County, which contains Houston, saw 61,735 voters Monday — an increase of more than 11,000 compared to the number who voted on the first day in 2010. Bexar County, containing San Antonio, saw an increase of nearly 7,000 voters. In Dallas and Travis (Austin) counties, the increases were respectively nearly 3,000 and nearly 1,000.

More than one-third of Texans live in those six counties.

And here’s Ed Sills, from his daily email report:

In 2010, the first-day total was 178,802 voters. In 2014, it was 240,634 voters. The entirety of that improvement is in mail voting, which has more than doubled to date. By most accounts, both Democrats and Republicans have strong mail-in Get Out the Vote programs, so the electoral meaning of the improvement is not clear. But it is clear mail-in voters do not have to flash a “voter ID” for their ballots to count.

As a percentage of registered voters, the first-day turnout this year was 2.68 percent, a 25 percent improvement over the 2.14 percent turnout of 2010. This year, the Secretary of State counts an increase of more than 600,000 registered voters, to 8,978,313, in the large urban counties, so that 2.68 percent comes out of a higher voting universe.

The ultimate 2010 turnout for all of Texas was 38 percent of registered voters. While it is too early to suggest that the first-day turnout is indicative of what the change will be for the entire election, a 25 percent improvement in that percentage would bring turnout to 47 percent this year. The biggest wins for Democrats since 1970 – the sweep of 1982 and Gov. Ann Richards’s victory in 1990 – have involved turnouts of just over 50 percent. The last time a gubernatorial race drew 50 percent of the voters was 1994, when George W. Bush defeated Richards.

No governor’s race since then has even hit the 40 percent turnout mark.

So a potential for change this year is reflected in the first-day numbers, but again, is it enough?

One interesting sign: The largest first-day large-population turnout in terms of percentage was in Hidalgo County, at 3.11 percent, compared to 2.32 percent in 2010. Second largest: Nueces County, at 3.09 percent, compared to 2.01 percent last time.

“Most Astonishing” award goes to Tarrant County, which nearly tripled its first-day total. With hometown Sen. Wendy Davis’s run for Governor and a hot Texas Senate contest, Fort Worth and environs saw a 10,263 first-day vote total in 2010 rise to 29,217 in 2014.

Even traditionally low-turnout early voting counties that tend to go Democratic, like Cameron and El Paso, are up significantly over 2010, though their first-day turnouts remain lower than the other large counties.

Harris County experienced an 11,000-vote Day One increase and cast 61,735 votes, or about a quarter of the big-county total.

The Republican strongholds of Montgomery, Williamson and Collin counties also saw healthy increases in first-day voting, so once again, the big-county totals can’t be used to predict much. But I’m confident another 38 percent turnout would signal inertia and tilt toward the status quo. The prospect of more voters in 2014, in my view, is a necessary ingredient of change.

Still a long way to go, and a lot of possibilities. Have you voted yet? Audrey wants to come with me when I vote, so I’m targeting Saturday for my turn.

KHOU: Abbott 47, Davis 32

A new poll to open Early Voting.

Sen. Wendy Davis

Sen. Wendy Davis

As early voters head to the polls for a landmark election in Texas, a new survey conducted for KHOU-TV and Houston Public Media shows Republican Greg Abbott with a commanding lead over Democrat Wendy Davis in the race for governor.

Abbott’s supported by 47 percent of likely voters surveyed for the poll, compared to Davis’ 32 percent. Another 15 percent were undecided.

Green Party candidates Brandon Parmer carried 1.4 percent and Libertarian Kathie Glass .7 percent. About 2 percent of surveyed voters wouldn’t say who they’re supporting.

This latest poll dovetails with other surveys conducted earlier this year showing Abbott with a double-digit lead over Davis, indicating few voters have changed their minds during the course of the campaign.

“There always could be a crisis, a major gaffe, something like that,” said Bob Stein, the Rice University political scientist and KHOU analyst who supervised the poll. “But it’s very hard to imagine that you can reverse a double-digit lead.”

In the lieutenant governor’s race, Republican Dan Patrick also has a double-digit lead over his Democratic opponent, Leticia Van de Putte. Patrick’s supported by 36 percent of surveyed voters compared to Van de Putte’s 24 percent.

Libertarian Robert Butler had 1.8 percent in the lieutenant governor poll and Green Party candidate Chandrakantha Courtney .9 percent. Another 3.3 percent said they were voting for someone else, while about 2 percent declined to answer the question.

Democrats hoped Van de Putte’s presence on the ballot would energize Hispanic voters, but the survey indicates that hasn’t happened. About 36 percent of Hispanic voters told pollsters they didn’t know how they were voting for governor, and about 34 percent said they were unsure how they’d vote for lieutenant governor.

“If Leticia Van de Putte has a name that’s recognizable, it’s not moving what we consider to be core Democratic voters,” Stein said. “Self-identified Hispanics and self-identified Democrats are still undecided.”

Clearly, there are a lot of “undecided” voters in this poll. It’s a little hard to know what to make of that this late in the game. Some poll data is here but I can’t find crosstab information, so there’s only so much analysis one can do. I will say that most of the polls KHOU has done in the past have been for Houston Mayoral races, and their results have been mixed, to say the least. They also polled the 2013 Astrodome and inmate processing facility referenda, and the 2012 Presidential race in Harris County, with the latter being fairly accurate and the former two not so much. My main complaint with their non-Presidential year methodology has been having too broad a sample. That may be part of the issue here, though obviously I’d like for as broad a sample as possible to be an accurate reflection of the electorate, but without seeing full data I can only speculate.

One more point: Despite the 15-point lead they show for Abbott statewide, they show Davis leading Harris County by a 40-35 margin. (They have Patrick and Van de Putte tied in Harris County, 30 to 30, and show a meaningless one point lead for Devon Anderson over Kim Ogg, 23-22.) I don’t know how you can reconcile a five-point lead in Harris County for Davis with a 15-point lead statewide for Abbott. But hey, the only poll that matters, as they say, has begun. Greg has the latest look at the mail ballots, and by Friday or so we should have a decent inkling of what’s happening based on the early vote rosters. Get out there and vote.

Endorsement watch: Three out of five ain’t bad

The five major papers have made their endorsements in the Governor’s race now. We know about the DMN and their strange belief that it is possible to placate the extremists, so let’s look at the others, starting with the Houston Chronicle:

Sen. Wendy Davis

Sen. Wendy Davis

The election in November should not be about abortion or gay marriage or any of the other hot-button issues that campaigns use to ignite the base. It should be about finding a leader with vision and foresight, one who’s willing to tackle tough issues too long ignored. We believe that person is Wendy Davis.

The Republican candidate, Attorney General Greg Abbott, 56, has run a strong campaign, but our fear is that, essentially, he will perpetuate the Perry era, with its fealty to the hard-right social conservative wing of his party.

His Democratic opponent, we believe, will do everything possible to sustain the state’s impressive economic growth, but she also will seek to broaden the state’s focus. We’re confident she’ll work to assure that every Texan has an opportunity to share in the state’s prosperity. And, with Republicans still in the majority in the Legislature, she will have no choice but to reach out to the other side in ways that Abbott is less likely to do.

[…]

If we can’t find leaders willing to engage the hard issues, willing to invest in the state’s future, we’re likely to fall farther behind. Given this prosperous moment in our state’s history, what better time than now to begin living up to our potential? Davis, we believe, will give it a shot.

Whether a Gov. Wendy Davis could get anything done in a state still dominated by a Republican Party fiercely fighting a rear-guard action against social, economic and political change is a question we can’t answer. As a Democrat in this fervid-red state, she faces an uphill battle, to be sure. And yet, there are pivotal moments in political history where the focus shifts and the people decide that enough’s enough. As a senator, Wendy Davis had the courage and strength on more than one occasion not to back down. With challenging times ahead, those same qualities are what we need to lead the state.

After the editorial board wagged a finger at Davis for the wheelchair ad, I was afraid they might endorse Abbott out of petulance. Glad to see I was wrong about that. The Chron also endorsed Republicans for Land Commissioner and Ag Commissioner, so they recommended Dems for the top four offices, and Republicans elsewhere. Which, as I suggested before, might have been a bridge too far for the DMN. Good on you, Chronicle.

The Chron was joined by two other papers in recommending Davis. First up is their sister publication, the Express News.

Texas is in need of decisive leadership that will look at lingering problems in new ways. It’s in need of leadership different from the kind the state has had for much of the last 14 years under Gov. Rick Perry.

Something different than: federal government as boogeyman; responsible regulation of Texas resources and its environment deemed anti-business; international border as threat; raising the minimum wage as anti-jobs; and the notion that public education isn’t in dire need of immediate additional investment.

Because she is simply more on target with solutions to the state’s problems, we recommend Wendy Davis to be Texas’ next governor.

And there’s this: Beyond Texas’ very real infrastructure and funding problems, there’s also need for a fresh look at the state’s notions of fairness.

No, it’s not OK for the state to meddle in who Texans choose to marry on the matter of gay marriage. Nor is it acceptable to get between women and their doctors on abortion.

It is not fair to discriminate against minority voters via voter ID at the ballot box. Or in redistricting to maintain GOP political dominance.

Abbott, defending the state on these cases, has said he is obligated as attorney general to defend Texas laws. But we have not heard anything from the candidate to suggest that his personal views differ from those he espouses as the state’s top lawyer.

There is, of course, a pretty simple explanation for that. I mean, I’m not the only one who remembers that Greg Abbott hired Ted Cruz to be his main litigator, am I? The E-N seems to have a solid grasp of that, so kudos to them as well. With their Friday endorsement of Leticia Van de Putte for Lite Gov – as strong a recommendation as you’ll find, do yourself a favor and read it – the E-N also goes for a full measure of change at the top. They are also the only paper of which I am aware to pick a Dem for one of the lower offices, when they endorsed Steve Brown for Railroad Commissioner.

The other paper to make the right call is the Statesman.

On Nov. 4, Texans will elect a new governor for the first time in 14 years. We think that new governor should be Democrat Wendy Davis.

Davis and her Republican opponent, long-serving Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, offer voters sharp, competing visions for the state’s future. Davis’ positions on education, health care and economic fairness make her the best candidate to meet the looming challenges unparalleled growth has brought the state.

[…]

Abbott’s response when we asked whether he also would veto an attempt to repeal the in-state tuition law was a lawyerly attempt at triangulation. He talked about favoring the law’s concept but said he found the law flawed in its current form and in need of a rewrite.

Abbott, 56, expressed concern that his party’s xenophobic rhetoric on immigration will put off Hispanic voters, whose values he considers consistent with Republican values. He told us he wants to set a tone and vision of inclusion as governor.

The trouble is, Abbott has positioned himself on the tea party end of the Republican spectrum the past several years. So despite producing an admirably detailed policy plan, we’re not confident he is the same candidate we have supported in previous elections.

There was a time we could have assumed Abbott would moderate his party’s worst tendencies on illegal immigration, abortion, same-sex marriage, school choice and other issues, but no more. And recent decisions by his office protecting the source of the state’s execution drugs and clouding information about businesses that store ammonium nitrate and other dangerous chemicals have raised doubts whether he remains an unfailing advocate of open government.

Abbott famously has joked that his typical workday involves going to the office, suing President Barack Obama and the federal government, and going home. Whatever the legal merits of some of Abbott’s lawsuits, he has treated taking on the Obama administration as a game in which political points are scored. The lawsuits symbolize our growing doubts about Abbott.

Good to see them detail the case against Abbott so succinctly. I never cease to be amazed by an editorial board’s willingness to support a candidate they don’t like or used to like on the delusion that said candidate will suddenly stop doing all the things they don’t like once the election is over. You are what your record says you are, in football and in politics. Kudos to the Statesman for recognizing it.

Texas Politics rounds up some other papers’ endorsements. Sam Houston gets a clean sweep, with the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal being the only paper to endorse either Dan Patrick or Glen Hegar.

I figured early on that the endorsements for Governor would be split, and indeed they were. Joining the DMN in going the other way was the Star-Telegram, which made a mostly honest case for Greg Abbott before pulling up short and repeating the DMN’s mistake at the end.

In Davis, Abbott faces a formidable opponent.

A savvy politician with a compelling personal story — despite her campaign’s early stumbles over her biography — she earned a solid reputation in Fort Worth before she rocketed to stardom with her now-famous 2013 filibuster on abortion. During her six years representing District 10 in the Texas Senate, and nine years on the City Council, Davis has served this community well.

As a state legislator, she lead the effort to restore billions of dollars in education funding cut during the 2011 session.

As governor, she proposes a lofty education plan that would expand the state’s pre-K program, increase teacher salaries and expand early college opportunities. But she has declined to put a pricetag on her plan, calling in question its potential viability.

During her time in Austin, she developed a reputation for consensus building, teaming up with Republicans as far afield as Rep. Jonathan Stickland. As a member of the minority party, such collaboration was essential to her political success.

But despite Davis’ history of building bridges in both city and state government, she has run a campaign that is surprisingly divisive and isolating.

We worry that Davis would struggle to effectively represent and serve a state that is still overwhelmingly right of center, without further alienating her party and inciting her opponents.

Yes, we mustn’t actively oppose the wingnuts, as it only encourages them. The Observer has the definitive word on this.

What would a Gov. Davis look like? Well, she would probably have little influence over the Legislature. Assume Davis wins and so does Patrick—Davis would be able to get hardly any of her legislative priorities through. Patrick would be preparing to run against her in 2018, and his Senate would kill or mangle almost anything that bore her personal stamp. But Davis would have a veto which would prevent Patrick’s worst bills and initiatives from getting through.

But the Morning News endorsement anticipates something worse—that the conservative Legislature seizes the levers of state government and goes to war against Davis, refuses to budge on any issue, refuses to put together a budget, refuses to consider new and important legislation, until its demands are met and Davis effectively surrenders. In effect, if the people of the state elect Davis to lead them, conservatives in the Legislature—probably led by Patrick—will take Texas hostage.

So the Morning News’ instinct is to reward the hostage-taker, pay the ransom, and keep the state safely gripped by one-party rule. On the one hand, it feels like a pretty bleak misperception of how small-r republican government is supposed to work. It’s especially odd because the endorsement urges Abbott to be “a moderating influence” for his party—a bit like a liberal urging his radical-left friends to “work inside the system.”

It seems probable that Patrick will be the dominant figure of the 2015 legislative session, not Abbott. It would be very difficult to make the case that a Gov. Abbott will be better at containing Patrick than a Gov. Davis, with a veto stamp and a reason to oppose him openly. It seems like extraordinarily wishful thinking to hope Abbott will turn out to be the state’s version of a Rockefeller Republican.

About as wishful as hoping Sen. Ted Cruz will morph into the second coming of Kay Bailey Hutchison. “Don’t reward the hostage-takers” continues to be sound advice.

Finally, I meant to mention this yesterday, but the League of Women Voters 2014 Guide is now available. Read up and learn, or learn more, about the candidates on your ballot.

UPDATE: Here’s a complete rundown of all Chronicle endorsements, including several races for which they have not yet published the accompanying editorial.

Endorsement watch: DMN drops the ball

The Dallas Morning News got off to a good start as it wrapped up its election endorsements by making the crystal-clear case for Leticia Van de Putte.

Sen. Leticia Van de Putte

Sen. Leticia Van de Putte

There are a couple of ways to keep your house warm this winter. You could choose the reliable heater you’ve known for years. Or you could keep gasoline and matches handy next to a fire pit you dig in the living room.

Most of us are going to pick the heater. The other choice seems … reckless.

Your vote for lieutenant governor isn’t so different. Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, a San Antonio Democrat, has been a steady legislative hand for two decades. Her opponent, Republican Sen. Dan Patrick, is potentially explosive, impact unclear.

[…]

It’s often hard to know whether Patrick, 64, says what he means and means what he says. He’s a great talker, even a fast talker. Many Democrats find him distasteful, but even some prominent Republicans describe him as untrustworthy.

And when he says things like he pushed to restore funding for Texas schools, double-check. Patrick did seek to restore $1.5 billion of some $5.4 billion in education funds lost in 2011. But when the Senate passed a budget that restored $3.4 billion to Texas’ schoolchildren, Patrick voted no. Tommy Williams, the Senate’s Republican finance chairman at the time, concluded that Patrick was looking out for his political interests over the state’s policy concerns.

Texas’ most conservative voters might be attracted to Patrick’s tough talk about illegal immigrants and his anti-government image. But business-minded Texans might ask what they are really getting in him.

Big talk might be impressive. Quiet results are better.

It would be nice to think that “business-minded Texans” might view this race in that fashion, but as is typical of them the Texas Association of Business has endorsed Patrick, because of course the promise of tax cuts – any tax cuts – easily trumps whatever bromides they tend to burble on about regarding education or immigration reform. But hey, the choice is yours, and no one can say we won’t know what we’re getting.

And then the followed it up with this:

Texas Republicans’ hard-right swing in recent years is troubling. Too many Texans feel alienated by a ruling party that seems indifferent, for example, to the plight of the working poor, the uninsured or youths caught through no fault of their own in immigration limbo.

As governor, Abbott must be a moderating influence and guide a realignment of his party. He has outlined plans that could advance that effort. Where Davis would be likely to encounter ideological battles at every turn, Abbott has the best chance to inspire legislative progress.

Davis has fought valiantly. But for all her progressive promise, and alignment with this newspaper on many issues, Texas cannot afford to provoke the kind of partisan stalemate her victory would probably bring, much like the gridlock that has paralyzed Washington. As much as Texas needs to counterbalance its GOP hard-liners, we fear Davis would only invigorate them.

Wayne and Noah have appropriately indignant responses, so I’ll leave that part of this to them. What I will add is that this smells exactly like the DMN editorial board realizing they had endorsed Democrats in the other three top slots and deciding they didn’t want to deal with the blowback that would come from going with their preferred choice. This election, more than most, comes down to “stay the course” versus “it’s time for a change”. One can certainly make an honest and consistent case for staying the course. I’ll argue with you till our faces turn blue if you do, but that’s politics. What the DMN did here doesn’t even rise to the level of sophistry. It’s pure cowardice, and they should be ashamed of themselves. Intellectually, it’s on par with endorsing Ted Cruz in 2012 on the hope that he might forsake everything he said on the campaign trail and turn into Kay Bailey Hutchison 2.0 once sworn in. They know it’s a pile of crap, everyone reading it knows it’s a pile of crap, and yet there they go printing it anyway. How proud they must be of that endorsement.

I didn’t expect Davis to dominate the endorsements as VdP, Sam Houston, and Mike Collier have. Seeing this turd from the DMN makes me think we might be in for a long weekend of more of the same, for the same reasons. On that note, here’s the Star-Telegram’s endorsement of Van de Putte.

Van de Putte is better suited to be lieutenant governor.

Patrick could very well be running for Texas secretary of defense, if there were such an office, since his emphasis in the campaign is to “defend” his fellow Texans — against threats on the border and in sanctuary cities; dangers on college campuses due to guns being banned there; intrusions from Washington, D.C., particularly by President Barack Obama; and those who threaten “life and traditional marriage.”

He says his top priority will be to protect the state’s southern border, which he insists is being overrun not only by illegal immigrants from Mexico and Central America and by vicious drug cartels, but also by Islamic State terrorists who “threaten to cross our border and kill Americans.”

Van de Putte, who proclaims herself a “pro-business Democrat,” describes her opponent as practicing the “politics of fear.”

A mother of six with six grandchildren, Van de Putte criticizes Patrick for wanting to increase the state sales tax as a way to bring down property taxes, and for voting against more funding for public schools while advocating state-supported vouchers for private schools.

“Where Dan Patrick sees our schools and students as an expense, I see them as an investment,” she told the Star-Telegram Editorial Board.

[…]

Texas deserves a strong, reasoned, hardworking and fair individual serving in this top administrative and legislative position.

The Star-Telegram Editorial Board recommends Leticia Van de Putte for lieutenant governor.

As with the others, they go this one right. What will the four non-DMN papers do with the top race? I recommend they read what the Austin Chronicle has to say before they begin typing, but I won’t hold my breath in anticipation.

Elsewhere, the Chron makes its biennial plea for someone, anyone, to rid them of the curse that is John Culberson.

District 7: James Cargas

After seven terms in the congressional seat once held by George Bush, John Culberson remains a backbencher in Washington, more follower than leader. The 58-year-old congressman has marginalized himself by clinging to an antiquated view of government and being more right-wing bomb-thrower than builder. The self-proclaimed “Jeffersonian Republican” has pandered to Obama-hating “birthers,” cavalierly supported government shutdowns and taken up Tom DeLay’s mantle as chief saboteur of Houston’s light rail system. In the 7th district, which goes from Bellaire through the Galleria to the Energy Corridor then north to Jersey Village, it’s time for a change. We endorse Democratic challenger James Cargas, who also ran in 2012. Cargas, 48, is a reasoned moderate more interested in working for the common good than scoring empty political points. He has worked in Congress, the White House, the Department of Energy and currently is Mayor Annise Parker’s “energy” lawyer. He supports light rail, reasonable immigration policy and energy development, including fracking, a big issue in a district thick with oil companies. Unlike Culberson, he’ll be a constructive force in Congress, which would be a welcome change.

Clip and save for 2016 and beyond, that’s my advice. And finally, to end on an even more ridiculous note than the DMN’s hare-brained endorsement of Greg Abbott, I give you this. You’re welcome.

#GiveToWendy

wendy-button-final-fb-cover

A year ago at about this time, a group of progressive blogs joined forces to raise money for the Wendy Davis campaign, which at that point was only a month old and all of the usual “early money” maxims applied. The only “early” now is early voting, which begins in three days, but late money still helps, too. I’m joining in this push to ask you today to make a contribution to the Davis campaign to help her make that final push to get everyone possible out to the polls.

I know, everyone’s asking for money. Believe me, I get all those desperate begging emails, too. If you want to skip this post and move on to the rest of today’s content, I don’t blame you. But if you’re still here, let me make my case, as briefly and hyperventilation-freely as I can.

Like so many people, I was inspired by Wendy Davis’ courageous actions on the Senate floor last summer, and outraged by the underhanded and small-minded tactics that were used to try to shut her up. I was thrilled when she announced her candidacy for Governor. And like many people, there have been times when I wished her campaign had made other choices. But I’ve never wavered in my belief that the state of Texas will be infinitely better off with Governor Wendy Davis that it would be with Governor Greg Abbott. If you’re reading this blog, I trust that you don’t need me to enumerate the reasons for that. But that’s what it comes down to. And that means we all want to be in a position to wake up on November 5 and say to ourselves, “I did what I could”.

If you’re already doing other things – calling, knocking on doors, talking to family and friends, whatever – then bless you. You’re making a difference. If you’ve already given to your limit, then thank you. It really means something. If you’ve got some capacity left, we still need you. Just click the link or the picture up top, and you’re good to go.

I don’t have a cutesy finish, and I won’t end this with a PS. Please give if you can – any amount will help – and thank you if you do. If you’re inspired to make further contributions to the other fine candidates on the ballot with Wendy – Leticia Van de Putte, Sam Houston, Mike Collier, John Cook, Steve Brown – or if you’d just rather give to one or more of them instead, that’s awesome, too. Every little bit helps, and everyone’s help is needed. Thank you very much.

More on the voter ID ruling

As always with big court cases, the first question is who benefits politically from the decision?

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

With a federal judge having declared Texas’ voter ID unconstitutional, Democrats and political experts on Friday predicted the surprise decision potentially could help Wendy Davis in the upcoming Nov. 4 general election.

Republicans blasted the decision but said they think it could help turn out even more GOP voters to help them win next month.

It could little matter: Republican State Attorney General Greg Abbott signaled he would ask an appeals court to keep the Voter ID law in effect for the election.

“The fact is, that the Republicans have made it harder for many people to vote … and this could motivate them to turn out,” said Joaquin Guerra, political director of the Texas Organizing Project that is helping encourage turnout for Democrats.

Even if it does, he and others said, the number of voters without ID who could turn out might be just a few thousand – a fraction of the estimate of just over 600,000 that critics had argued were affected by the Texas law. Advocates and political observers said that is because a large percentage of those people do not vote.

“It’s probably like attendance at an Astros game, pretty small, a few thousand,” said Mark Jones, a Rice University political science professor who follows voter turnout and the voter ID fight.

“The argument that this might help Republicans somehow doesn’t really hold water,” Jones said. “First, it means more Texans who don’t have ID will be able to vote – and those people are likely to vote Democratic, if they turn out. Second, this decision provides support for the Democrats’ argument that this law unfairly targeted Hispanics and African-Americans. It certainly doesn’t help Abbott with Hispanic voters.”

No question that this can and will fire people up on both sides, but the effect on the people that were always going to vote isn’t important. What matters is if this helps motivate the marginal voters to get to the polls. To the extent that Democrats have more marginal voters to reach out to, it’s good for them. To the extent that Republicans don’t need many of their marginal voters to participate to put things out of reach, it’s good for them. With everyone now talking about Davis’ latest TV ad, the one in which she accuses Greg Abbott of hypocrisy on matters of access to the courthouse and enforcing the Americans with Disabilities Act, it’s hard to say how much people will even be thinking about the voter ID ruling. There’s so much going on right now, who knows what might have an effect, and who could tell if it did?

Of course, what Judge Ramos had to say is far from the last word. So the next question is, will her ruling stand, for this election and after?

“It gets very tricky now that we’re so close to the election,” said Joseph Fishkin, a professor at the University of Texas at Austin School of Law.

[…]

Abbott is likely not only to file an appeal of Ramos’ ruling but also to request a stay to prevent her decision from being applied to this election until the appeals court has a chance to consider it.

What’s unclear is whether the New Orleans appeals court or the U.S. Supreme Court will get involved in the dispute before the election.

The Supreme Court has “said they don’t like to change the rules right before an election,” Fishkin said.

Chad Dunn, one of the lawyers for the groups suing the state in the voter ID case, said on Friday he believes it’s unlikely the 5th Circuit or the Supreme Court will overturn Ramos’ ruling.

“It’s going to be striking if the 5th Circuit or the Supreme Court, so close to the election, says, ‘We’re going to allow this law to be in effect, even though a trial court has heard all this evidence,'” said Dunn, who represents the League of United Latin American Citizens and U.S. Rep. Marc Veasey, D-Dallas.

In her ruling, Ramos also indicated that she would issue an injunction preventing the photo ID requirement from being enforced during the upcoming election.

But Chris Gober, a political law attorney in Austin, said it’s likely the 5th Circuit will lift Ramos’ injunction once she files it, meaning voters would need to show the photo ID in November.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if the 5th Circuit lifted the injunction due to the close proximity of the election,” Gober said.

Here’s the rest of what Chad Dunn had to say. Judge Ramos has made her injunction against voter ID official, so it’s on to the next steps from here. You know my opinion of the Fifth Circuit, but I have no idea how this might play out. The political effect may be bigger than any practical effect, but who knows? I’m going to celebrate the justice of Judge Ramos’ words and let the rest take care of itself. PDiddie has more.

YouGov: Abbott 54, Davis 40

Sen. Wendy Davis

Sen. Wendy Davis

As Ed Kilgore noted on Friday evening, YouGov dropped a load of gubernatorial race polls, including another Texas result. You may look at the topline number and feel dejected, but let me point out two things. One is that YouGov has consistently been the most pessimistic pollster for Davis. This is the third result they’ve published, and it’s the closest they’ve shown the race yet. Last month, they had Abbott up by 18, 56-38, so you could say that Davis is closing the gap. That may seem like cold comfort with such a margin, but YouGov isn’t the only game in town, and other polls have shown some movement as well in the same direction. The Davis campaign, the yang to YouGov’s ying, says its polling shows a six point race, down from nine a couple of weeks ago. Whatever the margin, the general consensus is that the race is tightening. YouGov, in its idiosyncratic way, supports that.

The other point is that YouGov had Davis up by five among women, 46-41. That appears to be the driver of the difference between this poll and the last one, in which they had Abbott up by a point, 43-42. Abbott made a big deal about his two-point lead among women in the Lyceum poll, though that lead depended on their likely voter screen. If Davis is gaining among women, that’s definitely a good sign.

Anyway. YouGov also had a Senate result, showing Big John Cornyn up by 20 over David Alameel. That result is identical to their previous poll, and it shows Cornyn leading Alameel among women by five points. Those numbers are additional evidence that something is happening in the Governor’s race. There’s still a lot of ground to make up whether you buy YouGov’s model or not, but the wind does seem to be blowing in a favorable direction.

Voter registration numbers are up

Some good news here.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

The number of Texans registered to vote in the state’s five largest counties increased by 2 percent since 2012, a reversal of the decline in total voter registrations that was seen before the last midterm election.

Nearly 150,000 more Texans in these counties are eligible to vote in November’s election between Greg Abbott and Wendy Davis than could vote in the 2012 presidential election, according to tallies released by Harris, Dallas, Tarrant, Bexar and Travis counties midday Monday, the last day to register.

The new registrations, however, did not outpace population growth in these counties, which are expected to have grown by 2.6 percent since 2012. But population growth has not always meant growth in voter registration totals: Following the registration push that helped elect Barack Obama in 2008, voter registration in these counties declined by 140,000, a 2.5 percent drop ahead of the 2010 midterm election.

Ahead of this midterm cycle, where Republicans are again favored up-and-down the ticket, that trend seems to have been flipped as 2.2 percent more Texans are registered to vote following Obama’s second campaign in these counties. Roughly 5.9 million Texans can vote in November’s races in these counties, where more than a third of Texans live.

Voter registration groups hailed the uptick in registration before a midterm election, which traditionally sees much lower turnout than during presidential years, as evidence that their efforts to register low-propensity voters had paid off. Five percent of those voting in Harris County are new registrants.

“The community has grown tired of promises and now we’re willing to rely on our own efforts,” said Carlos Duerte, state director of Mi Familia Vota, which said it registered more than 15,000, mostly Hispanic voters in Texas. “This is a huge jump even though it’s only 2 percent.”

[…]

Jim Henson, who directs the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas at Austin, cautioned against reading too much into voter registration numbers, especially as they relate to the success of Battleground Texas. The group has made clear it views its work as long term.

“Registration was certainly one of the benchmarks Battleground Texas set for themselves as part of their contact and mobilization strategy,” Henson said. “It’s going to be something that people are going to be tempted to look at as the leading indicator, but until we see what actual turnout looks like, any predictions based on that are going to have to be taken with a grain of salt.”

I’ll stipulate that we should wait till voting actually starts before we begin to draw inferences, let alone conclusions, but come on. Battleground Texas made increased voter registration a key part of their strategy, and the numbers bear them out. Lord knows, if the totals had shown the typical dropoff from a Presidential year everyone would be lining up to throw rocks at them, with the likes of Jim Henson being right at the front of the line. They did what they said they were going to do, so credit where credit is due.

In fact, if you compare voter registration totals from this year to 2010, which as a non-Presidential year is the true benchmark, the totals are even more impressive. I did my own research, and this is what I found:

County 2008 voters 2010 voters 2012 voters 2014 voters 10-14 Diff ====================================================================== Bexar 931,028 903,068 920,277 953,000 50,000 Dallas 1,206,797 1,145,107 1,182,432 1,201,478 55,000 El Paso 387,146 378,899 376,267 403,716 25,000 Harris 1,892,656 1,917,534 1,942,566 2,052,550 135,000 Tarrant 966,474 936,966 975,385 998,091 62,000 Travis 609,230 603,964 635,300 649,984 46,000

All past year figures are taken from the respective county elections websites. Kudos to the Dallas and El Paso elections admins for having up-to-date registration totals right there on their homepages. The Harris numbers for 2014 are taken from last week’s press release, so they may be a tad low. The 2014 Bexar number came from this KSAT story. As for Travis and Tarrant, I called and asked. Any or all of the 2014 numbers may change between now and Election Day for a variety of reasons, but ballpark figures are more than adequate for my purposes, which is why I rounded off the “difference” numbers in the last column.

I went back three election cycles so you could see more clearly the difference between this year and 2010. Note how in each county except Harris – where as we know there had been a concerted effort to register voters, until Greg Abbott crushed it – the numbers declined, in some cases precipitously, from 2008. In Bexar, Dallas, and El Paso the numbers were still down from 2008 for the 2012 election. In all cases except Dallas, registration totals have surpassed 2008, and the gains over 2010 are substantial. Sure, the overall population in these counties is up as well, but as you can see that has not correlated to voter registration totals. You can make of this what you want to, and I readily agree that it’s the turnout numbers that will really matter (*). But this is yet another piece of evidence to suggest that this year is different than 2010. We don’t know what the final effect will be, and if it falls short of expectations that will be more grist for the postmortem mill. However you want to slice it, these are the numbers we have.

(*) It’s an interesting question, what kind of turnout we should expect from newly-registered voters. I’ve heard it said that voters who register for a specific election turn out at rates that are at least commensurate with the voting population at large, but a cursory Google search hasn’t turned up any definitive info on that. Perhaps this would be a good topic for a professional political scientist like Jim Henson to research, with this election serving as a juicy case study. Who knows, maybe he’ll learn something that might lead him to refine his polling methodology.

Saving SD10 and other benchmarks

The Observer looks at the race to succeed Wendy Davis in SD10.

Sen. Wendy Davis

Sen. Wendy Davis

It’s a steamy, hot summer morning in the Metroplex, and at the Dixie House, a Southern-style diner in east Ft. Worth where gravy flows like water, Libby Willis can’t find a moment to dig into her eggs and hash. She’s too excited about her campaign. Willis, the Democratic nominee in Senate District 10, is running in one of the state’s most important races for Democrats this cycle. It’s fallen to her—a first-time candidate with solid credentials—to defend Wendy Davis’ soon-to-be-former seat against Konni Burton, a fiery tea-party organizer who’d likely be one of the chamber’s most conservative senators.

Willis acknowledges that her odds are long in this Republican-leaning district. But the path to victory, she says, is simple enough. “We just got to get our people out to vote. That’s all there is to it,” Willis says. “This is not a sleepy year.”

Democrats faced a tough task holding onto the district even before Davis decided to try her hand at the governor’s race. Davis squeaked by in 2008 and 2012, when Barack Obama was at the top of the ticket and Democratic turnout was comparatively high. (Though Obama lost Tarrant County both times, Davis held on anyway.) But the last round of redistricting forced an early election in SD 10—the district now elects its senator in midterm years, when Democrats tend to falter in Texas. To hold the seat for Democrats, Willis will need luck, skillful positioning, a troubled opponent and an impressive field operation. That last part, Democrats hope, is where Battleground Texas comes in.

Battleground, the group started by former Obama campaign staffers with the aim of making Texas politically competitive, is spending most of its time and resources in the rocky terrain of the governor’s race these days. But down the ballot, the organization is trying to put muscle behind a dozen legislative candidates, running in marginal districts that should be fertile ground for Democrats. Dubbed the Blue Star Project, the effort aims to focus the group’s technical expertise and organizing ability on legislative races, with the help of a “coordinated field program and a full arsenal of data, digital, and communications expertise.”

What that means, in short, is that the group hopes to take the special sauce decanted from the Obama campaign’s field operation and drizzle it on legislative races here, where it might make more of a difference than it will against Greg Abbott, who has a 3-to-1 cash advantage over Davis. The most important of the races is SD 10. In the process, Battleground hopes to stake a claim to a continued future in the state.

Democrats everywhere hope this cycle will be more like a presidential year than, say, 2010, and if it is, Battleground could be part of the reason why. Willis says the organization is part of a longer push. “This is a multi-year effort. This is not one and done,” she says. “This is not, ‘Hey, we’re finished at midnight on November 4th.’ They are committed to continuing the work, which is fantastic. And really important.”

I basically agree with this, though as I’ve said before, SD10 in a Presidential year is no cakewalk, either. I feel pretty confident saying that Wendy Davis considered the odds of her holding onto SD10 versus her odds of being elected Governor when she was making her decision. At this point it seems clear to me that the Dems’ odds of holding SD10 are better with Wendy Davis at the top of the ticket than they would be with Wendy Davis running for re-election and essentially nobody at the top of the ticket. I mean seriously, who would our nominee for Governor be right now if Wendy Davis hadn’t taken the plunge? Ray Madrigal? Kinky Friedman? Gene Kelly? It’s pretty brutal when you think about it, especially when you add in the fact that Leticia Van de Putte would also not be running for Lite Gov if Wendy hadn’t led the way. I’ve heard some people complain that by raising people’s hopes in what is likely to be a losing cause, Davis and her candidacy could cause some major blowback and infighting after the election. I don’t doubt the possibility, but it’s hard for me to see how giving up and rolling over as Greg Abbott and Dan Patrick waltz to power was the better alternative.

The big picture also gets discussed.

Battleground Texas debuted in February 2013 to enormous fanfare. Democrats had just come off a spectacularly successful presidential election year: The blue portion of the electoral map had swelled in a way that made some gains seem semi-permanent. Formerly red states like Virginia, Colorado and Nevada had flipped, for reasons that included both shifting ideological coalitions and demographic changes. Other states, like Georgia, seemed to be in reach. Then there was Texas, the beating, blood-red heart of GOP electoral viability.

If the national Republican Party is a vampire, Battleground is intended to be the wooden stake. Founded by Jeremy Bird, the national field director for Obama’s 2012 campaign, and armed with the newest technology, techniques and tactics, the organization says it would do what the Texas Democratic Party couldn’t—or wouldn’t. Even if the group’s fresh-faced organizers don’t make a clean kill, softening Texas would mean national Republicans would have to spend time and money here. They’d win for losing. In a column for The New York Times, political reporter Thomas Edsall wrote a few months after Battleground’s launch that the group had “put the fear of God into the Texas Republican Party.”

If that fear was ever real, you can be sure that it’s dissipated a bit. Battleground has had a challenging first year and a half and its future is uncertain. Wendy Davis’ filibuster gave the Democrats what seemed like a viable shot at the governor’s mansion, so Battleground, which started as a long-term organizing project, wedded the group’s efforts to hers. Battleground handles the work in the field, and Davis’ campaign handles strategy and messaging. The two groups even share a bank account, called, promisingly, the Texas Victory Committee.

If Davis does well, Battleground has a chance to move up the clock on the state’s purple-fication. But if she doesn’t, Battleground stands to suffer along with her. The story of the 2014 election isn’t done yet, but Davis’ odds of victory seem slim. Even if she doesn’t win, Abbott’s margin over Davis matters quite a bit: If she outperforms expectations, Battleground—and the Democratic coalition more generally—will have something to show to donors and supporters come 2015. It’ll serve as a proof of concept.

If she does badly—if she ends up in Bill White territory, as seems possible—the whole thing will be a wash and Dems, having spent a hell of a lot of time and money for little in return, will be left asking themselves very tough questions about how best to organize themselves next cycle. A good deal of the enthusiasm that’s built up in the last year will fall apart. Battleground insists it’s here for the long term—but to make that a reality, the group needs to keep its raison d’être, and its appeal to big-money donors, intact. It’s an expensive operation to run. And some close to the state Democratic Party—which, mind you, doesn’t have a great track record of success itself—would like to see the party take on Battleground’s local organizing functions itself.

[…]

That’s one reason the Blue Star Project is important to the group—if Battleground can pick off a number of legislative races this year, it gives them a plausible claim to a future in Texas. None of the twelve races Battleground is assisting in are really “reach” districts, but Texas Democrats have had trouble pinning them down. If a couple of them flip blue in November, Jeremy Bird’s young group will argue it’s brought home enough trophies to justify another hunting trip.

The 2016 election cycle will likely see Clinton at the top of the ticket driving high turnout among the Democratic base, which means it could be a good year for Dems in legislative races here. In 2008, Democrats in Texas rode the coattails of Barack Obama’s popularity to win 74 of the state’s 150 House seats. It’s not realistic to hope for that again—not least because the state had another round of gerrymandering in between then and now—but it could be a more comfortable climate, and Battleground’s experience this cycle in down-ballot races could prove useful.

I’ve discussed the question of what a consolation prize might look like in the event the losing streak by Dems in statewide races continues. With the caveat that “expectations” and whether or not one has beaten them tend to be set by the chattering classes after the election and not before it when we might have argued about them, let me suggest a couple of bars for BGTX and Wendy Davis to clear.

The Bill White Line: This one is explicitly mentioned in the Observer story. White got 42.29% with 2,106,395 total votes, and I think it’s fair to say that these are minimum totals for any reasonable “success” story to be spun. More to the point, recall that White ran a campaign that was largely geared towards peeling votes away from Rick Perry. He was actually quite successful at that, as I have noted before, but in a world where the base Democratic vote remained at between 1.7 and 1.8 million for a third consecutive off-year election, it didn’t matter. For Battleground Texas to claim success in its goal of boosting turnout, we need to see all statewide Democrats collect at least 2 million votes. I thought that was a worthwhile and achievable goal even before Davis’ famous filibuster put her on the map. It’s surely on the low end of what we should aim for now.

The John Sharp Line: John Sharp scored 46.03% of the vote when he ran for Lite Gov in 2002. No Democrat has topped 46% statewide since. Sharp did this with slightly fewer votes than White – 2,082,281 to be exact – thanks in part to lower Republican turnout that year and a higher third-party vote total. I’d estimate the Davis campaign would need to reach the 2.3 million vote mark to get to 46%, which if she does achieve would also mean that the margin was less than ten percent. I don’t think there’s any question that crossing these lines would be the mark of clear and substantial progress, and by all rights should change the narrative from “Dems haven’t won since the 90s” to “Dems came closer than they have in any election since the 90s”.

Hold the line in the Lege: The story is about SD10, and it also mentions HD23. Both of those seats, as well as CD23, have the distinction of being held by Democrats but having been carried by Mitt Romney in 2012. (There are no Republican-held seats in the Lege or in Congress that were carried by President Obama in 2012.) Holding those seats, especially with SD10 and HD23 being open, would be a very nice thing to do regardless of what happens anywhere else.

Gain ground in the Lege: The next level up involves picking up a seat or two (or more) in the Lege, where as the story notes there are a few that could be attained with a focused turnout effort. The story covers most of the basics and I’ve blogged about the Blue Star Project before, so I’ll leave it at that. Suffice to say that any pickups, all of which would also be in districts that had been carried by Mitt Romney, would be a feather in the cap and another sign of real progress.

Win Harris County. Bill White carried Harris County in 2010, but that came with an asterisk next to it. No other Dem came close as the Republicans swept the county races again, as they had every year since 1998, a year that I trust sounds familiar. Dems increased turnout significantly in Harris County in 2010, but lost ground overall compared to 2006 due to the GOP tidal wave that year. We can’t do anything about that, but there’s plenty of room to grow the Democratic vote more, and in the absence of another GOP tsunami, winning Harris County and the substantial prizes that would come with it – the first Democratic DA in who knows how long, ousting the likes of Stan Stanart and Orlando Sanchez, maintaining the Democratic majority on the HCDE – would be sweet.

Win Fort Bend, advance elsewhere. Fort Bend County has trended the same was as Harris has, but a few points behind. Winning Harris County in a non-Presidential year would be a shot across the bow, while winning Fort Bend would be a brick with a note tied to it crashing through the window. Beyond that, pick your favorite red county and a reasonable goal. Thirty-five percent in Collin and Denton? Forty percent in Williamson? Forty-five percent in Tarrant? Go to the SOS webpage, use the Railroad Commission race as the benchmark, and go from there.

You get the idea. I don’t think you need a fancy Poli Sci degree to realize that these events are not independent of each other. It’s hard to imagine falling short of the Bill White Line while achieving the other goals, and it’s hard to imagine clearing the John Sharp Line without achieving at least some of them. Still, there will be some variation based on local conditions and candidate quality, and one hopes that the promised exit polls will give us some more dimensions to measure. I definitely agree with author Christopher Hooks that one way or another there will be a long discussion about the level of success of the tactics used in this campaign. I hope this has provided a starting point for discussing what those levels might look like.

Rasmussen: Abbott 51, Davis 40

Rasmussen giveth, and Rasmussen taketh away.

Sen. Wendy Davis

Sen. Wendy Davis

Republican gubernatorial candidate Greg Abbott leads Democratic opponent Wendy Davis by 11 percentage points among likely voters with a month until Election Day, according to a newly released Rasmussen Reports poll.

The gap was enough to spur the conservative-leaning firm to shift the race from “Leans Republican” to “Safe Republican” on its scorecard of this year’s gubernatorial contests. Davis is a state senator from Fort Worth; Abbott is the outgoing attorney general.

The poll was conducted over two days immediately following the candidates’ second and final debate in Dallas on Tuesday. Among likely voters surveyed, 51 percent favored Abbott and 40 percent supported Davis. Seven percent were undecided, and 3 percent picked another candidate. The margin was slightly larger, at 12 points, among those who said they would definitely vote come Election Day on Nov. 4.

Those with “very unfavorable” views of Davis stood unchanged at 33 percent, while Abbott’s jumped slightly from 15 to 18 percent. Abbott also lead his opponent by 12 points or more on how much those polled felt they could trust the candidates to handle four key policy issues: government spending, taxes, social issues, and government ethics and corruption.

Most surveys this year have shown Abbott leading Davis by double digits. Rasmussen’s polling data has yielded yo-yoing results for the two candidates: the firm’s last poll in August showed the Republican with just an 8-point advantage; in March, Abbott led by 12 points. The nonpartisan Texas Lyceum released a poll Wednesday that gave Abbott a 9-point lead.

As before, Rasmussen doesn’t release crosstabs, so who knows what caused this little bit of motion. I didn’t get too worked up over the previous poll they put out, and I’m not going to get too worked up over this one, either. We know Abbott’s leading, and we know what we need to do to try to change that. Not much else to say.

Texans Together asks for Justice Department investigation of AG and Harris County

From the inbox:

Hello Friends:

We recently made a formal, written request to the U.S. Justice Department to immediately investigate Texas and Harris County officials for voter suppression in Harris County (see letter here). We are asking for a federal investigation of not only the Texas Attorney General’s Office, but also Harris County election officials for their long history of impeding minority voter registration and voting.

We believe the Harris County Tax Assessor-Collector should be investigated thoroughly for their many years of wrongful registration denials and delays as well as their incompetent processing of registration applicants. We also are seeking an investigation that the Justice Department look at the apparent politicization of the Harris County Clerk’s election administration.

As for the Texas Attorney General’s Office (AG), our letter points out that the AG falsely accused Houston Votes of “voter fraud” and effectively shut down our voter registration drive in 2010. The AG’s theory was that our voter registration drive was engaged in felony identity fraud, for simply keeping records of the people we registered to ensure that County authorities properly registered them and so that we could remind them to vote. No wonder after raiding us with six officers with guns and flak jackets, and investigating for 11 months, the AG dropped their oppressive investigation without ever notifying us. Under its absurd theory, every voter registration and turnout drive in the country would be a criminal enterprise.

Again, you can view our letter here, or visit texanstogether.org for more information.

— Fred Lewis

See here for the background. Texas’ Congressional Democrats have also called for a federal probe of this. I don’t know what the odds are of this, especially given that there isn’t a US Attorney General right now, but I would certainly like to see a closer examination of this. One need only look at the dirt that was uncovered during the redistricting and voter ID litigation to understand that there are undoubtedly a few surprises yet to be discovered. We will definitely keep an eye on this.

Meanwhile, also from the Inbox, the Wendy Davis campaign is taking some steps to ensure that everyone who wants to vote can do so.

In the first of its kind effort in Texas, today the Wendy Davis Campaign is launching a new website, MyTexasVotes.com, as a digital hub for the campaign’s get out the vote efforts which will provide answers to questions voters may have about casting their ballots. On the site, Texans will be able to find out how to register to vote, commit to vote, find details about what to bring to the polls, find information on voting by mail and soon to be added, information to help voters find their polling place.

This unique digital push will be another tool in the unprecedented Davis grassroots campaign complimenting an extraordinary field effort to turn out voters, reaching them both online and in their neighborhoods.

“I am committed to ensuring all Texas voters are able to make their voice heard in this election,” Wendy Davis said. “MyTexasVotes.com marks the first one-stop site in the state to coordinate our unprecedented digital campaign with our strong ground game creating a get out the vote effort unlike Texas has ever seen.”

In addition to the website, for the first time ever, Texans will have access to a statewide voter protection hotline by calling 1-844-TXVOTES to have their voting questions answered by legal experts. The launch of MyTexasVotes.com comes about a week before voter registration ends on October 6.

Two weeks after Monday’s voter registration deadline is when early voting begins. That’s when the rubber really hits the road. You’ve heard me blather on incessantly about the Democratic turnout efforts that can and will have an effect on this year’s election. Well, one way to blunt that effect is to put up obstacles to voting. Everyone needs to keep an eye out for efforts to prevent people from voting. Here’s another way to help with that, from yet another email:

Protect the Vote 2014

This election is the first major statewide election with the controversial voter photo ID in place at the polls. Did you know that not all election workers are required to go through training?

This election is also the first major statewide election after the Shelby Supreme Court decision which removed a key provision of the Voting Rights Act, a landmark piece of Civil Rights legislation that men and women fought hard to achieve.

What can you do?

Become a Part of our Paid Poll Monitor Team in Harris County.

  • Assist and engage voters with commonly encountered problems at the polls
  • Report, document and prevent voter disenfranchisement
  • Make sure every eligible voter is able to vote free from harassment, intimidation or misinformation.

Stipends are available, up to $120 per day for shifts during Early Vote and Election Day.

The poll monitor program is non-partisan and fundamentally about protecting the right to vote for all people. All poll monitors must go through an election protection training. To sign up for a training, click here: ElectionProtection

See training schedule below. If you would like to request a private training for your organization or group or have any other questions, please contact cctexas@commoncause.org.

The schedule, which is all for events in Harris County, is beneath the fold. For many reasons this year is more important than ever, but one of those reasons is because it looks like those voter registration efforts are paying off. According to a press release I received from the Harris County Tax Assessor, Harris County currently has 2,052,550 registered voters, of which 113,467 were registered this year. That’s as of September 30, which is to say six days before the voter reg deadline. As a point of comparison, the reg voter total cited in the November 2010 election was 1,917,534. That’s a pretty significant difference, and you can thank the efforts of BGTX and the HCDP for boosting that total. I look forward to seeing what the statewide numbers will look like. If they have a similar boost, I consider that a positive sign for November. We need everyone to do their part, not just to vote but to make sure everyone else can.

(more…)

Gov debate II: That’s more like it

The second Governor’s debate was a lively affair.

Sen. Wendy Davis

Sen. Wendy Davis

Republican Attorney General Greg Abbott, who has mostly avoided direct confrontation with his opponent in the race for Texas governor, took a hard swing at Democratic Sen. Wendy Davis over her ethics as a lawmaker in a televised debate Tuesday night.

And she let him have it right back.

While clashing over tax incentives doled out at both the state and local levels, Abbott accused Davis of using her role as a Fort Worth city councilwoman to pad her own pocketbook. Specifically, he said she made money on an economic development deal involving the sporting goods store Cabela’s, because her title company got a piece of the action during a time that she was serving on the council.

That exchange in the second half of the hour-long discussion was easily the most heated moment the two have shared in either of the two statewide debates, and it represented a far more personal and hands-on attack from Abbott, who has generally left the campaign dirty work to surrogates.

“When you used those incentive funds to attract Cabela, and then closed the deal, it was your title company that benefited by closing that deal,” he said. “So you personally profited. You were able to use your title company …”

He never got to finish his sentence. Davis, in keeping with her aggressive posture from the last debate, cut Abbott off and stopped just short of calling him a liar.

“Mr. Abbott, you are not telling the truth right now, and you know you are not telling the truth. I did not personally profit from that,” she said.

Then Davis pivoted to the latest controversy involving incentives at the state level — contained in the bruising audit from the state’s deal-closing Texas Enterprise Fund — and revelations that much of the tax subsidies were doled out to companies with little oversight.

“You were the chief law enforcement officer over the Enterprise Fund. It was your responsibility to make sure that the tens of millions of dollars that were going to these companies were resulting in jobs, and you failed to do that,” she said.

When he was given a rebuttal opportunity, Abbott went back for more.

“I would like to respond by knowing how much your title company received by closing the Cabela’s deal that was granted an award from the Texas Enterprise Fund,” Abbott said.

Davis said the title company in question, Republic Title, which was run by her husband, “was not my title company.” She said she earned a salary that was “never depending on any deal that ever closed.” Davis finished her remarks by turning the attention back to Abbott and said he should have done more to stop misspending inside the Texas Enterprise Fund.

“Mr. Abbott, this is about your failure,” she said.

Video of the debate is here. By all accounts I’ve seen, the format was better and so was Davis’ performance than in the first debate. Here’s The Observer:

On the issues, Abbott and Davis made stark distinctions. Neither could really answer a question about how they’d fund their education plans, though Abbott at least had a dollar figure for student spending that made it appear that he had given it some thought. But Davis hit Abbott hard. It was ludicrous, she said, for Abbott to keep saying he would make Texas schools No. 1 while defending huge cuts to funding and refusing to commit to providing more resources.

“Mr. Abbott, you’re talking out of both sides of your mouth,” she said. “You say you want to make Texas No. 1 in education. You cannot accomplish that goal without making the appropriate investments.”

On immigration, Abbott committed, after some pushing, to not vetoing a bill from the Legislature that would eliminate in-state tuition for undocumented migrants. There’s been a question about how Abbott would interact with a Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick. Killing in-state tuition is one of Patrick’s top priorities, and Abbott’s on board, apparently.

The Chron story also noted Abbott being in tune with Dan Patrick on this, and they included Davis’ answer in which she said she would veto such a bill. Perhaps someone ought to let the Latino voters that Abbott is trying to woo know about this. On a side note, Davis’ attacks on Abbott over his less-than-transparent actions with the Texas Enterprise Fund led to AG candidate Sam Houston pledging to make Enterprise Fund applications public if elected, as well as a hilariously over-the-top non-responsive answer to the question by his opponent, Ken Paxton. Gotta love it when candidates are in tune with each other.

Back to the Observer:

But the best part of the debate might have been the discussion over Medicaid expansion—at about 29:30 in the video above. Medicaid expansion is, quite literally, a matter of life and death, one of the most serious issues in the race. If Medicaid isn’t expanded in Texas, a quantifiable number of people will suffer and die—unnecessarily. But it hasn’t come up in the race as much as it might.

Abbott said he’d ask the feds to give Texas its Medicaid dollars as a block grant to be spent as the state sees fit, which few think is a realistic possibility. He assured listeners that he “wouldn’t bankrupt Texas” by imposing on Texas the “overwhelming Obamacare disaster.”

Davis laid out a forceful argument for Medicaid expansion. “I have to laugh when I hear Mr. Abbott talk about bankrupting Texas,” she said. “Right now Texans are sending their hard-earned tax dollars to the IRS, $100 billion of which will never come back to work for us in our state unless we bring it back. As governor, I will it bring it back. Greg Abbott’s plan is for you to send that tax money to California and New York.” Abbott’s rebuttal left Davis smiling from ear to ear. The whole fairly long exchange is worth watching.

The Observer also has video embedded, if you’d rather click over there. This was the last debate, which while a shame is at least two more than we got in 2010 and one more than in 2006. What did you think? PDiddie, Burka, Newsdesk, Campos, and Egberto Willies have more.

Fifth Circuit lifts injunction on HB2 enforcement

This court is the worst.

As it hears arguments in an appeal of a federal judge’s decision overturning new requirements for Texas abortion facilities, a three-judge panel of the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Thursday that the state could enforce the requirements in the meantime. That means eight abortion clinics across five major Texas cities will be able to stay open.

The state had asked the conservative-leaning court for permission to enforce House Bill 2 in its entirety — including requirements that doctors performing abortions have hospital admitting privileges within 30 miles of a clinic and that clinics meet the same standards as ambulatory surgical centers — while the constitutionality of the measure remained under appeal.

[…]

Attorneys for Texas abortion providers had argued the abortion law would lead to the closure of all but a handful of the state’s remaining abortion facilities, putting a grave burden on women seeking the procedure across the state. They have said the court should preserve “women’s constitutional rights” and “avoid the significant health risks” that come with limited access to abortion while the appellate process runs its course.

“Today’s ruling has gutted Texas women’s constitutional rights and access to critical reproductive health care and stands to make safe, legal abortion essentially disappear overnight,” said Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, which is representing the abortion providers in the case. The abortion providers are “currently considering all available options” in light of the ruling, she added.

“Women should be able to make these deeply personal decisions without the intrusion of politicians like Greg Abbott, who supports making abortion illegal even in cases of rape and incest,” said Democratic gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis, who last summer filibustered the abortion law for 11 hours.

Thursday’s decision is the first step in a legal battle that could continue for months. A hearing for the 5th Circuit to consider the constitutionality of the law has not been set.

And even if the plaintiffs ultimately prevail, a lot of those clinics that close will never come back, but somehow it was the state that was claiming irreparable harm by not being allowed to enforce this atrocity. The claim that this is somehow beneficial for women’s health is complete bullshit, not that any of its proponents or enablers care. Actual solutions, based on genuine medical science, don’t interest them. Be that as it may, we saw this coming during oral arguments so this hardly counts as a surprise, but it still pisses me off. If it pisses you off, too, then remember that elections really do matter. Make sure you do something about it between now and November 4. Hair Balls, the Current, Newsdesk, Trail Blazers, RH Reality Check, and Daily Kos have more.

Lyceum: Abbott 49, Davis 40

Pretty decent result that will hopefully put the “double digit lead” narrative out to pasture.

Sen. Wendy Davis

Sen. Wendy Davis

Republican gubernatorial candidate Greg Abbott leads Democratic opponent Wendy Davis by 9 percentage points, 49 percent to 40 percent, according to the latest Texas Lyceum poll, released Wednesday.

The poll showed Davis, a state senator from Fort Worth, held a “clear lead” among Hispanics, by 36 points, and African Americans, by 80 points, while Abbott, the state attorney general, held a “slight lead” with independent voters, by 6 points, and women, by 2 points.

“Davis is running slightly ahead of other Democrats on the ballot and over- performs compared to Democrats from recent statewide races,” University of Texas Professor Daron Shaw, who conducted the poll, said in a statement. “But the number of candidates who have made up this kind of deficit in the last month, in a state where party ID favors the other side so consistently, is close to zero.”

Immediately following the release of the poll, Abbott sent out a press release noting his campaign had $30.1 million on hand for the “final push” of the race, raising $7.8 million since July. In July, Abbott had $35.6 million on hand, the largest amount ever recorded in the state, while Davis had $8.8 million.

The poll showed that in the lieutenant governor’s race, state Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, was ahead of state Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, D-San Antonio, by 14 percentage points, 47 percent to 33 percent. Van de Putte led with African Americans by 64 points and Hispanics by 24 points, but did not perform as well as Davis with either group.

The Lyceum did actually poll this race before, last September. Most likely the reason you (and I) hadn’t heard of that poll before now is because fully half the voters who responded had no opinion. Abbott led 29-21 among the rest.

The Lyceum’s index page for their 2014 polls is here. Their press release, on which just about all of the coverage I’ve seen has been based, is here, and the Executive Summary is here. Questions and toplines are here, and crosstabs are here. You have to be a little careful in reading their summaries (and therefore the coverage), because they don’t always specify when they are talking about likely voters (LVs) instead of registered voters (RVs). Scroll down to page 111 of the crosstabs to see where the raw numbers are. I’ve summarized below:

Governor RV tot RV pct LV tot LV pct =========================================== Abbott 362 43.04 265 48.89 Davis 314 37.34 215 39.67 Glass 32 3.80 12 2.21 Parmer 20 2.38 9 1.66 Lt Gov RV tot RV pct LV tot LV pct =========================================== Patrick 330 39.29 256 47.23 Van de Putte 289 34.40 177 32.66 Butler 32 3.81 18 3.32 Courtney 28 3.33 12 2.21

There are also Senate numbers, which I’ll get to in a minute. The point here is to notice that the RV numbers are much tighter than the LV numbers – indeed, the Lt Gov race is close to being within the margin of error for the RV numbers. This is the clearest illustration of what the effect of turnout may be, and it’s why I’ve been so critical of the polling we’ve seen to date. I don’t think previous public polls have considered the question of turnout and the Battleground Texas effect at all so far. Sure, not all of these registered voters will show up, but you can see the potential here. The contrast in the Lite Guv race, where for reasons I don’t comprehend they’ve decided there are a lot fewer “likely” voters, is especially stark. If you need a reason to believe in what BGTX is doing, this is it, right here.

One other point to note is in the reporting of female voters, where the topline shows a lead for Abbott. The crosstabs tell a slightly different story, however:

Governor Male Male % Female Female % ============================================== Abbott 198 46.48 164 39.42 Davis 142 33.33 173 41.59 Glass 18 4.23 15 3.61 Parmer 12 2.82 7 1.68 Lt Gov Male Male % Female Female % ============================================== Patrick 181 42.49 149 35.99 Van de Putte 129 30.28 160 38.65 Butler 21 4.93 11 2.66 Courtney 20 4.69 8 1.93

Yes, I noticed the one-vote discrepancies for Davis, Glass, and Parmer, and no, I don’t know what’s up with that. My point is that the press release is apparently giving LV totals for female voters, but they don’t break out those numbers in the crosstabs. We don’t therefore know what the exact RV/LV gap is there, but we know there is one. Like the single digit/double digit distinction, this would change the narrative if anyone other than me were to notice it. It’s also where the rubber meets the road for BGTX, given the heavy Democratic lean that exists for single women and women of color along with their lesser propensity as a rule to show up. If the final result winds up being more Democratic than what the polls have suggested so far, the first place to look for an explanation in the exit polls will be among female voters.

As for those Senate numbers:

Senate RV tot RV pct LV tot LV pct =========================================== Cornyn 358 42.62 263 48.43 Alameel 237 28.21 163 30.02 Paddock 33 3.93 20 3.68 Sanchez 63 7.50 22 4.05

Here I would submit that Alameel’s poorer numbers are one part much lower name recognition, and one part “Spicybrown” Sanchez getting a disproportionate share of the total. Third party candidates tend to poll higher than their final totals, and that’s what I expect is happening here. In the end, it is likely that most of Spicybrown’s supporters (who, if you check the crosstabs, are disproportionately Latino) will wind up voting D anyway. It won’t shock me if she does better than the average Green statewide candidate, but her ceiling is maybe five percent, probably lower. PDiddie, Texas Politics, and TRail Blazers have more.

Abbott’s Enterprise Fund issues

It’s a bit of a problem for him, isn’t it?

Still not Greg Abbott

While critics were hounding Gov. Rick Perry a decade ago about his job-luring Texas Enterprise Fund, his lawyers went to Attorney General Greg Abbott to block the release of applications that supposedly had been filled out by the entities requesting taxpayer subsidies.

Abbott’s office, tasked with deciding which government records have to be made public, told Perry’s lawyers they must keep the applications secret under exemptions to state transparency laws, according to attorney general rulings and news reports.

Now, though, information contained in a blistering state audit shows that at least five of the recipients that were named in Abbott’s 2004 rulings — and which got tens of millions of dollars from the fund — never actually submitted formal applications. And if no applications ever existed, it’s not clear what Abbott was telling Perry he had to keep secret or why the public is just now learning that millions were awarded without them.

This is the sort of thing that people have in mind when they say the optics of something don’t look good for whoever. Stuff like this doesn’t help, either.

Republican governor nominee Greg Abbott has collected more than $1 million in campaign contributions from beneficiaries of a state business fund cited in a scathing audit for lax oversight of taxpayer dollars.

State law requires Abbott as attorney general to monitor state accounts and recover misspent money.

[…]

While state law requires that “at least monthly the attorney general shall inspect” state accounts, an Abbott spokesman said the state auditor has primary responsibility to check on funds.

Jerry Strickland of the attorney general’s office said Abbott has recovered millions of dollars in cases that have been referred by the comptroller during his tenure.

“Attorney General Abbott has successfully collected more than $740 million in funds owed to the state of Texas since 2003,” said Strickland.

None of that money involved the Texas Enterprise Fund, which has distributed $500 million since it was created 2003.

That may just be the weakest response to a reporter’s inquiry about a Bad Thing in the history of spokespeople. Pick a better boss to work for next time, Jerry.

One never knows how the public will respond to stories like these, or if they’re even aware of them. At least this one’s an easy one to tell – Rick Perry gave away hundreds of millions of your tax dollars in grants to big companies that didn’t even ask for them, and Greg Abbott said it was okay for him to not tell anyone about it. The word coverup does trip off the tongue easily enough.

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis accused her Republican opponent Monday of using his power as attorney general to “orchestrate a cover-up” of misspending inside the Texas Enterprise Fund that, according to an audit, handed out taxpayer subsidies to businesses with little oversight.

Davis seized on reports over the weekend detailing Attorney General Greg Abbott’s decade-old rulings that various Texas Enterprise Fund records be kept secret. Abbott’s office, in charge of ruling what government records must either be released or withheld, found that numerous “applications” for the grant money were exempt from state transparency laws.

But a damning new state audit found that many of the companies never submitted applications, making it unclear what applications Abbott sought to block. Davis claims to have found the answer: She is accusing Abbott of declaring the records to be secret in order to hide what the audit turned up years later — a lack of oversight over millions of dollars in grant money.

“We need an independent investigation by appropriate state or federal authorities regarding the actions by the attorney general and the attempts to use the power of his office to cover up the transfer of millions of taxpayer dollars to companies whose applications he knew didn’t exist,” Davis said Monday at a news conference in Fort Worth.

Representatives of the Abbott campaign for governor and the attorney general’s office did not immediately return phone calls.

Not even to give a perfunctory quote about how Greg Abbott has always done whatever it is he says he’s done to protect our interests? My, my, they must be in a tizzy over there. This could really be something.

The growing scandal over the mismanagement of the Texas Enterprise Fund is having a major impact in the state’s political races, and has the potential to upset the conventional wisdom as we move into the final six weeks of the political season, officials tell Newsradio 1200 WOAI.

[…]

One Republican Party consultant, who asked not to be named, told Newsradio 1200 WOAI that this could be a ‘game changer’ in the race for governor, which has repeatedly shown Abbott leading Davis by between 8 and 12 percentage points.

“People can understand that this represents the concerns they have that politicians don’t take their tax money seriously,” the consultant said. “This reaffirms the attitude that ‘it’s not real money’ because it comes from the taxpayer.”

The expert added, “misusing and mismanaging taxpayer money is something that will stick with conservatives. They won’t like it at all.”

It’s a little premature to call something a “game changer”. If we’re still talking about this a week from now, if we haven’t been distracted by some other shiny object, then maybe. Believe me, I hope that’s an accurate assessment. I’ve just seen too many other “game changers” turn out to be not so much to get too giddy just yet. The best thing that can happen is for more information about this to come out, to add to the existing story. We’ll see about that. Burka, Trail Blazers/a>, and PDiddie have more.

Early Matters presents its case

They’ve got a good coalition. Let’s see where they can go with it.

Access to preschool programs – and their quality – varies widely across Texas. A broad coalition of Houston-area executives, educators and nonprofit groups assembled by Houston’s premier business organization is working to change that, though a major hurdle remains: securing funding in a state that ranks toward the bottom in pre-K spending per pupil.

The coalition’s 10-year plan, to be released Friday, calls for full-day pre-K classes for all disadvantaged 4-year-olds, with tuition required for wealthier families; lower student-to-teacher ratios; higher standards for private child care providers; and parent education to help ready their toddlers for school.

Leaders of the local group, called Early Matters, say they plan to lobby the state for more money – an estimated $700 million to extend full-day pre-K to the hundreds of thousands of 4-year-olds from disadvantaged families in Texas.

“This is really going to be the job of the Legislature, to really understand that this early investment has a big return,” said Jim Postl, chairman of the coalition, organized by the Greater Houston Partnership.

Both gubernatorial candidates, Republican Attorney General Greg Abbott and state Sen. Wendy Davis, a Democrat, have declared preschool education a priority, though they differ on the details. Abbott has focused on improving quality; Davis has championed expansion.

[…]

The Early Matters report calls for no more than 20 students in a class – with one teacher and one aide. Like Alief, several local districts assign one aide to work with two or three teachers to save money.

Postl, the retired chief executive of Pennzoil-Quaker State Co., said he expects the Early Matters group will gain more traction than a smaller effort last year – made up of some of the same members – that tried unsuccessfully to get a 1-cent tax hike on the Harris County ballot to increase funding for early childhood education.

In the short term, Postl said, the group does not expect to seek city or county funding for its effort.

See here and here for the background, and here for the Early Matters page on the GHP website. I’ll say again, I think Davis’ plan is the better, but even if you think Abbott’s plan has merit, I see no reason to believe that it’s something he really cares about. There’s nothing in his rhetoric or his record to suggest to me this is a priority for him.

A followup story on Saturday showed some more support for Early Matters.

Houston Mayor Annise Parker and Harris County Judge Ed Emmett, in short speeches, expressed general support for the early childhood effort.

“Money is not sufficient, but it is necessary,” Parker said. “So we’re going to have to have hard conversations about how we fund what we need to do.”

Leaders of Early Matters, a group organized by the Greater Houston Partnership, have said they don’t plan to turn to the city or county for significant funding in the short term. An effort last year to get a 1-cent tax increase on the Harris County ballot under an obscure law failed after Emmett said that approach wasn’t legal.

“Early Matters is a program worthy of all our support,” Emmett said Friday about the new initiative, “and we need to make sure that it bears fruit and actually becomes a reality.”

It’s going to take all the voices we can get for that to happen, and if we want the Legislature to take action, we’re going to need to talk to them, and to the Governor. We can make that conversation easier or harder depending on how we vote this year.

A thought about the stealth campaign

Forrest Wilder writes about the un-campaigns being run by most statewide Republicans.

“Oozing charm from every pore I oiled my way around the floor”

But now comes a new twist: the art of the non-campaign. The candidate who doesn’t even bother to put on a show, doesn’t even pretend to reach the broad middle of the citizenry and instead appears behind closed doors to small groups of like-minded voters, if he or she appears in public at all.

That’s the kind of campaign that some Texas Republicans are now running, in particular Ken Paxton, who’s favored to become attorney general, and Dan Patrick, who’s the frontrunner for lieutenant governor. Their campaigns are marked by a general refusal to speak with reporters, engage with their opponents, hold press conferences, meet with newspaper editorial boards, publicly announce events in advance, or even run TV ads.

Instead, the two men are running “stealth” campaigns—as the Houston Chronicle recently put it—speaking to tea party gatherings or events closed to the press.

A talk-radio show host not known for his reticence, Patrick ran a boisterous campaign against his three rivals during the GOP lieutenant governor primary and later in a head-to-head runoff against Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst. Now, he’s like the chupacabra: rumored but rarely seen in the flesh.

[…]

Ted Delisi, a GOP consultant quoted in the Chronicle, acknowledged that it’s “not the typical campaigning” but then implausibly tried to coin the approach as not being “covert,” but rather “the new overt.”

If anything, state Sen. Ken Paxton is even more covertly overt. Paxton is the overwhelming favorite to be the next attorney general—he faces an underfunded Democratic attorney with the somewhat helpful name Sam Houston. The highlight of Paxton’s resume so far is that he’s admitted to violating state securities law by accepting kickbacks from an investment firm without disclosing that relationship to regulators or his clients. And apparently he’s not eager to talk about it: Paxton has been almost completely AWOL.

I can find precisely one news account of a public appearance in the last month. On Sept. 8, he was the special guest of honor at a San Jacinto County Republican Party event, where he told the crowd that Obamacare would be “obliterated” if unspecified lawsuits were successful.

This isn’t news, of course. I’ve said before and I’ll say again here, Patrick and Paxton and the other Republican statewides (not counting Greg Abbott) simply aren’t interested in talking to anyone who isn’t a Republican primary voter. They don’t care about them, they’re not going to represent them, so why bother? They’ve already won the races that matter to them, the rest is a mere formality.

Again, none of this is new. But it got me to wondering: What if this lack of overt campaigning has a negative effect on turnout for Republicans?

We all know that the Democratic strategy for this year is based in large part on the unprecedented organizing efforts of Battleground Texas and other groups, with a healthy dose of energy from the Davis and Van de Putte campaigns and a general “had enough” feeling among the faithful. We also know that just as Democratic turnout had been flat for three elections running, Republican turnout had varied. In the landslide of 2010, some 500,000 Republican voters showed up that hadn’t voted in 2006; the vote total was also about 300,000 higher than it was in 2002. The big question – to me, at least – has always been “will those non-habitual 2010 voters show up again in 2014?” Clearly, if they do, then Patrick and Paxton and the rest are indeed on easy street, and they may as well start measuring the drapes and hiring staff. Polling models sure seem to think this is the case, which may be where those gaudy leads for Greg Abbott et al are coming from. Battleground Texas is doing great work, but it would take more than a miracle for Dems to be competitive if the Republican base vote is going to top three million as it did four years ago. If this is the expectation, then Patrick and Paxton’s behavior makes perfect sense even without taking into effect Patrick’s poisonous personality and Paxton’s equally toxic ethics issues.

But what if this isn’t the case? Voting tends to be a habit, which is why pollsters (among others) are so enamored with “likely” voters. Why would we assume that the first-time Republican voters of 2010 will be back for more in 2014? Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure some of them will. I don’t know how big a number that “some” is, but I’m pretty sure it’s not going to be 500,000. Suppose instead that their base number is about 2.7 million, or about what they had in 2002. Now things maybe aren’t such a slam dunk for Patrick and Paxton. Let’s say the efforts of BGTX are enough to boost Democratic base turnout to 2.3 million or so, an ambitious and impressive total given the starting point, but hardly out of the question. That brings the GOP’s polling lead down to eight points – right in line with that Wendy Davis internal poll, in other words – and you can imagine the potential to peel away a few more votes from those that might find Patrick and/or Paxton unacceptable. How likely is that? I don’t know, but it’s greater than zero. It’s a very different scenario from the 2010 turnout possibility.

Now I know, turnout is mostly driven by the top of the ticket. But Greg Abbott is running a very different campaign than Rick Perry did in 2010. Where Perry was his usual swaggering self, Abbott has been trying to put a softer face on the same kind of hard-right politics. He’s all about madrinas and overcoming adversity, and has arguably spent more time wooing Democratic voters than any other bloc. That may pay off for him, but there’s no reason to believe that such a voter would continue on to vote for Patrick and Paxton and so forth. More to the point, he’s not running the kind of base-revving campaign that Perry ran in 2010, at least not visibly. There may be stuff going on covertly that I’m not tuned in to, but surely we agree that Perry 2010 and Abbott 2014 are two different beasts. I don’t know how to compare them quantitatively. Maybe they will perform about the same in the end. I just know they’re different, and I wonder what the implications are. If we’re assuming that these previously unlikely Republican voters are going to turn out in droves again this year, and we see that Abbott is running a different campaign than Rick Perry did – whether Abbott’s campaign is different because 2014 is different, or 2014 is different because Abbott’s campaign is different is a rabbit hole I don’t care to climb down – then what else might be driving these people to vote this year?

The obvious answer to that question is “President Obama”, and the Republicans’ unrelenting animosity towards him. I can’t deny the strong possibility of that, but I will offer two points. One is that when given the chance to vote against him in 2012, Republicans turned out at about the same level as they did in 2008, and 2004 for that matter. That’s a different voter universe, of course, but it at least suggests to me that there are some limits to this as a motivating factor. The other is mixed into that chicken-or-egg question I posed above, which is simply that 2014 is different than 2010. The campaigns are different, the candidates are different – remember, outside of the judicial candidates not a single Republican is running for re-election statewide, and only Greg Abbott has been on most people’s ballots before – the issues are different, the economy is in much stronger shape…you get the idea. The end result may well look the same, but right now this election doesn’t resemble 2010 at all. Why should we assume that it will?

And that’s my main point here. A lot of what we’re seeing in this campaign seems to be based on the assumption that this election will be like the 2010 election, despite all of the obvious differences. Maybe it will and maybe it won’t – maybe these differences won’t amount to much – but I’d at least like to see it acknowledged that the assumption is being made.

Abbott appeals school finance case to Supreme Court

No surprise.

Still not Greg Abbott

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott on Friday appealed to the Texas Supreme Court a district court finding that the state’s school finance system is unconstitutional.

State District Judge John Dietz’s Aug. 30 ruling called Texas’ current school finance system inefficient and inadequate, saying it created an de facto statewide property tax in violation of state law. The decision, a reaffirmation of his 2013 ruling, was a huge victory for the 600 school districts that sued the state after $5.4 billion was stripped from the public education budget in 2011.

Abbott’s office could have appealed to a lower appellate court. But it was widely suspected he would expedite the legal process by requesting the state’s highest civil court hear the case.

Lawmakers could avoid further litigation by addressing the system’s problems in the session that begins in January, but many agree they will wait for a court ruling to take action. Education leaders and policymakers are expecting a special session next year on school finance, since the state Supreme Court is unlikely to hear and issue a decision on the case before the regular session is over in June.

See here for the last update. Abbott of course also had the option of seeking to settle the suit rather than continue to pursue appeals, for which the Texas AFT took him to task. Despite his claim in the debate that he is barred by law from seeking a settlement, he is empowered to do so as long as he gets legislative approval of any settlement he wishes to make. That he doesn’t want to settle but instead is hoping to prevail at the Supreme Court so he wouldn’t have to spend more money on education as Governor should be clear by now. It’s his choice to make, and now he’s made it. The Trib has more.

Abbott and the Latino vote

I have four things to say about this.

Still not Greg Abbott

When Lily Benitez pulled into her driveway in the Donesta neighborhood here Saturday morning, she was surprised to see Greg Abbott coming toward her. It wasn’t just because he’s the attorney general of Texas and a candidate for governor.

It was also because he’s a Republican, and this patch of borderland happens to be the most reliably Democratic part of the state.

“I’m a Democrat,” Benitez said somewhat sheepishly to the reporters following Abbott around as he visited several neighborhoods. “I never thought I would see him here, so I will have to look into it.”

Abbott is betting that enough voters like Benitez, who works at a local bank, will make a rare swing over to the Republican Party this year and help him break the Democrats’ near lock on deep South Texas.

“I think we have a legitimate shot at either winning the Rio Grande Valley” or coming close, Abbott told reporters Saturday after a rally here. “There has never been this level of outreach and expenditure by a Republican.”

Winning a large piece of the South Texas Hispanic vote would be a major coup for Abbott — and a sign that GOP leaders are preparing for the future. The Latino population is exploding in Texas, and Republicans could lose their grip on statewide office if their performance with Hispanic voters doesn’t improve.

1. I confess to being a little concerned about Abbott’s outreach efforts, however superficial they may be. As they say, a big part of success in life is just showing up. Abbott is doing that, which is more than all of his statewide ticket-mates are doing. There are a lot of people who need to be asked for their vote, but if you do ask them, they will at least consider giving it to you. All that said, there’s nothing in this story to indicate that Abbott is making any gains. There are no quotes from Democrats who say they will vote for him, and no quotes from local Republicans who say that Abbott’s efforts have boosted or energized them in any way. The one actual supporter they quoted was one of the people from elsewhere that Abbott’s campaign bused into McAllen for the debate. Maybe the Trib didn’t go looking for any such people, but you’d think the Abbott campaign would have been happy to point them to some if they had any at hand. Even the door-knocking event that opens the Trib story was apparently little more than a photo op, as Peggy Fikac’s account of the encounter with this same voter makes clear. Again, Abbott is making a wise investment by wooing Latino voters, and just making the effort ought to help him, but if this is any indication there’s not much there.

2. What exactly does Abbott have to offer Latino voters? According to the story, there are two things: He married a Latina, and he’s anti-abortion. All those other issues – education, health care, immigration, transportation, water, etc etc etc – go unmentioned, because who cares about them when he’s got a madrina? As far as abortion goes, Latinos are actually more pro-choice than you might think. For a more specific illustration of that, here’s the record vote in the House on HB2 from last summer. This is the list of Latino Democrats that voted FOR HB2:

Guillen; Herrero; Martinez

And here is the list of Latino Democrats that voted AGAINST HB2:

Alonzo; Alvarado; Anchia; Canales; Cortez; Deshotel; Farias; Farrar; Gonzalez, M.; Gonzalez, N.; Guerra; Gutierrez; Hernandez Luna; Lucio; Marquez; Martinez Fischer; Menendez; Nevarez; Oliveira; Perez; Raymond; Rodriguez, E.; Rodriguez, J.; Villarreal; Walle

For those keeping score at home, that’s 3 Yeas and 25 Nays. In the Senate, it was 1 Yea and 6 Nays, including two (Zaffirini and Uresti) that had voted for the sonogram bill in 2011. Any questions?

3. More generally, why do we think that pro-life Democrats are any more likely to cross over than any other partisans? If there’s been any research on this topic, I haven’t seen or heard of it. Democrats remain a fairly broad tent, but overall both parties are a lot more ideologically aligned than they have ever been. As such, the sort of culturally conservative person that had historically been a Democrat is for the most part a Republican already. This includes a lot of people that jumped ship over the abortion issue. The pro-life Dems that remain, it seems to me, must be very well aligned with the Party on most other policy matters, or maybe they’re just Democrats deep in their bones. Either way, I don’t see why they would be more likely to stray in this race than any other bloc of voters that has a beef with a particular party plank. (See, for instance, the Log Cabin Republicans, however many of them there are left.) Show me some data on this, or I will consider it to be another unsupported article of faith.

4. I look forward to the Trib’s story on Wendy Davis and Battleground Texas bringing their campaign to traditionally Republican strongholds like Collin and Williamson Counties.

Davis at TribFest

Wendy Davis expands on some debate topics and other campaign issues at the Texas Tribune’s TribFest.

Sen. Wendy Davis

Sen. Wendy Davis

If elected governor, state Sen. Wendy Davis would consider using “executive action” to expand the state’s Medicaid program under the Affordable Care Act in the face of likely opposition from a Republican-dominated state Legislature, she said Saturday in a wide-ranging interview at The Texas Tribune Festival.

“There’s some indication that an executive action can achieve this,” Davis told Tribune CEO and Editor-in-Chief Evan Smith. “Sometimes you have to do hard things when they’re the right things.”

Had Texas expanded Medicaid to cover more adults under federal health care reform, the federal government would have covered 100 percent of the cost for three years, eventually reducing its coverage to 90 percent. Davis criticized Republicans’ opposition to the offer, which she noted was projected to create as many as 300,000 jobs in the state.

“Once again, we’ve got people who are more interested in partisan rhetoric than being leaders for our state,” Davis said.

Davis spoke at length during the hourlong interview with Smith about her plans if she wins her race against Republican Attorney General Greg Abbott. She singled out two bills — a repeal of the state’s in-state tuition law for illegal immigrants and an “Arizona-style” immigration bill banning sanctuary cities — as measures she would veto if they reached her desk as governor.

Of the in-state tuition repeal, which has strong support among Republicans in the Texas Senate, Davis said she’d “veto it in a heartbeat.”

Given the Legislature’s likely makeup next year, Davis said she was pessimistic that a measure to repeal the abortion restrictions she filibustered last year would ever make it to her desk, though she would sign it if it did. She said it was the same case for a bill that would put the state’s redistricting process under an independent commission,

Smith began the interview asking Davis about Friday’s televised debate with Abbott. He questioned why she didn’t respond to Abbott when he asked her at the debate if she regrets voting for President Obama.

“No, I don’t regret it,” Davis said. She suggested that she didn’t answer Abbott’s question at the time because she thought it wasn’t valid in the “context” of a gubernatorial debate.

“I thought it was striking that when he had the one opportunity to ask me a question, instead of asking me who I would be as governor, he asked me who I voted for for president,” Davis said.

I seem to recall that the Lege passed a bill saying that their approval was needed for any kind of Medicaid expansion, but I could be wrong about that. That said, I’m glad to see Davis make clear her support for Medicaid expansion in this fashion, and I’m glad to see her draw lines in the sand about the Texas DREAM Act and the so-called “sanctuary cities” bill. Good policy all around, and sure to be heartening to the people Davis will need to get out and vote in November. As for her answer about voting for President Obama, I’m sure some people would have liked her to have been more clear about what she meant, but sometimes in the heat of the moment you don’t quite say everything you mean to. At least there will be one more debate opportunity to tackle the question if it comes up again, and it’s not like Davis is going to be going into a rabbit hole anytime soon. Honestly, though, I don’t think there’s anything more to this at this point.

Debate night

Nothing like a 6 PM on a Friday debate that people don’t know how to find on their cable service.

Sen. Wendy Davis

Sen. Wendy Davis

Democrat Wendy Davis went on the offensive against Republican Greg Abbott on issue after issue Friday in their first debate in the race for governor. Abbott, the state attorney general and frontrunner in the gubernatorial race, calmly fended off the attacks during the one-hour face off.

As the candidates faced off at the Edinburg Conference Center at Renaissance in the Rio Grande Valley, Davis took aim at Abbott’s comparison of South Texas corruption to that which occurs in third-world countries.

She targeted his defense of a voter ID law that a judicial panel has found to be discriminatory. She slammed him for defending the public education finance system in court, which he is doing by virtue of being the state’s top lawyer.

She said his defense of a system whose funding was pared back in 2011 is “just dumb,” and she pointed out that she fought those cuts through a brief filibuster that year. Davis later was among lawmakers who worked to restore the money that was cut.

You can see a video of the debate here if you missed it, and there’s more coverage from the Trib and the Observer. I’m not the debate-watching type, so my impression of how it went comes from what I’ve been seeing on social media, where most of the Davis supporters I’ve seen seem to be happy with her performance. Of course, while Davis was on the attack, Abbott was playing the equivalent of the four corners offense, which has been the Republican strategy all along and the reason why he refused to debate under any other conditions. What was your impression of the debate?