March 18, 2004
Rodriguez increases lead, and other news

Rep. Ciro Rodriguez has increased his lead over primary challenger Henry Cuellar now that provisional and overseas ballots have been counted. Forty-four votes were added to his margin, which now stands at 170.

Although the results are unofficial until the Texas Democratic Party conducts the formal canvass March 20, Rodriguez's campaign staff was heartened by the increase in the incumbent's lead from 126 votes on election night.

"Now that the provisional and overseas ballots have been counted, every vote has been counted," said Rodriguez spokesman John Puder. "Any hope that the Cuellar campaign had that those votes would help close the gap has vanished."

Cuellar may still ask for a recount, but one would think that he's not as well-positioned for it as he was before. The difference is still small, though, so his chances are still reasonable.

Meanwhile, in CD10, the money keeps flowing in the runoff between Ben Streusand and Mike McCaul.

As of Feb. 18, Streusand had contributed more of his own money than any other congressional candidate -- $1.34 million, or 96 percent of the $1.4 million he has raised.

McCaul, meanwhile, was the third biggest personal spender at $647,000, or 70 percent of the $929,000 he raised.

Such contributions have helped make this the costliest congressional race in the country to date, with more than $2.6 million being spent, according to campaign finance reports.

And there is an expensive April 13 runoff to come between the two candidates. Streusand won 28 percent and McCaul 24 percent in eliminating six others in the March 9 primary.


The geometry of the 10th District, which stretches from Houston to Austin, helps explain why the race is so expensive, said GOP political consultant Allen Blakemore.

Last year, the GOP-controlled Texas Legislature changed the boundaries of the 10th District to give Republicans a better chance of winning the seat last held by U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin. Doggett decided to run in the 25th District, which was moved to South Central Texas, and the 10th became an open seat with a 64 percent Republican voting history.

"To win, you have to advertise in two television markets, Austin and Houston," said Blakemore, who does not work for either candidate. "And there are three radio markets including Brenham.

"If you're (U.S. Reps.) Tom DeLay or John Culberson, you only have to buy in the Houston market," he said. "That's what makes this race so expensive to compete in."

It also greatly raises the bar for a Democratic candidate who might get into the race, probably as good a reason as any why Gus Garcia was the only one to even contemplate it. Sadly, any serious challenger in this bastardized district will almost surely have to be someone with his or her own money to burn on it.

Big spending on political races has not always worked in the Houston area.

Two years ago, Republican businessman Tom Reiser spent $1.76 million on his losing campaign for the 25th Congressional District. GOP businessman Peter Wareing spent $1.2 million on his losing primary race for the 31st Congressional District.

Reiser and Wareing were part of a wave of 14 congressional candidates in 2002 who spent large sums of their own money on their campaigns only to lose their elections.

I had to go to the Secretary of State page to remind myself about Peter Wareing. I had forgotten that he'd tried again after his expensive failure in 2000 in CD07 against John Culberson. Some people are just gluttons for punishment, I guess.

Among those supporting McCaul are former Gov. William P. Clements; U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas; and Republican state Reps. Todd Baxter, Jack Stick and Terry Keel.

Speaking of Stick and Baxter, the AusChron notes that Democratic primary turnout in their State House districts may spell trouble for them in November.

Both of their Dem challengers Mark Strama and Kelly White, respectively ran unopposed in districts designed to lean Republican. But both Strama and White still got more votes last week than did the incumbents.

The article suggests this election may not be like the ones of the recent past, and that the Dems may have blown a chance to make some gains or at least hold some losses down.

Last week's results suggest forces that are working more deeply and broadly than many observers, including me, may have initially concluded on Election Night. Yes, it's true that U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, facing what just days before had seemed (to many, including him) a neck-and-neck battle for survival, poured on a get-out-the-vote effort that helped buoy the high D turnout. But only a third of Travis Co. lies within Doggett's new CD 25, and while Dem turnout in East and Southeast Austin was indeed much higher than normal, and much higher than most anywhere else, those precincts always prefer the D's by several orders of magnitude. (Central and East Austin have kept Dems in power at the courthouse for at least the last two election cycles.)

But Democrats outpaced GOP turnout in all three of Travis' congressional districts, two of which were uncontested on the D side; in all six of its House districts, none of which was contested on the D side; and the precincts of all four county commissioners, two of whom weren't even on the ballot. Certainly, the countywide races for sheriff and especially for 200th District Court offered their share of voter interest, but the GOP had some of those, too.

Indeed, the turnout may be making some local Dems question their willingness to write off without a fight the races for CD 10 and CD 21, for Terry Keel's House District 47, and for Gerald Daugherty's Precinct 3 seat on the Commissioners Court. The GOP was unwilling to write off CD 25, but Becky Armendariz Klein has a row to hoe almost as long and narrow as the district itself. Despite her glib assertions on Election Night that she could pick up the Hinojosa (that is, Hispanic) vote, at least in Travis Co., Doggett outpolled Hinojosa and Klein combined by a factor of 4.7-to-1.

Something else is apparently at work, something that suggests the cynical hubris of the GOP leadership may now be touched by nemesis. Faced with effective disenfranchisement and supposed irrelevance, Travis Co. Democrats did not go play Frisbee with their dogs; they stormed the polls to send a message about redistricting, about Tom DeLay, and about Bush and his reign of error, more so than about the choices actually before them on this ballot. Some of this reflects the Zeitgeist of a revitalized national Democratic Party (particularly here, where Howard Dean still came in third, even after exiting the race before the start of early voting); people made time to vote in the same way, and for the same reason, that they stood in the pouring rain for an hour to see anti-GOP documentaries like Bush's Brain and The Hunting of the President at SXSW. Democrats care about what's happening in politics, right now, in a way that hasn't been true locally since Ann Richards' 1990 triumph.

The second paragraph is a bit misleading, in that two of the three Congressional districts had no Democratic primary candidates, not unopposed primary candidates. However you slice it, though, it would appear that Travis County Dems are more fired up than anyone, including the party leaders, would have thought. I'm not sure what their secret is, but I do wish they'd share it with Harris County.

Finally, getting back to CD 10 for a minute, those who care about that sort of thing will be pleased to note that McCaul has picked up the Poppy Bush endorsement. I will note the following from the Streusand campaign:

Marc Cowart, Streusand's campaign manager, said the Bush event shows that McCaul is the candidate of "the Republican establishment."

"The feedback we hear from voters and grass roots is they don't want the Washington establishment telling them how to vote," Cowart said. "They want to make a decision based on facts, issues and backgrounds."

If one believes Mr. Cowart, then a possible interpretation of his words is that Republican voters are not very happy with Republican officeholders right now, at least not happy enough to consider an endorsement from them to be a good thing. Make of that what you will.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on March 18, 2004 to Election 2004 | TrackBack