December 20, 2004
How do you define "credible"?

In the comments to this post, Kevin says:

I thought all those crossover voters were going to be the end of Tom DeLay in his race against Richard Morrison, whom many people here called "credible." Oh, wait, yeah, that didn't really pan out.

It's certainly true that Richard Morrison is not the elected representative from CD22, much to everyone's loss. But was he a "credible" candidate? Did he get any crossover support? I think we can answer those questions a bit more objectively.

Let's take a look at Fort Bend County, the home base for both Richard Morrison and Tom DeLay. There are 99 precincts in Fort Bend which featured the CD22 race on the ballot. How do the Morrison/DeLay vote totals compare to those in the Presidential race?

DeLay Morrison Bush Kerry
Vote Total 58,444 46,151 70,489 40,730
Vote Pct 55.88 44.12 63.38 36.62

Well, how about that? Richard Morrison got over 5000 votes more than John Kerry, while Tom DeLay got 12,000 fewer votes than George Bush. Maybe there were a few Bush voters who also supported Morrison!

OK, so that's not really an apples-to-apples comparison. There wasn't much Presidential campaigning going on in Fort Bend, and maybe it was George Bush who was winning Democratic crossovers. Let's compare the Morrison/DeLay results to those of the Cliff Vacek/Albert Hollan race for the 400th District Court Judge. Surely a downballot race like that will reflect partisan identity with some accuracy.

DeLay Morrison Vacek Hollan
Vote Total 58,444 46,151 66,255 39,480
Vote Pct 55.88 44.12 62.66 37.34

The difference here is even more stark, since the overall vote totals for each race are roughly the same. Nearly eight thousand fewer votes for DeLay, and nearly seven thousand more votes for Morrison (there were two other candidates in the CD22 race, which is where most of the other votes went). What conclusion can one reach other than Republicans casting their lot with Richard Morrison?

It's the same all the way down the line. Here's Morrison versus all the other Democrats who ran in those 99 precincts in Fort Bend:

Candidate Votes Percent
Morrison 46,151 44.12
Sharp 41,624 39.60
Molina 41,269 39.12
Kerry 40,730 36.62
Hollan 39,480 37.34
Scarborough 39,438 38.17
Van Os 39,296 37.22

I don't know how you define a credible candidate, but I think "top vote getter" would be a reasonable criterion to include. I won't bore you with another chart, but the next lowest Republican vote total after DeLay's 58,444 was Evelyn Keyes with 63,494. You tell me if that indicates crossover support for Richard Morrison or not.

A spreadsheet with all the data I collected is here so you can check my math. Please note that all vote percentages shown are just for the two-party totals, so they won't match the official results.

Now, of course, CD22 includes parts of Harris, Galveston, and Brazoria Counties, none of which I've performed this analysis on. Maybe Fort Bend is an outlier. Just because Morrison did better in his part of Fort Bend than any other Democratic candidate, that doesn't mean some other Democrat couldn't have done better still in his place. And in the end, Morrison's efforts weren't enough. But not credible? No crossover support? I think we can say that myth is, in the words of Jamie and Adam, totally busted.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on December 20, 2004 to Election 2004 | TrackBack

Interesting stuff. I'm keeping my ear to the ground for an '06 off-presidential year challenger. That is a campaign worth relocating for. BTW, caught a rerun of The West Wing last night and, thought I don't know if it is purposful, they had Texas CD22 not with a Republican but with an Asian Democrat whose family likes to go fishing in Galveston. I thought to myself "If only!"

Posted by: matt on December 20, 2004 12:40 PM

I suppose my definition of "credible" is similar to Kevin's. Credible, in my mind, means "can win" and Morrison fell well short of that standard. I'm reluctant to grade his performance on a curve (comparing to other Democrats) since the goal was to win. I read countless blogs and even some more mainstream commentary suggesting that a win was possible because of all of the fresh scandal meat hung around DeLay's neck. To suggest that getting over 44% of the vote is acceptable seems to be moving the goal posts a little bit as I don't think buzz would have been nearly as potent around Morrison had they announced that their goal was to get the 44% to make a statement.

As for the "crossover appeal," I'm not sure to what degree that was there. Yes, Morrison did outperform other Democrats. But I voted Democratic in that district in 1998, 2000, and 2002 and it had nothing to do with Kemp, whatsername, or Riley and everything to do with DeLay. I'd imagine that Morrison benefited more from the same, a bona fide fundraising effort by Democrats, and a non-stop barrage of negative press aimed at the Majority Leader than any persona. Personally, I can't think of a single thing that Morrison said that made this Republican want to vote for him.

That's my take, anyway.

Posted by: R. Alex on December 20, 2004 1:12 PM

I define "credible" as a legitimate shot at winning.

Barring that DeLay indictment that never came, Morrison didn't have one. Seemingly nice guy, gave it the good fight, surely did well for himself. No arguments over any of that.

My beloved Cowboys still have a mathematical shot at the playoffs. And if plane crashes take out about half the NFC in the next few days, they might just squeak in. I don't define the Cowboys as a credible playoff contender, however. :)

The real problem for DeLay may well come in future years, maybe even '06 (indictment/conviction = UH OH!). Barring indictment/conviction, I think it mostly depends on what DeLay does to rehabilitate his image. The bad news for Dems is he's killed them in about every way possible in recent years, with redistricting being the ultimate kill, and he really doesn't have to be so activist at this point. If he wants, he can step back, bring some pork to his district, lead the good fight on issues in DC, and rebuild his image. If he's too power hungry to do that, then hubris could be his undoing.

Posted by: kevin whited on December 20, 2004 1:26 PM

Fascinating discussion, analysis. Here is my two cents, from a national perspective:

1. Any candidate receiving less than 55% is vulnerable the next time. That vulnerability is enhanced, obviously, by a credible challenger.

2. Morrison ran once. Maybe he will run again. Will he do better next time? Probably. Do not forget -- DeLay spent $3 million to $500,000+ for Morrison. Will someone else do better next time? Depends.

3. The real question is not whether Morrison was credible last time, but whether anyone can take on DeLay and succeed next time. That is why the district analysis, with comparison to other races, is critical. I would like to see someone do it district-wide (hint, hint, Charles). Morrison was the top vote-getter in Fort Bend. Was someone else the top vote-getter in other parts of the district? Was DeLay at the bottom in other parts? Inquiring minds...

4. Lastly, if DeLay gets indicted, I think the GOP in Washington eventually abandons him. I don't see how they move Social Security, tax reform, energy, etc., with him under fire. Add other ambitious House members to the mix, and you have a free for all. Look for people to run away from him quickly as soon as the dam breaks. (If he is convicted, by the way, he has to leave Congress.) Which makes all this speculation moot, but that is in Ronnie Earle's hands...

I'd welcome feedback.

Posted by: David Donnelly on December 20, 2004 3:25 PM

I'm actually inclined to think that absent an indictment, The Democrats have peaked in their crusade to get Tom DeLay out of office. There was a barrage of news about an upcoming indictment, a gush of media attention DeLay's previous challengers never had, and DeLay belatedly realizing that he might need to campaign this time around. Yet in the end he won by a whopping 14%. The only two things he had going for him were independent challenger Fjetland and Bush at the top of the ticket. I don't believe that would account for 14% of the difference with a mildly less interested media and no cloud of an indictment over DeLay's head (unless, of course, he is indicted which changes everything).

It's possible that I'm wrong and DeLay might be beatable with the perfect candidate, but I don't believe Morrison to be that candidate. Morrison got the Democrats all excited and the anti-DeLay independents, but he had very little to offer anti-DeLay Republicans. He came across to me as someone whose only moderate/conservative credentials were that he called himself a moderate. When he suggested that some sympathetic Republicans were only Republicans because they didn't know what they stood for. The long and short of it is that had I been in CD22 (I left six months before the election and voted in Idaho), I would have voted for Fjetland, libertarian, or just sat it out. The last straw for me was when he flirted with Howard Dean and suggested that Republicans only think they're Republicans because it's "hip."

It's great that he can get Democrats excited, but that won't pull him over the finish line. A Loy Sneary (a socially conservative Dem that ran against Ron Paul a couple of times) might have some success. But Morrison was the beneficiary of a particular news climate. If they want to win - if it's even possible - they ought to look elsewhere. But beyond that, it's going to take an indictment.

Posted by: R. Alex on December 20, 2004 5:30 PM

R. Alex,

Good caution. For the record, I am agnostic as to who takes on DeLay, as long as they are credible. That is why I suggested a non-Morrison centric analysis fo top vote getters for different parts of the district, particularly Harris...

As the presidential election taught Democrats, you cannot beat something with anti-something (no need to offend anyone by calling the Kerry campaign and all the 527s nothing).

With or without an indictment, DeLay will continue to overreach. He is not someone to act contrite when caught. The arrogance will be his ultimate downfall. Whether that leads to indictment or political expulsion, time will tell. I disagree with those who think he can survive an indictment.

Posted by: David Donnelly on December 21, 2004 10:33 AM

"I define "credible" as a legitimate shot at winning." - kevin

There are other definitions that are not a stretch. Making the incumbent actually campaign for what should have been an easy seat is worth something. Forcing the opposition party to spend real money protecting its congressional resident mean man is worth a great deal. And making DeLay look vulnerable is nearly priceless: the Republicans I know won't tolerate an apparently weakened Tom DeLay for very long. I'd say Morrison did a credible job of all of those things.

Posted by: Steve Bates on December 22, 2004 8:46 PM

It is now 2006 and there is a credible candidate who could knock Delay out in the primaries-- his name is Tom Campbell. Check him out at -- He is definately a contender!

Posted by: Jamie Handy on January 7, 2006 8:43 PM