The seat was also once held by State Ag Commissioner Susan Coombs who is now seeking to replace Carol Strayhorn as Comptroller. Coombs and Gov. Rick Perry's organization played an aggressive role in attempting to hold the house district for the Republicans. Although special elections can be tricky and unpredictable the GOP candidate, Ben Bentzin, was a handsome, well-financed, ex-Dell executive. Democrat Howard was an attractive campaigner who did not pretend to be anything but a liberal.
The primary issue was education and Howard's victory is heartening for candidates in both primaries who are critical of the governor's handling of that issue and the overall GOP performance. However former US House Majority Leader Tom DeLay's conduct was also a key issue as was the governor's quick call of the special election.
Many political observers believe that Howard's victory could mean that a Democratic takeover of the Texas House is a possibility.
Assuming Katy Hubener wins on Feb 28, the Democrats have a decent shot at six other seats in November: HDs 102 (Goolsby, Dallas County), 93 (Goodman, Tarrant County), 32 (Seaman, Aransas County), 47, (open, Travis County), 133 (open, Harris County), and 134 (Wong, Harris County). If they can hold all of their vulnerable seats save for Pete Laney's, which is almost surely a lost cause, and run the table on these seats, they're up to 70. That's still five seats shy of a split in the House.
Needless to say, that's a very optimistic scenario. Individually, each race is winnable, but putting them all together while losing no other ground is a very tall order. I'd put the over/under on Dem membership at 65, with a modest gain of two or three seats a reasonable goal. Bear in mind that would be a total gain of up to five over last session, which would be a nice accomplishment indeed. There are some other seats that could come into play, but you start getting into blue sky territory pretty quickly.
Now what could happen, if all the stars align, is that Tom Craddick's speakership might be in jeopardy. That's at least as dependent on several mostly Republican primaries as it is on any Dem gains in November. If Craddick-crat Al Edwards loses, if the Leininger Five survive, if the Texas Parent PAC notches a win or two, Craddick could be in deep trouble even before the Dems take a shot at increasing their numbers. All it would take is about ten Republicans to go along with just about every Democrat to name a different person as Speaker, and while that person would necessarily be another Republican, he or she would be the Democrats' choice for the job. Think about the implications of that for a minute.
How likely is this? Again, a lot of things have to go right. If Hubener follows Howard with another special election win for the Dems, I'd say it's fair to assume that the trends are pointing in that direction, but there's still a lot of factors in play. Bottom line is that the next three weeks could have a profound effect, not just on the upcoming special session, but on the 80th Lege as well. So stay tuned, it's gonna be a fun ride.Posted by Charles Kuffner on February 16, 2006 to Election 2006 | TrackBack