November 28, 2006
Precinct review: CD07

Since my examination of the Richmond Rail effect generated a lot of good feedback, I'm going to start my tour of the Harris County precinct data with a look at CD07 and the race between John Culberson and Jim Henley. First, a couple of preliminary comments.

As I said yesterday, I'm going to try to provide a range of data for each district that I examine, so that a given candidate's performance can be evaluated in the context of how everyone else did among the same group of voters. There are nine statewide races (not counting the Governor's race, which is generally not comparable for obvious reasons) and 18 countywide contests, and at the macro level the spread is roughly nine points for the statewides and seven points for the countywides, so there's a lot of information to be gleaned. In all cases, I'm doing a straight up R-versus-D comparison, so don't be alarmed if some of the percentages look odd. I'll give both vote totals and vote percentages, so it should be apparent when undervotes are a factor as well.

With all that out of the way, let's dive into the data. First, here's how Henley stacked up against his fellow Democrats in the district:

Candidate Votes Pct
Sharp 66,157 41.52
R. Garcia 65,001 40.09
Henley 64,412 39.36
Moody 64,384 40.85
Green 63,788 40.34
County Avg 60,934 38.50
State Avg 57,580 35.99
Pierre 56,086 34.69
Van Os 54,004 33.16

Henley had the third highest vote total, trailing only Jim Sharp (whose name you're going to see a lot in these discussions) and Richard Garcia. He was ninth best in percentage, as four other countywide candidates (Silverman, Connelly, Voigt, and Burks) scored higher than his 39.36%, but as none of them topped 63,000 votes, this was as much a function of Republican dropoffs as anything else. He exceeded the average statewide performance by 3.37 points, and the average countywides by 0.86. He did significantly better than the lowest performers at the state and county levels.

Now let's look at Culberson:

Candidate Votes Pct
Abbott 108,877 66.84
Kaufman 105,613 65.31
Bacarisse 101,854 63.88
State Avg 102,408 64.01
Culberson 99,236 60.64
County Avg 97,347 61.50
Willet 93,213 59.15
Alcala 93,164 58.48

Of the nine statewide Republicans, Culberson received fewer votes than all but Don Willet. He topped all of the countywides except for Beverly Kaufman and Charles Bacarisse, placing him eleventh overall. He was ninth from the bottom in percentage, again being affected by the higher rate of undervotes downballot. It seems clear to me that Henley was able to get some traction against him, and thus close the 31-point gap that Culberson enjoyed in 2004 to nineteen points this year (here I'm comparing the actual results, not the two-party totals).

Of course, nineteen points is still a pretty comfortable margin by any reasonable standard, so the question is how much potential is there to narrow this difference further. To attempt to answer that, we have to look at CD07 in two pieces, which I think shows both the strength and the limitations of Henley's campaign. Let's compare Henley's performance inside HD134, which is most of the inner Loop portion of CD07 and where Henley's campaign was easily the most visible, and outside HD134. First, inside HD134:

Candidate Votes Pct
Cohen 24,763 55.67
Henley 22,795 52.06
R. Garcia 21,725 50.68
Sharp 21,653 51.51
Moody 21,455 51.62
Green 21,066 50.69
Burks 20,702 50.18
County Avg 20,084 48.33
State Avg 19,930 45.81
Van Os 18,450 42.64
Pierre 18,394 43.13

Henley was clearly very strong here, running behind only Ellen Cohen, who was practically superhuman. Anyone who spent any time in HD134 could see with their own eyes the huge number of Henley signs in people's yards. Here's how it looks from the Republican perspective:

Candidate Votes Pct
Abbott 24,818 57.36
Kaufman 24,250 56.87
State Avg 22,935 54.19
County Avg 21,473 51.67
Culberson 20,993 47.94
Schneider 20,967 50.72
Wolfe 20,552 49.82
Galik 20,490 49.31
Alcala 20,382 48.49
Willet 20,109 48.38
Wong 19,718 44.33

Culberson received the seventh-lowest vote total, and was one of only seven Republicans (the six listed plus Orlando Sanchez) to not get a majority in HD134. It's clear who this part of the district preferred.

Problem is, of course, that HD134 represents only about a quarter of CD07, and if Henley overperformed there he must not have done quite as well elsewhere. Here are the numbers:

Candidate Votes Pct
Sharp 44,504 37.94
Moody 42,929 37.00
Henley 41,617 34.72
County Avg 40,850 35.00
State Avg 38,190 32.46
Pierre 37,692 31.66
Van Os 35,554 29.72

Here, Henley is much more middle of the pack, at least compared to the countywide candidates, where a total of seven of them surpassed his vote total. I believe this is consistent with the level of visibility his campaign had outside the Loop. For the GOP:

Candidate Votes Pct
Abbott 84,059 70.28
Kaufman 81,363 68.34
State Avg 79,473 67.54
Culberson 78,243 65.28
County Avg 75,874 65.00
Willet 73,104 63.00
Alcala 72,782 62.06

Now Culberson is above average overall, beating all the countywides except Kaufman and Bacarisse (78,800 votes) and four of the statewides (he finished just behind Sharon Keller's 78,280 votes, but there was no Libertarian candidate in that race, which gave her a boost). This is his turf, and without a serious erosion in his support outside HD134, his re-election prospects will continue to be bright.

The best case scenario for the Dems does offer some hope. Combining the best performances in each section of CD07 (Cohen plus Sharp) and pitting it against the corresponding Republicans (Wong and Alcala) gives a 23,233 voe deficit (69,267 to 92,500), or a 57.2-42.8 spread, which is certainly within reason. Even under these assumptions, however, there were more Republican votes in the non-HD134 portion of the district than there were Democratic votes overall. The bottom line is that any Democrat who wants to knock off John Culberson will need to be able to run close to even in the western portion of CD07. I have no idea who such a person might be, nor is there enough evidence to suggest what the Democratic ceiling is out there. All I know for sure is that this is the obstacle.

That's a lot to digest. I'll have more reports (hopefully more concise ones as well) in the coming days.

UPDATE: In rereading this, I don't think I've fully conveyed my appreciation of Jim Henley for accomplishing what he did with relatively little money but a lot of volunteer energy. Henley clearly gained ground for the Dems in this district. He proved that there is a payoff to running an active campaign against Culberson. It's up to whoever runs in 2008 to build on what he did.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on November 28, 2006 to Election 2006 | TrackBack

Great stuff Charles. If I didn't have finals I'd be doing some more of this for Travis.

Posted by: Karl-T on November 28, 2006 12:34 PM

Great stuff Charles. If I didn't have finals I'd be doing some more of this for Travis.

Posted by: Karl-T on November 28, 2006 12:35 PM

Speaking as a Republican who voted for Henley who does not live near Richmond, I can tell you that I didn't vote for Henley as much as I voted against Culberson and one of the issues that swayed me was that of transportation infrastructure. From the Katy Freeway to the Houston rail, he's conveyed a sense of arrogance that has alienated me and several other voters in a precinct that should be a slam dunk for him.

Posted by: Patrick on November 28, 2006 4:01 PM