December 04, 2006
Precinct analysis: The overachievers

Continuing with my series of reports on how Harris County candidates did this year, I'd like to focus on three State Rep candidates who clearly exceeded the baseline Democratic performance of their districts.

We'll start in HD129, where Sherrie Matula provided John Davis' first Democratic challenge since 1998, an election that Davis won with over 70% of the vote.

Matula Pct SW Avg SW Pct CW Avg CW Pct
14,379 42.31 +3,037 +7.80 +1,189 +4.76

Matula garnered slightly more than 3000 votes over the average Democratic statewide candidate, and nearly 1200 votes more than the average Democratic countywide candidate. She ran nearly eight points better than the statewides, and nearly five points better than the countywides. She was the second best votegetter among Democrats, trailing only Nick Lampson, while Davis lagged behind everyone except Elsie Alcala and Don Willet, each of whom he exceeded by fewer than 70 tallies.

It should be noted that this district was about as red as it was in 2004, when it was basically a two-to-one GOP area. The high Democratic score then was Kathy Stone's 35%. The baseline, which clocked in at 37.55% for county candidates, clearly inched up some, to which I'd credit Lampson and Matula, a little bit of demographics, and the overall climate. Everything Matula accomplished was done on a miniscule budget. She worked this the old fashioned way, by being everywhere and talking to everyone. In a higher turnout year, with a real campaign warchest, who knows what might happen? Among other things, Davis is rumored to be looking at SD11, where incumbent Mike Jackson is rumored to be retiring. This is a district that won't look terribly competitive based on the raw numbers, but should be treated as though it is for Matula's expected second go-round. It's definitely within range.

Next up is someone with whom we're already pretty familiar, Ellen Cohen.

Cohen Pct SW Avg SW Pct CW Avg CW Pct
25,180 55.75 +5,545 +9.86 +4,743 +7.33

It's nearly impossible to overstate Cohen's dominance in this race. By my count, she won four precincts in which no other Democrat achieved a majority; she ran at least 9 points better than the combined average percentage in those precincts, including one (Precinct 87), which she won by eight votes, in which the baseline Dem performance was 36.9%. Cohen would have won HDs 138 and 144 had she performed at this level in them.

The thing to keep in mind with Cohen is that even with her big bucks, and even with Martha Wong's godawful campaign, she still had to be at least an above average candidate to win. HD134 is still Republican turf, even if it's less so than it once was. As I said before, of the 29 candidates who were on the ballot everywhere in HD134 (*), only six Democrats carried it (Henley, Moody, Sharp, Green, and R. Garcia being the other five; Matula's level of performance would have been more than enough to win as well). Cohen made it look easy, but don't let that fool you. She worked for it, and she earned it. Though I expect the Republicans to mount a serious challenge to her in 2008, I think this seat is hers for as long as she respects and votes the district.

And as good as Ellen Cohen was, she still wasn't the top performer in Harris County. That honor goes to Diane Trautman in HD127.

Trautman Pct SW Avg SW Pct CW Avg CW Pct
14,297 40.78 +4,200 +11.36 +3,303 +8.53

Trautman was five and a half points better than the next strongest Democrat in this district. Seven Democrats failed to crack 30% there. She had at least 2000 more votes than any other Democrat, and exceeded most people by at least 3000. That's an awful lot of ballots on which she was the only Democrat.

Another way of looking at it is this: Trautman lost this deep red district by 6,461 votes. There were 11,265 straight-ticket Republican ballots cast, and 5,210 straight-ticket Dem ballots, meaning that straight-ticket voting accounts for all but 406 votes of her deficit. Everybody else lost by at least 10,000 votes, meaning they lost the non-straight-party voters by at least 4000. Given that there were about 20,000 non-straight-ticket ballots, that means she ran close to even where everyone else was losing at least 60-40. Any way you approach it, what she did was just mind-boggling. Oh, and she would have won HDs 133, 134, 138, and 144 at this level of performance.

As with Matula and HD129, this is a district that has no right to be competitive. It too saw its Democratic performance tick up a bit, but given that it was at about 28% in 2004, it's hard to imagine otherwise. Still, it did increase by about four points at the county level, and I can't help but think that Trautman was a big part of that. Unlike Matula and Cohen, it's not known yet if she'll try again in 2008. Joe Crabb has also had retirement rumors surround him for awhile; given how much he's disliked, that may not be a good thing from a Democratic campaign perspective. Frankly, I could make a pretty good case for Trautman to try a different race, one that would be a bit more winnable - City Council District E leaps to mind, as Addie Wiseman is term-limited. Hell, she'd probably give Ted Poe or State Sen. Tommy Williams a good run for their money. Whatever she tries, if she does decide to have another go, she'll be formidable.

Next up: The targets for 2008.

(*) - As is my habit with these analyses, I'm excluding the four-headed Governor's race from consideration, as it's too weird to add much of value. That said, Chris Bell was the high votegetter among the gubernatorials in HD134 - he got 36.5% of the vote there to Rick Perry's 32.8%, with Strayhorn (17.3) and Friedman (13.3) much farther back.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on December 04, 2006 to Election 2006 | TrackBack

I live in Bellaire and I was talking to two campaign workers for Jim Henley that were dropping off a yard sign for me one Saturday. They asked if I knew of any of my neighbors who wanted a Henley sign. I said that I didn’t, but I suggested that since there were a lot of people out in their yards, why they didn’t ask those with Ellen Cohen signs if they wanted a Henley sign. They said that they had asked people with Cohen signs if they wanted a Henley sign, but the answer they kept getting was, sorry were Republicans and the only Democrat we are voting for is Ellen. I don’t know if this reflects Ellen Cohen’s popularity or the gut level dislike of Martha Wong.

Posted by: Bill K on December 4, 2006 2:11 PM

I had the same sort of experience in Dist 127; whenever I asked folks if they wanted a Vote Democratic or Binderim or Bell sign at homes sporting Trautman signs, I'd get the same response: "sorry, we're Republicans and the only Democrat we're voting for is Diane." Again, I don't know if this reflects Diane's popularity or the unpopularity of Crabb. If Trautman runs against a different Republican, I'm not sure what the numbers would look like. I hope she does run again, if not for 127, for some other post.

Posted by: Toni M. on December 4, 2006 3:55 PM

My understanding is that Trautman and her campaign team are preapring for another race in HD 127, either in two years or in a special election if rumors about Crabb stepping down turn out to be true.

Posted by: Cafe Tortoli on December 5, 2006 7:53 PM