May 02, 2007
Targeting 2008: State Senate

I spend a lot of time analyzing different types of races, for State House, for Congress, and for countywide offices. I do this because it's where most of the action is. Since I first started to really follow this stuff in 2002, I can't think of a single general election State Senate race that was particularly compelling or competitive.

I'm hoping that 2008 will be very different. For one thing, if we've learned anything from the past few sessions, it's that the Democrats in the Senate have no margin for error. The eleven votes they have now are a much more solid bloc than the twelve they had in 2003 and 2005, but with one member forced to stay home most of this session due to health issues, the Dems may find themselves in a position where they can't block a bill they really want to. Even with all eleven present, they're still at the mercy of a single turncoat. The only cushion for this will be to elect more Democrats.

Fortunately, it looks like the Dems will have some chances to do just exactly that in 2008. Before I begin, let me say that I'm indebted to a reader who goes by the handle "blank", who sent me some numbers that make the case for State Senate action clear, and who identified a top target that had been completely beneath my radar. "Blank" did the heavy lifting on this one, I'm just putting some polish on it.

Based on 2006 performance in their districts, there are four Republican Senators who should draw strong challenges this year, if the Democrats are serious about making inroads in the Lege. Here they are, based on the numbers in the Moody/Willett Supreme Court race:

Dist Senator Dem GOP KBH BAR Jones Henry Willett Moody
10 Kim Brimer 43.3 56.7 61.7 38.3 55.2 44.8 52.7 47.3
16 John Carona 41.5 58.5 62.1 37.9 57.7 42.3 53.4 46.6
9 Chris Harris 40.0 60.0 64.6 35.4 58.8 41.2 55.8 44.2
11 Mike Jackson 38.5 61.5 65.5 34.5 59.2 40.8 56.7 43.3

A full listing is here (Excel spreadsheet). Jackson already has a strong opponent, and there's rumors he'll retire after this session. Carona is in the same boat as Pete Sessions in that there's only so many targets left for Dallas Dems to shoot for, so I expect him to get a big name opponent, possibly a sitting State Rep. Harris isn't very well liked, but as his district covers parts of Dallas, Tarrant, and Denton counties, with Denton being nearly half of it, I think he's the most likely to skate by without having to break a sweat.

The one who surprised me, as much by his mere inclusion as by his placement atop the list, is Kim Brimer. His district is entirely within Tarrant County, which is the one major urban county to remain a Republican stronghold (though that's gradually weakening), so it hadn't occurred to me to look there. But by every measure, Brimer is the Republican Senator in the bluest district.

Part of this is electoral drift. Compare how various State Rep and Congressional Democratic candidates did in the parts of their districts that overlap Brimer's SD10 Tarrant County in 2006 and 2004:

CD 2004 Dem Votes Pct 2006 Dem Votes Pct Change
6 Meyer 58,507 35.22 Harris 37,864 40.33 5.11
12 Alvarado 55,186 30.76 Morris 36,672 33.92 3.16
24 Page 26,573 28.86 Page 17,880 32.72 3.86
26 Reyes 49,764 45.90 Barnwell 30,088 47.72 1.82
Total 190,030 34.80 122,504 38.32 3.52

HD 2004 Dem Votes Pct 2006 Dem Votes Pct Change
90 Burnam 14,841 65.22 Burnam 9,647 73.00 7.78
93 Gregory 17,924 43.94 Pierson 10,761 49.35 5.41
94 Woolridge 21,262 36.89 Pillow 11,145 32.49 -4.39
96 Cox 26,447 39.67 Youngblood 16,475 44.29 4.62
97 Stevens 23,425 36.76 Barrett 16,900 40.82 4.07
99 Popp 17,602 30.33 Ford 12,279 33.83 3.50
Total 121,501 39.24 77,207 41.91 2.67

On the Congressional side, I'd rate David Harris and Tim Barnwell as better candidates than Morris Meyer and Lico Reyes, but the other two are a wash. Burnam was unopposed in 2006, so his percentage is an estimate; Paula Hightower Pierson won her district. David Pillow ran against ParentPAC candidate Diane Patrick, who'd knocked off the unloved Kent Grusendorf in the primary. Both HDs 96 (Bill Zedler, 52.46% in 2006) and 97 (Anna Mowery, 55.93%) should draw strong challengers as well. It's hard to judge how a Presidential year will compare to a non-Presidential year - obviously, who's at the top of the ticket will make a difference - but the opportunity is there for the Dems to improve on those numbers further.

And that's critical, because the situation is even closer to a tipping point than these numbers indicate. In 2006, there was one high-profile countywide race in Tarrant, for District Attorney. Democratic challenger Terri Moore got 46.84% of the vote, easily making her the best-performing Democrat in the county. As you can see from this spreadsheet, she came even closer to winning a majority of the vote in SD10 - she wound up with 49.22% of the vote there. Yet in doing so, she had fewer votes than incumbents Burnam and Veasey, while running even with Hightower Pierson; she did do better than the other Democratic challengers. In other words, there's still room for growth.

Now of course the Democrats have to actually nominate someone who can give Kim Brimer a run for his money. I'm told they're working on that, but until then this is all theoretical. And for sure, it's a lot easier to make this case on the Internet than it is in real life. Brimer isn't a particularly distinguished Senator - considering that the Metroplex contingent includes the likes of Jane Nelson, Florence Shapiro, and Royce West, plus Harris and Carona, he's practically invisible - but he's still an incumbent, and he'll surely have whatever resources he'll need. The point I'm making is that you can't win if you don't try, and this is a race that needs trying. I'll keep an eye on this one to see what develops. Thanks again to "blank" for the inspiration and the data.

UPDATE: Correction noted per blank's comment. I'll try to dig through the precinct numbers and come up with the actual SD10 totals.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on May 02, 2007 to Election 2008

Part of this is electoral drift. Compare how various State Rep and Congressional Democratic candidates did in the parts of their districts that overlap Brimer's SD10 in 2006 and 2004.

Kuff--I think that you misread me or that I was unclear. The numbers in the table are for all of Tarrant, not just SD 10. I think that the HD's, with the exception of Pierson, entirely overlap with SD 10, so they are equivalent values. However, I don't think that I parsed the CDs down to only SD 10. My guess though is that the "all of Tarrant" numbers have similar trends as the "only SD 10" numbers.

Thanks for the post though.

Now to find a candidate ...

Posted by: blank on May 2, 2007 1:39 PM

I don;t think you get it. Don Willett's percentage is a bottom line number. His opponent was endorsed by every newspaper in the state and he clearly swept the swing vote but still carried all of these seats.

These are all carefully drawn solid Republican seats.

Rumor is that Carona will bail and that Rep Dan Branch will run. Branch is unbeatable.

Pierson has cast some bad votes and will have a tough time winning re-election. Republicans did well in her seat in a bad year. Her election is the result of an ethically challenged incumbent getting tossed out.

Posted by: Dano on May 2, 2007 3:40 PM

I don't think Allen Vaught will run against Carona. I think he'd run for re-election than do that. Is that the state rep in Senate 16 you were referring to? Brimer is vulnerable. Carona has a strong base in the Park Cities and in East Dallas.

Posted by: asmith on May 2, 2007 3:53 PM

Dano--Though I agree that Willett's percentage was pretty close to a baseline in 2006, I think you are ignoring overall trends. For instance, though I don't have the numbers any more, I believe that Brimer's statewide Dem % was closer to (perhaps even under) 40%. Honestly, I would be thrilled to win one of these seats, but every data set shows that the Metroplex is trending Democratic, and we have to pick up seats somewhere.

Posted by: blank on May 2, 2007 9:45 PM

To register a contrary opinion:

Brimer is carrying one of the few environmental/clean air bills that might actually pass this session. One that will set a national precedent for a whole industry. SB1177 will require testing of advanced controls on the Midlothian cement plants, introducing these controls for the first in the U.S.

Had he been Dem, he could not have gotten as far as he has in a Republican-run Senate and House. It's because he's a Republican that the bill stands any chance. Look at the graveyard of enviro bills this session and see how many are sponored by Dems.

Brimer has a deserved reputation as a bill mover - espeically for the City of Ft. Worth and Tarrant County. Look what he's done for the local toll roads in the moratorium bill that's going to Perry.

If you're going to replace him, better be sure to get a Dem majority so you can actually get things passed.

Posted by: Jim on May 2, 2007 11:31 PM

Maybe not in 08, but in 2012: SD07? I have heard a rumor or two that my Senator is looking at the possibility of higher office.

Posted by: Michael Hurta on May 3, 2007 9:30 PM

I meant 17. And nevermind- I just looked at the district and its numbers...

Posted by: Michael Hurta on May 3, 2007 9:34 PM