February 20, 2008
Skelly off to the races

A lot of attention has been paid to CD10 as a pickup opportunity for Democrats this year, and justifiably so based on the 2006 results and the quality of candidates we have angling for the nomination. But that's not going to be the only game in town, as Michael Skelly is working to put himself and his race in CD07 on the map.

Democratic congressional candidate and wind power executive Michael Skelly collected more than $400,000 in campaign contributions since the beginning of the year, dwarfing the treasury of opponent U.S. Rep. John Culberson, R-Houston, according to records filed Monday.

Culberson, who represents the Republican-friendly 7th Congressional District in west Harris County, raised about $35,000 in the first six weeks of the year.

Culberson has shown an ability to raise ample funds in previous elections, however. He spent about $730,000 on his 2006 campaign and got 59 percent of the vote against Democrat Jim Henley, who spent about $120,000.

With federal offices closed for Presidents Day, Culberson was unavailable for comment about lagging behind his challenger in the early stages of a campaign that ends with the November election.

"I don't ask my supporters for financial help until I need it, and they always have been extraordinarily generous," he said in December when Skelly entered the race. He said he tries to accomplish his goals in Congress, "and I have discovered that elections will take care of themselves."

Skelly, of West University Place, has indicated he is willing to add a significant amount of personal money to his campaign but has contributed less than $41,000 so far, according to Federal Election Commission files.

Skelly's report is here, Culberson's is here. As you can see, Skelly currently has a 5 to 1 cash-on-hand advantage. He's talking about raising two to four million dollars for this race. Given the overall lousy climate for Republicans and the cash-strapped nature of the NRCC, Culberson may really need that generosity he talks about.

Skelly also has a poll out that shows the race to be competitive - you can see the memo here (PDF). As I said about the Fletcher poll in HD130, this is a partisan poll and needs to be evaluated in that context. But as with Fletcher, the key is the ability to get the message that moved the poll numbers out to the electorate. I think it's clear that Skelly will have that capability, and if so then look out. Heck, even Tom DeLay has expressed concern over his buddy Culberson. And we wouldn't want DeLay to worry about nothing, would we?

I should point out that I was on a conference call with the pollster the other night to discuss the result. One question I asked was the partisan mix of the sample, which I didn't see in the memo. I was informed it was 46R-29D-25I, which strikes me as about right. Culberson won by a bit more than 20 points in 2006, and I think it's safe to assume that like most places, the gap has narrowed a bit.

In some ways, this could be the most important race for Democrats in Harris County this year. If Skelly can raise and spend the kind of money he's talking about, and if he can successfully target some historically red but rapidly growing and changing areas in this district (like the Northwest) and move the chains a few points towards the Dems, then that could help build a tide to lift a whole bunch of other boats this fall. It won't take much to move the partisan index for countywide races from purple to a bluer shade of purple. Keep an eye on this one. Michael Hurta, who worked this district with the Jim Henley campaign in 2006, has more.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on February 20, 2008 to Election 2008

You'll note that the Skelly poll begins by tracking respondents' current knowledge/opinions of the candidates, then "primes" the respondents with information to see how that changes the results.

This is how real pollsters who work for campaigns (as opposed to people like Murray/Stein) test all sorts of propositions so that candidates can refine their messages and strategy.

The fairly standard practice is NOT the same as push polling, as this blog once erroneously characterized it.

Posted by: Kevin Whited on February 20, 2008 9:18 AM
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