November 19, 2008
Precinct analysis: CD07

The race for Congressional District 7 was one of the top campaigns in Harris County this cycle. It attracted a lot of local and national interest, various polls showed it to be competitive, and there was a boatload of money spent on TV ads. In the end, the race was closer than it had been in previous years, but was still a double-digit win for incumbent John Culberson over challenger Michael Skelly, 56.95 to 43.05 in the straight-up R-versus-D matchup.

A lot of people thought Skelly would do better than this - I know I thought the final result would be closer. It's important to remember, however, that CD07 was nobody's idea of an even potentially competitive district four years ago, and that even in losing a lot of progress can be made. Let's take a look at the numbers. Here's how Skelly did in comparison to Barack Obama, Rick Noriega, Adrian Garcia, Jim Henley (who was on the ballot this time in a successful bid for HCDE Trustee), the average Democratic judicial candidate, and the Democratic State Rep candidate for the relevant districts:

Dist Obama Noriega Skelly Garcia Henley County StRep
CD07 41.11 40.05 43.05 45.55 41.07 38.32 n/a
126 33.49 33.24 35.44 39.21 34.16 32.49 30.61
130 36.01 36.25 38.13 42.22 37.28 35.56 n/a
132 42.49 42.18 43.78 47.58 43.73 42.01 n/a
133 40.00 38.77 40.40 44.28 39.59 37.13 36.58
134 49.35 46.90 52.19 52.06 48.38 43.94 56.67
135 38.70 38.87 40.49 44.78 39.80 37.94 37.82
136 32.14 30.27 34.44 35.61 30.62 28.32 n/a
137 60.13 59.21 61.77 62.61 60.78 58.78 n/a
138 37.65 38.59 38.99 45.25 39.23 36.78 34.56
146 48.52 48.80 51.30 54.62 50.93 46.43 n/a
147 66.03 64.19 67.31 67.65 65.39 63.15 n/a
149 42.41 41.18 41.94 46.06 42.49 39.89 39.05

Other than Garcia, who is in a class by himself and who led him everywhere except HD134, and Obama and Henley in HD149, Skelly led every other Democrat on the ballot wherever they were in CD07. With the exception of Ellen Cohen in HD134, he did better than every State Rep candidate who faced a Republican as well - Chad Khan (126), Kristi Thibaut (133), Trey Fleming (135), Ginny McDavid (138), and Hubert Vo (149). I have to say, I find it hard to find fault with that kind of performance.

Another way of looking at this is to map the way CD07 has evolved since 2004. Here's Skelly against his predecessors:

Dist Martinez Henley Skelly
CD07 34.19 39.36 43.05
134 43.03 52.06 52.19
Not134 31.30 34.72 40.24

The trend is pretty clear. What isn't clear from these numbers is just how much better Skelly's performance was in the HD134 portion of CD07 than Henley's in 2006. (HD134 is almost, but not quite, entirely within CD07. There's one substantive precinct in Al Green's CD09, and one precinct with basically no voters there as well. For these purposes, when I say HD134, assume I'm referring to the all-but-one-precincts that are within CD07.) The difference here is that HD134 was a lot more Republican than you might have thought it would be. In 2006, seven Democratic candidates out of 19 got a majority of the vote in 134 - Henley, Cohen, Bill Moody, Jim Sharp, Richard Garcia, Mary Kay Green. and Andrew Burks. The average countywide Dem received 48.42% of the vote there. In 2008, exactly three Democrats cleared 50% - Cohen, Skelly, and Adrian Garcia. Henley got 48.38%; Sharp got 47.93%. The average Democratic judicial candidate, as we have already seen, got 44.08%. What that means is that while Henley was exceeding the average in HD134 by three and a half points, Skelly topped it by eight. That's mighty impressive.

(In case you're curious, by the way, the average Democratic judicial candidate got 43.60% in HD134. That puts a slightly different spin on this year's judicial results than I had suggested before, as John Kerry got 45.01%. It may just be that the voters there lean more Republican at the local level than they do at the top of the ticket. If so, the difference this year was profound.)

By the way, since there's been so much fixation on straight-ticket voting since the election, Culberson beat Skelly in the straight ticket votes, 103,445 to 63,826. Skelly beat Culberson among those who voted individual races, 59,729 to 58,652. Not that it really means anything, since despite all the aversions cast on them for the judicial races, straight-ticket voters are still voters. But I thought I'd point it out.

Couple more points. You may recall earlier this year when Culberson said his race was the most important on the ballot for local Republicans. Here's how he described it to Miya Shay:

[He] told me yesterday that he sees the District 7 race as a "Firewall" for county wide Republicans. "I believe that if we don't get my re-election numbers into the 60s percentage, then every Republican in Harris County could lose." Culberson says that's why the Democratic party is running such a rich guy, basically to beat him down.. and bring the Repub party along. In essence, he says he can still win his seat, while Harris County Repubs lose all of theirs.

Give the devil his due, because he was right: He didn't get into the 60s, and most Republicans lost. It's very simple - there are a lot of voters in his district, mostly in the western end of it, and they usually vote heavily Republican. But not so much any more, as we've been seeing, and it had an effect both in the overlapping State House districts as well as in Harris County as a whole.

What will happen next in CD07? Alan Bernstein suggested that since Culberson (and Mike McCaul in CD10) faced his toughest challenge yet successfully, he may get a breather:

Seeing that the Obama push and the Democratic money was not enough to turn those districts the other way, potential Democratic challengers for 2010 may balk at taking on these House members.

That's certainly possible, and it was my immediate thought when I saw the election night returns. But who knows? The trend is clear, and while there won't be Barack Obama on the ticket in 2010, there might be Bill White, who would presumably actually campaign here. Especially if someone notices the purpling of HDs 126, 132, and 135, there may well be more Democratic challenges in that part of the county. I think Culberson is unlikely to see a challenge like Skelly's in two years' time - unless Skelly himself decides to try again, of course - but I do think he's seen his last easy race, until and unless redistricting rescues him.

Finally, a word about HD134, which is a key part of this district. I knew HD134 was mostly Republican in 2006, and I expected it to be at best 50-50 this time around. I was surprised to see how relatively red it turned out to be. Which is why it continues to amaze me that the Republicans totally punted on giving Cohen a serious challenge. They had a candidate who was attractive on paper, but he never did a thing, and wound up running more than ten points behind the GOP average in the district. I remember Bill Kelly, who had been Cohen's campaign manager in 2006, telling me early on that Cohen would work the district as hard as she'd done before, because there were a lot of voters there who had not yet ever cast a ballot for her, and they were not going to take any of them for granted. To say the least, he was right about that. My guess is that things are more like 2006 than 2008 in 2010, but I bet Team Cohen won't take that for granted, either.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on November 19, 2008 to Election 2008

It would've been closer if Skelly had read and heeded my warnings on his Facebook page to come out as a pro-Second Amendment candidate. He evidently did not answer the NRA / TSRA questionnaire, and I and other NRA members got several portcards before the election warning us to not support Skelly. In my phone calling for Skelly, I got lots of white male anger o the phone... which I presume was gun owner anger. These were highly motivated voters. If you want to represent CD7, you have to be pro-Second Amendment.

Posted by: Peter Wang on November 19, 2008 7:16 AM
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