December 10, 2008
Precinct analysis: North by northwest

I've speculated that there won't be much Congressional action in Harris County in 2010. Certainly, CD22 is unlikely to be seriously challenged, and I doubt anyone will have the stomach or the wallet to make like Michael Skelly in CD07, even though he did move the ball forward a considerable amount there. Where I hope to be wrong in this prognostication is in CD10, and I hope that in being wrong, the focus of that district is right here in Harris County. I'm going to try to make a case for that in this post.

To see why this is, let's take a look at where the vote is in CD10. Here's the relative share of the vote from Travis and Harris for the history of this version of CD10.

Year Total votes Harris Pct Travis Pct
2004 286,376 113,873 39.8 116,698 40.7
2006 169,127 63,665 37.6 69,927 41.3
2008 323,212 141,970 43.9 122,418 37.9
2010* 190,881 79,374 41.6 73,355 38.4

I'm projecting 2010 based on the assumption that its ratio to the 2008 vote totals will be the same as 2006's was to 2004. The point to note here is that Harris is now the biggest component of this district. That would be very bad news if the Harris portion of the district was as red as it was in 2004; it was the thought of that bright crimson patch of real estate that scared every potential Democratic challenger away in that first year of this district's existence. But things don't always go as planned. Here's how Democratic performance has been since then:

High D Harris Pct Diff Travis Pct Diff
2004 27,049 24.9 -54,657 68,163 61.4 25,242
2006 18,389 29.3 -22,451 42,845 62.7 17,366
2008* 52,481 36.4 -39,285 77,201 63.1 31,984
2010** 31,750 40.0 -15,874 46,947 64.0 20,539

"High D" represents the top Democratic performer for each part of the district; all numbers are for two-party totals only. For 2004, that was Kathy Stone in Harris and Margaret Cooper in Travis. (Charlie Baird actually had a higher vote total, but Cooper had the bigger differential.) For 2006 it was Bill Moody in each; I daresay Jim Sharp did a point or so better in Harris, but I've somehow lost his numbers, so Moody will have to do. And for 2008, it was Adrian Garcia (using the draft canvass) in Harris, and I've got Larry Joe Doherty's numbers for Travis since I don't have precinct data there, but he's likely to be near if not at the top. 2010 is again a projection, using the estimated turnout from before, and my own vote targets. I think if a Democratic candidate can meet those targets, he or she can get to 50% plus one.

The key, as I see it, is Harris. Garcia set a pretty high bar, and you can argue that his circumstances were unique, but the point is that even without trying, Democrats improved significantly over 2004. Doherty got a smidge less than 31%, and Kathy Stone garnered 32%. All of this was done without much - if there was anything - in the way of a ground game. Basically, the district covers HDs 126, 130, 132, 150, and two strongly Republican precincts in 149 - in other words, two uncontested State Rep districts, and two that may as well have been. I don't think it's unreasonable to think that performance could have been improved had there been a concerted effort in that area.

Note, by the way, that I don't intend this as a knock on the coordinated campaign for the HCDP, or on Doherty's campaign, which focused more on Travis on the perfectly reasonable grounds that Travis had seen the greater share of the vote in previous elections. I hadn't realized the change in proportions until I started doing this analysis. The Democratic message did get out there in that part of Harris, and it was received by a bunch of those mostly new voters. Look at it this way: There were about 28,000 more votes cast in 2008 than in 2004, and 25,000 of them went to Adrian Garcia. Doherty's total in Harris of 43,624 still represents a 16,600 vote gain over Stone from 2004, which is plenty more than half the new vote total. None of that happened by accident. As I said before, I see Garcia's totals as what's possible, and what can be built on going forward. Perhaps it's a lofty goal, but I don't see it as unattainable. For sure, we'll never know unless we try.

My prescription, then, for someone who might want to take a crack at this, is to focus most of the energy on Harris. Start now by beating the bushes to find candidates for the four State House districts, with 126 and 132 being the top priorities. Prepare to spend some time in the smaller counties, especially Austin, Washington, and Waller; the first two should see a bigger drop in GOP turnout in the off year, and the latter has a chance of going blue for you. Even in the rosy scenario I've painted above, you could still lose the race by getting creamed in the smaller counties, so don't overlook them. Hope to ride some coattails in Travis unless you've really got a big budget. Put it all together, and I think you have a fighting chance. And if you fall short, well, you'll be in position for whatever happens after the 2011 redistricting. Even if CD10 morphs again, there'll be something out west in Harris County to run for.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on December 10, 2008 to Election 2008
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