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August 30th, 2019:

How many Congressional seats are really in play for Texas Dems?

By one measure, more than you probably think. From Jonathan Tilove of the Statesman:

Last weekend, I read an interview in Salon with Rachel Bitecofer, a political scientist at Christopher Newport University in Newport News, Va.

She is also an election analyst whose forecast of big Democratic gains in the 2018 midterm election was uncannily, uniquely accurate. She is now using the same model to forecast that any Democratic presidential candidate will win a minimum of 278 electoral votes in 2020 against President Donald Trump, eight more than the 270 needed to win.

But even more interesting to me, she is predicting that, if the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee — the D-trip, as she and others commonly call it — applies resources generously and wisely, it could flip nine Texas House seats in 2020, half again as many as the six seats the DCCC is now targeting.

In addition to what will be open seats now held by Republicans in the 23rd Congressional District, where Will Hurd is not seeking reelection; the 22nd, where Pete Olson is retiring; and the 24th, where Kenny Marchant joined the Texodus; the DCCC is also setting its sights on the 21st, held by freshman Rep. Chip Roy; the 31st, held by veteran John Carter; and the 10th, which now belongs to Austin’s Michael McCaul.

But Bitecofer also includes three U.S. House districts on her list that are not now on the DCCC target list — the 25th Congressional District, where Democrat Julie Oliver is making a second run at incumbent Roger Williams, also of Austin; the 2nd, held by freshman Dan Crenshaw; and the 3rd, held by another freshman, Van Taylor, who I’ve never before heard mentioned as potential Democratic target of opportunity.

In fact, according to Bitecofer, nine of the Democrats’ 18 best chances for pickups in 2020 congressional races nationally are in Texas, which makes it, in her estimation, Ground Zero next year.

I interviewed Bitecofer on Monday and realized that it’s not so much that her analysis flies in the face of conventional wisdom about Texas politics, as it flies above it.

[…]

Under Bitecofer’s model, it doesn’t really matter if the Democratic congressional candidate is a fire-breathing progressive or a milquetoast moderate, as long as they remind voters that the election is all about Trump.

Bitecofer exudes confidence in her forecast.

Of McCaul, she said: “He’s a dead man walking if the DCCC drops money in that race, and then it doesn’t really matter who the Democrats nominate. Other handicappers will have it as `lean red’ when they do their races, and I will have it as ‘will flip’ if the DCCC has put it on its list.”

Bitecofer’s model is based on the number of college-educated voters in a given district, and it happens that Texas, being a mostly urban and suburban state, has a lot of them. You can read Tilove’s interview with her, or that Salon article, or listen to this interview she did on The Gist with Mike Pesca, but that’s the basic idea behind it.

Bitecofer’s model is alluring, but note the assumption of the DCCC targeting the district. That means pouring money into it, which also means that the Democratic nominee is already doing well in the fundraising department. By that reckoning, we need to dial back the enthusiasm a bit. CD03 has no candidate at this time now that Lorie Burch has ended her candidacy. CD31, which is on the DCCC list, doesn’t have a proven candidate yet. The two who filed Q2 finance reports have raised a few bucks, but the fact that freshman State Rep. James Talerico had been encouraged to run tells me this one is not at all settled. Elisa Cardnell in CD02 has raised some money and has been campaigning for months now, but Crenshaw has a national profile and a sheen from his Saturday Night Live appearance that he’s doing his best to tarnish but is still there. Julie Oliver is off to a nice start in CD25, but that’s the district of the nine with the weakest overall Dem performance from 2018. I’m still enough of a skeptic to think those numbers matter, too.

(Note also that Bitecofer does not include CD06 in her list. Beto did slightly better there than in CDs 03 and 25, and I personally would be inclined to think it’s a bit more reachable, but as of the Q2 reporting period there wasn’t a candidate yet. Minor details and all that.)

Anyway, I’d say that Dems are in a strong position in CDs 10, 21, 22, 23, and 24, and we’ll see what happens after that. For what it’s worth, just flipping those five seats – and can we take a moment to acknowledge how amazing it is that one can write such a thing and not feel ridiculous about it? – would make the Congressional caucus from Texas 18 Dems and 18 GOPers. That’s not too shabby.

The children will count us

Great idea for something that shouldn’t have to be the case.

Teresa Flores knows the costs of a census undercount as well as anyone.

As the executive director of the Hidalgo County Head Start Program, one of the area’s most underfunded services, she watched low funding after a 2010 undercount cap the program’s maximum enrollment around 3,600 students.

More than 14,000 other children could qualify for the program, Flores estimates, but she barely has enough money to maintain the current level of enrollment — even with additional state grants.

Many of her students come from immigrant and non-English speaking households, two groups that are among the hardest to count in Texas. Though the efforts to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census form failed, she’s spoken with families who still fear inquires into their citizenship. But as someone with a long-established role in the community, Flores said she’s been able to relieve anxieties about sending information to the government and correct misinformation. By herself though, she can’t do that for everyone.

In looking for new approaches to census engagement — ones that residents can trust — the Hidalgo County committee focused on getting a complete count of the area’s population is increasingly targeting its outreach toward an unconventional group of residents: children and teenagers.

“When parents come and sign their children in and out, we’re able to speak with them about their participation,” Flores said. “Children could be the best people to continue those conversations all night long once they get home, and ease those concerns on a long-term basis.”

[…]

Victoria Le isn’t sure whether her parents filled out census forms in 2010. But after working on a complete count campaign at her school, the 18-year-old said she’s making sure they do this time.

Le is a recent graduate of Alief Early College High School in southwest Houston, where she and 15 other students spent months researching new approaches to fighting an undercount and marketing those plans to hard to count residents. Their work was initially regarded by other students as nothing more than a minor passion project, Le said.

Then the group threw its first major event last spring, where students competed for prizes as they learned more about the census and ways to get their families engaged.

“It was just an insane success,” said Jordan Carswell, the program’s director. “When people see half the student body showing up and going completely crazy over census games, they start asking questions. They knew how to get their peers energized, and when you see how passionate they are about it, it’s hard to not to feel the same way.”

Carswell said the campaign came together when Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner asked him to get students involved with census engagement. Alief ISD is part of Houston and Harris County’s joint $4 million effort to achieve an accurate count. There’s also a coalition of more than 50 local nonprofits and organizations working with them to mobilize communities.

I think this is both great and awful. It’s great that there’s such creativity and commitment to getting as full and accurate a Census count as possible. It’s awful that our Legislature refused to offer any help to cities to achieve that. That has left cities like Houston and others to their own devices, because what else can they do? There was a time when everyone agreed that the Census was important, and getting it right was vital to all of our interests. The only way forward from here is to elect more people who still think that way.

Ride sharing for kids

Yet another transportation option.

Los Angeles-based HopSkipDrive, a ride-hailing platform that hires vetted caregivers to drive children 6 and older, is now available in Houston.

“Parents shouldn’t have to choose between their careers and their children’s education and activities, but that tough choice is very real for countless families,” Joanna McFarland, co-founder and CEO of HopSkipDrive, said in a news release. “HopSkipDrive wants parents to take comfort in knowing they have a caregiver to rely on to get their kids where they need to go, safely and without worry.”

Founded in 2014, HopSkipDrive hires drivers with at least five years of caregiving experience and a four-door vehicle no more than 10 years old. Each driver is vetted with a 15-point certification process that includes fingerprinting, background checks using FBI and Department of Justice database searches, driving record checks and in-person meetings.

A mobile app allows parents to book and track the rides. And HopSkipDrive’s Safe Ride Support, staffed with former 911 operators, EMTs, childcare specialists and parents, monitors every ride in real time.

Rides start at $17, which the company said is comparable to the hourly rate of a driving babysitter.

And in addition to helping busy families, HopSkipDrive works with more than 170 schools and districts nationwide to transport students who receive an Individualized Education Program, or IEP, who are homeless or who are in foster care and don’t fit into a bus route.

I’m a little skeptical of that “rides start at $17” bit, as they surely have higher operating costs than Uber and Lyft. What percentage of their rides cost that much, what is the range for more typical rides, what are the factors that go into the price (distance, time of day, etc), and so on. This story from last year, from when HopSkipDrive expanded to San Diego says they’d been in business for four years at that time. They started out as a Southern California operation, but scrolling through their Twitter feed I see they’re now in the DC area and Boulder, CO. I don’t have a need for this service, but I’ll be interested to see if anyone at my kids’ schools talk about using it. Is this something you might use?