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November 29th, 2019:

Texas GOP accidentally releases its 2020 strategy

Oops.

In a bizarre political blunder, a document laying out the Republican Party of Texas’s election strategy for the 2020 elections has ended up in the hands of Texas Democrats. Attacking Democratic candidates through websites and mitigating “the polarizing nature” of President Donald Trump are part of the plan.

The document — called a draft for initial discussion by the Texas GOP Party chair — was titled “Primary/General Election 2020 [Draft]” and began showing up in Democratic emails Monday evening.

It includes a target list of 12 statehouse districts, including six in North Texas, that Republicans are aiming to take back in next year’s elections. Negative attacks through websites, and highlighting diverse Republicans to counter a “narrative driven by Democrats” about the GOP’s lack of diversity are also part of the strategy.

Republican targets in North Texas are Dallas County Democratic Reps. Ana-Maria Ramos, Terry Meza, Rhetta Bowers, John Turner and Julie Johnson, as well as Denton County Rep. Michelle Beckley.

“Starting after the Primary, the RPT will generate microsites for negative hits against the Democrat candidates in our twelve target race—we expect each microsite to be roughly $500,” the document reads. “We will then begin rolling out these websites, prioritizing the races that were within 4% in the 2018 election.”

[…]

Many of the strategies in the plan, like identifying targets and setting up negative attack websites, are not uncommon in politics. But their public disclosure — especially if that disclosure is unwanted or embarrassing — and the level of detail that became public is unusual.

The document lays out a plan to purchase online domain names affiliated with the names of Democratic candidates so that Republicans can reroute them to the negative attack websites.

“For example, we will purchase ZwienerforTexas.com, ZwienerforTX.com, and so on,” the document reads.

Democratic Rep. Erin Zwiener of Driftwood is among the other six House members on the list. The others are Reps. Vikki Goodwin and John Bucy of Austin, James Talarico of Round Rock, Gina Calanni of Katy and Jon Rosenthal of Houston.

The document says Republicans will audit search engine optimization results to make sure that the negative attack websites are on the front pages of various search engines and work with other stakeholders — such as Texans for Greg Abbott, the governor’s campaign arm — “to get any more insight on issues that matter to these districts.”

The target list isn’t a surprise, and the online strategies are fairly common. Every serious candidate, and for sure every elected official, should buy up all the variants of their name as domains to keep them out of enemy hands. This isn’t new – I mean, David Dewhurst was the victim of a domain squatter way back when he first ran for Lite Guv in 2002. At least now Democrats are on notice they need to do this if they hadn’t already. The good news is that there should be more than enough resources to anticipate and address these needs. And putting my professional hat on for a minute, for crying out loud please please please make sure there are cybersecurity specialists on the payroll. You don’t need to be Fort Knox, but you very much do need to use multi-factor authentication and make sure your patches are current.

We could go on, but you get the point. The real value in all this is the reminder that the Internet is dark and full of terrors, and forewarned is forearmed. No excuses, y’all.

One more thing:

“Given the polarizing nature of the President, I suspect some Republicans will refuse to turnout during the General Election because they don’t want to vote for him – though I don’t know that we will know what this universe would look like without us or a stakeholder creating a model,” the document reads. “Regardless, I suggest we set up a contingency budget to target these folks with mailers, digital ads, and texts to encourage them to turnout for U.S. Senate, State Senate, State House, and so on.”

It is unclear who the “I” in the document refers to.

The plan also identifies the Republican-led elimination of straight ticket voting as “one of the biggest challenges ahead of the 2020 cycle.” To address that, the plan details an effort to convince Republican voters to vote for GOP candidates all the way down the ballot manually through a tagline. Some of the potential taglines include: “Vote Right All the Way Down!” “Vote Right To The Bottom!” and “Vote RIGHT Down the Ballot!”

I’ve written way too much about straight ticket voting and how ridiculous it has always been for the pundit class to assume that the lack of straight ticket voting in the future would spell doom for Democrats. No less an authority than the Republican Party of Texas agrees with me on that. If I had a mike, it would be hitting the floor right now. The Chron, the Texas Signal, the Current, and Political Animal have more.

Trib overview of CD28

It’s going to be an interesting race. I have no idea what will happen, and anyone who says with any confidence that they know is suspicious to me, but we will learn something from it, however it goes.

Rep. Henry Cuellar

Not many people understand South Texas.

It’s one of the handful of blue pockets in the state, but unlike the others, it’s not clustered in an urban center. The congressional districts that represent it encompass small border cities and ranch lands alike. Like other heavily Hispanic areas, the number of young voters grows each election, and what that means for the Democratic Party is uncertain.

But a spirited primary campaign in the district long held by U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, a moderate Democrat from Laredo, could test if and how the politics of the area are changing. Cuellar, who has served in Congress since 2004, isn’t too different from the other Democrats who represent the Rio Grande Valley in Washington and Austin. But now he’s facing a challenge from a former intern who is running on a progressive platform.

Jessica Cisneros, a 26-year-old immigration attorney, has pushed for proposals like “Medicare for All,” gun control and the Green New Deal. Cuellar has argued that those ideas don’t align with the beliefs of the district and that the bulk of Cisneros’ support comes from people outside the region. The race has become one of the most closely watched in the country early in the primary season.

Jessica Cisneros

Texas’ 28th Congressional District spans from western Hidalgo County, right outside the McAllen city limits, and up north to Laredo and the eastern San Antonio suburbs. In 2016, it went to Hillary Clinton by 20 percentage points, and former U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke won it by similar margins in the 2018 Senate election.

Cisneros said that’s evidence that dispels the myth that South Texas is conservative, and even more reason a right-leaning Democrat, or “Trump’s favorite Democrat,” as Cisneros calls Cuellar, should be replaced with a more progressive representative.

“I haven’t had a single person disagree with me in terms of my policies,” Cisneros said. “It’s not surprising to me to see folks super shocked that somebody who is running for office is at their doorsteps. There are people who simply respect that I’m putting the effort.”

Cuellar declined to comment for this story.

Both candidates have pointed to the other’s financial support as a sign that their opponents are out of touch with the district.

Cuellar has received money from the National Rifle Association, a political action committee associated with Koch Industries and the GEO Group, the private prison company that funds migrant shelters where several migrants have died. But he also takes in a large sum of money from donors within the district — and has tried to portray Cisneros’ support as largely driven by outsiders.

Few of Cisneros’ reportable donations come locally, which the Cuellar campaign has been quick to point out.

See here for the most recent finance reports. If you’ve read me for any length of time, you know I’m no fan of Henry Cuellar. I just don’t know if Jessica Cisneros is the candidate that can beat him. She’s done all right on fundraising, but if her donors are largely from outside the district – likely from mostly outside the state – then I’m not sure how much that means. I can believe she’s working the district, but Cuellar isn’t an absentee like some vulnerable-to-primary members have been. If I had to bet I’d put my money on Cuellar, but we live in weird times and I don’t feel any confidence in trying to guess what might happen. I just don’t know what to expect.

Runoff endorsement watch: Revisiting races

Most of the candidates that the Chron endorsed for November either won their races or made it to the runoff. A few fell short, which leaves a bit of unfinished business for them. They have since addressed that, in the three races where they needed to pick a new favorite. In District D, they went with Brad Jordan.

Brad Jordan

Twenty-five years ago, when Brad Jordan was making hits as a rapper called “Scarface,” it’s unlikely that he ever thought about being in a runoff election for Houston City Council. Celebrity alone didn’t bring Jordan this far. The longtime community activist has proved his concern for the District D neighborhoods where he grew up is genuine.

The editorial board didn’t recommend Jordan, 48, in the general election. Our choice was Rashad Cave, whose experience as the city Department of Neighborhood’s liaison to City Council was an asset. Jordan, though, has his own intangibles. He hasn’t just lived in District D, which stretches south from Midtown to Beltway 8; he has sincerely tried to improve it.

[…]

Also making the runoff to replace current District Councilman Dwight Boykins is Carolyn Evans-Shabazz, chairwoman of the Houston Community College Board of Trustees. Boykins ran unsuccessfully for mayor instead of seeking reelection.

Evans-Shabazz’s work on the trustee board could be helpful on another deliberative body like City Council. Jordan’s grassroots work in District D, however, suggests he would speak louder for voices that too often get lost when competing in a district that also includes tony neighborhoods, the Texas Medical Center, the University of Houston and Texas Southern University.

My interview with Brad Jordan is here, my interview with Carolyn Evans-Shabazz is here, and my comment on the original endorsement is here. The Chron usually leans towards the establishment, so this choice is a little unexpected, but it’s easy enough to understand.

In At Large #4, they went with Letitia Plummer.

Letitia Plummer

In many ways, Letitia Plummer embodies the diversity of Houston.

She hails from ground-breakers in the African American community. Her grandfather was one of the first African American judges in Texas, her grandmother a long-time educator at Wheatley High School, and her mother is an immigrant from Yemeni, reflecting the demographics of a city where one in four residents is foreign-born.

That gives the Houston native and candidate for City Council At-Large Position 4 valuable insight into the needs of Houston communities that often lack a voice at the table.

Plummer’s 20 years as a private-practice dentist also helps her understand the challenges facing Houston’s small business owners and the role entrepreneurs play in the city’s economy.

Plummer, 49, has also worked on political campaigns and successfully lobbied the Texas Legislature regarding adoption and surrogacy rights and was on the small business task force of Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign.

Her experience and her connections to the community give her a considerable edge over opponent Anthony Dolcefino, a 22-year-old college student and the son of former TV investigative reporter Wayne Dolcefino. Her candidacy promises to give Houston’s diverse communities a representative on City Council.

They had endorsed Nick Hellyar the first time around. I didn’t interview Plummer for this race, but I did interview her in 2018 when she ran for CD22. I had expected several of the candidates who didn’t make it through the Congressional races from that cycle to take a look at Houston City Council this year, but Plummer was the only one who did, and look at her now. She’s the clear choice in this race.

And in HISD II, they went with Kathy Blueford Daniels.

Kathy Blueford Daniels

Blueford-Daniels is running to represent District II on the HISD board. She is our choice in the runoff election against candidate John Curtis Gibbs, currently the outreach coordinator for City Councilman Michael Kubosh.

The 62-year-old former postal worker and community activist is a graduate of Wheatley and understands the opportunities a quality education provides. She also understands the perils that come when kids fall through the cracks.

Her community activism and desire to make a difference in the lives of Houston’s children were forged by the pain of her son’s death in 2006.

“The person who killed my son was a dropout,” she said. “He was on drugs; he saw no way out. We can’t let our kids go that way.”

If elected, Blueford-Daniels said she will do what’s right for students and make sure the community’s voice is represented on the board of trustees. If the state appoints a board of managers — a move that will strip the board of trustees’ of its authority — she said she will use her elected position to advocate for students and the community before the board of managers.

Here was the original endorsement. I’ve interviewed Blueford Daniels twice before, both times when she ran for District B – here’s 2011 and here’s 2013. She’s a good person and especially given her opponent’s cheearleading of the TEA takeover she’d be a good advocate on the HISD Board.

Day One Runoff 2019 EV totals: Wait, there was early voting?

Did you vote on that bonus early voting day on Wednesday, the day before Thanksgiving? Nine thousand four hundred and ninety people did – you can see the day one EV report here. For comparison, the final November 2019 EV totals are here, the final November 2015 EV totals are here, and the final December runoff EV totals from 2015 are here. I’ll wait till the Monday numbers come in before I start making a table for daily comparisons, as there were basically no mail ballots returned for this haul.

You may have noticed that the day one in person vote for the runoff was higher than the day one in person vote from November. The overall vote was greater in November because of mail ballots, but more people showed up at the polls on Wednesday than on October 21. That’s a little weird, because the November election included the rest of Harris County, while the runoff is Houston/HISD/HCC/Bellaire only. The same thing happened in 2015, though, so maybe it’s not that weird. Runoff voters are more hardcore, and there are fewer EV days available in the runoff. If nothing else, it showed that the extra day was indeed useful, even if all it did was shift people from Monday. I’ll be tracking the early vote through the runoff as usual.