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August 14th, 2020:

The Kamala effect

I assume you are all aware that California Sen. Kamala Harris is now the Democratic nominee for Vice President. I didn’t post about that on Wednesday because it was hardly news by the time I published, but there are things to discuss. Pretty much as humidity follows the rain in Houston, we now have several articles about how Harris’ place on the ticket may have an effect on the race in Texas. So let’s take a look and see what we can learn.

From the Trib:

Kamala Harris

“I think Kamala Harris is the perfect choice for the moment,” Abhi Rahman, a spokesman for the Texas Democratic Party, told The Texas Tribune on Wednesday. “She’s the perfect pick for Texas and for this entire country. … A lot of us knew her potential and what she could bring.”

In Harris, Texas Democrats see a winning formula — someone who can excite key members of their electorate but who holds positions that won’t alienate the more moderate voters the party is trying to win over with President Donald Trump on the ballot. The party faithful, still energized by former U.S. Senate candidate Beto O’Rourke’s closer-than-expected margin of defeat in 2018, think that the mainstream Democratic politics shared by both Biden and Harris will give the state the much-needed boost to flip the state blue. Texas hasn’t nominated a Democrat for president since Jimmy Carter in 1976.

[…]

This year the once-reliable Republican stronghold of Texas is approaching swing state status. A June 3 poll by Quinnipiac University gave Trump a 1-percentage-point lead in the state. A July poll by the same university gave Biden a 1 point lead over Trump.

Though Harris’ selection may have eroded any hope for progressives that Biden would choose someone from the Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren-led wing, others in the party are hoping Harris can get more suburban women to the polls and can help hone Biden’s pitch to Black voters, a bloc that needs to turn out in strong numbers if Democrats are going to have a chance in the state.

Harris is the daughter of immigrants; her father is from Jamaica and her mother is from India. By picking her, Democrats argue, Biden may have given the party’s most loyal voters a reason — beyond animosity toward Trump — to work for and elect the ticket.

“The Black, Hispanic and South Asian communities have been engaged in the political process for quite a number of years,” said state Sen. Carol Alvarado, D-Houston. “These communities were largely already there for Biden, but this is going to solidify that support. These communities aren’t just casting votes, but they’re going to get out there and work.”

Along similar lines, here’s the Chron:

“For Texas, there is not a better pick,” said Mustafa Tameez, a Democratic strategist in Houston.

“She has a multicultural background,” Tameez said. “Having someone who can authentically speak to those populations in the suburbs is going to create momentum. Having somebody like that on the ticket automatically jump starts it.”

Political scientists say Democrats are probably right about the boost Harris can provide in the suburbs, even though she may not excite progressives in the state who were crucial to elevating O’Rourke’s 2018 campaign and mobilizing younger voters in general in Texas.

Harris, who is the daughter of immigrants, could be especially effective in areas like Fort Bend County, one of the biggest and fastest growing counties in the state, where more than 28 percent of the population is foreign born and more than 20 percent are Asian-American.

“By selecting someone who isn’t overwhelmingly identified with the most progressive wing of the party, Biden’s pick can technically appeal to both sets of voters — moderate whites and moderate white women who may be considering the Democratic party, and people of color in Texas,” said Joshua Blank, research director at the University of Texas at Austin’s Texas Politics Project.

Harris also could appeal to minority voters who make up the bulk of the Democrats’ base in Texas — both the Asian-Americans who are driving much of the growth of the state’s suburbs, and with Black women who “have been the base and buckle of the Democratic party,” said Michael O. Adams, a political scientist at Texas Southern University

“There’s a lot of energy there,” Adams said.

[…]

Harris addresses the biggest concern that Democrats had coming out of 2016, when a record 137.5 million Americans voted in the presidential election.

But data from the Pew Research Center shows that while almost every demographic group saw a corresponding boost in turnout, black turnout declined for the first time in 20 years, falling from 66.6 percent in 2012 to 59.6 percent in 2016.

In the battleground states of Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania there was a huge drop-off in turnout among women of color who previously voted for President Barack Obama, said Aimee Allison, founder of She The People, a California-based group that has been pushing Democrats to more genuinely address issues of importance to women of color. All three of those states wound up voting for Donald Trump, paving his way to the White House.

“Women of color are one of the largest and most influential Democratic constituencies — and no candidate can win the nomination or the White House without us,” Allison said earlier this year.

In 2019, Allison organized the first She The People rally in Houston at Texas Southern University, an ode to former Houston Congresswoman Barbara Jordan. That event put Harris and other early Democratic contenders for the White House before an audience of mostly women of color in an early test of who could connect with that critical base of voters.

For Harris, it would be one of three stops at Texas Southern University while she tried to build momentum in Texas — a state where her campaign never gained traction despite those early forays into Houston.

Still those trips illustrated Harris’ ties to historically Black colleges and universities. Harris is a graduate of Howard University and a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha, a Black sorority with 300,000 members and more than 1,000 local chapters.

“Things like this resonate well in the Black community and the Black electorate,” said Adams at TSU.

A lot of opinions, but not a lot of data. It’s really hard to say what the actual effect of Kamala Harris as the VP candidate as opposed to any of the other possible candidates may be. She has her strengths and her drawbacks, but overall and in many ways looks to be a big positive for the ticket. The main job of any VP nominee is to first do no harm, and then from there to be the most effective voice for the Presidential nominee that one can be. I appreciated the insights that Morgan State poli sci professor Jason Johnson gave in this episode of the What Next podcast. I tend to agree with the position that Donald Trump will have the biggest effect on the election, because the election is entirely about Donald Trump. I think Harris advances the argument that a vote for Biden (now Biden/Harris) is a vote to restore sanity and stability in America, and I’m confident she will be an outstanding campaigner. That’ll play just fine in Texas.

There is another factor to consider.

On a quiet street in Bellaire, the Sinha sisters, in seventh and fifth grade, already know all about the historic nomination of Sen. Kamala Harris as the Vice President on the Democratic ticket.

“I think that Kamala Harris has inspired young women like me that we can do anything we put our minds to,” 10-year-old Anisa Sinha said.

“Kamala, she comes from a culture that really celebrates the strength of powerful women,” said older sister Reva, who is heading into seventh grade. “I just feel like she helps me and other young women feel seen and heard.”

The girls’ parents smile with pride hearing those words from their daughters. As Indian Americans, the fact that a child of Jamaican and Indian immigrants is nominated for the second highest office in the country is a point of pride.

“I think the intersection of her being Black and Asian is really important,” said Pranika, the girls’ mother. “Not only is she a woman of color, but the fact that she is representing two populations that are historically underrepresented in politics is really important. My great aunt’s name is Kamala, so I identify with that as well.”

Meanwhile, Judge R.K. Sandill, the first civil district judge of South Asian descent elected in Texas, shares the same sense of hope.

“If my Twitter and Facebook feed is any indication, the South Asian community is pumped,” he said. “We’ve been huge (monetary) contributors to both parties for a long time. But now that we’re on a track to engage, not just with activists, but also for our kids.”

Sandill remembers when he first ran for office 13 years ago, South Asian candidates were almost unheard of in Texas. Now, there are several other judges from his community, and the Fort Bend County Judge, K.P. George, is Indian American.

Harris’ background could increase voter turnout in November, and could possibly make a difference in a few tight races down the ballot.

“In a diverse state like Texas, she brings a lot to the table,” political consultant Keir Murray said. “Texas has more Black voters than any state in America, more than 1.5 million. And she’s South Asian, and the Asian American population is the fastest growing and most politically dynamic in Texas.”

In fact, as Michael Li notes, Texas is home to over 700K Asian voters, more than double what any other battleground state has. Asian-Americans voted strongly Democratic in 2018, so if there is a boost in turnout with them thanks to Kamala Harris, that will be a benefit as well. That might be a good topic for some political scientists to look into, now and after the election once the voting results are in. We know she has a lot of strengths as a candidate. Now we look forward to seeing her use them.

Now we’re getting favorable State House polls

From the inbox:

Natali Hurtado

A recent poll of Texas House District 126, conducted for Democratic challenger Natali Hurtado’s campaign shows her essentially tied with Republican incumbent Sam Harless.

The poll of 401 likely voters, conducted by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner, showed Hurtado trailing Harless by just a few points on the initial ballot test, within the poll’s 4.9% margin of error. After hearing balanced positive and negative messages about both candidates, Hurtado pulls to a dead heat, 47-47 percent.

The poll shows Donald Trump leading Joe Biden by just one point, 48-47 percent, in a district he won by 10 points in 2016.

“I am very encouraged by the results of this poll,” Hurtado said. “It shows that less than three months out from the election, we are surging and well positioned for victory on November 3rd.”

You can see a copy of the press release here. I have no further information about the poll, so make of it what you will. I do have a point to add, but first, have a look at this:

Click over to see further data on how the districts have shifted since 2012. The source for this tweet was these three tweets from Trib reporter Patrick Svitek. In those polls, Celina Montoya leads 49-42 in HD121, Brandy Chambers leads in HD112 48-46, and Joanna Cattanach leads in HD108 48-43.

Beto won all three districts in 2018, HD108 by 15, HD112 by ten, and HD121 by less than one. He lost HD126 by six points, while Trump carried it by ten. Other Republicans were winning it by twenty. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, if Joe Biden is trailing him by one point there, that’s yet another clear sign we have a statewide tossup.

Later on, after I first drafted this post, we got this in the inbox as well:

Ann Johnson, the Democratic nominee for Texas House District 134 is already posting a narrow lead over incumbent Republican Sarah Davis, according to a new poll released today by the Johnson campaign.

The poll of likely voters was conducted by nationally acclaimed pollster Celinda Lake of Lake Research Partners. A memo by Lake Research Partners can be downloaded here: www.AnnJohnson.com/poll.

It shows Johnson with 44 percent of votes and Davis with 42 percent of votes, with 13 percent of votes undecided. The margin of error is +/- 4.9 percent. Only 27 percent of voters say they plan to re-elect Davis, “one of the lowest ‘hard re-elect’ ratings we have seen this cycle,” according to Lake Research.

There is of course a Patrick Svitek tweet for this as well. The Biden number is 57-39 over Trump; it was 55-40 for Clinton over Trump in 2016, and 60-39 for Beto over Cruz in 2018. Facing an opponent with money and a real campaign with that backdrop, it’s hard to see how Sarah Davis survives.

You know the drill with internal polls, and with polls where the questions and detailed data are not made public. You also know that the Republicans are free to release their own polls, if they have any worth releasing. I’m happy to keep reporting these as long as they keep coming in.

Harris County to join TDP lawsuit over vote by mail

They do lots of stuff at Commissioners Court.

Harris County Commissioners Court voted on Tuesday to join a lawsuit by Texas Democrats suing Gov. Greg Abbott to expand vote-by-mail in Texas.

The Democratic-led commissioners court voted 3-2 to join the lawsuit. The litigation seeks to allow all Texas voters to cast a mail-in ballot during the pandemic, arguing that absentee ballot restrictions in Texas violate the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the U.S. Constitution. Texas Democrats filed the suit against Abbott and the Texas Secretary of State in April.

[…]

Democrats attempted to leapfrog over the appeals court by asking the U.S. Supreme Court to intervene before the July primary runoff elections, but the justices declined to do so until a decision by the lower appeals court was reached. The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals is expected to revisit the case sometime this month.

See here for the most recent update that I have, and here for a tweet from Chron reporter Jasper Scherer, which is the only other place I’ve seen this noted. It’s unclear to me what difference it makes from a practical perspective for Harris County to join in, but from a political and symbolic perspective it means a lot. Let’s do hope we hear something from the Fifth Circuit soon.

Hurricane season is just getting started

Just, you know, because we don’t have enough to be anxious about.

Already smashing records, this year’s hyperactive Atlantic hurricane season is about to get even nastier, forecasters predict. In the coming months, they expect to run out of traditional hurricane names and see about twice as much storm activity as a normal year.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration on Thursday upped its seasonal forecast, now predicting a far-above-average 19 to 25 named storms — seven to 11 of them to become hurricanes and three to six of those to become major hurricanes with winds of at least 111 mph (178 kph). That’s a few more storms than the agency’s May forecast. The agency increased the chance of an above average hurricane season from 60% to 85%.

“It looks like this season could be one of the more active in the historical record,” but it’s unlikely to be beat 2005’s 28 named storms because the oceans were warmer and other conditions were more conducive to storm formation 15 years ago, said NOAA lead forecaster Gerry Bell.

This year’s forecast of up to 25 is the highest number NOAA has ever predicted, beating the 21 predicted for 2005, Bell said.

Colorado State University, which pioneered hurricane season forecasts decades ago, on Wednesday amped its forecast to 24 named storms, 12 hurricanes and 5 major hurricanes — all higher than their June forecast.

[…]

An average year, based on 1981 to 2010 data, is 12 named storms, six hurricanes and three major hurricanes. Lead Colorado State forecaster Phil Klotzbach said all the factors that cause hurricane seasons to be busy are dialed up, including increased storminess in Africa that seeds the biggest hurricanes, warmer water that fuels storms and reduced high level winds that kill storms.

In a normal year, about 90% of storm activity comes after August 6, with mid-August to mid-October as peak season. So far this year, there have been nine named storms, with most setting a record for being early. The most destructive so far has been this month’s Hurricane Isaias which killed at least nine people and left millions of people without power.

“Nine storms to this date is crazy,” Klotzbach said. Since 1995, when the Atlantic started a more active period for hurricanes, the average season has seen 12 named storms forming after August 5, he said.

The number of storms don’t matter as much as where they go, MIT meteorology professor Kerry Emanuel said, noting the busy 2010 hurricane season that barely touched the United States.

While the predictions are about the number of storms and don’t say where they strike, Klotzbach’s forecast says more storms increases the chance of another U.S. landfall. It says there’s a 74% chance that yet another storm will hit the U.S. coastline somewhere, with a 49% chance of a hit on the East Coast and Florida peninsula and a 48% chance of a hit on the Gulf Coast.

Most of this year’s storms so far have been weak, decapitated by high level winds and dry air, but Klotzbach said that’s about to change.

Sea surface temperatures in the eastern Atlantic are nearly 2 degrees (1 degree Celsius) warmer than normal. That not only provides more fuel for storms but changes air pressure and winds to make favorable conditions for storms to form and strengthen, he said.

You can see the NOAA’s release here. Just a reminder, 2005 was the fun year that brought us Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, among others. As noted, it’s not the number of hurricanes but where they go and what they do that really matters. Then again, the more hurricanes there are, the greater the chances that one will come your way. Who feels any confidence in Donald Trump’s FEMA to respond when that happens? Yeah. Stock up on supplies, have an evacuation plan just in case, and hope like hell these storms mostly blow out at sea.