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October 22nd, 2022:

UT/Texas Politics Project: Abbott 54, Beto 43

Not great.

With in-person early voting set to begin in Texas on October 24, the latest University of Texas/Texas Politics Project poll finds Gov. Greg Abbott leading Democratic challenger Beto O’Rourke in the gubernatorial race, 54%-43%, among Texans likely to vote in the 2022 election. While more than half of Republican voters say immigration and border security is the most important issue area informing their vote, Democratic voters’ attention is divided among a list of several issues, topped by abortion.

The poll surveyed 1,200 self-declared registered voters using the internet from October 7-17 and has a margin of error of +/- 2.83 for the full sample. From among this overall sample, likely voters were defined as those respondents who indicated that they have voted in every election in the past 2-3 years; or those respondents who rated their likelihood to vote in the November elections on a 10-point scale as a 9 or a 10. This likely voter screen yielded a pool of 883 likely voters, with a margin of error of +/- 3.3% for the full likely voter sample.

Beyond the two major party candidates, Green Party Candidate Delilah Barrios and the Libertarian Party’s Mark Tippets each earned 1% support while 2% preferred an unspecified “someone else.”

[…]

The results among likely voters found Republican candidates maintaining wide leads in the five other major races for statewide office. In all of the trial ballots, including for governor, undecided, but likely, voters were asked whom they would choose if forced to make a decision. All results for the trial ballots report the results of the initial question combined with this “forced” response. (The poll summary reports the share of voters who expressed no preference in the initial question in each race.)

Lt. Governor. Incumbent Dan Patrick led Democratic challenger Mike Collier, 51%-36%, in their rematch of the 2018 race.

Attorney General. Incumbent Republican Ken Paxton leads Democrat Rochelle Garza 51%-37%.

Comptroller of Public Accounts. Two-term incumbent Republican Glenn Hegar leads Democrat Janet Dudding 47%-35%.

Agriculture Commissioner. Incumbent Sid Miller leads Democrat Susan Hayes 51%-39%.

Land Commissioner. Republican State Senator Dawn Buckingham leads Democrat Jay Kleberg 47%-36%.

The generic ballots for the U.S. House of Representatives and the Texas legislature also revealed continuing advantages for Republican candidates: Republicans lead 53%-44% in the generic ballot for the U.S. House of Representatives, and 53%-42% for the Texas legislature.

This is upsetting mostly because the August poll had Abbott up by only five and had shown a slight but steady drift towards Beto over time. The one caveat here is that the previous polls were of the full registered voters sample, and this is of “likely voters”, which is about three-fourths of the original. It’s not a direct comparison as a result, though of course the pollsters will have done what they think is best to reflect the electorate accurately. If they provided numbers for the full sample in October, I didn’t see them.

The October poll data is here and the August data is here. The underlying atmosphere has not changed in any significant way. Biden’s approval was 40-52 in August and it’s 39-52 in October (the approval numbers are still based on the full sample in each case). Abbott went from 46-44 to 47-44. Dan Patrick and Ken Paxton were actually slightly worse in October, going from 38-37 to 37-39 for Patrick and from 37-38 to 36-39 for Paxton. Either a lot of people changed their minds or that likely voter screen is a big difference maker.

I’ve put my faith in the “the screen is too tight” beliefs before without much success, so I don’t want to go overboard here. If these numbers are accurate, they don’t bode well for Harris County either, suggesting Beto might end up with 52 to 54 percent. At the high end, as I’ve said before, I’d still feel pretty confident about Harris County Dems. Less than that, and I would expect Republicans to win at least some races. Maybe this year is another inflection point, and maybe the dip in the gap between Harris and the state that we saw in 2020 following years of games will not be a one off. No way to know until we start to see some real numbers.

The poll also includes this demographic breakdown in the vote:

White/Anglo: Abbott 64%, O’Rourke 32%
Hispanic: O’Rourke 48%, Abbott 48%
Black: O’Rourke 86%, Abbott 11%

Those are the strongest numbers Beto has had for Black voters in awhile. They’re not great for white voters – compare to the Marist poll, for example, which had Abbott leading Beto by a much smaller 57-37 margin among those voters – and this is another poll that has Beto with no advantage among Hispanic voters; note that was also true in the Marist poll. We saw a great disparity in Hispanic preferences in the 2020 polls, and in the end the ones that showed a smaller lead for Dems were more accurate. I don’t know what else to say here.

I will add that we saw one more poll result released yesterday, from the Democratic AG’s Association (DAGA), which claimed Rochelle Garza was trailing Ken Paxton by two points, 48-46. That linked poll memo is the entire thing – no Beto/Abbott numbers, no Biden approval numbers, no crosstabs, nothing – and it’s basically an internal poll, so maintain a higher level of skepticism for this one. I will note the following from the memo:

The survey was conducted between October 12th-16th using live calls to landlines, SMS text-to-web and live calls to cell phones, and an online panel. The sample includes 879 registered voters and is weighted to reflect a likely 2022 Texas general electorate. The margin of error is +/- 3.24% at a 95% confidence interval.

The results of the survey show that when asked who they’ll vote for as Attorney General and Texas undecided voters are allocated to a candidate, Paxton is only ahead by 2 points, within the margin of error for the survey, landing at 48% Paxton, 46% Garza, with 6% of voters say they’re voting for Libertarian Mark Ash in the AG race.

Another “likely voter” result, though with less detail. They also seemingly pushed the initial non-respondents into picking a side, which I had initially frowned at but I guess if the UT/TPP folks can do it, they can too.

Harris County asks for federal vote monitors

I agree with this.

Houston and Harris County officials are asking the U.S. Department of Justice’s civil rights division to send monitors to assist in the upcoming November election in response to a letter the county received from the Texas secretary of state’s office this week informing it that state election observers would be monitoring the county’s election and vote tally.

The request to the federal agency was sent Thursday by County Judge Lina Hidalgo, County Attorney Christian Menefee and Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner.

In a statement, Menefee questioned the state’s intentions in sending election monitors to the county.

“We cannot allow unwarranted disruptions in our election process to intimidate our election workers or erode voters’ trust in the election process,” Menefee said. “As the county attorney, I will be at central count on Election Night, ensuring outside forces do not interfere with our elections. I hope the Department of Justice will be there, too.”

[…]

In response to the local leaders’ request for federal election monitors, the secretary of state’s office said in a statement that suggestions made by local leaders were a “cynical distortion of the law.”

The office reiterated that its decision to send monitors to Harris County was a matter of routine.

“The Texas secretary of state’s office has sent election inspectors to Harris County every year and has never before seen a request for the Department of Justice to ‘monitor the monitors,’” the statement said. “This request is based on a completely false premise and misunderstanding of Texas election law and is being used to spread false information about the actual duties of our election inspectors — dedicated public servants who will be present in Harris County to observe only and to ensure transparency in the election process from beginning to end.”

Mary Benton, the mayor’s communications director, said: “Mayor Turner welcomes a discussion with the U.S. Department of Justice. He is confident that if they send election monitors to Harris County, they will operate effectively to ensure that no registered voter’s rights are trampled on as they attempt to cast a ballot legally.”

See here for the background. I don’t care if the SOS is miffed about this, but even if we take them at their word there’s still the Attorney General’s “task force”, which absolutely cannot be trusted and needs to be watched like a tachyon in a particle accelerator. This was absolutely the right move. Reform Austin and the Texas Signal have more.

Two DeSantis updates

From the Express News:

Top aides to Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis were directly involved in arranging chartered flights that took 48 South Americans from San Antonio to Martha’s Vineyard last month, records show.

Texts from Larry Keefe, DeSantis’ public safety czar, and the governor’s chief of staff, James Uthmeier, show Keefe was in San Antonio making arrangements more than a week before the Sept. 14 flights. They also show he was operating with Uthmeier’s knowledge and approval.

Keefe, a former U.S. attorney in north Florida, was on the ground in San Antonio on the day of the two flights and apparently was on one of them, at least for the first leg of the journey, the records show. The flights took off from Kelly Field and stopped briefly in the Florida Panhandle before continuing on to Martha’s Vineyard, a resort island off the coast of Massachusetts.

More than a week before the flights, Keefe texted Uthmeier that he was “back out here” in San Antonio.

“Very good,” Uthmeier texted back on Sept. 5. “You have my full support. Call anytime.”

“Copy. Thanks,” Keefe replied.

The newly released documents include nearly 150 pages of text messages, photos of migrants boarding the chartered aircraft and waivers in which they purportedly agreed to be transported from Texas to Massachusetts. The signatures of the migrants — dated Sept. 13 — were blacked out. Some of them listed Venezuela and Peru as countries of origin.

[…]

The raft of documents was released by the DeSantis administration after the Express-News and other news organizations requested public records related to the flights. The involvement of Keefe and Uthmeier was first reported by Florida news organizations and Politico.

The records include photos showing that a Bexar County Sheriff’s Office patrol vehicle was on-site when the migrants boarded the planes at Kelly Field. The sheriff’s office acknowledged Monday that a deputy was at the scene.

The deputy was off-duty and had been hired to provide security for the operation with a luggage-sniffing K9, a sheriff’s official said. Deputies are permitted to take on after-hours jobs to earn extra income. The deputy has told his supervisors that he — like the migrants — was misled about the purpose of the flights and his role, the official said.

The deputy is now a witness in the sheriff’s investigation into whether the organizers of the flights committed any crimes in Bexar County.

In a statement to the Express-News, the sheriff’s office said: “We are aware a deputy was at the scene. Early in the investigation, this deputy came forward with information he witnessed which corroborated some of the information supplied by many of the migrants. He is considered a cooperating witness in the case and is not suspected of any wrongdoing at this time.”

Sheriff Javier Salazar said last week that information gathered so far by investigators suggests the migrants may have been victims of “unlawful restraint.” The Texas Penal Code defines unlawful restraint as controlling the movements of another person through force, intimidation or deception — including by transporting the person from one place to another.

See here, here, and here for some background. I don’t know what will ultimately come out of this – Sheriff Salazar has said that DeSantis himself is not under investigation, so the ceiling here is not that high – but at least we’re getting a fuller picture of what did happen. It’s funny how secretive and cloak-and-daggery these guys are about something they otherwise like to brag about. In a story from late last week Sheriff Salazar says he has identified some potential suspects, so perhaps in the near future we’ll get the rest of the story, at least as it is now known. Link via the Current.

From TPM:

Perla Huerta, the woman running the recruitment operation in San Antonio, is an employee of Vertol systems, the military contractor the DeSantis administration hired to run its flights. Huerta was only weeks out of the Army, in which she had served for 20 years. The DeSantis operation was apparently her first assignment working for Vertol. There were several other Vertol employees, most or all retired military, also overseeing the operation in Houston. At Vertol the operation was overseen by top executive Candice Wahowski, an Air Force veteran who had been a military police officer in the Air Force. Wahoswki was also on location in San Antonio. Many of the migrants recruited in San Antonio had met with her.

Much of the article is based on the story of “Emmanuel,” another Venezuelan migrant Huerta hired to help her recruit. In one of the many telling details, she paid him in cash in what amounted to dead drops — money stashed behind dumpsters which he was to retrieve as his compensation.

“The money is going to be in the Bill Miller [restaurant] near your house. It’s going to be behind the dumpster outside in a white envelope.”

Around the whole operation there was a climate of secrecy enforced by Vertol — no recording devices that could capture the voices or images of Vertol employees and so forth. Former employees said the whole company is tinged by an air of paranoia and secrecy. It was this which warned some of the migrants off, fearing that they were being snared in some kind of government operation, which of course was precisely what was happening.

In a notable irony, as Perla and her crew quickly closed down their operation as the flights became a national story, they had a plane ticket to Florida for Emmanuel to get him out of town ahead of any investigation. In other words, the state of Florida ended up footing the bill for Venezuelan asylum seeker Emmanuel’s flight to Florida, the kind of Texas-to-Florida trip DeSantis’s operation was notionally aimed at preventing. A short time later Emmanuel returned to Texas to cooperate with the Bexar County sheriff’s ongoing investigation.

All that is summarized from a Miami Herald story. Again, the spy-versus-spy nature of all this – seriously, using a Bill Miller Barbecue dumpster as a dead drop – is so absurd that it couldn’t possibly fly as fiction, because no one would believe it. I mean, Carl Hiassen writes for the Herald, and he would have thought twice about such a plot detail. It’s precisely because of these comic attempts at secrecy that I’m convinced there’s some actual wrongdoing in there somewhere, just because normal people going about normal business don’t do that kind of thing. It’s time-consuming, easy to screw up, and you look ridiculous when other people hear about it. If there isn’t something there that’s worth covering up then these people are even weirder than I can imagine. Daily Kos has more.

UPDATE: The hits just keep on coming.

Endorsement watch: Dudding and Warford

The Chron endorses Janet Dudding for Comptroller.

Janet Dudding

In 2005, Janet Dudding found herself mucking out her home in Bay St. Louis-Waveland, Mississippi, after Hurricane Katrina sent a 32-foot storm surge across the town.

“The first time I cried was when the Red Cross truck came around,” she told the editorial board. “I’m supposed to be the one giving help. There I was going to get a hot meal because there is no electricity, no streetlights, no water.”

That experience — and the city’s struggle to get back on its feet financially — had a profound impact on Dudding and is among the reasons she is running for Texas comptroller as a Democrat against the Republican incumbent, Glenn Hegar.

Trained as a lawyer and formerly a state legislator known for pursuing abortion restrictions, Hegar was first elected as comptroller in 2014. In his 2018 re-election bid, this board endorsed Hegar, 51, for keeping “his head down and focused on his job” instead of pandering to primary voters. Sadly, we can’t say the same four years later. Now he appears more interested in attracting national headlines and preparing for the next stage of his political career.

We urge voters to elect Dudding, 63, an actual certified public accountant running to be the state’s accountant. She says her main objective would be holding government accountable to people, not special interests. That’s the job we want done, and she has 35 years experience running audits, administering teams and leading investigations to show she can do it.

I was thinking about that earlier endorsement as I read this. The 2018 version of Glenn Hegar had a good argument that he was a down-the-middle public servant doing his job in a normal way. The 2022 version of Hegar isn’t in the same ZIP code as that argument, and it’s not just for the more recent aggressions against Harris County, either. The Chron has some more examples of things I’d forgotten about or not been aware of in the editorial. Based on his behavior in the Legislature, none of this is surprising, but compared to Hegar’s first term as Comptroller, it really stands out. This is what happens when “doing a good job” is not an asset in your primary.

You can listen to my interview with Janet Dudding here. If you like the idea of a Comptroller who’s focused on the day-to-day Comptroller stuff and not looking for extracurricular activities to make their application for the next job more sparkly, Janet Dudding is your candidate.

The Chron also endorses Luke Warford for Railroad Commissioner.

Luke Warford

In a perfect world, the Railroad Commission’s mission statement of protecting Texas’ natural resources and promoting the oil and gas industry would not be contradictory. There’s an alternate reality in which the commission could be at the nexus of the global energy transition, laying the groundwork for emerging technologies such as hydrogen and geothermal energy while helping oil and gas producers become cleaner and safer.

That’s the vision that Democrat Luke Warford has for an agency that long has treated “regulation” of the state’s oil and gas sector as an afterthought. Warford, 33, a former Texas Democratic Party operative and energy consultant, is not running just to be another watchdog bureaucrat; he wants to fundamentally modernize an agency that is becoming as anachronistic as its name.

Warford isn’t your central-casting roughneck or wildcatter. He studied at the London School of Economics and worked at the World Bank before transitioning to consulting, where he worked with oil and gas majors as well as wind and solar clients seeking access to global energy markets. His knack for helping businesses adapt to a changing economy could be an asset on the commission. His solutions range from simple — he mentioned modernizing the agency’s antiquated website to make it more transparent and accessible to the public — to cutting edge, such as using methane leak detection technology pioneered by the Southwest Research Institute.

His desire to be an agent of change is rooted in watching his father, who owned a CD store, struggle to make ends meet once the internet changed the way we listened to music.

Warford told the editorial board that this personal experience has helped him forge connections with oil and gas workers who fear global decarbonization will render their jobs useless.

“Out in Midland, a couple of weeks ago, a geologist said to me, ‘Hey, you know, I’ve made my career in this industry, I’m sending my kids to college from work I do in this industry, but I’m sick of coming home and having my kid, my neighbors, think that I’m poisoning their air and their water,’” Warford said. “He was worried about what his job prospects are gonna look like in 10 and 20 years, even if oil and gas production continues, as automation happens. To be able to understand that on a personal level, I think, is effective.”

By contrast, the current commissioners, led by Chairman Wayne Christian, 72, the Republican incumbent, are more interested in raking in campaign cash from oil and gas producers and letting the industry police itself.

My interview with Warford is here. Christian was a lousy legislator, and unlike Hegar didn’t do anything in his first term in statewide office to try to change that narrative. He’s a toady and a waste of space, and Luke Warford would be a vast improvement even if he’s a lone voice for sanity on that Commission. That’s a question he addresses directly in the interview, by the way. Go give it a listen, and then vote for Luke Warford.