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David Van Os

The Blum poll

I don’t know what to make of this.

Ill will toward President Barack Obama and a voter belief that Republican Gov. Rick Perry has helped save the Texas economy are giving Perry a re-election lead over Democrat and former Houston Mayor Bill White, according to a new poll done for the Houston Chronicle and four other state newspapers.

Perry leads with 46 percent support to 39 percent for White, with Libertarian candidate Kathie Glass trailing at 4 percent among likely voters; 11 percent were undecided.

[…]

The enthusiasm of Republican voters is dramatic. Among registered voters who answered the survey, Republicans held an advantage of 9 percentage points — roughly typical of the vote in recent elections.

Among those who said they are likely to vote, the Republican advantage jumped to 18 percentage points over Democrats.

The telephone survey was of a random sample of 1,443 Texas adults, including 1,072 registered voters and 629 likely voters, conducted Sept. 15-22.

The margin of error for the likely voters is plus or minus 3.9 percentage points. The survey was conducted by Blum & Weprin for the Houston Chronicle, the San Antonio Express-News, the Austin American-Statesman and The Dallas Morning News.

Perry and White are in almost a dead heat in Houston and San Antonio. Perry is drubbing White in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, with a lead of more than 30 percentage points in those cities. White holds a 7-point lead in Austin.

The two are even in urban areas, but Perry has an almost 11-percentage-point lead in non-urban areas.

I could believe White and Perry are running even in Harris and Bexar counties, which is what I presume they mean by “Houston” and “San Antonio”. I expect White will do better than that, but it’s at least a plausible result to me.

White is leading in Travis County (again, my interpretation of “Austin”) by seven points? Chris Bell, in his four-way race, won Travis by 19 points. David Van Os, who lost by 22 overall in 2006, carried Travis by almost nine points. White leading by seven? I’ll take the over on that.

Perry leading in “the Dallas-Fort Worth area” by 30 points? I’ve already shown that these are Tony Sanchez numbers. Once again, color me skeptical.

On the flip side, how is Perry only leading by 11 in non-urban areas, which are the Republican strongholds, especially in a year where the electorate is supposedly nine points more Republican than expected? (Note that this is not a universal finding.) If Perry is doing better in the places that White would be expected to be strong, how is he doing worse in the places where he’s supposed to clean up? Putting it another way, if White is underperforming in the urban counties, and the electorate is extra Republican this year, how is it that Perry isn’t leading by double digits? Something doesn’t add up.

Population and voting trends: 2004 and 2008 judicial elections

So we’ve seen how county returns changed in the Presidential election between 2004 and 2008. Obviously, there are many factors that can affect a Presidential election, even when there’s not really an active campaign going on in the state. How do things look at the judicial level, which is probably a closer reflection of party ID? To try to answer that, I compared two races for the Supreme Court, and two for the Court of Criminal Appeals: Scott Brister versus David Van Os in 2004 and Dale Wainwright versus Sam Houston in 2008; Mike Keasler versus JR Molina in 2004 and Tom Price versus Susan Strawn in 2008. My observations:

– Houston improved on Van Os’ percentage by six and a half points, going from 40.76% to 47.31%; Strawn did a bit less than five points better than Molina, 42.14% to 46.86%. (Note that both 2008 races included a Libertarian candidate, while neither 2004 race did. All percentages are based strictly on R/D vote totals only.) In doing so, Houston cut the 2004 deficit by 875,000 votes, while Strawn improved by 616,000 votes over 2004.

– One corollary to that is that Houston gained in more counties than Strawn did. There were only 28 counties in which Houston’s deficit was greater than Van Os’, with Montgomery and Parker being the places he moved backwards the most. Strawn did worse in 69 counties, adding Orange and Jefferson to the biggest loser list. Recall that there were 107 counties in which Barack Obama lost ground compared to John Kerry.

– The 20 counties in which Obama lost the most ground from Kerry differed somewhat from the counties in which Houston and Strawn combined did worse than Van Os and Molina. Counties that appeared in the former list but not the latter were:

Bowie: Obama’s deficit increased by 3436 votes; Houston gained 1303 while Strawn lost 867.
Galveston: -3082 for Obama, +2720 for Houston, and -1307 for Strawn.
Jasper: -1488 for Obama, +866 for Houston, and -656 for Strawn.
Liberty: -1416 for Obama, +1185 for Houston, and +155 for Strawn.
Harrison: -1385 for Obama, +530 for Houston, and -11 for Strawn.
Johnson: -1280 for Obama, +2745 for Houston, and +2005 for Strawn.
Henderson: -1239 for Obama, +1076 for Houston, and +427 for Strawn.
Tyler: -1094 for Obama, +501 for Houston, and -260 for Strawn.
Van Zandt: -1075 for Obama, +656 for Houston, and +178 for Strawn.
Lamar: -993 for Obama, +2185 for Houston, and +1208 for Strawn.

Obviously, the worst 20 counties for Houston and Strawn were not identical to those for Obama, but I did not find any examples where Houston and Strawn combined to lose votes while Obama gained them.

The ten best counties for Houston and Strawn:

County Brister W'wright Change Van Os Houston Change Dem net ================================================================== FORT BEND 87,872 96,887 9,015 66,748 95,069 28,321 19,306 DENTON 132,244 138,359 6,115 56,112 86,738 30,626 24,511 COLLIN 165,017 167,840 2,823 64,159 100,302 36,143 33,320 HIDALGO 39,076 32,270 -6,806 60,122 87,197 27,075 33,881 EL PASO 62,780 50,627 -12,153 93,239 118,844 25,605 37,758 TRAVIS 142,841 127,796 -15,045 190,168 228,493 38,325 53,370 BEXAR 234,526 222,471 -12,055 212,415 260,152 47,737 59,792 TARRANT 327,136 320,585 -6,551 201,026 266,375 65,349 71,900 DALLAS 328,697 280,688 -48,009 324,165 406,857 82,692 130,701 HARRIS 555,454 523,101 -32,353 464,815 577,134 112,319 144,672 County Keasler Price Change Molina Strawn Change Dem net ================================================================== WILLIAMSON 77,666 80,967 3,301 42,377 61,373 18,996 15,695 DENTON 130,850 139,868 9,018 57,294 83,774 26,480 17,462 EL PASO 58,240 53,893 -4,347 99,152 115,154 16,002 20,349 HIDALGO 35,930 33,109 -2,821 64,087 86,441 22,354 25,175 COLLIN 164,805 169,377 4,572 64,188 96,476 32,288 27,716 TRAVIS 140,473 125,335 -15,138 190,769 228,492 37,723 52,861 TARRANT 321,497 322,531 1,034 206,841 263,585 56,744 55,710 BEXAR 224,983 215,807 -9,176 220,717 267,444 46,727 55,903 DALLAS 319,890 283,343 -36,547 329,484 402,483 72,999 109,546 HARRIS 540,632 521,753 -18,879 474,278 574,945 100,667 119,546

Williamson was Houston’s eleventh-best county, with a net gain of 18,502, while Fort Bend was Strawn’s eleventh-best county, with a net gain of 13,574. Not much variance on this end, in other words.

– Finally, I said in my previous entry that if 2012 is to 2008 as 2008 was to 2004, Texas would be a tossup state at the Presidential level. That’s true, but all else being equal, the Republican candidate would still win Texas by a bit more than 200,000 votes. That same level of improvement would be more than enough to win both of these judicial races, however. Sam Houston would win by more votes in 2012 than he lost by in 2008, while Strawn would win by about 150,000 votes. Given that even Republicans think the political landscape in Texas could be quite favorable to Democratic candidates, we may see as much interest in Supreme Court and CCA nominations as we saw in Harris County this year for district and county benches. All standard disclaimers apply, of course, but keep that in the back of your mind.

Next in the series will be a closer look at the 2002 and 2006 judicial elections, which will be done in two parts. As always, your feedback is appreciated.

Jeff Weems

We’ve been hearing plenty about the top of the ticket for Democrats in 2010, but there are still several slots to fill. One of them is the Railroad Commissioner seat held by Victor Carrillo. Via email to Carl Whitmarsh, here’s a name for you:

Jeff Weems is running for the Democratic nomination for Texas Railroad Commissioner in 2010, hopefully earning a chance to square off with Republican incumbent Victor Carrillo.

Jeff is currently the precinct Chair for Precinct 274. He is an oil and gas litigation attorney, representing exploration companies, service companies and landowners. Before becoming an attorney, he worked in the industry for years, first as a laborer on drilling rigs, next as a mud man, then as a landman. He has been an attorney for 19 years. He works with Harrison, Bettis, Staff, McFarland & Weems, a mid-sized Houston litigation firm.

Jeff is running because he knows the energy industry inside and out. He knows that the Railroad Commission can do so much more than it does now. The incumbent Republican commissioners are far too ready to take contributions from companies with matters pending before the commission, even when they are not up for election. Even more importantly, the current commissioners have demonstrated a bias toward the gas utilities when rate cases are heard, which ends up costing the citizens of Texas dearly. In addition, Jeff will balance the desires of the operators seeking to drill and complete wells with the need to protect Texas’ environment (such as in the Barnett Shale).

Won’t surprise me if Dale Henry, who was a candidate in 2006 and again in 2008, runs again. Mark Thompson, who defeated Henry and Art Hall in the 2008 primary for RR Commish, is currently running for Governor. There may be someone else out there as well – who knows, maybe Hall wants to take another crack at it – but at least we have one.

The potential contenders for all statewide offices at this time, as I know of them:

Governor – Tom Schieffer is in, Kinky Friedman and Mark Thompson say they’re in. Kirk Watson and/or Ronnie Earle may decide to join them. Former San Antonio Mayor Phil Hardberger has been mentioned as well, but while everyone I’ve spoken to loves the guy, nobody as yet thinks this is likely.

Lieutenant Governor – Not a whole lot of chatter about this one just yet, but I’ve recently heard that State Sen. Royce West, who has previously expressed some interest in Attorney General, may run for this slot instead. Watson remains a possibility here as well.

Attorney General – Barbara Radnofsky is in. West and Earle are possible. State Rep. Patrick Rose has been in the conversation, but any buzz he’s had has diminished of late. 2006 nominee David Van Os is always a possibility, but the word I’ve heard lately is that he’s not considering it.

Comptroller – Haven’t heard a peep. Susan Combs may become the Kay Bailey Hutchison of the next decade, at least if no one serious ever challenges her.

Ag Commish – 2006 nominee Hank Gilbert is running. He may have company, but as yet I’ve not heard any other names.

Land Commish – I have recently heard the name of a potentially exciting candidate for this slot, but that person has not made a decision and the name was given to me in confidence, so that’s all I can say for now.

So there you have it. Regarding the Comptroller slot, Combs probably is the one person no one serious wants to run against. There’s a danger in that if there is a vacuum, it could get filled by a clown like Fred Head, whose buffoonish presence would be a drag on a ticket that had, say, Watson, West, and Earle/Radnofsky as the headliners. You can’t stop anyone from running – see “Kelly, Gene” for all the evidence of that you’ll need – but you can try to persuade someone with a bit more heft to challenge him in the primary if it comes down to it. A self-funder would be preferred, given the amount of funds that will need to be devoted to other races. Whether one can be found or not is the question.

BAR for AG

Barbara Radnofsky has been talking about a run for Attorney General in Texas in 2010 for some time now; I had a conversation about it with her back in 2007. Today she officially announced her intent, making her the third Democrat to do so for a statewide office. She told me on the phone that didn’t intend to do anything fancy at this point, and would be concentrating on fundraising for the next few months. She had previously filed her paperwork to run, so she can raise funds for her campaign.

As Vince notes, others have been in the mix for AG on the Democratic side: David Van Os, who ran for AG in 2006; Larry Veselka, who is currently on the list of candidates for the US Attorney position in Houston; State Sen. Kirk Watson, who has also been mentioned as a possible candidate for Lt. Gov.; and State Rep. Patrick Rose. Of those, I think the most likely to run is Van Os. While I would not mind seeing contested primaries up and down the ballot – we’re going to have a ton of them here in Harris for county judicial races – if Van Os were to ask me I’d suggest he take a crack at the 3rd Court of Appeals, which could use a little more partisan balance. But that’s just my opinion.

As far as her prospects, or that of any Dem statewide, I will say this. What we’ve seen in the last couple of elections has basically been two categories of statewide race: Well-funded R versus underfunded (or unfunded) D, and unfunded R versus unfunded D. We haven’t seen well-funded R versus well-funded D since 2002, and I think we can all agree that the electoral landscape is considerably different today than it was then. In any event, in the races where both candidates are not well-funded, which I think represents the baseline vote for each party, the Dems have done better. If current AG Greg Abbott, who has a huge pile of money, runs for something else as he’s rumored to want to do, Radnofsky would be in a position to start out roughly at financial parity with her opponent, most likely Solicitor General Ted Cruz. Given that she almost surely has higher name recognition to begin with, if she can build on the $1.5 million she raised in 2006 – say, double or triple that – this could be a pretty tight race. I’ll be very interested to see what kind of numbers she posts for the January disclosures.