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Democratic primary

Final 2020 primary early voting report: “Healthy but not historic”

Sounds about right.

Democratic primary voters surged to the polls in Harris County on Friday, surpassing turnout from 2016 but falling well short of their record-setting performance in 2008.

Republican primary voters, meanwhile, turned out in larger-than-expected numbers thanks to a handful of high-profile congressional and legislative contests. The result also could signal early enthusiasm among GOP voters for President Donald Trump’s re-election, experts and political strategists said.

A total of 139,533 Democratic primary voters returned mail ballots and voted in person across the 11-day early voting period that ended Friday. Though turnout did not match the roughly 177,000 early votes from Harris County’s 2008 Democratic primary, it easily outstripped 2016, when turnout reached 85,793.

“The turnout has been healthy but not historic, especially compared to 2008 when the numbers were massive,” said Brandon Rottinghaus, a political science professor at the University of Houston. “That’s a good sign for Democrats, but it doesn’t signal tremendous growth in the Democratic electorate.”

The fluid state of the Democratic presidential primary may have dampened early voting turnout, with some voters awaiting results from Saturday’s South Carolina contest. The candidacy of former Vice President Joe Biden is said to hinge on a strong showing there, while other lower-performing candidates could drop out between South Carolina and Super Tuesday, when Texas and 13 other states will hold their primaries.

The Republican primary, meanwhile, totaled 104,909 early and mail ballots — a massive uptick from the 2018 midterm cycle, but well below the roughly 131,000 who turned out early for the 2016 Republican contest.

Here are your final numbers. Here’s the Day Eleven report for 2020, and here are the totals from 2012, 2016, and 2018. The totals after early voting ended:


Year    Mail    Early    Total
==============================
2008   9,448  169,900  179,348
2012   7,735   30,142   37,877
2016  13,034   72,782   85,816
2018  17,744   70,172   87,916
2020  22,785  116,748  139,533

2008  15,174   51,201   66,375
2012  17,734   60,347   78,081
2016  20,780  110,365  131,145
2018  20,075   61,462   81,537
2020  22,801   82,108  104,909

The 2008 numbers come from the County Clerk historic results. It seems highly unlikely that Dems are going to get to my original over/under line of 500K, but 400K is still within reach. Remember that historically speaking, there’s likely still a lot of votes to be cast. If 61.5% of the total Democratic primary vote is cast on Tuesday, as it was in 2016, then final Dem turnout will be about 366K, with 223K of it being cast on Primary Day. There were 231K votes cast on Primary Day in 2008, with far fewer registered voters, so this is certainly within reach. To get to 410K, the high-water mark of 2008, about 64% of the total vote would need to be cast on Tuesday. I think that’s doable, but I was overly optimistic at the beginning of this cycle, so let’s try not to repeat that mistake. Dems should have no trouble surpassing the 227K total turnout from 2016, so at the very least this will be the second-heaviest primary this century so far.

Republicans have had a good showing as well, better than I would have expected. However:

Much more of the Republican electorate so far has been their old faithful, while a much bigger share of the Dem primary has been people with less of a Dem primary voting history. That said, given that the last three primaries were 2014, 2016, and 2018, there are fewer Dems who could have voted in all of those primaries since only 54K did so in 2014, while Republicans have had at least 139K from each of those years. Point being, the pool of folks who have voted in at least two of the last three Republican primaries is quite a bit bigger than that same pool for Dems. That makes this sort of number more fun than informative.

More importantly, we can all agree that the number of Democrats who have shown up in November has been quite a big larger than the number of Republicans in Harris County in recent years. Primary turnout has no real correlation to November turnout – there’s just too much variance, and the sample size is too small. Remember, Republicans crushed Democrats in primary turnout in 2016 (329K to 227K) and were near parity in 2018 (156K to 167K), and we know how those years ended up.

Finally, using the Secretary of State turnout tracker, 1,085,065 Republicans had voted early in the primary, while 1,000,231 Dems had done so with a couple of smaller counties still unaccounted for as of Saturday lunchtime. As with Harris County, I clearly underestimated Republicans statewide, but Dems are in position to at least come close to the historic 2008 numbers. The SOS doesn’t maintain early voting statewide numbers so I can’t say what the past looked like as I can for Harris County, but I’d say two million total is well within reach, and 2.5 million is possible. I’ll try to take a closer look at some of these numbers for tomorrow. Let me know what you think. Have you voted yet?

Chron overview of the CD02 primary

Gonna be an interesting one.

Elisa Cardnell

Near the end of a recent forum for the three Democrats looking to unseat U.S. Rep. Dan Crenshaw, a seemingly innocuous moment hinted at some friction between candidates Elisa Cardnell and Sima Ladjevardian.

“At the end of the day, you’ve seen that all three of us are united here behind one goal: defeating Dan Crenshaw in November,” Cardnell said in her closing remarks. “And no matter who the nominee is, we have DCCC backing. … Whoever wins this primary will have the resources and the support to take on Dan Crenshaw.”

Cardnell’s reference to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee — House Democrats’ campaign arm, which added the district to its battlefield map in January — drew a smirk and head shake from Ladjevardian. The reaction suggested that Ladjevardian, who declined comment on the matter, may be skeptical the DCCC would deploy resources to Texas’ 2nd Congressional District if Cardnell wins the nomination.

The DCCC has not indicated its involvement is tied to a particular candidate, though the group announced it was targeting Crenshaw and several other Republicans a day after Ladjevardian said she had raised more than $400,000 in the first three weeks of her campaign.

Sima Ladjevardian

Democrats will need all the help they can get in this Houston-area district, where Crenshaw won by more than 7 percentage points in 2018, but Republican U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz beat Democrat Beto O’Rourke by just one point. The three candidates — Cardnell, Ladjevardian and former Department of Homeland Security employee Travis Olsen — align ideologically, rejecting policies such as Medicare for All while preaching the importance of winning moderate voters.

Where they differ is on style and their distinct backgrounds, which they are using to fashion their electability arguments.

“It’s going to take a veteran who can reach across the aisle and bring back independent voters,” Cardnell, a Navy veteran, said at the forum. “This district, Beto lost by 3,000 votes. But (Republican Gov. Greg) Abbott won by 13 percent. That means we have swing voters in this district and we have to be able to talk to them.”

Ladjevardian’s supporters say her fundraising ability, ties to O’Rourke as his former campaign adviser, and background as an Iranian immigrant and cancer survivor make her the most formidable threat to Crenshaw. She also has garnered the most support from local elected officials, including U.S. Reps. Sylvia Garcia and Sheila Jackson Lee, Mayor Sylvester Turner, eight members of the Legislature and the district’s 2018 Democratic nominee, Todd Litton.

We know the basics here. The Chron endorsed Sima largely on the basis of her fundraising strength, which they argue gives her the best chance to win. Cardnell, who has been a decent but not spectacular fundraiser, argues her status as a veteran is more important to winning, noting that Crenshaw outperformed Ted Cruz in the district. I don’t live in this district, I like all of the candidates, and I still hope to interview Sima if she makes it to the runoff.

CNN/SSRS: The first big Bernie lead

We come full circle.

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders holds substantial leads in the two largest states to vote in next week’s Super Tuesday lineup of primaries, according to new CNN polls conducted by SSRS in California and Texas.

In Texas, Sanders holds 29% support among likely primary voters, former Vice President Joe Biden has 20%, former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg stands at 18% and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren is at 15%. No other candidate reaches double-digits. Sanders (+14) and Bloomberg (+13) have posted the largest gains since a December CNN poll, while Biden has slipped 15 points. Warren has held roughly even.

The California results suggest the same four contenders hold the most support, though Sanders stands well ahead of the three contending for second place. Sanders holds 35% support, Warren is at 14%, Biden is at 13% and Bloomberg is at 12%. Sanders’ support in the state has climbed 15 points since December, while Biden’s has slid eight points. Bloomberg has gained seven.

Decisive wins for a single candidate in California and Texas — states which will award more than 600 of the 1,991 delegates needed to secure the Democratic nomination — could change the tenor of a race that has at times seemed headed for a protracted fight.

The December polls in the two delegate-rich states had shown Biden ahead in Texas with Biden, Sanders and Warren all vying for a win in California. Since then, most national polling has also shown Sanders taking hold of the frontrunner slot in the Democratic nomination battle, while his win in the Nevada caucuses boosted him to a lead over his rivals in the delegate count so far.

The California poll is here, and the Texas poll, which is obviously of greater interest to me, is here. I blogged about that December poll, which showed Biden leading Bernie 35-15, here. I’m not sure that I buy the huge swing, but Bernie has polled fairly well lately, and Mike Bloomberg has taken some support away from Biden, so it’s certainly possible.

Of greater interest:

A1. Do you approve or disapprove of the way Donald Trump is handling his job as president?


                      App  Dis No op
Total Respondents
February 22-26, 2020  43%  49%   7%
December 4-8,   2019  42%  50%   8%
October 9-13,   2018  41%  50%  10%

Registered Voters
February 22-26, 2020  47%  50%   3%
December 4-8,   2019  48%  47%   5%
October 9-13,   2018  47%  48%   6%

(Respondents who are registered to vote, N=1,003)
Q11. If (NAME) were the Democratic Party’s candidate and Donald Trump were the Republican Party’s candidate, for whom would you be more likely to vote?


                 Biden Trump Other Neither No op
Feb. 22-26, 2020   48%   47%    1%      2%    2%
Dec. 4-8, 2019     47%   48%     *      2%    3%

                 Bloom Trump Other Neither No op
Feb. 22-26, 2020   46%   47%     *      3%    4%

                 PeteB Trump Other Neither No op
Feb. 22-26, 2020   47%   48%    0%      2%    4%
Dec. 4-8, 2019     43%   50%     *      2%    6%

                 Amy K Trump Other Neither No op
Feb. 22-26, 2020   45%   48%    0%      2%    5%

                Bernie Trump Other Neither No op
Feb. 22-26, 2020   46%   48%     *      3%    3%
Dec. 4-8, 2019     43%   50%    1%      3%    3%

                Warren Trump Other Neither No op
Feb. 22-26, 2020   47%   47%     *      2%    4%
Dec. 4-8, 2019     44%   51%    1%      2%    2%

That part’s pretty exciting, and an improvement in fortune for all of the candidates as Trump’s approval ratings remain lousy. I’m sure Joe Biden in particular would like everyone who hasn’t voted yet to see these numbers. I’m still not sure I buy this big a Bernie surge, but we’ll know soon enough.

A look at the CD25 primary

CD25 in Central Texas is a lower-tier race but after a much closer result in 2018 than before it’s on the radar this year and there’s an interesting primary to see who gets to take the shot at it.

Julie Oliver

When Julie Oliver lost to U.S. Rep. Roger Williams, R-Austin, in a closer-than-expected race in November 2018 she felt a numbness that by December thawed into a deep sadness.

“I felt like I had let a lot of people down, that I had failed in my responsibility to the people of the district,” Oliver said. “By early February I started thinking, ‘I could do this again,’ by the middle of February, ‘I should do this again,’ and by the beginning of March, I was, ‘I have to do this again.’”

And so she is.

But what Oliver, 47, didn’t realize at the time is that before she can get another crack at Williams, a 70-year-old car dealer seeking his fifth term in Congress, she must get past a Democratic primary challenge from Heidi Sloan, a dynamic 34-year-old activist springing from Austin’s fertile socialist movement, inspired to electoral activism by the success of fellow democratic socialists Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

Williams, meanwhile, is facing a primary challenge from Keith Neuendorff, 53, a software engineer and political novice from West Lake Hills, who is running a low-budget campaign — he has raised and spent less than $6,000 — talking to voters about what he finds to be Williams’ “lack of connectivity with his constituents.”

Heidi Sloan

Sloan, who had been involved in organizing campaigns with the Austin chapter of Democratic Socialists of America to pressure U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin, to embrace Medicare for All (he did), for paid sick days and to decriminalize homelessness, said that last spring, allies “just kept mentioning, `We really like organizing with you, we like your leadership style, have you ever thought about running?’”

She said she had not, but Mike Nachbar, a democratic socialist organizer, now managing her congressional campaign, “sat me down and he said, `This is what 2020 is going to look like. Obviously, DSA is going to organize for Bernie as long as Bernie continues to be who he has been for the last 4 years, but it can’t just be that. We have to build a coalition to win Medicare for All and a Green New Deal. And we have to get started right now.’”

[…]

If Oliver seems an unlikely target from the left, she will be tough to beat March 3 in a race that offers a glimpse at how, even as the center of gravity of the Democratic Party has shifted left since Donald Trump defeated Hillary Clinton, the battle for primacy among the party’s progressives is intensifying.

Much of the Democratic elected and progressive activist leadership and most of the Democratic clubs in Austin back Oliver, believing she has earned another shot in a tough, gerrymandered district, stretching from East Austin to Burleson, just south of Fort Worth. She sliced Williams’ 21-point margin in 2016 to 8.7 points in 2018.

There’s not much difference between the two candidates as far as issues go, so this is more of a “who do you like” situation. Julie Oliver worked hard in her 2018 run, clearly met or exceeded expectations, and has done well with fundraising this cycle (Sloan hasn’t been as strong there, but she’s done all right). That to me is enough to merit support for another run, though I can understand why someone would want to give another person the chance. This is a district that by all rights shouldn’t be competitive for Dems – it’s a lot more rural than the other targets, for one thing – and it will likely take an even better environment than what we had in 2018 to truly be winnable, but it’s in scope and we should put our best candidate forward. I like Julie Oliver, but if Heidi Sloan wins then good on her.

Can someone beat Lucio?

Maybe this is the year.

Sen. Eddie Lucio

A lot of Democrats running for the Texas Legislature this cycle are hoping that the opportunity to influence the next redistricting process helps propel them to office. One Democrat, meanwhile, is hoping it keeps him there.

As state Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr. of Brownsville looks to hold off two primary challengers, he is strongly emphasizing his experience and seniority, which includes nearly three decades in the upper chamber, making him the third most senior member in the 31-person body. He sits on the Senate Select Committee on Redistricting, and with three rounds of political boundary-drawing under his belt, he is arguing now is not the time for the Rio Grande Valley to gamble on a fresh face.

“This is no time for freshmen,” Lucio said in an interview outside a campaign event here earlier this month, echoing comments he made last month to the McAllen Chamber of Commerce. “I didn’t mean that in a negative way. I meant it in a very constructive way because … I remember my freshman year — and nothing wrong with that, you know, time would give you the experience that you need, but right now it’s important that we continue, have a little continuity on what we’ve had.”

Yet Lucio’s tenure — along with his experience siding with Republicans on some controversial topics — is fueling arguably unprecedented primary opposition from Brownsville attorney Sara Stapleton Barrera and Ruben Cortez, a member of the State Board of Education from Brownsville. Together they represent “probably the biggest challenge [Lucio]’s had in a long, long time,” Brownsville historian Tony Knopp said.

The looming redistricting process is factoring prominently into state House races as Democrats work to flip that chamber and earn a bigger say in redrawing the maps that will shape elections for a decade. Lucio’s emphasis on seeing that process through is part of a four-point reelection pitch centered on experience, seniority, “track record” and his relationships on both sides of the aisle.

But Stapleton Barrera and Cortez argue Lucio sides too often with Republicans, failing to represent his solidly blue district, especially since Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, a conservative firebrand, became the Senate’s presiding officer. And when it comes to redistricting, Cortez questions whether Lucio can be trusted to stick with Democrats throughout the process given his party-bucking ways and closeness to Patrick.

“That’s not even a question we should have on our minds,” Cortez said, “but we do.”

Lucio has taken the opposition seriously, dramatically out-raising and outspending his competition since last summer. Still, he said he is not sure he could win outright on March 3, raising the possibility of a runoff that could draw in the party’s most engaged voters.

There’s more, so go read the rest. I’m more inclined to support Cortez based on all I’ve read, but either would be an upgrade. Lucio has indeed raised and spent a bunch of money (and that’s without looking at the 30-day and 8-day reports), and the fact is that it’s hard to oust an incumbent in the absence of a scandal of some kind. On the other hand, the electorate overall is more restless than usual, and Lucio is vulnerable to a lot of arguments. A runoff would not shock me.

2020 Primary Early Voting, Day Ten: Come hell or high water

Yesterday was quite the day, wasn’t it? People did still vote, which is nice. Here’s the Day Ten report for 2020, and here are the totals from 2012, 2016, and 2018. The totals after Day Ten:


Year    Mail    Early    Total
==============================
2012   6,772   23,384   30,156
2016  12,152   53,302   65,455
2018  16,532   53,744   70,276
2020  21,658   82,365  104,023

2012  16,164   48,239   64,403
2016  18,878   79,276   98,154
2018  18,848   46,560   65,408
2020  21,340   65,783   87,123

Despite the ginormous water main break that shut down much of the city, including four early voting locations, people did still vote. Maybe not quite as much as they would have without the East Loop turning into a river, but they did still vote. At this current pace, we’re well ahead of 2016 but sufficiently behind 2008 that I’m not sure we’ll make it to that level. But maybe still a lot of folks waiting till Tuesday, perhaps to see what happens in South Carolin first. I’ll have the final results tomorrow, and I’ll do some deeper analysis on Sunday or Monday. Have you voted yet?

Progress Texas/PPP poll: The Bloomberg effect

More primary polling data for you.

Super Tuesday marks the first time that Michael Bloomberg will appear on the Democratic Primary ballot. To measure his impact on the race, we polled likely Texas Democratic Primary voters to see preferences with and without Bloomberg on the ballot.

Biden and Sanders lead the field

In the poll, Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders are tied at 24% as voters first choice, followed by Michael Bloomberg at 17%, and Elizabeth Warren at 14%, while no other candidates come close to viability. As pictured in the graph below, Bloomberg has the biggest impact on Biden’s candidacy.

Warren is the strongest second choice

When voters were asked who their second choice was, Elizabeth Warren was the most popular choice.

Warren has the strongest approval rating, Bloomberg the worst

Warren leads the field with an approval/disapproval rating of 66/19, so it shouldn’t be surprising that she is everyone’s second choice. She is followed by Biden at 64/18 and Sanders at 60/27.

Conversely, Bloomberg, who has spent the most on advertising in Texas, had the worst overall approval/disapproval rating at 41/39. Of particular note are young voters, under the age of 45, who give him a 62% disapproval rating. These are remarkable numbers considering Democratic candidates have not aired a single attack ad against him. Given his struggles with the key Democratic constituency of younger voters, it is difficult to see how Bloomberg expands his base beyond these numbers.

Young voters are united, while Texans age 46 and up are divided

While Bloomberg is experiencing high disapproval among young voters, Sanders enjoys the most support from this constituency, followed by Warren.

Yet voters ages 46 and older are experiencing more of a divide, with their candidate preference divided largely among Biden, Bloomberg, Sanders, and Warren.

There are charts that accompany those other titled sections, which I have omitted for space, and there’s more to the poll, so go check it out. Full data and poll questions are here. Note that all respondents say that they are voting in the Dem primary, so there’s no general election aspect to this. One interesting bit of data from that PDF is that of the respondents, who all said they were voting in the Dem primary, 83% said they were Democrats, 2% said they were Republicans, and 15% said they were independents. Compare to the Derek Ryan analysis of the early voting data, which shows 64% of Democratic primary voters have an exclusively Democratic primary voting history, six percent have some of each, five percent have GOP-only history, and 25% have no primary history. Most of the latter have general election voting histories and are thus likely also Democrats in that sense, but overall there’s more political diversity to the Democratic primary electorate, and that is likely part of the reason turnout is up.

Anyway, that’s what it made me think about. Add this to the other primary polls we have, and the picture seems to be a close race. How close, and at what level the candidates who aren’t at the top cluster around, will have serious implications for the way delegates are allocated. Fifteen percent, statewide and in each State Senate district, is the magic number. We could get a couple of candidates walking away with a bunch of delegates, or as many as six candidates each getting some. We could be sorting through the aftermath of this for some time after the votes have all been counted. The Texas Signal has more.

2020 Primary Early Voting, Day Nine

Getting close to the finish line here. Two more days of early voting to go. Here’s the Day Nine report for 2020, and here are the totals from 2012, 2016, and 2018. The totals after Day Four:


Year    Mail    Early    Total
==============================
2012   6,434   19,628   26,062
2016  11,755   42,169   53,924
2018  15,126   43,322   58,448
2020  19,400   66,318   85,718

2012  14,435   40,579   55,014
2016  17,966   63,082   81,048
2018  17,696   38,674   56,370
2020  20,393   55,489   75,882

Some real separation between Dems and Republicans now, and we still haven’t seen a really big day, though as expected Wednesday was bigger than Tuesday. Let’s take another look statewide, courtesy of Derek Ryan:

Yesterday, I made a comment about how we could see large numbers of people show up to vote on the last day of early voting and on Election Day too. I had someone reach out to ask how many people typically vote early versus on Election Day, so I ran some numbers on old versions of the voter file I have from previous election cycles.

In the 2016 Democratic Primary, I show 56.7% people as having voted on Election Day, 4.9% voting by mail, and 38.4% during early voting.

In the 2016 Republican Primary, I show 57.9% people as having voted on Election Day, 2.8% voting by mail, and 39.3% during early voting.

Through yesterday, the Secretary of State reports that through yesterday 656,572 people have voted in the Republican Primary and 536,005 have voted in the Democratic Primary. (These numbers are for all 254 counties.)

He’s referring to the data through Tuesday. You can see that here. I did my own calculation of early-versus-Election Day turnout in Harris County, and it’s consistent with these statewide numbers. Dems are on track for a big number in Harris County, but unless today and tomorrow are huge, and/or Tuesday the 3rd is bigger than expected, we’re on track to fall short of my 500K prediction. Still, past history shows that people do wait till Primary Day, and with South Carolina voting on Saturday, it would not be a surprise if more of them than usual were choosing to wait. It would be a stretch, but Dems can still get to my number. Let’s see what today looks like first.

As a reminder, since the question came up in the comments of Tuesday’s post, I don’t have the running daily totals from 2008, so I can’t do the same comparison for that year. The final EV tally from 2008 was 179,345, and then another 231K showed up on Primary Day. That’s what we’ll need to improve on in order to reach my estimate.

UH Senate poll: Hegar leads, the rest scramble

Day Two of the UH Hobby School of Public Affairs poll, and a second result showing that MJ Hegar is in a strong position to make the primary runoff for Senate.

MJ Hegar

Hegar, a Round Rock Democrat who narrowly lost a 2018 Congressional race to incumbent Republican John Carter, is the best-known candidate among the crowded field. Still, more than half of voters said they did not know enough about her to have an opinion. Those numbers were even higher for the other 11 candidates.

Among people who indicated a preference in the race, Hegar was the top choice of 41%, more than three times the vote preference for state Sen. Royce West of Dallas, at 12.3%. Chris Bell, a former Houston city councilman and congressman, was in third place with support from 10.8% of voters, while Cristina Tzintzún Ramirez was fourth, with 8.3%.

The other eight candidates were led by Annie Garcia and Michael Cooper, each with 5.4%; Amanda Edwards with 5.0%; and Sema Hernandez with 4.5%

Renée Cross, senior director of the Hobby School, said the Senate race has been overshadowed by the Democratic presidential primary. And having a dozen candidates hasn’t made it easier for voters to sort out the Democratic Senate race.

“Texas Democrats were optimistic about their chances against Republican Sen. John Cornyn, especially after Beto O’Rourke came close against Ted Cruz in 2018,” she said. “But with so many candidates, it’s been hard for anyone to stand out.”

The poll, conducted between Feb. 6 and Feb. 18 among likely Democratic primary voters, found Hegar leading across all geographic areas of the state except for the border – although Bell came close in the Houston area – and across most generational, racial and ethnic groups. West drew more support from African Americans with 28.5%, compared to 18.1% for Hegar.

The full report is here, and the Hobby School landing page for their 2020 primary polling is here. I reported on their Presidential primary polling here.

I kind of hate the way they presented the data in that writeup, because it’s the result of an adjustment to the raw data that’s not clear unless you read this closely. Basically, what they did was take the initial response numbers, then recalculate them after throwing out the non-respondents. This has the effect of almost doubling everyone’s totals. They did this in the Presidential poll too, it’s just that there were just far fewer of these “don’t know/nobody” respondents, so the effect was much smaller. In the raw numbers, as you can see on that full report link, Hegar led with 22% (Table 2, page 3), followed by West at 6.6% and Bell at 5.8&, then the rest in proportionate amounts. It doesn’t change the big picture – Hegar has a significant lead, which is the same result that the UT/Trib poll got, with numbers similar to the raw totals here – it just looks funny.

To be fair, some adjustment is reasonable, because it really is the case that a non-trivial number of people who will vote in the primary will not vote in the non-Presidential races, as we discussed before. My estimate of the dropoff rate is around 25%, so if we assume everyone in the Hobby sample will vote in the Presidential race, more than half of those “don’t know/no one” respondents will still pick someone in the Senate race. You could take a crack at extrapolating from there, but honestly, I’d have just left it – and reported it – as it was. Like I said, the basic story was accurate. Why fudge around like that?

What is “safe”?

Saw this on Twitter, and it got me thinking:

AOC isn’t the only person I’ve observed referring to CD28 as “safe” Democratic. This WaPo story from 2019, reprinted in the Trib, calls CD28 “a strongly Democratic district…which gave the president just 38.5 percent of the vote in 2016”. This DMN story has a subhed that calls CD28 “Vast and overwhelmingly Democratic district”, and notes that “Trump lost here by 20 percentage points”. The American Prospect is a bit more circumspect, saying CD28 is “a safely (though not extremely) blue district, with a +9 Democratic lean”, and also noting the 20-point margin for Clinton over Trump in 2016.

But 2016 isn’t the only election we’ve ever had, and the Clinton-Trump matchup isn’t the only data point available. Here’s a broader look at the recent electoral history in CD28:


Year  Candidate    Votes    Pct
===============================
2012  Obama      101,843  60.2%
2012  Romney      65,372  38.6%
2012  Sadler      90,481  55.1%
2012  Cruz        68,096  41.5%
2012  Hampton     93,996  58.5%
2012  Keller      61,954  38.6%

2014  Alameel     41,901  46.6%
2014  Cornyn      42,010  46.7%
2014  Davis       48,451  52.7%
2014  Abbott      41,335  45.0%
2014  Granberg    45,658  51.7%
2014  Richardson  38,775  43.9%

2016  Clinton    109,973  57.8%
2016  Trump       72,479  38.1%
2016  Robinson    95,348  52.6%
2016  Guzman      77,590  42.8%
2016  Burns      102,778  57.1%
2016  Keasler     69,501  38.6%

2018  Beto        97,728  58.7%
2018  Cruz        67,483  40.5%
2018  Valdez      87,007  52.7%
2018  Abbott      75,939  46.0%
2018  Jackson     94,479  58.3%
2018  Keller      63,559  39.2%

Yes, in 2014, John Cornyn topped David Alameel in CD28. To my mind, if it is possible for a candidate of the other party to beat a candidate of your own party in a given district, that district is by definition not “safe”. It’s true that in Presidential years, most Democrats win CD28 comfortably, with the closest call being a win by just under 10 points. But in off years, even factoring out the crapshow that was the Alameel campaign, Dems generally win CD28 by smaller margins.

None of this is to say that CD28 is a swing district. It’s not, and I have no reason to be concerned about it in 2020. But if Trump-versus-Clinton-in-2016 is the gold standard here, I’ll point out that of the six districts Dems are targeting this year, four of them (CDs 02, 10, 22, and 31) were won by Trump by larger margins than Wendy Davis won CD28 by in 2014 and Lupe Valdez won it by in 2018. Different years, different conditions, and different candidates may provide a different perspective.

Another way of looking at this is to see how Democratic CD28 is compared to other Congressional districts represented by Democrats:


Dist  Clinton    Beto
=====================
CD07    48.2%   53.3%
CD32    48.4%   54.9%
CD15    56.2%   57.4%
CD28    57.8%   58.7%
CD34    59.1%   57.7%
CD20    60.2%   66.2%

All other Dem-held districts were at least 63% for Clinton and 70% for Beto. Again, none of this is to say that CD28 is vulnerable. Whoever wins the CD28 primary will be the strong favorite, like 99%+, to win it in November. This is not a comment on that race, but on public perception and objective reality. It’s why I generally try not to make blanket statements like “safe district” but try instead to put a number or two on it, so you have some context to my evaluation. I doubt anyone will adopt this as their style guide, but it’s very much how I prefer to operate.

And I have to say, I might have let this go by if I hadn’t also seen this little gem in the Chronicle story on the announced resignation of State Sen. Kirk Watson:

Abbott soon will have to schedule a special election for the remainder of Watson’s four-year term, which ends in 2022. Watson’s District 14, which mostly lies in Austin, leans Democratic.

“Leans Democratic”??? Here’s that same set of numbers for Watson’s SD14:


Year  Candidate    Votes    Pct
===============================
2012  Obama      193,112  60.2%
2012  Romney     116,001  36.1%
2012  Sadler     187,717  59.4%
2012  Cruz       109,877  34.7%
2012  Hampton    181,614  59.1%
2012  Keller     106,581  34.7%

2014  Alameel    123,058  56.2%
2014  Cornyn      80,818  36.9%
2014  Davis      140,602  63.3%
2014  Abbott      75,206  33.9%
2014  Granberg   127,108  59.7%
2014  Richardson  73,267  34.4%

2016  Clinton    249,999  65.3%
2016  Trump      106,050  27.7%
2016  Robinson   218,449  58.8%
2016  Guzman     124,165  33.4%
2016  Burns      223,599  60.8%
2016  Keasler    120,727  32.8%

2018  Beto       289,357  73.8%
2018  Cruz        98,589  25.1%
2018  Valdez     257,708  66.3%
2018  Abbott     119,889  30.9%
2018  Jackson    264,575  69.4%
2018  Keller     104,375  27.4%

LOL. SD14 “leans” Democratic in the same way that a wrecking ball leans against the side of a building. Data is your friend, people. Use the data. I know I’m tilting against windmills here, but at least you can see why I noticed that tweet.

2020 Primary Early Voting, Day Eight: It starts to turn upward

Here’s the Day Eight report for 2020, and here are the totals from 2012, 2016, and 2018. The totals after Day Four:


Year    Mail    Early    Total
==============================
2012   5,695   16,671   22,366
2016  10,970   34,419   45,389
2018  12,914   36,185   49,099
2020  18,503   54,325   72,828

2012  12,705   34,660   47,365
2016  16,435   49,702   66,137
2018  15,512   32,402   47,914
2020  19,690   47,271   66,961

Another best day for the Dems, who put a bit of space between themselves and the Republicans. I don’t have any brilliant insight beyond that, but we’re headed for a big finish. Have you voted yet?

UH poll: Biden, Bernie tied

One more primary poll.

Texans are split between Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders as their choice in the Democratic presidential primary, according to a University of Houston poll released Monday.

The poll, from the university’s Hobby School of Public Affairs, shows the two candidates in a statistical dead heat, with Biden slightly edging out Sanders among likely Democratic primary voters, 22.5% to 22.1%.

Among the rest of the field, 18.3% of likely voters supported Elizabeth Warren, 13.4% supported Michael Bloomberg, 11.9% supported Pete Buttigieg, 7.2% supported Amy Klobuchar, 3.5% supported Tulsi Gabbard, and 1.1% supported Tom Steyer.

But a split between moderate candidates could still leave Sanders with the most delegates. The poll predicts Sanders earning 85 delegates in Texas, compared to Biden taking 80. Following behind, Elizabeth Warren is expected to take 61, with Mike Bloomberg and Pete Buttigieg winning one delegate each.

“It’s so early but Sanders is the front-runner now, and of course there’s a debate on Tuesday night. And I suspect all the contenders are going to go after him the way some of them went after Bloomberg in the last debate,” Hobby School executive director Jim Granato told Houston Matters host Craig Cohen on Monday.

Most important to those polled was picking a candidate who could beat Donald Trump in November’s general election. More than half of respondents said defeating Trump was their No. 1 priority, while a little less than a third said agreeing on the issues was most important. Just 11.1% found experience to be a major factor in their decision.

Here’s the Hobby School’s poll webpage, and here is the full report. I asked on Twitter if they did head-to-head matchups with Trump and was told No, but that they did ask voters if there were any Democratic candidates that they felt they could not support in November against Trump, and found that outside of Tulsi Gabbard, there were no significant differences among the contenders. The survey was fielded between February 6 and February 18 with 1,352 YouGov respondents, which is almost entirely before the Vegas debate that won Elizabeth Warren such plaudits, so it’s possible she has improved her standing since the questions were asked. We’ll have to wait and see on that. They did do a poll of the Senate primary, which should come out today. I’ll write that one up when I see it. In the meantime, the four recent Dem Presidential primary polls of Texas show Biden with a big lead over Bernie, with a small lead over Bernie, tied with Bernie, and slightly behind Bernie. You may now leap to your own conclusions about What It All Means. The Texas Signal has more.

Who will carry the flag in CD31?

This primary interests me mostly to see if we can get a truly viable challenger in this district or not. No one person has emerged yet, that’s for sure.

Democrats who want to be Republican U.S. Rep. John Carter’s challenger in November think focusing on health care will turn the 31st District north of Austin blue. But Republicans, who have long held the seat, say their opponents won’t have much luck without a high-profile candidate like 2018’s MJ Hegar, who is now focusing on a U.S. Senate run.

Democratic candidates Eric Hanke, Donna Imam, Dan Janjigian, Christine Mann and Tammy Young are vying for their party’s nomination in the district includes suburban Williamson County and the more rural Bell County. They say rising health care costs and support for military veterans are voters’ top priorities — and most want to expand access to affordable health care to address those concerns.

“I would put health care at the top of the list because we have a lot of people that don’t have access to health care because it’s not affordable,” said Hanke, a 41-year-old singer-songwriter who recorded a new song, “Turn Texas Blue,” for a campaign ad.

But whoever snags the party’s nomination will need to unseat Carter, who was first elected in 2002 and said the general election in November will be about economic security and safety.

[…]

In 2018, Hegar, a political newcomer, became a strong challenger to Carter after a viral ad documenting her military service garnered millions of views. She came within 3 percentage points of unseating Carter, making the district a target for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee this cycle.

“MJ really put this race on the map and showed us that this was possible,” said Young, a 51-year-old Round Rock City Council member. “For too long, we’ve allowed Washington insiders to stay in office as long as they want, not believing things could change. MJ showed us what is possible with the right candidate.”

[…]

So far, there is no clear Democratic front-runner, according to State Rep. James Talarico. He campaigned alongside Hegar for his seat in the Texas House and said the key to flipping the congressional district is to have an inclusive platform and work across the aisle.

“It’s going to take a candidate who has a message that appeals to a broad base of community members. One that fires up our Democratic base while still being inclusive of independents and even some disillusioned Republicans,” said Talarico.

Mann, who entered the primary before the other four candidates, has been the top fundraiser in contributions, collecting $171,000 through Dec. 31, according to Federal Election Commission records. Imam has raised $208,000, though it includes a $100,000 loan to herself.

Steve Armbruster, chair of the Williamson County Republican Party, sees Hegar’s 2018 run as lightning in a bottle and is doubtful Democrats will replicate her performance.

“I don’t think that the Democrats have anybody on their side of the aisle that they could choose that would have the ability to draw voters out like they had two years ago,” Armbruster said.

Hegar said she believes this year’s Democratic lineup is competitive enough to finish what she started in 2018.

“We have a strong batch of candidates, and I am confident that by continuing to mobilize volunteers and voters the eventual nominee will close the 2.9 [percentage point] gap we had left and send John Carter to retirement in 2020,” Hegar said in an email.

The story of CD31 is like the story of several other Congressional districts, in that it took a small step in a blue direction from 2012 to 2016, then went really far in that direction in 2018. It’s no surprise at all that CD31 is on the DCCC target list, but let’s do keep in mind how far we have come.


2012

Carter  61.3%  Wyman   35.0%
Romney  59.4%  Obama   38.1%
Keller  57.8%  Hampton 36.8%

2016

Carter  58.4%  Clark   36.5%
Trump   52.6%  Clinton 40.1%
Keasler 56.8%  Burns   37.3%

2018

Carter  50.6%  Hegar   47.7%
Cruz    50.5%  Beto    48.4%
Keller  52.7%  Jackson 44.2%

That’s incumbent John Carter versus his opponent that year, then the top of the ticket, and then a Court of Criminal Appeals race for further context. Carter was used to doing better than other Republicans in CD31, but that did not happen with MJ Hegar as his opponent. The blue shift has occurred up and down the ballot, but the top has gone farther in our direction, as you can see. That means there’s still work to be done, and that the candidate quality will matter. It also means that if the environment isn’t quite as good as we hope it will be, what looks competitive now will be less so later. On the other hand, if the Presidential race remains as close as recent polling has indicated it is, then we should expect to see conditions much like 2018, with the extra benefit of further demographic change and Presidential year turnout.

I don’t know any of these candidates well enough to have a preference. I’m sure they’d all be fine. I also don’t expect anyone to raise money like Hegar did, but we do need someone to start raking it in, so that they can have the resources they will need in November. I’m hoping the primary will give us some clarity, at the very least.

2020 Primary Early Voting, Day Seven

And we’re back at it. Here’s the Day Seven report for 2020, and here are the totals from 2012, 2016, and 2018. The totals after Day Four:


Year    Mail    Early    Total
==============================
2012   5,609   14,063   19,672
2016  10,180   28,367   38,547
2018  11,207   30,064   41,271
2020  16,651   44,339   60,990

2012  12,535   29,508   42,043
2016  14,683   40,547   55,230
2018  13,812   26,959   40,771
2020  18,949   39,207   58,156

A big mail day for the Republicans keeps them close to even with the Dems, who had their best in person day (by 100) and their best overall day not counting Day One (by 300). The usual pattern is for small gains on Tuesday and Wednesday, and the big step on Thursday and Friday.

What’s going on statewide? Let’s see what Derek Ryan had to say Monday.

Someone reached out and asked what turnout looked like compared to 2016. I was only able to compare the top 15 largest counties to this same point in 2016. Interestingly enough, the number of voters in the 2020 Republican Primary is larger than it was at this point in 2016 (225,826 vs 212,142). The current turnout percent is 2.1% in these counties in the Republican Primary.

I was honestly a little surprised that the total numbers were up since there is no contested presidential race in the Republican Primary this cycle. So, for comparison, I looked at the turnout in the 2012 Democratic Primary when President Obama was basically unopposed in his bid to be the Democratic nominee for a second term. Turnout at this point in 2012 was only 1.3%. (One reason turnout is higher this year in the Republican Primary compared to the 2012 Democratic Primary is the number of contested primaries for congressional seats.)

On the Democratic side, turnout is up significantly over 2016 in the top counties. Over 100,000 more people have voted in the Democratic Primary in 2020 than voted at this point in 2016 (271,377 vs. 170,839). The current turnout percent is 2.6%.

Click over to see a chart comparing the early vote so far in the top 15 counties from 2016 to 2018, as well as his Day 6 analysis. I’ve been curious about how much the top 15 counties’ turnout represents for each party, so I put together this table:


Year D   Big 15      Total  Big 15%
===================================
2016  1,062,607  1,423,895    74.0%
2020    271,377    374,320    72.5%

Year R   Big 15      Total  Big 15%
===================================
2016  1,527,315  2,836,488    53.8%
2020    225,826    464,569    48.6%

The 2016 numbers in each case are final totals, and the 2020 numbers are what we have so far. You’d expect that Dems get most of their turnout from the big counties, while Republicans get a lot of theirs from the other counties. I find it somewhat encouraging that Dems are getting a slightly larger share of their primary vote from the other counties, and I find it interesting that Republicans’ share of turnout from the big counties has dropped as much as it appears to have. I’m presenting this for entertainment value only, as we can really only compare the final totals for each, so just enjoy it for now and we’ll check it again later.

2020 Primary Early Voting, Day Six: On to Week Two

We’re back from the weekend, where the only votes tallied are in-person. We have five more days of early voting to go. Here’s the Day Six report for 2020, and here are the totals from 2012, 2016, and 2018. The totals after Day Four:


Year    Mail    Early    Total
==============================
2012   5,609   11,880   17,489
2016   8,850   23,384   32,234
2018   9,620   24,335   33,955
2020  15,101   36,712   51,813

2012  12,111   25,097   37,208
2016  12,205   32,641   44,846
2018  12,642   21,856   34,498
2020  16,528   32,630   49,158

Democrats had 11,538 voters on Saturday and Sunday combined, Republicans had 7,852. Week Two is where it should start getting busier. Dems have fallen behind their earlier pace, as they now have increased their 2016 vote by about 61%; Republicans are ahead of 2016 by about eight percent. I think things will pick back up this week, but if we want to guess final turnout, the great unknown is how much of the vote will be cast early, and how much will show up on Tuesday, March 3. There’s no obvious pattern in recent primaries:


Year     Mail    Early    E-Day   E-Day%
========================================
2008    9,445  169,900  231,560    56.4%
2010    7,193   33,770   60,300    59.5%
2012    8,775   30,136   35,575    47.8%
2014    8,961   22,727   22,100    41.1%
2016   14,828   72,777  139,675    61.5%
2018   22,695   70,152   75,135    44.7%

E-Day% is the share of the vote cast on Primary Day. In the two high-turnout Presidential-year primaries, more than half the vote was cast on Primary Day. My gut says we’ll see similar behavior this year, but whether it’s 55% of the vote on Primary Day or over 60%, I don’t know. We’ll take a shot at guessing final turnout another day. Have you voted yet?

Endorsement watch: The rest of Congress

I think we are finally getting to the end of the Chron’s primary endorsements. We had the Senate and Tax Assessor, there are these four Congressional endorsements, all of which ran on Saturday, and I think the only races left may be the HCDE primaries. We’ll see, I’m probably forgetting something. Anyway, let’s go through these:

Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee for CD18.

Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee

Jackson Lee, one of the most senior Democrats in Congress, is consistently ranked as one of the most effective lawmakers. In 2019, according to GovTrack.us, she cosponsored 772 bills and resolutions and introduced another 38.

Last month, the president signed into law a bill authored by Jackson Lee and U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, a Republican, commissioning a federal study for a 51-mile Emancipation Trail between Galveston and Houston — a rare bipartisan effort in this politically polarized atmosphere. She has also taken up the late John Conyers’ effort to create a commission to study reparations, an effort applauded by this editorial board.

That record earns Jackson Lee our endorsement in the Democratic primary for Houston’s 18th Congressional District.

It is worth noting that Jackson Lee faces six challengers in the primary, a sign that many in her district are hungry for change.

[…]

Jackson Lee would do well to listen to her opponents’ concerns and the issues for which they are advocating.

I question the logic behind the claim having multiple opponents in this primary is “a sign that many in her district are hungry for change”. Maybe if she loses the primary or is forced into a runoff, that would be such a sign. John Cornyn had seven challengers in the 2014 Republican primary, which he wound up winning with 59% of the vote. Anyone with the right paperwork and a check for the filing fee can run for office. I don’t know what the number of candidates has to do with the electorate’s desire for change. And in the brief recitation (that I have omitted from this excerpt) of her opponents’ concerns and issues, I didn’t see anything that Jackson Lee would have been opposed or even indifferent to. Maybe be a little more specific here? Just a thought.

Sima Ladjevardian for CD02:

Sima Ladjevardian

With hopes of flipping a seat held by a high-profile Republican, the question of “electability” will be a top priority for Democratic voters in the March 3 primary for House District 2.

That would make Houston lawyer, political activist and former Beto O’Rourke adviser Sima Ladjevardian the logical choice.

A late entry in the race, filing just hours before the Dec. 9 deadline, Ladjevardian still reported the most money raised and cash on hand at the end of the year. She also has the best potential for raising the cash needed for the Nov. 3 election face-off with incumbent Dan Crenshaw, who is unopposed in the Republican primary.

National pollsters and analysts put the race in the “likely Republican” category, but Crenshaw’s 53 percent vote in 2018 suggests he is not invulnerable.

The other Democratic challengers are Elisa Cardnell, a Navy veteran, a single mom and high school math and physics teacher, and Travis Olsen, who resigned his job with the Department of Homeland Security last year in protest of the administration’s family separation policy and other immigration issues.

Plenty of primary endorsements come down to this sort of practical assessment – these candidates are all roughly equivalent in terms of their positions and their experiences, so which one do we think will have the best shot at winning? I feel like it’s relatively uncommon for the Chron to state it this baldly, but there it is. Sima (*) has indeed been a brisk fundraiser, which is no doubt the reason why the DCCC added CD02 as a target. It’s easy to understand the rationale for all this, but it has to be a little frustrating for the candidates, not just for someone like Elisa Cardnell, who has been in this race for almost a year and hasn’t done too badly in fundraising herself while also making the “electability” argument based on her status as a Navy veteran, but also for Sima, whose own qualities get de-emphasized due to her ability to bring in money. It’s important to remember that the main reason for this rationale, whether you agree with it or not, and whether you agree with this particular conclusion to it or not, is that all three candidates are well-qualified and appealing, and we have to find a distinction somewhere.

(*) I recognize that it is often patronizing to refer to candidates, especially female candidates, by their first names. In this case, the candidate is doing that branding herself, on her domain name and campaign materials. I’m sure that’s in large part because “Ladjevardian” is much longer and more intimidating to pronounce and spell than “Sima” is – for sure, “Sima” fits quite nicely on a yard sign or T-shirt – and in part because there’s a well-documented penalty that candidates who have “funny” or “foreign-looking” surnames suffer. All this is a much more involved discussion for another time, I just wanted to acknowledge it.

Laura Jones for CD08:

Laura Jones

Laura Jones and Elizabeth Hernandez see themselves as “regular people” who decided to do more than just complain about things. They each independently decided it was time to run for Congress.

For now, that means the two Democrats are trying to get their message out to voters in a solidly Republican House District 8 that sprawls across all or part of nine counties. They have little financial resources and almost no name recognition.

The winner of the March 3 Democratic primary will advance to the November election, almost certainly to face 12-term incumbent Kevin Brady, the top-ranking Republican on the powerful Ways and Means Committee. Brady was re-elected in 2018 with 73 percent of the vote.

Brady reported having more than $1 million in his campaign account at the end of 2019. Jones reported a little less than $2,000 and Hernandez had $0.

[…]

Jones, 42, said she has also made a point of meeting with mayors and other elected officials across the district, including many Republicans, to talk about these “regular people” problems.

It is that work and her experience in county politics that makes Jones the best choice in this Democratic primary.

It’s easy to look at a race like this and say it’s pointless, it’s hopeless, let’s put our energy and resources into races we can win. I get that, and I agree that a Democratic win in CD08 would be a monumental upset. But I’d also argue that running these races, with quality candidates, is important in their own fundamental way. For one, we can’t ever abandon any part of the state or subset of the population, not if we truly believe that our values and beliefs are beneficial to all. For another, things do change over time – see, for example, the former Republican stronghold known as Fort Bend County – and it’s so much better to have been a presence all along. At its most practical level, we Democrats need to give all our compatriots a reason to vote. We’re lucky to have people like Laura Jones and Elizabeth Hernandez doing that work in places where the challenges are greater and the rewards are not as apparent.

Mike Siegel in CD10:

Mike Siegel

Democratic voters in Texas’s 10th Congressional District have a difficult choice to make, as the three candidates in the primary race — Shannon Hutcheson, Pritesh Gandhi and Mike Siegel — all offer compelling reasons why they should be selected to take on seven-term U.S. Rep. Mike McCaul.

Hutcheson, a lawyer who has represented Planned Parenthood, impressed us with her passion for education and bringing affordable health care to Texas families. Gandhi, a doctor and Fulbright scholar, protested the treatment of migrant children at the border and founded Doctors Against Gun Violence.

All promise solutions to issues such as climate change, gun control and health care, but in this race, we give the edge to Siegel.

His efforts in 2018, a race he lost by 4 percentage points to the powerful incumbent, convinced Democrats that the district was within grasp. He formed that challenge on a grassroots appeal that built upon his record of service as a teacher and assistant city attorney in Austin, where he led the charge in the suit against Texas’s anti-immigrant SB 4 law. During his campaign, he succeeded in protecting the voting rights of students at the historically black Prairie View A&M University.

“As Democrats, the way we’re going to win in Texas is by establishing this reputation that we will fight for the people here,” he told the Editorial Board.

Interestingly, this is in some ways a reverse of the endorsement in CD02, in that Siegel has raised the least money of the three candidates. Siegel did run before, and that’s valuable experience to have, and unlike in 2018 this race has been on the radar from the beginning, so the considerations are a little different. I’m just noting this in part because the distinction one has to find among otherwise equally attractive candidates doesn’t have to be about money. Other things can serve as a tie-breaker, too.

Trib overview of the CD10 primary

I have three things to say about this.

Mike Siegel

When Mike Siegel made a long-shot bid to unseat U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Austin, two years ago, few were watching — until he surprised political observers and came within 5 points of flipping the longtime Republican seat. Now the seat is up for election again, and national Democrats are paying attention.

Siegel’s 2018 result means the 10th Congressional District, which stretches from metro Austin to the northwest outskirts of Houston, is finally considered in play after a 2003 redistricting left it deeply gerrymandered and solidly red. Many more eyes are now on the race, including the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s. But for Siegel, that has translated to tougher competition.

A former lawyer for the city of Austin, Siegel is vying for the Democratic nomination along with two newcomers: labor and employment lawyer Shannon Hutcheson and physician Pritesh Gandhi, both also from Austin.

A primary runoff is likely in TX-10, but with two weeks to go until Super Tuesday, it’s still uncertain who will make the cut. Siegel and his supporters put the district “on the map” last cycle after “the state and national party had left [it] for dead,” Siegel told The Intercept in June.

“People across this district remember me for showing up when for decades Democrats hadn’t really shown up, in some of these rural communities in particular,” Siegel told The Texas Tribune. “They appreciate that we brought this race so close without a lot of outside support.”

Siegel faced even more primary opponents in 2018 but won the nomination relatively easily. He garnered more than double the votes of each of his opponents in the first round of voting and went on to win the runoff by nearly 40 percentage points.

But Siegel holds views that might raise questions about whether he’s the right candidate to flip a traditionally red district. Because he is the most progressive candidate and the only one who supports “Medicare for All” and the Green New Deal, his bid could be seen as a riskier choice to challenge McCaul in the historically Republican district.

Hutcheson and Gandhi have taken more moderate positions, and each is getting some national support. Hutcheson has been endorsed by EMILY’s List, the influential group that works to elect Democratic women who support abortion rights. Gandhi, meanwhile, has the backing of 314 Action, which backs scientists running for office.

Fundraising in the primary has been competitive, especially between Gandhi and Hutcheson. In the fourth quarter, Gandhi and Hutcheson raised $257,000 and $216,000, respectively, while Siegel has trailed behind with $96,000. This was the first quarter Gandhi out-raised his opponents.

1. I feel like we all need to aim for a higher level of precision when we use the word “gerrymandering”. A district that heavily favors one party is not necessarily “gerrymandered”. The old, pre-2003 CD10, which was a nice, compact, entirely-within-Travis-County district, was a safe Democratic seat and not at all “gerrymandered”. CD13, which hews almost entirely to state and county borders and is ridiculously Republican, is almost the exact opposite of “gerrymandered”. A funny-looking district isn’t necessarily “gerrymandered”, either. CD18 is an African-American opportunity district, and has been drawn the way it is to encompass many African-American neighborhoods. For sure, Texas is a longtime and notorious hotbed of gerrymandering, and we should expect more of it in 2021. But context matters, and it would be helpful to have a clear idea of why a particular district’s boundaries are offensive or illogical or just plain nakedly partisan, if only to pick the right battles.

The current CD10 was certainly drawn with ill intent, partly to defenestrate Lloyd Doggett (oops) and partly to deprive the city of Austin of representation. The irony here is that, at least based on the 2018 election, the end result was to conjure up a fairly competitive district, which was not at all what the Republicans had in mind. A combination of booming growth in Travis County, and a one-two punch of demographic change and Trump-inspired suburban shifting in Harris County – compare CD10 2012 and CD10 2018 to see the effect – has worked to threaten what Tom DeLay once envisioned. None of that undoes the malice in the map, but it does show that the best-laid plans can (maybe) be undone by sufficiently rapid increases in population and diversity.

2. It’s important to remember, though, that as hard as CD10 swung towards Democrats in 2018, it was not at all clear it would be as competitive as it turned out to be following the 2016 election. Trump still carried CD10 by a 51.9 to 42.8 margin, and no other Democrat reached 40% in the district. As the 2018 cycle went on, and it became clear what the political environment was like, it made sense to put some resources into longer-shot districts like CD10. Mike Siegel did raise almost $500K in the 2018 cycle, which sounds like nothing now but was one of many record-breaking hauls at the time. He was also on the low end of the spectrum, raising less money than candidates like Julie Oliver and Jana Lynne Sanchez. The DCCC has to make choices about where it spends its money, and CD10 wasn’t at the top of the list in 2018. Maybe a million bucks or two dropped on that district might have helped, who knows. I don’t think it was outrageous the way priorities were made last cycle .

3. Siegel is doing better on fundraising this time around – as of the January 2020 report, he had almost matched his entire total from the 2018 cycle. It’s just that this time, he has opponents who are doing even better on that score. Several repeat candidates from 2018 are far outpacing their opponents in fundraising – Gina Ortiz Jones, Sri Kulkarni, Julie Oliver – but Mike Siegel is not in that class. He can very much win this primary, and whoever does get the nomination will justifiably have establishment support going forward. He happens to have drawn strong opponents this year. That’s the way it goes.

Endorsement watch: Senate and Tax Assessor

I’ve been very interested to see what the Chron would make of the Senate primary. Now we know: Royce West is their choice.

Sen. Royce West

We believe that candidate is state Sen. Royce West of Dallas, an African-American trailblazer whose record over 26 years in the Legislature is full of accomplishments as well as moments of courage and vision.

He’s been a state leader on issues as diverse as finance, criminal justice, public education and civil rights..

When then-Gov. Rick Perry drew fire in 2011 for a sign at his family hunting ranch that included a racial slur, it was West who spoke against labeling Perry, then running for president, a racist. But that same year, when the Texas division of the Sons of the Confederacy sought to have Texas issue license plates with the Confederate battle flag, West demanded the Department of Motor Vehicles reject the plates, which it did on a razor-thin vote. The decision triggered a challenge that went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court before West’s position was affirmed.

[…]

Our support for West meant bypassing some incredible contenders. Former Houston City Council member Amanda Edwards was an excellent public servant with a shining intellect whom we hope finds a way to continue in another role.

The front-runner in the race, Mary “M.J.” Hegar, showed why she has enjoyed early support. She was engaging, knowledgeable and told her remarkable story of bravery under fire as an Air Force pilot in Afghanistan. Michael Cooper, who ran for lieutenant governor in 2018, and Sema Hernandez, an activist in Houston making her second Senate run, , are also intriguing candidates. Among others in the race who have made a positive impression are former Houston council member and one-term Congressman Chris Bell, El Paso native Adrian Ocegueda and Cristina Tzintzún Ramirez.

But among the dozen candidates on the ballot, none has anything like West’s legislative experience. We strongly suggest Democrats back his bid to challenge Cornyn. He also has an inspiring story, and a record to match.

I think Royce West is a fine candidate with a long and distinguished record of accomplishment in the State Senate. In an earlier cycle, he’d have been hailed as a hero for taking on the challenge. Hell, that would have happened in 2018, even with Beto’s entry into the race. This year, he’s still a serious candidate with a known base of support, but he was the fourth serious candidate in the race, with Amanda Edwards stepping on his entrance. He’s been fine, and his Dallas base gives him a great shot at making the runoff, but I wouldn’t say he’s generated much excitement. Again, he’s fine and he’d be fine. This is who he is.

And back in Harris County, they endorse Ann Harris Bennett for Tax Assessor.

Ann Harris Bennett

In the summer of 2018, Harris County voters could have used a bulldog. That’s when the Harris County tax assessor-collector and voter registrar, Ann Harris Bennett, mistakenly placed more than 1,700 voters on a suspension list after a local Republican party operative challenged the registrations of 4,000 voters.

Bennett was criticized for confusing voters and not following the law, which allowed voters time to respond before they were placed on any suspension list. Bennett quickly corrected the problem and she told the Editorial Board during a candidate screening that the two employees who generated the erroneous notices are no longer with her office.

Her Democratic challenger, Jolanda Jones, says that’s not good enough. Being a criminal defense lawyer, Jones says she has the knowledge to make sure the office follows the law. Being a bulldog, the former Houston city councilwoman and “Survivor” contestant says she’d fight for voters, and for taxpayers, to protect their rights and their hard-earned dollars.

We have to admit, Jones made such an appealing case that we were almost willing to overlook her tumultuous political career, including her contributions to a fractious Houston ISD board known for petty squabbles and so much dysfunction that it’s in the process of being taken over by the state. Jones points out, correctly, that a Texas Education Agency investigation into wrongdoing on the board did not take issue with her.

“I’m going to use the same vigor, even when it’s not popular, like I did on the school board to fight for taxpayers,” Jones told us. “I’m going to be a taxpayer warrior.”

We love her spirit. We’re just not sure that the tax office, which oversees billions of dollars in property tax collections and processes millions of vehicle registrations and title transfers every year, needs a fighter as much as a diligent public servant.

I mean, that’s the choice in this race. Either option can be justified, and they each have their plusses and minuses. (A perennial crank is also in the race, and none of that last statement applies to him.) My interview with Ann Harris Bennett is here, and my interview with Jolanda Jones is here. You have the info you need, now make your choice.

Judicial Q&A: Veronica Rivas-Molloy

(Note: As I have done in past elections, I am running a series of Q&As for judicial candidates in contested Democratic primaries. This is intended to help introduce the candidates and their experiences to those who plan to vote in March. I am running these responses in the order that I receive them from the candidates.)

Veronica Rivas-Molloy

1. Who are you and what are you running for?

My name is Veronica Rivas-Molloy. I am honored and proud to ask for your support to become a Justice on the First Court of Appeals, Place 3.

I am a wife, a mother of three young sons, a proud immigrant to this country, and a practicing attorney of almost 20 years. I am the first person in my family to graduate from college, the first to obtain an advanced degree, and the first attorney. If elected, I will be the first judge in my family, the first Democratic elected Hispanic attorney to serve on the First Court of Appeals, and only the second Latina to serve on the court in 128 years, bringing much needed diversity to our appellate bench.

I have a degree in Criminal Justice and Spanish (with honors) from the University of Texas at El Paso. I graduated with honors and at the top of my law school class from the University of Houston Law Center. After graduation, I secured a highly coveted position as a judicial clerk in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Texas, gaining invaluable experience. For the last 17 years, I have worked at top-tier law firms representing my clients in litigation and appellate matters in Texas and other jurisdictions in the United States. I have handled hundreds of complex litigation matters involving various industries and areas of the law, tried over 20 jury cases (including civil, criminal, and immigration matters), and counseled my clients on a variety of appellate matters. My experience is extensive and it has prepared me well for the position I now seek.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

There are 14 Courts of Appeals in Texas, each presiding over a specific geographic territory. The First Court of Appeals is located in Houston, Texas. The Chief Justice and eight Associate Justices preside over the court and hear civil and criminal (except death penalty) appeals originating from trial courts in 10 counties: Austin, Brazoria, Chambers, Colorado, Fort Bend, Galveston, Grimes, Harris, Waller, and Washington counties.

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

I want to serve my community and give back to the legal profession that gave me a voice and the opportunity to advocate on behalf of others. I have a passion for what I do, and I want to use my skills and experience to give back to our community and serve our judicial system, for which I have profound respect. I also want to bring my wealth of experience and diverse voice to our appellate bench, where I feel I can make a meaningful contribution.

On a personal level, I also want to set an example for my children and diverse youth who may be considering a career in law. I want them to know the importance of civic duty and service, and for them to grow up knowing that immigrants, mothers, and diverse attorneys can be Justices and serve our communities with integrity, excellence, and hard work.

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

I have practiced law for almost 20 years, handling a wide-variety of complex business disputes throughout Texas and other jurisdictions in the United States. I have represented numerous clients in state and federal courts, including county courts at law, district courts, appellate courts, and before domestic and international arbitral tribunals in disputes involving oil and gas operations, real estate, healthcare, construction, personal injury, employment matters, trade secrets, non-compete and restrictive covenants, and a diverse range of complex contractual and business-related matters. I have met the highest and most rigorous standards at all levels of my legal profession: student, law clerk, and legal practitioner.

I graduated with honors from the University of Texas at El Paso with a double degree in Criminal Justice and Spanish. I graduated from the University of Houston Law Center with honors and at the top of my law school class, where I served as an Article Editor on the Law Review, a Prosecutor on the Honor Court, the Vice President of the Hispanic Student Bar Association, and a Class Representative for the Student Bar Association.

After graduation, I secured a highly coveted position as a judicial clerk working for the Honorable Ewing Werlein, Jr. in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Texas, where I gained invaluable experience working on a significant number of civil litigation matters. I worked on procedural and substantive matters assisting the court with trials, dispositive motions, jurisdictional disputes, evidentiary hearings, expert challenges, injunction hearings, pre-trial matters, jury charges, findings of fact, and conclusions of law. I engaged in rigorous legal analysis and extensive brief writing, drafting recommendations on the myriad of cases and legal matters presented to the court over the course of two years.

Working in court also helped me understand not only the importance of having open access to our courts and the significance of the rule of law to our democracy, but also the importance of staffing and administration of a court’s docket to ensure efficient, fair and prompt resolution of pending cases. I also understood very early on that judges are servants of our judicial system, and, that as such, they have a duty to rule with impartiality, justice, equality, and with utmost respect for our judicial system. I learned the importance of having proper judicial temperament, and the importance of excellence, hard work and integrity.

Following my clerkship, I worked at the law firm of Baker Botts, LLP, where I continued to work on various litigation matters helping further refine my analytical, oral, and written advocacy skills. I represented clients across different industries in matters involving general commercial litigation and complex business disputes. I also served as a volunteer prosecutor for the City of Houston, where I managed the docket of the court (first-chair) once a week, engaging in various matters, such as plea bargaining, interfacing with defense counsel, working with court staff, officers, and witnesses, and trying numerous cases to the jury involving administrative and criminal matters.

For the last 10 years, I have worked at the law firm of Jones Walker, LLP, advocating for my clients and representing them on a diverse range of complex business disputes and appellate matters. I represent clients in state and federal courts across Texas, and other jurisdictions in the United States, including county courts at law, district courts, appellate courts, and arbitral tribunals. I have first-chair experience handling a significant number of bench and jury civil matters, helping my clients develop legal strategy and conduct fact discovery and investigations, motion practice, depositions, preparation and presentation of witnesses and experts, evidentiary hearings, expert challenges, legal briefs, jury charges, pre-trial matters, mediations, arbitrations, trial, and appeals in a wide-variety of complex business disputes.

My significant experience in civil litigation makes me uniquely suited to be a Justice on the First Court of Appeals, because more than half of all appeals filed before that court involve civil matters, including complex business disputes like the ones I have been handling for years. It is important to elect judges who have a robust civil litigation practice and experience in trial courts, from which these civil appeals originate. I have that experience. In addition, it is vital that we elect judges who have strong written advocacy skills. As a litigator and former law clerk, a significant part of my practice has been devoted to rigorous legal analysis and extensive written advocacy.

In addition to my litigation practice, I work directly with Kids in Need of Defense (KIND) providing pro bono representation to unaccompanied minors in their immigration and asylum proceedings. I also serve as General Counsel for Holy Trinity Episcopal School of Greater Houston, where I provide pro bono legal advice and representation to the school on various matters. I am also actively involved in my sons’ schools, having served on their parent teacher organizations, volunteering on multiple committees and special projects, and volunteering as their catechism teacher at our church.

5. Why is this race important?

Our courts of appeals hear significant cases that affect not only the parties before the court, but our communities at large. The decisions appellate courts render also influence our jurisprudence on a statewide level because they set the precedent our lower courts and legal practitioners apply and follow in their daily practice. It is important to elect judges who have a proven record of success, high qualifications for the job, and a commitment to doing the hard work necessary to give each case the attention it deserves for the parties, our communities, and the integrity of our judiciary and system of laws.

It is also vital that our courts reflect the diversity of the communities they serve. No attorneys of color presently serve on the First Court of Appeals, which presides over some of the most diverse counties and cities in our country. It is imperative that we improve the diversity of our appellate bench. Diversity not only enhances our judiciary by ensuring that different life perspectives and experiences form part of the decision-making process when ruling on significant legal issues, it also helps enhance the public perception and legitimacy of our judicial system.

6. Why should people vote for you in the primary?

I have significant experience and the skill set necessary to be an excellent Justice on the First Court of Appeals. My record of success is a testament to the quality of work and commitment I will bring to the bench.

I have a strong work ethic and self-discipline, both of which have served me well and have resulted in my success as an attorney. I have achieved not only academic success in my career, graduating with honors and at the top of my law school class, but also professional success, securing a federal clerkship and working at top-tier firms, providing legal advice to my firm clients and also giving back by representing indigent clients on a pro bono basis in various matters. I will bring that same work ethic and discipline to the bench to ensure diligent, fair, and prompt resolution of matters before the court.

I have a reputation for producing high caliber legal work, and for professionalism, always working with the utmost respect for my colleagues, clients, and adversaries. I strive to work with integrity and the highest ethical standards at all times—values that are the foundation of my legal career and should be at the core of any judicial candidate or jurist. If excellence, hard work, and integrity are values that resonate with you, then I ask for your vote. Those values have defined me as a person and professional, and they will guide me as a Justice on the First Court of Appeal serving you and our community. I hope to earn your trust and your vote. It will be a privilege to serve you and our judiciary.

2020 Primary Early Voting, Day Four: First Friday

We are at the end of the first business week, shortened by the holiday on Monday. It’s been a brisk week, especially compared to other years, but there should be a lot more to come. Here’s the Day Four report for 2020, and here are the totals from 2012, 2016, and 2018. The totals after Day Four:


Year    Mail    Early    Total
==============================
2012   5,609    8,542   14,151
2016   8,850   14,554   23,404
2018   8,844   16,110   24,954
2020  15,101   25,254   40,355

2012  12,111   18,643   30,754
2016  12,205   21,348   33,553
2018  12,530   15,515   28,045
2020  16,528   24,778   41,306

A large number of Republican mail ballots being returned push them into the lead so far. More Dems have voted in person, and more Dem mail ballots remain to be returned than Republican mail ballots (23K to 15K). Democrats have had a bigger jump in turnout from 2016, but they had a lower base to start with. I’m seeing more or less what I expected from Dems, but more Republicans are turning out than I thought would. We’ll see how that continues.

By the way, I combined Days Four and Five from 2012 in this report. Unlike the 2016 and 2018, the 2012 primary was in May (remember that?), so that year the first week of early voting was a full first week. All the totals you see now are through the Friday of that year.

It’s been a long week and I don’t have it in me to do much analysis. I’ll have more tomorrow. Have you voted yet?

Endorsement watch: Not Borris

The Chron makes its second major endorsement against an incumbent.

Melissa Morris

Texas Senate District 13 stretches through Harris County into the northeastern corner of Fort Bend County. It winds through struggling neighborhoods such as Sunnyside and the world-renowned Texas Medical Center and reflects our city’s rich diversity in the East End, Greater Fifth Ward and Chinatown.

Its residents deserve an elected representative attentive to its needs and able to pass legislation that will make a difference where it’s most needed.

State Sen. Borris Miles has been effective in getting funding for programs such as the Miles Ahead Scholars Program, a mentoring initiative for boys of color. He also introduced legislation to stem maternal mortality and end criminal prosecutions for failing to keep up with rent-to-own payments.

But Miles fell short in his response to the discovery of a suspected cancer cluster in Fifth Ward. Miles told the Editorial Board that he first learned of the cluster in 2017 and responded by holding community meetings and sending a strongly worded letter to TCEQ. It wasn’t until U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee got involved, Milessaid, that the issue got the attention it deserved.

That raised serious questions for us — and for one of his challengers in the Democratic primary,

During our candidate screening, attorney Melissa Morris asked Miles why he had not contacted Jackson Lee when he first learned of the cluster.

“I didn’t share it with her in 2017,” Miles responded. “I felt it was a state issue.”

Morris countered that such a serious issue merited a more urgent response from the senator representing the afflicted neighborhood. We agree. Miles’s contention that he had to follow a process doesn’t hold water when the health and lives of the people in his district are at stake.

They mention, in passing, the harassment allegations against Sen. Miles, which were an issue in the GLBT Caucus endorsement process but have otherwise been largely ignored, but this cancer cluster and Sen. Miles’ response to it was their red line. I don’t know how consequential this will be. Morris has little money, no other endorsements, and a poorly constructed webpage that doesn’t display her banner photo correctly (on two machines, and in two browsers) and links to facebook.com and twitter.com (and Google Plus, for crying out loud) instead of her own campaign Facebook account (no Twitter or Instagram, as far as I could find for her). Point being, she may be a good person and a qualified candidate, she’s probably not the most formidable opponent one could imagine.

Also endorsed yesterday: US Rep. Al Green in CD09.

While other congressional Democrats are facing primary challenges from the left wing of the party, eight-term Rep. Al Green has the opposite problem.

His lone opponent in House District 9, political newcomer Melissa Wilson, describes herself as “pro-life,” especially concerning late-term abortions, opposes an assault-weapons ban and is against imposing a higher minimum wage on small businesses.

Far from criticizing Green for not being progressive enough, Wilson says she is running against the incumbent as a “moderate” who will bring much-needed “young blood and fresh eyes” to Congress.

While a greater diversity of thought would make both political parties healthier, there is no evidence that Green’s more traditional liberal positions are out of step with his district. He was reelected with 89 percent of the vote in 2018, 81 percent in 2016 and 91 percent in 2014.

It also would be counter-productive for area voters to surrender Green’s seniority and leadership position on the Financial Services Committee when Democrats are expected to retain control of the House.

Green, 72, points to his work in securing $90 million for flood protection projects along Brays and Sims bayous. He says he continues to work on legislation to streamline recovery aid in future disasters.

Green is the right choice for voters in the March 3 Democratic primary.

I like Rep. Green and would have supported him regardless, but all this is a hard no from me. Better young blood and fresh eyes, please.

Chron overview of Tax Assessor race

I wasn’t expecting an interesting race here, at least not going into the filing season, but we have one.

Ann Harris Bennett

Harris County Tax Assessor-Collector Ann Harris Bennett is familiar with elections, appearing on the ballot five times in the last six election cycles and overseeing the office responsible for the voter rolls in Texas’ largest county.

She finds herself in new territory this year, however, with a feisty Democratic primary opponent — former Houston city councilwoman and HISD trustee Jolanda Jones — who is forcing Bennett to defend her record as an incumbent for the first time.

After unseating Republican Mike Sullivan in 2016, Bennett assumed elected office for the first time, taking control of the Harris County office responsible for overseeing billions of dollars in property tax collections and serving as voter registrar. The office also processes millions of annual vehicle registrations and title transfers.

As early voting begins, Bennett is battling for a second term against Jones and frequent local candidate Jack Terence. Though she has endured a few choppy moments during her first three-plus years, she argues that her voter registration outreach efforts and the creation of educational “property tax workshops” are among the reasons she deserves another term.

[…]

Jones, a criminal defense lawyer, said Bennett has missed opportunities to register more voters in Harris County, where the share of eligible voters who are registered to vote is below the state average and far lower than some other large counties.

She said she would make aggressive efforts to register voters, including former felons and high school students, and would have Harris County buy into the “National Change of Address” database, which helps voter registrars keep track of registered voters when they move to new addresses.

Jones argued that Harris County’s voter registration has lagged behind that of other Texas counties that use the database, though Bennett has said her office already uses it to find residents in “suspense” status. Bennett said her office has done “everything that we could possibly do to do outreach,” including partnering with nonprofit groups and holding some 200 trainings for deputy voter registrars.

As a reminder, my interview with Ann Harris Bennett is here, and my interview with Jolanda Jones is here. They’re worth listening to if you haven’t yet. Bennett has had a fairly placid first term, with that SOS purge attempt being the main drama. She’s not a visionary, but she has gotten things done. Jones is smart and has bold ideas that she would aggressively fight for, but she had a tumultuous tenure on City Council and hasn’t been an administrator. Which path do you want to take?

Endorsement watch: Four more

The Chron endorses Rodney Ellis for County Commissioner, Precinct 1, and then proceeds to spend the endorsement mostly talking about his opponent.

Commissioner Rodney Ellis

Count us among those who were a little surprised when felony court Judge Maria T. Jackson resigned her seat as Harris County’s longest serving judge to run against Rodney Ellis, the powerful, well-funded longtime state senator-turned-county commissioner in Precinct 1.

Count us among those who welcomed her nerve. No public official should get used to running unopposed, even one as productive as Ellis. And the 65-year-old veteran lawmaker and former Houston city councilman has left himself open to criticism for not trying harder to build consensus with Republicans, a pattern that led to a failed tax increase before a legislatively imposed revenue cap.

So it’s disappointing that Jackson, 55, known as tough jurist who also served as a municipal judge and an administrative judge, fell far short of making a coherent case for why she’d be more effective on Commissioner Court.

In a 90-minute interview with the editorial board, Jackson’s main criticism of Ellis centered around his role shepherding through Harris County’s historic bail reform settlement, saying she supported the principle but it didn’t include help for victims and it has led to people out on no-cash bonds reoffending. But she misstated parts of the deal, claiming defendants would get free Uber rides and other assistance, items not included in the final agreement.

Jackson bemoaned millions of dollars for studies on why people don’t go to court — an oversimplification of the scope — saying “most of us know why people don’t go to court. They don’t want to go to jail.” That’s another oversimplification that betrays a lack of compassion for misdemeanor defendants who often balance multiple jobs and transportation challenges.

Asked why she thought her campaign had drawn significant donations from the bail bonding industry, which supported keeping the unconstitutional system of poverty jailing, Jackson answered: “good government.”

Jackson’s most troubling claim was that, when she was elected in 2008, there was only one drug court, and that “under my leadership and direction,” the county established three more and a list of other rehabilitation courts.

“I have been a change maker and been boots on the ground working with everyone and making things happen,” she told us.

In fact, Harris County already had four drug courts in 2007. Jackson didn’t start presiding over a drug court herself until 2017, according to a court newsletter. The other specialty courts were started by other judges.

I agree with the sentiment that no one deserves a free pass, and that having to actually account for oneself each election cycle is the best way to keep officials honest. I also agree with a sentiment that John Coby often expresses each cycle when people start filing for this or that, which is why are you running? Maria Jackson, who declined to be interviewed by me, has done a lousy job of answering that question. She has some undirected complaints, no clear ideas for why she would be an improvement, and multiple misstatements of the facts. You have to do better than that, a lot better when running against someone with a strong record of accomplishment. It’s Candidate 101. I can’t tell you why Maria Jackson is running any more than she can, but Rodney Ellis can, and you can hear him talk about it here.

Oh, and that bit about Ellis “not trying harder to build consensus with Republicans [leading] to a failed tax increase” is utter horsefeathers. Anyone who could type that sentence with a straight face has no understanding of Republican politics and politicians in our time. Treat your readers with more respect than that, guys.

The other three endorsements from Thursday were all for statewide offices.

Chrysta Castañeda for Railroad Commissioner:

Chrysta Castañeda

Ask Chrysta Castañeda what one of the biggest issues facing the Texas Railroad Commission is, and she answers flaring — the burning of surplus gas from oil wells.

The practice is “without any benefit and with environmental harm,” Castañeda, who is running in the March 3 Democratic primary for railroad commissioner, told the Editorial Board. “We’re lighting on fire enough right now to power the city of Houston.”

Castañeda, 57, an engineer and attorney with decades of experience in the oil and gas industry, has been raising the alarm about flaring on the campaign trail. On Tuesday, the man she is trying to unseat, Republican incumbent Ryan Sitton, issued a report on flaring.

[…]

Her opponents include Mark Watson, 63, an attorney who emphasizes the need for strict enforcement of current regulations, former State Rep. Roberto Alonzo, 63, who spent 20 years in the Texas Legislature and Kelly Stone, 41, an educator and stand-up comic, who displays a genuine passion to protect the environment.

All three are also calling for constraints on flaring, but Castañeda’s expertise sets her apart. She understands the Railroad Commission’s dual mission is to both promote the development of Texas’ natural resources by regulating the oil and gas industry and to protect the state’s environment.

Those mandates can often seem at odds, especially during the kind of sustained oil and gas boom Texas has been experiencing. Castañeda’s experience will help her balance the economic concerns of the oil and gas industry with the need to protect the environment for all Texans.

My interview with Castañeda is here and my interview with Kelly Stone is here. They’re the two most active candidates, and while Castañeda has been collecting the newspaper endorsements (here’s your friendly neighborhood Erik Manning spreadsheet), Stone has gotten plaudits from those panels as well.

Brandy Voss for Supreme Court, Place 7.

Brandy Voss

We recommend attorney Brandy Voss for Place 7 on the Texas Supreme Court in the March 3 Democratic primary. Voss lacks the judicial experience of her opponent, Civil District Judge Staci Williams of Dallas County, but more than compensates for that with a career-long immersion in appellate law.

Voss spent a year after graduating Baylor University law school as a briefing clerk for then-Chief Justice Thomas R. Phillips, where she helped draft opinions. She then worked as an appellate lawyer in Dallas until relocating to McAllen with her family and later worked for four years as a senior staff attorney for Justice Gina Benavides on the 13th Court of Appeals. She again helped draft opinions and continued learning the intricacies of managing an appellate docket.

Those skills, along with experience in volunteer roles such as a member of the Texas Bar Association’s rules advisory committee, have prepared her well to be a member of the state’s top civil court. Lawyers responding to the Texas Bar Association judicial preference poll backed Voss over Williams by a 2-1 margin.

This is one of those races where I’ve had a hard time choosing, as both candidates look pretty strong and there’s no clear distinction between them. The Trib did a story about the contested Democratic primaries for statewide judicial positions and noted that all but this one and the three-way race for CCA Place 3 are a man versus a woman. If you’re looking for other distinctions, Voss has raised more money and has a slight overall edge in endorsements. Make of that what you will

Amy Clark Meachum for Supreme Court, Chief Justice.

Judge Amy Clark Meachum

Texas Democrats have two experienced judges to choose from as they vote in the March 3 primary to pick their nominee to challenge Chief Justice Nathan Hecht for his seat on the state’s top civil court in November.

Both have experience that would serve them well on the high court. But we strongly recommend District Judge Amy Clark Meachum over Justice Jerry Zimmerer, who sits now in Place 3 of the 14th Court of Appeals in Harris County.

Meachum, 44, is currently a civil district judge in Travis County, where she was first elected in 2010. She scores reasonably well on the local bar evaluation — 50 percent of respondents rated her overall as “excellent” and just 17 percent said she “needs improvement” — and her fellow judges have elected her as presiding judge for the county’s civil and family courts.

Here are Meachum’s Q&A responses. This one, I have a clearer idea of which way to go.

2020 Primary Early Voting, Day Three: Midweek meandering

I don’t have any clever openings today, so once again let’s just jump right in. Here’s the Day Three report for 2020, and here are the totals from 2012, 2016, and 2018. The totals after Day Three:


Year    Mail    Early    Total
==============================
2012   5,209    4,962   10,171
2016   8,167   10,231   18,398
2018   7,641   10,896   18,537
2020  13,793   17,731   31,524

2012  11,430   10,205   21,635
2016  11,087   14,869   25,956
2018  11,558   10,243   21,801
2020  13,944   16,833   30,777

The Dems have almost caught up in mail ballots returned, while the two parties remain close in overall turnout. Dems still have about 25K mail ballots out, while Republicans have 17K still out. Dems are running more than 70% higher than they were in 2016, while Republicans are a bit below 20% ahead of their 2016 pace. The first week is usually pretty consistent day to day, it’s on Saturday and in week 2 that we really start to see stuff happen.

I shared a number of analyses from the 2018 election by Derek Ryan, a Republican analyst who did a lot of very useful public number crunching during the early voting period. He’s back with a closer look at the 2020 primaries so far. Here he is after Day Two (via his daily emails):

The average age of a Republican Primary early voter is 62.5, while the average age of a Democratic Primary early voter is 53.6. This is the average for in-person voters only (ballot by mail voters skew the averages up).

4.3% of the voters in the Democratic Primary are people who have previous Republican Primary history, but have not voted in a Democratic Primary in the last four election cycles. Some of these crossover voters could be due to the contested presidential primary. As a comparison, Democrats with no previous Republican Primary history made up 7.0% of the votes cast in the contested 2016 Republican Primary.

While it isn’t one of the top 30 largest counties, I would like to mention that my favorite county, Loving County, has seen seven people show up to vote in the Republican or Democratic Primary.

You can see his report here. As he notes, thanks to a new law passed last year, all counties are required to send their daily EV data to the Secretary of State, and you can see it all here. Pick the election you want, choose the most recent date, and submit for the whole state. Vote rosters for each county are also included. The new additional data makes direct comparisons to previous years impossible, since all we had before were the top 15 counties, but if you want to see what that looked like after two days in 2016, see here.

As of Day Two, there were 203,984 GOP early votes, and 160,353 Dem votes. I predicted way more Dem votes than Republican, which so far isn’t the case. I do think there’s something to the theory that Dems are waiting a bit to see what happens in Nevada and South Carolina, but even with that I clearly underestimated the Republicans. That said, Dem turnout is definitely up, even just looking at the counties where we can make direct comparisons. I’ll do a closer look at that in a day or two.

Statesman overview of the statewide judicial races

It’s good to have a full slate of qualified candidates.

After years of trouble scraping together enough candidates to run for seats on both statewide courts, Texas Democrats have the opposite situation in 2020 — contested primaries in almost every race.

In all four races for the Texas Supreme Court, the state’s highest civil court, two Democrats are vying to challenge Republican incumbents.

And for the state’s top criminal court, multiple Democrats are running in two of three available races for the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals.

The renewed Democratic interest comes after the party’s court candidates lost by 6 to 8 points in 2018 — defeats that seem strong after the party’s judicial candidates were drubbed by an average of 24 points in 2010.

As an added incentive, Democratic judicial candidates tend to do better in presidential election years like 2020.

Contested primaries are a mixed blessing, offering an opportunity to improve name recognition but depleting campaign coffers, particularly in Supreme Court races in which GOP incumbents can raise more than $1 million in contributions, largely from civil lawyers and law firms. In contrast, races for the Court of Criminal Appeals tend to be low-cost affairs.

Let me start by saying once again that the “contested primaries are resource drains” narrative continues to be tiresome, and in a year where a lot of people will be voting in the primary it’s very much a good thing for voters to have some idea of who you are ahead of November. There are brief writeups of each candidate, not much more than that, but it’s a start. I have Q&A responses from a couple of the candidates, Judge Amy Clark Meachum (Supreme Court, Chief Justice) and Steve Miears, Court of Criminal Appeals, Place 4. Texas Lawyer has Q&As with nearly all of these candidates as part of their judicial race coverage. Their Supreme Court candidate Q&As are here and for the Court of Criminal Appeals here. The Erik Manning spreadsheet shows everyone’s endorsements, and as you can see there were a lot of split decisions.

One race has drawn a bit more heat than the others, the Supreme Court Chief Justice primary.

Judge Amy Clark Meachum

Jerry Zimmerer, a Houston appeals court justice running for Texas Supreme Court, said his Democratic primary opponent, Amy Clark Meachum, has “selfish” motivations for running, pointing to the fact that she has cast her campaign to be the first woman elected chief justice of the Texas Supreme Court as a historic one.

“I just think somebody who wants to try to break barriers for their own benefit is not going to be successful,” Zimmerer told The Texas Tribune in an interview Thursday. “I just don’t think that’s what voters are looking for. … I just think that’s a goal she wants to achieve for herself.”

He said his campaign is different because “I actually want the best candidate to win.”

“I may not be the first anything, but I’m going to be the best,” he said.

Meachum said Zimmerer “should run on his own record instead of attacking mine.” Throughout her campaign, Meachum has said she hopes to restore balance to the all-Republican court and champion women in the legal profession.

“If he chooses to disparage a more qualified and experienced judge because of her gender, he’ll find himself on the wrong side of history,” she said. “These sorts of sexist comments are straight from the 1950s.”

[…]

In a state bar poll that gauges Texas attorneys’ support for judicial candidates, Meachum won more favor than Zimmerer, with 1,779 votes to his 326. The Republican incumbent, Chief Justice Nathan Hecht, won 2,706 votes.

Meachum has said she is the Democrats’ best chance at winning a seat on the high court for the first time in more than two decades.

“I don’t exactly look like or sound like my primary opponent, my general election opponent, or any of the men who have previously been elected Chief Justice,” she said in a Houston Chronicle questionnaire. “I am making an important statement for women in the law and women in our party in 2020 and I would appreciate your support!”

Reached Friday for comment, Zimmerer said, “As someone who has traveled the state trying to pull together all the different groups that make up the Texas Democratic Party into a cohesive coalition, I have concerns with those who would seek to divide us.”

Yeah, put me down in support of Judge Meachum on this one. I know both of these candidates and I like them both, but I disagree with Justice Zimmerer’s argument. We’ll see what the voters think.

2020 Primary Early Voting, Day Two: In for the long haul

Let’s jump right in. Here’s the Day Two report for 2020, and here are the totals from 2012, 2016, and 2018. As of Day One from those years :


Year    Mail    Early    Total
==============================
2012   5,100    3,035    8,135
2016   7,191    6,810   14,001
2018   5,651    6,976   12,627
2020  12,017   12,779   24,796

2012  11,116    6,730   17,846
2016   9,757    9,621   19,378
2018   7,817    6,138   16,955
2020  13,287   11,362   24,649

A couple of clarifications: I had yesterday’s mail and in person totals reversed for the non-2020 years (they’re fixed now), so sorry for the confusion. The group on the top is Dems, and on the bottom is Republicans. Right now, Dems lead in in-person votes while Republicans lead in mail ballots returned. However, Dems have 37K ballots mailed out, while the GOP has only 30K, so that lead could disappear. It’s the in-person votes that will be the biggest factor, though, and as is typically the case Day Two is a little down from Day One, but well head of 2016, with the Dems having a much bigger increase.

Here’s a very early look at who voted on Day One on the Dem side:

Click over for the thread. These numbers will change quickly as the in-person totals begin to swamp the mail ballots. I’ll stay on top of it as we go.

Endorsement watch: Sri again

The Chronicle endorses Sri Kulkarni in the CD22 primary.

Sri Kulkarni

We see Kulkarni as the strongest possible candidate for Democrats hoping to turn the seat blue. A former Foreign Service officer with the U.S. Department of State, Kulkarni is the son of an immigrant father and a mother whose family descends from Sam Houston. That mix of insider and outsider perspectives has served him well in a career that involved compromise and dialogue with hostile parties all over the world. He seems to prioritize civility and is open to finding common ground with those who differ from him ideologically.

He said he quit his post in the Foreign Service in 2017 when it became difficult to defend positions adopted by President Trump on race and immigration and decided to run for Congress. But for all his global perspective – he says he speaks six languages well – Kulkarni impressed us with his commitment to help people in his district. He wants Congress to remove marijuana as a Schedule 1 narcotic so it can more readily be used as medicine for veterans and others whom it can help. He also promised to help area residents reduce the flood risk along the Gulf Coast region.

Given his close finish against Olson two years ago, Democrats can be optimistic about Kulkarni’s prospects for flipping the seat. He’s raised enough money for his campaign to contest even the best-financed Republican opposition in November. We recommend Democrats take advantage of that head start and vote for him in the primary.

The Chron endorsed Kulkarni in 2018, so this is not a huge surprise. They also had some nice things to say about Derrick Reed and Nyanza Moore despite the recent unpleasantness between them. Maybe they wrote this before that happened, or maybe they just decided not to clutter up their endorsement of Kulkarni with that side issue, I dunno. They also endorsed the latest Bush progeny in the Republican primary, if anyone cares.

Also in their meandering path to finishing off the endorsements, the Chron recommends Elizabeth Frizell for Court of Criminal Appeals, Place 3.

As a criminal defense attorney, Elizabeth Frizell has seen defendants who are wrongfully convicted and others who receive the death penalty in cases where a life sentence would have been more appropriate. She has seen higher courts rule verdicts in criminal trials must stand, even when lawyers or judges made significant errors in the trials that produced them.

Frizell, who is running in the Democratic primary for the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals Place 3, says those issues would be among her top priorities in reviewing cases if elected.

The former Dallas County Criminal District Court judge, who has 26 years of legal experience, has also served as a municipal court judge and county family law judge. She narrowly lost her 2018 bid to be the Democrats’ nominee for Dallas County District Attorney. Prior to becoming a judge, she was a criminal defense attorney for 13 years and handled death penalty and court-appointed cases.

Frizell would bring a much-needed voice to the Court of Criminal Appeals, long an all-Republican bench. Her experience as a lawyer gives her insight into the flaws of the legal system, something that would help her weigh the life-and-death decisions that come before Texas’s highest criminal court. In the last fiscal year, for instance, the Court of Criminal Appeals reviewed eight death penalty cases.

Frizell has also been endorsed by the Dallas Morning News and San Antonio Express News, according to the invaluable Erik Manning spreadsheet. William Demond has collected most of the group endorsements. Make of that what you will.

The interviews I didn’t do

As was the case with the 2019 Houston elections, there were too many candidates and too many races (and in this case, too little time as well) to do a full slate of interviews. I did what I could, and did a pretty good job of covering the races of interest in Harris County if I do say so myself, but if there had been more time I’d have done more. In some cases, I can point to previous interviews or other resources, so let’s have a review, and look ahead to what might be on tap for the runoffs.

US Senate: I’d have loved to interview some of these candidates, but it was unlikely I’d be able to get time on their calendars, especially after the filing deadline. The Texas Signal has done some Senate candidate forums, and you can see links to Facebook videos from one they did in Houston here. The Texas Trib also did a series of interviews with the five leading candidates, and they can be seen here, as well as a Q&A series here.

CD02: I interviewed Elisa Cardnell and Travis Olsen very early in the cycle, before the filing deadline and thus before Sima Ladjevardian entered the race. I’ve tried but have not succeeded at setting up a time to talk with her, and if there’s a runoff that she’s in that will be a top priority for me.

CD08: This is obviously not a district that anyone expects to be competitive, but I regret not having the time to speak to Laura Jones and Elizabeth Hernandez. They both look like super candidates, and it’s important to support efforts to build Democratic infrastructure in places like Montgomery County. That race is on my list for November.

CD09: Rep. Al Green is the one Democrat in Congress from the area that I’ve never had the chance to interview. Tried to chase him down once a few years ago but couldn’t make it happen. I don’t see this as a competitive race and there’s no need to do a November interview, but one of these days I’d like to talk with him, just to have done it.

CD10: I interviewed Mike Siegel for the 2018 runoff. This race is on my list for the May runoff, if there is one.

CD18: I interviewed Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee back in 2010. I would enjoy talking with her again, but I did not have it in me to do seven (!) interviews for this race. In the unlikely event of a runoff, I’ll definitely revisit this race.

CD22: I interviewed Sri Kulkarni for the 2018 runoff. My original thought was that if this goes to a runoff I’ll be there for it, but after the recent bizarre allegations between the two candidates who might make it into a runoff besides Sri Kulkarni, I’m not sure what I’ll do.

SD11: I interviewed Susan Criss when she ran for HD23 in 2014. I may or may not do this race for November, we’ll see.

SD13: I’ve interviewed Sen. Borris Miles twice, most recently in 2012, when he was running for re-election in HD146. Let’s just say I’d have to ask him some very different questions now, and leave it at that.

HD126: As it happens, I interviewed both candidates in 2018 – Natali Hurtado, and Undrai Fizer. I’ll probably do this one for November, we’ll see.

HD142: I have never interviewed Rep. Harold Dutton, I don’t think I’ve ever met him. I have interviewed Jerry Davis a couple of times, most recently in 2013. I will definitely want to do interviews in this race if there’s a runoff.

HD146: I have not interviewed Rep. Shawn Thierry, but I did run a judicial Q&A from her in 2010. I interviewed Ashton Woods for City Council last year.

HD147: I have interviewed Rep. Garnet Coleman multiple times, most recently in 2012. He’s always been a favorite person to talk to. In the unlikely event of a runoff, I’ll definitely revisit this race.

HD148: Had it not been for the special election in November, I’d have been all over this race. That said, thanks to the special election I’ve already done interviews with Rep.-elect Anna Eastman, Penny Shaw, and Adrian P. Garcia. I also interviewed Cynthia Reyes-Revilla for City Council. I might possibly revisit this in a runoff, but because I’ve done these interviews so recently it’s not clear to me I’d have anything new to ask these folks. We’ll see.

Sheriff: I’ve interviewed Sheriff Ed Gonzalez multiple times, including in 2016 when he first ran for Sheriff. I also interviewed Jerome Moore after he made it to the runoff with Gonzalez in 2016. I didn’t see this race as a particularly serious challenge to Gonzalez, so I put a higher priority on the DA and County Attorney races. If it turns out I was wrong and this one winds up in a runoff, I will of course revisit it.

HCDE: I also regret not doing interviews in the two At Large HCDE races, but there just wasn’t the time, and unlike with legislative offices there’s just so many questions about this position I can reasonably ask. I’ll probably do Position 7 if that race goes to a runoff, but we’ll see.

Yeah, I’ve done a lot of interviews over the years. Always room for more, though not always the time. I’ll be back to the task in March, and again later this year. Hope you find this useful.

2020 Primary Early Voting, Day One: Off to a quick start

And we’re off.

On an overcast and drizzly day in much of Texas, early voting for the 2020 primary elections in some of the state’s most populous counties was up over turnout four years ago, despite warnings by political watchers that an ever-shifting Democratic presidential race might keep some voters at home as they wait for other states’ results.

By about 6 p.m., almost 7,000 people in Tarrant County had cast ballots, already more than the 6,908 that voted on the first day of early voting in the 2016 primaries.

By that time in Harris County, the more than 10,000 people had voted across 52 early voting locations was up significantly from the 7,840 in-person ballots from the first day of the 2016 primaries.

In Bexar, more than 8,000 had voted in person by Tuesday evening — up from 6,118 from Day 1 of early voting in 2016. About 6,000 had voted in Travis County by 4:45 p.m., up from 4,984 in 2016.

[…]

Some Democrats may be staying away from the polls as they hold out for the results of upcoming primaries in Nevada on Feb. 22 and South Carolina on Feb. 29, said Renee Cross, senior director at the University of Houston Hobby School of Public Affairs.

Primary outcomes have the potential to upend the dynamics of a race. After the New Hampshire alone last week, three candidates — former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, Sen. Michael Bennet and Andrew Yang — dropped out.

“Given the volatility of this primary for the Democrats, I wouldn’t be surprised if we see a much higher than usual strategic voter turnout,” Cross said.

We usually get the bulk of early voting towards the end of the EV period, in particular the last two days, so that’s not unusual. Perhaps it will be more pronounced this year. In any event, the figures cited by the Chron are for both parties combined – we won’t know what the D versus R numbers are until we see the reports from each county. And note that these numbers are for in person voting. There’s also mail ballots:

To be fair, Dems didn’t really do mail ballots in 2008. It’s still impressive. Here’s the Day One report for 2020, and here are the totals from 2012, 2016, and 2018. As of Day One from those years :


Year    Mail    Early    Total
==============================
2012   4,644    1,570    6,214
2016   6,344    3,292    9,636
2018   4,174    3,833    8,007
2020  11,571    6,819   18,390

2012  10,027    3,380   13,407
2016   8,172    4,548   12,720
2018   6,138    3,509    9,547
2020  12,890    5,411   18,301

So just on mail ballots, 2020 D is greater than 2016 D. In person turnout is slightly ahead of 2016, which had a final total of 227,280. We’ll have to pick things up to meet my prediction, but if the hypothesis that some folks will be waiting to see how Nevada and South Carolina go holds true, the opportunity to do so will be there. I myself will probably vote later this week. What was your experience if you voted, and what’s your plan if you haven’t done so yet?

Endorsement watch: The story so far

The Chron lists all their endorsements so far as early voting begins.

It’s here. Early voting in the March 3 Texas primaries begins today and ends Feb. 28.

Over the past few weeks, the Houston Chronicle Editorial Board has interviewed and researched dozens of Republican and Democratic candidates, weighing such factors as incumbency, experience and accomplishments, to assemble a list of recommendations we hope will guide voters through some tough choices. We are the only nonpartisan group in the Houston area to provide this service.

Here’s a one-page summary of our picks so far. Take it into the voting booth with you, or print out our PDF online; you can’t take your cellphone:

They have this on a standalone page as well, which I presume will continue to be updated. Note that the linked article includes Republicans, whose races I have mostly ignored, several Democrats whose endorsements do not yet appear anywhere else on their site, and Tina Clinton, candidate for Court of Criminal Appeals, Place 4, whose endorsement I had skipped over because it was a lone Dem endorsement and I was waiting for another one to accompany it. They also note the races they still have to endorse in.

The candidates they have endorsed but not yet published said endorsement: Commissioner Rodney Ellis for Commissioners Court, Precinct 1; and Elizabeth Frizell, Court of Criminal Appeals, Place 3. The races they list as yet to come:

U.S. Senate (D)

Texas Supreme Court (D): Chief Justice, Place 7

Railroad Commissioner (D)

U.S. House

Republican: Districts 9, 29, 36

Democrat: Districts 2, 8, 9, 10, 18, 22

State House

Republican: Districts 127, 128, 138

Democrat: District 149

State Senate

Democrat: District 13

I’m a little confused by the HD149 Democratic listing, since as far as I know the two people who had filed against Rep. Hubert Vo were ultimately rejected, but we’ll see. Still a lot of races to go, and we’ve already started voting, that’s all I know.

Five questions for the primary

Five questions I thought of, anyway. With my own answers, some of which are admittedly on the weaselish side. Feel free to discuss/disagree/ask your own questions/etc.

1. What kind of turnout are we going to have?

The short answer is “a lot”. Texas doesn’t always get to be a part of a contested Presidential primary, but when we are, we go to the polls. Dems in 2008 and Republicans in 2016 both topped 2.8 million voters – hell, more Dems voted in the 2008 primary than in the 2004 general election. I think the bidding on the Dem side starts at 3 million, with at least 500K in Harris County (we had 410K in 2008). I think 3.5 million is in play, which means a lot of first-time Dem voters. It’s going to be really interesting to see people’s voting histories in VAN after this.

2. What does this mean for all of the other races on the ballot?

It’s really hard to say. I feel like when turnout is super low, it levels the field a bit for those who are challenging incumbents or maybe haven’t raised a ton of money because the electorate is limited to the hardcore faithful, who probably know more about the candidates, or at least pay attention to endorsements and stuff like that. In a normal high turnout environment, I figure incumbents and candidates who have raised more money have the edge, since they’re better positioned to be known to the voters. In a super high turnout election, where a significant number of people won’t be all that familiar with the many names before them, who knows? I still think incumbents will be better off, but even the high-money candidates will have to fight for attention as most voters are tuned into the Presidential race. I really don’t feel comfortable making any predictions. At least the number of goofball candidates is pretty low, so even with the likelihood of some random results, there don’t appear to be any Gene Kellys or Jim Hogans out there.

That said, some number of people who vote will just be voting in the Presidential race, so the topline turnout number will be higher, maybe a lot higher, than the size of the electorate downballot. I went and looked at primary turnout in recent elections to see what this factor looks like:


Year    President  Next Most    % Pres
======================================
2004 D    839,231    605,789     72.2%
2004 R    687,615    567,835     82.6%

2008 D  2,874,986  2,177,252     75.8%
2008 R  1,362,322  1,223,865     89.8%

2012 D    590,164    497,487     84.3%
2012 R  1,449,477  1,406,648     97.0%

2016 D  1,435,895  1,087,976     75.8%
2016 R  2,836,488  2,167,838     76.4%

“President” is the number of votes cast in that Presidential primary race, “Next Most” is the next highest vote total, which was in the Senate primaries in 2008 and 2012 and in either the Railroad Commissioner or a Supreme Court race otherwise, and “% Pres” is the share of the highest non-Presidential total. Some people could have voted for President and then skipped to a Congressional race or some other non-statewide contest, but this is a reasonable enough approximation of the dropoff. Bear in mind that context matters as well. In 2004, none of the Dem statewide primaries were contested, which likely meant more people skipped those races. The infamous Senate primary between Ted Cruz and David Dewhurst and other lesser candidates was in 2012, which is why nearly everyone also voted in that race. All but one of the Dem statewide races are contested, though none are as high profile as 2012 R Senate – we may never see a race like that again.

So my best guess would be that if 3 million people vote in the Dem Presidential primary, somewhere between 2.2 million and 2.4 million people will then vote in the Senate and other statewide primaries. That’s still a lot, but the downballot races will have a slightly more engaged electorate as a result.

3. What about that Presidential primary?

Again, who knows? The polling evidence we have is mixed. Before the UT/Trib poll, the evidence we had said that Joe Biden was the leading candidate, though whether he has a big lead or a small lead over Bernie Sanders depends on which poll you’re looking at. Throw that UT/Trib poll in there, and maybe he doesn’t have a lead at all. Who knows?

The primaries that take place between now and March 3 will have an effect as well – candidates may gain or lose momentum before March 3. Bear in mind, though, that a whole lot of Texas primary voting will happen before either the Nevada caucus or the South Carolina primary happen, so the effect from those states will be limited. And Texas is one of many states voting on Super Tuesday, so candidates can’t just camp here, they have other states to worry about as well. They do all have campaign presences, however, with some of them having been here for months. Finally, quite a few candidates who have already dropped out, including Kamala Harris, Cory Booker, and Julian Castro will still be on the ballot and will get some number of votes. That UT/Trib poll still had Andrew Yang in it, and he polled at six percent, higher than Amy Klobuchar. There are a lot of moving parts here.

To me, the X factor in all this is Michael Bloomberg, who has been carpet-bombing the airwaves (seriously, where do I go to surrender?) and has been ramping up his field presence in a way that other candidates may have a hard time matching. He was basically tied for third or just behind third but still super close in the UT-Tyler poll, and fourth in the UT/Trib poll, in double digits in each case. I won’t be surprised if these polls underestimate his strength. I mean, he sure seems like a candidate positioned to do quite well among those less-frequent Dem voters, and if your top priority is beating Trump, he did quite well on that score in the UT-Tyler poll, too. He’s now getting some establishment support, too. To say the least, Bloomberg is a problematic candidate, and the inevitable round of scrutiny of his baggage may drag him back down, but if you’re not prepared for the possibility that Bloomberg could do quite well in Texas in March, you’re not paying attention.

4. What about the runoffs?

Three statewide races – Senate, RRC, and Court of Criminal Appeals, Place 3 – as well as 15 Congressional races have at least three candidates and could go to runoffs, plus who knows how many other downballot contests. Runoffs generally get far less attention and participation than the main event, but this could be a year where a reasonable share of the initial vote turns out again in May.

Because that’s the kind of person I am, I looked at the recent history of primary runoff turnout. Here you go:


Year    President     Runoff    % Pres
======================================
2004 R    687,615    223,769     32.5%

2008 D  2,874,986    187,708      6.5%

2012 D    590,164    236,305     40.0%
2012 R  1,449,477  1,111,938     76.7%

2016 D  1,435,477    188,592     13.1%
2016 R  2,836,488    376,387     13.3%

There were no statewide runoffs in 2004 for Dems (those races were all uncontested) or in 2008 for Republicans. We already know that the 2012 GOP Senate race is a unicorn, and you can see another dimension of that here. There was a Senate runoff in 2012 on the Dem side as well, and that’s the high water mark for turnout in the modern era. This Senate race isn’t that high profile, but I think there will be some money in it, and there will be some Congressional races of interest, so maybe 300K or 400K in May for Dems? I’m totally guessing, but it wouldn’t shock me if we hit a new height this year. The bar to clear is not at all high.

5. What about the Republicans?

What about them? This is basically a 2004 year for them – incumbent President, a super low-key Senate race, no other statewide races of interest, with a few hot Congressional races being the main driver of turnout. They’ll have several of those to finish up in May as well, but my guess is they top out at about a million in March, and don’t reach 200K in May. There just isn’t that much to push them to the polls at this time.

Judicial Q&A: Colleen Gaido

(Note: As I have done in past elections, I am running a series of Q&As for judicial candidates in contested Democratic primaries. This is intended to help introduce the candidates and their experiences to those who plan to vote in March. I am running these responses in the order that I receive them from the candidates.)

Colleen Gaido

1. Who are you and what are you running for?

My name is Colleen Gaido and I am running for the Harris County 337th Criminal District Court.

2. What kind of cases does this court hear?

The 337th hears all manner of felonies, from state jail felonies like burglary of a building and possession of a controlled substance to first degree felonies such as murder and aggravated robbery.

3. Why are you running for this particular bench?

I was actually on maternity leave when colleagues from both the Defense bar and the District Attorney’s office reached out to me to let me know that the current judge, Judge Ritchie, was retiring and to encourage me to run. I am running because I care deeply about criminal justice in our community and I believe that I have the experience, temperament and progressive values to be an excellent judge for the residents of Harris County.

4. What are your qualifications for this job?

Since graduating from the University of Houston Law Center in 2007 I have practiced criminal law exclusively. I began my career at the District Attorney’s Office where I tried dozens of jury trials, including capital murders, robberies and sexual assaults of children. I was also asked to teach at the state and local level on trial skills and prosecutorial ethics. In 2017 I left the District Attorney’s office to practice criminal defense. I have dedicated my practice to solely representing those who cannot afford counsel. This work has brought me a welcome change in perspective on the criminal justice system, the bail system and the effects of mass incarceration on our communities.

5. Why is this race important?

This race is important because Harris County has made great progress in its criminal justice system and that progress needs to continue. The judge in a criminal court must ensure several things, including ensuring that people’s Constitutional rights are protected; that bail is not used to punish defendants pretrial or as leverage to get defendants to plead guilty; that their court runs efficiently, goes to trial regularly, and gives scheduling priority to those accused who are being held pretrial; that defendants have access to excellent and zealous representation; and that everyone who appears before them is treated with dignity and respect. When a judge fails to do these things the system fails the community, and the community loses faith in that system.

6. Why should people vote for you in the primary?

First, I’ve worked extensively in Criminal District Courts. I’ve handled hundreds of felony cases as a prosecutor and defense attorney, and practicing on both sides of has given me knowledge and a unique perspective that will assist me in being an informed, impartial judge. While that experience means that I know the law, it has not made me blind to the criminal justice system’s faults or weary of striving to make the system better for everyone involved.  Lastly, I have the temperament to treat everyone who comes before me with dignity and respect, and the work ethic to keep working diligently for the county long after I am elected.

UT/Trib: Hegar leads Senate primary pack

A small bit of clarity in a muddled race.

MJ Hegar

MJ Hegar has widened her lead over her rivals for the Democratic nomination to the U.S. Senate, but she’s one of a dozen candidates in that Texas race who remain strangers to a large majority of their primary voters, according to the latest University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll.

Those widely unknown Democrats are vying for the seat held by Republican John Cornyn, a well-known incumbent who first won election to the U.S. Senate in 2002. Cornyn faces four opponents in the Republican primary.

The large number of candidates almost ensures a May runoff after the March 3 primary, but it’s not clear who might be in it. Hegar had the support of 22% of self-identified Democratic primary voters in Texas — the only candidate with double-digit support. Six candidates were next in line, in a tight grouping that makes it impossible to say for sure who’s in second place. With support ranging from 5% to 9%, that group includes Cristina Tzintzún Ramirez, Chris Bell, Amanda Edwards, Royce West, Annie “Mamá” Garcia and Sema Hernandez.

The rest said they preferred one of the five remaining candidates or “someone else,” or they refused to say who they’d vote for.

“There’s going to be a runoff, and Hegar is candidate one. But there is a six-car pileup for No. 2. Who knows who No. 2 is?” said Daron Shaw, co-director of the poll and a professor of government at the University of Texas at Austin. “It’s extraordinarily volatile.”

That pretty much sums up my view of this. I’ve largely ignored Dem Senate primary polling, mostly because none of the candidates had much name recognition and that led to poll results with nobody having more than ten percent of the vote. Hegar is the one candidate who has raised significant money, she has the outside group VoteVets spending on her and also has the DSCC endorsement, and she ran a high-profile campaign for Congress in 2018, so she should be leading the pack. As for who is most likely to end up in the runoff with her, I’d pick Royce West (who should get a lot of votes in the Dallas area) and Cristina Tzintzún Ramirez as the favorites. But yes, the rest of the pack are all in the running, and most outcomes would not surprise me.

2020 Primary Early Voting begins today

We don’t have a long primary season in Texas – the filing deadline was barely two months ago, though to be sure some candidates have been running for much longer than that – and the first part of it is drawing to a close, as early voting officially begins today. For those of you in Harris County, you can find the schedule and locations here. Please be aware that there are new locations, and some old locations are no longer in use. For example, if you live in the Heights area, the SPJST Lodge location is not being used any more, but Resurrection Metropolitan Community Church (Room 106) at 2025 West 11th Street is available. You can find a map and get directions to any location here. There are 52 early voting locations in the county, every one open from 7 AM to 7 PM each day except this Sunday (1 to 6 PM as usual for Sundays) through next Friday, the 28th. You have plenty of time, so be sure to go vote.

For other counties:

Fort Bend
Montgomery
Brazoria
Galveston
Waller

This Chron story has the basic facts about voting – if you’ve done this before it’s nothing new, but if you know a newbie, it would help them.

Also new, here in Harris County: Virtual translators.

Harris County residents who primarily speak Spanish, Chinese, Vietnamese or 26 other languages now will have access to a virtual translator at the polls, County Clerk Diane Trautman announced Friday, part of a series of initiatives aimed at improving the county’s voter participation rate.

In a nod to Harris County’s diversity — more than a third of its 4.7 million residents are native speakers of a language other than English — elected officials want to eliminate communication barriers at voting sites.

“With this innovative technology, interpreters can communicate with the voter and poll worker in real time via video chat to make the voting process easier and more accessible,” Trautman said.

Flanked by county Elections Director Michael Winn, Trautman offered a demonstration of the machines at the West Gray Multi-Service Center. The tablet devices, which previously stored electronic poll books and were set to be discarded, allow a poll worker to make a video conference call to a translator in the desired language. The translator then can help the poll worker and voter communicate.

[…]

Trautman said the virtual translators will be available at all 52 early voting locations for the March primary elections.

Dozens of Korean-speaking voters were frustrated when then-County Clerk Stan Stanart barred translators from operating inside a Spring Branch polling site in 2018. Stanart said he had to follow the Texas Election Code, which limits who can operate inside a 100-foot buffer zone at polling places.

Korean American Voters League President Hyunja Norman, who helped organize the Spring Branch voters, welcomed the virtual translation devices.

“I think they can be very beneficial,” she said. “Still, the human factor cannot be ignored.”

Norman said many of the Korean-American residents in Houston who need language assistance are elderly immigrants who are new to voting and often intimidated by technology. She said she still would like to see real-life translators gain more access to polling sites.

Pretty cool. And if I’m reading this correctly, the virtual translator will be working with a poll worker at the site, so there will be some human involvement. Hopefully this will help the folks who need it.

I’ve talked about turnout before, and as is my habit I will be following the daily EV reports to see how that is progressing. I have the daily EV reports from other years to serve as points of comparison: 2012, 2016, and 2018. Sadly, I don’t have a daily report from 2008 – looking back at my posts from then, I made the rookie mistake of linking to the report on the County Clerk website, which was the same generic URL each day. Alas. Here’s my blog post after the last day of early voting, and here’s the cumulative report from the Dem primary. Note that back in those early days of early voting, most people still voted on Election Day. For the 2008 Dem primary, there were 170K early in person votes (plu 9K mail ballots), and 410K total votes. That’s one reason why the subsequent predictions about November turnout were so off the charts – in November, unlike in March that year, a large majority of the vote was early, which is the norm now in even-numbered years. But because we had been used to less than half of the vote being early up to that point, we way over-estimated the November numbers. We have a better handle on things now.

So that’s the story. I’ll aim to post daily updates, which will depend to some extent on when I get the reports. When are you planning to vote?