Off the Kuff Rotating Header Image

Donald Trump

The evolving CD31 candidate landscape

We have a lot of Democratic candidates raising 2018-type money in the big, targeted Republican-held Congressional districts. Some have clear frontrunners, at least based on money raised – Wendy Davis in CD21, Sri Kulkarni in CD22, Gina Ortiz Jones in CD23 – while CDs 10 and 24 have multiple candidates raising competitive amounts of money. And then there’s CD31, the district that MJ Hegar put on the map last year, where no one has yet raised much money or established themselves as a force to be reckoned with. With candidates still coming and going, let’s check in and see who’s who and what’s what.

Tammy Young

Round Rock City Council Member Tammy Young announced her bid for U.S. Rep. John Carter’s seat Wednesday, joining a crowded field of candidates hoping to unseat the Round Rock Republican.

Young moved to Round Rock after leading a nonprofit in New Mexico for children with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. In Round Rock, she taught special education and later worked as a real estate broker. She was elected to the City Council in May 2017.

Democrats have been eyeing the district, which encompasses most of Williamson and Bell counties, after Carter defeated Democrat MJ Hegar by 2.9 points last year.

Young has hired major Democratic consultants, including AKPD, an ad firm that worked for U.S. Rep. Colin Allred, D-Dallas, in 2018 and is now Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg’s ad maker; AMHC, which did mailing for former President Barack Obama’s 2008 and 2012 campaigns; GQR for polling and 4Degrees for digital.

Young, 50, said she was a teenage mother and a survivor of domestic violence. She has two children with ADHD, which led her to write a book for parents titled “Slow Down, So I Can Tell You I Love You.”

“I know what it’s like to struggle and to have to find solutions to what seem like impossible challenges,” Young said.

On the City Council, Young worked to pass a $15 minimum wage for all city employees and worked with the city’s Chamber of Commerce to invest in workforce skills training.

“Through that experience on council, I’ve learned that it’s possible to work in a bipartisan way,” she said. “I know that this can be replicated in Congress.”

[…]

Computer engineer Donna Imam raised more than $60,000 between July and August and has $53,000 in cash on hand. Christine Eady Mann, a family practice physician who ran for the seat last year, announced in August that she would run again. She raised $53,000 between July and September, according to Federal Election Commission filings.

Omar Kadir, a former candidate for Williamson County treasurer; singer Eric Hanke and Dan Janjigian, an actor and ex-Olympic bobsledder, are among the other Democrats in the race.

Here’s Tammy Young’s webpage; she has a pretty compelling life story. Other candidates in the race include Dan Jangigian, Eric Hanke, Donna Imam, and 2018 returnee Christine Eady Mann, who was runnerup to MJ Hegar in the primary that year. Murray Holcomb has apparently dropped out, as have a couple others mentioned in this August AusChron story that I linked to in my Q3 finance report roundup. We’re less than a week out from the beginning of the filing period, so we should be getting clarity real soon. At this point what we need is for one or more of these candidates to demonstrate the ability to raise the kind of money that will enable them to run the kind of race that will be needed for CD31 to be competitive again. Hegar, with a big assist from Beto, moved the ball a long way in 2018. CD31 was on paper one of the less likely to flip districts in 2018 – Hillary Clinton lost it by 12 points in 2016. Hegar made it close enough that it’s already on the DCCC target lists for 2020. What we need at this point is for one (or more!) of these candidates to show that they can take that next step. I hope the Q4 finance reports will provide some evidence of that.

2019 election results: Elsewhere

I think we can all agree that this was the most important race on anyone’s ballot.

Shelley Sekula-Gibbs

One of the most contested elections in the brief history of The Woodlands Township Board of Directors came to a close Tuesday night, as Shelley Sekula-Gibbs, Ann Snyder and Bob Milner claimed unofficial victories over challengers for the three open seats on the seven-member board.

[…]

The battle for the Position 5 seat to replace retiring director John McMullan featured the most money raised by candidates of any of the three seat races in 2019, with both Shelley Sekula-Gibbs and Rashmi Gupta spending more than $20,000 each on the race while Walter Cooke spent more than $11,000 on his campaign.

At the end of early voting, Sekula-Gibbs has a sizable lead over both Gupta and Cooke with more than 1,600 vote lead over both before Tuesday’s ballots were counted.

With the results from Tuesday counted, Sekula-Gibbs easily nabbed an unofficial victory despite having only resided in the township for less than 20 months compared to her opponents, who combined have lived in The Woodlands more than 53 years.

A former three-term member of the Houston City Council, Sekula-Gibbs also holds the dubious distinction of being a member of the U.S. House of Representatives for one of the shortest time periods in U.S. History, serving about seven weeks but having only less than 10 days of duty in office. Her term in Congress was result of being elected in a special election in late 2006 to replace outgoing former Speaker of the House Tom Delay. Sekula-Gibbs is listed as having served seven weeks in the House of Representatives.

sniff The great ones always have one more run in them. We missed you, Shelley. I know we can expect big things from you.

In all seriousness, the big news nationally were the Democratic sweeps of the Virginia legislature, a result that may ultimately mean new life for the long-dormant Equal Rights Amendment, and the amazing victory in the Kentucky Governor’s race by Andy Beshear over extreme Trumpite Matt Bevin. Other results of interest came from Tucson, AZ, which just elected its first female and first Latinx Mayor, Regina Romero, Plymouth, NC, which just elected its first black Mayor, and Delaware County, PA, a suburb of Philadelphia, which elected a Democratic county government for the first time before the Civil War. And last but not least, there’s this:

Juli Briskman, who famously flipped off President Donald Trump’s motorcade in a viral 2017 photo, won her race Tuesday night for a seat on the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors in Virginia.

God bless America.

UT/Trib: Trump 46, others 39

It’s Election Day, so I’m going to be brief about this.

None of the top Democrats seeking the presidential nomination would beat President Donald Trump in Texas in an election held today — and neither would either of the Texas candidates in that race, according to the latest University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll.

Joe Biden of Delaware, the former vice president, is running 7 percentage points behind Trump in Texas, as is U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts. U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont falls 5 percentage points short in a head-to-head with the president among Texas voters. And the two Texas candidates also lag behind Trump: former U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke of El Paso (who dropped out of the race Friday, after the poll was completed) by 6 percentage points, and former U.S. Housing Secretary and San Antonio Mayor Julián Castro by 13 percentage points.

In each matchup, significant numbers of Democrats are holding back their votes — possibly a sign that while they oppose the Republican incumbent, they favor a different Democrat. For instance, 89% of Republicans say they would support Trump over Biden, and 5% say they would favor Biden, leaving 6% unwilling to pick. But in the same race, 82% of Democrats favor Biden, and 4% favor Trump, leaving 14% who either like another Democrat more or don’t want to pick yet. The biggest gap was in the Trump-Castro matchup, where 93% of Republicans have a definite choice and only 71% of Democrats do.

“I don’t think this is a reflection of what’s going to happen in the election, but as we move from registered voters to likely voters in Texas, we tend to get more Republican [results],” said Joshua Blank, research director of the Texas Politics Project at UT-Austin.

While Trump is doing well against those Democrats in Texas, he’s not faring as well when voters are asked whether they will vote for his reelection. Slightly more than half say they “definitely” (46%) or “probably” (6%) will not vote for Trump in 2020. Meanwhile, 40% say they will “definitely” vote for the president’s reelection, and 8% “probably” will.

“That seems to be the durable feature of this poll — that Trump’s durable core is about 40%,” said Daron Shaw, a government professor at the University of Texas at Austin and co-director of the poll. “It’s lackluster, but it’s not fatal. He’s running 5 or 6 points better in Texas than he is nationally.”

For what it’s worth, in the June poll, the “would vote for/would not vote for” numbers were exactly 50-50, and here they’re 48 would and 52 would not. These numbers are actually the most favorable Trump has had for re-election in Texas in recent months – he’s been behind in several other polls. Doesn’t mean this poll is wrong and the others are right – I did find some of those other polls a little weird – just that this is another data point, as those polls were. I do think the bit about Dems holding back a bit on candidates who aren’t their preferred choice is accurate, and I think that will go away once we have a nominee. Ultimately, Trump is the favorite to carry Texas, but the fact that that doesn’t go without saying is saying something.

UT/Trib: Impeachment inquiry more popular than not

Seems like a big deal.

Not quite half of Texas registered voters agree that “Congress is justified in conducting impeachment investigations into actions Donald Trump has taken while president,” according to the latest University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll.

Almost as many — 42% — disagree with that statement. Republican and Democratic voters are predictably partisan in their responses, while independent voters are more likely than not to say the investigations are merited: 46% agree, while 32% do not.

“The rank and file is still mostly solid behind the president,” said Joshua Blank, research director for the Texas Politics Project. “But among voters who identify themselves as conservatives first, there are some reservations.”

Texas registered voters are evenly divided — and strongly partisan — about whether Trump ought to be removed from office before the end of his term, according to the latest University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll.

Although Trump hasn’t been impeached or tried, voters are drawing some conclusions. To the question, “Based on what you know, do you think that Donald Trump has taken actions while president that justify his removal from office before the end of his term?” 43% of registered Texas voters say yes and 44% say no. Again, the partisan splits are what you might expect — 79% of Democrats say early removal is justified, while 79% of Republicans say it’s not. Independents were divided, 34% yes, 33% no and 24% unsure.

Democrats in Congress are more likely to get good marks on the impeachment proceedings than Republican members, but both groups have more detractors than cheerleaders. While 25% of voters approve of the way Republicans are handling the investigations, 49% don’t. For Democrats, it was 40% approval and 45% disapproval. Trump’s numbers are in the same neighborhood: 39% approve of the way he has responded to the impeachment investigations, and 45% do not.

“The difficulties Republicans in Congress are having in dealing with this are evident here,” said James Henson, who co-directs the poll and heads UT’s Texas Politics Project. “Republican voters are split on Congress, and Republicans in Congress are trying to figure out how to defend the president without defending his conduct.”

This all tracks with the national numbers, though there a plurality already support impeachment and removal. Pollsters Jim Henson and Joshua Blank share their thoughts about the poll here. The poll also showed Trump with 47% approval and 48% disapproval, which are actually better numbers in that department than he’d had in September. The June UT/Trib poll doesn’t directly ask the approve/disapprove question, but the partisan breakdown on who will or won’t vote for Trump net year look a lot like the approve/disapprove numbers for the impeachment inquiry. All of this is just more evidence that Texas is in play next year. Trump is a drag on the Republicans, and while we’re a long way out from anything, it doesn’t look like that’s going to get any better for them.

UH poll: Turner 43, Buzbee 23, King 8

Another encouraging poll for Mayor Turner as early voting starts.

Mayor Sylvester Turner retains a wide lead over his opponents, most of whom have failed to gain traction with weeks left until Election Day, according to a University of Houston poll released Sunday.

The poll, published on the eve of early voting, shows Turner with 43.5 percent support among likely voters, followed by lawyer and businessman Tony Buzbee at 23.4 percent. Bill King, Turner’s 2015 runoff opponent, trails with 7.8 percent, while 6.8 percent of voters said they support Councilman Dwight Boykins.

Former councilwoman Sue Lovell was backed by 1.2 percent of respondents, while 0.2 percent of voters said they support one of the other seven candidates. Another 17.2 percent of likely voters said they remain undecided.

For the poll, 501 likely voters were surveyed between Oct. 1 and Oct. 9. The margin of error is 4.4 percent.

Released weeks after a prior survey found Turner leading with 37 percent support, the new survey shows the mayor inching closer to the 50 percent-plus-one vote he would need to win the Nov. 5 election. If no candidate receives a majority of votes, the election will head to a December runoff between the top two finishers.

A significant share of undecided voters said they are considering Turner or view him favorably, results that indicate he has a narrow but unlikely path to outright victory on Nov. 5.

“Anything’s possible,” said Renée Cross, senior director of the Hobby School of Public Affairs and co-director of the poll. “Prior to this poll, I would have put my money on a runoff. But if you look at the undecided voters, there’s a possibility he could squeak it out in the general.”

See here for more on that previous poll, which was done by KHOU and Houston Public Media, and here for the details of this poll with the usual caveats about how tricky it is to poll municipal elections applying. I would not read this as evidence of Turner increasing his lead – it’s just two polls, two individual data points, there’s not nearly enough data to make claims about a trend – but it is corroborating evidence that Turner has a solid lead, that Buzbee hasn’t gotten much traction despite his millions in ads, and that Bill King is basically an afterthought. As with the other poll, Turner has a healthy, majority-support lead in runoffs with both Buzbee and King. This poll also found that a lot of undecideds lean Turner, and he’s pick up most of Boykins’ voters in overtime. Finally, Donald Trump has a 63-32 unfavorable rating in Houston, so the runoff campaign ads write themselves. All told, a whole lot of good and not much bad for Turner. I don’t know that I’d go so far as to say he could win in November – I think the path for that is too narrow – but he’s clearly in good shape.

The subpoenas come for Rick Perry

The first law of Donald Trump is that everything he touches turns to mud. Sooner or later, that mud gets on you.

Corndogs make bad news go down easier

Democrats on the three U.S. House committees overseeing the presidential impeachment inquiry have subpoenaed documents from U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry, Texas’ former governor.

Last week, Perry was identified as a potential player in allegations against the president that accuse Trump of threatening to withhold military funding to Ukraine if foreign officials didn’t investigate the business activities of Hunter Biden, the son of former Vice President Joe Biden, a likely Trump opponent in next year’s general election. Trump reportedly told Republicans during a conference call that the July 25 call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, which is the premise of the impeachment inquiry, was instigated by Perry.

Perry and energy officials said he encouraged Trump to reach out to the Ukrainian leader — but to discuss energy and economic issues, not about investigating the Bidens.

The subpoena requests documents “that are necessary for the committees to examine this sequence of these events and the reasons for the White House’s decision to withhold critical military assistance to Ukraine that was appropriated by Congress to counter Russian aggression,” U.S. House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., wrote in a letter attached to the subpoena.

[…]

The committees are requesting information about whether Perry sought to pressure the Ukrainian government to make changes to the advisory board of its state-owned oil and gas company, Naftogaz, as well as records from Perry’s attendance to the May inauguration of Zelensky in Kiev. According to the letter, Perry allegedly gave Zelensky a list of potential board members, which included previous campaign donors and Robert Bensh, a Houston energy executive.

The subpoena also requests documents related to “all meetings and discussions” related to Ukraine between Perry and Rudy Giuliani, the president’s personal lawyer who is also implicated in the Ukraine controversy. Perry’s relationship with Giuliani dates back to at least 2008, when Perry was still governor, and he endorsed the former New York City mayor for his presidential run.

I have to admit, I’d kind of forgotten that Rick Perry was even still in the Trump Cabinet. Honestly, that’s the best thing you can say about any Trump Cabinet member, that they’ve been sufficiently out of the news to slip your mind. It’s not clear that Perry has done anything wrong here, unlike “Congressman 1” Pete Sessions and pretty much everyone else, but the potential for making a fool of oneself, let alone committing perjury, is non-trivial, and a price I’ll bet Perry had no idea he might have to pay when he agreed to be Secretary of Energy. Hire a better attorney than Rudy Giuliani, that’s my advice. The Chron has more.

“Congressman 1”

Way to go, Pete!

Former U.S. Rep. Pete Sessions is an unnamed member of Congress mentioned in an indictment against two business associates of President Trump’s personal attorney, Rudolph Giuliani, according to NBC News.

The two Soviet-born men, Igor Fruman and Lev Parnas, were arrested late Wednesday night at Dulles Airport outside of Washington, D.C, per ABC News. The Wall Street Journal reported that the two men are accused of “violating campaign finance rules, including funneling Russian money into President Trump’s campaign.”

Regarding Sessions, the indictment against the two men states that they “committed to raise $20,000 or more for a then-sitting U.S. Congressman” who is referred to in the court document as “Congressman-1.” The indictment goes on to state that the congressman “had been the beneficiary of approximately $3 million” in donations from a campaign committee. NBC News and other outlets identified that person as Sessions and reported that the committee was a Trump-aligned super PAC.

Federal authorities alleged that around the same time, Parnas “sought Congressman-1’s assistance in causing the U.S. government to remove or recall” the American ambassador to Ukraine at the time, Marie Yovanovitch. Yovanovitch was a well-regarded diplomat who came into disfavor within the Trump administration and was removed from her post earlier this year.

The Wall Street Journal reported last week that Sessions, in his capacity as House Rules Committee chairman, advocated for the ouster of Yovanovitch.

I’ll provide a few links for supplemental reading in a minute, but just ponder that this story came out a week after Sessions announced his intention to move to another city so he could run in a now-open Congressional district, much to the displeasure of the outgoing incumbent, a fellow Republican. Timing is everything in this life, ain’t it? Slate, the Signal, Daily Kos, and TPM, which was way ahead of the curve, has more.

Secondhand Sessions

If at first you don’t succeed, find something easier to do.

Rep. Bill Flores

Former U.S. Rep. Pete Sessions formally launched his campaign Thursday to replace retiring U.S. Rep. Bill Flores, R-Bryan, opting against running again in his old Dallas-based district and pressing forward in Flores’ seat despite some local Republican unease.

“My goal is to work together to restore the Republican majority in the House and maintain our control of the Senate and White House,” Sessions said in a news release Thursday afternoon. “My support for President Trump is unwavering and I will dedicate my time in office to help enact his conservative agenda.”

Later in the afternoon, Sessions held an announcement event at the McLennan County GOP headquarters in Waco, where he railed against Democrats who he said have gone “completely left,” and promised to be “vigorous” in his campaign.

Sessions lost reelection last year to Dallas Democrat Collin Allred, who defeated Sessions by 7 percentage points. Sessions spent months toying with a rematch in the 32nd District until emerging Tuesday as a likely contender for Flores’ seat, which is about 80 miles south of the 32nd Congressional District and in more safely Republican territory.

Sessions, who plans to move to the 17th District, was born in Waco and grew up there. He previously represented some of the counties that are now in the 17th District. One of those counties is Limestone County, and its GOP chair, Lance Phillips, introduced Sessions on Thursday, emphasizing his connections to the area.

“This is not foreign territory for him by any stretch of the imagination,” Phillips said.

The notion of a Sessions bid for Flores’ seat prompted a backlash from some local Republicans in the 17th District. Among those speaking out was Flores himself, who balked at Sessions moving toward a run without consulting the incumbent and who said the feedback from district GOP leaders was “not positive.”

“TX17 is blessed with a strong cadre of emerging leaders who live, work, raise families, and serve the communities in our district,” Flores told The Texas Tribune after Sessions’ announcement Thursday. “Some of these leaders would be world class Congressional candidates for whom I would be honored to vote and to have represent our neighbors and me in Congress.”

It’s pretty funny, and even after Sessions belatedly reached out to his former colleague, Flores was still like “yeah, whatever, try to beat the candidates that actually do live here then we’ll see”. Sessions has been putting out statements about how he’s all in on Trump, and while that’s much more likely to help him in CD17 than it would have in CD32, maybe even here that will wear a bit thin. Democrat Rick Kennedy is running again, and I’m hoping either he can raise more money this time around, or someone else who can raise more money decides to give it a try. This could be a way-under-the-radar opportunity if Pete Sessions gets on the ballot again. The Observer has more.

Are we supposed to be scared by this?

I mean, I wouldn’t be.

Rep. Lizzie Fletcher

Houston Congresswoman Lizzie Fletcher will be one of the first targets of a new nationwide anti-impeachment effort rolled out by President Donald Trump’s re-election campaign.

Trump Victory announced Wednesday it will hold a “Stop The Madness” campaign event early on Thursday morning, calling on Fletcher “to drop the impeachment inquiry against President Trump and get back to work for Texas.” Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller, an ardent Trump supporter, is scheduled to lead the event.

While other Houston Democrats including Al Green have been vocal advocates for impeaching Trump, Fletcher has been more cautious on the topic. Last week, she made her strongest comments yet, calling the president’s actions “a gross abuse of power” but stopping short of calling for his immediate impeachment, as many of her Democratic colleagues have.

This happened yesterday, at the Houston Marriott Westchase, in case anyone was around to see it. I just want to point out that Donald Trump got 46.8% in CD07 in 2016 (to Hillary Clinton’s 48.2%), and Sid Miller got 46.9% in CD07 in 2018, to Kim Olson’s 51.4%. Donald Trump is the reason CD07 went Democratic in 2018, and you’d be hard pressed to find someone more un-representative of the district than Sid Miller. Keep up the good work, y’all.

Will Hurd has delusions about running for President

Sure, buddy.

Rep. Will Hurd

U.S. Rep. Will Hurd said Thursday he is considering a run for president in 2024.

The third-term Republican congressman from Helotes is leaving the House at the end of this term, and his retirement announcement sent shockwaves throughout national politics.

In an interview Thursday with The Texas Tribune CEO Evan Smith, Hurd addressed a slew of issues, including background checks and redistricting.

“If they’re still not being addressed in a macro way, if I’m still the only person that’s still talking about these things, if I’m put in a position in order to evaluate that, then I will do what I have always done when I’ve had the opportunity to serve my country,” he said when asked if he’s considering a run for the presidency. “I will think about it.”

[…]

During his time in Congress, Hurd has proved to be a prolific fundraiser and was able to lock down the 23rd Congressional District, a seat that regularly flipped between the two parties.

“Everybody keeps saying I’m retiring,” Hurd said. “I’m 42. I’m just getting started.”

Hurd also discussed the state of politics back home.

Despite his retirement, Hurd insisted he would have won a fourth term in a rematch against Democratic candidate Gina Ortiz Jones.

“I would have won,” he said. “This would have been a four-peat.”

Yes, and the Red Sox would have won the World Series this year, if only they had made the playoffs. I do think it’s possible Will Hurd will run for something again. Whether he could survive a Republican primary for whatever he might want to run for is another question. In the meantime, of course you would have won again in CD23, Will. We always win the races we only ever run in our heads.

One thing our state loves spending money on

Defending unconstitutional anti-abortion laws in the courts.

As Texas defends abortion laws in federal court that mandate fetal burials and seek to outlaw certain medical procedures, the state has been ordered to pay pro-abortion attorneys $2.5 million — fortifying women’s reproductive rights groups that have repeatedly sued over restrictions passed by the state Legislature.

The August order from a federal judge in Austin is seemingly the final decision in a high-profile battle over a 2013 Texas abortion law the U.S. Supreme Court eventually struck down as medically unnecessary and thus unconstitutional. The law, which was in effect for three years, required abortion providers to comply with all the regulations for ambulatory surgical centers, forcing many to undergo expensive renovations, and required their physicians to obtain admitting privileges at a nearby hospital.

The judge’s order brings the state’s total cost for defending those now-defunct pieces of the law to an estimated $3.6 million.

“Passing regulations that are blatantly unconstitutional, and then wasting people’s resources to fight them, costs money and precious resources and time. And people are harmed in the process,” said Amy Hagstrom Miller, CEO of Whole Woman’s Health, an abortion provider and lead plaintiff in the case who notes that half of the state’s abortion clinics closed before the Supreme Court’s 2016 ruling. “That is a precious resource of Texans’ dollars being used toward that.”

Because the state lost the case, U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel ruled it must pay the plaintiffs $2,297,860 attorney’s fees, $170,142 in nontaxable expenses and $95,873 in other costs. The amount represents nearly half of the $4.7 million in costs the plaintiffs say they incurred preparing and trying the case. The Texas attorney general’s office did not contest the judge’s ruling.

The award for the opposing attorneys is more than double the nearly $1.1 million the attorney general’s office reported spending on its own attorney’s salary, overhead, travel expenses and other costs associated with defending the law, according to open records obtained by the Texas Tribune in 2016.

Hardly the first time – that 2016 SCOTUS ruling cost the state even more – and until we get a different government, hardly the last time. The AG’s office declined to comment for the story, but we both know that Ken Paxton would gladly spend down the entire Rainy Day Fund in defense of these laws. It’s not really a cost, as far as they’re concerned. It’s an investment.

On a related note:

[Joe Pojman, executive director of the Texas Alliance for Life which advocates for stiffer abortion regulations,] said anti-abortion advocates need to think long-term if they want to overturn Roe v. Wade, which established legal precedent protecting a woman’s right to an abortion. The long-time activist said he is not confident the makeup of the U.S. Supreme Court is favorable to overturning Roe v. Wade — but it could be in a few years.

“We are telling our people that they need to stay focused on re-electing President Donald Trump because he has a track record of nominating justices who are possibly willing to take an honest look at Roe v. Wade,” said Pojman.

I’ve lost count of the number of times that people who voted for Ralph Nader in 2000 and people who voted for Jill Stein in 2016 have ridiculed the notion of judicial appointments as an electoral issue. Joe Pojman would like to thank them for their dedication to their principles.

UT-Tyler: Trump still looks weak in Texas

Two months later, there may be a story line to watch.

Beto O’Rourke

Beto O’Rourke remains competitive against President Donald Trump in a Texas head-to-head matchup, according to a poll released Thursday by the Center for Opinion Research at the University of Texas at Tyler.

The poll, conducted over three days following last week’s debate in Houston, shows O’Rourke polling better against Trump in a head-to-head matchup than every other Democratic contender except former Vice President Joe Biden.

Both led Trump by 2 percentage points in hypothetical matchups. Four other candidates tested against Trump lagged behind the president, though Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont trailed by less than the 2.8-percentage-point margin of error.

O’Rourke’s campaign boasted that the results vindicate his stance on gun control. He has caught flak from members of both parties since forcefully demanding mandatory buybacks of assault weapons in the Houston debate.

His gun confiscation proposal drew support from 49% of Texans in the UT-Tyler poll, while other plans drew broader support. Nearly 85% supported universal background checks for gun purchases. A “red flag” law that would let law enforcement take guns from someone deemed dangerous drew support from 65%.

Far more Texans — 59% — support an assault weapons sales ban that would let owners keep guns they already own. Gun rights advocates view confiscation as unconstitutional.

[…]

Trump continues to poll underwater in Texas, showing a 40% job approval rating among all respondents. Approval is much higher among Republicans and much lower among Democrats.

See here for the previous poll, from late July. The UT-Tyler Center for Opinion Research press release is here and the poll data is here. Trump’s approval numbers were 40.3% approve, 54.5% disapprove in July, and 39.6% approve, 52.3% disapprove in September. The “will vote for” number he gets, in each matchup, is a close approximation of his approval number. A thing that I noticed that I want to point out, though it’s far too soon to draw any conclusions about it, is how Trump does with Dems and with Republicans.


Candidates   Dem %  GOP %  Ind %  Tot %
=======================================
Biden        74.6%   8.0%  33.1%  39.6%
Trump         2.7%  81.5%  20.9%  38.0%
Neither/NS   22.6%  10.5%  46.0%  22.4%

Warren       69.2%   7.8%  28.1%  36.5%
Trump         3.0%  82.9%  25.9%  39.5%
Neither/NS   27.8%   9.3%  46.0%  24.0%

Harris       61.5%   6.5%  23.6%  31.8%
Trump         3.2%  82.1%  25.5%  39.4%
Neither/NS   35.4%  11.5%  50.9%  28.9%

Sanders      72.0%   6.8%  32.5%  37.9%
Trump         2.6%  82.8%  26.4%  39.6%
Neither/NS   25.5%  10.4%  41.2%  22.5%

Buttigieg    57.0%   6.6%  25.1%  30.4%
Trump         3.2%  82.1%  25.6%  39.3%
Neither/NS   39.8%  11.3%  49.3%  30.3%

Beto         79.2%   8.2%  35.4%  42.0%
Trump         3.5%  82.2%  26.5%  39.7%
Neither/NS   18.3%   9.6%  38.1%  18.3%

“Neither/NS” is the sum of the “Neither/Other” and “Not Sure” responses. Trump gets nearly identical levels of support among Dems and Republicans against each potential opponent. The range of support for him is a bit wider among indies, but indies are also the smallest sample so those numbers may just be more volatile as a result. All Dems get roughly the same amount of support among Republicans. There’s more variance among indies, but by far the biggest variable is the level of support among Dems for each candidate. Beto as native son does best, followed by the two previous Presidential candidates – and thus the best known among them – Biden and Bernie, with Elizabeth Warren a notch behind. Farther down are Kamala Harris and Pete Buttigieg. They had Julian Castro in the July sample but not this one.

You can compare to the July data, where Trump did a bit better among Republicans and Dems but worse among indies, giving him roughly the same overall numbers. This will be worth watching for trends if UT-Tyler keeps pumping these out every other month, but beyond that it’s only two data points. My main argument here is that Trump seems to have a ceiling, and it’s lower than that of the Dems. Dem voters who haven’t made up their minds or who have a preference than isn’t the named candidate in the given question have the option of giving a non-committal answer. They’re not defecting to Trump, they’re just keeping their powder dry. Fewer Republicans are similarly ambivalent about Trump, and quite a few more are actively against him. That leaves him less room to grow, at least among the easier to get voters. If all of this is for real, then when the Dems have a nominee, or at least a much smaller number of choices, I’d expect to see the Dem candidates’ support get consolidated. That’s what is worth watching.

Now again, there’s the apparent correlation between the approval number and the “would vote for” number, so if the former goes up the latter may as well. And as noted before, this sample seems unusually Democratic, which may be skewing things. The good news is that there is just a lot more polling activity here this cycle, so there will be many chances to see if this poll is in the mainstream or an outlier. For now, the basics of it look better for the Dems than for Trump.

As for the gun control questions, they’re interesting and worth considering, but even with the baby steps Dan Patrick and Greg Abbott have taken in that direction, I don’t think it means much. Lots of things poll well in Texas but have zero traction because literally no elected Republicans in the Lege or statewide agree with that position. There are some tiny cracks in the ice now because of the 2018 elections, but it’s going to take a lot more Republicans losing elections for it to truly matter.

Bell officially begins his Senate campaign

Yeah, I know, I also thought that this had already happened. Just a reminder that these things occur in stages.

Chris Bell

Democrat Chris Bell, the former Houston congressman and gubernatorial nominee, is formally announcing his U.S. Senate campaign.

Bell, who has been campaigning since early summer, is set to rev up his bid Wednesday with a video in which he calls the Republican incumbent, John Cornyn, a “water boy” for President Donald Trump and offers a sharpened pitch for why he is the best choice in the crowded primary.

“As the only candidate who’s been to Congress, I know how badly broken it is,” Bell says. “I’ve fought the same political insiders that keep John Cornyn in power, and I know how to take them down.”

[…]

Bell’s announcement comes toward the end of the third fundraising quarter, which should provide some new insight into the viability of the candidates, most of which began their campaigns over the past three months.

See here and here for the background. Bell was the first candidate to announce an intent to run after MJ Hegar’s entrance; in between then and now, Amanda Edwards and Royce West and Cristina Tzintzún Ramirez have followed. The polling we have, which I don’t take too seriously at this time, does not indicate a clear frontrunner, which among other things means everyone needs to get their name recognition up. That in turn takes money, so I too will eagerly await the next round of finance reports. That may well tell us more than anything else we’ve seen so far. The Chron has more.

Quinnipiac: Lots of Texans don’t intend to vote for Trump

More nice polling news.

President Trump’s job approval rating remains marginally underwater in Texas, with 45 percent of registered voters saying that they approve and 50 percent saying that they disapprove. Thinking ahead to 2020, 48 percent of Texas voters say that they would definitely not vote for Trump if he was the Republican nominee, while 35 percent say that they would definitely vote for him and 14 percent say that they would consider voting for him.

Most of this poll is about the Democratic primary, in which Joe Biden leads the field in Texas. The latest UT/Trib poll finds the same thing. I continue to be way more interested in the November 2020 matchups, so that’s what I’m going to focus on. Here are the important numbers from the poll:

8. In the 2020 general election for president, if Donald Trump is the Republican candidate, would you definitely vote for him, consider voting for him, or would you definitely not vote for him?


                                                              WHITE......
                                                              COLLEGE DEG
                     Tot    Rep    Dem    Ind    Men    Wom    Yes    No
 
Definitely vote      35%    77%     3%    22%    40%    30%    41%    58%
Consider voting      14     14      1     21     16     11     16     15
Definitely not vote  48      7     93     52     41     55     41     25
DK/NA                 3      2      2      4      3      4      2      2
 
                     AGE IN YRS..............    WHITE.....
                     18-34  35-49  50-64  65+    Men    Wom    Wht    Blk    Hsp
 
Definitely vote      21%    32%    40%    47%    52%    46%    49%     9%    20%
Consider voting      20     17     10      8     17     14     15      7     14
Definitely not vote  55     49     47     43     29     37     33     78     65
DK/NA                 5      2      3      2      2      3      2      6      1

9. In the 2020 general election for the U.S. Senate, if John Cornyn is the Republican candidate, would you definitely vote for him, consider voting for him, or would you definitely not vote for him?


                                                               WHITE......
                                                               COLLEGE DEG
                     Tot    Rep    Dem    Ind    Men    Wom    Yes    No
 
Definitely vote      23%    49%     2%    16%    25%    21%    33%    30%
Consider voting      30     36     13     39     32     28     29     37
Definitely not vote  35      8     77     31     32     38     31     21
DK/NA                13      7      8     14     12     13      8     12
 
                     AGE IN YRS..............    WHITE.....
                     18-34  35-49  50-64  65+    Men    Wom    Wht    Blk    Hsp
 
Definitely vote      11%    16%    28%    39%    34%    29%    31%     8%    17%
Consider voting      38     36     26     19     34     32     33     22     26
Definitely not vote  31     36     36     34     23     28     26     58     41
DK/NA                20     11      9      8      9     10     10     12     17

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


                                                               WHITE......
                                                               COLLEGE DEG
                     Tot    Rep    Dem    Ind    Men    Wom    Yes    No
 
Approve              45%    87%     2%    39%    53%    36%    49%    69%
Disapprove           50      9     95     56     42     57     46     27
DK/NA                 6      4      3      5      5      7      5      4
 
                     AGE IN YRS..............    WHITE.....
                     18-34  35-49  50-64  65+    Men    Wom    Wht    Blk    Hsp
 
Approve              36%    44%    46%    50%    64%    54%    59%    15%    29%
Disapprove           55     49     51     47     33     40     36     80     62
DK/NA                 8      7      2      3      3      6      4      4      8

In the June Quinnipiac poll, they polled specific matchups, with Biden leading Trump 48-44, and other Dems not doing quite as well. I’m not sure why they strayed from that path to this more generic question, but whatever. The numbers look pretty lousy for Trump regardless. Cornyn does a little better, which does not conform to my thesis that he will perform about as well as Trump, but there’s a lot more uncertainty in the Cornyn numbers. Trump’s approval numbers are better here than in that Univision poll, but still underwater, with 50% disapproval. His national approval numbers have been tanking, as are his national re-elect numbers, so this may be a reflection of all that. Approval numbers matter. No matter how you slice this, it ain’t great for Trump.

In somewhat related news:

U.S. Air Force veteran MJ Hegar, with a scant 11% of Texas Democrats supporting her, leads the Democratic candidates in the race for U.S. Senate, according to the latest University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll. The bigger piece of news might be this: 66% of potential Democratic primary voters said either that they don’t know who they’ll support or that they haven’t thought about it enough to have an opinion.

Asked whether they’ve heard of the candidates, most of the respondents threw up their hands. State Sen. Royce West of Dallas, the most well-known of the candidates, was known to just 22% of voters, followed by Hegar, an unsuccessful 2018 congressional candidate from Round Rock, 21%; Chris Bell, a former U.S. representative and the party’s 2006 candidate for governor, 20%; Sema Hernandez, who ran against Beto O’Rourke in last year’s primary for U.S. Senate, 13%; Beaumont pastor Michael Cooper and political organizer Cristina Tzintzún Ramirez, 12% each; and Amanda Edwards, an at-large Houston city council member, 10%. Everyone else was known to fewer than 8% of Democratic voters.

Nevertheless, in a race held today, Hegar is the favorite, at 11%, with the other candidates mired in the low single digits behind her: West, 5%; Hernandez and Tzintzún Ramirez, 3% each; Bell, Cooper and Edwards, 2% each.

“[Hegar] is really well positioned,”said Daron Shaw, professor of government at UT-Austin and co-director of the poll. “She’s the frontrunner. I don’t know that it’s her race to lose, but she’s certainly got a leg up.”

Like I’ve said, don’t focus too much on these numbers yet. When one or more of the candidates starts spending money on a state campaign, we’ll begin to see how the race may shape up. Until then, it’s all up in the air. The DMN has more.

Univision News poll: Trump 42, Dem 47

Here’s a fun poll.

Days away from the third Democratic debate in Houston and over a year from the 2020 presidential election, an exclusive poll by Univision News found that 40% of registered voters in the state say they will vote for the Democrat who prevails in the party’s primary, while 33% say they will support president Trump. If undecided voters leaning one way or the other are included, the advantage would be 47% to 42% in favor of the Democrats.

The Latino vote could be decisive. A large majority of Hispanics (69%) surveyed in the state said they intend to vote for the Democratic candidate, compared with 19% who plan to support Trump (also including undecided voters who are leaning one way or another).

According to Census data, Hispanics represented 40% of the population of Texas last year and during the 2018 elections Hispanics constituted more than 24% of registered voters. The Univision national poll, conducted by Latino Decisions and North Star Opinion, measured the presidential preferences of Hispanics in this election cycle and included a specific module for Texas with the support of the Center for Mexican-American Studies at the University of Houston in which included a sample of all state voters.

Senator Bernie Sanders would win the state (48% against 42%). Similarly, former Vice President Joe Biden would win the state (47% to 43%), and the same would happen with Senator Warren (44% to 42%).

[…]

According to the national poll, President Trump’s management style continues to generate a strong rejection among Hispanics, with four out of five registered voters disapproving of the president’s performance. At the same time, according to the survey, Democrats have gained support from Latinos who were undecided.

In this latest poll, which comes on the eve of Thursday’s debate in Houston in which all the leading Democratic candidates will share the same stage for the first time, 62% of Latinos reported that they will support any Democrat who opposes the president.

This is the most favorable poll for Dems versus Trump in Texas so far – compare to the Quinnipiac June poll, the UT/Trib June poll, the UT-Tyler July poll, and the August Emerson poll. In part, this is because Trump’s approval numbers are terrible – 44% approve of the job he’s doing, 56% disapprove. There does seem to be a correlation between the two in the polls we’ve seen so far, which makes sense but may not be conclusive. Trump did outperform his approval numbers in 2016, but he wasn’t President then, he didn’t have a record to defend, and he had the good luck to run against someone whose own approval numbers were lousy. At least the first two of those will not be true this time.

The poll has three results for each question – there’s a national Latino result (1,043 Latino RVs), a Texas Latino result (641 Texas Latino RVs), and an overall Texas result (1,004 Texas RVs). You can see how the questions break out, in many different combinations of candidate and query, and you can see it in tabular form with the wording of the questions here. To save you some clicking and scrolling, here are the headline numbers:


Matchup     LatinTX  All TX
===========================
Trump           19%     42%
Democrat        69%     47%

Trump           19%     43%
Biden           60%     47%

Trump           19%     42%
Sanders         68%     48%

Trump           20%     42%
Warren          64%     44%

Trump           19%     44%
Harris          60%     45%

Trump           20%     41%
Castro          62%     44%

Trump           21%     41%
Booker          63%     43%

Cornyn          22%     41%
Democrat        58%     40%

All numbers are for Texas, with the first number being from the Latino subsample and the second number being overall. Not a whole lot of difference, and where there are differences it’s usually in the Undecideds. Note they also threw in a Senate question, though just a generic one. It probably wouldn’t make much difference if they asked about individual candidates, as the polls we’ve seen so far, one from August and one from this week suggest the Dem candidates aren’t sufficiently well known for there to be much difference between them. On that note, here’s the more recent poll of the Texas Senate primary:

Mary Jennings “MJ” Hegar, of Round Rock, an Afghanistan War veteran who nearly unseated a veteran GOP congressman last year, came out on top – barely.

Hegar polled at 12 percent, followed by three candidates with 10 percent: State Sen. Royce West; activist Cristina Tzintzún Ramirez; and Houston City Councilwoman Amanda Edwards. Chris Bell, a former congressman from Houston, had 9 percent in the poll.

The survey of 600 likely Democratic primary voters was conducted from Sept. 3-5 by Ragnar Research Partners of Austin and Washington. The margin of error is 3.9 percent.

I wouldn’t worry too much about Dem Senate primary polls for now. In the Univision poll, John Cornyn does about as well as Trump, with the slight differences on both sides again coming from an increase in the undecideds. Cornyn did basically as well as John McCain in the 2008 election, the main difference in the two races being the larger share of the vote going to the third-party candidate. His 12-point margin over Rick Noriega was identical to McCain’s 12-point margin over Barack Obama. This suggests that there won’t be that much difference between Cornyn and Trump when the 2020 votes are counted. That in turn suggests to me that the not-Trump voters from 2016 who voted more or less Republican otherwise but went much more Democratic in 2018 will likely repeat their more recent behavior in 2020. I don’t want to go too far out on the limb for this – polling data is still preliminary and scarce – but it’s something to keep an eye on. It’s long been my belief that the not-Trump voters will stay with the Dems in 2020, and after that who knows, and if so that makes the path for Dems easier to navigate. But as they say, there’s still a lot of time. Now we wait for the next poll.

It’s not really a campaign until there are attack ads

I have three things to say about this.

Mayor Sylvester Turner

Mayor Sylvester Turner launched a television ad Monday attacking Tony Buzbee for donating to President Donald Trump’s inauguration committee, marking the mayor’s first major attempt to link his political opponent to the president.

Buzbee, a millionaire businessman and lawyer, is one of 11 candidates running for mayor against Turner, who is seeking a second four-year term in November.

In the summer of 2016, Buzbee hosted a fundraiser for Trump — who was then the presumptive Republican nominee — at his mansion in River Oaks.

In October 2016, after a video surfaced in which Trump is heard bragging about groping women, Buzbee disavowed Trump, posting on social media, “Sorry Donald. I’m done with you. Completely.”

He later contributed $500,000 to Trump’s inauguration committee.

Turner’s ad opens with a clip of Trump calling Mexican immigrants “rapists” at his 2015 campaign launch speech, when Trump also accused immigrants of bringing drugs and crime across the border.

“Noise, and more noise, from Donald Trump and his imitator, Tony Buzbee,” a narrator’s voice says.

1. Ideally, incumbents prefer to be able to run campaigns that don’t acknowledge their opposition. Even the most devastating negative ad still has the effect of raising the opponent’s name ID. Attacking Buzbee means there’s more value in trying to take him down than the downside of introducing him to a wider audience.

2. Buzbee is of course a target-rich environment, with his ties to Donald Trump and Rick Perry, his general douche-bro profile, his loose relationship with accurate information, and the fact that he’s basically a loudmouth know-it-all with no experience in government. You know, kind of like some other guy who was also a very bad idea to vote for.

3. The thing about running attack ads in a multi-candidate race is that it can have the side effect of improving the position of the candidate or candidates who are neither the target nor the instigator of the ad. Is Turner attacking Buzbee in hope of softening him up for the runoff, or in hope of knocking him out so he’ll face someone else in the runoff? Hard to say. If he keeps this up for weeks, or if he goes on to attack other candidates, we’ll have a better idea.

The Harris County GOP thinks it can come back in 2020

They’re so adorable.

Never forget

Once a rock of Republican politics in Texas, Harris County has become nothing short of a nightmare for the GOP over the last four years as Hillary Clinton and Beto O’Rourke carried the county and Democrats dominated further down ballot in local races.

But as bad as it has been of late, party leaders say it’s foolish to consider Harris County blue, based on just two election cycles. They insist the party has learned key lessons over the last four years and made changes that will not just stop the Democratic trends, but lead to GOP victories in 2020 and beyond.

“We are still a strong force here,” Harris County Republican Party chairman Paul Simpson said.

He sees 2016 and 2018 as more of temporary Democratic run than a change of the guard. There have already been big changes that will affect 2020, he said, pointing to the end of straight-ticket voting, better minority community outreach and a renewed commitment to registering new voters as three things that will lift GOP candidates in Harris County.

That’s not to discount the pain of the last two election cycles. Shifting demographics and an emboldened Democratic Party that has registered new voters at record speed allowed Clinton in 2016 to win the biggest share of the vote for a Democratic presidential candidate in Harris since Texas icon Lyndon Johnson was on the ballot in 1964.

And in the governor’s race in 2018, Democrat Lupe Valdez — who ran a campaign that was mediocre at best — won Harris County over incumbent Republican Gov. Greg Abbott, becoming only the second Democratic gubernatorial candidate to carry Harris County in 25 years.

“There was shell shock,” Republican media consultant Vlad Davidiuk said.

[…]

Months before the 2018 election, Abbott’s political team was warning allies about what was happening in Harris County. That summer at a training session in San Antonio, Abbott campaign advisers told workers that Democratic-leaning voter registration groups such as Battleground Texas were making big gains registering new voters in Harris County.

Davidiuk, who was working with the Harris County Republican Party then, said others saw it coming, too.

“We didn’t have a response to that,” he said. “If there was a response, it was too fractured.”

That voter registration push has only grown the Democratic advantage at the polls the last two years.

“Our historic voter base is shrinking in both real and absolute terms,” the 2016 post election analysis says. “As a consequence, we are at risk of becoming a minority party within Harris County.”

Later it makes clear that “Donald Trump’s loss in Harris County and its down-ballot impact in 2016 could foreshadow future elections if we do not broaden our voter base.”

I’ve already said most of what there is to say about this. The rationales they give – it was Beto! straight ticket voting! Trump! why don’t those minorities like us? – are as predictable as they are pathetic and self-unaware. The straight ticket thing I’ve beaten to death (but feel free to reread this for one of my responses to that trope), but I think what we need here is to throw some numbers at these claims.


Year    R Pres   D Pres   R Judges   D Judges
=============================================
2004   584,723  475,865    535,877    469,037
2008   571,883  590,982    541,938    559,048
2012   586,073  587,044    563,654    568,739
2016   545,955  707,914    605,112    661,404

Republicans have basically not done any better at the Presidential level in Harris County since George W. Bush in 2004. They have grown some at the judicial level (the numbers you see above are the average totals from the District Court races, my go-to for measuring partisan vote totals), which highlights Trump’s extreme underperformance, but their growth (plus 70K from 2004 to 2016) is dwarfed by Democratic vote growth (plus 192K) over the same period. This is my thesis, which I’ve repeated over and over again and which has clearly not sunk in. This is the problem Republicans need to solve.


Year  R Judges   D Judges    R Str    D Str  R Str%  D Str%
===========================================================
2004   535,877    469,037  370,455  325,097   69.1%   69.3%
2008   541,938    559,048  343,919  391,488   63.5%   70.1%
2012   563,654    568,739  404,165  406,991   71.7%   71.6%
2016   605,112    661,404  401,663  472,030   66.4%   71.4%

These are the countywide straight ticket voting totals, and the percentage of each side’s average judicial total that came from straight ticket votes. Looked at this way, Democratic straight ticket vote total growth is proportionate to their overall vote total growth. In other words, the increase in Democratic straight ticket voters wasn’t inflating their overall strength, it was merely reflecting it. Meanwhile, fewer people voted straight ticket Republican in 2016 than they did in 2012. Sure, some of that is a reaction to Trump, but that’s still a big problem for them, and it’s not something that the elimination of straight ticket voting will help them with in 2020. Note also that Republicans have been pretty heavily dependent on straight ticket voting as well. I do not understand the assumption that its removal will help them.


Year  Voter Reg   R Pres%  R Judge%  D Pres%  D Judge%
======================================================
2004  1,876,296     31.2%     28.6%    25.4%     25.0%
2008  1,892,656     30.2%     28.6%    31.2%     29.5%
2012  1,942,566     30.2%     29.0%    30.2%     29.3%
2016  2,182,980     25.0%     27.7%    32.4%     30.3%

The first column is the total number of registered voters in Harris County in the given year, and the percentages are the percentage of each of the total registered voter population. As a share of all registered voters, Donald Trump did worse than John Kerry, while Hillary Clinton did better than Dubya. The share of all voters choosing Democratic judicial candidates increased twenty percent from 2004 to 2016, while the share of all voters choosing Republican judicial candidates declined by three percent. This is what I mean when I say that the Republicans first and foremost have a “not enough voters” problem in Harris County. Their second problem is that they have no clue what to do about it.

For what it’s worth, here’s a similar comparison for the off years:


Year  R Judges   D Judges    R Str    D Str  R Str%  D Str%
===========================================================
2002   333,009    270,564  185,606  171,594   55.7%   63.4%
2014   359,842    297,812  254,006  210,018   70.6%   70.5%
2018   531,013    651,975  410,654  515,812   77.3%   79.1%

Year  Voter Reg  R Judge%  D Judge%
===================================
2002  1,875,777     17.8%     14.4%
2014  2,044,361     17.6%     14.6%
2018  2,307,654     23.0%     28.3%

Couple things to note here. One is that there wasn’t much in the way of growth for either party from 2002 to 2014, though as we know there were some ups and downs in between. The 2018 election was a lot like a Presidential election in terms of turnout – you’ve seen me use 2012 as a point of comparison for it before – but one in which the Dems did a much better job. No Republican, not even Ed Emmett, came close to getting 600,000 votes. Here, I’ll agree that having unpopular politicians at the top of the ballot, like Ted Cruz and Dan Patrick and Ken Paxton, as well as having to fly under the Trump banner, helped propel Dems, in part because of former Republicans crossing over. But they were starting from a lower point to begin with.

Note, by the way, the jump in voter registrations from 2012 to 2014. Mike Sullivan deserves some credit for that, as he was the first Tax Assessor in a long time to not be hostile to voter registration, but this was also the point at which Dems started really focusing on registering voters. For sure, that has helped, and I’ve no doubt that Abbott’s people had reason to be alarmed going into 2018. I find it kind of amusing that Republicans are turning to voter registration themselves as a way forward. I have to wonder if that will lead to any bills getting advanced that would make voter reg easier and more convenient. My guess is still No, on the grounds that they probably figure they can throw money at the problem and would still rather have it be hard for Dems, but we’ll see.

I could go on, but you get the point. And as a reminder, the numbers themselves aren’t the whole story about why Republicans are struggling and will continue to do so in Harris County:

Simpson, for one, is glad to see the parade of Democratic presidential contenders coming to Harris County because it puts their ideas — particularly on climate change — front and center. Let them bring their calls for banning fossil fuels, he said.

“They don’t want us to eat beef, drill for oil or even use straws.”

Because it there’s one thing younger voters really hate, it’s trying to solve climate change. Way to be on top of the trends there, dude.

McCaul’s hustle

Turns out, running for re-election is hard work.

Rep. Mike McCaul

Rep. Michael McCaul does not have to be here, at Carl’s BBQ on the side of a highway, in a wood-paneled backroom, seated at a bare table in front of a stuffed, life-size buck whose antlers hold a sign saying, “NEVER moon a werewolf.”

He doesn’t have to drive east two and a half hours from his home in Austin to find brisket this good, but here is where his voters are. And after the last election, his worst in his 15-year political career, the Republican congressman decided he needs to campaign for them like never before.

McCaul could be forgiven for retiring. In the past four weeks, four of his fellow Texas Republican colleagues have done so — a political phenomenon nicknamed “Texodus” — including two members who represent suburban districts similar to McCaul’s. The Democrats flipped the House in 2018, suddenly making life miserable for GOP members now in the minority, and targeted half a dozen of the members of Congress in Texas, including him. To win, McCaul has to, for the first time, actually try; His once-safe district stretching from Austin to Houston is changing faster than he expected, threatening to throw him out.

But when faced with fight or flight, McCaul chose the former. He changed his campaign staff, including hiring Corry Bliss, who led the top Republican-affiliated super PAC for House races in 2018, as a general consultant. Last quarter, McCaul claimed a personal fundraising record. His team boasted the earliest field program of any incumbent Republican in America, one it says has already knocked on 10,000 doors. In the past week, McCaul met with local chamber of commerce officials, AARP constituents and local journalists. He toured car dealerships. He led a consortium on how to address human trafficking. And he hit three barbecue joints in three days.

“I decided if I’m going to do this again, I’m going to work it hard, maybe harder than I ever have,” McCaul told CNN.

In a 25-minute interview this week, McCaul blamed the Texas Republicans’ drubbing last cycle “in large part” to the top of the ticket. GOP Sen. Ted Cruz lost the big four metropolitan regions — “something no top-of-the-ticket Republican nominee had done since Barry Goldwater in 1964,” who faced native son and President Lyndon B. Johnson, according to a University of Houston study. McCaul noted that Cruz, who was “not as likeable” and unable to “fully” energize his party’s base voters, lost his district to then-Democratic Rep. Beto O’Rourke, who created a following McCaul called “Beto-mania.” (A source close to the Cruz operation responded that McCaul raised more than triple the amount of his Democratic opponent and still “almost lost.”)

[…]

In recent years, the populations of Latinos, African Americans and Asians in McCaul’s district have boomed. Between 2012 and 2017, Latinos grew from 26% to 29% of the population as over 60,000 moved there or were born, according to American Community Survey figures pointed out by Potter. The white population increased but more slowly than other races, and shrunk as a percentage of the district from 58% to 52%.

Rep. Marc Veasey, a Texas Democrat, said the population explosion could yield the state two or three more congressional seats after the next census. But he said that rapid demographic change was just one reason why these suburban seats have become competitive after so long, saying the voters “have really had enough of this President — and Republicans not pushing back against a lot of what they see as wrong for the country.”

Siegel, physician Dr. Pritesh Gandhi and Shannon Hutcheson, a lawyer whose clients include Planned Parenthood, are all vying to be the Democratic nominee to take on McCaul. Democrats are confident that the mix of Trump at the top of the ticket, fundamental demographic changes and a message centering on health care and protecting the Affordable Care Act will flip the seat.

The Democrats also don’t think McCaul is well-known even after winning eight terms in office and call his claims of a reinvigorated field campaign overblown. According to a copy of McCaul’s schedule of the past two weeks obtained by CNN, the congressman had one door-knocking event but canceled it. When CNN toured the block, which included a home hoisting a Trump flag out front, a couple potential voters said they didn’t recognize McCaul’s name, but they would vote for him so long that he was Republican.

I love both the faux-blockwalking story and the Ted Cruz shade. Who says politics is boring? The story is cool and all, but I’m going to boil this all down to a couple of tables:


County    McCaul   Cadien     Diff
==================================
Harris    68,540   22,459   46,081
Travis    37,493   51,400  -13,907
Others    53,750   21,851   31,899

Total    159,783   95,710   64,073

County    McCaul   Siegel     Diff
==================================
Harris    71,717   40,820   30,897
Travis    30,857   80,864  -50,007
Others    54,592   22,350   32,242

Total    157,166  144,034   13,132

Mike McCaul got slightly fewer votes in 2018 than he did in 2012, while Mike Siegel got nearly 50K more votes than Tawana Cadien did. All of the improvement in Siegel’s vote totals came from Harris and Travis counties. The small rural counties in between produced essentially the same totals and margins each year. If Dems can squeeze a bit more out of the two big counties (*), they can win this seat. As before, that’s going to be a combination of relentless voter registration and GOTV, which I can guarantee will involve actual blockwalking. The path forward is clear.

(*) For what it’s worth, Siegel improved slightly on Cadien’s performance in Bastrop County, reducing the margin there from 2,353 for McCaul in 2012 to 1,691. It’s worth expending some effort there, in part because every vote will matter and in part because I at least still have hope that Bastrop will start to go the way of Hays County, but the fat part of the target remains the two biggest counties.

A reminder about the local legislative races

Let’s review the facts together.

Rep. Jon Rosenthal

State Rep. Jon Rosenthal wasn’t supposed to win his Texas House seat last year. He was too much of a Democrat for the swath of northwest Harris County that had long elected Republicans.

But in the 2018 election, amid buzz over Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Beto O’Rourke and frustration with the Trump administration, the longtime engineer and first-time candidate emerged as one of a dozen Democrats to turn a Republican seat blue.

Now Rosenthal, 56, has a political target on his back. Republican operatives say Rosenthal’s seat is one of about a dozen nestled in the Texas suburbs that they can win back. Most of the hottest races are expected in the Houston area or the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex. Nearly $2 million has already been poured into coffers for candidates as both parties brace for the fight.

“The 2020 year is going to be really wild in terms of what outside influences and national parties spend in our areas,” said Rosenthal.

Democrats will have to work the hardest to defend their new turf in Harris County, analysts say, after flipping two seats by slim margins in 2018.

In 2020, the stakes will be considerably higher, as the party that controls the House in 2021 will have a commanding influence on redrawing congressional and legislative district maps that will be in use over the next decade, shaping the political direction of the state.

Republicans have set their sights on Rosenthal, who won District 135 by 3 percentage points in his northwest Harris County district, which spans from Jersey Village to Westgate. Further west in Katy, first-time candidate Gina Calanni eked out a win in District 132 against another Republican incumbent by 113 votes.

“We need to take these two seats back to expand the majority and certainly heading into redistricting next session. It’s critical to taking Texas Republican after the census,” said Paul Simpson, chairman of the Harris County GOP.

Although population growth in those areas is on the rise, Republicans doubt those districts are shifting as liberal as Democrats think. The districts were victim of a “Beto wave,” Simpson said, noting that voters in both 132 and 135 also favored Republican Gov. Greg Abbott.

Democrats are counting on long-awaited demographic changes to widen the margins and keep both Rosenthal and Calanni in office.

“I think the population has changed dramatically over the past few years and I think there’s a lot more anti-Trump sentiment to add fuel to the fire, said Lillie Schechter, chairwoman of the Harris County Democratic Party.

Let me start with the assertion that Rep. Rosenthal “wasn’t supposed to win” in HD135. Sure, he was an underdog in a Republican district that was trending Democratic, but it was not at all hard to imagine this swingy district going blue in a good year for the Dems. It’s a weird start to the article.

I’m not here to argue that Rosenthal’s HD135, or Rep. Gina Calanni’s HD132, are not legitimate targets for the Republicans in 2020. These are districts that had voted Republican for a long time, they were close races in 2018 – especially close in Calanni’s case, as she won with less than 50% with a Libertarian also in the mix – and what else are the Republicans going to do in 2020? They’d be committing political malpractice if they didn’t go all out in those districts. But for crying out loud, can we quit with the “Beto wave” foolishness? Sure, Beto won HDs 132 and 135. So did Mike Collier, Justin Nelson, and Kim Olson. The statewide Republicans that carried those districts did so by small margins. At the judicial race level, both districts were basically 50-50. Both Calanni and Rosenthal won a majority of the non-straight ticket voters in their districts. And at the risk of repeating myself, both districts were trending Democratic before 2018. There’s no reason to think they’ve trended any less Democratic since then.

None of this is to say that either or both of Rosenthal and Calanni can’t lose. Those races were actually kind of low profile in 2018. No one is sneaking up on anyone in 2020, especially not in HDs 132 and 135. The incumbents start out as favorites, as they had in 2018, but upsets are possible. Just be sure to show your work if you’re going to predict that they will happen.

The Republicans say it’s the Democrats who will have more trouble at the top of the ticket, with no O’Rourke.

“I’m not being arrogant when I say this, but our numbers should have been higher according to the polling,” said Rep. Sam Harless, a relatively moderate Republican who won his first election in 2018 by 9.7 percentage points. “The Beto factor was huge.”

“I think the Democrats see a little blood in the water, they’re getting excited, but I think the Republicans will pick back up five to seven seats,” he said.

In total, Democratic and Republican party operatives have identified 34 seats across Texas as potential toss-ups. Of them, 14 were won within a 5-percent margin in the last election. Another 13 contests came within a 10-percentage point margin, and seven are seen as vulnerable for other reasons.

Yeah, it’s the (probable) lack of Beto at the top of the ticket that will make a difference. Have y’all heard of Donald Trump? I mean, seriously. I’ll take that bet, Rep. Harless. Indeed, while this story correctly identified HDs 138 and 134 as top Democratic targets for 2020, and mentioned HDs 129 and 133 as stretch targets, HD126 was actually more Democratic than either of those two. Are those footsteps you hear, Rep. Harless? Beyond that, I’d like to see the complete list of those 34 seats, especially the seven that are “seen as vulnerable for other reasons”. What does that even mean? We can’t tell from this story, so feel free to speculate in the comments.

Yet another story about suburbs shifting away from Republicans

Collect the whole set!

Texas is currently experiencing two trends that are favorable to Democrats: increasing urbanization, and big demographic shifts.

The Texas Tribune recently reported that Hispanics are expected to become the largest demographic group in the state by 2022, with Texas gaining nearly nine times as many Hispanic residents as white residents.

As the Tribune noted, almost half of Texas’ Hispanic population is concentrated in the state’s five largest counties, and Hispanic voters in Texas “are registering and voting at significantly higher rates than their population is growing,” according to a Houston Chronicle analysis.

The current rate of population growth among non-white Texas residents is a positive development for Democrats, but they can’t take voters of color for granted.

Despite Latino turnout doubling in Texas between the 2014 and 2018 midterms, according to one analysis, Democrats do not hold a monopoly on Hispanic and Latino voters.

As the Pew Research Center noted, 65% of Hispanics voted for Rep. Beto O’Rourke while 35% backed Sen. Ted Cruz in their high-profile Senate race in 2018. And a slim majority of Hispanic voters — 53% — backed Democrat Lupe Valdez over incumbent Gov. Greg Abbott, who received 42% of the Latino vote.

[…]

Benjamin Ray, a Democratic strategist and communications specialist at the pro-choice political action committee EMILY’s List, told INSIDER that long-time Republican members of Congress retiring in formerly safe districts presents a “great opportunity” for Democrats and a glaring warning sign for the GOP.

Ray further pointed out that many of the districts in the Houston, Dallas, and Austin suburbs were specifically gerrymandered to optimize the chances of a Republican victory, making it all the more concerning that Republicans’ margins of victory in those areas are getting slimmer over time.

“They drew these maps for one particular version of the Republican party to do well in, and the voters that they’re counting on don’t think that their Republican representatives are speaking for them anymore,” Ray added.

He said of the retiring congressmen, “these folks have been in politics for a while, they can tell which way the wind is blowing, and they’re heading for the exits. That doesn’t just happen by accident.”

The story touches on the Romney-Clinton voters, who by and large are the suburbanites that helped drive the big political shifts in 2018 and are expected to do so again next year. I wish there was some detailed polling data about these folks in Texas. We can see the effect, but it sure would be nice to have a deep dive into what motivates them.

I have to say, I’m a little amused by the bits about Latino turnout, and Latino levels of support for Dems. Sixty-five percent support sounds pretty good to me, and it’s fairly close to the overall level of support that Dems get nationally from Latinos (these numbers can vary depending on the time and circumstance). There’s also evidence that lower-propensity Latino voters tend to me more strongly Democratic, which is both the reason why everyone talks about how a spike in Latino turnout would be huge for Dems, and also why Republicans expend so much energy making it harder to vote. There was a surge in Latino turnout in 2018, certainly as compared to 2014, and it definitely helped the Dems overall. The only thing you could want – and what we will have to work hard to achieve – is even more of that. Another million Latino voters at that level of support in 2018 – for all of the turnout boom in 2018, Texas was still under fifty percent of registered voters, and low in the national rankings, so there’s plenty of room for growth – would have given us not only Sen. Beto O’Rourke, it would have also given us Attorney General Justin Nelson. Think about that for a few minutes. What we need in 2020 is what we got in 2018, but more so.

How many Congressional seats are really in play for Texas Dems?

By one measure, more than you probably think. From Jonathan Tilove of the Statesman:

Last weekend, I read an interview in Salon with Rachel Bitecofer, a political scientist at Christopher Newport University in Newport News, Va.

She is also an election analyst whose forecast of big Democratic gains in the 2018 midterm election was uncannily, uniquely accurate. She is now using the same model to forecast that any Democratic presidential candidate will win a minimum of 278 electoral votes in 2020 against President Donald Trump, eight more than the 270 needed to win.

But even more interesting to me, she is predicting that, if the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee — the D-trip, as she and others commonly call it — applies resources generously and wisely, it could flip nine Texas House seats in 2020, half again as many as the six seats the DCCC is now targeting.

In addition to what will be open seats now held by Republicans in the 23rd Congressional District, where Will Hurd is not seeking reelection; the 22nd, where Pete Olson is retiring; and the 24th, where Kenny Marchant joined the Texodus; the DCCC is also setting its sights on the 21st, held by freshman Rep. Chip Roy; the 31st, held by veteran John Carter; and the 10th, which now belongs to Austin’s Michael McCaul.

But Bitecofer also includes three U.S. House districts on her list that are not now on the DCCC target list — the 25th Congressional District, where Democrat Julie Oliver is making a second run at incumbent Roger Williams, also of Austin; the 2nd, held by freshman Dan Crenshaw; and the 3rd, held by another freshman, Van Taylor, who I’ve never before heard mentioned as potential Democratic target of opportunity.

In fact, according to Bitecofer, nine of the Democrats’ 18 best chances for pickups in 2020 congressional races nationally are in Texas, which makes it, in her estimation, Ground Zero next year.

I interviewed Bitecofer on Monday and realized that it’s not so much that her analysis flies in the face of conventional wisdom about Texas politics, as it flies above it.

[…]

Under Bitecofer’s model, it doesn’t really matter if the Democratic congressional candidate is a fire-breathing progressive or a milquetoast moderate, as long as they remind voters that the election is all about Trump.

Bitecofer exudes confidence in her forecast.

Of McCaul, she said: “He’s a dead man walking if the DCCC drops money in that race, and then it doesn’t really matter who the Democrats nominate. Other handicappers will have it as `lean red’ when they do their races, and I will have it as ‘will flip’ if the DCCC has put it on its list.”

Bitecofer’s model is based on the number of college-educated voters in a given district, and it happens that Texas, being a mostly urban and suburban state, has a lot of them. You can read Tilove’s interview with her, or that Salon article, or listen to this interview she did on The Gist with Mike Pesca, but that’s the basic idea behind it.

Bitecofer’s model is alluring, but note the assumption of the DCCC targeting the district. That means pouring money into it, which also means that the Democratic nominee is already doing well in the fundraising department. By that reckoning, we need to dial back the enthusiasm a bit. CD03 has no candidate at this time now that Lorie Burch has ended her candidacy. CD31, which is on the DCCC list, doesn’t have a proven candidate yet. The two who filed Q2 finance reports have raised a few bucks, but the fact that freshman State Rep. James Talerico had been encouraged to run tells me this one is not at all settled. Elisa Cardnell in CD02 has raised some money and has been campaigning for months now, but Crenshaw has a national profile and a sheen from his Saturday Night Live appearance that he’s doing his best to tarnish but is still there. Julie Oliver is off to a nice start in CD25, but that’s the district of the nine with the weakest overall Dem performance from 2018. I’m still enough of a skeptic to think those numbers matter, too.

(Note also that Bitecofer does not include CD06 in her list. Beto did slightly better there than in CDs 03 and 25, and I personally would be inclined to think it’s a bit more reachable, but as of the Q2 reporting period there wasn’t a candidate yet. Minor details and all that.)

Anyway, I’d say that Dems are in a strong position in CDs 10, 21, 22, 23, and 24, and we’ll see what happens after that. For what it’s worth, just flipping those five seats – and can we take a moment to acknowledge how amazing it is that one can write such a thing and not feel ridiculous about it? – would make the Congressional caucus from Texas 18 Dems and 18 GOPers. That’s not too shabby.

Our all-important metro areas

Another look at the trouble Republicans face in Texas now.

The key to Texas’ political future is whether it finally follows the geographic realignment that has transformed the politics of many other states over the past quarter century.

Across the country, Republicans since the 1980s have demonstrated increasing strength among voters who live in exurbs at the edge of the nation’s metropolitan centers or beyond them entirely in small-town and rural communities. Democrats, in turn, have extended their historic dominance of the nation’s urban cores into improved performance in inner suburbs, many of them well educated and racially diverse.

Both sides of this dynamic have accelerated under Trump, whose open appeals to voters uneasy about racial, cultural and economic change have swelled GOP margins outside the metropolitan areas while alienating many traditionally center-right suburban voters.

In Texas, only half of this equation has played out. In presidential elections since 2000, Republicans have consistently won more than two-thirds of the vote for the two parties in 199 mostly white nonmetropolitan counties across the state, according to a study by [Richard] Murray and Renee Cross, senior director of the University of Houston’s Hobby School of Public Affairs. (Trump in 2016 swelled that number to three-fourths.) The GOP has attracted dominant majorities from those areas in other races, from the Senate and US House to the governorship and state legislative contests. Democrats consistently amassed big majorities in 28 mostly Latino South Texas counties, but they have composed only a very small share of the statewide vote.

The key to the GOP’s dominance of the state is that through most of this century it has also commanded majorities in the 27 counties that make up the state’s four biggest metropolitan areas: Dallas/Fort Worth, Houston, San Antonio and Austin. Demographically similar places in states along the coasts and in the upper Midwest have moved consistently toward the Democrats since Bill Clinton’s era. But in Texas, Republicans still carried 53% to 59% of the vote in those metropolitan counties in the four presidential races from 2000 through 2012, Murray and Cross found.

In the Trump era, though, that metro strength has wavered for the GOP. In 2016, Hillary Clinton narrowly beat Trump across the 27 counties in Texas’ four major metropolitan areas. Then in 2018, Democrat O’Rourke carried over 54% of the vote in them in his narrow loss to Sen. Ted Cruz, Murray and Cross found. O’Rourke won each of the largest metro areas, the first time any Democrat on the top of the ticket had carried all four since native son Lyndon B. Johnson routed Barry Goldwater in the 1964 presidential race, according to Murray and Cross.

Looking just at the state’s five largest urban counties — Harris (Houston), Travis (Austin), Bexar (San Antonio), Tarrant (Fort Worth) and Dallas — the change is even more stark. In 2012, Obama won them by a combined 131,000 votes. By 2016, Clinton expanded the Democratic margin across those five counties to 562,000 votes. In 2018, O’Rourke won those counties by a combined 790,000 votes, about six times more than Obama did in 2012. Along the way, Democrats ousted Republican US House incumbents in suburban Houston and Dallas seats and made substantial gains in municipal and state house elections across most of the major metro areas.

“We have now turned every major metropolitan area blue,” says Glenn Smith, a longtime Democratic strategist in the state.

Yet that, of course, still wasn’t enough for O’Rourke to overcome Cruz’s huge advantages in smaller nonmetro communities. That outcome underscores the equation facing Texas Democrats in 2020 and beyond: They must reduce the GOP’s towering margins outside of the major metropolitan areas and/or expand their own advantage inside the metro centers.

Few in either party give Democrats much chance to record many gains outside of metro Texas, especially given Trump’s national strength with such voters. O’Rourke campaigned heavily in Texas’ smaller counties and made very limited inroads there, even relative to Clinton’s abysmal performance in 2016. Exit polls conducted for a consortium of media organizations including CNN found that O’Rourke carried just 26% of white voters without a college education, only a minuscule improvement from the 21% Clinton won in Texas in 2016.

O’Rourke’s very limited rural gains have convinced many Texas Democrats that while they can’t entirely abandon smaller parts of the state, their new votes are most likely to come from the metropolitan centers.

“It’s a matter of emphasis,” says Smith, a senior adviser to the liberal group Progress Texas. “You’ve got to do urban/ suburban areas first. You’ve got to maximize your advantage there.”

The stakes in the struggle for Texas’ big metro areas are rising because they are growing so fast. While the four major metro areas cast about 60% of the statewide votes in the 1996 presidential election, that rose to about 69% in 2016 and 2018, Murray and Cross found. Murray expects the number to cross 70% in 2020.

And the concentration of Texas’ population into its biggest metropolitan areas shows no signs of slackening. The Texas Demographic Center, the official state demographer, projects that 70% of the state’s population growth through 2050 will settle in just 10 large metropolitan counties. Those include the big five urban centers that O’Rourke carried as well as five adjacent suburban counties; those adjacent counties still leaned toward the GOP in 2018 but by a much smaller cumulative margin than in the past. Overall, O’Rourke won the 10 counties expected to account for the preponderance of the state’s future growth by a combined nearly 700,000 votes.

We’ve been talking about this literally since the ink was still wet on the 2018 election results. I touched on it again more recently, referring to a “100 to 150-county strategy” for the eventual Democratic nominee for Senate. None of this is rocket science. Run up the score in the big urban areas – winning Harris County by at least 300K total votes should be the (very reachable) target – via emphasizing voter registration, canvassing apartments, and voters who turned out in 2008 and/or 2012 but not 2016. Keep doing what we’ve been doing in the adjacent suburbs, those that are trending blue (Fort Bend, Williamson, Hays), those that are still getting there (Collin, Denton, Brazoria), and those that need to have the curve bent (Montgomery, Comal, Guadalupe). Plan and implement a real grassroots outreach in the Latino border/Valley counties. We all know the drill, and we learned plenty from the 2018 experience, we just need to build on it.

The less-intuitive piece I’d add on is a push in the midsize cities, where there was also some evidence of Democratic growth. Waco, Lubbock, College Station, Abilene, Amarillo, Killeen, San Angelo, Midland, Odessa, etc etc etc. There are some low-key legislative pickup opportunities in some of these places to begin with. My theory is that these places feature increasingly diverse populations with a decent number of college graduates, and overall have more in common with the big urban and suburban counties than they do with the small rural ones. Some of these places will offer better opportunities than others, but they are all worth investing in. Again, this is not complicated. We’ve seen the data, we will definitely have the resources, we just need to do the thing.

The psychological shift

I have three things to say about this.

[Democratic operative Jason] Stanford has a theory about how [Texas Democratic] angst started. He says it began with the 1996 U.S. Senate race in Texas. Democrats were recovering from losing two years earlier and were hoping to stem another round of losses.

As a result, he says, the primary was stacked with impressive candidates running to oust incumbent Republican Sen. Phil Gramm. The field included two incumbent congressmen, a county party chair and a teacher named Victor Morales, who eventually won the nomination.

The race was relatively close, but Morales lost.

“After we lost, that was two losses in a row and Democrats lost hope for generation,” Stanford says.

For years after, he says, it was hard to convince people to run for office as a Democrat in the state.

“We couldn’t get good people to run,” he says. “We would just try to fill the ballot instead of recruiting actually good candidates.”

That’s partially why the last time a Democrat won a statewide election of any kind was back in 1994.

Even though Democrats have still been shut out of statewide races, in the past few years, the party has been able to get at least one thing back: hope.

“The political changes are astronomical in Texas,” says Brandon Rottinghaus, a political science professor at the University of Houston.

[…]

After 2016, Democratic-leaning Texans who had been sitting out elections started to vote again.

“I think of it like a seat with four legs,” Rottinghaus says. “You’ve got white progressives, you’ve got young people, you’ve got people of color, and you’ve got low-income people. That forms the platform for the Democratic Party. And in all of those elements, you’ve got increases in voting.”

In the 2018 election, Texas had higher voter turnout among all those groups. Republicans had been winning statewide races by double-digit margins, but that year a Democratic Senate candidate lost by only 2.6 percentage points.

Rottinghaus says this trend bodes well for Democrats in 2020, but a win is not a sure thing.

“There’s no guarantee Texas will be blue or any statewide office will be won,” he says. “But the pieces are in place to be able to be competitive. And that’s what Democrats are looking for and why a lot of people are running for these positions.”

In the past several weeks, a slew of candidates has announced they want to run against Republican U.S. Sen. John Cornyn next year.

The field is up to nine candidates, including former Congressman Chris Bell, state Sen. Royce West, Houston City Council member Amanda Edwards and former congressional candidate MJ Hegar. Most recently, Cristina Tzintzun Ramirez, a well-known immigrant rights and political activist, said she’s joining the race, too.

“Good candidates are just showing up,” Stanford says. “It’s amazing. This is a huge sea change.”

1. The story calls it a “psychological shift”, and I’ve called it “changing the narrative”, but we both refer to the fact that now everyone believes that the state is competitive for Democrats. The previous belief that basically all of the elections, save for a couple of swing districts, were settled in the primaries, is no longer operative. This isn’t just wild-eyed optimism by Democrats or a scare story being used in fundraising emails by Republicans. Democrats actually did make Texas competitive in 2018, and despite some chest-thumping by Republicans about it all being about Beto, the objective evidence suggests we are in for more of the same this year. And everyone with skin in the game is acting accordingly. That’s how you get five experienced politicians, all of whom come with fundraising promise, lining up to take on John Cornyn.

2. The fundraising bit is important in ways that can’t be overstated. Only two Democrats since the 2002 debacle have raised sufficient money to truly compete statewide, Bill White in 2010 and Wendy Davis in 2014. Beto broke through on this in a big way in 2018, but he was the only one who did. Other statewide candidates, who ran against deeply flawed opponents and who came almost as close as Beto did to win, did not get that kind of support. Would Mike Collier, or Justin Nelson, or Kim Olson have done better if they had had $10 million or more to work with? We’ll never know, but I’m confident that the candidates on the 2022 statewide slate will not have it as tough as they did. And I hear a lot less now about how Texas is just an ATM for Democratic candidates everywhere else.

3. To an extent, the shift began right after the 2016 election, with the swarm of candidates who entered the Congressional races and raised a ton of money in them. That was part of the national wave, of course, so it was in its way a separate thing, but still. I spent all of that cycle talking about how unprecedented much of it was, in particular the fundraising. The point I’m making here is that this shift didn’t begin post-Beto, it’s been going on for two years now. The main difference is that it’s happening at a statewide level, and not just downballot.

Once again with GOP anxiety

I recommend Xanax. Or, you know, marijuana. I’ve heard that’s good for anxiety.

Not Ted Cruz

Republicans have long idealized Texas as a deep-red frontier state, home to rural conservatives who love President Donald Trump. But political turbulence in the sprawling suburbs and fast-growing cities are turning the Lone Star State into a possible 2020 battleground.

“The president’s reelection campaign needs to take Texas seriously,” Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, said in an interview. He added that while he remains optimistic about the GOP’s chances, it is “by no means a given” that Trump will carry Texas – and win its 38 electoral votes – next year or that Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, will be reelected.

For a state that once elevated the Bush family and was forged into a Republican stronghold by Karl Rove, it is an increasingly uncertain time. Changing demographics and a wave of liberal activism have given new hope to Democrats, who have not won a statewide elected office since 1994 or Texas’ presidential vote since Jimmy Carter in 1976.

Recent Republican congressional retirements have stoked party concerns, particularly the surprising Thursday announcement by a rising star, Rep. Will Hurd, that he would not seek reelection in his highly competitive district, which stretches east from El Paso along the Mexican border.

[…]

According to the Texas Tribune, nearly 9 million Texans showed up to the polls in 2016, when Trump won the state by nine percentage points over Democrat Hillary Clinton – a notably smaller margin than in 2012, when Mitt Romney defeated President Barack Obama by nearly 16 percentage points.

And in 2018, turnout was nearly at presidential-cycle levels at 8 million, compared with 4.6 million in 2014, the previous midterm election year.

Cruz said those figures should alarm Republicans nationally about potential Democratic turnout in 2020 – and make donors and party leaders recommit to investing in statewide and congressional races in Texas rather than assuming that Trump’s political brand and a few rallies will be enough.

The suburbs are where Texas Republicans are most vulnerable, Cruz said, noting that O’Rourke made inroads in 2018 in the highly populated suburbs outside Dallas and Austin, and in other urban areas.

U.S. Census data shows Texas is home to the nation’s fastest-growing cities, and an analysis last month by two University of Houston professors predicted that “metropolitan growth in Texas will certainly continue, along with its ever-growing share of the vote – 68 percent of the vote in 2016.”

“Historically, the cities have been bright blue and surrounded by bright red doughnuts of Republican suburban voters,” Cruz said. “What happened in 2018 is that those bright red doughnuts went purple – not blue, but purple. We’ve got to do a more effective job of carrying the message to the suburbs.”

This is a national story, reprinted in the Chron, so it doesn’t have much we haven’t seen before. I’d say that the historic strength of Republicans here has been in the suburbs and exurbs – the fast-growing parts of the state – which is similar to GOP strength elsewhere. It’s also where they suffered the greatest erosion of that strength in 2018, and if that continues in 2020 they really do have to worry about losing statewide. Honestly, loath as I am to say it, Ted Cruz has a pretty good handle on the dynamic. Not that he’ll be able to do anything about it, being Ted Cruz and all, but he does understand the predicament he and his fellow travelers are in.

Emerson’s weird polls

It’s a poll, so we do the thing.

Joe Biden

A new poll has former Vice President Joe Biden leading Beto O’Rourke in the Texas presidential primary and toppling Donald Trump in a head-to-head showdown.

The survey, conducted by Emerson College for The Dallas Morning News, signals that even with two favorite sons in race, Lone Star State voters want a familiar face as their nominee.

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, the 2016 runner-up to Hillary Clinton for the party’s nomination, was third with 16% and the only other Democrat beating Trump in the general election.

The poll also projects a wide-open Democratic primary race for the Senate seat held by longtime incumbent John Cornyn. At 19%, “someone else” is leading the field, a blow to former Army helicopter pilot MJ Hegar, who’s been campaigning for most of the year.

That “someone else” is leading the entire field is an oddity, but reflects the complexity of the primary race and the conundrum felt by many Democrats.

Hegar was the choice of 10% of those polled, followed by state Sen. Royce West at 8%, former U.S. Rep. Chris Bell at 7% and Houston City Council member Amanda Edwards at 5%. A whopping 51% of respondents were unsure.

West, Bell and Edwards are all relatively new to the race.

“I wouldn’t be surprised to see other people jump into the race,” said Spencer Kimball, the Emerson College polling director. “It’s just that wide open.”

The news is not great for Cornyn, the powerful incumbent who’s held the seat since 2003. Only 37% approved of his job performance, while 31% disapproved. The polls found that 33% of Texans were neutral or had no opinion.

For whatever the reason, the story only includes the head-to-head results in a non-embeddable graphic, so I will reproduce it here:


Candidate   Pct   Trump
=======================
Biden       51%     49%
Bernie      51%     49%
O’Rourke    48%     52%
Buttigieg   48%     52%
Warren      48%     52%
Castro      47%     53%

The poll is of 1,033 registered voters, with a 3% margin of error. They use a combination of automated calls to landlines and an online panel, as described here. You can find the crosstabs here, in a downloadable spreadsheet. They really didn’t want to make this easily to summarize, did they? The head-to-head numbers are very similar to the ones from their April poll, and are not far off from the Quinnipiac poll from June; the UT/Trib poll from June didn’t include two-candidate matchups.

I find the Emerson numbers dicey because I just don’t trust polls where the responses add up to one hundred percent. I guarantee you, there are “don’t know” and “someone else” responses in there, but their questions (scroll down past the disclosure stuff) do not allow for those answers. The crosstabs show that everyone surveyed picked someone, but if you have no choice but to give an answer, I don’t know how much I trust that answer. I’m much more comfortable with a poll that allows for “someone else” and “don’t know”. Emerson has a B+ rating from FiveThirtyEight, but I remain skeptical.

I don’t much care for Spencer Kimball’ analysis of the Senate race, either. MJ Hegar has been in the Senate race for ten weeks, not “most of the year”. She did say she was considering a run for Senate in February, but wasn’t raising any money or doing any campaigning until late April. All the other candidates have gotten in more recently. As I’ve noted before, Beto was still polling in the “majority of people don’t know who he is” area right up to the March 2018 primary. It’s going to take time – and money – for the people to know who the candidates are.

Also, too, the field for Senate is highly unlikely to get much bigger. There’s one potential new candidate out there, though nearly a month after that story I haven’t heard much about her. It’s already later than you think in the cycle, and it’s not going to get any easier to start fundraising and traveling the state to meet interest groups and primary voters. And as I’ve noted before, the fields for all of the Congressional races of interest in 2018 were basically set by this time two years ago. Each of the four top tier candidates entered the race only after some period of weeks or months of speculation, expressions of interest, exploration, and so forth. The only non-candidate out there right now with any association to the race is Cristina Tzintzún Ramirez, and she only gets mentioned occasionally. If the primary field isn’t set, it’s close.

Anyway. I’m still waiting for some head-to-head Senate polling. Even if the candidates are basically unknowns at this point, a “Cornyn versus generic Dem” question still has value. Maybe the Trib will give me that in their October poll. In the meantime, enjoy the results we do have, for whatever they are worth.

With silver linings like these…

…Who needs misfortune?

Even Texas Republicans are a bit amused with the clever new Democratic battle cry that’s emerged amid a recent spate of GOP congressional retirements: “Texodus.”

First came U.S. Rep. Pete Olson of Sugar Land on July 25. Then U.S. Reps. Mike Conaway of Midland, Will Hurd of Helotes and, on Monday, Kenny Marchant of Coppell.

Hurd’s unexpected exit set off concern within the Republican political class. But otherwise, according to interviews with state and national Republican operatives, there is a widespread sense that turnover within the delegation is healthy for the party.

“Of course, it’s hard to lose strong incumbents, but there is good reason for optimism — it will create a needed sense of urgency beyond the GOP and the base that will be critical to keeping Texas red and reminding Democrats that their movement toward socialism has no place in the state,” said Catherine Frazier, a veteran of the Rick Perry and Ted Cruz political operations.

“These open seats are a great opportunity to put our best candidates forward, to instill a shot of energy to Republicans statewide and lay waste to the tens of millions national Democrats will spend in a futile effort to win Texas,” she added, echoing many of her colleagues.

Yeah, keep telling yourselves that.

Democrats scoff at the GOP optimism.

“What’s necessarily good for Republican consultants may not be good for the size of the Republican conference come January 2021,” said Avery Jaffe, a spokesman for the House Democratic campaign arm.

“Jerry Jones should check on his stadium because that is the most shameless incident of moving the goal posts Texas has ever seen,” he added.

His state party counterpart concurred.

“That is complete spin,” said Abhi Rahman, a spokesman for the Texas Democratic Party. “It’s something where everybody knows it’s easier to run with an incumbent than with an open seat.”

Both men further pointed out that an open seat usually translates into a crowded primary, wherein a nominee usually emerges in the May runoff with little money in his or her campaign account. In contrast, incumbents rarely face serious primary challenges and enter the general election with millions to spend.

Now to be fair, I scoff at that crowded primary/runoff trope when it’s being peddled about Democratic Senate candidates, and I scoff at it here when it involves Republican Congressional candidates as well. You know who was involved in expensive crowded primaries and runoffs recently? Reps. Lizzie Fletcher, Colin Allred, Dan Crenshaw, Chip Roy, and Ron Wright in 2018, that’s who. I guarantee you, the Republican candidates for CDs 22, 23, and 24 will have money. They may be facing strong headwinds, but they’ll have the resources they need to compete.

Before the 2018 midterms, nearly all of the House Republicans from Texas were white men ranging in age from their 50s into their 80s. While Republicans are careful not to slight the outgoing members, there is a sense that the House GOP delegation had become stagnant. Most cycles, only one or two members retired.

But Republicans have a deep bench in the state. And as soon as these retirements went public, the names of viable potential candidate immediately floated. Furthermore, Republicans argue, younger candidates will not have the baggage of long Congressional records to contend with in a general election campaign.

I mean, sure, some of these incumbents had little going for them beyond their campaign finance accounts. But the problem now isn’t the candidates themselves, it’s their close association with Donald Trump. And while the size of the primary fields or the necessity of runoffs isn’t a problem for the GOP, the need for their replacement candidates to hug Trump even harder than the outgoing incumbents did is. You can swap out the players, but the director remains the same.

By the way, Trump is also a deadbeat

It’s his brand.

President Donald Trump publicly pledged “all the support of the federal government” on Saturday after 22 people were shot to death in an El Paso Walmart this weekend.

But his statements are prompting charges of hypocrisy because the city claims the president’s political campaign owes an outstanding debt from a February campaign rally — specifically, more than half a million dollars.

On Monday, an El Paso city official said Trump has yet to pay.

According to Laura Cruz-Acosta, communications manager for the El Paso city manager’s office, the president has an outstanding bill of $569,204.63 for police and public safety services associated with a February campaign rally.

“The city staff have followed the process and procedures as it relates to any invoicing that we provide, and we will continue to do so accordingly as per city and state policies,” Cruz-Acosta said. She said that Trump owed an initial fee of $470,417.05 but that the city tacked on a 21% one-time late fee in June — 30 days after the campaign failed to pay the initial amount owed.

Local officials have repeatedly harangued Trump for not covering the costs associated with his visit to the border city, with some contrasting his actions with those of Democratic presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke, who visited his hometown for a rally on the same day and has since paid his dues.

“Our resources are really strained right now,” said Alexsandra Annello, a member of the El Paso City Council. “Our police and fire are exhausted, our health department had for three days straight been working with the reunification of families. As you see from the bill, these are the services required for a presidential visit. In addition to financial costs, our community and resources are already strained and do not need this extra burden.”

Here’s the invoice. His whole brand is stiffing creditors, and he can’t be shamed, so don’t hold your breath waiting for a check. I just hope he doesn’t add to the bill after today’s (unwanted) visit.

That UT-Tyler poll

I suppose I have to talk about this.

A poll conducted by the Center for Opinion Research at the University of Texas at Tyler showed [Beto O’Rourke] leading among Texas voters in the Democratic presidential primary. The survey showed O’Rourke with a 27% to 24% lead over former Vice President Joe Biden. Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders was third at 15%, followed by Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren at 11% and California Sen. Kamala Harris at 9%.

The poll of 465 registered Texas voters found that O’Rourke led President Donald Trump in a head-to-head matchup by a 49% to 37% margin.

You can see a copy of the polling memo here and the data here. I’ll note that the poll itself says it’s a sample of 1,445 registered voters, so I’m not sure where that 465 figure comes from. Here’s a bit from the polling memo:

President Donald Trump’s job approval is down 2 points from our last survey in February. It now stands at 40 percent approval and 55 percent disapproval among all registered voters. These results are a part of an overall downward trend in job approval for the president since our pre-midterm election survey in October 2018 (45 percent approval and 44 percent disapproval). That said, when asked if the House of Representatives should or should not begin impeachment proceedings of President Trump, a plurality of respondents (45%) said, “No” (34% believe the House ought to begin impeachment proceedings).

In head to head contests, President Trump is trailing all Democrats except Joe Biden and Pete Buttigieg, though a sizable percentage of respondents answered “neither/other” or “not sure” in each contest.

Senator John Cornyn, heading into the 2020 reelection cycle, is at 25 percent approval, with 27 percent disapproving and a sizable 48 percent answering, “Don’t know.” His junior colleague, Ted Cruz, has a 41 percent approval rating, with 44 percent disapproving of his job performance.

On issues, 54 percent of registered Texans support expanding “Medicare for all” (20% oppose it), particularly when private insurance plans are allowed (55% support). Nevertheless, expanding “Medicare for all” while eliminating private insurance plans is less popular (40% support eliminating private insurance, 33% oppose it). So, too, is the idea of decriminalizing unauthorized border crossings (33% either “somewhat” or “strongly” disapprove while 29% “somewhat” or “strongly” approve), an issue that caused a contentious exchange between Texans O’Rourke and former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julian Castro at June’s Democratic debate.

This poll was conducted over a four-day period (07/24/19 – 07/27/19).

Methodology

The UT Tyler-Texas Opinion Survey was conducted using a Dynata panel of registered voters that opt-in to take surveys. This is known as Aristotle. The online panel generated a sample of 1445 registered Texas voters, 18 or older.

The data were weighted to be representative of Texas adults. The weighting balanced sample demographics to population parameters. The sample is balanced to match parameters for gender, age, race/ethnicity, education, and geographic region using an iterated process known as raking. These parameters were derived from 2016 Current Population Survey Voting and Registration Tables, as well as voter registration information from the Texas Secretary of State’s Office. The use of these weights in statistical analysis ensures that the characteristics of the sample closely reflect the characteristics of registered voters in Texas.

In this poll, the sampling error for 1445 registered voters in Texas is +/- 2.6 percentage points at a 95 percent confidence interval.

Online polls have been shown to be fine, but I don’t know much about this particular pollster’s reputation. Here’s the key graphic from that polling memo:

Seems weird to me – I can imagine Beto doing better in Texas than some candidates, but not by this much. G. Elliott Morris notes his objections. I don’t have a problem with an RV sample, especially this early on, but the partisan mix (38.2% self-identified Republican, 35.7% Dem) seems too Democratic to me. Trump’s 40-55 approve-disapprove numbers are considerably more negative than any other poll I’ve seen, and are way more negative than this own poll found just before the 2018 election. Their February poll had only slightly better numbers for Trump. It’s hard to imagine what caused that to go that far down that quickly. The most likely explanation to all of this is that they have a screwy sample, in which case have plenty of salt at hand. If they really are capturing something, there will be more polls to bolster this one. Keep your expectations modest, that’s my advice.

Anyway. The UT Tyler Center for Opinion Research page is here if you want to see more. Enjoy these numbers for what they are, but don’t go making any bets on them.

The next Census threat

From TPM:

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross has directed the Census Bureau to prepare to offer states the data they’d need to do a redistricting overhaul that would boost “Republicans and Non-Hispanic Whites,” in the words of a deceased GOP consultant.

That the administration is taking that step is not surprising, given that President Trump said that it would last week while announcing that the 2020 census would not have a citizenship question.

But the government formally put that intention in writing in a regulatory notice that was published over the weekend.

The document was an update to a previous notice about the the government’s plans for the 2020 census that confirmed that the survey would not include a citizenship question due to the Supreme Court decision blocking it.

“Accordingly, the Secretary has directed the Census Bureau to proceed with the 2020 Census without a citizenship question on the questionnaire, and rather to produce Citizenship Voting Age Population (CVAP) information prior to April 1, 2021 that states may use in redistricting” the new version of the notice said.

[…]

The Supreme Court said in a 2016 unanimous opinion in the case, Evenwel v. Abbott, that use of total population was permissible. But the opinion didn’t address the question of whether CVAP could also be used.  Justice Clarence Thomas said in a concurrence that states should have the choice to use such a metric, while Justice Samuel Alito issued a concurrence of his own calling for another legal case to resolve this “important and sensitive”question.

It appears the groundwork is being laid for such a test case to be sent to the Supreme Court, which has shifted to the right — with the additions of Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh — since the Evenwel decision.

See here, here, and here for more on the Evenwel case. At the time, most of the experts expressed doubt that future attempts to draw districts based on CVAP rather than population would succeed in the courts. That was about a million years ago in political news cycle terms, and I don’t know how confident anyone would be of such a prediction now. For sure, if it’s going to happen anywhere, it’s going to happen here, but it will be that much harder to do with a Democratic majority in the State House. You know what to do about that. Ari Berman has more.

We need a coordinated strategy to fight these immoral immigration raids

I feel such despair about this.

Federal authorities are expected to try to arrest thousands of immigrant families in at least 10 cities, including Houston, beginning as early as Sunday, rattling communities across the country who faced a similar scare last month.

President Donald Trump postponed such an operation in June, partly because of conflict among his immigration enforcement officials on how to conduct the raids and out of concern for officers’ safety after the president publicized the plans on Twitter. Trump said he was giving Democrats time to come up with a solution to the immigration crisis in Congress.

This weekend’s operation would likely focus on thousands of immigrants who recently crossed the border and have been issued a final order of deportation — even if they were never informed of their court date or were unable to make the hearing. But agents also are authorized to make “collateral” arrests and detain other immigrants they encounter, even if they were not the target.

Several national news outlets reported Thursday that the raids were planned for the coming week. Tim Oberle, a spokesman for Immigration and Customs Enforcement, declined to release details about any operation, citing “law-enforcement sensitivities and the safety and security” of agents.

Reports of an impending operation sparked renewed outrage and concern among immigrant communities and advocates. Nationwide protests outside immigrant detention centers are scheduled this weekend.

“People are very worried,” said Cesar Espinosa, executive director of FIEL Houston, an advocacy group that will be on-call for reports of any enforcement activity. “We are getting a lot of calls asking, ‘Is it true that this is actually happening now?’”

[…]

The American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit Thursday in New York to stop the enforcement operation, arguing that affected immigrants were denied due process because they were not able to make their case for protection in court. It said many are asylum seekers who failed to appear because of “massive bureaucratic errors and, in some cases, deliberate misdirection.”

Notices to appear in court were often sent to wrong addresses or after hearings had passed, or they listed dates when the courts were not open.

“The agencies’ flagrant and widespread errors made it impossible for people to know when their hearings were being held,” the ACLU said in a statement.

[…]

A large-scale enforcement action focused on families, rather than criminals, would be unusual and difficult, said John Sandweg, a former acting director of ICE.

“There are serious operational challenges once you have that population in custody,” he said. “You need very tight plans on where you can hold families, for how long they are there, how you are going to transport them and where you can stage them.”

Remember, the cruelty is the point. The Trump administration cannot be trusted with families. It’s not just these raids, it’s also the inhumane conditions at detention centers and the continued state of fear and terror that immigrants are subject to. This is a crisis, and we don’t know how to respond to it. I know I feel paralyzed. It’s hard in part because there are so many crises, with new ones popping up each day. We all have a role to play, which we all need to figure out for ourselves, but it needs to start with leadership from all of our elected officials. Whatever part of this immoral machinery is within the jurisdiction of our city and our county, we need oversight, we need accountability, and where we can’t get these things we need resistance. Future generations are going to judge us for what we did and didn’t do.

UPDATE: Here’s a statement from Mayor Turner about the raids.

The Fifth Circuit Obamacare hearing

Remember, the Fifth Circuit is where hope goes to die. Adjust your expectations accordingly.

It’s constitutional – deal with it

On the left was Judge Carolyn Dineen King, an appointee of Jimmy Carter; on the right sat Judge Kurt Engelhardt, a nominee of Donald Trump, and in the center sat Judge Jennifer Walker Elrod, the George W. Bush appointee expected to represent the critical swing vote on a three-judge panel now charged with deciding the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act.

It was that perhaps fitting seating arrangement that greeted attorneys for Texas on Tuesday afternoon, as the state and its allies asked this three-judge panel on the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals to strike down the sweeping health law known as “Obamacare,” a legal means to a political end that has eluded conservatives for the better part of a decade.

Texas won a major victory in its bid to end the law in December, when a federal district judge in North Texas sided with the state, declaring that the law is unconstitutional in its entirety after Congress in 2017 gutted one of its important provisions, a tax penalty for individuals who chose to remain uninsured. The U.S. Department of Justice, in a highly unusual move, has declined to defend the law.

A California-led coalition of blue states that has stepped in to oppose Texas in the lawsuit quibbles with that question of “severability,” arguing that even if one slice of the law must fall as unconstitutional, its other hundreds of provisions — including a host of popular patient protections — should stand. The question of how much of the law may rightly be salvaged was a focal point of court discussions on Tuesday.

Texas’ odds of total vindication remain in question after nearly two hours of questions before the three judges.

Most of the unusually-large courtroom audience of journalists and interested but unaffiliated attorneys focused on Elrod at the center. By far the most vocal judge of the three, Elrod probed both sides on the issue of standing — whether they have the right to participate in the lawsuit at all. And she seemed highly focused on her court’s options for ordering a remedy, seeming to weigh options for sending the case back to a lower court for further consideration.

Engelhardt, who is among the newest appointees to the court, was harsh and occasionally sarcastic, asking more questions of the blue state coalition than he did of the Texas-led team. He seemed skeptical of the standing of both the California-led coalition and the Democratic-majority U.S. House of Representatives, which intervened in the case although the Republican-majority U.S. Senate did not.

The Senate, Engelhardt remarked, “is sort of the 800 lb. gorilla that’s not in the room.”

King, meanwhile, did not speak at all.

See here and here for the background. The legal basis of this lawsuit is so ridiculous that anything short of tossing it and its lawyers out of court is insufficient, but given where we are I could find a way to live with the idea of sending it back to the idiot district court judge for reconsideration. I fear we’ll get some kind of split-the-baby decision that strikes down parts of the law but leaves some crippled skeleton of it intact, which dumbass pundits will then call a “moderate compromise”, in the same way that the midpoint between “I murder you and burn down your house” and “I leave you alone” is a moderate compromise. Not much to do at this point but wait and work your ass off voting these morons out in 2020. NBC News, CNN, Daily Kos, Mother Jones, and Think Progress have more.

Some Census shenanigans short-circuited

The head, it spins.

In a scalding order that called the Justice Department’s motion to change lawyers “patently deficient,” a federal judge in Manhattan on Tuesday blocked the move by the Justice Department to withdraw several of its attorneys from the census citizenship question case in New York.

With the exception of two DOJ lawyers who are withdrawing from the case because they have left their position at the Justice Department altogether, U.S. District Judge Jesse Furman is not letting the other attorneys withdraw because the department failed to provide “satisfactory reasons” for their exit from the case.

“Defendants provide no reasons, let alone ‘satisfactory reasons,’ for the substitution of counsel,” Furman said. Furman said that the government’s vague claim in its withdrawal motion that it did not expect the withdrawal to cause disruption to the proceedings was “not good enough, particularly given the circumstances of this case.”

[…]

“As this Court observed many months ago, this case has been litigated on the premise — based ‘in no small part’ on Defendants’ own ‘insist[ence]’ — that the speedy resolution of Plaintiffs’ claims is a matter of great private and public importance,” Furman said in his order Tuesday. “If anything, that urgency — and the need for efficient judicial proceedings — has only grown since that time.”

The Department of Justice has not offered many details as to why it was shaking up its legal team, prompting speculation that the career attorneys were not comfortable with the direction the administration was going in trying to get the question re-added.

In comments to the press on Monday Attorney General Bill Barr said that he could “understand if they’re interested in not participating in this phase.” But he also said he did not know the details as to why they were exiting the case.

On Tuesday, Furman raked the Justice Department over the coals for its failures to meet the procedural requirements for replacing its attorneys.

See here for some background, though note that that post is primarily about the Maryland case, while this is about the New York case. I could not tell if there was a similar effort by the attorneys in that case to withdraw. This all happened in a hurry, from the initial announcement to the pushback by the plaintiffs, to the judge’s order. What happens next is anyone’s guess, for both cases. Remember, the whole reason why SCOTUS took this case when it did was because the Trump administration insisted they needed to have everything resolved by the end of June to have enough time to actually do the Census. So much for that. How big a chump does Donald Trump think John Roberts is? We’re about to find out. A copy of the judge’s order is here, and Daily Kos and Politico have more.

UPDATE: The Maryland judge has also rejected a request for the Justice Department attorneys to withdraw, though he will allow the request to be re-submitted.

The lawsuit to kill Obamacare has its hearing at the Fifth Circuit today

Brace yourselves.

It’s constitutional – deal with it

Last year, after a federal judge in Texas declared the entirety of the Affordable Care Act unconstitutional, throwing into question millions of Americans’ health coverage, the state’s Republican leaders promised they would come up with a plan to replace it.

But on Tuesday, after a legislative session that seemed to have no room for issues other than property tax reform and school finance, Texas will ask a federal appeals court in New Orleans to end the law in its entirety — without offering a replacement plan.

The conservative crusade against portions of the act, known as Obamacare, has spanned a decade. But Texas’ latest lawsuit, filed in February 2018, became an existential threat to the law after U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor ruled in December that it is unconstitutional in its entirety. At stake: the subsidized health coverage of roughly 1 million Texans, sweeping protections for patients with preexisting conditions, young adults staying on their parents’ insurance plans until age 26 and a host of low-cost benefits available to all people with health insurance, including those covered through their employers.

Texas already has the highest uninsured rate in the nation.

In a highly unusual — if not entirely surprising — move, the U.S. Department of Justice has declined to defend the federal law, leaving a California-led coalition of blue states to protect it. As the case proceeds, Obamacare has remained in place, and likely will until the litigation is finally resolved.

Attorneys for the state of Texas argue the health law cannot stand since the Republican-led Congress in 2017 zeroed out Obamacare’s individual mandate — a penalty imposed on people who chose to remain uninsured. Democrats had favored the penalty as a way to induce more people to purchase health insurance, with the goal of reaching near-universal coverage. Without it, Texas argues, the whole law must fall.

But the state’s Republican leaders have offered few ideas about what should replace Obamacare, a law that touches practically every aspect of health care regulations and includes several popular protections for patients. Gov. Greg Abbott — a vocal critic of the law — pledged in December that if the law remained struck down on appeal, “Texas will be ready with replacement health care insurance that includes coverage for pre-existing conditions.”

Since then, he’s been quiet on the issue, including during this year’s 140-day Texas legislative session. Abbott did not respond to questions for this story.

See here for the background. And of course Greg Abbott doesn’t have a single thing to say about reducing the extremely high uninsured rate in Texas. That’s because Abbott’s plan to reduce the uninsured in Texas, supported by Dan Patrick and Ken Paxton and the rest of the Republicans, is for more of them to die. Just as a reminder, Republicans have been in complete control of Texas government since 2003. Not once during that time have they taken any steps to improve access to health care in the state. Indeed, on multiple occasions, beginning in 2003 with the savage cuts to CHIP and continuing through their assault on women’s health via attacks on Planned Parenthood, they have time and time again make accessing health care harder. That’s what is at stake here. The only fix, regardless of the ruling in this case, is to vote them out. The WaPo, the Chron, and Think Progress have more.

Yeah, we spoke too soon about the Census citizenship question

It’s maximum chaos time.

The Justice Department affirmed Friday that it still is pursuing a path for adding a citizenship question to the 2020 Census, according to a filing in federal court in Maryland.

The filing followed statements earlier in the day from President Trump in which he said he is “thinking of” issuing an executive order to add the controversial question.

Government lawyers said in their filing Friday that the Justice and Commerce Departments had been “instructed to examine whether there is a path forward” for the question and that if one was found they would file a motion in the U.S. Supreme Court to try to get the question on the survey to be sent to every U.S. household.

Attorneys for the government and challengers to the addition of the question faced a 2 p.m. deadline set by U.S. District Judge George J. Hazel to lay out their plans.

Hazel said earlier this week that if the government stuck with a plan to try to add the question, he would move ahead on a case before him probing whether the government has discriminatory intent in wanting to ask about citizenship.

The Justice Department lawyers argued in Friday’s filing that there was no need to start producing information in that case since for now courts have barred the government from adding the question. But the government also agreed to follow a schedule to move ahead if that was laid out.

The government has begun printing the census forms without the question, and that process will continue, administration officials said.

[…]

Census officials and lawyers at the Justice and Commerce departments scrapped holiday plans and spent Independence Day seeking new legal rationales for a citizenship question that critics say could lead to a steep undercount of immigrants, which could limit federal funding to some communities and skew congressional redistricting to favor Republicans.

“It’s kind of shocking that they still don’t know what they’re doing,” Thomas Saenz, president and general counsel of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund said. MALDEF is representing some of the plaintiffs in the case in Maryland. “We’re in this posture because they don’t know what the real plan is.”

See here for the background. This all began with some Trump tweets, because that’s the hellscape we now inhabit. Literally no one knows what will happen next – the judge even remarked that the Justice Department lead attorney “didn’t speak for his client” – so try some cleansing breaths and do a little binge-watching, to stay calm. TPM, Daily Kos, Think Progress, Mother Jones, and Slate have more.

UPDATE: And then there’s this.

The American Civil Liberties Union and partners today asked a federal court in New York to block the Trump administration from taking any action that would delay the printing of 2020 census forms or change the forms to include the citizenship question.

They have an oral argument date of July 23. Note that this is in the New York court. The hearing yesterday was in the Maryland court. Multiple lawsuits, remember? So there are multiple fronts on which to fight.

UPDATE: And discovery will begin in the Maryland case.