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A closer look at county races, Part 2

Part One is here. As before, this is about taking a closer look at the counties where Democrats made gains from 2016.

Collin County: Our reach may have exceeded our grasp, but it’s important to note that progress was made. A quick recap, comparing 2016:


CD03: 61.2% - 34.6%
Statewides: GOP 59-62%, Dem 32-35%
HD33: 62.6% - 34.1%
HD66: 57.4% - 38.7%
HD67: 56.6% - 39.7%
HD70: 67.1% - 28.5%
HD89: 63.5% - 32.7%

No candidates for District Court, Commissioner’s Court, countywide offices, or Constable. One candidate for Justice of the Peace.

To 2020:


CD03: 55.1% - 42.9%
Statewides: GOP 54-57%, Dem 42-44%
HD33: 59.0% - 41.0%
HD66: 49.6% - 48.9%
HD67: 51.7% - 48.3%
HD70: 61.8% - 38.2%
HD89: 59.4% - 38.5%

Candidates for seven of nine District Court benches (all in the 42-44% range), County Tax Assessor (41%), and both Commissioners Court seats (41% and 39%).

Still no candidates for any of the four Constable races. Hard to say how competitive any of them might have been, at least until a full canvass is available, but in Constable Precinct 3, the unopposed Republican got 115K votes, with 88K undervotes. Given that unopposed candidates always get more votes than candidates with major party opponents, this was probably not far from a 50-50 race. I’d be eyeing this office in 2024 if I’m a Collin County Democrat. Overall, a shift of about six or seven points down for the GOP and up for the Dems.

Denton County: Same basic story as Collin, except that we held the one State Rep race we won in 2018. Here’s the same presentation, for 2016:


CD24: 53.7% - 42.0%
CD26: 65.2% - 30.7%
Statewides: GOP 60-62%, Dem 32-34%
HD63: No Dem
HD64: 61.6% - 38.4%
HD65: 56.3% - 43.7%
HD106: No Dem

One candidate for District Court (36.3%), no candidates for any county race.

And 2020


CD24: 45.9% - 50.4%
CD26: 59.5% - 38.4%
Statewides: GOP 55-58%, Dem 40-43%
HD63: 67.4% - 32.6%
HD64: 54.9% - 45.1%
HD65: 48.5% - 51.5%
HD106: 58.5% - 41.5%

Still just one candidate for District Court, getting 42.6%. Both County Commissioner races were challenged, but still no candidates for any of the six Constable spots. Here I can’t say which if any may have been competitive, as the election night returns don’t tell me the undervotes. No matter how you look at it, you want to get some Dem candidates in these races, to help with downballot turnout.

Hays County: Like Williamson, a flip to Dems, with some downballot success as well. The big prize here was HD45, where Rep. Erin Zwiener knocked off incumbent Jason Isaac in 2018, two years after Isaac had been unopposed for re-election. Rep. Zwiener easily held on against Carrie Isaac, winning with 53.3% of the vote. In 2016, Lamar Smith took the CD21 portion of Hays 53-39, Roger Williams won the CD25 portion of Hays 60-35, and statewide Republicans won with 47-49% over Dems with scores in the 40-44% range. Rebecca Bell-Metereau lost in SBOE5 49-46. There was one District Court race, with an unopposed Republican, the Democratic candidate for Sheriff lost by 13 points, and there was no Dem running for Tax Assessor. There were a mix of Dem and GOP winners, some unopposed, for Commissioners Court, Justice of the Peace, and Constable.

In 2020, Wendy Davis took the CD21 piece 49-46, while Julie Oliver held Roger Williams to a 57-41 edge. (There’s also a piece of CD35 in Hays County. Pound for pound, Hays is at least as sliced up at the Congressional level as Travis County is.) Statewide Dems were now universal winners in Hays, ranging from Chrysta Castaneda’s 49.8% to Elizabeth Frizell’s 53.1%. Rebecca Bell-Metereau won in SBOE5 50.5% to 44.8%. Hays County now had a second District Court seat, won by a Democrat, and a new County Court at Law seat, also won by a Dem. The same Republican judge who was unopposed in 2016 was unopposed in 2020 as well. Dems now had challengers for both Sheriff and Tax Assessor, and while they both lost it was 51-49 in each. Dems had a challenger for Commissioners Court in Precinct 3, losing 52-48 after not contesting the position in 2016. The Dem Constable who won Precinct 2 by 110 votes in 2016 was re-elected by 2,500 votes in 2020. I’d say Hays is a bit like Harris County in 2012, where Dems are the majority but they do better at the top of the ticket, and aren’t quite able to knock out Republican countywide officeholders. There are definitely opportunities here going forward.

Brazoria County: This is more a story of stasis than progress. Trump carried Brazoria County by 29K votes in 2016, and he carried it by 28K votes in 2020. I’d rather go this direction than the other one, but we’re not getting anywhere at that rate. If we pull the curtain back a little farther, here’s the margin of victory in Brazoria County for the Republican Presidential candidate in each election since 2004: 34,758 (04), 29,035 (08), 36,441 (12), 29,591 (16), 28,159 (20). The long-term arc is fine, it’s just slow.

Republican statewides won the county with leads in the 30-34K range in 2016, and roughly the same in 2020. The percentages are closer, because that’s how ratios work, but the absolute difference in votes is more or less the same. That’s why I always aim to report both figures in posts like this, because you need both dimensions to understand what is really happening. For what it’s worth, Sri Kulkarni lost the CD22 portion of Brazoria by 6K votes after Mark Gibson lost it by 14K in 2016, but in the end that didn’t amount to much. I see Brazoria as being similar to Fort Bend twenty years ago, with a lot of work needed to move it in the same direction that Fort Bend has gone.

That’s all I’ve got for this exercise. There are some opportunities out there, but nothing can be taken for granted. Broadly speaking, the key is to run candidates in these downballot races – for one, there’s winnable contests out there, and for two, this is a key component to building a bench of future candidates. And not to put too fine a point on it, but as we have seen in Harris County, having a good county government is a big win on its own.

A slightly less rosy view of Democratic prospects

Here’s the latest race ratings from Texas Elects:

Texas Election Source has updated 27 race ratings based on the latest polling, July campaign finance reports and primary runoff results. Twenty of those races moved one column toward the Democrats’ advantage. Our complete ratings are located here. Thirteen Republican-held seats in the legislature or congressional delegation are rated Toss-up or Lean Democratic. No Democrat-held seat is rated below Lean Democratic after several seats formerly in the Toss-up column were shifted into the Lean Democratic column.

The most significant impact of the new ratings on our projections is in the Texas House. Democrats need a net of nine seats to retake a majority in the chamber. We project they will get six, up three from our April ratings, which would cut the Republicans’ advantage to 77-73 entering the 2021 legislative session. Seven more Republican-held seats are projected to be within 1.5 percentage points of the range we consider a toss-up race. Only two Democrat-held seats are projected to be within 1.5 percentage points of a toss-up.

Four Republican-held seats are rated Lean Democratic, listed from greatest to least lean:

  • HD134 – Rep. Sarah Davis (R-Houston) vs. Ann Johnson (D)
  • HD138 open – Lacey Hull (R) vs. Akilah Bacy (D)
  • HD108 – Rep. Morgan Meyer (R-Dallas) vs. Joanna Cattanach (D); and
  • HD66 – Rep. Matt Shaheen (R-Plano) vs. Sharon Hirsch (D).

Since 2010, the four House seats on the list have drifted an average of 7.3 percentage points bluer, relative to the state as a whole. Two seats in other chambers – CD23 and SD19 – are also rated Lean Democratic. They have gotten relatively redder but remained 3.9 and 9.1 percentage points bluer than the state as a whole in 2018. We are projecting SD19 to get another 1.4 percentage points redder, but even that keeps it just .07% from being labeled as Likely Democratic.

Incidentally, HD134 would rate as Likely Democratic but for Davis’s consistent over-performance of other Republicans in the district. In 2018, the average Democrat received 55% of the vote in her district measured head-to-head against the Republican, but Davis survived thanks to ticket-splitting voters. Longtime political observers will remember former Rep. Jim McReynolds (D-Lufkin) who held onto his district by finishing as much as 19 points better than the rest of the Democratic slate. He was overwhelmed by rising Republican leanings in 2010 but still over-performed the rest of the ticket by 12 points. We project Davis’s ability to win over ticket-splitting voters will not be enough this year.

Dallas Co. was the epicenter of the Democratic surge in 2018. Only two Republicans represent the county in the state House currently, and we project that number will be zero after November. Tarrant Co., home to five races rated Toss-up or Lean Republican, and Fort Bend Co., with three seats in the Lean and Likely Republican columns, are expected to be the chief battleground counties in the House this year.

There’s more, so go read the rest. Texas Elects has a lot of premium content, but the free stuff is worth checking regularly.

Unlike the exuberant Capitol Inside projections, Texas Elects has the Dems falling short of a majority in the House, though it does expect three Congressional seats and SD19 to flip, and it has all of the statewide races as “Lean Republican”. You might be wondering about the inclusion of some Dem-held seats on the table, but as noted before, HDs 31, 34, and 74 are three of the four most purple districts out there that were held by Dems prior to 2018. They could be vulnerable in a bad year for Dems, though I don’t think this is that kind of year. As for HD41 and HD144, I can’t say I’m worried about them.

As that Capitol Inside projection was ebullient for Dems, this one is more sober. It sounds a little crazy to say when you think of the decade in total, but a six-seat pickup by Dems in the Lege would feel disappointing. It’s well within the range of possibility, and if all we ever think about is the best case scenario we’re not being honest with ourselves. All projections are art as well as science, in that you have to decide which factors are the most important and by how much. Individual candidates and fundraising prowess mean a lot, but so does the national environment, and so do demographic trends.

As far as candidates mattering goes, read that analysis of the HD134 race carefully. I come back to this a lot, but the key thing that happened in HD134, and in CD07 (which includes almost all of HD134) is exactly that the Democratic shift from 2016 to 2018 went much deeper than the top of the ticket. The average Republican judicial candidate won CD07 by thirteen points in 2016, and won HD134 by eight. In 2018, the average Republican judicial candidate barely won CD07. I didn’t do the exact same analysis for the State House districts, because I spent so much time talking about straight tickets and undervoting, but in service of that analysis I did this sample of judicial races, and as you can see each Dem was over fifty percent in HD134, by varying amounts. The point is, the fundamental nature of HD134 has shifted from “a Republican district that will sometimes support specific Democrats” to “a Democratic district that has – at least till now – supported Sarah Davis”. That’s what she’s up against this year, not just her November opponent but the baggage of the entire Republican Party and the prospect of a Democratic Speaker. She could hang on, and for sure she should not be underestimated, but this year, for the first time, she’s the underdog.

Anyway. I love this kind of analysis because it makes me think about my own assumptions and expectations for the year. Go take a look and see what you think.

Initial thoughts: The Lege

Live by the gerrymander, die by the gerrymander.

At the end of the 2011 legislative session, state Rep. Rafael Anchia, a Dallas Democrat, sat down to dinner with a Republican colleague from the Texas House. Anchia was exhausted and incensed.

It had been a brutal six months for House Democrats, who were down to 48 seats in the 150-seat chamber. After riding a red wave in the 2010 election, Republicans used their new House supermajority to redraw Texas’ political maps following the once-a-decade census in a way that would help them hold onto their gains. They all but assured GOP control of the House for the next decade and secured almost 60 percent of the seats in Dallas County, even though the county was already reliably blue.

Anchia recalled telling the Republican colleague, who he declined to name, that Dallas Democrats were “getting screwed.” But the colleague offered a puzzling piece of solace: “There’s not going to be one [Dallas] Republican left by the end of this decade.”

Seven years later, that political forecast almost became reality. Amid their zeal for control, Republicans in 2011 opted for keeping their numbers up in the county and dismissed the possibility of creating a district with a black and Hispanic majority that could’ve made their seats safer in a Democratic wave election. Going into Election Day, Republicans held seven of the 14 House seats in Dallas County. But a collapse of the Republican-leaning redistricting scheme has left them with just two seats — and even those were won by narrow margins.

“The lesson is you can get too clever in gerrymandering,” said Michael Li, a redistricting expert with the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University.

[…]

As far as Democrats and redistricting experts are concerned, Republicans could have opted to create a new “opportunity district” for the county’s growing population of color. That would’ve reduced the number of voters of color in Republican districts, giving the GOP more of a cushion through the decade, but it would have also likely added another seat to the Democrats’ column.

Opting instead for more power, the Democrats alleged, the Republicans packed and cracked Latino voters across the county to diminish their voting strength overall and ensure a GOP majority.

But Republicans “shaved those things off a little too close because they got greedy,” said Jose Garza, a voting rights lawyer who helped challenge the GOP’s mapmaking. And in a wave election like this, the vulnerable Republican majority loses its edge, he added.

Here’s my precinct analysis from 2016 for Dallas County. I had some thoughts about how this year might go based on what happened in 2016, so let me quote myself from that second post:

“So the best case for the Republicans is a clear win in six districts, with two tossups. Democrats can reasonably hope to have an advantage in eight districts, and in a really good year could mount a decent challenge in 11. These are Presidential year conditions, of course, though as we’ve discussed several times, there’s every reason to believe that 2018 will not be like 2010 or 2014. It still could be bad – Dems will definitely have to protect HD107 – but if the off-year cycle has been broken, there are a lot of opportunities in Dallas to make gains.”

In actuality, Dems won twelve of fourteen races, with a recount possible in one of the two losses. Clearly, I did not see that coming. The supercharged performance in Dallas County overall contributed not only to these results, but also the wins in SD16 and CD32. If this is the new normal in Dallas County, Republicans are going to have some very hard choices to make in 2021 when it’s time to redraw the lines.

And by the way, this lesson about not being too greedy is one they should have learned in the last decade. In 2001, they drew the six legislative districts in Travis County to be three Ds and three Rs. By 2008, all six districts were in Democratic hands. The Republicans won HD47 back in the 2010 wave, and the map they drew this time around left it at 5-1 for the Dems. Of course, they lost HD47 last week too, so maybe the lesson is that the big urban areas are just unrelentingly hostile to them. Not a very useful lesson, I suppose, but not my problem.

Anyway. Here were the top legislative targets for 2018 that I identified last cycle. Let’s do an update on that:


Dist  Clinton% Burns%  Dem18%  Rep18%
=====================================
105     52.1%   49.0%   54.7%   45.3%
113     49.1%   46.4%   53.5%   46.5%
115     51.5%   45.8%   56.7%   43.3%
134     54.7%   45.4%   46.8%   53.2%
102     52.3%   45.3%   52.8%   47.2%
043     43.6%   44.3%   38.9%   61.1%
112     48.3%   43.9%   48.9%   51.1%
135     46.6%   43.7%   50.8%   47.7%
138     47.6%   43.6%   49.9%   50.1%
114     52.1%   43.3%   55.6%   44.4%
132     45.5%   42.7%   49.2%   49.1%
136     46.7%   42.7%   53.3%   43.8%
065     46.1%   42.4%   51.1%   48.9%
052     45.3%   42.2%   51.7%   48.3%
054     43.6%   42.0%   46.2%   53.8%
045     44.2%   41.7%   51.6%   48.4%
026     45.5%   41.0%   47.5%   52.5%
047     46.5%   40.5%   52.3%   47.7%
126     42.7%   39.8%   45.2%   54.8%
108     50.3%   39.6%   49.7%   50.3%
066     45.5%   39.5%   49.7%   50.3%
067     43.9%   38.9%   48.9%   51.1%
097     42.1%   38.5%   47.2%   50.9%
121     42.7%   38.0%   44.7%   53.2%

“Clinton%” is the share of the vote Hillary Clinton got in the district in 2016, while “Burns%” is the same for Court of Criminal Appeals candidate Robert Burns. I used the latter as my proxy for the partisan ratio in a district, as Clinton had picked up crossover votes and thus in my mind made things look better for Dems than perhaps they really were. As you can see from the “Dem18% and “Rep18%” values, which are the percentages the State Rep candidates got this year, I was overly pessimistic. I figured the potential was there for growth, and hoped that people who avoided Trump could be persuaded, but I did not expect this much success. Obviously Beto was a factor as well, but it’s not like Republicans didn’t vote. They just had nowhere near the cushion they were accustomed to having, and it showed in the results.

All 12 pickups came from this group, and there remain a few key opportunities for 2020, starting with HDs 138, 54, 26, 66, and 67. I’d remove HD43, which is moving in the wrong direction, and HD134 continues to be in a class by itself, but there are other places to look. What’s more, we can consider a few districts that weren’t on the radar this year to be in play for 2020:


Dist  Clinton% Burns%  Dem18%  Rep18%
=====================================
014     38.1%   34.7%   43.6%   56.4%
023     40.7%   40.5%   41.1%   56.8%
028     42.7%   38.9%   45.8%   54.2%
029     41.0%   38.9%   
032     41.9%   39.5%
064     39.5%   37.4%   44.5%   52.8%
070     32.2%   28.8%   38.2%   61.8%
084     34.8%   32.1%   39.8%   60.2%
085     40.9%   39.7%   43.5%   46.5%
089     35.4%   32.1%   40.4%   59.6%
092     40.2%   37.9%   47.4%   49.8%
093     40.0%   37.5%   46.1%   53.9%
094     40.5%   37.7%   43.9%   52.5%
096     42.3%   40.6%   47.2%   50.9%
129     39.8%   36.3%   41.8%   56.5%
150     36.3%   33.5%   42.2%   57.8%

Dems did not field a candidate in HD32 (Nueces County), and while we had a candidate run and win in the primary in HD29 (Brazoria County), he must have withdrawn because there’s no Dem listed on the SOS results page. Obviously, some of these are reaches, but given how much some of the districts above shifted in a Dem direction, I’d want to see it be a priority to get good candidates in all of them, and find the funds to help them run robust campaigns.

Two other points to note. One is that the number of LGBTQ members of the House went from two (Reps. Mary Gonzalez and Celia Israel) to five in this election, as Reps-elect Erin Zwiener, Jessica Gonzalez, and Julie Johnson join them. We just missed adding one to the Senate as Mark Phariss lost by two points to Angela Paxton. Other LGBTQ candidates won other races around the state, and that list at the bottom of the article omits at least one I know of, my friend and former blogging colleague KT Musselman in Williamson County.

And on a related note, the number of Anglo Democrats, a subject that gets discussed from time to time, has more than tripled, going from six to seventeen. We began with Sens. Kirk Watson and John Whitmire, and Reps. Donna Howard, Joe Pickett, Tracy King, and Chris Turner, and to them we add Sens-elect Beverly Powell and Nathan Johnson, and Reps-elect Erin Zwiener, Vikki Goodwin, James Talarico, Michelle Beckley, John Turner, Julie Johnson, Gina Calanni, Jon Rosenthal, and John Bucy. You can make of that what you want, I’m just noting it for the record.

UPDATE: As noted in the comments, added Rep. Tracy King to the list of Anglo Dems.

Can Dems make progress in Collin County?

It sure would be nice if they could.

It’s no secret that Plano’s Prestonwood Baptist Church has long wielded tremendous political influence, often quietly blurring the local lines between church and state.

But in the 2016 cycle, with the Republican Party veering further to the right, the 40,000-member evangelical megachurch is taking its electoral involvement more seriously than ever.

After hosting six GOP presidential hopefuls in October, Prestonwood’s newly formed “Culture Impact Team” staged a forum Monday for local and state candidates in Collin and Denton counties.

“We’re told that if you’re a person of faith, that you cannot get involved in politics, and we totally reject that,” Ron Kelley, director of the Prestonwood Foundation, told a crowd of hundreds who skipped watching the Iowa caucus returns in favor of the church event.

Although federal tax regulations bar the church from making endorsements, Kelley added, Prestonwood’s leaders encourage their flock to support candidates who “share our values.”

“We don’t apologize for that one bit,” he said.

As if to eliminate any possible doubt about the nature of “our values,” Monday’s forum was co-sponsored by Texas Values, a statewide group that specializes in opposing LGBT and reproductive rights.

However, the forum also included some unlikely participants — Democrats. For the first time in recent memory, Democrats have filed to run for each of Collin County’s five seats in the Texas House, all of which are currently held by Republicans, including two Prestonwood members.

Rick Joosten, a precinct chair who led the Collin County party’s candidate recruitment team in 2015, said he’s seen “an unprecedented emergence of Democratic energy in this exciting presidential year.”

Indeed, recent corporate relocations from places like California and an influx of new residents from Dallas have loosened, ever so slightly, the GOP’s hold on Collin County — as evidenced in Plano’s passage of an LGBT-inclusive Equal Rights Ordinance in December 2014, despite vocal opposition from Prestonwood leaders.

Still, given that Wendy Davis captured less than 33 percent of the vote in Collin County, Democratic candidates face a steep climb. But that didn’t stop them from braving a tough audience at the Prestonwood forum. The crowd erupted when local Republican candidates were introduced, but Democrats garnered only a smattering of applause from family and friends.

Let’s acknowledge that recruiting candidates is challenging under any circumstance. Recruiting candidates in races where they will be seriously out-financed and their odds of winning can be most generously described as “remote” is nigh impossible. As such, whatever happens this November, we should salute Rick Joosten and his team for a stellar job. The rapid growth in Collin County (2004 registered voters = 369,412; 2012 registered voters = 458,872) is an opportunity to reach out to voters who maybe aren’t cut from the same old cloth as well as a challenge to make sure they know they do have a choice and it does matter that they show up. Having a full slate of local candidates goes a long way towards that.

And Lord knows, the Collin County delegation has some varmints and miscreants in it. Barring something earth-shaking, this isn’t the cycle where any of them might get bounced, but we can put down some markers for what progress looks like. Here are the results for the last three Presidential elections in each of those five State Rep districts:


Dist   Kerry  Obama08  Obama12
==============================
33     22.9%    30.4%    26.4%
66     31.8%    40.2%    37.4%
67     31.0%    39.6%    37.2%
70     24.0%    32.6%    29.2%
89     26.4%    34.7%    31.7%

The same pattern holds countywide, where the Presidential number was 28.12% in 2004, 36.77% in 2008, and 33.49% in 2012. The two best-performing State Rep districts are about eight points out from their 2012 figures from being competitive, so the target needs to be at least 40% in the county for anyone to start paying attention. Candidate quality and specific issues come into play at some point, and additional ground can be made up with the right combination of the two or lost with the wrong combo. HDs 66 and 67 are unsurprisingly the most diverse of the five, but what’s interesting is that it’s the high percentage of “other” voters, which I read as being Asian, that is driving those numbers. That number is higher than the combined black plus Hispanic total in HD66, and it’s higher than each individually in HD67. Democrats have placed a lot of hope on the increasing number of Hispanic voters for its fortunes around the state, but the rapidly increasing Asian population can make a difference as well. I hope someone in Collin County is thinking about how that may apply to them. I’ll be sure to check back in November and see how it turned out.