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Mike McCaul

PPP: Competitive Congressional districts are competitive

Some nice data points for you.

A handful of Republican-held House seats in the Texas suburbs represent fertile ground for competitive races in 2020, according to recent Democratic polling.

The surveys in six GOP districts, shared first with CQ Roll Call, are a sign that Democratic outside groups are willing to spend resources in the Lone Star State, where party leaders believe they can make gains next year. The polls were commissioned by House Majority Forward, the nonprofit arm of House Majority PAC, a super PAC tied to the chamber’s Democratic leadership.

Three of the districts surveyed have GOP incumbents running for reelection, including Reps. Michael McCaul in the 10th District, Chip Roy in the 21st and John Carter in the 31st. Polls were also conducted in three open-seat races in the 22nd, 23rd and 24th districts. Republicans won all six seats in 2018, all by margins of 5 points or less.

The surveys, conducted by Public Policy Polling, tested a generic Democrat against a generic Republican in each of the districts.

Respondents backed a generic Republican candidate over a Democratic one in four of the six races. In the 10th, 21st and 22nd districts, 49 percent supported a GOP candidate, compared to 46, 44 and 45 percent respectively for a Democrat. Fifty-one percent backed a Republican in the 31st District, compared to 44 percent for a Democrat.

A generic Democratic candidate garnered more support in two districts. Fifty-three percent backed a Democrat in the 23rd District, where GOP incumbent Will Hurd is retiring, to 41 percent for a Republican. In the 24th District, where GOP Rep. Kenny Marchant is retiring, 47 percent of respondents supported a Democrat while 46 supported a generic Republican.

The polls surveyed between 523 and 656 likely voters in each of the congressional districts and had margins of error between plus or minus 3.8 and 4.2 percentage points. They were conducted Sept. 19-21 via landline telephone interviews using IVR technology, also known as automated phone polling.

I get that not that many people will know who a particular member of Congress is, but I don’t understand why you’d do a “generic R versus generic D” matchup in CD21, where freshman Chip Roy is running for re-election and he will most likely face off against Wendy Davis, who is as well known as a potential candidate is going to be. In CD10 and CD31, I’d do “Rep. Mike McCaul vs generic Dem” and “Rep. John Carter vs generic Dem” for similar reasons, though perhaps there’s a chance that CD10 will be open next year, too. The “generic Dem” approach is most appropriate in CD31, where I have no idea yet if there’s a candidate who can raise the kind of money needed to make that a real race. I hope the Q3 finance reports give me some good news there.

In CD23, where Gina Ortiz Jones is raising gobs of money, I’d love to have seen a “generic R vs generic D” question followed by a “generic R vs Gina Ortiz Jones” question, just to see if there’s any difference. I’ve said that Will Hurd was an overperformer for the Republicans in CD23, but I don’t think he was twelve points above the baseline. As for the rest, it’s still very early and on both sides candidate quality is going to matter, but the fact that these races are almost certainly going to be very competitive is nothing new. I made this point multiple times in 2018, but the shift in the Congressional districts is a microcosm of the shift in the state, and we’ve seen what that polling looks like so far. Where the numbers go from here is the big question.

Rep. Mac Thornberry to retire

Six down.

Rep. Mac Thornberry

U.S. Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Clarendon, announced Monday that he will not seek reelection in 2020, making him the sixth GOP congressman from Texas to say he’s retiring in recent weeks.

“It has been a great honor for me to represent the people of the 13th District of Texas for the last 25 years,” he said in a statement.

“We are reminded, however, that ‘for everything there is a season,’ and I believe that the time has come for a change. Therefore, I will not be a candidate for reelection in the 2020 election.”

Thornberry joins five other Texas Republicans in Congress who are not running for reelection — U.S. Reps. Kenny Marchant, Pete Olson, Mike Conaway, Will Hurd and Bill Flores. But Thornberry’s exit is somewhat different from other Republicans’ shocking retirements over the summer. The last remaining Texas Republican from the class of 1994 and the dean of the GOP delegation, Thornberry was expected by many to retire soon. He will turn over his post leading the Republican side of the House Armed Services Committee in January 2021, thanks to Republican term limits for committee chairmanships.

We did hear about this possibility before, with the end of his term on the House Armed Services Committee as the likely reason. CD13 is one of the reddest districts in the country – I mean, Trump got 79.5% in 2016, Ted Cruz got 79.2% in 2018 – so this has nothing to do with re-election fears, as is the case with some of his soon-to-be-ex-colleagues. I don’t know how he felt about Trump – Thornberry was among the quieter members of the GOP Congressional caucus – but I wouldn’t expect him to have to deal with that much on the trail, and being in the minority plus losing his plum committee assignment sure seems like good reasons to hit the road to me.

By the way, looking back at the 1994 election results sure is a trip down memory lane. There are now three members of Congress from that year who will (barring anything wildly unexpected) be there in 2021: Lloyd Doggett, Sheila Jackson Lee, and Eddie Berniece Johnson. Doggett and SJL were also members of the class of 1994, with Doggett succeeding Jake Pickle, who retired, and SJL ousting Craig Washington in the primary. EBJ is the sole member who was there before 1994, having arrived in the 1992 election. Four other members – Sam Johnson, Joe Barton, Lamar Smith, and Gene Green – stepped down in 2018. Of the incumbents who are expected to be on the 2020 ballot, only eleven – Doggett, SJL, EBJ plus eight more – were there prior to the 2011 redistricting: Louie Gohmert, Kevin Brady, Al Green, Mike McCaul, Kay Granger, Michael Burgess, Henry Cuellar, and John Carter. Of them, McCaul and Carter had close shaves in 2018, with McCaul already facing strong competition for 2020, while Cuellar does and Granger may face strong primary challenges. Change can be slow in Texas, but it does happen.

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.

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.

Marchant joins the exodus

The line at the door keeps growing.

Rep. Kenny Marchant

U.S. Rep. Kenny Marchant will not seek reelection in 2020, two sources confirmed to The Texas Tribune late Sunday.

He is the fourth member of the Texas delegation to announce his retirement in recent days. Marchant’s decision was first reported by The New York Times.

Marchant, who was elected to Congress in 2004, is a founding member of the House Tea Party Caucus. He represents Texas’ 24th Congressional District, which spans the northern suburbs of Forth Worth and Dallas. The district has historically been reliably red, but Marchant’s margins of victory have grown thinner in recent elections. In 2016, he won by a comfortable two-digit margin. Last year, Marchant squeaked by with a 3 point win over Democrat Jan McDowell.

[…]

The senior representative joins an exodus of Texas Republicans, including U.S. Rep. Pete Olson, U.S. Rep. Mike Conaway, and U.S. Rep. Will Hurd. In several cases, members have stepped down ahead of facing toss-up races for seats they could once hold without much effort.

As you may recall, the Politico story that ran the day before Will Hurd’s retirement announcement named Marchant and Rep. Mike McCaul in CD10 as rumored leavers. They’re one for two so far. As we know, Beto carried CD24, and it’s entirely possible that a better candidate might have already sent him packing. Be that as it may, there are multiple candidates running now, with Kim Olson, Crystal Fletcher, and Candace Valenzuela all doing well in fundraising. As with CDs 22 and 23, I don’t expect Marchant’s quitting to have much effect on the Democratic field – this was already a top tier race, and people were already drawn to it. I do expect a scramble on the Republican side, but we’ll leave that for another day.

One final note about Marchant, whose statement is here. Like Mike Conaway, he was the beneficiary of a district drawn just for him in the 2003 DeLay re-redistricting. They don’t draw ’em like they used to, I guess. In the meantime, we’ll keep an eye on Mike McCaul and any other potential retirees out there. Daily Kos has more.

UPDATE: Also from dKos:

Team Red still has a large bench here despite the changing political winds, and they quickly got their first candidate when former Irving Mayor Beth Van Duyne, who resigned from her post at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development on Friday, told the Texas Tribune’s Patrick Svitek that she was in. Van Duyne had been mentioned as a candidate for the nearby 32nd district, but that seat contains none of her Irving base.

There are several other Republicans who could run here including the congressman’s son, former Carrollton Mayor Matthew Marchant. The younger Marchant said Mondayhe was “[g]etting a lot of encouragement, but I’m focusing on my dad’s years of service today.” Former GOP state Rep. Matt Rinaldi also didn’t rule anything out, saying he’d “received numerous calls asking me to consider running but haven’t yet made a decision either way.” Last year, Rinaldi lost the general election by a brutal 57-43 margin in a seat that backed Clinton 52-44.

The National Journal also name drops former state Rep. Ron Simmons and state Sen. Jane Nelson as possible contenders. However, former state Sen. Konni Burton quickly said no.

Should be a fun primary on their side.

Rep. Will Hurd to step down

Wow. I did not see this coming.

Rep. Will Hurd

The U.S. House’s last black Republican member, Rep. Will Hurd of Helotes, announced Thursday that he is retiring from Congress. President Donald Trump’s racist comments about elected officials weighed heavily on Hurd, who has often spoken out against the rhetoric.

In announcing his resignation on Twitter, he alluded to future plans, but provided no specifics.

“I have made the decision to not seek reelection for the 23rd Congressional District of Texas in order to pursue opportunities outside the halls of Congress to solve problems at the nexus between technology and national security,” he wrote.

It was unclear as the news broke whether or not state or national Republicans have a back-up plan for a candidate in this district. Several state and national Republican operatives reached out to the Tribune to react to the news. Nearly all of the commentary involved highly explicit language.

It is apparent that this reelection would have been difficult.

Veteran Gina Ortiz Jones nearly defeated Hurd last cycle, and Democrats were emphatic that they would put all of their muscle in helping her capture this district, which has become something of a white whale for the party.

Emphasis mine. I’d feel sorry for those SOBs if they deserved any sympathy, but they don’t. I do however have an idea of why they’re so upset, and it’s because they’re in the same state I am, which is caught off guard. I mean, earlier that same day came this Politico piece about potential Republican retirements, and well, see for yourself:

Among those on the retirement watch list include older members, like Hal Rogers of Kentucky, Jim Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin and Don Young of Alaska; moderates, like Fred Upton of Michigan and Greg Walden of Oregon; lawmakers facing tougher races, like Texans Michael McCaul and Kenny Marchant, and Ann Wagner of Missouri; and the two members under indictment, Duncan Hunter of California and Chris Collins of New York.

History suggests that an uptick in retirements is common for the minority party after a shift in power. More than a dozen House Democrats left Congress after the 2010 tea party wave that swept Republicans back to power — and seven House Republicans have already announced their departures from politics, just seven months into the cycle.

“Unfortunately, I am afraid there may be more coming,” said Sarah Chamberlain, president and CEO of the Republican Main Street Partnership, which supports centrist Republicans in swing districts.

The pile-up of retirements could complicate the GOP’s path back to the majority after a bruising midterm election. Almost immediately after Rep. Pete Olson (R-Texas) announced he would not seek reelection last week, election forecasters shifted the race from “lean Republican” to “toss-up.”

Olson, who came to Congress in 2009, would have faced a competitive reelection battle in his district in the Houston suburbs, where he just narrowly fended off a Democratic challenger last year. And Democrats are dumping resources into Texas this cycle, hoping to build on their gains in the midterms.

“Texas is the biggest battleground state. Republicans know it,” said Abhi Rahman, communications director for the Texas Democratic Party. “We wouldn’t be surprised if there were more retirements because Republicans know their 2020 prospects in Texas are doomed.”

I guarantee you, if there had been any whispers of Hurd hitting the exit, it would have been in that story. This was a bolt from the blue, and it had to have left a mark. Good. Also, too, if McCaul and Marchant drop out, the Republicans are really in a world of hurt.

As for Dem opposition in CD23, Gina Ortiz Jones is off to a fast start in fundraising. She has two opponents in the primary so far, though only Rosey Aburabara looks like a serious challenger. I don’t expect anyone else with any heft to get in on the Dem side. I have no idea who might get in on the Republican side, but my best guess would be someone from the Bexar County part of the district.

One more thing:

Because I love you all, I can and will tell you that the others are:

Ted Poe (CD02)
Sam Johnson (CD03)
Jeb Hensarling (CD05)
Joe Barton (CD06)
John Culberson (CD07)
Mike Conaway (CD11)
Rubén Hinojosa (CD15)
Beto O’Rourke (CD16)
Randy Neugebauer (CD19)
Lamar Smith (CD21)
Pete Olson (CD22)
Will Hurd (CD23)
Blake Farenthold (CD27)
Gene Green (CD29)
Pete Sessions (CD32)

As noted later by Svitek, that doesn’t include John Ratcliffe (CD04), who is reported to be Trump’s pick for Director of National Intelligence. Add in McCaul and Marchant and we’d have turned over more than half the delegation in the last three elections. That’s pretty amazing.

We’ll have a much better idea of who the candidates are soon

There are a lot of people filing to run for Congress as Democrats. It remains to be seen how many of them are viable.

Gina Ortiz Jones

Three times as many Democrats have already filed to run for Congress in Texas this year as in 2012 or 2016, yet another sign that Texas will be more of a battleground for the two major political parties in 2020.

With the elections still well over a year away, Democrats already have 66 candidates who have signed up to run in 30 different congressional districts. At this same point four years ago, Democrats had just 19 candidates ready to run in 16 of the state’s 36 congressional districts.

“There’s a lot of enthusiasm statewide,” said Abhi Rahman, director of communications for the Texas Democratic Party.

The increase is a sign that fired-up Democrats want to take on President Donald Trump and his policies, and is a testament to the party’s success in 2018, when Democrats flipped two Congressional seats previously held by the GOP, picked up 12 seats in the Texas House and two in the Texas Senate. In addition, Beto O’Rourke came within 3 percentage points of defeating Republican powerhouse U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz — the closest statewide race in Texas in decades.

[…]

It’s not just that Democrats flipped two congressional seats in 2018, but also how close they came to flipping a half dozen others in Houston, San Antonio, Austin and Dallas. Six Republican members of Congress won their elections in 2018 with 52 percent of the vote or less. Those six districts have become magnets for Democratic candidates, with 26 Democrats already filing official statements of candidacy to run with the Federal Election Commission.

Two San Antonio-area districts lead the way. In 2018, U.S. Rep. Will Hurd, R-Helotes, won his re-election in the 23rd Congressional District with 49 percent of the vote. And U.S. Rep. Chip Roy, R-Austin, won his seat with just 50.3 percent of the vote. Hurd already has four Democrats who have filed to challenge him, including his 2018 opponent Gina Ortiz Jones. Roy meanwhile has drawn three opponents.

In the Dallas-Fort Worth area, seven Democrats have filed to run in the 24th Congressional District, where Rep. Kenny Marchant, R-Coppell, won his re-election with 50.7 percent of the vote. Similarly, near Austin, seven Democrats have filed to run in the 31st Congressional District where Republican John Carter won his re-election with 50.6 percent of the vote.

In Houston, U.S. Reps. Michael McCaul and Pete Olson won their districts with 51 percent of the vote. Three Democrats have filed to take on McCaul, and two to take on Olson.

It’s a little curious to me that they used 2012 and 2016 as a basis of comparison rather than 2018. We already know that 2012 and 2016 were not great years for Democratic Congressional campaign recruiting, while 2018 was off-the-charts good. I realize those were Presidential years, as 2020 is, but until further notice 2018 is the basis for all meaningful comparisons.

So as far as that goes, here’s my look at finance reports from Q1 of this year and Q2 of 2017. That doesn’t tell you how many people had filed – I mostly didn’t pay attention to the non-competitive districts, and there were plenty of fringey candidates I didn’t put much effort into – but it does tell you how many candidates of interest to me there were. The Q2 finance reports are still trickling in, so you’ll see an updated list of interesting candidates when the data is there. You can see some candidates’ names now, but until I see a finance report I don’t feel confident about who is a potential difference maker, and who is just taking up space. It’s good to know there are four contenders in CD31, for example, but I need to know more than that. Give it a week or so, and we’ll get that.

Where the Republicans think they’re vulnerable

Always good to get the opposing perspective on these things.

Rep. Kenny Marchant

Eight House Republicans, including the three from districts won by Hillary Clinton in 2016, have been named to the National Republican Congressional Committee’s list of incumbents expected to face tough re-elections.

Members of the Patriot Program typically benefit from fundraising and organizational assistance. The list can be a signal to donors to direct checks to members in need.

“While Democrats continue to call them ‘targets,’ the NRCC will be empowering these members to stay on offense and run aggressive, organized campaigns against their Democratic challengers,” New York Rep. John Katko, Patriot Program chairman, said in a statement Friday.

[…]

Half of the GOP’s Patriot Program designees are from Texas. Two on the list — Texas’ Will Hurd and Pennsylvania’s Brian Fitzpatrick — were on the initial list for the 2018 cycle. Six of the 10 Republicans on that list lost last fall.

The four from Texas are among those you’d expect:

CD10 – McCaul
CD22 – Olson
CD23 – Hurd
CD31 – Carter

It’s more interesting to me to see the two that the NRCC chose not to include up front, namely CDs 21 and 24. CD24 was carried by Beto O’Rourke and was the closest of the districts in 2016 that wasn’t carried by Hillary Clinton. I’d easily make CD24 more vulnerable than CD31 (and that’s without taking into account the fact that MJ Hegar is running for Senate and not taking another crack at this), so its omission is a curious one to me. Maybe the NRCC knows something we don’t, maybe they’re lowering the priority on CD24 on the theory that it’s likely to be toast, maybe they’re happier with Kenny Marchant’s fundraising and cash on hand so far than they are with these others, or maybe it just worked out this way. For sure, this is a list that will grow over time, and as it does we can reassess the NRCC’s apparent defensive priorities.

DCCC polls Trump in three target districts

News flash: Donald Trump is not very popular.

Surveys the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee recently conducted found that 41 percent of voters approved of Trump’s job performance in Texas’ 24th congressional district, where Rep. Kenny Marchant serves, while 44 percent disapproved.

In Rep. Mike McCaul’s 10th district, 44 percent approved and 45 percent disapproved of the job Trump is doing. And in Rep. Chip Roy’s 21st district, 45 percent approved and 48 percent disapproved.

Trump carried all three suburban seats by ten points or fewer during the 2016 presidential election.

[…]

To flip these traditionally GOP seats, Democrats say they are relying on moderate Republicans who have soured on the Trump-led party, as well as minority voters who have become a larger share of the electorate.

The DCCC’s polling, for example, showed Marchant’s district has increased its African American population by 26 percent between 2010 and 2016 among citizens of voting age. The Hispanic population rose by 29 percent, and the Asian population by 42 percent.

[…]

The Democratic polling showed that Marchant was viewed favorably by 26 percent of voters and unfavorably by 19 percent, while 55 percent didn’t know enough to have an opinion.

For McCaul, 31 percent viewed him favorably compared to 14 percent who viewed him unfavorably. As for Roy, 28 percent viewed him favorably and 19 percent viewed him unfavorably.

The DCCC conducted the surveys using a mix of live and automated calls from April 3-6 (the poll in the 21st district was in the field April 4-6). The 10th district and 21st district polls had a margin of error of +/- 4.9 percentage points, while the 24th district poll had a margin of error of +/- 4.6 percentage points.

See here for 2018 numbers. As discussed, Trump’s 2016 number in the district was a decent predictor of the Beto number in 2018, though that was always at least a bit higher than the Dem Congressional number. The bottom line is that the worse Trump is faring in the district, the harder it’s going to be for the Republican Congressional incumbent, especially with these three CDs on the radar from the beginning. I hope we get to see similar results from other districts (yes, I know, it’s possible other districts were also polled but those numbers weren’t as good so these are the only ones we get to see). I have a feeling that there will be plenty of data to hang our hats on this cycle.

More looking forward to 2020

Gonna have some more of that sweet Congressional election action.

Smelling blood after picking up two Texas congressional seats in November – along with Beto O’Rourke’s narrow loss in the U.S. Senate race – House Democrats [recently] announced six new 2020 targets in the Lone Star State.

In a wish list of 33 GOP-held or open seats targeted nationally by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, Texas figures prominently as a potential battleground, particularly in the suburbs.

The targeted Texas lawmakers include Houston-area Republicans Michael McCaul and Pete Olson. Around San Antonio, the Democrats are putting two other Republicans in their sights: Freshman Chip Roy, a conservative stalwart who worked for U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, and moderate Will Hurd, who represents a heavily Latino border district.

Rounding out the list are Republicans John Carter of Round Rock and Kenny Marchant of Coppell.

“All six have suburban areas experiencing population booms and an increasingly diverse electorate. These factors gave Republicans a taste of what is headed their way.” said DCCC Chairwoman Cheri Bustos, an Illinois Democrat, in a memo released Monday.

“In 2020 a rapidly emerging Democratic coalition will make Texas a focal point of the House Democrats’ offensive strategy,” she continued.

Democrats noted that all six targeted Republicans in Texas won by five points or less, revealing electoral weaknesses in a state that has been dominated by Republicans for a generation.

In practical terms, the DCCC list indicates the group will be pouring money and organizational resources into those races, including recruitment efforts to help candidates who best match their districts.

It’s the shutdown target list plus Will Hurd. Not really a surprise, though I think overlooking CD02 is a bit short-sighted. There will be time to correct that. For their part, the Republicans will target freshman Reps. Lizzie Fletcher and Colin Allred. A priori everyone goes into 2020 as the favorite to hold their own seat, but suffice it to say there are many variables and a whole lot of potential for volatility. If Donald Trump is heading for a massive loss, who knows how many of these red seats could fall. If he’s back into the low-to-mid-40s approval ratings, there may be a lot of action but not much change. If things have gone south for the Dems – a bit hard to imagine now, but politics is weird these days – the Republicans could win back the seats they lost. Hard hitting analysis, I know, but at this point it’s all as meaningful as a split squad game during spring training. All we’re doing now it setting up the potential story lines. The Current and Mother Jones have more.

The first targets for 2020

We’ve already agreed that the 2020 election season has begun, so a little attack advertising over the shutdown seems like a good play

Mike Siegel

National Democrats have five Texas Republican congressmen in their crosshairs as they begin the 2020 election cycle looking to build on their gains here in November.

As part of its first digital ad campaign of the cycle, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is targeting U.S. Reps. Michael McCaul of Austin, Chip Roy of Austin, Pete Olson of Sugar Land, Kenny Marchant of Coppell and John Carter of Round Rock. They are among 25 GOP House members across the country included in the ad offensive, which the DCCC announced Friday.

The ads criticize the lawmakers for voting against recent Democratic-backed legislation to end the government shutdown without funding for a border wall — a demand by President Donald Trump that prompted the closure. The ads, which come on the day that federal workers will miss their second paycheck under the shutdown, feature an image of a helicopter rescue mission over the water, accompanied by text reading, “The Coast Guard, Border Patrol, & [Transportation Security Administration] just missed another paycheck thanks to” the targeted member of Congress.

Good thing they got this out as quickly as they did, eh? I put Mike Siegel in there for the featured image because he’s already announced his candidacy for 2020. Doesn’t mean he’ll be the nominee, of course, but he’s in the running. I am of course delighted to see CD24, which some people think might wind up being an open seat, among the targets. As for CD23 and Will Hurd, he gets a pass this time around because he has been (wisely) critical of The Wall and has voted for reopening the government. He’ll be targeted another time; as the story notes, Gina Ortiz Jones is saying she wants to run again. All of this is one reason why one of my criteria for supporting a Democratic Presidential nominee is their level of commitment to competing in Texas next year. There’s more than just our plentiful electoral votes at stake.

What if he does it anyway?

That’s my question.

Gov. Greg Abbott, the state’s two Republican U.S. senators and a bipartisan group of 20 U.S. House members released a letter stating their staunch opposition to raiding Texas’ hard-fought Harvey money.

“Recent reports have indicated that your administration is considering the use of U.S. Army Corps of Engineers funds, appropriated by Congress and intended for Hurricane Harvey recovery and mitigation efforts, in an effort to secure our southern border,” they wrote. “We strongly support securing the border with additional federal resources including tactical infrastructure, technology, ports of entry improvements and personnel. However, we are strongly opposed to using funds appropriated by Congress for disaster relief and mitigation for Texas for any unintended purpose.”

Congressional signatories included nine lawmakers from the Houston metropolitan region: Republican U.S. Reps. Brian Babin, Kevin Brady, Dan Crenshaw, Michael McCaul, Pete Olson and Randy Weber; and Democratic U.S. Reps. Sylvia Garcia, Lizzie Fletcher and Sheila Jackson Lee.

Texans from other regions also signed on: Republican U.S. Reps. John Carter of Round Rock, Mike Conaway of Midland, Bill Flores of Bryan, Lance Gooden of Terrell, Kay Granger of Fort Worth, Will Hurd of Helotes, Kenny Marchant of Coppell and Roger Williams of Austin; and Democratic U.S. Reps. Henry Cuellar of Laredo, Vicente Gonzalez of McAllen and Filemon Vela of Brownsville

See here for the background. That certainly is a letter. Nicely typed, good sentence structure, no spelling errors as far as I could tell. Now what happens if and when Donald Trump goes ahead and declares an emergency and tries to tap into these funds anyway, because Ann Coulter and Rush Limbaugh called him mean names again? What are you, Greg Abbott, and you, John Cornyn and Ted Cruz, and you, Republican members of Congress, going to do then? We wouldn’t be here in the first place if Donald Trump were a rational actor. He’s gonna do what he’s gonna do. What are those of you who enable him at every step going to do when that happens?

From the “If at first you don’t succeed” department

Three Dem Congressional candidates from 2018 may try again in 2020.

Todd Litton

Among the typically deep-red districts that came down to single digits were three races around Harris County. Incumbent Reps. Michael McCaul, R-Austin, and Pete Olson, R-Sugar Land, won by margins of 4.3 and 4.9 percentage points in Texas’ heavily gerrymandered 10th and 22nd Congressional Districts. Rep.-elect Dan Crenshaw, R-Spring, won by more than 7 points an open race for the 2nd Congressional District, one also drawn to elect Republicans.

In recent elections, the districts had gone to Republicans by no fewer than 19 percentage points, with margins as high as 38 points.

Now, as they parse the results and consider what comes next, Democrats in these races must grapple with important questions. Did they come close because of a boost from Democrat Beto O’Rourke’s Senate bid and anger among voters prodded to the polls by President Donald Trump, or did they offer a preview of what is to come? Is a 40-something percent result the ceiling, and if not, where might they find more votes?

All three losing Democrats — Todd Litton, Mike Siegel and Sri Preston Kulkarni — said they may take another swing at the districts in 2020, when Trump could appear atop the ballot and galvanize even more voters than in 2018.

[…]

Litton acknowledged he was unlucky to draw an opponent as tough as Crenshaw, saying the former Navy SEAL “was not your standard first-time candidate.” For now, the defeated Democrat plans to see how Crenshaw’s first term goes, and decide later if he wants to run.

“I’d consider it. I don’t know that I’m going to do it,” said Litton, who directed an education nonprofit before seeking office. “We’ll see how Dan does and what he says.”

[…]

Mike Siegel

Texas’ 10th Congressional District covers much of the rural area between Travis and Harris counties, stretching across nine counties from Katy and Cypress all the way through downtown Austin to Lake Travis. It is one of four GOP-held districts dividing up deep-blue Travis County, the only county Siegel won.

Compared to McCaul’s 2016 race, turnout this year grew by more than 3,400 votes in Travis County, where McCaul’s support fell by about eight percentage points. In the remaining eight counties, turnout fell by 8,200 votes from two years ago, and McCaul’s support dropped from 70 percent to 65 percent.

All told, McCaul lost ground in every county from 2016, though his support dipped by fewer than two percentage points in Austin, Colorado, Fayette, Lee and Washington counties — all areas where Siegel failed to break even 23 percent.

[…]

One reason for Democratic optimism, Siegel said, is the changing nature of Bastrop and Waller counties, located next to Travis and Harris, respectively. Two years ago, McCaul won Bastrop and Waller by 22 and 32 percentage points, respectively, while this year the margin was 11 and 25 points. Siegel also drew 36 percent of the vote in Harris County, about 7 points ahead of Cadien in 2016.

[…]

Sri Kulkarni

Olson never had won a general election by fewer than 19 points — his margin in 2016 — but several trends gave Kulkarni reason to contest the district. Notably, it shifted 17.5 points in favor of Democrats from the 2012 to 2016 presidential election, the fourth most dramatic change in the country.

Kulkarni’s preliminary data also found that both parties had ignored major swaths of the district. In particular, Asian residents make up about 20 percent of the district’s population, far more than any other Texas congressional district, but Kulkarni found that three-quarters of Asian voters had not been contacted by any political party.

Kulkarni’s efforts hinged on turning out the scores of college-educated immigrants who moved to the district during the last several years. He ultimately lost by 4.9 percentage points, a result he attributes partly to not reaching enough Hispanic voters. He did not rule out giving it another shot in 2020.

“If I’m the best candidate, I’ll run again,” Kulkarni said. “I don’t want to throw away all the hard work that we did in organizing here, because going from 19 points two years ago or 34 points four years ago, to 4.9 — there’s obviously a change going on in terms of who’s participating.”

A few general thoughts…

1. Obviously, it’s very early to say who may or may not be running in 2020. Even if all three of these guys say they’re in, they could face primary opponents, and who knows what might happen in a Presidential-year primary, where I think we might see 2008-level turnout. That said, there are always advantages to getting in early – among other things, you can start fundraising right away – and whether we like it or not, the 2020 campaign is already underway. Take all the time you need to decide, but don’t take any longer than that.

2. Of the three, Litton or anyone else in CD02 will likely have the toughest race. Dan Crenshaw has star potential, and he doesn’t yet have any Trump stink on him. He also had the biggest margin of victory in 2018. On the other hand, he will have to start making tough choices about Trump and the Trump agenda, and with CD07 in Democratic hands, CD02 is (along with County Commissioner Precinct 3) the top target for Team Blue in 2020. In addition, no one has to be convinced now that CD02 is worth targeting. It will be on the national radar from the beginning, which will help.

3. That “key for Democratic optimism” paragraph about CD10 is the key for 2020. The Harris County part of the district is fast-growing, and offers a lot of opportunity to find, register, and turn out new Dem voters that year. Looking at the 2016 and 2018 election returns, there were 21K more voters this year in the Harris part of CD10 than there were two years ago. Turnout was 69% in there in 2016, and 59% in 2018, though that meant 6K more voters thanks to the larger voter pool. I feel like if you can get the Dem number in Harris County above 40%, you can win this district. You’ll still need a strong showing in Travis, and there’s room for growth as noted in Bastrop and Waller, but if you get to 40% in Harris I feel like this one is in reach.

4. As noted before, Pete Olson may or may not make it to the ballot in 2020. Generally speaking, having an open seat makes it more winnable for the opposing party. That may be less true in the Trump era, but an open seat will definitely push this up a notch on the national radar. If Kulkarni runs again, my advice is “keep doing what you’re doing”. If it’s someone else, my advice is “do what Sri Kulkarni did, and do more of it”.

Normally, this is the time when I say things like “I want to get through 2019 before I start thinking about 2020”. This is the world we live in now. 2019 is important, but given that everyone who wants to run in 2020 will have to file for office before 2019 is over, we really do have to be thinking about it now.

Who might be next to retire from Congress?

We may see some more exits in the coming years, some voluntary and some not.

Rep. Mac Thornberry

Retirement talk is generally speculative until an incumbent makes an official announcement.

But many Republican operatives bet that U.S. Rep. Mac Thornberry, the most senior Republican from Texas in Congress, could make the upcoming term his last. That’s because Thornberry, currently chairman of the Armed Services Committee, is term-limited out of being the top Republican on that committee, in 2021. Thornberry’s office did not respond to a request for comment for this story.

Beyond a severe loss of power in Washington, there are potentially bigger problems ahead for Texas Republicans. Every Republican incumbent from Texas who successfully ran for re-election saw his or her margins shrink over Democrats from contested 2016 races. Some of these numbers should not be troubling. For instance, U.S. Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Tyler, won his race this year by 46 points, rather than 50 points in the prior cycle.

But five GOP incumbents – [Mike] McCaul and U.S. Reps. John Carter of Round Rock, Kenny Marchant of Coppell, Pete Olson of Sugar Land and Roger Williams of Austin – saw their 2016 margins shrink this year to single digits. These members will likely have to work harder for re-election in 2020 than ever before, and those battles will take place in suburban stretches of Austin, Dallas-Fort Worth and Houston that have become increasingly hostile to the GOP.

[…]

The 2018 results could well prove to have been a fluke, brought on by the coattails of outgoing U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke who ran the best Democratic statewide campaign in a generation in his unsuccessful bid against U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas. But anxiety is high among members and their aides that Texas can no longer sustain so many GOP incumbents – particularly after political maps gets redrawn during redistricting in 2021. Members with an eye on retirement might well wait to see the outcome of the redraw before deciding whether to call it quits.

The East Texas seat of U.S. Rep. John Ratcliffe, R-Heath, is another possible vacancy to watch, though not related to his future re-election prospects. With an increasingly higher profile as a member of the U.S. House Judiciary Committee and a past career as a federal prosecutor, Ratcliffe has emerged as a contender to be Trump’s next U.S. attorney general to replace the current acting AG, Matthew Whitaker.

As the story notes, the delegation has been pretty stable. In 2012, after the last round of redistricting and with four new seats added, there were only eight new members. Three were in new seats, of which one (Roger Williams, CD25) was in the district Lloyd Doggett abandoned to run in the new CD35. Of the other four, two defeated incumbents: Pete Gallego knocked off Quico Canseco in CD23, Beto O’Rourke knocked off Silvestre Reyes in the Democratic primary for CD16. Only Randy Weber in CD14 and Joaquin Castro in CD20 succeeded members that had retired. Between then and this year, Reps. Ruben Hinojosa (CD15) and Randy Neugebauer (CD19) retired, and the now-convicted Steve Stockman (CD36) left to pursue a doomed primary against Sen. John Cornyn in 2014. This year was a bonanza for new faces, and there’s a decent chance we’ll have a few more over the next two cycles.

The next round of redistricting is going to be even more fun

Close races do complicate things.

Rep. Beto O’Rourke

Texas Republicans collected half of the votes statewide in congressional races this month. ­But even after Democrats flipped two districts, toppling GOP veterans in Dallas and Houston, Republicans will control 23 of the state’s 36 seats.

It’s the definition of gerrymandering.

“You wouldn’t expect perfect proportionality, but when something is really skewed, that’s probably a sign that something’s amiss,” said redistricting expert Michael Li.

Demographically and politically, the state is evolving — faster in some places than in others. Many Texas Republicans in Congress faced surprisingly close calls in the 2018 midterms.

Boundaries drawn early this decade to maximize GOP power blunted the damage. But the bulwarks built after the last census have begun to weaken. The midterms exposed unexpected shortcomings as college-educated white women — traditionally a major source of votes for the Texas GOP — abandoned the party.

Some were repelled by President Donald Trump and, at the same time, intrigued by Rep. Beto O’Rourke, the El Paso Democrat who offered a vision of less confrontational leadership, albeit with a liberal bent.

In Dallas, lawyer and former pro football player Colin Allred ousted Rep. Pete Sessions, a member of the GOP leadership. In Houston, lawyer Lizzie Pannill Fletcher unseated Rep. John Culberson, who led a subcommittee that controls billions in federal spending.

Both districts have seen some of the fastest demographic shifts in the state, with the nonwhite share of the electorate rapidly shrinking. They were stocked with high-income, highly-educated white voters long presumed to be Republican; many turned out to be swing voters under the right circumstances.

“These districts … weren’t built to elect Republicans in the age of Donald Trump,” said Li. “The Republican Party of today is almost unrecognizable to people of 2011.”

Independents in Texas have been in the habit of backing Republicans.

“But they can be re-educated to see Democrats as an option,” said Steve Bickerstaff, a retired University of Texas adjunct law professor whose books include Lines in the Sand, about the 2003 redistricting fight in Texas.

[…]

In two GOP-held districts that Trump carried, O’Rourke topped Cruz. That helped fellow Democrats come much closer than expected.

In the Dallas-area 24th District, Rep. Kenny Marchant, R-Coppell, survived with a margin of just 3 percentage points over a little-known challenger he outspent 11-1.

In suburban Houston’s 2nd District, Rep. Ted Poe notched 2-1 blowouts for years. He retired this year. Dan Crenshaw, a retired Navy SEAL who lost an eye in Afghanistan, won by 7 points. National Democrats might have paid attention to the race had they recognized the opportunity.

O’Rourke fought Cruz nearly to a draw in the 6th District, where Arlington Rep. Joe Barton’s retirement paved the way for his former chief of staff Ron Wright, the Tarrant County tax assessor-collector.

There, the map enacted by the Legislature after the 2010 census operated as intended: Democratic nominee Jana Lynne Sanchez ran up the score in Tarrant County precincts, but conservative voters in Ellis County put Wright over the top.

Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Austin, outspent his challenger 4-1 in a district that runs from the west side of Houston to the east side of Austin. The rural midsection kept the outgoing House Homeland Security chairman in his seat with a narrow, 4-point win.

Just north of Austin, Rep. John Carter, another senior Republican, beat M.J. Hegar by 3 points in a district that Trump carried by 13 points.

“Those districts were gerrymandered to absorb Democrats,” said Matt Angle, a veteran Democratic strategist who has been involved in Texas redistricting fights for two decades. “There are some of these congressional districts that Beto defined as more in play than any of us thought. … Those exurban areas are getting away from them.”

Turns out it’s a lot easier to draw yourself a bunch of “safe” districts when you’ve got a 15-20 point cushion in statewide voting. Also turns out an uncomfortable number of those districts aren’t so safe when the state as a whole becomes competitive. As Dave Wasserman notes, the GOP will probably have to draw another safe Dem Congressional district in Central Texas just to soak up Democratic votes that are now imperiling multiple incumbents. The 2020 election may complicate things further, especially if the Dems can demonstrate that this year was not a fluke but a step towards even higher ground. Regardless, the strategic question is going to be the main driver of the action. Do the Republicans aim for the maximum again, and risk a future wipeout should the tide rise again, or do they hunker down and shore up what they have at the expense of adding to it? I have a hard time seeing them be pragmatic, but you never know. In the meantime, let’s make that decision as hard as we can for them.

(Yes, I’m assuming the Republicans will have full control over the redistricting process. It’s possible the Dems could take over the State House in 2020, but the Senate is out of reach, as there aren’t enough competitive seats on the ballot then, and of course the statewides are in place through 2022. Whether via the Lege or the Legislative Redistricting Board, one way or another they’ll be drawing the maps.)

(Also, too: What are the two GOP-held districts that Trump carried but Beto won? Seems likely from context that one is CD24, but what’s the other? CD23 was carried by Hillary, so it’s not that. We’ll know once the statewide numbers are published, but I’m more than a little annoyed the story didn’t provide that tidbit.)

Endorsement watch: Incumbency is no advantage, part 1

A trio of Congressional endorsements, beginning with Steven David in CD08:

Steven David

A Democratic candidate hasn’t run for the 8th Congressional District since 2012, so no doubt this will be an uphill battle. Nevertheless, voters should back challenger Steven David for this sizable north Houston seat, which stretches north from The Woodlands to Trinity, Houston, Grimes, Madison and the southern half of Leon County.

David, 34, is a Houston City Hall staffer who has focused on rooting out waste and abuse in local government. He’s running to ensure that Congress protects the best parts of the Affordable Care Act, including guaranteed coverage for maternity and newborn care, and chronic disease management.

For David, health care is a personal matter. He and his wife were foster parents of an infant child whose mother had done ecstasy, a methamphetamine, while pregnant. The baby was born with digestive and skin problems and needed routine medical care. However, the Medicaid program that paid to help keep the infant healthy and alive would have been cut under 11-term incumbent U.S. Rep. Kevin Brady’s plan to repeal and replace the ACA, David told us.

That’s why he jumped into this race.

He also wants to expand student loan forgiveness programs and improve government efficiency — similar to his job at City Hall. It’s a solid agenda worth endorsing.

What really convinced us, however, is a quote from President Lyndon Johnson.

After the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, the newly ascendant Johnson made it his top priority to pass Kennedy’s civil rights bill. When his aides tried to dissuade him from pursuing such a politically risky agenda, he replied, “Well, what the hell is the presidency for?”

We find ourselves asking a similar question about the chairmanship of the House Ways and Means Committee.

The Chron notes that they have regularly endorsed incumbent Rep. Kevin Brady – you will note that this is a recurring theme – but have had enough from someone who had a lot of power to do good and has chosen instead to use that power for provincial partisan interests. As they said, what good is being powerful if you don’t use it well? (See also Lizzie Fletcher’s argument against Appropriations Committee member John Culberson.)

Next, MIke Siegel in CD10:

Mike Siegel

Consider us impressed with a campaign that fought for and succeeded in protecting voting rights even before winning an election.

This is a tough call because we’re fans of incumbent U.S. Rep. Mike McCaul, but in this race Siegel has our endorsement.

An assistant city attorney in Austin, Siegel, 40, wants to strengthen the Affordable Care Act, though he told us ideally he’d prefer single-payer health care.

He thinks the federal government has failed to make the proper investments in flood control infrastructure. That includes a coastal storm surge protection at the Port of Houston, which is outside his district but, as he recognizes, is key to the national economy. He’s also pushing for a pragmatic immigration plan similar to the 2013 bipartisan Senate bill.

Siegel has a specific focus on helping the rural parts of this district. He pointed to preventing rural hospitals from closing and expanding high-speed Internet access outside cities. Overall he’s running on a New Deal-style policy and wants to see the return of national public works projects.

The Chron noted their recent endorsements of McCaul, then called him out for remaining silent while Donald Trump has made a mockery of foreign policy. “He wouldn’t put up with what he’s tolerating from Trump if Barack Obama were still president,” they conclude. Hard to argue with that.

Last but certainly not least, Dayna Steele in CD36:

Dayna Steele

Steele has a contagious energy, impressive fundraising and undeniable communication skills that has some political observers looking at this typically deep-red district with renewed interest. She also has the ability to get [David] Crosby and [Melissa] Etheridge to show up for campaign concerts, which has classic rock fans paying attention.

She’s running against two-term incumbent Brian Babin, who has thorough experience in local government, including time as mayor of Woodville. He’s a dentist for his day job. In Congress he chairs the Space Subcommittee of the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology and in that role is getting more money for manned space flight, the Johnson Space Center’s specialty.

We like Babin and were particularly glad when he helped a space program that has been somewhat adrift, which explains why we have endorsed him before. But he’s on the wrong side of too many issues, including the complete pass he gave Trump for his sleazy personal behavior.

“I don’t think anyone thought Trump was going to be a saint,” he told us.

Maybe not, but we like Steele’s policy proposals and her focus on how the government can and should help people who don’t live in major economic centers. It’s a reminder of why New Deal Democrats were popular in Texas for so many years.

Wasting one’s power, remaining silent when speaking up was needed, and just plain being wrong. Those are three good reasons to not support candidates. Having three good alternative options sure helps a lot, too. And for good measure, throw in the DMN’s endorsement of Mike Collier for Lite Guv, for which all three of those reasons apply. My interview with Steven David is here, with Mike Siegel is here, and with Dayna Steele is here. All three are decided underdogs (Siegel slightly less so than the others), but at least the voters have a real choice in each of those races.

Who wants to protect our voting systems from hackers?

You would hope the answer to that question would be “everyone”, but that’s not the world we currently live in.

A bipartisan group of 21 state attorneys general are demanding Congress’ assistance in protecting the 2018 election. Writing to Rep. Michael McCaul, chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee and Sen. Roy Blunt, Senate Rules and Administration Committee Chairman, the AGs ask for “assistance in shoring up our systems so that we may protect our elections from foreign attacks and interference.”

“As the latest investigations and indictments make clear,” they write “during the 2016 election, hackers within Russia’s military intelligence service not only targeted state and local election boards, but also successfully invaded a state election website to steal the sensitive information of approximately 500,000 American voters and infiltrated a company that supplies voting software across the United States.” Combatting that incursion and giving the electorate “confidence in our democratic voting process” is “imperative,” they write. “The integrity of the nation’s voting infrastructure is a bipartisan issue, and one that affects not only the national political landscape, but elections at the state, county, municipal, and local levels.”

Their direct demands: “Prioritizing and acting on election-security legislation” in the form of the Secure Elections Act (S.2261), a bipartisan bill that would provide additional grants and assistance to states to shore up systems; “Increasing funding for the Election Assistance Commission to support election security improvements at the state level and to protect the personal data of the voters of our states”; and, “Supporting the development of cybersecurity standards for voting systems to prevent potential future foreign attacks.”

You can see the very reasonable letter here. Seems simple and straightforward, no? You can also see that none of those AGs are Ken Paxton. Maybe that’s why he doesn’t want to debate – he doesn’t want to get asked pesky questions about that sort of thing.

Will we spend on some flood mitigation projects?

Maybe. We’ll see.

In the wake of Hurricane Harvey, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick is calling for the construction of flood control infrastructure in the Houston area — things he said should have been built “decades and decades ago” — including a coastal barrier to protect the region from deadly storm surge.

“We need more levees. We need more reservoirs. We need a coastal barrier,” Patrick said late last week during an interview with Fox News Radio. “These are expensive items and we’re working with [U.S. Sens. John] Cornyn and [Ted] Cruz and our congressional delegation to … get this right. We’ve had three now major floods in three years — nothing at this level but major floods.”

The need is particularly pressing because of the state’s rapid population growth, Patrick added, noting that “a lot of that growth is around the Houston area.” And he said the billions in federal aid that Texas is poised to receive presents an opportunity for Texas “to really rebuild and do things that, quite frankly, should have been done decades and decades ago.”

[…]

State Sen. Paul Bettencourt said U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul is seeking $320 million to build another reservoir that would take pressure off Addicks and Barker. That’s exciting, Bettencourt said, because the Austin Republican “can lift more than the average congressman” as chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee.

McCaul’s office didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. But last week during a meeting with officials in Katy, he described such a project as “long-term” and said he has discussed funding with Gov. Greg Abbott, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, according to a Houston Chronicle report.

“We need to look at long-term solutions from an infrastructure standpoint,” he said.

None of it will be covered by the $15 billion short-term relief aid relief package Congress has approved for Texas, and it remains to be seen whether Congress will pay for any flood-control infrastructure projects in Texas.

As the man once said, show me the money. What we have here is state officials talking about getting Congress to spend some money on projects here. There’s no indication of willingness to spend any state funds, which among other things would raise ticklish questions about how to pay for them (*). Maybe this Congress is willing to do that, and maybe it’s not. Let’s just say that the track record is not encouraging.

(*) You may recall that in 2013, voters approved a constitutional amendment to fund a water infrastructure fund that among other things could be used to build reservoirs. The idea of this fund, which came on the heels of the devastating drought of 2011, was to make more water available for cities and industry, but I see no reason why it couldn’t be tapped for something like a flood-mitigation reservoir. I don’t know the specifics of the legislation, and frankly I haven’t heard much about this, the SWIFT fund, since its approval. As such, I may be mistaken in what it can and cannot be used for. But at the very least, it seems like a decent starting point for discussion.

So who might run for Cornyn’s Senate seat?

The short answer is “pretty much anyone”, but there are several names that are on top of everyone’s list of imagined candidates.

Big John Cornyn

At least three members of the U.S. House are mulling a run for a possible U.S. Senate vacancy, should President Donald Trump appoint U.S. Sen. John Cornyn as the new FBI director.

U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul, an Austin Republican, is one of those hopefuls for the would-be vacancy, along with Democratic U.S. Reps. Joaquin Castro of San Antonio and Beto O’Rourke of El Paso.

“McCaul has put himself in a good position to be toward the top of the list of people who might succeed Sen. Cornyn,” a source close to McCaul told The Texas Tribune. “He’s built statewide name recognition and a political effort that could be quickly turned on for a statewide campaign for Senate.”

There was a similar readout on the Democratic side.

“If there’s a special election called, Joaquin would strongly consider that,” a source close to Castro told the Tribune of a would-be Senate vacancy.

“He’s already running for Senate, and … if an election came up for a Texas [U.S.] Senate [seat] before that, he would undoubtedly look at it,” a source close to O’Rourke told the Tribune. “There’s no question he would take a look at it.”

O’Rourke is currently running against U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, as the junior senator aims for a second term in 2018. The O’Rourke source did not elaborate on what these deliberations might mean for the 2018 race.

See here for the background, and remember that this is all Wild Speculation. As I said before, this would be a free shot for any incumbent, so of course it makes sense for Joaquin Castro to look at it. The same is true for Beto O’Rourke, who can argue he’s already running a Senate campaign now, so he’d have a leg up. I would have a preference for Castro in this case, in part to ensure that we still have someone to run against Ted Cruz next year, but the main consideration would be having just one of them in and not both. This is because a race like this will almost certainly go to a runoff, and the odds of having a Dem in the runoff are better with one consensus candidate among a gaggle of Republicans than more than one Dem splitting the vote. Again, we are getting way ahead of ourselves, and it’s not like anyone can stop someone from running if they want to, but if it were up to me we’d have Joaquin Castro in the race with Beto O’Rourke staying focused on 2018.

How all that activism is being received

Texas Monthly looks at the recent spate of rallies and visits to Texas elected officials’ events and offices to see what’s up.

John Simpson and Mark Leech had never participated in a protest before last month. In fact, the couple—who got married in Temple last June—wasn’t particularly political before the 2016 election. They became concerned, though, that there would be new challenges to their marriage as Donald Trump began issuing executive orders (there have been reports that the administration is drafting an order on religious freedom, which concerns Simpson and Leech). Simpson was also concerned about Trump’s appointed Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, the border wall, and the suggestion of new tariffs on Mexican imports. And so, together, they started making phone calls. A friend told Simpson to call his senators, but when he tried, he kept getting a busy signal. Then, when the couple learned that Texas U.S. Senator John Cornyn would be speaking at the Temple Chamber of Commerce on Friday, January 27—as the keynote speaker at the annual Salute to Business banquet—they decided to show up in person to voice their concerns.

They weren’t alone, either. They were joined by their neighbors in the community—the Bell County Democratic Party, an older man in a suit and tie with a sign that read “This Is What A Liberal Looks Like,” a retired National Guard member—and by dozens of people from Austin and Waco. All told, there were about seventy people waiting outside the Temple Convention Center that evening, starting around 4:30 in the evening and sticking around until seven, waiting for their Senator to arrive and chanting slogans like “What do we want? A town hall! When do we want it? Now!” and “Pick up your phone!”

The demonstration wasn’t made up of seasoned activists and full-time ax-grinders; there were college students in the crowd, but also retirees. “We’re the moderates,” the retired National Guard member explained. Simpson, who voted for Cornyn in 2014, said, “I didn’t know what to expect. This is my first protest.”

Cornyn. Ted Cruz, and Mike McCaul get most of the attention in the story, which is worth your time to read. I’ve been kind of amazed by the number of people I know who have been energetically calling and rallying people to call over this bill or that confirmation hearing – Betsy DeVos was a particular point of interest – these past few weeks. Many of them were not visibly active in politics before this. More than a few are people whose political orientation had been unknown to me before now. It may well be that all of this burns itself out at some point – November of 2018 is a long way off, and there are going to be far more losses than wins in the interim, given the current nature of Congress and the Capitol – but it’s equally plausible that the energy we’re seeing now builds on itself, with real infrastructure emerging to sustain it. I have believed all along that the political climate in 2018 will be different than what it was in 2010 and 2014. This has been mostly predicated on the sense that Republican voters won’t have the unifying villain of Barack Obama in the White House and will have to deal with their own inevitable disappointment in their elected heroes and their feet of clay. It’s clear there’s another side to that coin, where Democrats have the bulk of the enthusiasm. If this continues – and let’s be clear, it may not; see above about how far off the next election is – then we could be in for quite the year next year. In the meantime, keep calling and showing up. It’s working.

Beto O’Rourke talking about the Senate

Another Democratic Congressman is thinking about trying for an upgrade.

Rep. Beto O'Rourke

Rep. Beto O’Rourke

U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke, an El Paso Democrat, told The Texas Tribune he is considering running for the U.S. Senate.

“I am,” the sophomore congressman said when Tribune CEO Evan Smith asked if O’Rourke is thinking about running for Senate in 2018 or 2020.

U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz is up for re-election in 2018, while John Cornyn, the U.S. Senate majority whip, will be up for re-election and a fourth term in 2020.

“Am I looking at one of those two races? Yes,” O’Rourke said Friday, but he declined to specify whether he would challenge Cornyn or Cruz.

[…]

O’Rourke is a fierce advocate for term limits. So much so, that he has repeatedly promised to leave office after four terms. That would put the end of his U.S. House career in 2021.

It is still an open question whether Democrats can mount a statewide campaign in Texas, where they haven’t won a statewide race since 1994. But O’Rourke is no stranger to uphill challenges: He ousted long-term U.S. Rep. Silvestre Reyes, a fellow Democrat, in 2012.

In Washington, O’Rourke is viewed as young, liberal and an independent player within his party’s caucus in the U.S. House.

The El Paso Democrat also has a knack for drawing national attention. Last summer, his Facebook page went viral as he live-streamed an impromptu U.S. House chamber “sit-in” for gun control from his iPhone. For hours, he broadcasted the events from the House floor, switching out batteries, to the point that when the protest ended, he joked about hand injuries.

The single most consequential factor in any Senate candidacy is an ability to fundraise. In his time running congressional campaigns, O’Rourke proved able but not overly dominant at the task.

Typically, he has brought in in the mid-six figures for his re-election. He topped out in his challenge to Reyes with about $700,000 raised.

I drafted this before Tuesday, so who knows if this is still operative, but let’s proceed as if it is. As we know, Rep. Joaquin Castro has also talked about running for Senate in 2018 against Cruz. I still have plenty of doubts about that given that he inhabits a safe seat and is on track for House Caucus leadership, but he continues to lay some groundwork for that. It’s nice to know people are at least thinking about it.

As for O’Rourke, I’ve had no complaints with his service in Congress. I think term limits are a crock, but if he himself wants out after a max of four terms, and if that desire has him thinking about higher office, I can’t argue with that. His fundraising in 2012 got a big boost from a group called the Campaign for Primary Accountability that took aim at several Congressional incumbents of both parties that they thought needed to be ousted; O’Rourke’s defeat of then-Rep. Silvestre Reyes was their biggest victory. I’ve not heard anything from this group since 2012, but O’Rourke (who has some family money as well) can stand on his own two feet, and would no doubt draw at least some national attention if he went after Cruz. That gun control sit-in will help him with the Democratic grassroots as well.

As for which Senate race O’Rourke should aim for if indeed he aims to move up, I can make a case for either one. Cruz has more detractors and could be vulnerable to losing some establishment Republican types for his constant grandstanding and lack of interest in any state issues, but we know off-year electorates have been rough on Dems. Of course, that may not be the case now – there’s at least a chance that 2018 could be more like 2006 than 2010 or 2014. Cornyn should have no trouble holding onto core Republican support and he hasn’t antagonized minority groups like Cruz has. At this point, who knows if 2018 or 2020 will be a better year for a Dem to run. If I were a classic back-room power broker, I’d tell Castro to run in 2018 and O’Rourke in 2020. I don’t have that kind of power, so I’ll just have to wait and see what they decide like everyone else.

(Rep. Mike McCaul, who has been busy lately buttressing his GOP primary credentials for his own possible run against Cruz in 2018. This could wind up being a very interesting race.)

Endorsement watch: The Congress you expect

The Chron makes the most predictable endorsements of the season, for Congress. Here’s Part 1:

United States Representative, District 2: Ted Poe

Consider this not just an endorsement for Ted Poe, but also heartfelt support as the six-term congressman recovers from treatment for leukemia. A former criminal district judge known for his creative sentences and shaming tactics, Poe has cut a niche for himself as a dedicated public servant who is leading the fight against sex trafficking and who listens to the constituents of his sprawling district, which spirals around from Atascocita through west Harris County, northwest Houston, Montrose and Southampton.

United States Representative, District 7: James Cargas

John Culberson didn’t receive our endorsement in the contested Republican primary, and we don’t plan on changing our minds for the general election. But this showdown will be Democrat James Cargas’ third attempt to replace the eight-term Republican congressman, and, frankly, it is starting to get a bit repetitive.

United States Representative, District 9: Al Green

If you’re worried about flooding in Houston, then Al Green is your man in Washington. Over the past year, he’s been working with his fellow Democrats, and across the aisle with Republicans, to push a bill that would prioritize federal spending on Houston’s bayous. Now in his six-term, Green has inserted similar language into the must-pass Water Resources Development Act of 2016. Don’t expect any of this to make major headlines, but if it ends up in the final bill, it will save homes and lives in our swampy city. Green’s goal-oriented, dedicated attitude deserves praise – and re-election – from voters.

United States Representative,District 10: Michael T. McCaul

Over his six terms in Congress, Michael T. McCaul has distinguished himself as a steely and smart leader on foreign policy. As chairman of the Homeland Security Committee, the former federal prosecutor is on path to become the Republican face of international relations and national security. His sprawling district, which extends between Houston and Austin suburbs, grants him a certain luxury of being able to focus on these national and international issues.

And here’s Part 2:

United States Representative, District 14: Randy Weber

We agree with Randy Weber on one thing: There may be no congressman in the Texas delegation who has a more important district. His territory, which stretches from the Louisiana border to an area just west of Freeport, covers a mix of precious but vulnerable wetlands in addition to five key ports.

United States Representative, District 29: Gene Green

Gene Green is frustrated with the Affordable Care Act. More specifically, the 12-term Democratic congressman is frustrated that Congress won’t try to improve it.

“Any law that you ever pass, you typically go back to it and fix it,” Green told the editorial board. “We haven’t had that opportunity. In the last six years, they’ve tried to repeal it 60-plus times.”

Representing a largely Hispanic and blue-collar district that circles from north Houston around through Pasadena and east Houston, Green puts his focus on those meat-and-potato issues that help keep his constituents healthy and the Port of Houston humming.

United States Representative, District 18: Sheila Jackson Lee

“Sheila Jackson Lee is stalking me.”

Those are the words of John Podesta, Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman, courtesy of Wikileaks. He was complaining that Houston’s own Jackson Lee wanted to be “involved in everything” and wouldn’t stop hounding him about Clinton accepting the Barbara Jordan Medallion for Service at Texas Southern University.

Whether you call it tenacity or stalking, it worked: Clinton showed up in person at TSU to receive the award.

United States Representative, District 22: Pete Olson

Incumbent Pete Olson did not meet with the Houston Chronicle editorial board, but he nonetheless earned our endorsement over his Democratic challenger, Mark Gibson.

I was going to say something about this, but it’s too boring. Move along, nothing to see here.

Endorsement watch: Let your conscience be your guide

That Ted Cruz sure does stay firm to his principles, doesn’t he?

Not Ted Cruz

Not Ted Cruz

U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz endorsed Donald Trump on Friday after months of withholding his support from the Republican presidential nominee who defeated him in the primaries.

“After many months of careful consideration, of prayer and searching my own conscience, I have decided that on Election Day, I will vote for the Republican nominee, Donald Trump,” Cruz said in a statement released to The Texas Tribune.

Cruz’s support coincided with Trump’s decision to release a list of additional people he would appoint to the U.S. Supreme Court as president. On the list was U.S. Sen. Mike Lee of Utah, a close Cruz ally and another Trump holdout.

“Our country is in crisis. Hillary Clinton is manifestly unfit to be president, and her policies would harm millions of Americans. And Donald Trump is the only thing standing in her way,” Cruz said in the statement. “A year ago, I pledged to support the Republican nominee, and I will honor that commitment.”

In the heat of the pair’s feud in late July, Trump proclaimed that he had no interest in winning the backing of the man he called Lyin’ Ted. “I don’t want his endorsement,” Trump said. “If he gives it, I will not accept it.”

Trump shifted gears in a brief statement after Cruz’s announcement.

“I am greatly honored by the endorsement of Senator Cruz,” the statement said. “We have fought the battle and he was a tough and brilliant opponent. I look forward to working with him for many years to come in order to make America great again.”

Cruz’s endorsement is an astonishing reversal. Since he dropped out of the race in May, Cruz has declined to express any support for a Trump presidency — including during a speech at the Republican National Convention that caused an uproar and cast uncertainty over Cruz’s political future.

Those two are just made for each other, aren’t they? There’s so much more I could say, but for now let me go with this:

Boy, nobody tells Ted Cruz what to do. He just can’t be pushed around by anyone. Don’t mind me, I’m just going to be laughing my head off all weekend. The Trib, the Current, and Erica Greider, who probably needs a drink, have more.

Taking on Ted

Rep. Mike McCaul isn’t saying that he will, but he isn’t saying that he won’t, either.

Not Ted Cruz

Not Ted Cruz

U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Austin, is not ruling out challenging U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, in 2018, but he’s emphasizing that he is not focused on it for now.

“Like Reagan said, never say never, but it’s not something I’m spending a whole lot of time thinking about right now,” McCaul told reporters Wednesday in Austin.

McCaul, the House Homeland Security Committee chairman, has been encouraged to take on Cruz following the Texas senator’s controversial showing last month at the Republican National Convention, where Cruz declined to endorse GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump. Speaking with reporters at a book signing, McCaul acknowledged that “a lot of people” have urged him to challenge Cruz and said he was flattered by their support, but stressed he has nothing to do with the effort.

“It’s, I think, been sort of organic, an effort to draft, if you will,” said McCaul, who is advising Trump on national security. “But right now I’m really focused on my re-election to the Congress. I’m focused on advising the nominee to regain the White House and also maintaining a majority in the House of Representatives, which is critically important to the nation.”

Asked whether he has been satisfied with Cruz’s tenure in the Senate, McCaul said Cruz has “for the most part spent a lot of time running for president.”

“I think he also represents the state of Texas in the Senate,” McCaul told reporters. “I think that’s an important job as well, and so I think the presidential campaign’s over and it’s time to — I think governance is important. I think in Washington getting things for the great people of Texas done is an important job.”

Pressed on whether he was suggesting Cruz has not always been focused on Texas, McCaul replied, “Again, I think he’s been focused on his ambition running for president.”

Nice. The Trib reported on this chatter before, and I’ll say what I was thinking at the time – it’s nice to imagine, but I’ll believe it when I see it. Like Rep. Joaquin Castro, who is also considering a challenge to Cruz in 2018, McCaul would have to give up his seat in Congress to try to take the step up. That’s not nothing, especially given that McCaul, now in his seventh term, has accrued some seniority. He’s also filthy rich, so if he decides he’s in he’d be able to pay for it, regardless of how fundraising goes. PPP has some not-terribly-encouraging news for both of them, slightly better for Castro than McCaul though I personally wouldn’t put too much stock in anything 2018-related at this early date. Maybe McCaul could win, and maybe he couldn’t – “moderate” Republicans do still win primaries in this state, though that’s a proposition I’m seldom willing to wager on. Whatever the case, it’s best to recall that “moderate” here is relative. McCaul would almost certainly be John Cornyn 2.0 if elected to the Senate, right down to his Cornynesque executive-style hair. Temper your expectations accordingly.

State strikes out again on Syrian refugees

0 for 2 and counting.

A judge on Wednesday denied a renewed attempt by Texas officials to block nine Syrian refugees from entering the state, describing the state’s safety concerns as “largely speculative hearsay.”

“The (state) has failed to show by competent evidence that any terrorists actually have infiltrated the refugee program, much less that these particular refugees are terrorists intent on causing harm,” U.S. District Judge David Godbey wrote in the two-page ruling.

The ruling came just hours after Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton filed a request for an emergency order blocking the nine refugees — a couple and their six children as well as a woman seeking to be reunited with her mother — who are scheduled to come to Houston.

The request was another stunning about-face for Paxton, who last week withdrew a similar request just two days after filing it.

In a court filing, the Republican said he filed the new motion after hearing two public speeches by U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul, the chairman of the U.S. House Homeland Security Committee and receiving a sworn statement from Texas Department of Public Safety Deputy Director Robert Bodisch.

“Evidence came to light after (a hearing earlier this week) that terrorist organizations have infiltrated the very refugee program that is central to the dispute,” Paxton wrote.

It was unclear if Paxton was only seeking more information about the refugees, as his office said would be his priority going forward, or if he had completely changed his mind and decided to try blocking refugees altogether due to pressure from colleagues such as Gov. Greg Abbott.

See here for the previous update. Lord only knows what was going through Paxton’s head, but it might be interesting if someone asked Mike McCaul, who has been reasonably pragmatic of late, what he thinks of Paxton’s filing. Be that as it may, let’s hope this is the end of it till January. You can see Paxton’s TRO request here, and Judge Godbey’s denial here. The Trib and Trail Blazers have more.

Precinct analysis: Congressional overs and unders

To wrap up my look at 2012 versus 2008 results for all the new districts, here’s how the 36 Congressional districts compared.

Dist McCain Pct Obama08 Pct Romney Pct Obama12 Pct RIdx DIdx ============================================================================== 01 178,520 68.85% 78,918 30.44% 181,833 71.49% 69,857 27.47% 1.04 0.90 02 150,665 61.78% 91,087 37.35% 157,094 62.93% 88,751 35.55% 1.02 0.95 03 165,158 61.46% 100,440 37.37% 175,383 64.16% 93,290 34.13% 1.04 0.91 04 180,772 69.71% 75,910 29.27% 189,455 73.95% 63,521 24.79% 1.06 0.85 05 137,698 61.79% 83,216 37.34% 137,239 64.49% 73,085 34.35% 1.04 0.92 06 148,503 57.03% 109,854 42.19% 146,985 57.87% 103,444 40.72% 1.01 0.97 07 140,692 58.73% 96,866 40.44% 143,631 59.89% 92,499 38.57% 1.02 0.95 08 171,408 73.02% 61,357 26.14% 195,735 76.97% 55,271 21.74% 1.05 0.83 09 44,520 23.42% 144,707 76.12% 39,392 21.15% 145,332 78.01% 0.90 1.02 10 148,867 56.17% 112,866 42.59% 159,714 59.06% 104,839 38.77% 1.05 0.91 11 184,238 75.90% 56,145 23.13% 182,403 79.10% 45,081 19.55% 1.04 0.85 12 161,030 63.61% 89,718 35.44% 166,992 66.77% 79,147 31.65% 1.05 0.89 13 189,600 76.88% 54,855 22.24% 184,090 80.16% 42,518 18.51% 1.04 0.83 14 139,304 57.03% 102,902 42.12% 147,151 59.32% 97,824 39.44% 1.04 0.94 15 61,282 41.84% 83,924 57.3% 62,883 41.48% 86,940 57.35% 0.99 1.00 16 58,764 34.59% 109,387 64.39% 54,315 34.44% 100,993 64.03% 1.00 0.99 17 135,738 57.95% 95,884 40.94% 134,521 60.29% 84,243 37.76% 1.04 0.92 18 45,069 22.89% 150,733 76.57% 44,991 22.81% 150,129 76.11% 1.00 0.99 19 168,553 71.22% 66,122 27.94% 160,060 73.55% 54,451 25.02% 1.03 0.90 20 80,667 40.64% 115,579 58.23% 74,540 39.59% 110,663 58.77% 0.97 1.01 21 178,531 56.42% 133,581 42.21% 188,240 59.76% 119,220 37.85% 1.06 0.90 22 142,073 60.45% 91,137 38.78% 158,452 62.11% 93,582 36.68% 1.03 0.95 23 95,679 49.27% 96,871 49.88% 99,654 50.67% 94,386 47.99% 1.03 0.96 24 152,453 58.41% 105,822 40.54% 150,547 60.42% 94,634 37.98% 1.03 0.94 25 153,998 56.05% 117,402 42.73% 162,278 59.89% 102,433 37.80% 1.07 0.88 26 166,877 64.18% 90,791 34.92% 177,941 67.59% 80,828 30.70% 1.05 0.88 27 133,839 58.95% 91,083 40.12% 131,800 60.46% 83,156 38.15% 1.03 0.95 28 65,066 40.97% 92,557 58.28% 65,372 38.65% 101,843 60.21% 0.94 1.03 29 41,843 37.04% 70,286 62.22% 37,909 32.99% 75,720 65.89% 0.89 1.06 30 47,144 21.07% 175,237 78.33% 43,333 19.64% 175,637 79.61% 0.93 1.02 31 135,601 55.80% 103,359 42.54% 144,634 59.36% 92,842 38.11% 1.06 0.90 32 147,226 55.05% 117,231 43.83% 146,420 56.97% 106,563 41.46% 1.03 0.95 33 40,290 30.64% 90,180 68.57% 32,641 27.09% 86,686 71.93% 0.88 1.05 34 58,707 39.06% 90,178 60.00% 57,303 38.28% 90,885 60.71% 0.98 1.01 35 62,764 35.47% 111,790 63.18% 58,007 34.59% 105,550 62.94% 0.98 1.00 36 165,899 69.45% 70,543 29.53% 175,850 73.05% 61,766 25.66% 1.05 0.87

The main thing that stands out is CD23, which went from plurality Obama in 2008 to a slight majority for Romney in 2012. That means that Rep. Pete Gallego joins State Rep. Craig Eiland and State Sen. Wendy Davis in the exclusive club of candidates who won in a district that their Presidential candidate lost. Not surprisingly, Rep. Gallego is a marked man for 2014. CD23 was one of the more strongly contested districts in the litigation as well as in the election, and it is likely to be modified further no matter what happens to the Voting Rights Act, so Rep. Gallego’s challenge next year may be different than it was this year. He’s clearly up to it, whatever it winds up being. Beyond that, the pattern witnessed elsewhere held here, as blue districts were generally bluer than before, while red districts were redder. Dems can still hope for (eventually) competitive races in CDs 06, 10, and 32, but the task is harder now than it would have been in 2008. As for CD14, you can see that the hurdle was just too high for Nick Lampson. Barring anything improbable, that district is unlikely to repeat as one featuring a race to watch.

One other thing I did in these races was compare the performances of the Congressional candidates with the Presidential candidates in their districts. Here are some of the more interesting results I found:

Dist Romney Pct Obama12 Pct R Cong Pct% D Cong Pct Winner ============================================================================== 02 157,094 62.93% 88,751 35.55% 159,664 64.81% 80,512 32.68% Poe 06 146,985 57.87% 103,444 40.72% 145,019 58.02% 98,053 39.23% Barton 07 143,631 59.89% 92,499 38.57% 142,793 60.80% 85,553 36.43% Culberson 10 159,714 59.06% 104,839 38.77% 159,783 60.51% 95,710 36.25% McCaul 14 147,151 59.32% 97,824 39.44% 131,460 53.47% 109,697 44.62% Weber 20 74,540 39.59% 110,663 58.77% 62,376 33.50% 119,032 63.93% Castro 21 188,240 59.76% 119,220 37.85% 187,015 60.54% 109,326 35.39% L Smith 22 158,452 62.11% 93,582 36.68% 160,668 64.03% 80,203 31.96% Olson 23 99,654 50.67% 94,386 47.99% 87,547 45.55% 96,676 50.30% Gallego 25 162,278 59.89% 102,433 37.80% 154,245 58.44% 98,827 37.44% R Williams 27 131,800 60.46% 83,156 38.15% 120,684 56.75% 83,395 39.21% Farenthold 28 65,372 38.65% 101,843 60.21% 49,309 29.76% 112,456 67.88% Cuellar 31 144,634 59.36% 92,842 38.11% 145,348 61.27% 82,977 34.98% Carter 32 146,420 56.97% 106,563 41.46% 146,653 58.27% 99,288 39.45% Sessions 35 58,007 34.59% 105,550 62.94% 52,894 32.02% 105,626 63.94% Doggett 36 175,850 73.05% 61,766 25.66% 165,405 70.73% 62,143 26.57% Stockman

You can mostly break this down into three groups. The first is the Overacheivers, the Congressional candidates that clearly drew at least some crossover votes. On that list are Reps. Ted Poe, Joaquin Castro, Pete Olson, Pete Gallego, and Henry Cuellar. Olson, one presumes, benefited from being opposed by LaRouchie nutcase Keisha Rogers. We’ll have to wait to see how he’ll do against a normal opponent, which one hopes will be this time around. Castro and Cuellas can point to their numbers as evidence for statewide viability someday, if and when they choose to make such a run. Gallego obviously had to be on this list, or he wouldn’t be Rep. Gallego. I guess the Republicans knew what their were doing when they tried to pull all those shenanigans to protect Quico Canseco, because he really did need the help. As for Ted Poe, I got nothing. He’s not a “moderate”, and he’s not a heavyweight on policy or in bringing home the bacon as far as I know, so I don’t have a ready explanation for his success here. Feel free to share your opinion in the comments.

The second group is what I’d call Tougher Than They Look. Notice how Republican incumbents in the least-red districts suffered no dropoff in support from Romney, while their Democratic opponents did? I’m talking about Reps. Joe Barton, John Culberson, Mike McCaul, Lamar Smith, John Carter, and Pete Sessions; you can also throw Democrat Lloyd Doggett onto the list. Whether by accident or design, these Republicans may be harder to knock off down the line if and when their districts get bluer. Culberson is the oddball in this group, because he greatly underperformed in 2006 and 2008. I suspect he benefited from redistricting, in particular from losing some inner Loop precincts, as well as the general trend away from crossover voting, but we’ll see if this was a one-time thing or not.

Finally, there’s the Underachievers, who lost crossover votes to their opponents. Ex-Rep Quico Canseco is the poster child, but Reps. Randy Weber, Blake Farenthold, and Steve Stockman keep him company. Weber may get a mulligan, since he’s unlikely to face an opponent like Lampson again. Farenthold’s presence is intriguing. He’s a ridiculous person, who won in a fluke year and who needed a lot of help in redistricting, but a look at this result suggests that he just might be vulnerable to the right opponent. If the Battlegound Texas folks want to try some things out on a smaller scale, let me suggest CD27 as a proving ground. Finally, Stockman shows that even in a deep red district, nuttiness has some limits. Too bad it’s not enough to affect a November election, but maybe there’s a chance that a slightly less mortifying Republican could win next March.

If it were good for Travis it would be good elsewhere as well

This article asks if Travis County is better off being split into five different Congressional districts. Seems to me that’s a question that answers itself, but I’ll play along.

The voters and geography of Travis County are split among five congressional districts in the redistricting plan enacted by the Texas Legislature and now adopted in the federal court’s interim plan. Travis County residents do not constitute a majority of the voters in any of these districts.

Some politicians and political consultants spin this result as possibly either depriving Travis County of any effective voice in Congress or enhancing that voice by allowing the county’s voters to have a say on the election of more members of Congress.

Whether the interests of a political group or jurisdiction are better served by being an overwhelming majority in a few districts, or a less important part of many more districts, is one of the oldest disputes in redistricting. There is no answer that is correct for all circumstances.

[…]

This splitting of Travis County among five congressional districts in 2011 was clearly intended to dilute, not enhance, the effect of the county’s voters (especially Democrats) and to target Democratic U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett of Austin for defeat. These objectives are not surprising for a Republican-controlled Legislature, because Travis County is the only major Texas county in which a majority of non-Hispanic white people continue to vote consistently for Democratic candidates, and Doggett is seen by many Republican lawmakers as a partisan troublemaker.

By contrast, the Legislature kept intact heavily Republican counties, such as Collin, Denton and Fort Bend. Each is less populated than Travis County, but each in the new plan has a congressional district wholly in the county or has an overwhelming majority of voters in a congressional district.

However, redistricting voters is always a net-sum game. By attempting to dilute Travis County voters by dividing them among many districts, the Texas Legislature also may have ultimately increased the number of districts in which candidates from Travis County (including Democrats) can be successful if propelled by unexpected political winds.

The voters of Travis County cannot necessarily elect the person of their choice in any new congressional district, but there is not another population center outside Travis County that clearly dominates most of the districts.

For example, Travis County residents’ share of Congressional District 21 increased to more than 27 percent in the new redistricting plan, while Bexar County residents’ share fell from 53 percent to 36 percent. Travis County residents’ share of District 10 (35 percent) is now slightly less than before, but the other population center, Harris County, has seen a much greater reduction, from 46 percent to 35.

In other words, the new plan favors U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul of Austin by keeping many Harris County Republicans in District 10 while also reducing the possibility that he will face a strong opponent from Harris County. But this change also makes District 10 more winnable by a Travis County Democrat.

Seems pretty clear to me that if being sliced and diced like a Sunday ham were beneficial, the Lege would have done it to the Republican strongholds as well – Denton, Collin, Williamson, and Montgomery. But no – Montgomery is entirely within CD08 and Williamson in CD31, while nearly all of Denton is in CD26. Collin has three districts in it, but that includes all of CD03. In each case, you can be sure that the representative from those districts is from that county. If Travis County is lucky, CDs 10 and 35 will be from there, but those two districts combine for only 45% of the county’s population; if Rep. Lloyd Doggett loses, only 24% of Travis County will be represented by someone from there. Which would you prefer? Note that if Rep. Mike McCaul steps down, it could just as easily be the case that not a single member of Congress from these five districts is from Travis. Like I said, the question pretty much answers itself.

Can you feel the McCaul-mentum?

You know what the race for the Republican nomination for Senate is missing? Another rich old white right-winger.

Four-term U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul, one of the wealthiest members of the U.S. House, is burnishing his conservative credentials and taking stock of fundraising prospects as he mulls a bid to succeed retiring U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison.

McCaul, a Republican whose district stretches from Austin to the Houston suburbs, would face a daunting task: The Texas political landscape is littered with hopefuls who lost attempts to parlay one of the state’s 32 House seats into a Senate seat.

The last lawmaker to achieve the rare transition was Republican Phil Gramm, who served three terms in the House before winning a Senate seat in 1984.

[…]

McCaul has a trump card that could help offset some disadvantages: a family fortune worth an estimated $294 million, thanks to holdings by his wife, Linda Mays McCaul, daughter of Clear Channel Communications founder Lowry Mays.

According to allies familiar with his deliberations, if McCaul decides to enter the race, he initially would rely on a sizable personal check to demonstrate his seriousness to prospective donors. McCaul has self-financed parts of past congressional campaigns, contributing $2.2 million of the $7.7 million raised for his four House campaigns.

“McCaul’s entry would dramatically change the dynamics of the Senate race,” says Rice University scholar Mark Jones. His wealth would enable the latecomer to quickly match Dewhurst in statewide television advertising and campaign organization, “neutralizing Dewhurst’s principal advantages – his large war chest and high-level of name recognition,” Jones says.

Okay, mcCaul is only 49, so it’s a little unfair to call him old. I’m sure he’s at least as qualified to empathize with ordinary Texans, the kind who don’t have nine-figure wealth, as the rest of the rich guys in the race.

Snark aside, I think Professor Jones is overstating the likely effect of McCaul’s millions. The universe of voters that McCaul would have to court is relatively small, probably no more than a million. Quite a few of them are probably already committed to, or at least leaning to, a candidate. I don’t know how much running nonstop ads on TV will do to move the needle for him. The irony is that McCaul won the primary for CD10 in 2004 against an opponent who saturated the airwaves for weeks on end. I have no idea why he’d want to give up a safe seat in Congress for the chance to play million dollar craps for the Senate, but whatever. He’ll have plenty of money to console himself with if he loses.

Interview with Ted Ankrum

Ted Ankrum

Not a whole lot of Congressional action in Harris County this year, as no Democrat ran in CDs 02, 07, and arguably 22. The one race to watch is in CD10, where Ted Ankrum takes another crack at Rep. Mike McCaul. Ankrum had previously run in 2006, where his modestly funded campaign showed that the district was potentially competitive, as McCaul topped out at 55%. With a signature local issue to focus on as well as all of the national stuff we’re familiar with, there was a lot to talk about. Here’s the interview:

Download the MP3 file

You can find a list of all interviews for this cycle on the 2010 Elections page.

Sealy’s uncertain future

After BAE Systems officially lost the Army truck deal, the city of Sealy and the surrounding Austin County are pondering what the effect will be.

The impending loss or transformation of its largest employer will have a staggering effect on Sealy, stripping away jobs and tax revenue and stunning business owners and residents who know the 3,200 plant workers as clients and as neighbors.

[…]

BAE is working to find a new contract, but local officials aren’t expecting to see anything as lucrative as the one that’s being lost. “There’s going to be some job loss. We’re hoping to keep 1,500 to 1,800 of those workers,” said Mayor Nick Tirey. “If we could keep 2,000, that would be wonderful.”

At City Hall — where a picture of a sand-colored military truck hangs on the wall, larger than the mayor’s portrait — officials are scrambling to offset their losses.

BAE’s taxes pumped more than $1.2 million into the Sealy school district last year, along with $216,000 to the city, home to about 6,000, and $352,000 to the county, with a population of about 23,000.

I wish them well, and I don’t envy them the task of trying to figure out how to pay for their schools and roads and police and whatnot with a big reduction in that tax revenue. It’ll be interesting to see how State Rep. Lois Kolkhorst and State Sen. Glenn Hegar try to respond to the area’s increased level of need. More to the point, if they do take action to help alleviate Austin County’s situation, it’ll be interesting to see if they then get primaried in 2012 for not being conservative enough.

Speaking of getting help from the government:

David Vrablec, whose grandmother moved to Sealy in the 1960s when it was still a small farming community, believes the town will move toward a more commercial and industrial future — as soon as it shakes itself from its current slump.

“Sealy’s already taken two hits this last year: We’ve lost two car dealerships,” said Vrablec, who works for the Austin County Sheriff’s Office and whose wife works at Bellville General Hospital. “Everybody’s going to be affected, from the flower shop to the hair salon, and eventually the hospital, because no one will have insurance.”

Well, then, I suggest that Dave Vrablec and everyone he knows call up their Congressman and tell him that he really needs to vote for the Democratic health care reform bill when it comes to the floor of the House, as that will help folks like these who have lost their health insurance. It’s pretty much a no-brainer, really, and it might even help make up for his earlier lack of focus.

One last thing:

City officials have high hopes for a proposed 71-acre commercial development along Interstate 10, which they believe will employ residents and attract travelers to shop at big box stores and smaller retailers.

But the last major retail development sits empty on the other side of the highway. Its facades, erected in 1995, are still fresh-looking but almost entirely empty.

That refers to the Sealy Outlet Center, which I was unsurprised to learn as I wrote this post is pretty much dead. I guess if you’re in the Houston area and you’re going to head west to do some bargain hunting, you’ll probably exit the freeway at Katy Mills. There’s no other nearby population center, so this one’s demise wasn’t hard to see coming. I suppose Sealy Outlet Center 2.0 could be badass enough to entice people to drive that extra 20 miles west, but I have my doubts.

Ankrum explains why he’s running again in CD10

Go read it. Ted’s a good guy, and he’ll do an honorable job on the trail. He’s unlikely to have anything like the resources Jack McDonald had, and as such he’s unlikely to be on anyone’s radar, but he’s worth supporting however you can. Thanks, Ted.

No re-run for LJD

As we know, Jack McDonald has backed out of running for CD10 next year, which left the Democrats without a candidate for that race. For a few minutes, it looked like 2008 candidate Larry Joe Doherty might be ready to gear it up again. Mean Rachel, who was a big supporter of LJD’s candidacy in 2008, reported that he was thinking about it – as he put it in an email to her, “You may tell all interested that I’m interested.” Unfortunately, that was followed up by another email saying he had decided against it. Barring a late surprise, that means incumbent Mike McCaul will get a free pass, which is a damn shame. (For those of you wondering about the other 2008 Democratic hopeful from CD10, Dan Grant released a statement just before Christmas saying he would not be running, as he and his wife are expecting their first child shortly.) Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but that’s how it looks.

McDonald decides against running in CD10

This is a big surprise.

Democrat Jack McDonald, who was going to challenge Republican incumbent Mike McCaul for District 10, will no longer be running for the seat. He never filed.

McDonald’s press release is beneath the fold. I’m stunned by this because McDonald had been very successful at fundraising, and had over $800K in the bank as of the third quarter reporting deadline. I confess I’m too cynical to take an announcement like this at face value, but I’m not sufficiently plugged into the Travis County scene to know any more about what may have been going on. If anyone knows some details, please leave a comment. BOR has more.

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BAE gets a reprieve from the GAO

The Government Accountability Office has set aside the Army’s decision to award a $2.6 billion contract to build combat trucks to Oshkosh Systems, giving at least a temporary victory to BAE Systems of Sealy, which currently has that contract.

Michael R. Golden, GAO’s managing associate general counsel for procurement law, announced that his agency had “sustained or upheld the protests” lodged by BAE Systems and Navistar, rivals for the contract that had been awarded to Oshkosh Corp. “The Army’s evaluation (of the contract proposals) was flawed with regard to the evaluation of Oshkosh’s proposal.”

Golden said GAO recommended that the Army “make a new selection decision.”

The official added: “We also recommended that if at the conclusion of the re-evaluation Oshkosh is not found to offer the best value, the agency should terminate Oshkosh’s contract for the convenience of the government.”

Background on this story is here, here, and here. A statement from BAE Systems is beneath the fold. It must be noted that this doesn’t mean BAE will retain the contract. It just simply means the Army needs to take another look at how it made its decision and have another go at it.

The GAO decision is limited in scope and does not recommend that the Army reopen the competition for the truck contract, but rather reevaluate the bids the three companies originally submitted. It says the Army should reevaluate the three bids based on the “capability factor,” and also that it should conduct a new evaluation of Navistar’s past performance on contracts.

The GAO denied BAE’s challenge regarding the evaluation of Oshkosh’s price.

“Our review of the record led us to conclude that the Army’s evaluation was flawed with regard to the evaluation of Oshkosh’s proposal under the capability evaluation factor, and the evaluation of Navistar’s past performance,” Michael Golden, GAO’s managing associate general counsel for procurement law, said in a statement.

“We also denied a number of Navistar’s and BAE’s challenges to the award to Oshkosh, including challenges to the evaluation of Oshkosh’s price,” Golden said.

After the Army reevaluates based on GAO’s recommendations it would have to issue a new solicitation decision. The GAO recommends that if at the conclusion of the reevaluation the Army finds that Oshkosh does not “offer the best value” the Army should terminate the current Oshkosh contract.

The Army has 60 days to inform the GAO how it will proceed based on the recommendations provided.

So the Army could re-run the numbers and decide that Oshkosh is still the best bet. Or, if they throw everything out and start all over, Oshkosh could submit a different bid that still wins. BAE is still in the running, but in effect it’s been granted a new trial, not a directed verdict. BOR has more.

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