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Libertarians will stay on the ballot

Sorry, Republicans. You were too late after all.

The Texas Supreme Court on Saturday rejected an attempt by Republicans to kick 44 Libertarians off the ballot in the November elections.

Several Republican Party candidates and organizations had sued to remove the Libertarians, arguing they did not pay filing fees — a new requirement for third parties under a law passed by the Legislature last year. But the Supreme Court dismissed the suit, finding that the Republicans missed the August 21 deadline to successfully boot people from the ballot.

“The available mechanism for seeking the Libertarians’ removal from the ballot for failure to pay the filing fee was a declaration of ineligibility,” the court wrote in a per curiam opinion. “But the deadline by which such a declaration can achieve the removal of candidates from the ballot has passed.”

[…]

“Although the result in this instance may be that candidates who failed to pay the required filing fee will nevertheless appear on the ballot, this Court cannot deviate from the text of the law by subjecting the Libertarian candidates’ applications to challenges not authorized by the Election Code,” the court wrote.

See here, here, and here for the background. Let me quote from the intro to the opinion, which was released on the Saturday evening of a holiday weekend, to give you the basic gist of it.

Several Republican Party candidates and organizations seek to prevent 44 Libertarian Party candidates from appearing on the 2020 general-election ballot due to the Libertarians’ failure to pay the filing fee required by section 141.041 of the Texas Election Code. The Republicans concede that the statutory deadline to have the Libertarians removed from the ballot using a declaration of ineligibility passed on August 21. See TEX. ELEC. CODE § 145.035. They claim a later deadline applies to their petition, which they describe as a challenge to the Libertarians’ ballot applications governed by the deadline in section 141.034.

For the reasons explained below, the Election Code does not authorize the requested relief. Because the Libertarian Party nominates candidates by convention rather than primary election, its candidates’ applications are governed by chapter 181 of the Election Code, not by chapter 141’s procedures for challenging ballot applications. See id. §§ 181.031–.034. The relators invoke deadlines governing challenges to “an application for a place on the ballot” under chapter 141, but Libertarian Party candidates do not file such applications. Instead, they file “an application for nomination by convention” under chapter 181, which is a statutorily separate type of application governed by a separate set of statutes. Id. The Election Code does not subject the Libertarian candidates’ applications for nomination by convention to the procedures and deadlines for ballot-application challenges on which the relators rely.

Although the result in this instance may be that candidates who failed to pay the required filing fee will nevertheless appear on the ballot, this Court cannot deviate from the text of the law by subjecting the Libertarian candidates’ applications to challenges not authorized by the Election Code. The Legislature established detailed rules for ballot access and for challenges to candidates, and courts must carefully apply these rules based on the statutory text chosen by the Legislature. The available mechanism for seeking the Libertarians’ removal from the ballot for failure to pay the filing fee was a declaration of ineligibility. However, the deadline by which such a declaration can achieve the removal of candidates from the ballot has passed. The Election Code does not permit the relators to bypass that deadline by belatedly challenging the Libertarians’ applications. The petition for writ of mandamus is denied.

In other words, the novel attempt to say they are not challenging the candidates’ eligibility, which the Republicans conceded was too late, but were challenging their applications. The Supreme Court says that the law the Republicans were citing for this challenge doesn’t apply, and as such they’re out of luck. They did say in a footnote on page three that the Green Party could have sought Supreme Court review of that Third Court of Appeals order that forced their candidates off the ballot, and that an Attorney General amicus brief that took no position on that question was filed and considered for this case. They don’t seem to be saying how such a motion for review might have been received, just that it could have been done.

The bulk of the opinion is a tour through the part of the Election Code that governs parties that nominate their candidates by convention instead of by primary election, and how the Legislature treats the two kind of nominating processes differently. I gave it only a quick scan, because life is short and it is a holiday weekend, but feel free to dive in if that’s your jam. I will say, unless the Libertarians win one of their lawsuits challenging the new statute that mandates a filing fee, which was the basis for all of this legal wrangling, both Rs and Ds will be sure to do this again in 2022, since it is clear that they can knock Libertarians and Greens who don’t pay that fee off the ballot. The Ls and Gs may not like this law, but it’s in effect until further notice, and they know what the price of not following it is. And I have to imagine that somewhere, someone inside the Republican Party is getting reamed out by someone else for not being as on the ball about this as the Democrats were. They had a path to get what they wanted, they just didn’t take it in time. From where I sit, they were caught flat-footed and were out-lawyered by the Dems. That’s gotta sting a little for them.

More on the Republican attempt to defenestrate the Libertarians

From the Statesman:

Republican candidates and organizations are asking the Texas Supreme Court to remove 41 members of the Libertarian Party from the November ballots.

All of the Libertarians are ineligible to run, the GOP argues, because they failed to pay a newly created candidate filing fee or collect the necessary petition signatures to avoid the fee. But the Libertarian Party argues that the GOP, which could have challenged the candidates in December, waited too long to seek a court remedy.

“In the midst of pandemic, with life in general taking longer and facing more complications than usual, this Court should not exacerbate the problem by ordering counties across the state to stop preparing ballots so (the GOP) can strip Texas voters of their rights to vote for their chosen candidates,” the party’s leaders told the Supreme Court in a Tuesday filing.

[…]

The Republicans argued that they “fell in the trap” of challenging the eligibility of candidates, too late as it turned out, when they should have challenged the candidate applications as improper under a different section of the state’s election laws. Removing candidates based on improper applications can take place any time before Sept. 18, when ballots are mailed to members of the military serving overseas, the Republicans told the Texas Supreme Court.

Practically, however, the party acknowledged that the Texas secretary of state’s office has been arranging to print and distribute those ballots since Aug. 28, and its petition urged the Supreme Court to act as quickly as possible.

“Should this Court issue relief, the Secretary of State can take corrective action through early September,” said the petition, filed last Wednesday.

One day later, the court gave the Libertarian Party until 10 a.m. Tuesday to file a response. In that filing, party officials urged the court to avoid a rushed decision over a filing fee that many Libertarians see as an unconstitutional poll tax — particularly with two court challenges underway.

In the first, a state lawsuit filed by current and former party candidates in Harris County led to a court order blocking the fee as unconstitutional, though the ruling was halted by an appeals court that has yet to decide the case. The second involves a federal lawsuit by the party and several of its candidates that is set for trial next year.

“There are two constitutional challenges pending,” the Libertarians said. “In this context without the benefit of a more developed record, it would be difficult to say that ineligibility is conclusively established.”

See here for the background. My not-a-lawyer self thought the Republicans’ second attempt to knock off the Libertarians had some merit – certainly more than the clumsy and too late initial attempt had – but I also think the Libertarians make a good point in their response. The successful Democratic attempt to boot the Greens was based on well-established state law, and the facts were incontrovertible. The Republican challenge is novel, and the Libertarians are correct that the facts are still in dispute in this case. The ongoing federal litigation may sway the court as well, though that same appeal did not work for the Greens. We should get a ruling quickly, that much I feel confident saying.

Republicans go to Supreme Court to remove Libertarian candidates

If at first you don’t succeed, make up a new statutory deadline that you claim is the real date that matters.

About a week after Texas Democrats took several Green Party candidates to court and had them knocked off the ballot for failing to pay candidate filing fees, state and national Republicans are taking a similar case to the state’s highest civil court.

The Third Court of Appeals ruled against three Green Party candidates, but in the case of the Libertarians, the court dismissed the case as moot, saying it was no longer timely because the Aug. 21 deadline to declare a candidate ineligible had passed. The Republicans’ petition was filed Aug. 21.

This latest lawsuit filed by the Republicans names 40 Libertarian candidates, including two candidates for Texas Supreme Court, three for Texas Senate, 10 for Texas House and 25 for Congress.

The high court doesn’t have much time to take action: Friday was the deadline for the Secretary of State to certify candidates for the ballot.

“It’s a last-ditch effort on their part,” said Libertarian Party of Texas Chair Whitney Bilyeu. “They’re clearly desperate to do everything they can to remove voter choice at the polls to continue to have a one-party state here in Texas.”

The Libertarians say their candidates chose not to pay the fee for various reasons: some were taking a personal stand against a law they believe to be unconstitutional, some filed with the Secretary of State during a window of time when a judge had temporarily blocked the law, and others simply did not have the funds.

The filing fees in Texas are $3,125 for the U.S. House, $1,250 for Texas Senate and $750 for Texas House. Fifty-three of 70 Libertarian candidates paid theirs, state data shows.

Lawyers for the Republicans wrote that “timing is of the utmost importance” because “each day closer to September 19 — the date ballots are mailed — makes relief less practical.”

[…]

At the Texas Supreme Court, the Texas House Republican Caucus PAC and National Republican Congressional Committee, as well as 27 of their candidates and the GOP parties in Harris, Travis and Tarrant counties, are arguing that while the deadline to challenge eligibility may have passed, the deadline to challenge a candidates’ application is Sept. 18, the day before any mail-in ballots are sent out.

See here for the background. Patrick Svitek has a copy of the writ of mandamus, and honestly the “Relief Requested” section of the document, starting on page 18, explains why this is different in a fairly clear manner:

When a candidate fails to submit the required filing fee, there is confusion whether the appropriate challenge is to the application, under Chapter 141 or the eligibility under Chapter 145. The statute is less than crystal clear on this point, providing that “To be eligible to be placed on the ballot for the general election . . . a candidate must” pay a filing fee or submit a petition in lieu of a filing fee. TEX. ELEC. CODE § 141.041(a) (emph. added). At the same time, Chapter 141 provides that a challenge under this section, to provide the application, is not “a determination of a candidate’s eligibility.” TEX. ELEC. CODE § 141.034(b).

Adding to the confusion, courts and parties have intermingled these two challenges. See In re Davis. No. 03-20-00414-CV, 2020 Tex. App. Lexis 6663 (Tex. App.—Austin, Aug. 19, 2020, orig. proceeding) (granting mandamus relief challenging a minor candidate’s eligibility under Chapter 145 based on a candidate’s failure to pay the required filing fee).

Candidly, in the tight window to seek mandamus relief, many of the Relators fell in the same trap last week when they challenged certain Libertarian candidates eligibility under Chapter 145. The Third Court of Appeals denied that relief, finding it untimely.

But, as an analysis of the statutory scheme and case law bear out, a challenge to a candidate’s failure to submit the application with the required filing fee is a challenge arising under Chapter 141.

This distinction is important because challenges to application— versus eligibility—have different timing requirements. The Third Court of Appeals concluded that a challenge to eligibility must be completed by the 74th day preceding the election. On the other hand, a party can challenge a candidate’s application, including the failure to pay the filing fee “the day before any ballot to be voted early by mail is mailed . . .” TEX. ELEC. CODE § 141.032. That date is September 18.

Relators institute this new original proceeding under Texas Election Code Section 273.061, challenging the candidates’ ability to appear on the general election ballot for failure to submit the required filing fee under Chapter 141. As this is a new action, requesting new relief, this is an appropriate original jurisdiction proceeding before this Court. In this action, Relators ask the Court to compel the Libertarian Party of Texas and its Chair to comply with their statutory duty to reject these applications and to notify the Secretary of State of the rejection. If the Secretary of State is made aware of the rejection, it can take appropriate corrective action.

There is no question of timeliness in this challenge, as it can occur at any time prior to September 18. Practically, though, after August 28, the Secretary of State will begin to make arrangements to print and distribute ballots. Thus, timing is of the utmost importance. Should this Court issue relief, the Secretary of State can take corrective action through early September. However, each day closer to September 19—the date ballots are mailed—makes relief less practical.

Basically, what this claims is that the challenge that the Third Court rejected was made under the wrong law, given the timing. This challenge is made under a different law, where the timing is not an issue, at least not yet. Will it fly? I have no idea, but points for effort.

Two other items of interest here. One is that the long list of relators (again, that’s what you call a plaintiff in a case like this) here includes multiple Republican candidates, presumably all of whom have a Libertarian opponent. You may recall from the previous challenge that the absence of Republican candidates in affected races raised the question of standing. The Third Court did not address that issue because they ruled that the motion was moot, but the Supreme Court would surely have to address it in any race where the candidate was not among the relators. Two, the story says that 53 of 70 Libertarian candidates did in fact pay the filing fee, but the Republicans named 40 of them in this writ and claimed none of them paid the fee. Both of these facts can’t be true, so we’ll see what the court says. My guess is we’ll get an answer in short order.

Republicans try and fail to remove Libertarian candidates from the ballot

From Patrick Svitek:

The Third Court of Appeals decision is here. You may be wondering, why did this same court agree to boot three Green candidates off the ballot last week, for the same reason of not paying filing fees? A good question, with a straightforward answer in the opinion.

Basically, the key difference is timing. By state law, the deadline for withdrawing from the ballot is 74 days before the general election, which this year was August 21. The same date is also the deadline for removing an ineligible candidate’s name from the ballot. A candidate who has withdrawn, or been declared ineligible, or died after this date will still appear on the ballot. Recent examples of the latter include Sen. Mario Gallegos in 2012 and State Rep. Glenda Dawson in 2006. If the ineligible/withdrawn/deceased candidate wins the election (as was the case in those two examples I cited), there is then a vacancy for the office, because that person cannot take office, and thus there is the need for a special election to fill that vacancy.

How that matters in this case is that the plaintiffs (“relators” in Appeals Court-speak) waited too long to take action. The relators included the NRCC, the Republican Party of Travis County, and Rep. Van Taylor. As outlined in the Dem cases against the Greens, they asked via email the Libertarian Party of Texas to disqualify the candidates that didn’t pay the filing fee, and then followed that up with the filing to the Third Court. The problem was, they sent that email “late in the evening on Thursday, August 20”, and filed their mandamus petitions on the 21st (the NRCC in the morning, the Travis County GOP at 9:19 PM). That did not leave adequate time for the Libertarian Party to respond, and it also means that the legal deadline I just mentioned had already passed. Here’s the analysis of the case from the court’s ruling:

“The law is clear that a challenge to the candidacy of an individual becomes moot ‘when any right which might be determined by the judicial tribunal could not be effectuated in the manner provided by law.’” Brimer v. Maxwell, 265 S.W.3d 926, 928 (Tex. App.—Dallas 2008, no pet.) (quoting Polk v. Davidson, 196 S.W.2d 632, 634 (Tex. 1946) (orig. proceeding)). “If a challenge to a candidate’s eligibility ‘cannot be tried and a final decree entered in time for compliance with pre-election statutes by officials charged with the duty of preparing for the holding of the election,’ we must dismiss the challenge as moot.” Id. (quoting Smith v. Crawford, 747 S.W.2d 938, 940 (Tex. App.—Dallas 1988, orig. proceeding)).

The Texas Election Code provides that “[a] candidate’s name shall be omitted from the ballot if the candidate withdraws, dies, or is declared ineligible on or before the 74th day before election day.” Tex. Elec. Code § 145.035. However, “[i]f a candidate dies or is declared ineligible after the 74th day before election day, the candidate’s name shall be placed on the ballot.” Id. § 145.039. “If the name of a deceased, withdrawn, or ineligible candidate appears on the ballot under this chapter, the votes cast for the candidate shall be counted and entered on the official election returns in the same manner as for the other candidates.” Id. § 145.005(a).

Because relators waited to file their challenge to a total of 30 candidates until the last possible day this Court could grant the relief they seek, they made it impossible for the Court to obtain the information and briefing needed to afford due process and make a reasoned decision until less than 74 days remained before election day. Accordingly, even if this Court were to conclude based on the mandamus record that respondents have a statutory duty to declare the real parties in interest ineligible, their names would remain on the ballot and any votes cast for them would be counted. See id. §§ 145.039, .005(a); see also Brimer, 265 S.W.3d at 928 (holding that challenge to candidate’s eligibility for general election becomes moot when it cannot be tried and final decree entered in time for compliance with pre-election statutes); accord Smith, 747 S.W.2d at 940 (“This is true, even though the contestant may have good cause or grounds for the contest.”) (citing Cummins v. Democratic Exec. Comm’n 97 S.W.2d 368, 369 (Tex. App.—Austin 1936, no writ)). No order that this Court might enter would be effective to change this result. The Republican Party candidates’ only legally recognized interest in pursuing this mandamus is to avoid being opposed by an ineligible candidate—an outcome that we cannot, at this point, change.

In other words, if the Republicans wanted the Libertarians who didn’t pay the fee off the ballot, they needed to act sooner than they did, in order to meet the statutory deadline for removing those candidates’ names from the ballot and also to give them their due process rights to respond to the allegations. Because they waited as long as they did, the law was clear that the candidates’ names would remain on the ballot, even if they were indeed ineligible. If one of those Libertarians were to win, then (I presume, anyway) there could be a subsequent lawsuit over whether they could take office or not, but that would be a fight for another day. They snoozed, they lost, better lawyering next time.

One more thing, from a footnote to the analysis of the case:

We note that relators seek the same relief that was sought and granted in our recent opinion, In re Davis, No. 03-20-00414-CV, __S.W.3d__, 2020 WL 4931747 (Tex. App.—Austin Aug. 19, 2020, orig. proceeding). There, the petition for mandamus was filed four business days before the statutory deadline. To assure due process to respondents, this Court required responses in one business day, the same as it did here. And in In re Davis, the candidates themselves brought the challenge. While it is clear that “a candidate for the same office has ‘an interest in not being opposed by an ineligible candidate,’” Brimer v. Maxwell, 265 S.W.3d 926, 928 (Tex. App.—Dallas 2008, no pet.) (quoting In re Jones, 978 S.W.2d 648, 651 (Tex. App.—Amarillo 1998, orig. proceeding [mand. denied]) (per curiam)), respondents in this proceeding challenge whether political parties have an interest sufficient to confer standing to pursue mandamus relief. See Colvin v. Ellis Cnty. Republican Exec. Comm’n, 719 S.W.2d 265, 266 (Tex. App.—Waco 1986, no writ) (holding that “voter” who was opposing political party’s chair had no justiciable interest apart from general public and could not bring suit to enjoin candidacy of ineligible candidates). We need not reach this issue or the other legal and evidentiary arguments raised by respondents because we are disposing of the mandamus petitions based on mootness.

In other words, the question of who raised this challenge to the Libertarian candidates would have been an issue for the court to decide if the matter was not moot. I should note that the Brimer v. Maxwell case cited in that footnote was a reference to a challenge brought by then-Sen. Kim Brimer against Wendy Davis for the 2008 election. There had been a prior challenge made by some Fort Worth firefighters who alleged that Davis did not resign her Fort Worth City Council seat in time to file for the Democratic primary, but that case was dismissed because the court ruled those plaintiffs did not have standing. Brimer did have standing, but a district court ruled in Davis’ favor and a subsequent appeal was denied in part because it was way past the deadline to boot anyone from the ballot. You never know what tidbits of interest can lurk in these things. Anyway, that should be that for now.

Congressional Dems winning the money race in Texas

The times, they have definitely changed.

Early this election cycle, U.S. Sen. John Cornyn publicly worried about complacency within the Texas Republican political class — even after Democratic gains made in 2018.

So in early 2019, the state’s senior senator encouraged Texas Republicans in the U.S. House to bolster their fundraising and think twice about sending money out of the state.

“There’s an attempt by the leadership to extract as much money as possible out of the state as they can and use that wherever they need it, and I understand that,” he told The Texas Tribune in June 2019. “But we need to make sure our Texas races — from the president and all the way down to the courthouse — are adequately financed and resourced. And that’s going to require us to raise a significant amount of money.”

More than a year later, a Texas Tribune analysis of recent campaign finance reports shows that Cornyn’s fears of a funding problem have come to life. Democratic U.S. House candidates in Texas have millions more aggregate cash on hand than their Republican counterparts. It marks an extraordinary six-year shift within the Texas delegation.

In 2016, U.S. House Republican candidates in Texas had $32.3 million on hand in July of that year. Their Democratic counterparts reported $11.4 million.

The next cycle, boosted by a backlash to President Donald Trump, Democrats saw a jump in fundraising. In 2018, Texas Republican U.S. House candidates had $34.8 million in cash on hand, compared with $21.8 million on the Democratic side.

Newly filed campaign finance reports show a complete shift this year. Republicans running for the U.S. House in Texas reported $19.2 million. Democrats had $26.7 million.

[…]

And the money affects more than just the seven or so competitive U.S. House races on the ballot.

Take the state’s 3rd Congressional District. Situated entirely in North Texas’ Collin County, it has been a longtime undisputed GOP stronghold. Mitt Romney won the district in 2012 with 64% of the vote to Barack Obama’s 34%. But in 2018, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, carried the county by only six percentage points, and U.S. Rep. Van Taylor of Plano saw the district’s margin narrow from 27 points in 2016 to 10 points during his first run for the seat in 2018.

Taylor took that race seriously, advertising on broadcast television, and he has over $1 million in cash on hand this year. His opponent, attorney Lulu Seikaly, only had about $40,000 on her last financial report, but the way she is spending that money is noteworthy. That same report revealed she had hired a national direct mail consultant. Additionally, her campaign said in a news release that it had raised $100,000 since the mid-July runoff and has had a well-regarded polling firm conduct an internal poll of the race.

Should a Democratic wave hit the state in the fall, Seikaly will already have poll-tested messaging and located vendors to potentially take advantage of the environment. If not, her efforts to bring Democrats in her district to the polls could still help others in her party above and below her on ballot. Taylor’s district overlaps considerably with that of state Rep. Jeff Leach, R-Plano, who is one of more than a dozen GOP incumbents Democrats are targeting in an effort to flip the state House.

You can see the July finance reports for Democratic Congressional candidates here. As this story notes, much of the difference comes from the two freshman Dems who knocked off Republican incumbents in 2018, Reps. Lizzie Fletcher in CD07 and Colin Allred in CD32, plus the challengers in CDs 21, 22, and 23. Sri Kulkarni in CD22 is the laggard of the bunch, with $2.5 million raised and $1.2 million on hand; the others all have at least $3.8 million raised and $2.9 million on hand. Wendy Davis has practically lapped Rep. Chip Roy in CD21. Mike Siegel in CD10 and Candace Valenzuela have less cash on hand after having to compete in the primary runoffs, but both had raised a lot as of the Q2 report and I expect they will keep it up. Sima Ladjevardian may not be able to keep up with the moneybags Dan Crenshaw, but she’s still hauled in $1.6 million.

It’s not just about what the candidates themselves have raised. Republican Congressional incumbents have been asked to kick in a bunch of money to the RNC, but their on requests to get a little help coming back have fallen on deaf ears. Usual suspects like the Club for Growth will spend big to protect their own, but the list that needs defending keeps getting longer. If there are three takeaways from all this, they’re 1) Dems should have all the resources they need to make a maximum push this November; 2) expect to be bombarded with ads like you’ve never been before – seriously, live sports is going to be a wasteland of political ads, if there are live sports this fall; and 3) Dems have no excuse for not raising a ton of money to win statewide elections in 2022.

Scouting the opposition in CD07

Not impressed so far.

Rep. Lizzie Fletcher

Facing a roomful of conservative voters at a meet-and-greet earlier this month, Republican Wesley Hunt laid out the stakes for his party’s primary in Texas’ 7th Congressional District.

“This is about putting the best candidate forward who can beat Lizzie Fletcher. Period.” Hunt said.

Republican voters still are smarting from their 2018 loss in this suburban west Houston district, where Fletcher, a Democratic Houston energy lawyer, toppled nine-term GOP incumbent John Culberson. Her five-point win flipped the seat blue for the first time since the 1960s, prompting Republicans to take aim at the district almost as soon as Fletcher took office.

The GOP primary field already has come into focus, setting up a clash between Hunt, an Army veteran who works for Perry Homes, and Cindy Siegel, a former Bellaire mayor and METRO board member. Battle lines are sharpening, but not around the two candidates’ conservative bona fides or the strength of their policy proposals. The early contours of the race instead have centered on the question: Who is best positioned to snatch the seat from Fletcher?

Threatening to upend the primary is the potential candidacy of Pierce Bush, CEO of the nonprofit Big Brothers Big Sisters Houston affiliate and grandson of former president George H.W. Bush, who once represented the district.

Bush in an email earlier this month said he still is mulling a run for the seat and has been “flattered by people who are encouraging me to consider running,” though he did not lay out a deadline for a decision.

Meanwhile, both declared Republicans have their electability pitches ready to go. Hunt, 37, contends the party could use a “new generation of leadership,” and he peppers his stump speech with references to his time as a helicopter pilot in the Army, including his combat deployment to Iraq. Siegel, meanwhile, pitches her governing experience serving on Bellaire city council and as mayor, along with a number of boards and commissions.

Also, she contends that it will take a Republican woman to beat Fletcher.

“I feel that way strongly,” the 64-year-old Siegel said. “It’s coming as no surprise to anyone, on a national basis: Women have moved away from the Republican Party.”

[…]

In 2018, Trump’s name did not appear on the ballot, but scores of voters in Texas’ 7th said they viewed the election as a referendum on the president nonetheless. Now, the president’s down-ballot impact is set to become amplified, for better or worse, with his name likely atop the Republican ticket in 2020.

After the president lost the district to Clinton in 2016, 48 to 47 percent, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee took notice and weighed in heavily on Fletcher’s behalf, spending north of $3.5 million on the seat in 2018.

This time, House Democrats’ campaign arm again figures to play a heavy role, making early attempts to muddy the GOP waters. When Trump visited Houston in April, for instance, the group sent reporters a news release with the subject line: “With Trump in Houston, How Far Will Hunt and Siegel Go to Win Him Over?”

That last bit is more important than who wins this primary, because whoever it is will have Donald Trump as their running mate. Unless the national mood starts souring on Democrats, I think that’s going to be too big an obstacle to overcome.

Beyond that, it’s just too early to have any opinions about these two, or possibly three, candidates. I fully expect one or two other names to pop up, though whether the field expands like it did on the Democratic side in 2018 I couldn’t say. Given the need to raise funds for this race, time is starting to run out for any other wannabes.

Speaking of fundraising, here’s a data point to note for when Hunt and Siegel file their Q2 finance reports. The top four Dem contenders in CD07 raised $1.2 million combined as of July 2017. Fletcher had the second most, with $365K. The eye-popping early numbers all around the country were a leading indicator of Democratic enthusiasm for the 2018 election. I’ll be very interested to see how things look this time around.

One more thing. What happens to CD07 in the 2021 redistricting cycle. Before the 2018 election, when I figured John Culberson would still be the incumbent, my thinking was that Republicans were going to have to shift some of the district out of Harris County – maybe into Montgomery, maybe into western Fort Bend, maybe northwest into what’s now part of CD10 – to keep it red enough for him. At the very least, they’d have to take some of the bluer-and-bluer inner Harris parts out to keep things in their favor. What happens now if Fletcher wins again? Well, they could try this anyway, to take that seat back by other means. Redistricting doesn’t happen in a vacuum, though, and with CDs 02, 10, and 22 all getting competitive it might be too much to save everyone, especially in a solidly blue Harris County and a much more balanced state as a whole. It would not shock me if the Republicans basically gave up on CD07 and used parts of it to shore up those other districts, especially CD02. That’s more or less what they did with the State House in 2011, making HD133 (which they had lost in 2008) redder while making HDs 137 and 149 bluer. Incumbent protection is still a thing that matters, and in a state with fewer safe Republicans, it may matter more than ever. Just a thought.

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.

2020 is starting early

Example One:

The calendar just turned to 2019, but the 2020 race for Congressional seats in Texas is already on.

A few days after Christmas, San Antonio resident Liz Wahl, 33, a former cable television news anchor, filed papers in Washington, D.C. to run in the 23rd Congressional District held now by U.S. Rep. Will Hurd, R-Helotes. Her filing came just 37 days after Hurd was declared the winner in his re-election by just 926 votes over Air Force veteran Gina Ortiz Jones.

Jones told supporters in late December that she is also “very likely” to run again in 2020 for the seat.

That story makes Wahl seem like some boring nobody. Turns out, she’s a lot more interesting than that.

Former RT anchor Liz Wahl announced Thursday that she is planning to run as a Democrat against Texas Rep. Will Hurd (R), who won reelection in November to a third term.

[…]

Wahl made headlines in 2014 when she quit her hosting job at the Russian-owned news network on air, while denouncing Russia’s involvement in Crimea, which voted to secede from Ukraine and is currently occupied by Russian-aligned forces.

“I cannot be part of a network funded by the Russian government that whitewashes the actions of Putin. I’m proud to be an American and believe in disseminating the truth, and that is why, after this newscast, I’m resigning,” Wahl said during a March broadcast that year.

The news network, which was forced to register in 2017 as a foreign agent, denounced her resignation at the time as a PR stunt.

Definitely not what I had envisioned when I read “former cable TV new anchor”. Wahl’s Facebook page is here, and it includes a link to this Crowdpac post she wrote explaining her motivation for running. I feel confident saying that Wahl will have company in the primary if she does run. Getting an early start, and having such a distinctive background, will help her stand out if she follow through.

Closer to home, we have this post to Pantsuit Nation by Elisa Cardnell:

Happy New Year! This year, my resolution is a little bigger than usual. I’m exploring a run for the Democratic primary in Texas’ 2nd Congressional District (Houston, Texas). The primary is next spring, but fundraising is a huge hurdle, so I have to start now.

I’m a Navy veteran – I served on active duty for five years after college and then for six years in the Reserves. I just hung up my uniform for good last April due to health issues (some related to my time in the service, some not). I’m also a teacher and a single mom, and I’ve seen just how desperately we need ethical leadership in DC to serve as good role models.

Before 2016, I tried to stay out of politics, especially since as a member of the military I viewed my role as necessarily nonpartisan (at least in public life). But now I feel that I have to do something, and my entire career of serving my country and my community has led me to this point. In Houston, we have a chance to flip some more House seats in 2020, and my district will be a particularly tough race (against Dan Crenshaw) in the general election.

It’s going to be a long two years – but it starts now!

Elisa is a friend of mine and a fellow member of the Rice MOB. She had reached out to me a couple of weeks ago, so I knew she was thinking about this. Todd Litton is still out there, and CD02 will be an attractive target for others in Harris County, so don’t be surprised to hear other names along the way. But as above, and as I’ve been saying, if this is something you’re thinking about, there’s no reason not to start as soon as possible. The election may be a log way off, but the filing period begins this November, and if 2020 is anything like 2018, you’re going to see a lot of fundraising activity happen well before then. Don’t get left behind.

And just so we’re clear, incumbents are going to feel the same pressures.

Shortly after participating in the official group swearing-in for House members, [Rep. Colin] Allred got down to business and voted for Nancy Pelosi as House speaker. That’s all it took for the National Republican Congressional Committee to come after him with one of its first paid campaign ads of the 2020 election cycle.

“Immediately after the Speaker vote, voters in districts across the country received text messages, paid for by the NRCC, informing them that with their first vote as a member of Congress, their Democrat Representative has already sold them out to the radical left and voted to hand the Speaker’s gavel to Nancy Pelosi,” the NRCC said in a press release. “Today’s vote sets the tone for what voters can expect from congressional Democrats as the party continues to follow their radical base and march to the left on everything from immigration to taxes to national security.”

The NRCC targeted 15 new House members with the ads, including Allred and fellow Texan Lizzie Fletcher, who knocked off longtime Houston-area Republican John Culberson in a district that, like Allred’s, voted for Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump despite a long history of favoring Republicans.

I don’t expect the usual misogynistic squawking about Nancy Pelosi will be more effective than it was in 2018, though of course that depends on how well this Congress follows through on its promises. The other team is still out there making noise about every little thing, though. Keep your eye on the ball, and remember that the offseason ain’t what it used to be.

Texas Congressional races on the radar

The Hill lists its Top 10 dark-horse Congressional races to keep an eye on for 2010. Two of them are in Texas.

1. Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas)

McCaul was technically a lower-tier Democratic target in 2008, but that was really only because his opponent, former TV judge Larry Joe Doherty (D), was raising money like gangbusters. Doherty really didn’t have the right profile, and he wound up losing by a pedestrian 11 points — the exact margin of the presidential tally in the district. Now, Democrats have another big-money candidate, with businessman Jack McDonald raising $300,000 in the first quarter. We’ll see if he has the right profile, but the fact that he is vice chairman of the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce suggests he might. The party has already put McCaul near the top of its target list.

[…]

4. Rep. Pete Sessions (R-Texas)

Democrats tried to mount a late charge in 2006 against National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) Chairman Tom Reynolds (R-N.Y.), and they could do it again in 2010 against current NRCC Chairman Pete Sessions. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) only took this suburban Dallas district 53-46 in the 2008 presidential race, and the heavily Hispanic areas have grown at a faster pace than the white areas. Sessions’s district is actually probably more fertile ground than McCaul’s, but Democrats might not have as good a candidate. Attorney Grier Raggio (D) has an exploratory committee, but it’s not clear who else might emerge.

You know how I feel about Sessions’ CD32. Now that Dallas County is solid blue, there’s no reason at all to leave him untargeted. The DCCC is already inclined to help out. The rest is up to the locals. McDonald’s fundraising success will keep the CD10 race on the front burner. Now we need someone to copy that formula in CD32. Thanks to BOR for the link.

Big John versus El Rushbo and The Newt

There’s just not enough popcorn in the world.

As if to magnify what are already major differences between elected Republicans and conservative activists on the question of Sonia Sotomayor, check out what conservative senator (and chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee and Judiciary Comittee member and former Texas State Supreme Court Justice) had to say on NPR yesterday.

“I think it’s terrible. This is not the kind of tone that any of us want to set when it comes to performing our constitutional responsibilities of advice and consent.”

Republican leaders may not have as much sway over their own interest groups as Democratic leaders do over their, so don’t expect the attacks to stop. But it’s a bold statement. He even lashed out at Newt Gingrich and the unassailable Rush Limbaugh.

“Neither one of these men are elected Republican officials [and] I just don’t think it’s appropriate and I certainly don’t endorse it. I think it’s wrong.”

You can listen to the entire interview here.

Of course, any time a Republican official says anything unflattering about Rush, it’s worth asking a couple questions: Will he apologize for it? And how long will he wait?

You know you’ve gone completely round the bend when Big John tells you to dial it down a bit. Not that it matters, as neither Newtie nor the Round Mound of Sound is backing off. Oh, and now the DCCC is joining in the fun by calling out Rep. Pete Sessions, who as Cornyn’s counterpart in Congress has been silent so far. Who needs summer movies when you have this kind of entertainment?

UPDATE: Forgot to add that there’s video of Big John taking on his foes. And as we know, the Rushmeister was in town last night. Here’s a photo of him and some of his fanboys from that event. BOR has more.

White rakes it in for his Senate bid

Among other things, today is the deadline for federal candidates to report their campaign finance status. Of the many contenders for Kay Bailey Hutchison’s Senate seat, whenever that becomes available, I think it’s safe to say that Bill White had the best start to the year. From his press release:

Mayor Bill White reported contributions totaling more than $2.6 million in just over 100 days since launching his U.S. Senate campaign, according to a report filed with the Federal Elections Commission today.

More than 1,400 Texans contributed through March 31st, the end of the filing period. The contributions for the filing period totaled more than $1.8 million.

Campaign Finance Chair Scott Atlas said, “The outpouring of support from donors and volunteers has been simply amazing. The energy around Mayor White’s campaign shows Texans believe in his ability to bring people together and get things done. People want their next senator to be a voice for our state’s future.”

So far, none of the Senate incumbents or hopefuls have their reports up on the FEC disclosure page, so I can’t give you the details yet. However, Gardner Selby has some information.

Democrat John Sharp topped five other candidates or prospective candidates for the U.S. Senate in cash on hand as of March 31, though his camp didn’t say this afternoon how much of the $2.4 million he piled up since Jan. 1 came from loans. His loan chunk—perhaps tapping Sharp’s personal wealth—may be left to show up when his report, filed with the Federal Election Commission, surfaces online.

Another Democrat, Houston Mayor Bill White, had $2.1 million cash on hand at the end of this year’s first quarter; he’d taken no loans.

Among Republicans, former Texas Secretary of State Roger Williams had $388,628 cash on hand; a haul fueled by $200,000 in loans he gave his exploratory committee. State Sen. Florence Shapiro, R-Plano, had $310,407. She was trailed in her bank balance by two members of the Texas Railroad Commission, Elizabeth Ames Jones with $164,663 and Michael Williams with $113,957.

As Selby notes, we can’t fully judge Sharp’s total till we know how much of it was loaned by himself to the campaign. It’s possible he did better than any of the Republicans and yet still fell well short of White, and it’s possible he outraised White, though to be honest if he’d really taken in $2 million or so, I’d have expected him to be shouting that from the rooftops. We’ll know soon enough. In any case, as BOR notes, the two Dems are way out in from of the Rs – heck, all of them put together can’t match either Dem. That may change if a David Dewhurst or a Greg Abbott jumps in, but for now, it’s a nice position for the Dems to be in.

Other reports of interest, all Congressional:

Pete Sessions, who has been in the crosshairs of the DCCC lately and whose district is trending strongly Democratic, had a good quarter with over $200K raised and almost $900K on hand. Sessions has always been an able fundraiser, no doubt why he’s chairing the NRCC this go-round.

– Mike McCaul doesn’t have a report yet. He already has a well-heeled challenger and a DCCC bulls-eye on his back, but he’s also filthy rich and will not be outgunned financially.

John Culberson had a decent quarter, with $100K raised, though only a modest $70K on hand. He didn’t leave anything in reserve after his expensive re-election fight last year, and though I think he’s likely to skate this time around, I’ll bet he invests some time in restocking his coffers.

Sheila Jackson Lee didn’t raise much, and spent more than she raised, but she starts the year with over $400K on hand, which may give pause to anyone looking to primary her.

– The benefits of running for President, having a national following, and being stalked by Borat not having an opponent in the last cycle: Ron Paul has over two million dollars on hand, despite raising almost nothing and spending nearly $250K.

– Randy Neugebauer in CD19 doesn’t have a report up yet, either, but according to the CREW crew, he wants to use his campaign funds to pay for the use of his yacht to fundraise for his campaign. Just click over and see for yourself. The yacht is anchored in DC, in case you were wondering (as I was) what the heck one would do with a yacht in Lubbock.

– Former Congressman Jim Turner, who was drawn out of his seat in the 2004 Tom DeLay re-redistricting, still has over a million bucks on hand. Which in theory he eventually needs to dispose of in some fashion, either on another campaign of his own or by giving it to other candidates.

That’s all for now. I’ll add to this as I see more reports.

DCCC targeting CD10

Good to hear.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee will begin running radio ads next week in the districts of six Republicans, all of whom voted against the economic recovery package. One of the six targeted districts, though, sticks out from the rest.

Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas), whose 10th District runs from the Houston suburbs west to include parts of Austin, is the only one of the six targeted members to represent a district won by John McCain in 2008. Both McCaul and McCain won the district by 11 points in November, which begs the question: Is the DCCC really targeting this seat?

Apparently they are, and in no small part because of an already well-funded candidate named Jack McDonald, whose exploratory committee announced yesterday that it had raised more than $300,000 in just five weeks. Should McDonald, a self-described “centrist Democrat” and “successful businessman,” officially jump in the race, he’ll face a Republican whose winning percentage has dropped significantly as his opponents have spent more money, but who held off a well-funded opponent last year.

BOR has more on McDonald. The D-Trip has also targeted Rep. Pete Sessions, who is also the NRCC Chair, in CD32. Nice to see national money flowing to Texas, instead of just the other way around. These two districts may be where all the action is this time around, especially if Rep. McCaul jumps into the race for Attorney General as has been speculated. That would require a few dominoes to fall first, and there’s already a stand-by waiting in the wings in the event that happens, so I wouldn’t consider that a likely event, but you never know. Regardless, I’m glad to see CD get some attention outside of Texas. I hope it can hold that attention for the duration.

Pete Sessions and the Taliban

Rep. Pete Sessions in CD32 is the chair of the NRCC this cycle. He’s also…well, see for yourself.

Frustrated by a lack of bipartisan outreach from House Democratic leaders, Rep. Pete Sessions (R-TX), chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, said today that the GOP should look to the Taliban for guidance in conveying its position on the stimulus package and, more broadly, in working to make the party’s views on issues known. […]

“Insurgency, we understand perhaps a little bit more because of the Taliban,” Sessions said during a meeting with Hotline editors. “And that is that they went about systematically understanding how to disrupt and change a person’s entire processes.

“And these Taliban — I’m not trying to say the Republican Party is the Taliban. No, that’s not what we’re saying. I’m saying an example of how you go about [sic] is to change a person from their messaging to their operations to their frontline message. And we need to understand that insurgency may be required when the other side, the House leadership, does not follow the same commands, which we entered the game with.”

The quotes come from the National Journal, and they’ve now been picked up by the DMN, so you can expect some walking back Real Soon Now. I don’t often play the “can you imagine if a Democrat said that” game, but I don’t see how you can’t here. Seriously, imagine this was 2002 and some Congressional Democrat used this metaphor to describe opposition to President Bush. I can’t even wrap my mind around it. Both the Journal and First Read, which wonders what Drudge would do if a Dem had said this – I say imagine Fox News – go there. (Thanks to Sessions Watch for the links.)

What I really want to is if this will finally spur a well-funded challenge to Sessions this year. He’s already been targeted by the DCCC in radio ads for the GOP’s unanimous anti-stimulus vote, so that’s a good start. CD32 is a lot less Republican than it was in 2004 – John McCain took 53% of the vote there – and that trend isn’t going to stop. I thought Eric Roberson was a decent candidate last year, but he got nowhere in the fundraising department. Will Dallas and national Democrats finally get serious about taking Session on? I sure hope so.