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Julián Castro will not be running for Senate, either

In case you were wondering.

Julián Castro

Julián Castro said Saturday at the Texas Tribune Festival that he would not seek the Democratic nomination to challenge U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, in 2020 even if he were to drop out of the presidential race.

“No, I’m not going go run for the Senate, that’s never what I intended to do,” Castro said in an interview with MSNBC’s Katy Tur in the penultimate event at the Paramount Theatre, preceding the closing keynote address by U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.

While Castro is guaranteed a spot on the next Democratic stage in Ohio in October, his chances of qualifying for the November debate are dicey. Castro is at 1.7% in the RealClearPolitics polling average. The raised threshold requires that a candidate earn 3% support in at least four early state or national polls that meet the Democratic National Committee’s methodological requirements — up from 2% for the September and October debates — or at least 5% in two early state polls. The early states are Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina.

Tur noted that Castro had sent out a note to funders saying if he doesn’t qualify for the November debate, he would drop out of the race.

“If that happens would you consider running against John Cornyn?’ Tur asked Castro.

In explaining why he would not do that, Castro, a former mayor of San Antonio and secretary of Housing and Urban Development, said, “People ask me, `Why are you running for president?’ My experience is actually as an executive. I actually have some of the most relevant experience in running for president. When you’re a president, you’re a chief executive. I was a chef executive of a federal agency with a $48 billion budget. I’m running for what’s relevant to my experience.”

Castro as a Senate candidate has been discussed before, though not nearly as often as “why won’t Beto run for Senate again?” has been discussed. You know how I feel about that, so I’ll just say again that I have always assumed “Castro for Governor 2022” is the backup plan, assuming 1) Castro isn’t in someone’s cabinet, and 2) he actually wants to run for Governor. It is an executive position, he could get an awful lot done, and it would put him in good position to run for President again in 2028, following (God willing) two terms of one of his current opponents in the primary. Not that beating Greg Abbott would be easy, but that would be the time to try. The Current has more.

Will Hurd has delusions about running for President

Sure, buddy.

Rep. Will Hurd

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

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

Hurd also discussed the state of politics back home.

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

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

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

One thing our state loves spending money on

Defending unconstitutional anti-abortion laws in the courts.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On a related note:

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

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

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

UT-Tyler: Trump still looks weak in Texas

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

Beto O’Rourke

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

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

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

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

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

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

[…]

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The TDP 2020 plan

Bring it on.

The Texas Democratic Party is pulling back the curtain on its 2020 strategy ahead of the Houston presidential debate, releasing a plan to flip the state that targets 2.6 million potential Democratic voters who are not registered yet and commits to deploying over 1,000 organizers by the end of the election cycle.

The 10-page proposal, shared first with The Texas Tribune, primarily focuses on dramatically expanding the Democratic vote in Texas while building a massive coordinated campaign. Both are ambitious undertakings for a party that has long been out of power — no Democrat has won statewide since 1994 — but has seen its prospects brighten over the last two election cycles, especially in 2018.

“At the Texas Democratic Party, we know that to win we must build a state party infrastructure larger than anyone has ever seen,” the party’s deputy executive director, Cliff Walker, says in a statement accompanying the plan. “Change is coming to Texas — a new wave of activists and progressive candidates demand it.”

[…]

The plan broadly seeks to register as many as possible of the 2.6 million Texans it says are not registered to vote but would vote Democratic if registered. There are another 2.4 million voters from minority communities who are registered to vote but did not cast a ballot in 2018 and “are primed to be mobilized in a presidential year,” according to the plan.

To close those gaps, the party offers four possible paths based on its data analysis: increasing turnout in communities of color (over 400,000 new votes), increasing turnout in urban, reliably blue counties (at least 225,000 new votes), registering voters in the politically changing suburbs (over 130,000 new votes) and reaching out to conservative rural voters (more than 100,000 new votes).

The party plans to tackle those opportunities by doing things like sending more vote-by-mail applications in 2020 than ever before — more than 1.5 million. But most important will be a statewide coordinated campaign that can support over 1,500 Democratic nominees throughout the ballot in 2020, by the party’s count. Key to that campaign would be the 1,000 organizers, a big ramp-up from the party’s current staffing levels. They would be paid through the coordinated campaign.

The plan also puts an emphasis on protecting voting rights from GOP efforts that make it more difficult to cast a ballot. The party will launch a year-round hotline on Jan. 1, 2020, to deal with such issues, in addition to other new and ongoing efforts.

The doc is here, but you get the basics of it from the Trib story. In a broad sense, this is the Battleground Texas plan – register new voters, boost turnout among traditional Dem constituencies, work to turn out lower-propensity Dems, all using a hands-on community model. That requires a lot of resources – people, training, equipment, office space, data – and that in turn requires money. For the TDP to talk like this, they either have a plan to raise the money, or they’re publicly thinking big and hoping to impress enough people to get the money to follow. I hope it’s the former, but the next finance report will tell the tale.

How well will this work? Well, as the story notes, the 2018 election and the Beto campaign gave them a good head start, as well as a road map. The fact of the matter is that Dems need to bring out a lot more voters to have a reasonable shot at winning statewide in 2020. Beto broke Democratic records getting to four million votes, but Republicans have been regularly topping four million since Dubya in 2004. Trump underperformed relative to other Republicans in 2016, but he still got nearly 4.7 million votes, which was a gain of 116K over Mitt Romney. I’ve said before, to me the over/under for 2020 is five million, and that may be too conservative. The Republicans are working to boost their own turnout next year, too. Five million may be just the opening bid. There’s room to bring in a lot more Democratic voters, but we won’t have the field to ourselves. The Chron and Daily Kos have more.

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

More nice polling news.

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

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

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


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

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


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

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


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

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

In somewhat related news:

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

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

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

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

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

Univision News poll: Trump 42, Dem 47

Here’s a fun poll.

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

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

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


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

Trump           19%     43%
Biden           60%     47%

Trump           19%     42%
Sanders         68%     48%

Trump           20%     42%
Warren          64%     44%

Trump           19%     44%
Harris          60%     45%

Trump           20%     41%
Castro          62%     44%

Trump           21%     41%
Booker          63%     43%

Cornyn          22%     41%
Democrat        58%     40%

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

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

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

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

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

The Harris County GOP thinks it can come back in 2020

They’re so adorable.

Never forget

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A reminder about the local legislative races

Let’s review the facts together.

Rep. Jon Rosenthal

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yet another story about suburbs shifting away from Republicans

Collect the whole set!

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

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

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

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

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

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

Our all-important metro areas

Another look at the trouble Republicans face in Texas now.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The psychological shift

I have three things to say about this.

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

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

The race was relatively close, but Morales lost.

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

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

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

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Beto is still not running for Senate

Sorry, y’all.

Beto O’Rourke

Beto O’Rourke will return to the presidential campaign trail Thursday for the first time since the Aug. 3 massacre of 22 people at a Walmart in his hometown by a suspect who told police he was hunting “Mexicans” and who O’Rourke said drew “vile inspiration” from President Donald Trump.

According to O’Rourke’s campaign, he will relaunch with a morning speech in El Paso that will outline the path forward for a presidential campaign that began with great promise five months ago but is now mired at 2% in national polls.

O’Rourke has been importuned with increasing urgency, both publicly and privately, to consider swapping his struggling presidential campaign for a more promising and potentially more consequential second run for the U.S. Senate, challenging the reelection of U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas.

“He just needs to get home and take care of business,” former Houston Mayor Annise Parker told The New York Times in the aftermath of the El Paso tragedy. “We wouldn’t have five people running for Senate if Beto came back.”

An Emerson College poll conducted during the first three days of August found that more than half of Texas Democrats thought O’Rourke should run for Senate instead of president.

The poll found that most Democratic voters had not formed an opinion on the Senate race without O’Rourke, and that none of the candidates already in the race had gained much traction.

The filing deadline for the March primary is not until December, but Thursday’s announcement by O’Rourke would seem to effectively foreclose the possibility that he would enter a race now so crowded with lesser-known candidates that it appears destined for a May runoff — potentially hobbling chances of defeating the state’s senior senator.

See here for the background. Here’s the money quote:

As I always say, nothing is certain until after the filing deadline. Up until then, Beto could change his mind if he wanted to. I don’t think he will, and you know why I don’t think he will, but until December 15 it’s at least a theoretical possibility. My advice is to accept what he’s saying at face value, and move on. The Trib has more.

Once again with GOP anxiety

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

Not Ted Cruz

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

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Back to the Beto question

As in, should Beto abandon his run for President and come back to Texas to make another run for Senate? The Chron says Yes.

Beto O’Rourke

There are times, it seems, in most presidential campaigns when the facades get stripped away like so many layers of paint. What’s left is a human moment, usually fleeting, and not always flattering. But real — and often more telling than a season of advertisements.

Hillary Clinton tearing up in New Hampshire in the winter of 2008. Ronald Reagan’s humor during a 1984 debate when, asked if he wasn’t too old to serve four more years, he replied that he had no plans to use his opponent’s youth and inexperience against him. Even Walter Mondale laughed with the audience.

Something like that happened last Sunday with O’Rourke, when a news reporter asked O’Rourke whether he felt there was anything President Trump could do to cool the atmosphere of hate toward immigrants.

“Um, what do you think?” O’Rourke responded bluntly. “You know the s*** he’s been saying. He’s been calling Mexican immigrants rapists and criminals. I don’t know. … Like, members of the press — what the f***? It’s these questions that you know the answers to …”

Is that language presidential? Not normally. It certainly isn’t the normal fare for an editorial page in the Sunday paper, either, with or without the asterisks. But it struck us as so unscripted, so unexpected that its offense was somehow washed away.

The Atlantic called it the “art of giving a damn” in a piece last week about anger washing over the Democratic candidates.

[…]

Frankly, it’s made us wish O’Rourke would shift gears, and rather than unpause his presidential campaign, we’d like to see him take a new direction.

So Beto, if you’re listening: Come home. Drop out of the race for president and come back to Texas to run for senator. The chances of winning the race you’re in now are vanishingly small. And Texas needs you.

Nonsequiteuse was already on board this train. I mean, I get it. Beto polls strongly. The other candidates have so far not established themselves yet, though to be fair, neither had Beto at this time in 2017. Beto’s a known quantity, he’s the main reason why the state is now viewed as winnable, he’s got the fundraising chops, and a non-trivial number of people who want to see him come home and try again for the Senate.

And yet, I can’t quite get on board. It’s not lost to me that Beto never talked about running for Senate again this cycle. The fact that MJ Hegar was openly talking about running for Senate in February, when Beto had not announced his intentions – and you’ll note in that story that there was speculation about other potential Dem candidates – says to me that maybe another Senate run was never in his plans. That doesn’t mean he couldn’t be persuaded to switch now, but we’re asking him to change to something he may not have wanted to do in the first place, and by the way he’d have to beat multiple talented candidates who are already in first. All of this, especially the other candidates, always get overlooked by the “please come back, Beto” wishers. Seems like a big thing to ask, if you ask me.

I really think the current situation makes it a lot trickier for Beto to change course. He had the field to himself in 2018, but now he’d have to defeat a large primary field, very likely in a runoff. Not a tragedy as I’ve said before, but it would put a damper on the “champion riding in to save the day” narrative. And not to put too fine a point on it, but a decent portion of the Democratic electorate isn’t going to be all that warm and fuzzy about that white-guy champion barging into a field that contains multiple women and people of color. (You know, like the reaction to Beto and all of those more generic white guys getting into the already-stuffed Presidential race.) Again, I’m not saying Beto isn’t the strongest possible candidate, and I’m not saying he wouldn’t be a big favorite to win that crowded primary. I’m saying it’s not as simple as “Beto changes his mind and swoops in to run against John Cornyn”.

If after all that you’re still pining for Beto, I get it. I always thought a repeat run for Senate was his best move, assuming he wanted to run for something in the first place. But here we are, and while we could possibly still get Beto in that race – in theory, anyway, as he himself continues to give no sign that he’s wavering in his path – we can’t roll the clock back to February, when Beto would have had near-universal support, and no brand name opponents, for that. At the time, I evaluated Beto’s choices as “clear path to the Senate race, with maybe a coin flip’s chance to win” versus “very tough road to the Presidential nomination, with strong chances of winning if he gets there”. That equation is different now. We should be honest about that.

Emerson’s weird polls

It’s a poll, so we do the thing.

Joe Biden

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

By the way, Trump is also a deadbeat

It’s his brand.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That UT-Tyler poll

I suppose I have to talk about this.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Methodology

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dem debate will be at TSU

We have a location.

Texas Southern University will host the third Democratic primary debate, scheduled for Sept. 12 and 13.

The agreement between TSU and ABC News was announced on the network’s “This Week” show on Sunday morning.

“As the heart and soul of Houston, Texas Southern University is proud to serve as the venue for for such a prestigious event,” TSU President Austin A. Lane said in a statement. “Not only does this reflect positively on the university and the City of Houston, it also provides our students with opportunities to work directly with ABC and its partners to gain valuable experience throughout the process.”

[…]

Tom Perez, Democratic National Committee chair, said Houston was an ideal debate site because of the city’s diversity and Democratic elected officials, including U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee and Mayor Sylvester Turner.

The two-part debate will be held at TSU’s Health & Physical Education arena, which has 7,200 seats, excluding the venue’s floor. The Student Recreation Center will serve was the media center throughout the week.

TSU spokesman Steve Scheffler said the school has yet to determine how many tickets will be available for its roughly 9,700 students.

“We obviously want our students to participate as much as possible throughout the event,” Scheffler said.

See here for the background. Honestly, if they gave a ticket to every student that wanted one, and only stopped when they either ran out of tickets or ran out of students, that would be fine by me. I’m not a debate-watching person, but I’m excited that our city will host this.

Libertarians and Greens sue over the petition process for ballot access

We’ll see about this.

Mark Miller

Ahead of the 2020 election cycle, a group of Texans, along with a number of nonmajor political parties, have sued the secretary of state’s office, alleging that Texas election law discriminates against third-party and independent candidates vying for a spot on the general election ballot.

In a lawsuit filed Thursday in Austin, plaintiffs argued that current state law would give nonmajor political parties in 2020 just 75 days to obtain over 80,000 valid signatures to gain ballot access — and that the cost of doing so could cost more than $600,000.

Currently, third parties like the Green Party and the Libertarian Party can secure a spot on the general election ballot by either having at least one candidate who wins more than 5% of the vote in a statewide race during the previous election cycle, or by collecting a certain number of required signatures. That 5% threshold will soon be lowered to 2% of the vote in one of the past five general elections once a measure that passed the Texas Legislature this year takes effect Sept. 1.

Candidates unaffiliated with a political party, meanwhile, are allowed access to the general election ballot as long as they file the required paperwork and gather a certain number of signatures, which depends on which office they’re seeking.

For both third-party and independent candidates, signatures must come from registered voters who did not vote in either the Republican or Democratic primaries or participate in another party’s convention that year.

“Collecting signatures by hand is inherently time-consuming, labor-intensive and expensive,” Mark Miller, a plaintiff in the case and a two-time Libertarian candidate for Texas Railroad Commission, said in a news release. “And collecting 80,000-plus valid signatures in the limited time allowed under Texas law is all but impossible without spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to hire paid petition circulators.”

In the lawsuit, plaintiffs suggested that Texas could modernize its signature petition procedure to help alleviate the burden they say has been placed on them. Plaintiffs pointed to Arizona, which they said has a secretary of state who recently implemented an online platform to allow voters to sign nomination petitions electronically — instead of in person and on paper.

Let me start by saying that if the minor parties win the right to collect electronic petition signatures so their candidates can get on the ballot in a state where electronic voter registration is illegal, that will be infuriating. The latter is by far the bigger affront to democracy.

Before I get to the main part of my analysis, let me add some more details about this from the Statesman.

State law offers three paths for candidates to land on the general election ballot:

Political parties that received at least 20 percent of the vote in the previous election for governor nominate their candidates for state and county office and the U.S. Congress via primary elections, with the winners advancing to the general election. “Since at least 1900, only the Democratic Party and Republican Party have qualified,” the lawsuit said.

Major-party candidates pay filing fees ranging from $75 to $5,000 or by submitting petitions with 5,000 signatures for statewide office. The law does not set a time limit on when they can begin collecting those signatures, the lawsuit said. Minor parties must nominate general-election candidates at a convention where participants equal at least 1% of the number of Texans who voted for governor in the prior election, or 83,717 participants in 2020. No minor party has met the 1% requirement in at least 50 years, the lawsuit said, but Texas law allows candidates to collect voter signatures within a 75-day window to make up the difference.

The tight deadline and limits on who may sign the petitions – registered voters cannot sign if they voted in a recent primary, attended another party’s convention or signed another party’s nominating petition for the same election – put minor-party candidates at a significant disadvantage, the lawsuit said.

Independent candidates are allowed on the general election ballot if they collect petition signatures equal to 1% of the voters in the previous gubernatorial election. Petitions cannot be circulated until after the major parties hold a primary or primary runoff election, meaning candidates could have 114 days, or as little as 30 days, to collect signatures, the lawsuit said. “This uncertainty alone imposes a significant burden that chills potential candidacies,” the lawsuit said.

Having to collect about 80,000 valid signatures by hand can cost $600,000, largely to hire people to circulate petitions, the lawsuit said. The result is an election scheme that makes it difficult, if not impossible, for candidates who are not wealthy to participate in the political arena, said Oliver Hall, a lawyer with the nonprofit Center for Competitive Democracy, which worked on the lawsuit without charge along with the Shearman & Sterling law firm, which has an office in Austin. “We think the federal courts will recognize that Supreme Court precedent prohibits Texas from limiting participation in its electoral process to those with financial means,” Hall said.

So the first thing to realize is that this cycle is an especially challenging one for parties or candidates who need to go the petition route to get on the ballot. That includes the Libertarians, whose best performance in 2018 was 3.42% in the Comptroller’s race. The Libertarians and to a lesser extent the Greens have benefited in the past from the Democrats not competing in all of the statewide judicial races, leaving at least one slot with a Republican running against an L and a G, with the two of them combining for 20% or so of the vote; there were two such races in 2014. In 2018 Dems had candidates in all of the judicial races, and that left the Libertarians (the Greens were not on the ballot because none of their candidates got to five percent in 2016) out in the cold. The other thing about 2018, you might recall, is that it shattered records for off-year turnout, which is why that “one percent of the Governor’s race” (*) requirement is as high as it is. Had the Ls and Gs needed petition signatures for 2016, they’d have only needed about 47,000 of them based on gubernatorial turnout from 2014. In addition, primary turnout, especially on the Dem side, is going to be through the roof, meaning that the pool of eligible petition-signers will be that much smaller. However you feel about the plight of the minor parties and would-be independents, this is a bad year to have to collect petition signatures.

The other fact to reckon with is that this isn’t the first time a federal lawsuit (which this one is, according to the Statesman) has been filed over this requirement. Back in 2004, after Ralph Nader tried and failed to get enough signatures to be on the ballot as an independent Presidential candidate, he sued and ultimately lost; his subsequent appeal was rejected. Federal judge Lee Yeakel ruled at the time that Texas’ ballot access laws did not create an unconstitutional burden. I’m not exactly sure what is different this time, other than the number of plaintiffs, but who knows. This is the main question, at least as far as I’m concerned, that will need to be addressed. I’ll be keeping an eye on it.

For what it’s worth, while I have no warmth for the third parties, I’d be all right with a petition process that gave them more time, and even that allowed them to solicit any voter, not just non-primary voters. If and when we get electronic voter registration, I’d concede on the electronic petition gathering item. Beyond that, I don’t see much of a problem. We’ll see what the judge says.

(*) There were 8,343,443 votes cast in the 2018 Governor’s race, one percent of which is 83,434. I have no idea where that 83,717 figure comes from, unless it’s some kind of weird typo.

Next Dem debate will be in Houston

Cool.

The third debate in the Democratic presidential primary will be in Houston, party officials announced late Tuesday.

The event, sponsored by ABC News and Univision, is scheduled for Sept. 12 and 13.

“Texas is a battleground state, period,” Texas Democratic Party Chairman Gilberto Hinojosa said in a statement. “We know that when Texas goes blue, the White House will follow. We are pleased that our partners at the Democratic National Committee have agreed to host the third Presidential Debate here in Texas.”

Party officials did not immediately say where in Houston the debate would be held.

[…]

The Houston debate will be the first debate to use higher standards for candidates to qualify. They must get 2% support in four polls and receive 130,000 donors. For the upcoming Detroit debate, candidates only have to crack 1% in three surveys or accrue 65,000 contributors. That lower threshold was also used for the Miami debate last month.

It remains to be seen whether the two Texans running for president will make the September debate stage. Julián Castro announced Monday he had crossed the 130,000-donor threshold, but he has hovered below 2% in most recent polls. Beto O’Rourke has likely blown past the donor requirement based on previously released statistics, though he also has work to do in the polls.

Well, I did say that the road to the White House goes through Houston. It would be a little weird if both Castro and Beto are not there – maybe they can get some kind of home team discount if they need it? – but having a smaller field is fine by me. Kudos to all for making this happen. Here’s the TDP announcement, and the Chron has more.

Another cure for partisan redistricting

From the Brennan Center, written before SCOTUS lit a match to judicial remedies for partisan redistricting, and even more relevant now.

Congressional redistricting is broken. In most states, districts are drawn by partisan lawmakers, and the manipulation of district boundaries for partisan or other discriminatory purposes is rife, with communities of color being amongst the hardest hit. While courts can provide a remedy, litigation is often slow and costly. This allows discriminatory maps to sometimes remain in place for years while court cases and the inevitable appeals run their course. But H.R. 1, the broad and historic democracy reform bill passed by the House in March, offers some smart, comprehensive ideas that would make the redistricting process fairer and more transparent.

This would of course require three things: Democratic control of the Presidency and both chambers of Congress, discarding the filibuster so Mitch McConnell can’t block it, and then hoping that SCOTUS doesn’t decide that, well, actually, Congress can’t do any of the things that HR1 enables. In that case, a little court-packing, or at least the sufficient threat of it, may do the trick. The first is within our power, the latter two may be as well. First things first, though.

You want to be President, you’ve got to come to Houston

And so they are.

No Democratic candidate for president has won Texas in over 40 years, and yet the flow of Democratic contenders coming through the state, and Houston specifically, has been unusually strong in 2019.

Just since March, 14 of the Democrats running for the White House have already appeared at 26 different events in Houston. And that’s before 10 of the top contenders return on Friday afternoon to take part in a two-hour presidential campaign forum organized by the National Education Association.

“This is where the action is,” said DJ Ybarra, executive director of the Harris County Democratic Party. “This is where you need to be.”

For sure, Texas presidential primary elections loom large on March 3, especially as Democratic strength at the ballot box has grown in Harris County. But another reason is money.

[…]

The surge in fundraising in Houston mirrors what has happened at the ballot box. In 2004, Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry lost Harris County by more than 100,000 votes. Four years later, Barack Obama won Houston by just over 19,000 votes. Even though she lost the state, Hillary Clinton won Harris County by 161,000 votes in 2016. Last year, in his U.S. Senate race, O’Rourke won Harris County by over 200,000 votes.

The dramatic shift of Harris County from a red county to blue is a major reason some politicians and pollsters are wondering if Texas is close to turning blue. According to a Quinnipiac University survey of Texas in early June, President Donald Trump trailed Biden by four percentage points. The president had 44 percent of the vote compared to Biden’s 48 percent.

Texas also plays a big role in the Democratic primaries. After the traditional first four states (Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina) vote in February 2020, Texas will be next up along with 14 other states voting on Super Tuesday March 3. If those first four states haven’t decided the race, Texas and its haul of delegates will put those who have been cultivating Harris County votes in a prime position.

I skipped over the money stuff because I’m more interested in the votes. Here’s a little table to consider:


Year      Harris     State    Harris%
=====================================
2008 P   407,102  2,874,986     14.2%
2008 G   590,982  3,528,633     16.7%

2012 P    72,665    590,164     12.3%
2012 G   587,044  3,308,124     17.7%

2016 P   222,686  1,435,895     15.5%
2016 G   707,914  3,877,868     18.2%

2018 P   157,121  1,042,914     15.1%
2018 G   700,200  4,045,632     17.3%

The numbers represent Democratic votes cast. As I’ve said before, I fully expect the 2020 primary to be like the 2008 primary, but more so. I think the over/under right now is for three million votes, which means we’re looking at something like 500K Dem primary voters here in Harris County. The Texas race is for sure going to separate the contenders from the (many, many) pretenders. So yeah, if you want a shot at the nomination, you’d better come to talk to Democratic voters in Harris County. There’s far too many of us to ignore.

(This doesn’t have anything to do with the main thesis of this post, but I want to state it for the record anyway: Hillary Clinton got more votes in Harris County than she did in 23 states plus Washington, DC. Harris County has about as many people as the state of Louisiana, so if we were our own state we’d have eight electoral votes. Put that in your Juul and vape it.)

The lamentations of Big John

You guys, he may finally lose a race. I’m serious!

Big John Cornyn

There is no ghostwritten Cornyn memoir. His ego does not seem to live and die on how many times he appears on Sunday morning talk shows. And he’s never launched a presidential bid, exploratory campaign or even a vice presidential lobbying effort.

“I haven’t run for president,” he said. “My wife told me if I decided to run for president, I needed to get a new wife. And I’ve been married 39 years, and I’m not going to go down that path.”

It is that understated quality — what some observers describe as “boring,” “vanilla” and “not Ted Cruz” — that lends so much uncertainty to his 2020 reelection campaign.

But Cornyn’s calmness may also prove to be his greatest asset amid potential Texas political tumult. He is the de facto leader of state Republicans this cycle, with his name set to appear on the 2020 ballot below only the presidential contest.

And from this perch, Cornyn, despite his usually steady manner, is cranking the alarm as loudly as he can to his fellow Texas Republicans.

“We are, I think, no longer the reliably red state we have been,” he said. “We are at risk of turning purple. And if we don’t do our job, then we could turn blue in the coming years. “

Some of the most respected minds in Texas politics agree.

“He’s unbeatable in a regular year, but this is not a regular year,” said Bill Miller, an Austin lobbyist who ran Cornyn’s first statewide race in 1990. “A presidential year like this one changes the outlook. Otherwise, he’s unbeatable in the state of Texas.”

Now, thanks to former U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke’s near-ouster of U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz in last year’s midterm elections, Texas Democrats smell blood. An endless stream of Democrats across the state spent the winter and spring floating their own names to run against Cornyn. At this point, Air Force veteran MJ Hegar is the most prominent Democrat to officially enter the fray.

Cornyn is the first to agree that the ground is moving.

“Everything’s changed [since 2014],” Cornyn said. “I think 2018 woke up everybody on the Republican side to the fact that we not only need to be competitive in the primaries, but we need to talk to broader general election voters, too.”

There’s not really anything new in this story, which is mostly about how steadfast and unexciting the big lug is. News flash, John Cornyn is not Ted Cruz, both in his boring style and his more substantive manner, as has had passed actual legislation of consequence in his time in office. Some of it has even been bipartisan. He goes into 2020 a favorite for re-election (with, obviously, an awful lot of things still to happen that can and will affect that outlook) but not a lock. Honestly, I think he’s more at the mercy of Donald Trump and the voters he will inspire to go to the polls than anyone wants to admit. It occurs to me that if he does lose, there will be a bit of an echo of the 2006 Senate race in Rhode Island, in which longterm and generally well-liked incumbent Lincoln Chaffee, one of the last liberal Northeastern Republicans standing, was ousted by an electorate that liked him personally but wanted to send a message to then-President George W. Bush, whom they did not like. Other than being a multi-term Republican incumbent Senator, Cornyn isn’t anything like Chaffee, but it’s hard for me to imaging him losing in a world with anything but a deeply unpopular Republican President. I mean hell, he might not be seriously challenged in such a world. But here we are, and say what you want about the guy, he recognizes the peril he’s in. It’s just that there’s only so much he can do about it.

Biden talks big about Texas

And other states, too.

Joe Biden

Democratic front-runner Joe Biden said Monday he plans to campaign during the general election and win in South Carolina, Georgia and Texas, states that have consistently supported Republicans for about four decades.

“We plan on campaigning in the South. I plan on — if I’m your nominee — winning Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina. And I believe we can win Texas and Florida, if you look at the polling data now,” the former vice president said at the Poor People’s Campaign forum in Washington. “It’s a marathon — it’s a long way off.”

Georgia most recently backed a Democrat in 1992, and that was Bill Clinton. The last Democrat who carried Georgia, South Carolina and Texas together was Jimmy Carter in 1976.

Biden’s remarks came in response to a question about whether he plans to campaign in the South and the Sun Belt. He mentioned that he visited Alabama in 2017 to support Senator Doug Jones, a Democrat who won a special election in the traditionally red state.

“I have no intention of walking away, if I’m the nominee,” Biden said. “If I’m not the nominee, I have no intention of walking away, in trying to help whoever the nominee is to win those states.”

Obviously, I like the sound of that. Let me make three points here.

1. First and foremost, I am officially neutral on the Presidential primary at this time. If I had to vote tomorrow, I’d be choosing from the trio of Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, and Julian Castro. My second tier has Beto, Buttigieg, Booker, and Gillibrand. Biden’s in the group after that. He’s currently atop the primary polls, and tends to do the best in general election matchups, so this sort of article usually focuses on him. So be it.

2. One of my criteria for deciding who will get my primary vote is the level of commitment the candidate in question has for campaigning in Texas and competing to win in Texas. I hope that all of them are in on this, thus not making my decision any easier. So as far as that goes, good for Biden.

3. That said, it’s my opinion, bolstered by the polling data we have so far, that who the Democratic nominee will be will not matter that much for how competitive Texas is. The primary factor, by a long shot, is Trump himself. The nominee’s job will be maximizing turnout among those who want Trump out. I’ll be making up my mind about that later on in the cycle.

Anyway. Bottom line, I want all the candidates to be thinking big like this. It’s what the country needs and deserves. CNN has more.

UT/Trib: So this is what a swing state looks like

This is not the poll I’m looking for, but it still tells us something.

Half of the registered voters in Texas would vote to reelect President Donald Trump, but half of them would not, according to the latest University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll.

Few of those voters were wishy-washy about it: 39% said they would “definitely” vote to reelect Trump; 43% said they would “definitely not” vote for him. The remaining 18% said they would “probably” (11%) or “probably not” (7%) vote to give Trump a second term.

“That 50-50 number encapsulates how divisive Trump is,” said James Henson, who runs the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas at Austin and co-directs the poll. But, he added, the number is not necessarily “a useful prediction for an election that’s 16 months away.”

Among Republicans, 73% would “definitely” vote for Trump; among Democrats, 85% were “definitely not” voting for another term.

“This squarely focuses on Trump,” said Daron Shaw, professor of government at the University of Texas at Austin and co-director of the poll. However, he said, “it isn’t a matchup with a flesh-and-blood Democrat. It shows Trump’s relative weakness, compared to a generic Democrat in this state.”

Independents were less emphatic than either the Republicans or the Democrats, but 60% said they wouldn’t vote for the president in an election held today, including 45% who would “definitely not” vote for him.

“The most interesting and more consequential thing, this far out, is that amongst independents, 60% say they will probably or definitely vote for somebody else,” said Joshua Blank, manager of polling and research for the Texas Politics Project. “Overall, Texas independents tend to be more conservative than liberal and tend to look more like Republicans than like Democrats … and things have gotten worse among independents.”

I agree that’s bad, but I’d also point to this: Only 73% of Republicans say they will “definitely” vote for Trump, while 17% say “probably”. For Democrats, 85% definitely will not vote for him, with 6% more probably not. That seems to me to be a bit of an enthusiasm gap, which is a much bigger concern if you’re a Republican who will also be on the ballot next year. Or, you know, if you’re part of the Trump campaign and dealing with crappy polling news coast to coast. Republicans have had a turnout advantage in Texas going on thirty years now. Donald Trump’s lasting gift to our state may be him killing that off. See here for the March UT/Trib poll numbers, here for the most recent actual matchup numbers we have, and here for more from the June UT/Trib poll.

Checking in on the national political atmosphere

From the inbox, via G. Elliott Morris’ weekly email blast:

Are Democrats doing as well as they were in 2017-2018?

The plural of “anecdote” is not “data”, but that’s what special elections and the generic ballot are for. These numbers point to stability in the pro-Democratic political environment.

The 2017 Women’s March was one of the largest mass-mobilizations in American history. It was estimated that as many as 5.6 million people marched nationwide in a show of solidarity with women and resistance to then-newly-inaugurated President Trump. That type of mobilization is hard to sustain, though, and it ~anecdotally~ seems like enthusiasm among Democrats has faltered. Matt Grossman, a political scientist, presented this take on Twitter:


Data on public opinion show a similar story, with a few notable exceptions.

The first datum from 2019 that we can compare to last year’s figures is Democrats’ margin in generic congressional ballot polling. A reminder: This is the survey question that asks voters how they would cast their ballot in the election for their congressional representative “if it were held today”. In November 2019, the average poll put Democrats up about 8.7 percentage points. That number ended up being almost perfectly predictive; nationwide, Democrats won the House popular vote by 8.6.

This year, Democrats are hitting a similar benchmark. Though the absolute level of support for their party has waned—this is due to the tendency for voters to drift toward the “not sure” option after an election—so too has the level of support for Republicans, so Democrats’ margin remains at roughly 9 points. Here are the crosstabs from The Economist’s latest polling from YouGov.

Note the pro-Democratic lean of every age group besides 65+ year-olds, and the only slightly-bad 2-point deficit among Males.

Democrats’ margin on the generic ballot is the first point in support of the hypothesis that the national mood is about as liberal and pro-Democratic as it was in the run-up to the 2018 midterms.

The second datum I’d like to consider is Democrats’ performance in special elections. If you recall, the swing from Democrats’ lagged presidential performance in state and federal legislative districts to their off-year margin in special elections in those same districts has historically been highly predictive of the party’s eventual House popular vote. Tracking these special elections from November 2016 to 2018, Daily Kos Elections found that Democratic candidates were running ahead of Hillary Clinton by about 11 percentage points. What is that number for special elections that have occurred since November 2018, you ask? A 7 percentage point swing to Democrats. That’s high, but not *as* high, as last year. This suggests a modest shift back toward the political equilibrium—or, if I may, a reversion to the political mean.

Note the just 2-point swing from Obama’s 2012 margin in those districts. Interesting. Will 2020 look more like 2012 than 2016? That, my friends, is the million-dollar question.

Combined, these data—a lack of comparable mass mobilization, the generic ballot, and leftward swings in special elections—indicate that the Democratic Party is performing slightly below their high-water mark in 2018. Of course, given how well they did last time, this slight decline still puts Democrats’ margin high enough to win the House of Representatives again in 2020. Further, given the high correlation between presidential and congressional vote choice, this also suggests a poor showing for President Trump in November. But my mission here is not to predict what will happen 18 months from now. Instead, it’s to point out the stability in America’s political environment. The Caribbean-blue waters from the wave that washed Democrats to a House majority last year appear to have yet to recede.

I don’t have any grand point to make here, I just wanted to note this for the record. From where I sit, there’s plenty of candidate energy, not just for Congress but also for the Lege and the SBOE. There’s still a lot of engagement, not at 2017 levels but the baseline is higher. People are more experienced now, they’ve learned from the 2018 cycle, and they have their sights on bigger goals. The city races this fall, especially the Mayor’s race, is going to put some strain on everyone, but with primary season following that almost immediately, I figure we’ll get back on track. As always, this is one data point, a snapshot in time as we move forward. Things will change, and I’ll check in on the way they look and feel as we go. For now at least, the data says that Dems are in roughly the same place they were during the 2018 cycle. That’s a fine place to start out.

In which I plead for a boon from national writers

Dear national political writers:

MJ Hegar

The former Texas congressman and one-time Senate hopeful has attended at least 67 Iowa town halls, driven nearly 3,000 miles across the state, and hired dozens of staffers there. He’s tall, white, charismatic, and handsome—traits that should serve him well in the famously monochromatic Hawkeye State.

And yet, in the latest Des Moines Register poll, O’Rourke only has 2 percent support. He’s also not faring much better in national polling, where he hovers around 3-4 percent, and his numbers have sharply declined since an early and splashy entry into the race.

Perhaps worst for O’Rourke is that his strategic persona—youthful, well-spoken, vaguely left-liberal, smart yet inoffensive—is being done better and more effectively by South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, who has surged to a top-five position in the race. Nor does O’Rourke’s presence in the campaign, unlike other candidates like Washington Governor Jay Inslee, serve to highlight issues that would make his candidacy worth the effort even in defeat.

Fortunately for O’Rourke and for Democrats, there is another useful path for him, one that would serve the country far better: making another run for the U.S. Senate against Republican John Cornyn. The filing deadlineisn’t until December 9, which gives him plenty of time to reconsider. And a large number of Texas Democrats would like to see him come back home to do it.

Please, for the love of Molly Ivins, if you must opine about how Beto shoulda run for Senate, could you at least acknowledge, even in passing, that there’s already a strong and exciting Democratic candidate in the race? Like Beto, MJ Hegar raised a ton of money in 2018. Like Beto, MJ Hegar was a viral sensation who drew a lot of favorable press during her campaign. Like Beto, Hegar came very close (within two points in Beto’s case, within three points in MJ’s) of knocking off a Republican incumbent in a race that was originally on no one’s radar. Indeed, MJ Hegar arguably had the more impressive performance, as Trump carried CD31 by 12.5 points while winning statewide by only 9 points. Any way you look at it, Hegar is at least as well positioned to do well at this point in time as Beto was in 2017.

Now, if you want to argue that Beto would be the stronger candidate against John Cornyn, by virtue of his previous experience running statewide and his national profile, that’s fine…as long as you are arguing for Beto versus MJ Hegar, not Beto versus an existential void. My point here, and all that I’m asking, is that you argue based on the situation that actually exists, not the situation you seem to be imagining because you’re not paying attention or because you have a bee in your bonnet about the size of the Democratic Presidential field or Beto’s not-great Presidential rollout or whatever. Beto may well be, or have been, the best candidate to beat John Cornyn, and Lord knows the Dems need to win every Senate seat they can to have a hope of actually governing. But Beto is not the candidate who is running. Please, I beg of you, give me some reason to believe that you are aware of that fact. That’s all I’m asking.

UPDATE: And in the short period of time between drafting this and scheduling it for publication, this story from The Hill arrives. At least it quotes someone who notes that anyone who puts in the work that Beto did in 2018 could win, as Texas is “fundamentally competitive”. I’ll try to be okay with that.

Could Beto-Cornyn still happen?

According to that same Quinnipiac poll, some people would like for it to happen.

Beto O’Rourke

Most Texas Democrats say they’d prefer for former U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke to abandon his campaign for president and instead take on Republican incumbent U.S. Sen. John Cornyn in the 2020 U.S. Senate race, a new poll released Wednesday shows.

Sixty percent of about 400 Democratic and Democratic-leaning voters polled by a Quinnipiac University said they’d prefer to see a Cornyn-O’Rourke showdown. The poll surveyed 1,159 voters overall and had a margin of error of plus or minus 3.4 percentage points overall and plus or minus 5.8 percentage points for Democrats and Democratic-leaners.

Yet O’Rourke was still preferred over most other Democratic candidates for president other than former Vice President Joseph Biden, who led the pack as the top choice for 30 percent of Texas Democrats polled.

O’Rourke was behind him with 16 percent, followed by Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders with 15 percent and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren with 11 percent.

[…]

A change in course for O’Rourke, or even Castro, would not be entirely unexpected to Cornyn, who had a 44 percent approval rate among those polled by Quinnipiac.

This is all from that same Quinnipiac poll that I noted yesterday. I don’t actually think there’s any chance Beto will switch back to the Senate race. Remember, the filing deadline in Texas is in December, which is still before any state actually votes in their Presidential primary. I just don’t see him dropping out that early, unless the fundraising train really grinds to a halt for him. He never expressed any interest in running for the Senate again, so even if he does somehow drop out in time to file for Senate, I think he’d just sit it out.

And you know, that’s okay. It really is. I say that in part because I’ve made my peace with his decision, and in part because I’ve come to believe that the next Democratic Senate candidate needs to use Beto’s 2018 campaign as a starting point and a platform on which to construct a better and more robust campaign that absorbs and applies the lessons we have learned from the Beto 2018 experience. I think that will have a better chance of success than Beto 2.0 would have. Of course, Beto could do that himself – it doesn’t need to be a new candidate for this. Some fresh eyes would likely help, though.

This is also going to be the place where I say I’m tired of people complaining that if Beto had run for Senate instead of for President, the Dems would be that much closer to winning the Senate, which they need to do at least as much as they need to defeat Trump in order to get this country back on track again. John Hickenlooper of Colorado and Steve Bullock of Montana also get this criticism, though Stacy Abrams, who is not running for President or US Senate in Georgia, escapes it. If Beto were literally the only candidate of merit who might run that would be one thing, but we have a perfectly good candidate in the race in MJ Hegar, and we may have other getting in. I don’t deny that Beto would have started off in the strongest position of any Dem, and if he were running for Senate that race would already be on the national radar. I’m just saying it’s not Beto or nothing. I would like it if more people considered that.

Finally, I hope that as we go forward, Quinnipiac et al will begin to include Senate race questions, so we can compare the levels of support for Trump and Cornyn and whichever Dems they are matched against. Despite being a Senator for 17 years (and Attorney General before that) Cornyn’s name recognition is so-so, which is in part why his approval (and disapproval) numbers are lower than Ted Cruz’s. A Cornyn/Hegar question (and a Cornyn/Amanda Edwards question or a Cornyn/Chris Bell question) would serve fairly well as a “somewhat well-known R versus generally unknown D” question, which would help illustrate how much each Democratic Presidential hopeful might be affecting the data. Maybe in the next Q-poll we’ll see something like this.

Still ridiculously early poll: Biden leads Trump by four

Encouraging, but the usual caveats apply.

President Donald Trump is locked in too-close-to-call races with any one of seven top Democratic challengers in the 2020 presidential race in Texas, where former Vice President Joseph Biden has 48 percent to President Trump with 44 percent, according to a Quinnipiac University poll released today.

Other matchups by the independent Quinnipiac (KWIN-uh-pe-ack) University Poll show:

  • President Trump at 46 percent to Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren at 45 percent;
  • Trump at 47 percent to Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders at 44 percent;
  • Trump at 48 percent to former U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke with 45 percent;
  • Trump with 46 percent to South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg’s 44 percent;
  • Trump at 47 percent to California Sen. Kamala Harris at 43 percent;
  • Trump with 46 percent and former San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro at 43 percent.

In the Trump-Biden matchup, women back Biden 54 – 39 percent as men back Trump 50 – 42 percent. White voters back Trump 60 – 33 percent. Biden leads 86 – 7 percent among black voters and 59 – 33 percent among Hispanic voters.

Republicans back Trump 90 – 8 percent. Biden leads 94 – 4 percent among Democrats and 55 – 33 percent among independent voters.

[…]

Texas voters give Trump a split 48 – 49 percent job approval rating. Men approve 55 – 43 percent, as women disapprove 55 – 42 percent.

This is an improvement for all Dems, especially Biden, over the February results. It’s all still ridiculously early and all, but there are two things I’d focus on here. One is Trump’s level of support among white voters. Mitt Romney regularly polled at 70 percent or higher among Anglos, with President Obama generally in the low-to-mid 20’s. I’ve been saying all along that the big step forward Dems took in 2018 was partly about former Republicans, turned off by Trump, switching their allegiance. Turnout mattered a lot, of course, but this was an extra boost in the fuel. I don’t want to make too much out of one number on one poll, but keep an eye on that as more results get published over time. If Trump can’t dominate among Anglo voters, he and the rest of the GOP are in trouble.

Along those same lines, note that in neither of these Q-polls has Trump topped 48% overall against any opponent. If this continues, especially with other pollsters, it’s reasonable to think of this as more or less his ceiling. Again, look at my sidebar for the Obama numbers from 2012, which generally fit into a tight range of 38 to 41 percent; his final total was 41.38%. Trump is a known quantity. People may or may not know a given opponent to him at this point, but they know who he is, and they know how they feel about him. Unlike 2016, it seems likely that the undecided voters will not break in his favor. Turnout is very much a factor here – how people feel, and whether or not they vote on those feelings, matters a lot – but the longer we go with Trump not doing any better than this, the more the “Texas is in play” narrative will take hold.

How Texas Republicans did not make their case to women this session

They did have a not-excessively-misogynist session, but see if you can spot what’s missing in this recap and preview story.

Texas could have tried to beat Alabama to become the first state in the nation to ban all abortions this year, taking a shot at overturning the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision by the U.S. Supreme Court. But the Republican leadership in Austin hit the brakes.

It was staunch pro-life Rep. Jeff Leach, R-Plano, who put a stop to the Texas version of the bill, which would have authorized criminal charges against any woman who has an abortion.

“I think it’s the exact wrong policy to be criminalizing women who are in that extremely difficult, almost impossible situation,” said Leach, a chairman who refused to let the bill out of his committee. “We don’t need to be going after these women.”

That sentiment voiced in April was just one example of a new message that Texas Republicans tried to send in the 2019 legislative session after a wake-up call in the November midterm elections. Hundreds of thousands of educated, suburban Republican women had crossed party lines to vote for Democrats, who picked up 12 seats in the Texas House and came within three percentage points of winning their first statewide election since 1994.

House Speaker Dennis Bonnen explained the Texas GOP’s predicament in a speech to young Republicans in February, just as the legislative session got underway.

“The clearest indication of the November election — and this is horrifying — is intelligent women said we’re not interested in voting for Republicans,” Bonnen said. “We have to remember that women matter in this state … The reality is that if we are not making women feel comfortable and welcome to telling their friend or neighbor that they voted for Republican candidate X, Y or Z, we will lose. And we should lose, truthfully.”

[…]

Returns from the last three statewide general elections show the need for urgency from Republicans.

About 57 percent of Texas women voted Republican in 2014. But that began to change in 2016 with a near split in the presidential race, according to CNN exit polling. Women split again in the 2018 governor’s race, and 54 percent of Texas women voted for Democrat Beto O’Rourke over U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, who ultimately won the election.

“Republicans may have taken women voters for granted to the point where when they need them to hold the line politically, they may not be there if they don’t make appealing to women voters an emphasis,” said Brandon Rottinghaus, a political professor and analyst from the University of Houston.

I mean, sure, the Lege didn’t go full Alabama or full Dan Patrick this session, and that will probably help Republicans a bit with the suburban and college-educated white women who fled them in hordes in 2016 and 2018. They could have grabbed onto some anvils and they managed not to, so good for them. But you know what drove those big swings in how women voted in the past two elections, and will be the single biggest thing on the ballot next year? I’ll give you a hint: it rhymes with “Ronald Dump”. Short of secession or a mass party-switch, there’s not much the Republicans in the Lege could have done about that. Happy campaigning, y’all.

The view to the next session

This legislative session was relatively free of drama (you can decide for yourself how substantive it was in other ways), but the forthcoming election season will be anything but, with control of the Legislature and all that means at stake.

Rep. Dennis Bonnen

When Dennis Bonnen returned to the Texas House to pick up the gavel again after joining Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick at the Governor’s Mansion on Thursday to announce major spending deals for improving public education and curbing property tax increases, legislators — Republicans and Democrats — gave him a standing ovation.

In his first session as House speaker, Bonnen, a Republican from Lake Jackson, has brought a hands-on bipartisanship born of the traditions of the House, where he has spent half his life, to help steer the Legislature past the rancor that marked the 2017 sessions and back to the basics of governance.

“My job is to make sure every member has a great session. We deliver successful results, and every member has something they can proudly talk about so they all get reelected. That keeps a Republican majority,” Bonnen told the American-Statesman in a wide-ranging interview Thursday.

And there, with stunning simplicity, is the steady-handed House speaker’s practical plan for maintaining Republican hegemony in Texas amid the tempest-tossed Donald Trump years that cost the GOP 12 House seats in 2016 and imperil the party’s control of the chamber in 2020.

“It’s called the incumbent protection plan,” observed state Rep. Giovanni Capriglione, a Tarrant County Republican who won his fourth term last fall by nearly 40 points. “At the end of the day, tax cuts, more money for schools, nothing big blew up.”

“But then again, it may be out of our hands,” Capriglione said of 2020, when “we are going for a ride on probably the biggest presidential election ever in history. The number of Republicans and Democrats and general election voters who have never voted before is going to be crazy through the roof.”

“Last November was the first sign of that,” he said, with 8.4 million voters in Texas, approaching a presidential turnout. In 2020, he said, “they’re expecting 11.5 million people,” all the more nervous-making for down-ballot state House candidates with the lost lifeline of straight ticket voting in Texas next year.

[…]

The fate of the Texas House is likely to be driven by forces outside Texas.

“I hate it, but all politics is national,” said Brendan Steinhauser, a Republican political consultant in Austin.

“People in the Capitol really think that this session is going to matter at least somewhat in the November 2020 election, but I really think that might be wishful thinking and is very optimistic about the attention span we all have as voters,” Steinhauser said. “I think the whole election is going to be Donald Trump vs. Bernie Sanders or Joe Biden or Kamala Harris, or whoever it is.”

It was all about Trump two years ago and he wasn’t even on the ballot, Steinhauser said.

The 2018 results were bracing. Abbott won reelection by about 13 percentage points over an ill-prepared and scarcely funded candidate, former Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez. But U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz defeated Democrat Beto O’Rourke by only 2.6 points, Patrick, who had set the pace for ideological warfare in the Capitol, won by a chastening margin of less than 5 points, and Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton won by less than 4 points.

“The results of 2018 suggest that had it not been for straight ticket voting in reliably red rural counties, we’d have a Democratic attorney general and Democratic lieutenant governor,” said state Rep. Rafael Anchia, D-Dallas.

“I think the elections sobered people up to the idea that the state is center right,” and not far right, said state Rep. Poncho Nevárez, D-Eagle Pass, who was named by Bonnen to chair the House Homeland Security and Public Safety Committee.

Democrats are targeting 17 Republican-held seats in which the incumbents won by less than 10 points last year. They must win nine seats to take control of the House.

First, let me say that Dennis Bonnen was more or less what I expected as Speaker. More Straus than Craddick, more business than drama. I will of course be delighted if Dems win enough seats to make him a one-term Speaker, but given some of the other options that arose after Straus’ retirement announcement, we could have done much worse.

As for 2020, we’ve already talked about a lot of this, though there will be plenty more as we proceed. There are lots of targets for Dems in 2020, plus a few seats they will have to hold. I’m overall pretty optimistic about the latter, so it’s all about what gains can be made. We’re already seeing candidates lining up – I can’t find the post right now, but remember how there was fretting in 2017 about too many people running for Congress and not enough for the Lege – and I expect a full slate. I’ve talked about the need for Dems to get to five million votes statewide, but next to Rep. Capriglione, I’m not thinking big enough. Eleven point five million turnout seems mighty high, but then eight point four million last year would have sounded absurd in the extreme at this point in 2017, or even this point in 2018. I think if we’re approaching that level, Dems are doing fine. Until then, find a candidate for State Rep seeking to flip a red district, and see what you can do to help.

How should we feel about Joaquin Castro not running for Senate?

The Chron’s Erica Greider has opinions.

Rep. Joaquin Castro

In announcing that he won’t challenge Republican U.S. Sen John Cornyn next year, Texas congressman Joaquin Castro explained that he wanted to focus on the “important and meaningful work” he is doing in Congress.

Many Texas Democrats were saddened by this news because they were hoping Castro would run statewide. Others were disgruntled by it because they would like to flip the Senate seat, and Castro would have been a strong candidate in a year when Democrats hope to recapture control of the U.S. Senate.

I would have been proud to vote for Castro, but have little sympathy for those who denounced his decision as overly cautious. Both he and his twin brother, Julián, have faced this criticism at various points during their respective careers in electoral politics, and it’s not entirely baseless. The Castro twins are deliberate in their decision-making, and reluctant to take unnecessary risks.

[…]

Cornyn was re-elected by a 26-point margin in 2014, but he can hardly be considered invincible given the strong showing of Democrats in last year’s midterm elections. Other Democrats have taken notice. M.J. Hegar, an Air Force veteran and the 2018 Democratic nominee in Texas’ 31st Congressional District, threw her hat in the ring last month. Houston City Councilwoman Amanda Edwards is also mulling a bid, and other contenders may come forward now that Castro has taken a pass on a 2020 Senate race.

And although there’s a sense among Democrats that now is the time to stand up Preisdent Donald Trump, it’s worth remembering that Castro is already in a position to do that as a member of Congress. He represents a heavily Democratic district, and is unlikely to face a primary challenge. His stature in Washington has grown with the Democratic takeover of the House last fall, as has his presence in the national media: he’s a frequent guest on cable TV news shows to discuss the Russia investigation or Trump’s border policies.

Frankly, Castro can probably serve as the congressman from Bexar County until he decides to do something else.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but the issue is not that Joaquin Castro decided to stay put in Congress. The issue is that someone on behalf of Joaquin Castro let it be known that he was “all but certain” to announce his candidacy. If you do that, and then you follow it with weeks of silence and an announcement that you’re not running, well, people are going to wonder what you were thinking, and doing. Had it not been for that initial “all but certain” trail balloon, we wouldn’t be having this conversation now. I wish I knew the story behind how and why that story got floated in the first place. Maybe some day we will.

In the meantime, there’s another person out there pondering a possible run, and this story about Stacy Abrams’ visit to Houston checks in on her.

The annual fundraising event drew a who’s-who of local Democrats, some of whom expressed similar optimism about the upcoming election cycle — including At-Large Councilwoman Amanda Edwards, who told reporters she still is mulling a run for the U.S. Senate seat held by Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas.

“I’m feeling encouraged right now,” Edwards said. “I think that change is on the horizon in Texas, and I think the 2020 election cycle is when it will take place.”

Edwards said the Democratic nominee would have to “galvanize the base” to beat Cornyn, adding that her prospective campaign would draw lessons from the one run last cycle by Beto O’Rourke, whom Edwards said she has spoken with about her own possible run.

I remain skeptical of an Edwards candidacy, for basically the same reason why I was initially skeptical of Joaquin for Senate: Edwards has no opposition of note for re-election to Council At Large #4, and four years from now she’d make a very credible candidate for Mayor if she wants to do that. Would you give that up for a longshot at the Senate? Maybe Amanda Edwards would, I don’t know. I feel like she’s unlikely to draw this decision out for too long – if nothing else, the filing deadline for Houston municipal elections is the end of August – but we’ll see.

Joaquin is out for Senate

In the end, it’s hard to see this as a surprise.

Rep. Joaquin Castro

U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro has decided not to seek the Democratic nomination to challenge Sen. John Cornyn, choosing instead to continue pursuing a fast-rising career in Congress focusing on security and border issues.

Castro’s decision could pave the way for a contest in 2020 between Cornyn and Mary Jennings “MJ” Hegar, an Afghanistan war veteran who ran a strong but losing race for Congress last year and who declared her candidacy last week.

Castro, 44, of San Antonio, announced his decision to stay out of the race in an interview with Hearst Newspapers.

“Right now, I’m going to focus on my work in the House of Representatives. I’ve been doing what I feel is important and meaningful work here,” he said. “If and when I run for another office, it is likely to be something that takes me back home to Texas.”

[…]

His brother’s presidential campaign could have been helpful to Castro, creating excitement among Latino voters and national attention to the unprecedented effort of twins seeking high office.

But Joaquin Castro’s race also might have produced the uncomfortable scenario of extraordinarily close brothers parting ways on issues.

Joaquin Castro also had a ringside seat to his brother’s struggles to raise money, reporting a modest $1.1 million in receipts in the first three months of 2019. Thus far, Joaquin Castro has paid little attention to his own fundraising, bringing in just $36,000 in the first quarter, his Federal Election Commission report shows.

He said he is impressed with Hegar and others considering the race. “And like I have for many years, I’ll do everything I can to help our Democratic nominee win,” he said.

Barring another surprise at this point, that nominee will be MJ Hegar. The straws were in the wind after Hegar made her announcement. In a way, we’ve come full circle. When we started this cycle, I thought Joaquin Castro would be the best non-Beto option for Senate, but I also thought he’d stay put on the grounds that he’d be giving up too much for an iffy shot at a promotion. I should etch those words into a plaque and hang it on my wall, so I can enjoy being right about something till the end of time. I also noted that MJ Hegar was my next choice, so that all worked out pretty well.

I can totally understand why Joaquin Castro chose not to run. What I can’t understand is why we went through this whole “he’s in!” “he’s surely gonna be in as his friends give him a public pep talk” “um, someone else is in now what in the world is he doing?” “nvm, he’s out” cycle. Maybe someday someone close to him will spill the whole story to a reporter. The main lesson to learn here is don’t allow a story about how you are probably going to run for some higher office to get published unless you have a clear plan and a short time frame for following it up with a definitive answer. People are going to remember this, and when the 2022 and 2024 cycles come around and talk begins about who might run for what (Ted Cruz will be up again in 2024), there will be a strong tendency among the faithful to roll their eyes at the mention of Joaquin Castro. I hate to say this, but he may be on a path to John Sharp status.

One more thing, from the Trib:

Hegar is one of four Democrats who have announced they are running against Cornyn. The others are Michael Cooper, Sema Hernandez and Adrian Ocegueda.

Houston City Councilwoman Amanda Edwards has also said she is considering a run for the seat, and state Sen. Royce West of Dallas has been discussed as a potential candidate. Shortly after Castro announced his decision Wednesday, West told the Tribune that he is focused on the current legislative session and its two big issues: school finance and property tax reform.

I’m not at all surprised about Royce West not being a candidate. He was a very recent mention, and my guess is that it came up from speculation generated by Castro’s dithering rather than an actual desire on West’s part to run statewide. As for Amanda Edwards, I’d say the clock is ticking. MJ Hegar is now raising money and getting a bunch of press, and may soon have Emily’s List in her corner. Make a decision one way or the other. Finally, I stress again that Hegar needs to be running hard now, not just for November but also for March. Don’t let these no-hope candidates get primary votes by virtue of primary voters not knowing who you are. Texas Monthly and the Current have more.