April 25, 2007
Targeting 2008: Pete Sessions

This is the first in what will surely be an irregular series of analyses of Texas Congressional districts. My main interest will be the seats that I think are at least potentially competitive for 2008, but I'll likely go beyond that as well. Time permitting, of course.

This Texas Observer article about some of Rep. Pete Sessions' more ethically interesting friends (also spotted by Digby is the impetus for today's piece. Sessions, as you know, won an incredibly expensive and nasty battle with Martin Frost after the 2003 DeLay re-redistricting, coming home with 54.3% of the vote. Last year, running against a lesser known but not completely unfunded challenger in Will Pryor, he captured 56.4%, in each case with a Libertarian running as well. Given Dallas' strong blue shift in 2006, and given that Sessions is currently the biggest target standing at which Dallas Dems can aim, it seems fair to assume that he'll face a stiffer fight in 2008. Let's dive into the numbers and see what we can learn from last year's race.

All data comes from the Secretary of State numbers. Everything is done on a straight R vs D basis, so percentages may look skewed. I have the 2006 numbers in this spreadsheet, and the 2004 numbers in this one.

As I've said in previous posts that analyzed Harris County races, I'm going to go by countywide race data wherever I can, as it provides a bigger data set as well as one with less variation. Generally speaking countywide Democratic candidates fared better, so in the comparison to an individual race like CD32 I think it gives a clearer picture of the relative parties' strengths. Where I can't easily use that data, I'll sub in the top and bottom statewide races to give a range; that's Hutchison/Radnofsky and Willett/Moody.

With all that out of the way, let's get started. There were 26 contested county races in the SOS sample. I'd have died of carpal tunnel syndrome trying to break them all out for individual comparison, so instead I aggregated them. Here's a summary of that picture:

Candidate Votes Pct
Hutchison 79,000 63.4
Sessions 71,461 57.8
County GOP 67,807 57.4
Willett 63,704 54.5

Moody 53,250 45.5
Pryor 52,269 42.2
County Dem 50,374 42.6
Radnofsky 45,679 36.6

Basically, Sessions was about an average countywide Republican in CD32. As every statewide Republican other than Don Willett did better than that percentagewise, I find that encouraging for the Dems. It says to me that Sessions isn't particularly beloved, or at least that his money didn't buy him extra love at the ballot box. For comparison purposes, CD32 was a smidge under 60% GOP in 2004, with Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez winning slightly over 42% there.

Things get very interesting at the State Rep level:

Candidate Dist Votes Pct
Goolsby 102 8,423 58.4
Sessions 102 9,061 62.8
Willett 102 8,050 59.4

Miller 102 5,990 41.6
Pryor 102 5,361 37.1
Moody 102 5,502 40.6

Harper-Brown 105 6,267 58.0
Sessions 105 6,479 58.9
Willett 105 5,835 55.7

Romano 105 4,530 42.0
Pryor 105 4,520 41.1
Moody 105 4,638 44.3

England 106 3,199 50.5
Sessions 106 3,722 58.3
Willett 106 3,215 52.9

Hubener 106 3,137 49.5
Pryor 106 2,658 41.7
Moody 106 2,867 47.1

Keffer 107 2,537 50.6
Sessions 107 2,982 57.4
Willett 107 2,541 52.8

Vaught 107 2,477 49.4
Pryor 107 2,209 42.6
Moody 107 2,270 47.2

Branch 108 13,108 71.3
Sessions 108 12,676 67.4
Willett 108 11,387 64.7

Borden 108 5,229 28.7
Pryor 108 6,127 32.6
Moody 108 6,214 35.3

Hartnett 114 13,475 56.6
Sessions 114 14,368 58.8
Willett 114 13,040 56.6

Shinoda 114 10,313 43.4
Pryor 114 10,079 41.2
Moody 114 10,009 43.4

In the districts where the Dems ran a strong candidate for the State House - in particular, Hubener in HD106 and Vaught in HD107, with Miller in HD106 not far behind - Sessions outpaced his local counterpart. In districts where the challenge was lighter, such as HDs 105 and 108, Sessions ran closer to even or behind. What this suggests to me is that there are persuadable voters out there who were reached by some campaigns but clearly not by Will Pryor. Targeting those areas - and the good news is that Goolsby (51.93%), Harper-Brown (55.08%), England (49.16%), Branch (55.99%), and Hartnett (55.58%) are all clearly appealing targets - has the potential to gain a lot of votes. Plus, John Carona, whose SD04 is one of maybe three genuinely purple State Senate seats, will also be on the ballot with a lot of overlap. There's a lot more to going after Pete Sessions than just his Congressional seat.

The bottom line is that Dallas Democrats will have the wind at their back in 2008 in a way they didn't have it last year - they'll be like the Harris County GOP in 1996, in a position to pick up everything that wasn't available to them in the prior cycle. They should have no trouble fundraising, no trouble finding strong candidates up and down the ballot, and no trouble generating excitement to get out the vote. CD32 is within their grasp if they want to take it. We'll see what they do about it.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on April 25, 2007 to Election 2008