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October 31st, 2004:

Heflin and Vo bring it home

It’s coming down to the wire in the hot race for HD149.

“I’m everywhere I can be,” said Republican state Rep. Talmadge Heflin, who is facing a strong challenge from his Democratic opponent, Hubert Vo. “Monday will be a long night. Tuesday will be a really long night.”

Like other candidates in close races across the region, Heflin and Vo are putting in 12- to 14-hour days, attending fairs, knocking on doors, manning telephone banks and making media appearances in the last hours before Election Day. Both began their campaigning Saturday at 7 a.m.

Heflin, the chairman of the powerful House Appropriations Committee is seeking his 12th term in Austin, but must first fend off a challenge from Vo in a race that many political experts expect to be close.

Their constituency, House District 149 in western Harris County, is remarkably diverse — 36 percent Anglo, 21 percent Hispanic, 20 percent black and 18 percent Asian.

Vo spent much of Saturday at his campaign headquarters, overseeing a group of 125 volunteers spreading over the district hanging flyers, putting up yard signs and handing out pamphlets. Vo also planned to spend a few hours on the phone, calling targeted voters and urging them to vote on Tuesday.

“We just want to make sure that we do everything to cover every corner,” Vo said. “It’s a very close race, and I’m very much happy with the way it’s going right now.”

Will the forecast record turnout carry Vo to victory, or will the rising tide lift all boats? Will Kerry do as well as I think he will in Harris County, and in doing so sweep in Vo and maybe Jim Dougherty as well? Tune in Tuesday to find out.

“Embattled”…I like the sound of that

I agree with Kos: Any article that calls Tom DeLay embattled is one that I will enjoy reading. One point of interest:

DeLay has represented his district since 1984 and is accustomed to rolling up big victories. He got 60 percent of the vote in 2000 and 63 percent two years ago.

He is expected to win again this year, but not as handily as in the past.

“I think at the end of the day, Tom DeLay will win. But his margin of victory will be much smaller than usual,” said St. Thomas University political scientist Jean-Philippe Faletta.

Based on some polls, there is a possibility DeLay could get less than 50 percent of the vote because the ballot also includes a strong independent candidate and a Libertarian.

University of Houston political scientist Richard Murray believes DeLay is running hard because he fears a narrow win could weaken him in Congress.

“His constituency is the Republicans in Washington,” he said. “If they see him as being damaged here in Texas on top of other things — it would not be good for the Majority Leader to just get a plurality win in his home district.”

If Tom DeLay underperforms George Bush in his district by a significant amount, say by ten percentage points, then I do think his authority will be weakened. Not a lot, since there’s still too many House Republicans who owe him, but I think the national media will pick up on the “DeLay is wounded” story line. Whether that actually leads to a decline in discipline among the GOP caucus is debatable – I’ll lean towards “not much, if at all” – but I think it might have an effect on his ability to raise funds for all of his puppets, and once DeLay’s moneymaking ability is sufficiently curtailed, then he’s toast.

Optimism

Poll: Texas Democrats feel ready for comeback

They haven’t held statewide office since 1998. They lost control of the state Legislature in 2002. And last year many of them got drawn into congressional districts where it will be almost impossible for them to elect one of their own to the U.S. House of Representatives.

But a Houston Chronicle poll suggests Texas Democrats aren’t counting themselves out, and analysts say Republicans shouldn’t either.

“They still think they can be influential in Texas politics, even though they got killed,” said Rice University political scientist Bob Stein, who analyzed the poll for the Chronicle.

The Zogby International poll of 800 Harris, Fort Bend and Montgomery county residents shows that about 40 percent identify themselves as Democrats, and 90 percent of those say they follow politics very closely or somewhat closely — about the same percentage of attention described by Republicans.

Even though many more of them will be represented by Republicans when the next Congress convenes in January, area Democrats remain about as confident as Republicans that they can have some influence on government.

Thirty-four percent of Democrats and 35 percent of Republicans believe they are able to influence the decisions of government a lot. A slightly higher percentage in both parties believe they have at least a little influence.

And the Democrats would like to initiate a turnaround: almost 80 percent of them say the country is heading in the wrong direction, while about that percentage of Republicans say it’s heading in the right direction.

Stein says Democratic fortunes in Texas may be changing. Hispanics and blacks, historically Democratic constituencies, were almost as likely to say they intended to vote as whites, the poll showed. In the past, they have voted in lower numbers than whites, and still might. That won’t be known until Tuesday’s vote is counted and analyzed.

But Stein said their increased interest has helped stoke Democratic enthusiasm.

“Rank-and-file Democrats know that there is something coming; they can sense it,” he said.

[…]

Stein said the Democrats’ continuing belief that they can influence government suggests that rather than being demoralized, Democrats are more engaged and more likely to vote.

Gerry Birnberg, chairman of the Harris County Democratic Party, agrees with the conclusion but not necessarily the premise.

“It’s not quite, in my view, that they believe they can effect change as it is that they want to send a message that they are pissed,” he said. “There is a passion, anger and emotional involvement.”

If the party does “well enough” in 2004, by, for example, electing a couple of Democrats to Harris County district judge positions — or at least decreasing the margins by which Republicans win — then Birnberg believes the table is set for a resurgence in 2006.

“It’s not so much based on demographics as it’s based on our ability to recruit candidates and raise money,” he said.

What this poll didn’t ask is a question about whether one’s vote in the Presidential election really matters. Everyone knows that Bush will carry Texas as he did in 2000. The difference, from where I sit, is that this year Democrats are eager to cast their vote for their candidate. They want to send a message. In 2000, the overwhelming opinion was “who cares, it doesn’t matter”. That’s why Ralph Nader rang up 10% in Travis County; one could say there was a different message being sent. There’s actual excitement here, which I haven’t seen in a long time.

One measure of this, I believe, will be how John Kerry does in the strongest Republican counties. As noted yesterday, some of those counties have had extremely strong turnout so far. If Kerry does better in the Dentons and Collins than Gore did in 2000, I believe it’s because Democrats everywhere are energized, even in places where there’s little reason for them to bother. I could be wrong about this, of course, but I’ll be very interested to see how those numbers end up.

UPDATE: This is what I’m talking about.

As a self-described liberal living in the conservative bastion of The Woodlands, Ann Horst knows her vote is unlikely to have much influence on the presidential, congressional and legislative races in her area. But she’s voting anyway, she says, because that’s one sure way to make herself heard.

“To me, it’s never a waste of time to vote,” Horst said. “Voting is crucial. Whether it’s going to make a difference in Texas, no. But I need to have my vote out there.”

[…]

Bryan Webber of Spring is one of those voters. A 21-year-old first-time voter, Webber said he looks forward to casting his ballot for Sen. John Kerry, the Democratic nominee. Like Horst, Webber knows that his vote is unlikely to shift Texas away from Bush, but he said he feels compelled to vote anyway.

“I don’t really necessarily agree with the Electoral College because … it does send a message that my vote doesn’t really count,” Webber said. “I think they should do it by the popular vote anyway. But I still feel like it’s really a privilege to be able to vote. It’s something that you believe in.”

There are balancing quotes in the article from Republicans who feel the same way. My point is that I think you’d have had no problems getting those quotes from Republicans around here four years ago as well, but not from Democrats. That’s the difference.

The sidebar on the poll, which is apparently in the dead-tree version of the Chron only, shows Bush leading Kerry in Harris County by a 51-44 margin, with 1% going to Badnarik and 4% undecided. I stand by what I said before about the margins in the big urban counties. Remember, Bush got better than 54% in Harris County in 2000 while Gore by himself got a bit more than 43%. The poll also indicated that Kerry led by wide margins among 18-24 year olds, and 25-34 year olds. That’s the best thing I’ve read all week.