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October 23rd, 2020:

Morning Consult: Biden 48, Trump 47

The overview is here and there are some words that I’ll include shortly, but for the headline we’ll need this picture:

I know it says “Tied” despite the “Biden 48, Trump 47” listing. My guess is that the exact numbers are something like 47.8 to 47.2, and they chose to call it a tie rather than overstate the situation after they rounded off to the nearest integer. Whatever the case, it seems clear this is a “tie” in which Biden actually has a tiny lead.

Morning Consult has done a number of these polls, in which Texas is one of the featured states, over the past couple of months. I’ve linked to two of them from the late July/early August period, in which Biden was leading by a point. As noted in yesterday’s post, this was the peak Biden polling period. With the exception of one oddball in July that had Trump up seven (best just to scroll through the 538 poll tracker for Texas), they’ve all been close. They don’t provide any specific data for their state polls, but you can see some of their subsample breakdowns for their national sample at the first link.

They also have this for the Senate race.

As early voting kicks into gear in several states and Election Day approaches in less than two weeks, contests that will decide which party controls the Senate in January are tightening across competitive states.

Democrats enter the final stretch of the campaign with leads in Arizona, Colorado, Michigan and North Carolina, according to the latest Morning Consult Political Intelligence tracking, while Democrat Jaime Harrison has taken a narrow lead over Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham in South Carolina. In Texas, GOP Sen. John Cornyn still leads Democrat MJ Hegar, though the senior senator’s edge in the contest has been almost cut in half since earlier this month.

The surveys, conducted Oct. 11-20 among likely voters in each state, found a narrowing across the map compared with polling conducted Oct. 2-11, except for North Carolina. In the Tar Heel State, former state Sen. Cal Cunningham (D) maintained a lead of 6 percentage points over Republican Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), 48 percent to 42 percent, in surveys conducted following the senator’s Oct. 2 COVID-19 diagnosis and after news broke of the Democratic challenger’s relationship with a woman who was not his wife.

In Texas, Hegar’s outreach to Black voters, independents and Democrats — fueled by a late surge in cash to her campaign — appears to be yielding results.

The latest survey found she’s narrowed Cornyn’s lead to 5 points, 46 percent to 41 percent, improving her own standing by 4 points while Cornyn’s support has gone virtually unchanged. The share of Black voters backing Hegar’s candidacy increased to 74 percent, up 6 points from earlier this month, while she improved her standing with independents by 5 points, to 40 percent.

They have the race at 46-41 for Cornyn right now, which is typical in that both candidates lag behind their party’s Presidential nominee, but Hegar is farther back than Cornyn is. On the subject of that late cash injection:

Part of the reason Cornyn’s wide cash-on-hand lead evaporated was due to how much he spent in the third quarter — $13.7 million, doubling Hegar’s expenditures. The overwhelming majority of Cornyn’s spending was on “media” or similarly labeled costs, indicating he may have been locking down TV time for the fall.

But with early voting underway in the Nov. 3 general election, Hegar has been consistently outspending Cornyn on TV, beating him for the past four weeks and outpacing him by more than 2-to-1 over the last two weeks, according to ad-tracking data reviewed by the Tribune. During the most recent week, Hegar’s campaign benefited from joint TV spending with the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, while the Cornyn campaign’s TV buys have been boosted by the state Republican Party.

Third-party spending has also become a problem for Cornyn.

Last week, the top Democratic super PAC in Senate races, Senate Majority PAC, announced it was plunging into the contest with an $8.6 million TV ad buy against Cornyn. On Tuesday, another Democratic super PAC, Future Forward USA, suddenly went up on TV in the race and disclosed to the Federal Election Commission that it was dropping an estimated $3.9 million on the election for now.

Even more concerning to Cornyn is that the last-minute offensive appears to be part of a coordinated ambush. Recode reported Tuesday that a coalition of Democratic groups, including Senate Majority PAC and Future Forward, was plotting a $28 million infusion into the race for the last two weeks. About $10 million was expected to come from Senate Majority PAC, which announced its $8.6 million buy Thursday, while the rest was still being raised as of last week, according to Recode.

Future Forward is a relatively new super PAC that has been spending heavily in the presidential race as it reaches its end. The group’s top donors include some of Silicon Valley’s biggest players, such as Facebook co-founder Dustin Moskovitz and ex-Google CEO Eric Schmidt.

As that Recode story notes, the idea behind this is some academic research that claims that late TV ads are the most effective way to move numbers in an election. I might feel a bit better about that if they had begun before millions of people had already voted, but what do I know? If you suddenly start seeing a bunch of pro-Hegar and/or anti-Cornyn ads, now you know why.

Anyway. We now have four polls this week that show either a tie or a one-point Biden lead, after several polls in September that had Trump up by more than one point. All I know for sure is that a lot of people are voting now. You should be too, if you haven’t already. The Texas Signal and the Chron have more.

SCOTX rejects challenges to drive-through voting

Halle-fricking-lujah.

Voters in the state’s most populous county can continue casting their ballots for the fall election at 10 drive-thru polling places after the Texas Supreme Court Thursday rejected a last-minute challenge by the Texas and Harris County Republican parties, one of many lawsuits in an election season ripe with litigation over voting access.

The court rejected the challenge without an order or opinion, though Justice John Devine dissented from the decision.

[…]

Though the program was publicized for months before the ongoing election, it was not until hours before early voting started last week that the Texas Republican Party and a voter challenged the move in a state appeals court, arguing that drive-thru votes would be illegal. They claimed drive-thru voting is an expansion of curbside voting, and therefore should only be available for disabled voters.

Curbside voting, a long-available option under Texas election law, requires workers at every polling place to deliver onsite curbside ballots to voters who are “physically unable to enter the polling place without personal assistance or likelihood of injuring the voter’s health.” Posted signs at polling sites notify voters to ring a bell, call a number or honk to request curbside assistance.

The lawsuit also asked the court to further restrict curbside voting by requiring that voters first fill out applications citing a disability. Such applications are required for mail-in ballots, but voting rights advocates and the Harris County Clerk said they have never been a part of curbside voting.

The Harris County clerk argued its drive-thru locations are separate polling places, distinct from attached curbside spots, and therefore available to all voters. The clerk’s filing to the Supreme Court also said the Texas secretary of state’s Office had approved of drive-thru voting. Keith Ingram, the state’s chief election official, said in a court hearing last month in another lawsuit that drive-thru voting is “a creative approach that is probably okay legally,” according to court transcripts.

See here, here, and here for the background, and here for County Clerk Chris Hollins’ attempt to get the Secretary of State on record about this. The decision came down a couple of hours after County Judge Lina Hidalgo (among others) called on Greg Abbott to do the same. This would have been a monumental middle finger to the voters of Harris County, and an utter disgrace for the Supreme Court, had they upheld the Republican challenge. I don’t know what took them so long, but if they’re going to be slow about it, they’d better get it right, and this time they did. Exhale, everyone.

We shouldn’t leave this item without giving Hollins the victory lap he deserves:

There’s a bit more on Hollins’ Twitter feed. When he says that every county should do it like this, he’s absolutely right. You can see all the SCOTX denials here, and the Chron has more.

(Oh, and let’s please do remember this when John Devine is up for election next. The rest of the court may have done the right thing, but that guy has truly got to go.)

Time to check in on Ken Paxton again

It’s good to know, in times of crisis, that there are friendly fake media outfits one can run to to deny all the allegations against you.

Best mugshot ever

When Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton decided to break his silence about accusations by his top aides that he had committed crimes including bribery and abuse of office, he turned to a little-known legal outlet called the Southeast Texas Record.

In the exclusive interview, he trashed the aides and claimed that before his top deputy resigned, Paxton had planned to put him on leave anyway.

The website where that interview was posted has been identified as part of a national network of some 1,300 pay-for-play news websites that publish on-demand coverage for Republican political campaigns and public relations firms. According to The New York Times, those websites, whose names sound like ordinary local news outlets, have received at least $1.7 million from Republican political campaigns and conservative groups.

Ian Prior, who promoted the story for the Paxton campaign, denied to The Texas Tribune that the campaign had paid the outlet to run the story — “definitive no,” he said — saying he had merely reached out to set up an interview with an outlet that had already covered the story.

The Southeast Texas Record describes itself as a legal outlet focused on informing readers about the courts, with a weekly print edition published on Sundays.

After the interview was published, Prior shared it with reporters via email.

He declined to answer questions about why the campaign chose a little-known legal publication as opposed to a news outlet with wider readership, such as The Dallas Morning News, Houston Chronicle or Austin American-Statesman, which had all been following the Paxton story closely.

“Appreciate the question but not going to get into [public relations] strategy/discussions,” Prior said in a text message Tuesday.

[…]

In the Oct. 13 Paxton story, the Record foregrounds Paxton’s point of view in the ongoing scandal and elaborates less on the allegations against him, which remain murky, with federal authorities refusing to confirm whether there is an investigation into Paxton’s behavior at all. The author, David Yates, writes that Jeff Mateer — the top Paxton deputy who resigned after accusing his boss of criminal wrongdoing — did not return requests for comment.

It gives no indication that the author attempted to reach David Maxwell or Mark Penley, two top aides whose work is questioned in the story and whom Paxton placed on leave from the agency.

And the story elides details that raise questions about Paxton’s role in the scandal. In an internal email that was obtained by the Tribune, top aides alleged Paxton was using the power of his office to help a donor, real estate investor Nate Paul, who accused federal authorities of wrongdoing after the FBI raided his home and office in 2019. Paxton has claimed his office was investigating Paul’s allegations merely because local authorities in the Travis County district attorney’s office referred the complaint to the agency. But Travis County DA Margaret Moore has disputed that timeline, telling reporters that Paxton sought a meeting with her office about the complaint before it was referred.

The Record story does not include those details, nor does it extensively detail the accounts of the seven senior aides who have leveled accusations against Paxton.

The strategy is obvious: Talk to friendly people who won’t ask any embarrassing questions, and avoid any outlets that will probe or push back. That way, the core supporters will only hear your side of the story and can thus dismiss anything that comes out elsewhere, since it’s not from a “trusted” source. This doesn’t stop all the bad information from getting out, but it does put a barrier up to it for the base.

Also, the retributions have begun.

Lacey Mase, one of the top aides who accused Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton of crimes including bribery and abuse of office, has been fired, she told The Texas Tribune on Tuesday evening.

“It was not voluntary,” she said, but declined to comment further.

Mase was hired in 2011 and worked most recently as the deputy attorney general for administration. Paxton’s office did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday.

[…]

Mase’s personnel file, obtained through a public records request, shows she rose quickly through the agency’s ranks, earning frequent promotions. She was promoted as recently as Sept. 1, 2019, earning a nearly 12% pay bump to $205,000 annually. When Mase was promoted in April 2018, a supervisor wrote that she “consistently exceeded standards” in all her roles at the agency. Her salary has multiplied over the past few years, from $50,000 in 2013 to more than $200,000 most recently.

Texas law “protects public employees who make good faith reports of violations of law by their employer to an appropriate law enforcement authority,” according to the Texas attorney general’s website. “An employer may not suspend or terminate the employment of, or take other adverse personnel action against, a public employee who makes a report under the Act.”

Firing Mase so soon after she and the other top aides made their report is “suspicious,” said Jason Smith, a North Texas employment attorney who has handled whistleblower cases and who worked in the attorney general’s office in the 1990s.

“This looks and smells like classic whistleblower retaliation,” Smith said. “This situation looks like what the Texas Whistleblower Act was designed to prevent. And the timing looks bad.”

Smith said the aides appear to have taken all the proper steps to invoke whistleblower protections, reporting suspect behavior to “an appropriate law enforcement authority” as specified in the law, and making their employer aware of the allegations through the letter to human resources. The aides used that exact language — “appropriate law enforcement authority” — in their Oct. 1 letter to the agency.

I mean, maybe there was a reason for this, but it sure looks suspicious, and there’s no way Ken Paxton deserves any benefit of the doubt. And hey, now there’s a pattern.

A second whistleblower has been fired from the Texas attorney general’s office after reporting his boss, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, to law enforcement for crimes including bribery and abuse of office, according to a former senior official with the agency who had knowledge about the firing but did not want to be named for fear of legal repercussions.

Blake Brickman, who had served as deputy attorney general for policy and strategy initiatives for less than a year, was fired Tuesday, the official said.

[…]

Brickman and Mase were among seven top aides in Paxton’s office who alerted law enforcement weeks ago that they believed their boss had run afoul of the law. In internal emails obtained by the Tribune, they accused Paxton of using the power of his office to serve the financial interests of a donor, Nate Paul.

I mean, once you’ve fired one whistleblower, why not go all in and fire another? In for a penny and all that. I hope Ms. Mase and Mr. Brickman find themselves some good employment attorneys. The Chron has more.

November 2020 Early Voting Day Ten: Closing in on 2016

A couple of tweets to get us started:

I talked about the likely percentage of people with no voting history in yesterday’s roundup. These folks include some number who did vote in 2018, and among them will be those who turned 18, or became citizens, or had moved to Texas in the interim. It will also include a lot of these brand-new voters. It seems likely this cohort will tend to favor the Democrats, though we can’t know just yet how that will shake out.

For the record, there were 732,037 registered voters in Travis County in 2016, and 477,588 of them voted, giving 65.8% of their vote to Hillary Clinton. Seems likely they’ll do a lot better this year. The Statesman had a story about the early vote in Travis County so far, but I thought Susan’s tweet was more on point.

Anyway. The Day Ten daily EV totals are here. You can find the daily totals for 2008 and 2012 (and 2016 as well, but I’ve got a separate link for it) here, for 2016 here, and for 2018 here. I’m just going to keep on keeping on with the pretense that early voting actually began this Monday, except with 628K votes already in the bank. The “original” Day Four numbers are here.


Election     Mail      Early      Total
=======================================
2008       37,381    170,629    208,010
2012       50,790    201,962    252,752
2016       73,043    293,440    366,483
2018       59,332    249,383    308,715
2020      136,851    260,831    396,682

The in person early vote total declined again, though it would still be enough by itself to maintain the pace needed to match 2016’s final turnout during the EV period. Despite that, the overall total from Thursday actually exceeded Wednesday because of a huge number of returned mail ballots. Here’s the daily breakdown so you can see what I mean:


Vote type    Monday  Tuesday Wednesday  Thursday    Total
=========================================================
Mail         17,106   12,216    10,097    21,928   136,851
Drive-thru    6,347    7,578     6,834     5,145    80,009
In person    67,679   62,173    55,557    49,698   734,206
Total        91,132   81,967    72,488    76,771   951,066

We are now at 96.5% of 2016’s early vote (plus mail ballot) turnout of 985,571. I think we can safely assume we will pass that today. We are also now at 71.0% of 2016 total turnout. We passed 2012’s early vote total (777,067) and 2008’s early vote total (746,025) on Wednesday. We could reach their final turnout totals (1,188,731 for 2008, 1,204,167 for 2012) early next week. Total early vote turnout from 2018 was 867,871, and we passed that Wednesday. Total 2018 turnout was 1,219,871, so we could pass it along with 2008 and 2012 on the same day. With eight days to go, we will need to average 48,479 votes per day to reach 1,338,898 total votes. The mail ballots returned has already exceeded the 101,594 from 2016, and there’s 110,583 ballots still out there. (Though some people who got mail ballots have been voting in person and turning the mail ballots back in. I’ll have more on that over the weekend.)

Here’s your Derek Ryan email.

We’ve reached the halfway point of the early voting period and over one-third of registered voters in Texas have voted (5,887,488 people).

Those in the political world who know me know that I have an obsession with Loving County. Loving County has 111 registered voters and 29 of those people have voted early (6.9% have no previous election history in the last eight years). For reference, 876,887 people have voted in Harris County.

The full report is here. Gotta say, twelve million seems doable. Crazy, isn’t it?