The Press on the Cohen-Wong race

The Houston Press devotes a big portion of this week’s news hole to a story on the HD134 matchup between Ellen Cohen and Martha Wong. It’s got some good anecdotes, and is certainly more than we’ve seen elsewhere in the papers on this race, but I need to do a little nitpicking. For instance:

Wong’s vulnerability is emblematic of a Republican Party that is increasingly divided and struggling to support a consistent message. A schism in the party is being led by Carole “One Tough Grandma” Strayhorn in her independent bid for governor against Republican Rick Perry. Strayhorn has given voice to a more moderate wing of the party concerned with a lack of progress in education and health care. Few observers believe Perry will lose — he has the support of conservative rural voters — but his close allies in more moderate districts might get caught in the crossfire.

While it is true that “few observers” think Rick Perry is in electoral danger despite his tepid poll numbers, he’s got some issues with rural voters right now thanks to widespread opposition there to the Trans Texas Corridor. And besides that, much of Perry’s strength, like the Republican Party in general, has been in the more populous suburbs – think counties like Montgomery, Collin, and Denton.

That wasn’t so bad. This was:

Wong doesn’t deny that her district is socially moderate, but it’s unclear whether she possesses enough armor in Austin to cast moderate votes and get away with it. If she had voted against her party, she likely would have found herself in the shoes of Carter Casteel (Republican, New Braunfels), a moderate who faced retaliation from Republican bosses in this year’s primary and was ousted. Of course, now she faces Cohen. “Martha is just the tip of the iceberg on this,” Stein says. He thinks if enforced conservative voting patterns persist, many more Republicans in major cities, such as the suburban Houston reps Peggy Hamric and Joe Nixon, will also become vulnerable to moderate Democrats.

I’m pretty sure Bob Stein is aware that neither Hamric nor Nixon is on the ballot this year, as both stepped down in an unsuccessful attempt to win the GOP nomination for SD07. I’m therefore going to assign the blame for that to the author, since Stein wasn’t quoted directly here. It would have been fair to say that their districts will (or at least may) become vulnerable to moderate Democrats, but who knows what the 2011 redistricting will do.

Not the author’s fault:

Citing another reason why he’s not concerned about the race, [Harris County GOP Chair Jared] Woodfill points to Wong’s 2002 campaign against State Representative Debra Danburg. Ousted from her Montrose stronghold by Republican-led redistricting, Danburg ran against Wong on the wind of support from many of the same groups that are now supporting Cohen. Danburg “had way more name ID than Ellen Cohen and a lot more money at the time,” Woodfill says. “The Democrats were saying that Martha was vulnerable to Danburg — and she beat Danburg soundly. So what’s changed? They’ve got a weaker candidate that has less money.”

Oh, Jared. Wong got 53.1% of the vote in a district that was over 61% Republican in 2002. She was lifted to victory by that year’s GOP tide. A win this year would be much more impressive, since she isn’t going to have that kind of wind at her back.

And for what it’s worth, some of us think Danburg ran a crappy campaign in 2002. In fact, such sentiments were voiced in the very pages of the Houston Press back in the day. Ask around and see how many people who are familiar with Ellen Cohen would call her a weaker candidate.

Anyway. Read it, and go listen to my interview with Ellen Cohen when you’re done.

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