Below are some of the sights and sounds of Tuesday night’s largest parties, thanks to Herald Post staff members Andra Litton, and Andres ‘Ace’ Acosta. (Also special shoutout to Duke Keith for letting us embed the special he did for 550 KTSA below the gallery)
Got to do some radio news tonight for the Alamo City. Thanks to KTSA-AM and News Director Dennis Foley for allowing me to part of their election night coverage from Beto O'Rourke's rally at Southwest University Park.The game has changed a bit since I started at KTAM-KORA in beautiful Bryan-College Station back in the late 1980's – social media means video. Here's a short piece I did before they opened the park.550 KTSA Congressman Beto O'Rourke
Despite the constant stream of stories about the midterm elections, most candidates on the Texas ballots aren’t getting much attention outside of their small circles of supporters, donors and advisors. As a result, some have rejiggered their campaigns into grassroots efforts to hound reporters and editors into mentioning their names every time those news outlets write about politics or elections.
That’s not how this works. What gets attention and what doesn’t is vital to candidates — especially if they’re unknown, unheralded, from third parties with small followings, or are starving for notice far down a ballot stuffed with big-time, big-money candidates.
But the attention they want — that they need, in order to have some influence on the civic conversation and some support at the polls — doesn’t come from the news media. It comes from voters.
Some candidates blame their lack of notoriety on their lack of news mentions, like primitives who decide the wind blows because the trees move back and forth. They’re finding, like their predecessors, that you’re not news because you get mentioned by the news media; you get mentioned by the news media because you’re making news.
Getting onto the ballot is news. Once. Getting into a debate — which is, for the most part, a negotiation among political competitors — can be news, both in those negotiations themselves and then the performance in that debate, if a debate takes place. Drawing big crowds. Having ideas that catch on with those crowds. Having a real influence on the outcome of an election, either as a winner or as a spoiler.
Political reporters chase that kind of stuff. The Tea Party — a textbook example of outsiders organically creating a major political movement — didn’t get started in the papers or on radio or TV. Crowds started showing up all over the place (with help from early-stage social media) and those crowds made news.
Candidates from the parties — and from outside the parties — do this from time to time. Ron Paul made his mark as a Libertarian, turning eventually to the GOP to win a spot in Congress. In the 2006 governor’s race in Texas, 31.2 percent of the vote went to candidates who were not flying the Republican or Democratic flag. The winner, Republican Rick Perry, was re-elected with 39 percent. The third-party and independent candidates — Carole Keeton Strayhorn, Kinky Friedman, James Werner and James “Patriot” Dillon — combined to win more votes than Chris Bell, the Democrat in that race.
Third-party candidates generally haven’t done well in Texas, performing best in races where either the Democrats or Republicans haven’t fielded candidates. Ken Ashby, a Libertarian, got 19.4 percent of the vote against Republican U.S. Rep. Jeb Hensarling in 2016, but there were no Democrats in the race. One sign that U.S. Rep. Pete Sessions, R-Dallas, might be vulnerable is that he got 71 percent of the vote in his 2016 race — with no Democrat on the ballot. Libertarian Ed Rankin and Gary Stuard of the Green Party got 19 percent and 10 percent, respectively.
But they generally don’t win races. In fact, it’s unusual for Libertarian candidates to get more than 5 percent in races where both of the major parties have contestants. They do get enough votes to win access to the ballot — another way of saying their candidates are automatically included on the page when you vote. That’s better than the Green Party has fared lately.
It fuels their anger at being left out. That’s understandable. There they are on the ballot in Texas, but they haven’t been able to elbow their way into the conversations about debates or property taxes or marijuana or much else. That’s got to be frustrating.
Neal Dikeman and Mark Tippetts are running for U.S. Senate and governor, respectively, as nominees of the Libertarian Party of Texas. Each has a campaign underway to get more media attention, Dikeman by trying to edge his way into debates via social media, Tippetts by urging supporters on Facebook to “make some noise” about getting into publications like this one.
Each would like to be on stage in debates with the Republicans and Democrats whose parties dominate Texas and American politics and whose candidates have a much easier time getting attention. So would Kerry McKennon, the Libertarian running for lieutenant governor; Michael Ray Harris, the party’s candidate for attorney general; comptroller candidate Ben Sanders; land commissioner nominee Matt Piña; and Michael Wright, who wants to be a railroad commissioner.
They’re having a hard time getting mentioned and getting noticed by voters in a way that might help them get mentioned. It’s probably not fair. It is market-based, however: political news tends to follow influence and money — and stories. And interest, too: Like in political columns about candidates who can’t attract attention.
WASHINGTON – There are few bigger warning signs for a member of Congress that their re-election may be in doubt than when a challenger outraises them. In Texas, it just happened to seven incumbents, all Republicans.
Since last week, when U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke, D-El Paso, revealed that he had raised a stunning $10.4 million between April and June in his bid to unseat Republican U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, a wave of Texas Democrats running for U.S. House seats similarly blasted out their own unusually strong fundraising numbers.
The numbers only became more striking when compared to their rivals: Some Democratic challengers raised two, three or even four times what their Republican incumbent rivals posted. All congressional candidates were required to file their second-quarter fundraising reports with the Federal Elections Commission by Sunday.
In the 21st Congressional District, where Republican U.S. Rep. Lamar Smith is retiring, GOP nominee Chip Roy trailed his Democratic rival, Joseph Kopser. Several other Democratic candidates runningin Republican strongholds across the state also posted abnormally large six-figure fundraising hauls.
One of the biggest red flags for Republicans came from Carter’s once-safe 31st District. Thanks to a successful viral video, veteran M.J. Hegar raised more than four times Carter’s second-quarter sum – the biggest split among the races where Democrats outraised GOP incumbents.
Since last year, Democrats have been eyeing the seats held by Culberson, Hurd and Sessions. Despite each winning re-election in 2016, Hillary Clinton drew more votes than Donald Trump in their districts. The mood around Culberson and Sessions has markedly darkened in the past week, thanks in part to the fundraising of their rivals, attorneys Lizzie Pannill Fletcher of Houston and Colin Allred of Dallas, respectively. Even Hurd, who’s built a reputation on his fundraising prowess, saw veteran Gina Ortiz Jones outpace him nearly two-to-one. But like Culberson and Sessions, Hurd has a distinct cash-on-hand advantage over his Democratic rival.
Hardly anyone in Texas will suggest that incumbents like Olson and Williams are in any significant electoral trouble because they were outraised. But the cumulative effect of so much strong Democratic fundraising is unnerving to many Texas Republican insiders.
One anxious Texas operative, however, suggestedthese fundraising numbers are merely a first alarm bell. The second may come once incumbents go into the field en masse and poll. But two GOP sources say many incumbents have been reluctant to poll their districts amid what feels like a chaotic political environment and are waiting for a more stable period to get an accurate read of the electorate.
For most of the election cycle, Republican operatives have brushed off strong Democratic fundraising. Republican Super PACs have been on a healthy fundraising streak.And in Texas specifically, Gov. Greg Abbott offers a massive financial and organization umbrella to down-ballot candidates. He recently reported he had a $30 million war chest and $16 million in television advertising. Democratic nominee Lupe Valdez has yet to release her latest fundraising figures, but few Democrats are counting on her to provide strong coattails in the fall.
Yet unsolicited, GOP insiders are beginning to chime in with the same refrain: As much as Abbott’s money and organization will offer cover, there is a growing concern about the fact that O’Rourke has so frequently outraised Cruz.
Some Republicans remain confident the center will hold in Texas.
“The net effect is safe Republican members will have to spend more on their races as as prophylactic measure,” said Dan Conston, a national GOP strategist who works on U.S. House races. “But assuming they run serious campaigns and focus on turning out their voters, these safe Republican seats will remain so in November.”
Yet those victories will come at a cost. In Texas, often viewed as a “donor state” in Republican politics, incumbents having to spend big to protect their own seats could wreak havoc with the money race in other parts of the country.
GOP members of Congress here are expected to raise millions of dollars for the House campaign arm and for vulnerable members elsewhere in the country. For this reason, the state expects and succeeds in holding positions of leadership within the party and chairmanships on Capitol Hill.
Now, many of these members with choice committee assignments and positions of influence in the party may end up spending more of their money protectively back home to reinforce their own seats. Collectively, that could wind up to be a pile of money not being sent to hotly contested races in places like Tucson, Denver and southern California.
An even more dire situation for the GOP would be if national Republicans feel compelled to buy television ads for Texas members they’ve never had to worry about before, like Sessions, Culberson and Carter.
It may all be a fluke or misdirected Democratic enthusiasm, but long-time operatives are hopeful that Democrats can lasso anti-Trump enthusiasm to, at the very least, do what scores of national strategists have previously come to Texas and failed to do: build the party.
The logic goes, even if most of these congressional candidates come up short, the money and organization they bring to the table is a major opportunity for party building at the local level.
In Harris County, Culberson’s 2016 Democratic rival had only raised a few thousand dollars at this point in the cycle. This time around, Fletcher more than doubled Culberson’s quarterly haul.
In the nearby 2nd Congressional District, veteran Dan Crenshaw, who is running for an open seat currently held by U.S. Rep. Ted Poe, was one of the few bright spots of Republican fundraising. He doubled the fundraising of his own rival, Democrat Todd Litton. Yet that follows multiple quarters where Litton posted six-figure hauls, far exceeding past Democratic nominees’ fundraising.
No matter how those races turn out, Harris County Democratic Chairwoman Lillie Schechter said these hauls help the larger Democratic goal of carrying the county in a midterm and winning more local races, including their goal of unseatingstate Rep. Sarah Davis, R-West University Place.
“Every bit of fundraising in Harris County, for every single Democratic committee, club, organization and candidate, helps us all with the fall,” she said.
Disclosure: Joseph Kopser has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune’s journalism. Find a complete list of them here.
Now that the first round of this election cycle is out of the way, we can talk about November.
The election moves now — runoffs notwithstanding — to battles between the major parties instead of battles within them.
What’s in play? There’s one congressional seat, and maybe a couple more, that could change flags when the major parties clash. There’s a seat in the Texas Senate, and a couple of wildcard races that will put new people in that body. And there are a dozen or so spots in the Texas House that could go to either the Democrats or the Republicans. Those races will lock down the list of voters in the first significant election of 2019 — the one for speaker of the Texas House.
The top of the ticket is stronger on the Republican side, hardly a surprising development in a state where that party has dominated politics and government for decades.
The most interesting race — which is not to say it will be the most competitive when the votes are tallied — is the one where Republican U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz is being challenged by Democratic U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke. The governor’s race isn’t set, with Democrats Lupe Valdez and Andrew White on their way to a May runoff. And Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick will face Democrat Mike Collier in his re-election bid.
The other non-judicial statewide races — for attorney general, comptroller, and land, agriculture and railroad commissioners — all feature incumbent Republicans and largely untested Democrats. They’re like the bands trying to get attention at the South By Southwest gathering in Austin, unheralded and hoping for a break.
Texas will have eight new people in its congressional delegation, replacing the people who didn’t seek new terms this year. Recent political results favor incumbent parties in those six Republican and two Democratic districts. Three districts where incumbent Republicans are running are generally considered the most likely candidates for political changes. U.S. Rep. Will Hurd of Helotes represents the state’s only true swing district — one that can be won by a candidate of either party. Two more members of Congress — John Culberson of Houston and Pete Sessions of Dallas — are on Democratic target lists because, while they both won in 2016, they won in districts where Hillary Clinton beat Donald Trump.
The closest thing to a swing seat in the Texas Senate is Konni Burton’s in Tarrant County. The Colleyville Republican will face Beverly Powell in a general election that could be a test of President Donald Trump’s popularity in the sort of midterm election that often goes against a sitting president.
en. Carlos Uresti, D-San Antonio, was convicted on federal charges including fraud and money laundering and could face millions in fines and years in prison. Like Garcia, he isn’t on the ballot this year — but like Garcia, he’s not expected to be in the Senate when the 86th Legislature convenes next January. Candidates are lining up in that one, too.
The Texas House, which will start 2019’s business by electing a new speaker to replace Joe Straus, who isn’t seeking another term, has a dozen seats where both Democrats and Republicans have a reasonable shot at victory, depending on the political mood and the quality of the candidates on each side.
That’s not enough to flip the House majority. With 95 Republicans and 55 Democrats now, that would require a 21-vote swing. What’s more, the swings are divided between Democrats and Republicans. The state’s Democrats are hoping to pick up five to 10 seats; Republicans are hoping to hang onto their strong majority. Both are hoping to have a strong influence on the selection of the next speaker in a race where three candidates have already surfaced and more are in waiting.
One definition of a swing seat is one in which neither statewide Democrats nor statewide Republicans have been able to run away in elections. The House has a dozen where the average margin of victory in statewide races has been smaller than 10 percentage points.
Seven are held by Republicans: Rodney Anderson of Grand Prairie, Cindy Burkettof Sunnyvale, Tony Dale of Cedar Park, Sarah Davis of West University Place, Larry Gonzales of Round Rock, Linda Koop of Dallas and J.M. Lozano of Kingsville. Burkett gave up her seat for an unsuccessful Senate bid, and Gonzales didn’t seek another term. Both major parties have candidates in those two open seats, and the Democrats have a candidate in each of the others.
Those aren’t the only seats in play — just the obvious ones. More than 30 primary races won’t be settled until the May runoffs. A mess of seats are virtually decided since only one major party has a candidate, a list that includes four seats in the state’s congressional delegation, two in the state Senate and 53 in the House.
Everything else is theoretically up for grabs. But some are easier to reach than others.