Campaign Finance Foreshadows Election Battles

The mid-year campaign finance reports, filed last week, reveal which races have the attention of the political players. They're a down-in-the-weeds look at where the fights will be this fall.

House Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, defending turf for the first time since he was elected, looks strong financially. He reported holding cash balances of around $3 million in his two accounts and another $205,000 in the Texas House Leadership Fund, a political action committee he and some of his chairs set up to hold and grow the GOP majority in the House. Straus has said he won't campaign against incumbent Democrats, so the leadership PAC's spending offers a peek at where Republicans think they'll be on defense. You can see how concerned they are in each race, roughly, by the dollar amounts.

Getting $2,500 from the leadership fund were state Reps. Angie Chen Button of Richardson, Charles "Doc" Anderson of Waco, Chuck Hopson of Jacksonville, Harvey Hilderbran of Kerrville, Larry Phillips of Sherman and Rob Orr of Burleson. At the $5,000 level: Dan Huberty of Humble, David Simpson of Longview, Walter "Four" Price of Amarillo, John Frullo of Lubbock, Lance Gooden of Terrell, Lanham Lyne of Wichita Falls, Linda Harper-Brown of Irving, Lyle Larson of San Antonio, Patricia Harless of Spring and Charles Schwertner of Georgetown. Harless and Harper-Brown are the only House members in that group; the rest are Republicans running for open seats. Harper-Brown's is the toughest race there; she won by fewer than two dozen votes two years ago and has been mired in a controversy over her personal car, which is actually owned by her husband's employer, a state contractor.

The leadership PAC gave even more money to four incumbents who could face tough re-election battles: $10,000 to Tim Kleinschmidt of Lexington, $15,000 to Joe Driver of Garland and $20,000 each to Dwayne Bohac of Houston and Ken Legler of Pasadena.

Pair that with the list of campaign donations from the Associated Republicans of Texas, which isn't constrained by Straus' pledge to leave Democratic incumbents alone. In fact, ART isn't contributing, at this point, to incumbent Republicans — only to challengers.

ART gave to Cindy Burkett, who's running against Rep. Robert Miklos, D-Mesquite; to Connie Scott, who's running (again) against Rep. Abel Herrero, D-Corpus Christi; Dee Margo, challenging Rep. Joe Moody, D-El Paso, in a rematch; Erwin Cain, against Rep. Mark Homer, D-Paris; Jim Landtroop, against Rep. Joe Heflin, D-Crosbyton; former Rep. Jim Murphy, trying to get his seat back from Rep. Kristi Thibaut, D-Houston; Jose Aliseda, challenging Yvonne Gonzalez Toureilles, D-Alice; Sarah Davis, running against Rep. Ellen Cohen, D-Houston; and Stefani Carter, against Rep. Carol Kent, D-Dallas. Each got $20,000 from the PAC. ART also gave $5,000 to Lyne, the former Wichita Falls mayor running for the seat now held by Democrat David Farabee, who's not seeking re-election.

You don't have to be very old to remember when a $100,000 House race was a big deal, but that's chump change in a competitive context now. And the cash-raising patterns are changing a little. Challengers often wait until after the mid-year reports to crank up their fundraising — the better to sneak up on incumbents who'd otherwise be alerted, by the reports, to serious challengers. But this year, some of the challengers are showing their hands. Raising money early tells your potential benefactors that you're serious and makes it easier to keep raising as you go: Political investors, like financial investors, prefer to go with a winner. There will still be some late bloomers — every election season has a couple of candidates who show up late with loads of cash — but more candidates are trying to show early strength this year.

Some examples:

• Jason Isaac, the Republican challenger to Rep. Patrick Rose, D-Dripping Springs, raised $169,000 in the first six months of the year. That had been advertised as a weak challenge — so much so that Straus crossed party lines to appear at a Rose fundraiser. No more. Isaac is for real, at least financially. Rose is one of the Legislature's most successful fundraisers, which could make this expensive on both sides. The incumbent raised $261,910 and had $571,300 on hand at mid-year.

• Kent is defending her seat for the first time and has piled up $253,006 after raising $193,493 during the first six months of the year. Carter, her challenger, was stout, too, raising $149,013; she got to mid-year with $87,261 in the bank.

• Kleinschmidt's challenger, Pati Jacobs, says she raised over $100,000 for her race. That's better than the incumbent's holdings; he raised $66,588 and ended with $38,633 in the bank.

• Paul Workman, a Republican challenging Rep. Valinda Bolton, D-Austin, raised $100,000 over the last three months (he had an election runoff) and got to mid-year with $67,000 in his account.

The campaign finance reports were due on July 15, but it takes a few days to get all of them onto the Texas Ethics Commission's website. A full picture will be available then. And the candidates will have to wait several months to see where their opponents sit financially. The next reports are due 30 days before the election. Another batch are due eight days before the election.

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