Vol 29, Issue 32 Print Issue

A 10-Week Sprint to Election Day

The conventions start next week, with Republicans going first, in Tampa, and Democrats following, in Charlotte. Both parties are going South, but they're interested in swing states.

Texas isn't one.

That means the money scooped up by the partisans (candidates, Super PACs, parties, etc.) will be used mostly in other states. You'll be spared the electronic political invasion on TV every night — at least the advertising form of it — but you won't get to see what the voters in the swing states get to see, either.

The conventions don't really settle anything political like they once did. These are now marketing exercises that aim to do for the candidates what the Olympics did for Coca-Cola.

They also serve as the unofficial starting gun for the November general elections.

Texans will get some face time, but not a lot. Julián Castro, San Antonio's mayor, will give the keynote speech for the Democrats. Republican U.S. Senate nominee Ted Cruz will have a prominent spot at the GOP gathering. U.S. Rep. Francisco "Quico" Canseco of San Antonio will speak to his fellow Republicans; he's in the state's lone congressional swing district with Democratic state Rep. Pete Gallego challenging. Planned Parenthood chief Cecile Richards — daughter of the former governor — will speak to the Democrats, as will actress Eva Longoria.

The Texas delegation will be big, but the front and center seats and the close-in hotels will be occupied not by Texans but by delegates from the states that are actually in play. That's the way the game works.

Which races are really and truly competitive? That argument is really just starting. Here's a starter list, with our usual caveat: Some of these will turn out to be duds and some races that now appear to be dull will turn out to be loud and noisy and competitive after all. Any number of noncompetitive races could become close if the frontrunner gets his or her mouth around his or her foot.

At this point, we're basing this on numbers from past elections, including the 2008 presidential race, the 2010 gubernatorial race, and in the case of the Texas Weekly Index, the average difference between Democrats and Republicans in contested statewide races in the last two election cycles. The numbers tell a mixed story sometimes, and any decent political consultants can find something somewhere that argues on behalf of their candidates. Enough weaseling. Here we go:

Congress

• CD-23, where Canseco faces Gallego. It's competitive on paper. Both national parties are worked up about it. And although the lines have been redrawn, this area of the state has flipped back and forth between the parties several times over the last decade. For what it's worth, both the Libertarian and Green parties also have candidates: Jeffrey Blunt and Ed Scharf, respectively.

• Stick CD-14 in the "maybe" column. It's a Republican district on paper, but it's an open seat since Ron Paul decided not to seek re-election, and the personalities might make it interesting. The Republicans nominated state Rep. Randy Weber of Pearland. The Democrat is former U.S. Rep. Nick Lampson of Beaumont.

State Board of Education

• Republican Charlie Garza is seeking re-election in a district that tends to vote for Democrats. Obama won easily here in 2008. Perry lost with 44.5 percent two years later. Statewide Democrats win by an average of 9.6 percent. The Democratic challenger is Martha Dominguez.

• The open SBOE-2 seat is a true swing district on paper, with Democrat Ruben Cortez Jr. facing Republican Laurie Turner. Libertarian Lenard Nelson rounds out the pack. Incumbent Mary Helen Berlanga of Corpus Christi didn't seek re-election.

• SBOE-5 could be interesting, depending on the political climate in October. Perry got less than 54 percent, Obama was under 47 percent. The incumbent Republican is Ken Mercer; challengers are Democrat Rebecca Bell-Metereau, Libertarian Mark Loewe and Green candidate Irene Meyer Scharf.

Senate

• All eyes are on Tarrant County's SD-10, where Democratic incumbent Wendy Davis is being challenged by Rep. Mark Shelton, R-Fort Worth. It's Republican on paper, but it's the same district that Davis won in 2008. Perry won here with 52.7 percent. Obama lost with 47.1 percent. The TWI is 11.5 on the Republican side, meaning that party's average statewide candidate won by that many percentage points over the last two cycles.

House

• Rep. Craig Eiland, D-Galveston, got a tough district from the mapmakers. Perry lost there, with 47.6 percent. But Obama lost, too, with 47.8 percent. Go figure. Republicans have the edge in statewide races, with a 2.3 TWI. The Republican here is Wayne Faircloth.

 • The numbers in HD-34 marginally favor a Democrat, but the incumbent is Republican Rep. Connie Scott of Corpus Christi. The Democrat is former Rep. Abel Herrero.

• HD-34 is a swing district, plain and simple. Your contestants are Rep. J.M. Lozano, who was elected as a Democrat and then switched to the GOP, and former Rep. Yvonne Gonzalez Toureilles

• Rep. Dee Margo, R-El Paso, is another incumbent put on shaky ground by his own party's redistricting map. He's in a rematch with former Rep. Joe Moody in HD-78, where Obama won, Perry lost and the average Democrat beats the average Republican in statewide races. The almost good news for Margo: That average Democratic margin is a skinny 2.9 percentage points.

• Dallas County's HD-107 pits Rep. Ken Sheets, R-Dallas, against former Rep. Robert Miklos, D-Mesquite. It's got a Republican TWI and Obama lost in 2008, but Perry only won with 51 percent in 2010.

• Redistricting wasn't kind to Rep. John V. Garza, R-San Antonio. He's defending HD-117 against Democrat Philip Cortez, and it's a tossup district where Obama won and Perry lost.

• HD-144, the district represented by the late Ken Legler of Pasadena, is a true swing district where neither the current president nor the current governor could muster 50 percent of the vote. Democrat Mary Ann Perez faces Republican David Pineda and Libertarian Robb Rourke.

• HD-114 is an open Dallas seat with former Rep. Carol Kent, a Democrat, against the GOP's Jason Villalba. The numbers favor the Republican, and his backers are pulling hard to get a win for a Hispanic candidate. But Perry didn't win here in 2010, and the Democrats think they can win the seat back.

• Houston's HD-134 is similar, with Republican numbers overall but a sub-par performance for Perry in 2010. Rep. Sarah Davis, a freshman, is being challenged by Democrat Ann Johnson.