Our Department of Curious Statistics produced this nugget: More Democrats voted in the runoffs in Dallas and Tarrant Counties than voted in the primaries a month earlier. In Dallas County, 77,938 people voted in the Democratic Senate primary in March. In April, that number increased significantly, to 92,408. Tarrant County's numbers did the same hat trick, increasing to 39,094 in April from 36,812 in March. In Dallas, the additional voters broke almost two-to-one in favor of former Dallas Mayor Ron Kirk. In Tarrant County, the numbers were more dramatic: The combination of increased turnout and the absence of Ken Bentsen and other candidates to dilute support put more than 5,900 additional votes in Kirk's column. Add in what happened in other counties, like Travis and Harris and Bexar, and you have strong evidence that Democrats are rebuilding their political infrastructure.
While they were doing that, the overall turnout in the Senate runoff dropped to 620,097 from 954,655 in the primary election in March. That's a difference of 334,558 votes. Victor Morales got fewer votes in the runoff than in the primary, losing 121,014 of his supporters. But Kirk's numbers increased in spite of the overall drop. In the runoff, he added 54,011 votes to his March total.
Turnout in the Democratic primary rose in 15 counties, contrary to what you might reasonably expect. Dallas and Tarrant had the biggest upticks and they were solidly with Kirk. He beat Morales by 47,446 votes in Dallas County, and by 18,320 votes in Tarrant County. His overall margin statewide was 120,019, and the margins in the four biggest counties supplied a good deal of that: Kirk won by 34,376 in Harris County and by 17,932 in Travis County.
Morales had some wins, to be sure, but his big wins weren't big enough. In Hidalgo County, he ran a lead of 9,063 votes. He picked up a net of 4,926 in Cameron. He got 4,381 in Maverick County. Those were his best showings, and all were in counties where he was riding someone else's shoulders. The first two counties were the primary battleground in a state Senate race between Rep. Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa, D-McAllen, and Barbara Canales-Black of Corpus Christi. Maverick County turned out for a House runoff between Timoteo Garza, a local, and Rep. Tracy King, who was moved into hostile territory by Republicans who drew the state's legislative redistricting plans.
At the same time, he was suffering in counties where he did well in March, but where voters had no local races and no Morales organization to draw them to the polls. The most dramatic example of that was in Bexar County, where turnout fell to 21,894 in April from 58,735 in March. Kirk lost votes, but only half as many as Morales. The net effect was to flip the result–Kirk won the county–and to burn up some of the votes Morales had relied on in the earlier contest. Because of Bexar County alone, Morales had 9,097 fewer votes this time to apply against weak spots elsewhere in the state.
Morales was at his best in areas where large Hispanic populations were drawn to the polls by local races–where someone else was working turnout. Kirk, in contrast, produced his own votes with a stealthy (at least to the media and the pollsters) ground war, and thus did well in areas where voters had no other compelling reasons to get up and vote.
If you're a Democrat, that growing ability to fight on the ground echoes what Mayor Lee Brown did in Houston earlier this year to win a second term over Republican-backed City Councilman Orlando Sanchez. If you're a Republican, it's a cautionary note: Democrats, who have ignored ground wars in favor of air wars (TV, radio, and direct mail) and have become increasingly weak in the process, are rebuilding one of their old strengths.
Texas in Play
Ron Kirk's victory might or might not hurt Republican John Cornyn's chance at winning a seat in the U.S. Senate, but it's a different race than he'd have faced if Victor Morales had won. Within 48 hours of his win, Kirk was in Washington, D.C., talking to national folks about money. He's of interest to them for several reasons.
• Kirk is an African-American, a former big-city mayor, and a potential star for the Democrats. All of those things will ease his way in raising money outside of Texas. National handicappers give the upper hand to the Republicans, but that advantage is not an overwhelming one. After Texans got through voting for George W. Bush in 1998, most races got tight. Cornyn broke out and won handily over Jim Mattox, who had some political baggage. But Kirk is probably a tougher opponent.
Democrats will try to paint him as a middle-of-the-road candidate who can cross partisan lines, and they're already working to convince potential supporters that Kirk will be a national player the minute he gets to Washington, first because of his race, then because of his skills. Republicans will try to paint him as a liberal who won't work with Republicans or with the president.
• He's a competitive candidate in the president's home state. The party on the outside always puts a premium on embarrassing the party on the inside. Democrats would love to win this one even if it doesn't give them control in Congress. Republicans are just as motivated to hold on. Cornyn has won statewide election and Kirk hasn't, and he's a Republican. Those are both advantages. Kirk is a better speaker and has more charisma. Both will have plenty of dough. It'll be a tough fight.
• The partisan balance in the Senate is close to even and a win by either side could tip it. That raises the stakes. Cornyn will stay as close to President Bush as possible, and has already started trying to put some distance between Bush and Kirk. It's important to Bush, too–don't be surprised if you start seeing pictures of Cornyn puttering around the ranch in Crawford with the president.
All Dressed Up and Nowhere to Dance
When it was apparent that Kirk was going to win on Election Night, Morales told reporters he was done. Then he quipped that he might run in some other state, or run for president of all of the states. He also questioned the results, sort of, saying there was "no way Ron Kirk got all those votes." Not exactly your Mr. Smith Goes to Washington moment.
But this might not be over. After a couple of days to shake it off, aides to or friends of Morales called the Texas Secretary of State's office to pose a couple of provocative questions.
One: What would he have to do to file as an independent candidate for the U.S. Senate seat? Answer one: Fuggetaboudit. He already lost that one. Two: What would he have to do to register as a write-in candidate for governor of Texas? Answer two: Bring in a check for $3,000 or petitions containing the signatures of at least 5,000 eligible voters.
That second bit could pose some interesting strategic questions for Tony Sanchez, whose name will be on the ballot for governor. Wouldn't Morales bleed votes away from the Democrat? After all, he's known to Democratic voters, and remains popular with some of them. And there is the continuing mystery of what happens when voters see a second Hispanic name on the ballot. Stay tuned.
We'd like to offer an amendment to last week's item on doctors in politics. The Texas Medical Association didn't endorse either candidate in the 1998 race for lieutenant governor. A confederate of Gov. Rick Perry remembered it that way, but that wasn't the way it happened. The trade group stayed out of the race and let doctors go where they pleased. They split, with one group taking Perry's side and another group–a smaller one, by one reliable account–taking Democrat John Sharp's side. Our point remains unchanged by the mistake, however: Some of the leading doctors who took Perry's side in that closely fought race have now cut out because of his vetoes of legislation they wanted. Sorry for the error.
Rescued by the Business Lobby
The push at the end got Dale Wainwright out of the primaries and on his way to a general election contest with Democrat Jim Parsons, an appellate court judge from Palestine, for the Texas Supreme Court. Wainwright beat Elizabeth Ray in a runoff election marked at the end by a rush of support from conservative business groups that were convinced Ray was too close to trial lawyers.
Wainwright didn't have money for a television campaign, but had enough for a direct mail hit at the end of the runoff. Look at the numbers: He won in early voting by 609 votes out of 78,987 cast, or a margin of less than 1 percent. When Election Day was over, he'd won the statewide race by 22,380–a margin of about 10 percent. So what happened between the end of early voting on Friday and the Tuesday election? Republican Voters got a mailer that featured pictures of President George W. Bush and Gov. Rick Perry on one side, with Wainwright, and former Gov. Ann Richards–who first appointed Ray–on the other. Another was from "Women for Wainwright," and featured signature of several female leaders in the GOP.
That was the top contest on the Republican side of the primary runoff elections, and turnout was both low and strange. Only 227,408 people voted statewide on the GOP side, or about 37 percent of the number that turned out on the Democratic side. The GOP numbers, like their counterparts, reflected the location of more interesting local races. Ranked by raw turnout: Harris, Dallas, Denton, Montgomery, Tarrant, Williamson, Bexar, Collin, Travis and Nueces. Only six of those counties managed to break the 10,000-vote mark. Wainwright won in all but two of the top ten counties on Election Day; Harris and Bexar both voted for Ray. But Harris County showed improvement. Wainwright lost by almost 19,000 votes there in March; in the runoff, that was trimmed to fewer than 1,900 votes.
The dismal turnout prompted a statement from Sen. Robert Duncan, R-Lubbock, a judicial reform advocate. He says he's heard over and over from party officials on both sides who claim Texas voters want to elect judges. To which Duncan says: 98 percent of Republican voters and 95 percent of the Democrats opted out of choosing. "These statistics offer irrefutable evidence that the public is not interested or clearly not engaged, in determining the outcome of our judicial races."
Texas has three new state officeholders. Sen. Kip Averitt, R-Waco, and Reps. Holt Getterman, R-Waco, and Debbie Riddle, R-Houston, have been sworn in. Averitt replaces his former boss, David Sibley, in the Senate, and Getterman replaces Averitt in the House. Riddle replaces the late Rep. Paul Hilbert, R-Spring. All three became officeholders when their special elections were canceled because only one candidate had signed up. When that happens in a statehouse race, the lone candidate gets the office without voter approval. All three legislators are running for full terms. Averitt and Riddle won their primaries outright. Getterman got 41 percent of the vote in a three-way race, but his remaining opponent dropped out before the runoff, giving him the nomination.
Early Voting is No Omen
Guess what? Early voting numbers don't give you a very good idea about what's coming on Election Day. Political hacks had a close eye on the Democratic primaries to try to guess what the results would be, and the early voting patterns had a lot more to do with geography and culture than with the final totals. Ranked by the number of total voters who actually showed up to vote in the Democratic primary, the counties go like this: Dallas, Harris, Hidalgo, Tarrant, Travis, Nueces, Bexar, El Paso, Cameron and Webb. Rank those same ten counties according to the ratio of early to total voting and you get this: Webb, Hidalgo, El Paso, Cameron, Nueces, Bexar, Tarrant, Travis, Harris and Dallas. It would take a bigger study to get a good, academic conclusion, but it would appear that South Texas and Border counties tend to dominate early voting, and that urban voters have a greater tendency to wait until Election Day to vote. Some of the predictions that Morales would beat Kirk were based on the heavy early turnout in counties where Morales won in March.
Parallels between politics and sports get old, but the two fields do have this in common: Losing on the road is hard, but losing at home is harder. Denton County Judge Scott Armey won't be following his father into the U.S. Congress, and his home voters led the way in making that decision. Dr. Michael Burgess lost to Armey in Collin County and in Tarrant County, but beat him at home and by enough to win the whole tamale. Burgess lost 3-to-2 in Collin and Tarrant. But Denton is the biggest part of the district, and Burgess got 60.2 percent of the vote there.
• Barbara Canales-Black did win at home, and so did Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa. But more of his neighbors voted, and he'll be the one going to the Senate. Canales-Black won in three of the district's four counties, but Hinojosa–boosted by turnout for a county judge's race in Hidalgo County–built a 12,794-vote lead that she couldn't top. That'll go down as the most expensive legislative race in the primaries. The final numbers are not yet in, but Canales-Black reportedly crossed the $1 million mark, much of it in personal money. One of the underlying battles was between Nueces and Hidalgo counties. Corpus Christi wanted to hang on to the Senate spot that has been held by Sen. Carlos Truan since 1977. But Hidalgo has more voters and wanted to snatch it away.
• The race for a new congressional seat in Central Texas similarly pitted Brazos County against Williamson County, and to a lesser extent, against Harris County. Williamson County was the winner. Peter Wareing, who moved into the newly created CD-31 to run for Congress, couldn't overcome the native John Carter in spite of a huge spending spree. Wareing beat Carter by relatively small margins in the Harris and Brazos County sections of the district, but Carter won dramatically in Williamson County and rode that margin to overall victory.
Wareing, who ran unsuccessfully two years ago against John Culberson despite a similar high-dollar campaign, was overwhelmed by the grassroots support for Carter, who helped build the Republican Party that is now the dominant political stripe in Williamson County. Carter's overall margin was 3,176. He lost in six of the district's nine counties, but won in Williamson County by 4,374 votes. Wareing won in two of the three big counties in the district, getting 64.5 percent of the vote in the part of Harris County that's in the district, and 53.7 percent in Brazos County. All in all, he piled up a total of 1,800 votes over Carter in the six counties where he won; Carter got small wins in smaller counties, but the home county margin took him over the top.
• Put Rep. Tracy King on your list of incumbent legislators done in by redistricting. He lost his reelection bid to Timoteo Garza. King won in four of seven counties, but Maverick County turned out in force and put Garza in the seat. There were allegations that some of the more enthusiastic political ops were offering voters $20 coupons to gamble at the Kickapoo casino in return for proof that they had voted. In the version of the story that got to us, those voters weren't told how to vote–just that the people with the coupons preferred the local candidate to King.
Things That Keep on Ticking
For just a little while, Supreme Court Justice Xavier Rodriguez appeared to be a winner in the March primaries. The Republican Party finally got its official results ready. They turned them over to the Texas Secretary of State, and the SOS put a link on the state website for people who wanted to see the official result. Long story short: A misplaced zero at the end of a row of numbers made it appear that Rodriguez had won the race. It wasn't a recount result: The winner was, and is, Steven Wayne Smith.
• Fundraising never ends. After losing to Chris Bell in the CD-25 race in Houston, Carroll Robinson sent out email notices to supporters congratulating Bell, saying he'll support the Democrats in November, and announcing his "debt reduction fundraiser" next month. Bell will face Republican Tom Reiser in November's general election.
Besides, This Job Pays Less
The Democrats won one House race at about the time of the runoff election. Jacksonville Mayor Kenneth Durrett, the lone Republican running against freshman Rep. Chuck Hopson, D-Jacksonville, decided to drop out of the race. He told us he made a deal with his city's interim city manager to stay in office for the next year and a half. That was the only way to keep the city manager, according to Durrett. His exit leaves the GOP without a candidate, and more importantly, with no legal way to replace Durrett on the ballot. Party officials cannot replace him on the ballot unless he moves out of the district or becomes incapacitated. That's good news for House Speaker Pete Laney, D-Hale Center. Durrett says he was pledged to vote for Rep. Tom Craddick, R-Midland, for speaker next year had he been elected. Hopson, who is now unopposed, is a Laney vote.
A footnote: Durrett would have been required to resign as mayor when he filed for state office if he was compensated for the city job. But Jacksonville pays its mayor "one big goose egg," according to Durrett, and that financial arrangement allowed him to keep the job while he was running for state office. A couple of years ago, Big Springs Mayor Tim Blackshear lost his city job by filing to run for state representative, and then found that the fact that he was mayor when he filed also made him ineligible to run for state representative. Durrett, aware of that case, said he did a fair bit of research before filing for office earlier this year. He's not affected, he says.
Miffed But Victorious and Other Legislative Tales
Jodie Laubenberg got beat in Rockwall County, but won enough votes in Collin County to fend off Mike Lawshe in the GOP primary for the Texas House. She'll face Democrat Lehman Harris of Rockwall in the general election in November, but the numbers heavily favor a Republican and the tough race is probably behind her. Laubenberg emerges from that race with a low opinion of Free PAC, the combustible conservative group from Dallas. She says that early in the race, the group tried to sell her a database program to track supporters. After she declined, she heard back from some of her supporters that people associated with Free PAC were telling them that she probably wouldn't do well in what was then a three-way contest. The group finally came around and contributed $2,500 to her campaign. That was at about the time Free PAC itself was coming under counterattack from Republicans who had been targeted by the group's inflammatory political advertising. Laubenberg returned the donation. Now that she's won the GOP nomination, Laubenberg says she'll vote for Tom Craddick in next year's election for Speaker of the House. She says she likes Plano Rep. Brian McCall, who's a political neighbor, but says House members Mary Denny and Fred Hill, among others, were helpful to her campaign and encouraged her to support Craddick. She says she would vote for current Speaker Pete Laney "only if a Republican can't win."
• You wouldn't have guessed it from his name, but Tom Butler is Hispanic. He's no longer in the running, however: Butler lost his GOP primary runoff to Wayne Smith by a mere 26 votes. The other Harris County GOP runoff in the House was also tight: former City Councilwoman Martha Wong beat Mark Cole by 90 votes. Wong will challenge Rep. Debra Danburg in the November election. How's this for confidence in the elections? At our deadline, neither loser had asked for a recount.
• Senate District 4 has parts of six counties in it, and in four of them, former Sen. Michael Galloway is the favorite son. But his wins in Harris, Jefferson, Orange and Liberty counties were not enough. Rep. Tommy Williams, R-The Woodlands, won big in Montgomery County to take it all.
• Ryan Guillen beat Adolfo Campero Jr. to take the Democratic nomination in HD-31 in South Texas. The two squeezed out the incumbent, Rep. Ignacio Salinas Jr., in the first round. Guillen won in three of the four counties–including in Starr, where most of the votes are–to overtake Campero.
• Maria Luisa "Lulu" Flores finished first in a six-way primary in March, but Eddie Rodriguez, a former aide to the current incumbent in that Austin House district, made up the distance and won on Election Day. Rodriguez got 51.3 percent of the votes in the runoff (a margin of just 117). Rep. Glen Maxey, D-Austin, who's retiring after a decade in the House, currently holds that seat.
Political People and Their Moves
The editor of the San Antonio Express-News decided to yank political reporter Gardner Selby off the races for lieutenant governor and for comptroller, since he used to work for the comptroller's office under both John Sharp and Carole Keeton Rylander. Editor Robert Rivard didn't return our calls, but decided to move Selby after he got a call from the Washington Post asking about the arrangement. Selby was the victim of a Republican hit–some of the publicity types in the GOP don't like his coverage, and the paper–by giving him assignments that put him in a conflict of interest–inadvertently gave them a way to get back at him. They fed the story to the Post and waited for the fun to start. As he moved him, Rivard praised Selby and said he'd seen no evidence of bias. In our experience, Selby's a terrific reporter, which means he often gets stories we want to get before we get them. He's in no trouble at the paper, but will be assigned to other stuff. And here's another note: As we've noted before, the editor of this publication, Ross Ramsey, was employed for 28 months as an aide to Sharp. Coverage of the 1998 race for lieutenant governor was farmed out to the previous editor to avoid conflicts, but probably won't be this time. We've checked around a bit and if anyone in the affected camps thinks that's a conflict, they won't tell us so. If you've got a gripe about it, please let us know... The Austin American-Statesman adds David Pasztor, who has worked at a number of daily and alternative papers in Texas and elsewhere, to cover legal affairs and state courts. Pasztor was most recently with New Times, the Phoenix-based chain of alternative papers; in an earlier incarnation, he worked in the Austin Bureau of the late Dallas Times Herald... Buddy Gill has been in town for a while, working on things like the state Senate race in South Texas, but he's official now, starting the Gill Consulting Group to do political consulting and polling and that sort of thing... Susan Longley quit lobbying and tried to retire a while ago, but she's back, doing fundraising for the Tony Sanchez campaign... Move a couple of nominations one click forward: The U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee is recommending three U.S. attorney appointees to the full Senate. They are U.S. Magistrate Jane Boyle and acting U.S. Attorneys Matthew Orwig and Mike Shelby. If they stay on track, they'll be the top federal prosecutors in the northern, eastern, and southern districts of Texas, respectively... Appointments: President George W. Bush wants Caroline Wyly to serve on the board of the Kennedy Center. She's the spouse of Charles Wyly, a reliably generous funder of Bush's political endeavors... Campaigns and Elections magazine put a couple of Texans on its list of rising stars. Democrat Jason Stanford, who heads an Austin-based opposition research concern, and Republican Ken Mehlman, deputy assistant to President Bush and a former aide to U.S. Reps. Kay Granger, R-Fort Worth, and Lamar Smith, R-San Antonio. Also on the list: Matthew Moeller, an SMU-trained Republican pollster whose firm did polling work for Free PAC... Rob Kepple gets to remove "acting" from his title–he's been named the new executive director of the Texas District and County Attorneys Association. He replaces Tom Krampitz, who left to work for the Texas Motor Speedway...
Quotes of the Week
Dave Beckwith, a spokesman for U.S. Senate candidate John Cornyn, after Democrats nominated Ron Kirk, an African-American, to run against Cornyn, and Tony Sanchez Jr., who is Hispanic, to run against Gov. Rick Perry: "Once the celebration is over, the Democrats may wake up with a headache. This dream ticket is cynical. It is based on a racial quota system. In the end, it will not work because most people vote on issues and philosophy, not on race."
Rep. Jessica Farrar, D-Houston, quoted in the Houston Chronicle about pulling down a political rival's signs: "I was putting [Joe] Moreno signs up, and not an hour goes by and they're gone. There were three [Al] Flores signs in the right of way, and I didn't feel bad about taking them down."
House Speaker candidate Tom Craddick, R-Midland, quoted in the Austin American-Statesman on the state's budget problems: "There's plenty of dollars there for us to run the state efficiently and I don't expect any new taxes the next session." Later in that same account, he described the reaction he gets from Republicans new to the game: "I tell them there's no money, and they turn white."
Texas Weekly: Volume 18, Issue 40, 15 April 2002. Ross Ramsey, Editor. George Phenix, Publisher. Copyright 2002 by Printing Production Systems, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part without written permission from the publisher is prohibited. One-year online subscription: $250. For information about your subscription, call (800) 611-4980 or email biz@ texasweekly.com. For news, email ramsey@ texasweekly.com, or call (512) 288-6598.