Quick take on the presidential debate in Austin: Hillary Clinton didn't halt or reverse Barack Obama's momentum, and that's what she needed to do.
She had more good moments, probably, than he did (notably her answer to a question about hard moments in her life). But nothing in the Austin debate seemed strong enough to change the relative positions or perceptions of the two candidates. No real change in climate is good for Obama, who's on a winning streak, and bad for Clinton, who needs a couple of wins to remain in contention.
The hot commodity in the Weird Politics market is the way Texas Democrats choose their delegates, and there's no denying that this is a strange thing in a democracy.
But it might not matter.
A month ago, the political mob congregated around the idea that the Democrats would surely be done on Super Tuesday, but that Texas and Ohio could decide the GOP race for president. That's just a current reminder of the wisdom of that particular crowd.
One story idea of the moment, now, is that one candidate might win the popular vote in Texas while the other wins more delegates. Or that superdelegates will finally be called upon to decide the whole thing, in line with or in spite of the popular vote.
Maybe. It's possible. But it's more likely that the three big states ahead the one we're in, Ohio, and Pennsylvania will make it clear to the candidates and everyone else who the nominee will be. That's the usual way of things: When the going gets weird in politics, it usually snaps back to normal pretty quickly. There's not enough money in politics to carry two national Democratic candidates all the way to Denver, not in full battle dress. The voters will give a signal. The political financiers, who provide the fuel for these things, will make some decisions. One campaign will flourish and the other will dry up.
It happens fast, too. Look at John McCain. Dead last to last man standing in a matter of weeks. Obama's wave could carry him to the nomination. Clinton could stage a comeback, breaking his win streak and forcing the smart money back to where it started where it was back when McCain was an impossibility. But she didn't do it in Thursday night's Texas debate, and voters are already voting, in big numbers. If her lead is intact the polls are mixed on that point, though she had an eight-point margin a week ago it's no big deal. But if the Obama surge in Texas is reality and not hype, it's trouble.
It's Busy Out There
Primary voting four years ago was nothing compared with what it is this year, but you'd expect that: The presidential candidates in 2004 were chosen long before the show got to Texas.
Still, the numbers are big for a primary. On the first two days four years ago, 34,047 people voted. On the first two days of early voting this year (Tuesday and Wednesday), 168,339 showed up. Those are combined numbers for both parties.
Democrats have outvoted Republicans 122,446 to 45,893 so far that's 2.7 Democratic votes for each Republican vote. And they've outvoted them even in some reliably Republican counties, like Collin, Denton, Fort Bend, Tarrant, and Williamson. In fact, Republicans are outvoting Democrats in only one of the state's biggest counties (Montgomery).
We'll update our chart as the numbers come in. The Texas Secretary of State is tracking the 15 largest counties, measured by voter registration, and you can get those results online. (You might notice our chart has just 14 counties on it. Jefferson County was in the mix four years ago and has been replaced in the top 15 by Cameron County. Since we didn't have four-year-old daily numbers to compare, we took it off the chart.)
Waltz Across Texas
Texas started the presidential primary season as a wallflower. Now it's the star everyone wants to dance with.
Barack Obama began his personal push for Texas votes this week, with rallies in San Antonio and Houston, Dallas, the debate in Austin, events on Friday in Edinburg, Corpus Christi, and Austin, and a stop in El Paso on Saturday. U.S. Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Massachusetts, campaigned for Obama in Corpus Christi, Edinburg, and Laredo, then in San Marcos and San Antonio. All but one of those was a university stop.
Hillary Clinton was in Hidalgo and Brownsville, then in Laredo before coming to Austin for the debate. She ends the week with stops in Dallas and Fort Worth before leaving for Ohio, the other big state on the table on March 4. Former President Bill Clinton, meanwhile, had stops in Galveston, Beaumont, Victoria, and Houston; later, he campaigned for his wife in Odessa, San Angelo, and San Antonio (a post-debate event). On Saturday, the former president will stop in Corpus Christi, Killeen, and El Paso. And their daughter, Chelsea Clinton, is on the road here, too, stopping in Richardson, Arlington, and Denton (all Republican spots, but more importantly, college towns). She hit Pasadena and Austin, and on Friday, will headline events in San Marcos, San Antonio, and El Paso.
Both candidates were to appear after the debate at an Austin debate watching party sponsored by the Texas Democratic Party. That sold out quick. The Democrats gave away just 100 seats in the debate to the public more than 40,000 people applied. And the debate party had a maximum load of 1,000, each paying $50 to watch the candidates on TV. It sold out just after it was clear that both Clinton and Obama would make appearances there.
The air war is fully underway.
Obama's campaign is up with Spanish-language TV ads in selected markets (Houston, San Antonio, Harlingen-McAllen, Corpus Christi and Laredo). They're running statewide radio ads aimed at Black voters. Another is aimed at young voters and voters-to-be.
Not all of the ads are targeted. He's got a TV ad called "Enough" that says companies moving jobs overseas shouldn't get tax breaks, that those breaks should go to companies investing in the U.S. (Whaddya wanna bet that's running in Ohio, too?) Another, called "Chances I Had" promotes education. There's a general feel-good ad with a full dose of Obama's rhetoric and a call for change in Washington.
Clinton's also has her air force engaged. One ad running in English and in Spanish, features former San Antonio Mayor Henry Cisneros, who was also a member of Bill Clinton's cabinet. The pitch is simple: "Vote for our friend Hillary today, and well all have a better life." Another TV spot features her support for veterans and their benefits.
The ground war is underway, too.
Mundane stuff wins elections, if not headlines, and both campaigns are busy training people who will, in various ways, try to drag their voters to the polls. They're also training precinct types who'll show up after the primaries to vote in the caucuses that pick some of the state's delegates. That's the real reason behind the campaigns opening offices all over the state. They're building networks, in some cases, where Democratic networks have atrophied. The Obama camp says they've trained 4,000 folks across the state (all in one weekend, they say). And they claim to have 38,000 interested Texans signed up to support their guy via their website.
And the campaigns are touting endorsements, hoping to prove their alliances with people and institutions voters already like.
Obama picked up an endorsement from the United Food & Commercial Workers Union, and the campaign will try to turn that into part of its ground organization. He's got these newspapers, too, though the power of editorial endorsements has diminished in recent years: Austin American-Statesman, Corpus Christi Caller-Times, The Dallas Morning News, El Paso Times, Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Houston Chronicle, and San Antonio Express-News. And he won the support of U.S. Rep. Chet Edwards, D-Waco; that's a two-fer, since Edwards is also a superdelegate. He also got former Denver Mayor and Clinton Administration Energy Secretary Federico Peña's endorsement. Peña was born in Laredo and reared in Brownsville.
Clinton picked up an endorsement from Bob Gammage, the former congressman and Texas Supreme Court justice who lost 2006's Democratic gubernatorial primary to Chris Bell. A day later, she got Bell's endorsement, too. And she got nods from former U.S. Rep. and Texas Attorney General Jim Mattox of Dripping Springs, former U.S. Rep. Jim Chapman of Sulphur Springs, and former state Sen. Gonzalo Barrientos of Austin. Barrientos retired. Mattox lost races for governor and U.S. Senate before quitting electoral politics, and Chapman lost a bid for Senate before leaving politics and becoming a lobbyist.
She nearly swept the official persons endorsement list in South Texas, grabbing state, county, and local officials all along the Texas-Mexico border. Clinton doesn't have everyone, but she's got almost everyone who holds office and has made an endorsement.
The Republicans are way down here at the bottom of the story because they're not campaigning in Texas like the Democrats are. That said, Mike Huckabee made stops in Plano and Houston, and John McCain came to Houston to accept an endorsement from former President George H.W. Bush.
Trouble at Home
These ratings are based on our reporting of the various races. They're not meant to be predictions of the outcomes, but assessments of the competitiveness of each race. It's entirely possible that incumbents in the red zone will win easily, and that those in the yellow will get involuntary retirements on March 4. But this is where the big fights are.
Gambling, Light Bulbs, Sheep, and an Ostrich
Texans for Economic Development, a political action committee funded by gambling advocates, is running TV and mail attacks on Reps. Betty Brown, R-Terrell, Phil King, R-Weatherford, and Nathan Macias, R-Bulverde. View them here, here, and here.
The ads started late last week in each legislator's district. None of them mentions the candidates running against the incumbents in those three primaries. And there's at least a question about the group's use of corporate money.
King is shooting back. At a forum last week, he asked Tison to disavow the ads (Tison, according to the Weatherford Democrat, said he didn't have anything to do with them).
King attributes the ads to "Democrat party operatives and casino interests" and released a list of Republicans who support him. He didn't name the operatives he suspects.
King singled out the LaMantia family as Democratic supporters. Members of that clan own beer distributorships along the border and have an interest in a racing license in Laredo.
If the LaMantias are Democrats, they're impure Democrats. The family's contributions since the start of 2003 have been split between the parties. Democratic officeholders and candidates took in $309,140 from the family in the last five years. About that much $309,140 was given to PACs or to candidates whose parties weren't immediately available. And $374,799 went to Republicans, depending on how you want to count former Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn, who ran as an independent against Gov. Rick Perry in 2006. She got $231,150 from the LaMantias over that five-year period. But they also gave to Perry ($15,000), to Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst ($51,500), Attorney General Greg Abbott ($8,649), and Comptroller Susan Combs ($3,500), Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson ($5,000), Railroad Commissioner Elizabeth Ames Jones ($1,000), former Secretary of State Roger Williams ($2,000), and House Speaker Tom Craddick ($7,000). A handful of King's Republican colleagues in the Legislature also were on the list of the LaMantia family's political beneficiaries; the most significant of those were Sen. Kim Brimer of Fort Worth, who got $13,500 in contributions, and Rep. Charlie Geren of Fort Worth, who got $5,000. Both of those lawmakers are in tough reelection battles this year.
King is also blasting Tison's campaign consultant, Roy Fletcher, who he says is a consultant to casinos and gambling interests in Louisiana.
Brown's response to the gambling ad is an ad of her own, starting with three little pictures of the ad against her lined up in a row, with other graphics that turn it into the screen of a video lottery terminal. Clever, huh? The announcer says, "Big gambling interests are running this false attack ad against Betty Brown. Don't believe it..."
The Baptist General Convention of Texas Christian Life Commission complained to the Texas Ethics Commission about the use of corporate money in a political action committee that's trying to influence legislative races. But Tommy Azopardi, the treasurer for the PAC, says it was a filing mistake. They amended their report with the state with a note saying the corporate money was being used, legally, for administrative expenses.
Lobbyist Reggie Bashur dropped a gaming client in the wake of the campaign. He represented the Texas Horseman's Partnership, which was, in turn, a member of Texans for Economic Development. He lobbied for that second group during the last session, but says that relationship ended with the session in June. But with TED running ads against incumbent Republicans, Bashur says he's ending his deal with the horsemen. "I just don't think it's right to attack Republicans like that," he says. And Bashur denies rumors of his involvement that began when the ads did. "I didn't know they were doing this, and I wasn't in on the planning."
In which we resort to old-style, triple-dot journalism to clear the room of paper and email and sticky notes and notebooks, fill the trash cans, and put this issue to bed...
In the deluge of "He/She won't debate me" notes that always pile up in the last two weeks of a campaign comes a gem from Chris Peden that we might otherwise have missed. Peden's a Republican challenging U.S. Rep. Ron Paul, R-Surfside, in CD-14. He's been busy while Paul's been out, and he got a big endorsement: The Victoria Advocate likes the challenger over the incumbent... Gov. Rick Perry flew to El Paso to endorse Republican Dee Margo, an event that wouldn't be news except that Margo is running against a Republican incumbent, Rep. Pat Haggerty. Haggerty's response, via The El Paso Times: "I hope that this is as successful as the (Rudy) Giuliani endorsement." Haggerty is up with radio ads that attack Margo for moving into the district to run, and slam him as a political recruit of House Speaker Tom Craddick and also for contributions he made to U.S. Sen. Ted Kennedy 25 years ago. Margo TV spanks Haggerty for supporting nursing home and gasoline tax increases. Dueling polls in that district have Margo ahead 43%-31% (El Paso Times/News Channel 9, 2/11-12, +/-3%), or behind 42%-48% (Haggerty campaign tracking poll, no details provided)... Larry Joe Doherty, one of two Democrats vying for a shot at U.S. Rep. Mike McCaul, R-Austin, says he raised $66,975 during the first six weeks of the year; they have about $100,000 on hand. Dan Grant, the other Democrat in that primary, has a TV ad running that calls Doherty a TV judge (true) and also features the late Anna Nicole Smith. Politics isn't boring... Rep. Dawnna Dukes, D-Austin, got hit with news reports of late business tax payments and filings and late payments (since made current) on her car. Democratic challenger Brian Thompson rolled that, some missed votes while she was in Paris and Vegas, and her past support for Republican Speaker Tom Craddick into a very busy TV ad now running. Another tidbit from that contest: She promised last year when we wrote about it that she'd remedy campaign finance filings that don't detail expenses paid on her credit card. Those amended records won't be filed before voters go to the polls... That Texas Credit Union League poll we covered last week had a tidbit we missed: Clinton lead Obama in Texas 52%-35% in rural areas and small cities. In urban and suburban areas, Obama was in front 50%-37%... The special election in HD-119 that's the spot emptied when Rep. Robert Puente, D-San Antonio, retired early will be on May 10. Only one candidate, Roland Gutierrez, is on the ballot for the full term that starts next January, but the door's open until March 4 for anyone who wants it from May to the end of the year... Texans for Lawsuit Reform endorsed a lawyer accused of forum shopping? They sent folks to Aledo to give Rep. Phil King, R-Weatherford, the group's Civil Justice Leadership Award... King's opponent, former Weatherford Mayor Joe Tison, capitalizes on third-party ads by calling on voters to send copies of their utility bills to King. The ads in question blame King chairman of the House Committee on Regulated Industries for increases in electric bills... Texans for Lawsuit Reform was legally out of business for a minute there, having lost its papers of incorporation for not making a mandatory routine filing with the Secretary of State. Embarrassing, but not fatal. The tort reformers changed their address, according to an SOS spokesman, and didn't get the form they were supposed to fill out. After they were outed a rival group sent out a press release they filed their reports and got good with the state. The legal blooper didn't involve the group's political action committee or its tax-exempt research foundation, each of which also fly the TLR flag... U.S. Senate candidate Rick Noriega has a TV ad touting his military and legislative experience; it debuted during the presidential debates, while some number of Democrats were watching TV... After dropping its inquiry into the continued public service of Harris County District Attorney Chuck Rosenthal, who stepped down, Attorney General Greg Abbott's office sent a letter to his interim replacement, offering "assistance with any further potential action involving Charles A. Rosenthal Jr." Not over yet... Jonathan Sibley says in a letter to Craddick our version was embedded in a press release that he's decided not to vote for the speaker's reelection if Sibley makes it to the House. That's what it says, but that's not its purpose: It's an attack on Rep. Charles "Doc" Anderson, R-Waco, who Sibley accuses of supporting Craddick at the expense of the district... Brian Klock, one of the GOP multitude running in CD-22, plans to unveil a billboard showing a view, through crosshairs, of the Houston Ship Channel with the downtown skyline in flames behind it. His tagline: "The Threat is Real." Houston builder Bob Perry of Swift Boat fame (he was the main financier) is scheduled to appear with him... And the video of the week has to be Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, muffing a question posed by Chris Matthews of MSNBC. Ouch!
Political People and Their Moves
Alberto "Beto" Cardenas Jr. is coming back to Texas for a job with Vinson & Elkins in Houston. He was the Texas Tech guy in Washington, D.C. and most recently worked for U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison.
Ralph Duggins, senior partner at Cantey Hanger in Fort Worth, is the newest addition to the Texas Parks & Wildlife Commission. Gov. Rick Perry appointed him to replace Philip Montgomery of Dallas.
Deaths: Former Rep. Arves Jones, R-El Paso, who served three terms in the 1980s and later won a spot on the El Paso City Council, of heart disease. He was 82.
Quotes of the Week
Tom Annunziato, an optometrist running for state representative, quoted by the Fort Worth Star-Telegram: "I'm looking at this as a career change. You try sitting in a dark room for 30 years saying, 'Which is better one, or two?' You'd get tired of it, too."
Jerry Polinard of the University of Texas-Pan American, quoted on the South Texas political climate in Newsweek: "We're the bluest part of a Red State. When we talk about building a fence down here, we talk about building one on the north to keep the Republicans out."
David Hardt of Dallas, president of the Young Democrats of America, member of the Democratic National Committee, and a superdelegate, in the Houston Chronicle: "When we're in the middle of a down time, and everybody thinks the party is dead in a state or in the nation, and we have no electeds, someone's got to keep that party together. It's usually people like us. So we have earned our right to sit at the table."
Theresa Caballero, a candidate for district attorney in El Paso County, comparing her experience in the private sector with that of her opponent, a government employee, quoted in The Newspaper Tree: "I eat what I kill."
Former president Bill Clinton, stumping for Hillary Clinton in Beaumont, quoted by the Associated Press: "If she wins in Texas and Ohio, I think she'll be the nominee. If you don't deliver for her, I don't think she can be."
GOP candidate Mike Huckabee, quoted in The Dallas Morning News after someone suggested he's staying in the race because he enjoys flying around the country: "What an idiot. I'm living the life of Yasser Arafat. I sleep in a different place every night."
Texas Weekly: Volume 25, Issue 8, 25 February 2008. Ross Ramsey, Editor. Copyright 2008 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 (512) 302-5703 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. For news, email email@example.com, or call (512) 288-6598.