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The Big Wave

The early voting tsunami is great for political scientists, but it sure makes elected and wanna-be-elected officials nervous. It's big, but it's impossible right now to know who's voting and how, whether the voters are new, whether Republicans are voting in the Democratic primary, whatever. It's a big, fat question mark. For incumbents, that sort of uncertainty is maddening.

The early voting tsunami is great for political scientists, but it sure makes elected and wanna-be-elected officials nervous. It's big, but it's impossible right now to know who's voting and how, whether the voters are new, whether Republicans are voting in the Democratic primary, whatever. It's a big, fat question mark. For incumbents, that sort of uncertainty is maddening.

With a couple of days still to go, early voting numbers are off the charts. Compared to four years ago, five times as many Democrats have voted. GOP voting isn't up as much, but it's up a lot: almost three times as many Republicans have voted, compared to the last presidential election. Based on those numbers, Texas Secretary of State Phil Wilson thinks we'll break the 1988 turnout record of 2.7 million; he's guessing 3.3 million Texans will vote.

Credit the presidential election, particularly on the Democratic side. What had been shaping up as a humdrum primary year — local contests sprinkled around the state but no marquee races — has turned into the best statewide primary contest since 1990, when three serious Democrats and four serious Republicans were running for governor and taking over our TV sets and mailboxes with ads.

That makes some incumbents for other offices on the ballot jumpy. When the regulars show up to vote, the results are more predictable. Polling is better, because the pollsters know who to talk to, and who will vote. It's easier to know what to talk to the voters about — which positions and ideas will turn them on or off. New voters might be voting for the incumbents, but if they are, they've never done it before (they're new voters, right?). And they might be there to vote just for the presidential race and nothing else. Or for change. Or against change.

The mob of early Texas voters is huge — maybe historic — but what they want won't be clear until Tuesday.

The first weekend of early voting brought crazy numbers of people to the polls. With a week of early voting still to come, voters in the state's biggest counties have already swamped their 2004 early turnout. That's true with voters in both primaries, but it's most striking among the Democrats.

With two days left before the end of early voting, 585,271 people had cast Democratic ballots this year; in 2004, the total number of Democratic ballots for all of early voting was 154,950. Comparable numbers on the GOP side: 201,475 so far this year as against 104,878 in the 2004 primaries.

The daily pace is higher this year, too. At this point in early voting four years ago, 186,292 people had voted in the primaries in the state's 14 largest counties.

Democrats have outvoted Republicans so far — at a pace of about 2.9 Democratic votes for each Republican vote. And they've outvoted them in reliably Republican counties like Collin, Denton, Fort Bend, Tarrant, and Williamson. Republicans are outvoting Democrats in only one of the state's biggest counties (Montgomery).

Another tidbit, from the Democratic ledger: The smallest increase on a percentage basis is in Hidalgo County, where it's up 58 percent. On the other hand, that's one of the best turnout counties for Democrats in a normal year, so the bar is set higher. In raw numbers, most of the increase is in the state's five biggest counties: Harris, Dallas, Tarrant, Bexar, and Travis. And this is unusual for the Democrats: The five biggest counties in population are also the five biggest in total votes. Usually, the more populous border counties outvote their bigger urban siblings.

On the Republican side, Tarrant, up 402 percent, leads in terms of percentage increases. Bexar, up 396 percent, is right behind.

The Presidential Travelogue

The Texas-Ohio juggling continues through Tuesday, when the presidential candidates will ditch those states like last year's prom date. Until then, we're one of the hotties at this dance, and you can tell from the number of ads on TV (see a sampling here) or by peeking at the schedules. Lookit:

Hillary Clinton will be in Texas through the last weekend, hitting Houston on Thursday, San Antonio and Waco on Friday and then headlining rallies in Fort Worth and Dallas. After a Sunday in Ohio, she'll be back in Austin on Monday for a "Texas-sized town hall" broadcast on the Internet and on TV in eight Texas markets.

Bill Clinton knocked around the state — in Austin, Fort Worth, Grapevine, Dallas, and Houston — while the candidate was in Ohio. And he will be the Texas closer, making the rounds on Sunday in Houston, Beaumont, Marshall, Wichita Falls, Abilene, and College Station, and then on Monday — Election Eve — in Corpus Christi, Brownsville, Edinburg, Laredo, Eagle Pass, Del Rio and El Paso.

And Chelsea Clinton hit campuses for her mom with rallies at Texas State University in San Marcos and Texas Tech University in Lubbock.

Barack Obama did a town hall meeting Thursday morning at the Austin Convention Center, testing how big a crowd you can draw when everybody's supposed to be at work. He also had stops planned in Beaumont, San Marcos, Fort Worth, and San Antonio, and Duncanville. And while they haven't provided any details, his campaign says he'll be in Texas on March 4 to watch the results come in.

Michelle Obama made her first Texas foray this week with stops in Beaumont, Galveston, and Houston.

Former Mississippi Gov. Ray Mabus — anybody in Texas know this guy? — came in for a Dallas-East Texas swing this week. He was scheduled to make stops in Texarkana, Longview, and Tyler. After that: College Station, Waco, Killeen, and Abilene. How about Washington, D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty? Heard of him? He knocked on doors in Houston for Obama.

Comedian George Lopez is the latest Obama agent to hit South Texas, making appearances in El Paso, McAllen, and Harlingen on Wednesday and Thursday. Actor Samuel L. Jackson campaigned in Longview, Tyler, and Texarkana, and actors Ben McKenzie and Kerry Washington hit college campuses in Georgetown and Austin. Actors Sophia Bush and Adam Rodriguez rallied on campuses in Richardson and Dallas.

U.S. Sen. John Kerry, D-Massachusetts, who lost to George W. Bush in 2004, hit Dallas, Galveston, Brownsville and Del Rio for Obama. Caroline Kennedy, daughter of the late president, made Obama stops in Austin, San Antonio, Brownsville, and Harlingen.

Former Texas Gov. Mark White endorsed Obama.

• U.S. Sen. John McCain is making Texas stops in the less-competitive Republican primary. He's appearing at Rice University in Houston on Thursday in an event that'll be webcast live and then archived for those who miss the live version. He's already been to San Antonio and will cover Dallas, Round Rock, and Austin by the end of the week, raising money and speechifying. Monday evening, he'll be in Waco for a town hall meeting.

• And Mike Huckabee, traveling with TV celeb Chuck Norris, will make a stop in Waco this week, and then appears at the Reagan Day Celebration in Houston on Friday night.

Trouble at Home, One Last Time

 

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.

Crash Course in Cash

With a week to go, the faucets are open.

The Texas Home School Coalition PAC tossed $10,000 to Randy Dunning after the 8-day reports. He's one of three Republicans hoping to succeed Rep. Fred Hill, R-Richardson...

The latest reports have some legislators giving to legislators. Rep. Beverly Woolley, R-Houston, gave $5,000 each to Reps. Charles "Doc" Anderson, R-Waco, and Jerry Madden, R-Richardson. And Rep. Jim Pitts, R-Waxahachie, gave $10,000 to Rep. Charlie Geren, R-Fort Worth, who's in a reelection battle. All three of those guys have challengers in the primary. And Sen. John Carona, R-Dallas, contributed $5,000 to Mike Anderson, the former Mesquite mayor who's challenging incumbent Rep. Thomas Latham, R-Sunnyvale.

Gov. Rick Perry is playing in legislative races this year, giving $25,000 each to Latham, Rep. Phil King, R-Weatherford, Mark Shelton, R-Fort Worth, Rep. Nathan Macias, R-Bulverde, and Charles "Doc" Anderson, R-Waco; $10,000 each to Dee Margo of El Paso and Rep. Bill Zedler of Arlington; and $5,000 to Rep. Joe Crabb, R-Atascocita. Former Gov. Dolph Briscoe gave $10,000 to Doug Miller, who's challenging Macias. And Clayton Williams Jr., who ran for governor in 1990, gave $6,000 checks to Macias, Anderson, Shelton, and, twice, to Rep. Aaron Peña, D-Edinburg. Peña's opponent is already shooting at him for taking Republican money.

The two biggest checks in Texas politics in February came from two of the state's best-known trial lawyer firms. Provost & Umphrey, and Williams Kherkher Hart and Boundas each gave $125,000 to the Texans for Insurance Reform PAC. That PAC has given to Rep. Pat Haggerty, R-El Paso, $20,000; Wade Gent, $62,316; Armando Walle, $17,640; Rep. Garnet Coleman, D-Houston, $30,000; Sandra Rodriguez, $115,000; and Ron Reynolds, $10,350. The Texas Trial Lawyer PAC gave $46,040 to Walle; $10,000 to Rep. Juan Escobar, D-Kingsville; and $8,000 to Rep. Paul Moreno, D-El Paso.

Their counterparts, Texans for Lawsuit Reform, gave $60,733 to Rep. Betty Brown, R-Terrell (Gent is her challenger); $40,000 to Peña; $51,500 to Tara Rios Ybarra, challenger to Escobar; to Zedler, $20,000; Madden, $20,000; Macias, $10,000; Rep. Corbin Van Arsdale, R-Tomball, $26,038; King, $25,000; Rep. Kevin Bailey, D-Houston, $25,000; Marisa Marquez (challenging Moreno), $14,218; and Rep. Frank Corte, R-San Antonio, $5,000.

Look for your persons of boogie where you will. Charles Butt of San Antonio gave $40,000 to the Texas Parent PAC. Dr. James Leininger, also of San Antonio, gave out $305,500 in contributions this month, according to campaign finance reports. Anderson received $50,000, as did the Texas Right to Life PAC. Other contributions from Leininger and his wife included $100,000 to the Empower Texas PAC, $40,000 to Macias, $25,000 to King, and $10,000 each to Dunning, Shelton, and Zedler. Tim Dunn of Midland also gave Empower Texas $100,000 on that outfit's way to $325,000 in receipts. In turn, Empower gave to a number of candidates: $75,000 to Macias, $58,400 to Tom Annunziato, who's challenging Geren in Fort Worth; and to Dr. Joe Hnatek of Lubbock, who's challenging Rep. Delwin Jones, $7,112.

Houston Broadcasting gave $21,853 in airtime to Allen Fletcher, a former cop who, with support from Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, is challenging Van Arsdale.

John Steven Mostyn of Austin made a splash, giving $56,285 to Brian Thompson, who's challenging Rep. Dawnna Dukes, D-Austin and another $30,000 to Sandra Rodriguez, who's after the seat held by Kino Flores, D-Palmview.

Houston builder Bob Perry and his wife gave $237,000 to candidates, according to available reports at the Texas Ethics Commission. They gave Anderson $32,000; Empower PAC and the Patriot PAC $25,000 each; King, $30,000; Rios, $25,000; and Shelton, $20,500. Carol Alvarado, a Democrat running for the seat left by Senate candidate Rick Noriega, got $10,000 from Perry.

We've written about the new kids on the block. The Texans for Economic Development PAC — formed by gambling interests in Texas — spent $356,863. The biggest spoonfuls went against King, Macias, and Brown. That war's still going on, but as of the last report, TEDPAC had spent $53,606 against Brown, $45,763 against Macias, and just under $75,000 against King.

We'll end this blizzard of numbers with two PACs that have everyone's attention. The Texas Parent PAC gave $15,000 to Joe Tison, King's challenger; $10,000 to Geren; $7,500 to Gent; and $5,000 each to Paula Stansell, who's challenging Rep. Charlie Howard, R-Sugar Land, and Jim Shepherd, who's in a race for an open seat in Richardson.

The Texas Builds JOBS PAC gave $10,000 checks to Shelton, Macias, Peña, King and Anderson. Brown and Van Arsdale each got $15,000 from that PAC, and Zedler, Corte, and Latham each got $5,000.

How Much Do They Love Thee?

This is quick and dirty and about as scientific as the average advertising buy, but interesting just the same.

If you list every political contribution over $5,000 for the month of February, you can pull together a list of the campaigns that led the pack in big donations. A caveat is in order: The Texas Ethics Commission only has online what's been filed, and more stuff will filter in during the next few days. There were 444 over $5k contributions when we looked.

The candidates and the total of their big February contributions: Rep. Nathan Macias, R-Bulverde, $273,500; Sandra Rodriguez, D-McAllen, $198,000; Reps. Charles "Doc" Anderson, R-Waco, and Phil King, R-Weatherford, $170,000; Dee Margo, R-El Paso, $145,000; Rep. Aaron Peña, D-Edinburg, $136,000; Rep. Betty Brown, R-Terrell, $126,235; Mark Shelton, R-Fort Worth, $114,000; Tom Annunziato, R-Fort Worth, $108,000; Rep. Pat Haggerty, R-El Paso, $105,000; and Tara Rios Ybarra, D-South Padre Island, $104,500.

Gambling Against King

The gambler attack on Rep. Phil King — through the Texans for Economic Development PAC — continues with new TV and mail advertising. The group was temporarily knocked out of commission in another race, but kept up its advertising assault on King.

They're also betting heavily against reelection bids by Reps. Betty Brown, R-Terrell, and Nathan Macias, R-Bulverde. Macias won a court order that kept the group off the air over the weekend, but that was tossed by a second judge and the fight's back on. (That judge added insult to injury, ordering Macias to pay $1,000 to the lawyers on the other side.)

King's opponent in the primary is former Weatherford Mayor Joe Tison, and tying Tison to the gambling folk is King's new tack. His camp is pulling out quotes from Tison disavowing ties to the gaming people and their Texans for Economic Development PAC. He told the Weatherford Democrat last week that he's got no relationship with TEDPAC, and said at a Republican candidate forum last week that there's no gaming money in his treasury: "You need to check my record," he told the group, according to a transcript provided by King's campaign. "You need to look at the campaign finance report that will be coming out on February 25th. You will see no contributions from the gambling industry."

That's true — TEDPAC didn't give directly to Tison, but according to his report, they're acting to his campaign's benefit. According to the PAC's report, they've thrown nearly $75,000 into broadcast advertising and mail pieces attacking King. And for King's camp, that's enough to call Tison the Gambler's Favorite.

For his part, Tison told that same GOP crowd that he's not for gaming. According to the King-provided transcript, he hit the incumbent for taking money from utility companies and others. "I have expected no money from gambling," Tison said. "Yes, those people did approach me early on, and I refused to take them money, because I told them I do not support gambling."

Speaker Speech

A federal judge says the state can't enforce laws that prevent outside groups from meddling in races for speakers of the Texas House. U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel issued a temporary restraining order that, in effect, allows outsiders to try to influence the outcome of the next speaker race. A copy of his order is available here.

The groups that sued say the law designed to keep outsiders from spending money to influence speaker elections — and to lobby and debate with House members who elect their leader every two years — prevents Texans from voicing their own opinions. The law effectively blocks voters and groups from voicing their views on a major bit of legislative business: Who runs the show. That, the suit says, is a violation of four rights protected in the U.S. Constitution: speech, association, petition, and equal protection.

The lawsuit was filed by an unusual coalition of lefties and righties: The American Civil Liberties Union of Texas, the Free Market Foundation, and the Texas Eagle Forum PAC.

We wrote about this when the case was filed a couple of weeks ago. Check here for our original story on the lawsuit.

Campaign Notes

Rep. Senfronia Thompson, D-Houston, switched her superdelegate vote to Barack Obama. She had been on Hillary Clinton's team.

Gov. Rick Perry is raising money for Rep. Charles "Doc" Anderson, R-Waco, but he's not doing it in Waco. That's one area of the state where Perry's numbers — even with Republicans — are suspect. The funder's in Austin. And it's a late one, coming after the eight-day campaign finance reports are due. The voters won't be able to see what happens with that money until mid-July (though they'll see receipts via telegram reports).

He already did a fundraiser for Rep. Pat Haggerty. Now, Texas Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson has made an "official" endorsement, meaning that he took the trip to El Paso to offer his support in a way that might get some media coverage. That's a counter to Gov. Rick Perry's endorsement of the GOP primary challenger, Dee Margo.

Perry opened the week at the top of... The Washington Post's bestseller list. That's for his book On My Honor: Why the American Values of the Boy Scouts are Work Fighting For, the proceeds of which go to the Boy Scouts. On Amazon's list, which is nationwide, it's number 329.

Rep. Paul Moreno's confederates complain that Marisa Marquez, his challenger, left a word off of her campaign materials. There's no "for," they say, as in "Marquez for House." They contend that's a no-no and they've filed a complaint, saying she's trying to make herself look like an incumbent.

Fox News' Bill O'Reilly has Perry on his list of potential vice presidential candidates for U.S. Sen. John McCain. Perry's professed a lack of interest in federal politics; on the other hand, several of his confederates made sure we got the O'Reilly write-up. Perry's got one more legislative session left as governor and hasn't said whether he'll seek another term in 2010, after ten years in office.

Pete Olson answers attacks that he didn't vote in three primaries with this bit: He was in the Navy, serving out of state. Olson, one of ten candidates running the CD-22 GOP primary, says there weren't Republican primaries where he was living in 2002, 2004 and 2006.

Political People and Their Moves

Sada Cumber, an Austin tech executive and a native of Pakistan, is President George W. Bush's choice to be envoy to the Organization of the Islamic Conference. Cumber is a partner in Texas Global (with former Texas Secretary of State Geoff Connor) and the CEO of SozoTek.

Gov. Rick Perry appointed former Rep. Gene Seaman, R-Corpus Christi, to the Texas State Technical College System Board of Regents, along with two others: Michael Northcutt, president of Southside Bank's Longview branch, and Cesar Maldonado, vice president of Maverick Engineering in Harlingen.

Perry named Lamont Meauz of Stowell to the Gulf Coast Waste Disposal Authority Board of Directors. He's the owner of Seabreeze Culvert, Seabreeze Chemical and Seabreeze Farm.

The governor picked James Lee, president of a private investments firm in Houston, to chair the Teacher Retirement System of Texas, reappointing him to another term on the board in the process. He also tapped Charlotte Renee Masters Clifton, a teacher in the Snyder school district, and Robert Gauntt of Houston, founding partner of Avalon Advisors.

Quotes of the Week

Lobbyist Bill Miller, an ally of House Speaker Tom Craddick, on the speaker's chances of another term, quoted in the Houston Chronicle: "It's 50-50, roughly. I think it's going to be in play right through the fall election."

Ralph Nader, on NBC's Meet the Press, on resistance to his latest bid for president: "The two parties do not own the voters in this country. Who the hell do they think they are turning independent challengers into second-class citizens? That's political bigotry."

Hillary Clinton, in an interview with Texas Monthly, on general election prospects here: "I'd love to carry Texas, but it's usually not in the electoral calculation for the Democratic nominee."

Dan and Clark Richards, sons of former Gov. Ann Richards, telling the Associated Press what they think of a Hillary Clinton campaign video — approved by one of their two sisters — claiming the support of the late governor: "As her children, we never presumed to know her mind when alive and we are not prepared to make a claim as to who she would endorse or what she would do if she were still with us."

Former Rep. Frances "Sissy" Farenthold, telling The New York Times she'll ignore the state's tradition of trailblazing women, like her, by voting for Obama over Clinton: "I'm not going to set aside everything because a woman is running. There's a tradition of having pets, too."

Collin County Democratic Chairman Dan Dodd, talking about voter turnout in The Dallas Morning News: "The cloak of Democrats hiding in the closet in Collin County, that's been lifted. Democrats are coming out of the woodwork.


Texas Weekly: Volume 25, Issue 9, 3 March 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 biz@texasweekly.com. For news, email ramsey@texasweekly.com, or call (512) 288-6598.

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