U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, raised $1.7 million during the three months ending June 30 and got to the mid-year mark with $9.3 million in the campaign account.
Rick Noriega, his Democratic challenger, raised $930,457 during the quarter. His campaign is touting polls that consistently show Cornyn ahead, but with less than 50 percent support. That's generally a trouble sign for an incumbent; the question is whether Noriega can put together the resources to take advantage of that in the little time that's left.
With this issue in the can, we're taking our annual summer break. Daily news clips and Out There, our blog digest, will continue, and the newsletter will return in the first week of August. Until then!
The elections aren't over yet, but the numbers have Republicans gloating; the GOP put out a statement saying that at this rate, Noriega's campaign will reach its self-set goal of $10 million by 2012. And they are using his campaign — championed by bloggers here and elsewhere — to make fun of bloggers on the left. Cornyn's campaign, on the eve of the bloggers' Netroots Nation convention in Austin, called them a "tiny but vociferous group." Almost half of Noriega's money was raised online; but his take for the quarter isn't enough for a week of the sort of saturation TV ads that mark most successful statewide campaigns. (Cornyn's camp played this both ways, deriding his fundraising in press releases while talking it up in fundraising pitches. An example: "Noriega has raised nearly half of his total funds online, much of it from out-of-state 'progressives' who will never even visit Texas, let alone vote here... Will you continue to help John Cornyn in the battle?")
Here's a little math exercise. To raise $10 million, Noriega would have to get at least 4,348 people to give him the maximum allowed amount of $2,300 (or get even more people to give smaller amounts). With just over 15 weeks to go before Election Day, he's got to get 41 or 42 people to max out to his campaign every day, on average, from now until November 4. Anything is possible, but that has a high degree of difficulty.
So try it this way. Say a week of television time can be had for $1.2 million (you'll hear anything from $1.1 million to $1.7 million, depending on rates, frequencies, consultant commissions, etc.). That's the equivalent of 522 maxed-out federal contributors for every week of TV time. Again, it's possible, but it would be remarkable.
Money is not the only thing that wins campaigns, but candidates have to become well known enough to do battle — this is, after all, a popularity contest. If he can't find a sack of money and soon, Noriega will have to rely on Cornyn's unpopularity — and the general Democratic hope that it's a bad year for Republicans — in order pull off an upset.
Mid-year Money in Top Texas Races
This is our current list of hot races on the ballot, with numbers from their mid-year finance reports (click on the image to download a copy). Numbers on Texas races come from the Texas Ethics Commission; federal contest numbers are from the Federal Election Commission.
A note: The state numbers are for the six months ended June 30, while the federal numbers are cumulative, including numbers from the 2007-08 reports filed by candidates through the end of June.
Incumbents' names are in bold. Open seats have a letter next to them so you'll know which party is currently in office. And here's how the Texas Weekly Index (TWI) works: It's the average difference between statewide Republicans and statewide Democrats in contested elections in 2004 and 2006, by district. If it's red (or a negative number) Republicans did better in that district; if it's blue (or a positive number), Democrats did better. It's not meant to predict results, but to give you a quick look at recent political history in each district.
First, the Big Toe...
Make it a little more official: Sen. Florence Shapiro, R-Plano, wants to move from the state Senate to the U.S. Senate if and when U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison steps down.
She's formally announcing an exploratory committee, though she's been talking to potential supporters about the possibility for some time.
Former Dallas Cowboy quarterback Roger Staubach will lead her political committee. Hutchison isn't gone yet, but has said her current term will be her last (she said that about her previous term, too), and has said she's considering a run for governor in 2010 (a possibility she openly considered in both 2002 and in 2006).
The two Dallas-area Republicans have the same consultant, Bryan Eppstein, and you'd be nuts to conclude that Shapiro is making an announcement that would irk the incumbent she wants to replace.
Hutchison's public quote was friendly and noncommittal: "Sen. Shapiro gave me the courtesy of calling me about her plans to form an exploratory committee, which I sincerely appreciate."
Shapiro's endorsement list includes the names of 13 of the 20 Republicans who serve with her in the state Senate, 14 if you add her name to the list. Two points of interest there: That means that those folks aren't available to endorse anybody else, including Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, who is often mentioned as a potential candidate if and when Kay Bailey Hutchison gives up her spot in the Senate. Dewhurst is, of course, the guy who hands out committee assignments to the senators when the session starts in January. That brings us to the second point of interest, which is the list of the six Republicans who kept their powder dry: Kip Averitt of Waco, Mike Jackson of La Porte, Steve Ogden of Bryan, Dan Patrick of Houston, Jeff Wentworth of San Antonio, and Tommy Williams of The Woodlands.
Shapiro told reporters she wanted to get out early since it could be a crowded race. Hutchison won it in a 1993 special election (to replace Lloyd Bentsen, who resigned mid-term to become Treasury Secretary) and the initial field had 24 candidates in it. Many of them were officeholders who could run without giving up their elected positions. The draw was smaller when Phil Gramm left, but there was no special election, and most officeholders had to choose between making that race and running for reelection. John Cornyn beat four other Republicans. Ron Kirk beat four other Democrats. And Cornyn won the general election against Kirk and three minor-party candidates.
The contest to represent the state's biggest congressional district pits a well-funded incumbent against a challenger whom folks are used to voting for.
Democrat Ciro Rodriguez and Republican Lyle Larson have divvied up the suburbs of San Antonio, where most of CD-23 voters live. Rodriguez claims the south and Larson the northwest.
So they're looking to the other 19 counties not named "Bexar" to determine the outcome of one of Texas' few truly purple districts. (It has a Texas Weekly Index of only 6 in the GOP's favor — voters here tend to vote Republican at the top of the ticket and more Democratic as they move down the ballot.)
"I think it will be the wildcard race in Texas," says state GOP spokesman Hans Klingler.
The district, drawn by judges in a redistricting case, stretches from San Antonio to El Paso. In a December 2006 runoff, Rodriguez defeated GOP incumbent Henry Bonilla to return to Congress, where he had represented a south San Antonio-based district from 1997 to 2005.
It took a federal case for Democrats to obtain the seat, and they don't want to give it back.
"We hold that district, and we are going to make certain that Congressman Rodriguez has the ability to get a message out and tout his record as an incumbent congressman," says state Democratic Party spokesman Hector Nieto.
During the whole of Rodriguez's congressional tenure, Larson has been a Bexar County Commissioner for the northern Precinct 3.
About 40 percent of the CD-23 votes cast in 2006 came from his commission precinct, Larson says (Bexar County accounted for nearly two-thirds of the CD-23 vote). Larson hasn't faced a Democratic opponent since his debut in 1996, when he received 70 percent of the vote.
"They both start out with a very strong base," says Rodriguez spokesman Adrian Saenz.
Larson's constituency enabled him to trounce primary opponent Quico Canseco by 23 points, despite Canseco's money: He outspent Larson $1.1 million to $213,000. That result surprised some national observers who had been looking ahead to a November showdown between Canseco and Rodriguez.
As of the most recent official reports to the Federal Elections Commission, through March 31, Rodriguez leads Larson $936,000 to $60,000 in cash on hand. (Rodriguez has raised a total of $1.7 million to Larson's $270,000.) Records through the end of June will come out in two weeks.
Since Larson is already known to many Bexar voters, he's focusing on making himself known out West.
"My name recognition, by virtue of serving in office, has been real high. That's why I'm spending a lot of time out in areas where I have not met everyone," Larson says.
Rodriguez, too, has worked to establish his presence in the vast rural regions of the district, according to Saenz, who says his boss met a goal of visiting every county in the district four times this cycle. "If you want to represent the whole district, you can't focus on north Bexar County," Saenz says.
Soon, Saenz will leave Rodriguez for the Barack Obama campaign in New Mexico. He says Obama-mania should drive voter registration and Democratic volunteer efforts in Texas, and that a competitive U.S. Senate race (between incumbent John Cornyn and Rick Noriega) will help bring people to Rodriguez, too.
"I don't think Obama is going to spend a lot of time in rural West Texas," he says. "I imagine Noriega will."
Larson reads his own good fortune in the same tea leaves. Where Saenz sees a pro-Democrat trend, Larson sees an "anti-incumbent atmosphere."
Larson likes his chances with John McCain at the top of the ballot because of the Arizona senator's popularity among retired military personnel and his moderate stances on border and immigration policies.
"John McCain definitely is an asset in this district," Larson says.
Larson says voters are fed up with Congress in ability to problems with the economy, energy, border security and health care. He says his background in county government shows he'll get things done in Washington.
"I think a lot of people are frustrated with what's going on in Washington, with both Republicans and Democrats," he says.
"Here we don't have a lot of partisan politics. The focus is on solutions. I'm going to go up there and try to work through these issues," Larson says.
Rodriguez has been concentrating on his congressional duties and has not yet begun to campaign, says Saenz. He'll ramp things up in the next month or so, Saenz says.
He cites border security, the economy and veterans' health as the most prominent issues, with their relative importance depending on the part of the district.
"I think that Democrats are a lot more energetic this cycle than Republicans. We saw that in the primary. Hillary Clinton won this district, but there was also a huge turnout for Barack," Saenz says. "It's more about Democrats staying energized, which I think will happen."
— by Patrick Brendel
Quiet on the Southern Front
A political novice and a cautious incumbent are racing for the HD-34 seat in Corpus Christi. It can be a little tough to tell just what they're running on as they develop their messages, but health care has emerged as a topic from both campaigns.
The incumbent is Democrat Abel Herrero, who was elected in 2004 and is trying to keep his seat. He says he's helped bring more children on the Children's Health Insurance Program (he sits on the Human Services Committee), sponsored a bill that allows port security guards to be licensed as law-enforcement officers, and worked to add a magistrate in Nueces County.
"I think that there's still a lot of work to be done to ensure that Texas families are represented in the Texas Legislature," Herrero says.
His challenger is Connie Scott, president of the Bay Area Citizens for Lawsuit Reform. She says Herrero hasn't worked well with conservatives in Nueces County.
"I decided to run because I felt that we needed a change in our representation, someone who can work with both sides of the parties, someone who will be fiscally responsible," Scott says.
She says she doesn't have a specific agenda, but instead is focusing on getting elected. When we called, she said she was a bit nervous since it was her first time as a candidate that she spoke with a reporter.
"I am a conservative. I am a strong woman of faith, I trust in the Lord, I believe this is where I'm supposed to be," Scott says. "Instead of getting into agendas and things I want to work on, I believe that, if elected, I should work on any issue that affects the people of Nueces County."
Scott's consultant, Jeff Butler, is more specific. He says they are planning to help reduce homeowners' property tax burden, help get pay raises of some sort to teachers, and make sure CHIP is funded well. But they want to keep spending down and trim where possible, he says.
"To us, education and health care are the two main elements that need to be looked at and, if that means, you know, looking at the budget in other areas, we will," says Butler.
Herrero says he'll talk about health care, too. He wants to improve Medicaid reimbursement rates for doctors to encourage them to take low-income patients, especially children.
Republicans are "on the wrong track," on issues such as teacher pay, he says. He wants to help teachers get more across-the-board pay raises.
Herrero, an attorney, hopes the unrest with Republicans nationally will help his race. "I think that's a huge factor," he says. "I think, in general, people feel like there's a need for change."
So far, Herrero has close to $100,000 cash on-hand, he said. "I'm extremely happy with that," he says.
Scott is still tallying checks, but thinks she's raised roughly $100,000 for her race (campaign finance reports are due next week). Some of her money has come from Texans for Lawsuit Reform, a group her husband, Mike Scott, helped form in 1994.
If elected, she'll work to maintain the lawsuit-reform measures passed by the Legislature in earlier sessions, she says.
"I do feel like we have come a long way and we have accomplished quite a bit," she says. "I do feel like we have to keep them in place and make sure they are not overturned."
— Elizabeth Pierson Hernandez
Former Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice Tom Phillips is running the courtroom half of Sen. Kim Brimer's reelection campaign.
He doesn't show up in court documents (at least the ones we've seen), but he's named in the Fort Worth Republican's campaign finance reports. Brimer paid $17,610 to the Baker Botts law firm for Phillip's advice. The senator sued to knock Democrat Wendy Davis off the ballot. He contends she didn't properly distract herself from her spot on the Fort Worth City Council before jumping into the Senate race.
Brimer isn't the only candidate with a lawyer up his sleeve. Gov. Rick Perry's latest campaign report includes five payments totaling $109,121 to Austin-based Scott Douglas & McConnico. That firm is defending him in a lawsuit filed by a former opponent over money contributed to Perry by the Republican Governor's Association. Democrat Chris Bell contends that Perry illegally accepted a $1 million contribution from that group in an attempt to hide the true contributor from voters. Houston homebuilder Bob Perry had contributed that amount to RGA. Perry's campaign said it was a clerical mistake and fixed it.
Flotsam & Jetsam
Chris Bell plans to jump into a state senate contest next weekend — announcing his candidacy Sunday in Houston. Bell, who lost the race for governor two years ago, has been looking at the spot opened by Kyle Janek's resignation. This will make him the first Democrat to join that SD-17 race. Republicans in the hunt to replace Janek, R-Houston, include Austen Furse III, Grant Harpold, and Joan Huffman.
Rep. Hubert Vo's campaign told us a couple of weeks ago to expect their mid-year report to show contributions in the $70,000 range. We'll be charitable about it — they missed.
Contributions for the first half of the year totaled just $19,996. Greg Meyers, the Republican challenging the Houston Democrat, raised $57,120. Vo remains ahead in cash on hand, though, by a 4-to-1 margin.
Former Rep. Todd Hunter's report includes a $92,000 contribution from former Rep. Todd Hunter. The Corpus Christi Republican gave it instead of loaning it, on his way to a contribution total of $300,712. That was about $100,000 short of what Rep. Juan Garcia, the incumbent raised, and Hunter ended the period with about a third as much in the bank.
Both of the state's U.S. senators stuck with doctors on the Medicare vote (legislation stopping a 10.6 percent cut in medical reimbursements from that program) when it came time to upend President George W. Bush. They voted against it, then for it, and when Bush vetoed it, both John Cornyn and Kay Bailey Hutchison voted to override the veto, as did 17 of the state's 32 House members. Case closed, for now. It could come up later in Cornyn's reelection race — the Texas Medical Association's PAC dropped their endorsement of him and is now officially uncommitted. And Hutchison might be looking for support should she decide to get into the race for Guv in 2010.
Make a note: Michael Skelly, the Houston Democrat challenging U.S. Rep. John Culberson, R-Houston, has started his TV advertising and says he'll remain on the air until the November elections. The ad, online here, features his kids talking about him.
Another state official is leaving the country. Comptroller Susan Combs is off to Madrid on a trade mission with a group of business people. That follows a jaunt to Cuba by Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples and a visit to France by Gov. Rick Perry.
Political People and Their Moves
In the wake of a fire that devastated the Governor's Mansion and a high-temperature legislative review of his agency underway, the head of the state police announced he'll retire at the end of August. Colonel Tommy Davis Jr., who's worked at the Texas Department of Public Safety for almost 44 years, says he'll retire at the end of the fiscal year. He's been the director of the agency since March 2000. In a one-line press release, he gave no explanation. The fire at the Mansion was started early on a Sunday morning by an arson while the DPS had one guard on duty and several surveillance cameras down. The arson hasn't been identified. Davis wasn't directly blamed, but the chairman of the agency's board has said the incident "was not the finest hour" at DPS.
Robert Black, until now the chief spokesman for Gov. Rick Perry, is leaving government to start (in September) a communications and public relations firm that'll be based in Austin.
Evan Smith, editor and vice president of Texas Monthly, is now the editor-in-chief and president of that magazine, meaning he's officially the replacement for founder/publisher Michael Levy, who's "retiring" at the end of August.
Former Travis County Sheriff Margo Frasier is signing on with MGT of America as a managing partner. The consulting firm also moved Bob Lauder up a notch — he'll run the firm's Austin office, where their criminal justice practice is headquartered.
Sen. Jeff Wentworth, R-San Antonio, is the new chairman of the Southern Legislative Conference, a group of lawmakers from 16 southern states.
Martin Lujan, after eight years at the Capitol, is off to law school in Houston. Patrick Tarlton will move into Lujan's job as chief of staff to Rep. Pete Gallego, D-Alpine.
Gov. Rick Perry appointed some folks to some panels, to wit:
A.R. "Rusty" Senac of Beach City and Ray Stoesser of Dayton to the Coastal Water Authority board of directors. Senac is a healthcare consultant, and Stoesser is a farmer.
Kathleen Hartnett White of Rosanky to the Lower Colorado River Authority's board. She's the director of natural resources at the Texas Public Policy Foundation.
Sandra Bridges of Rockwall and Stefani Carter of Plano to the State Board for Educator Certification. Bridges is a public school teacher; Carter is an attorney.
Deaths: Dr. Michael DeBakey, the world-renowned heart surgeon, medical innovator, chancellor emeritus of Houston's Baylor College of Medicine, a fixture at The Methodist Hospital, and a semi-regular visitor to the state capital when medical issues and funding were at stake. He was 99.
Quotes of the Week
U.S. Senate candidate Rick Noriega, talking about his chances in The Dallas Morning News: "We recognize that it's an uphill fight. If it has to be all about money, then we shouldn't have elections."
Republican congressional hopeful Pete Olson, quoted by the Associated Press about two people hosting his fundraisers: "This is Texas. They love Vice President Cheney. They love President Bush even more."
Texas Railroad Commissioner Elizabeth Ames Jones, showing the Austin American-Statesman her interest in a possible opening in the Texas congressional delegation: "I would certainly not want to be left out of anything that would benefit Texas. It's going to be a long campaign for... that Senate seat."
State Rep. Linda Harper Brown, R-Irving, quoted by The Dallas Morning News on the Sunset Advisory Commission's critique of the Texas Department of Transportation: "Here are some of the words used in this report... 'distrust, frustration, disconnected, inaccessibility, unstructured, undefined, unrealistic, disjointed, ineffective, unpredictable, outdated and difficult.'"
U.S. Rep. Jeb Hensarling, R-Dallas, quoted in the Athens Daily Review on Democratic opposition to expanded ANWR oil drilling: "They don't realize people are part of the environment, too. We have the energy we need but the liberals said no because they saw the piece of tundra on a postcard."
U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper, D-Tennessee, quoted by the Austin American-Statesman on electric co-ops contributions to federal candidates: "If you're motherhood and apple pie, why do you have to give money to politicians? Mostly their message has been, 'Y'all stay asleep, and we'll be just fine.' "
Volume 25, Issue 29, 21 July 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.