The campaign finance reports due 30 days before an election spur at least two varieties of anxiety. There's the obvious thing: Candidate A has more money than Candidate B. And there's the less-obvious thing, often a product of experience: Who started handing out checks, and to whom, the day after the reporting cutoff? This year, the deadline date was September 23, and the next reports — covering the final week of September and all but the last week of October, won't be here for a few weeks. Rumors of last-minute money are swirling.
But there's plenty of fodder in this week's finance reports.
Challengers outraised incumbents in 15 races and in eight of those, the challengers led in combined spending and saving, a rough measure of each campaign's financial strength. We noted that in our sister publication — The Texas Tribune — and got a call from a Democrat who feigned shock that Republicans outraised Democrats in many of those races. But not in all of them, and some of the numbers put a lie to the bluster coming from some quarters before the reports were out. Expect to hear a lot more rumors about big money moving around between now and the time when the new reports come out.
Early voting starts in 10 days. Campaigners are earnest now. And you might have noticed a lot of grainy and unflattering pictures of pols you know in the mailbox and on TV. While you're enjoying that, there's a useful database of the campaign finance numbers at the Tribune, here. We put together a listing of selected campaigns with combined spending and cash-on-hand totals to give you an idea of the strength of campaigns at this point. And we've adjusted the hot list to reflect some of what's in the reports.
Depending on which poll you go by, the outcome of the governor's race is either a foregone conclusion or far from over.
In a WFAA-Belo Texas poll, Gov. Rick Perry leads Democratic challenger Bill White by 14 points, 50 to 36 percent. A Texas Lyceum poll released a day later shows White trailing Perry by just 5 points, 48 to 43 percent, among likely voters. Two weeks ago, Rasmussen Reports had White down 6 points. On Thursday, it released a poll more in line with Belo's findings, showing an 11-point difference with Perry at 53 percent and White at 42 percent.
Democratic consultant Matt Angle blasted the Belo poll, calling it "distorted to the point that it should not be considered an accurate measure of the current political atmosphere in Texas." His chief complaint was that instead of determining their pool of "likely" voters by asking respondents if they were planning to vote in November, the pollsters asked if they had voted in "most" or "all" of previous school, local and primary elections. Angle argues that the question effectively screened out many respondents who would lean Democratic.
"Bill White is hanging tough against Rick Perry," said Daron Shaw, a professor at the University of Texas who conducted the Texas Lyceum poll with associate professor Amy Jasperson of the University of Texas at San Antonio. "But with just 12 days before Texans head to the polls for early voting and with just 3 percent of voters undecided in this race, White's path to victory remains difficult to see."
In that poll, Libertarian Kathie Glass comes in at 5 percent, and Green nominee Deb Shafto gets 1 percent. Only 3 percent of likely voters are undecided. Among those self-identified independent voters, White leads Perry 50 to 43 percent, from whom any statewide Democrat candidate needs a big showing. Glass gets 10 percent. The Democrat also leads with "moderate" voters, with a 67-to-22 advantage. But Perry tromps him, 76-17, with conservatives and has locked down 81 percent of the Republican vote, too.
The Texas Lyceum does not show Democrats running as close further down the ballot. Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst is leading Democrat Linda Chavez-Thompson 47 to 30 percent, and Attorney General Greg Abbott leads Democrat Barbara Ann Radnofsky 56 to 29 percent. Compared to the gubernatorial race, these matches have larger groups of undecided voters — 12 percent and 11 percent, respectively.
A Republican has a 41-to-29-percent advantage over a Democrat on a generic congressional ballot, and a 7-point lead, 38 to 31 percent, on a generic statehouse ballot.
One in four voters identifies with the Tea Party, and in a generic race for Congress, a Democrat would get 29 percent from these respondents, a Republican candidate would get 20 percent, and a Tea Party candidate would get 13 percent, with the Tea vote coming straight out of the GOP vote.
The Texas Lyceum poll of 416 likely voters was conducted from Sept. 22-30 and has a margin of error of +/- 4.75 percentage points. The Belo poll was conducted by Public Strategies Inc. from Sept. 27-Oct. 2 and has a margin of error of +/-3.7 percentage points. Rasmussen's survey was done October 6 and has a margin of error of +/- 4 percent.
The Department of Homeland Security announced Wednesday it has achieved "record-breaking" levels of immigration enforcement under President Barack Obama, touting its removal of nearly 400,000 undocumented immigrants this year alone, including more than 195,000 convicted criminals.
"Our approach has yielded historic results, removing more convicted criminal aliens than ever before and issuing more financial sanctions on employers who knowingly and repeatedly violate immigration laws than during the entire previous administration," said DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano in a news release. Napolitano was joined by Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia in Washington for the official announcement, which comes just one week after the government finalized plans to expand its Secure Communities program to all 254 counties in Texas. The program runs the fingerprints of inmates at local jails against an immigration database to determine if they are deportable under immigration laws.
Still, Gov. Rick Perry didn't let up on his criticism of the federal government this week, as he once again lambasted Washington for what he deems its failure to secure Texas' border with Mexico. At the state Capitol on Wednesday, Perry spoke at a conference on human trafficking, where he said the problem has been complicated by the federal government's failure to act.
"These transnational gangs oppress their trafficking victims, but they also employ them as pawns," Perry said. "That's why in the absence of adequate assistance from Washington, we made another plea [Tuesday] to the office of Homeland Security and reached out to their counterparts in the Mexican side for continued effort to secure our border with Mexico."
U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo, the former Texas secretary of state, introduced Perry at the conference and defended Washington in a brief press briefing after the governor's speech, saying Perry had the resources from Washington and could, in fact, use them as he chose.
"The federal government gives a lot of money to the state for homeland security dollars, and if he's so concerned about the border, all he has to do is use some of those dollars that we give him and move them over," Cuellar said.
Another Wait for Willingham
Next week, Travis County District Judge Charlie Baird will hear arguments about whether he should recuse himself from deciding whether a court of inquiry should revisit whether Cameron Todd Willingham, a man whose death sentence Baird reaffirmed 15 years ago, was wrongfully executed.
Baird was set to make that decision this week, but received a motion from Navarro County prosecutor R. Lowell Thompson, whose office originally convicted Willingham, to remove himself from the case. Thompson argued that Baird's previous ruling on the case and his reputation as a death penalty opponent call his impartiality into question. Baird voted to reaffirm Willingham's death sentence in 1995 when he served on the Court of Criminal Appeals.
If Baird recuses himself, an administrative judge would appoint someone else to take over the case. If Baird declines to recuse himself, Thompson could appeal.
Willingham's ex-wife, Stacy Kuykendall, held a news conference prior to Baird's hearing to proclaim her belief that he was guilty. "He burned them, he admitted he burned them to me, and he was convicted of his crime," she told reporters. "That is the closest to justice that my daughters will get." Kuykendall divorced Willingham while he was in prison and has changed her statements about the 1991 arson deaths of her daughters several times over the years. During the punishment phase of Willingham's trial, she testified under oath that she believed he was innocent.
A court of inquiry has the authority to exonerate Willingham, who was executed in 2004, and determine whether the evidence supports "official oppression" charges against any officials involved in the case. "It's important to get to the truth, but it's important to do it in the right way," Thompson told reporters after the proceedings.
Something Afoot With Those Ads
Some shuffling in pre-election ad buys could give a hint as to which Texas congressman the Democratic National Congressional Campaign Committee thinks is most vulnerable.
The DCCC recently drew down its air time in U.S. Rep. Chet Edwards' CD-17, canceling a week's worth of TV advertisements, according to a report from National Journal's Hotline On Call. In U.S. Rep. Ciro Rodriguez's district, the national party entered the fray for the first time, running an attack ad against his Republican challenger, Francisco "Quico" Canseco — but it's unclear whether this means the DCCC thinks Rodriguez is closer to defeat, since the group has said it would invest in air time in the district since July.
The shift in CD-17 could either mean that national Democrats feel Edwards is safe — though this comes at a time when the 20-year incumbent referred to himself as an "underdog" in an interview with the Dallas Morning News editorial board and a recent poll from his opponent Republican Bill Flores shows him trailing by double digits — or that they believe they've lost the race and that their resources would be better spent elsewhere. The Flores campaign has been quick to say this means the latter — that they've vanquished Edwards and his national party has thrown him to the wolves. Edwards, perhaps in response to that speculation, broke his policy of not releasing internal polls Thursday and announced that his own numbers showed him only 4 points behind Flores at 42 to 46 percent — within the 400-person survey's margin of error.
Edwards spokeswoman Megan Jacobs emphasized Edwards' robust war chest when asked about the scaled-back ads. "Our grassroots campaign is building momentum every day despite months of misleading attacks from Bill Flores," Jacobs said in an e-mail. "Given our campaign's strong financial position, it is not surprising that they would move funds to other races."
The Week in the Rearview Mirror
With grant funding for Hurricane Ike victims rescinded, social service agencies in the Gulf Coast area have announced cutbacks in services for thousands of victims. Of the $600 million in grants awarded to the area for disaster relief, $40 million was still due to be paid out to local agencies, but the U.S. House blocked the remaining funds in spite of a last-minute effort by U.S. Sen. John Cornyn to extend the grant deadline for an additional year. The Republican leadership that killed the bill said Texas had had long enough to spend the money. Agencies in the Houston-Galveston area immediately announced layoffs and discontinuation of relief services.
With an attack on two Americans on Falcon Lake, a border reservoir, now in dispute, a simple story of spillover border violence has taken on a life of its own. Tiffany Hartley said last week that she and husband David were attacked by Mexican pirates on the lake as while riding Jet Skis and photographing Mexican ruins. David Hartley was allegedly shot in the head, and the pirates continued firing at Tiffany as she made her escape. Authorities have not been able to locate David's body or Jet Ski, and Mexican officials have questioned the veracity of the story.
Debates in the governor's race aren't quite the same without the incumbent's participation, but the League of Women Voters in Houston pressed ahead anyhow. The three-way debate between Democrat Bill White, Libertarian Kathie Glass and Green Deb Shafto drew an audience of about 300 to Houston, where the candidates focused largely on education. The trio also had pet issues to address: White hitting Perry on corruption allegations, Glass calling for increased border security and Shafto pushing for state leadership on clean energy.
The first Tuesday of the month is foreclosure day, and this month was no exception — in spite of a letter from Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott to 27 mortgage lenders requesting a moratorium on foreclosures. Abbott asked lenders to review procedures in light of recent news of bank employee "robosigning," or the approval of foreclosure documents without review. Abbott's letter came late Monday, which didn't afford many lenders the time to stop the lengthy foreclosure process, but could affect future sales if companies comply with his request to honor a moratorium until Oct. 15.
The Electric Reliability Council of Texas has been under the gun for several years now to implement a plan to revamp its wholesale market system. As ERCOT prepares to complete the switch Dec. 1, it has announced that it is laying off 37 of its 670 workers to save money. The project has ballooned from an initial cost of $95 million to $644 million and is two years overdue.
Campaigns released their financial reports showing their cash position for the final push of the campaign season. Gov. Rick Perry outpaced his Democratic rival, Bill White, by almost 2-to-1 from July to September, raising $8.2 million to White's $4.68 million. Perry's war chest was boosted by several large donations from wealthy business owners; White's money came from the Democratic Governors Association, various trial lawyers and trade association groups.
Among those facing the budget ax in the upcoming budget crunch will be about 15,000 HIV and AIDS patients who could see life-sustaining medication cut off. The program, which provides retroviral drugs to people who otherwise can't afford them, needs $23 million in additional funding to maintain its current level of coverage. The soaring enrollment is a kind of perfect storm involving individuals losing their jobs and health benefits, the increasing costs of the drugs themselves and the prolonged lives of the patients who've been receiving the drugs.
Aggie scientist John-Nielsen Gammon is reporting that temperatures in Texas will steadily increase over the coming years and that triple-digit temps in the summer will become the norm. After studying climate models in his role as atmospheric sciences professor, Neilsen-Gammon predicted that temperatures could rise as much as 1 degree per decade and lead to prolonged droughts, reduced acreage available for farming and less capacity for livestock.
Political People and Their Moves
Veronica Vargas Stidvent is leaving the Center for Politics and Governance at UT-Austin's LBJ School and is moving a couple of blocks to head the Hispanic Leadership Initiative and the Subiendo Leadership Academy at UT's McCombs School of Business. Former state Rep. Sherri Greenberg — now a prof at the LBJ school — will take the empty spot on an interim basis.
Less than a month before the election, Eric Celeste has left his job as spokesman for the campaign to re-elect Dallas District Attorney Craig Watkins. "I sort of fired myself," Celeste told The Dallas Morning News. "Our message is set. Craig's out there delivering it."
Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, has begun assembling his redistricting staff. Gerardo Interiano will join special counsel Lisa Kaufman. External advisers will include Baker Botts attorneys Tom Phillips, former Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice, and Sam Cooper and Greg Coleman.
Geronimo Gutierrez Fernandez, Mexico's former deputy foreign minister for North America, became the new director of the North American Development Bank.
Lobbyist Harold Freeman is retiring from the Texas Construction Association.
Sarah Gomez is the new communications director for state Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, D-San Antonio. She did stints at Dartmouth College and at Austin-based Public Strategies Inc.
Quotes of the Week
Williamson County Republican Party Chairman Bill Fairbrother assuring the Austin American-Statesman that financial reports listing $5,272,010 spent on donuts and $9,082,010 at Applebee's were erroneous: "If we had that kind of money to spend on doughnuts, we'd have fancier headquarters and would probably be doing TV and radio and all sorts of fun things we'd love to do as a political group."
Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin at a Houston fundraiser, where she called President Barack Obama "the most pro-abortion president ever to occupy the White House," as reported in the Houston Chronicle: "I won't get too political tonight, but I just can't help it sometimes."
GOP pollster David Hill, talking about Gov. Rick Perry in the Washington Post: "He's a guy who's really exploiting the generic Republican ballot. He doesn't bring too much unique and distinctive to the brand himself."
Texas Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson, poking fun on his Facebook page at Democratic opponent Hector Uribe and a story in the San Antonio Express-News: "A good article about me and some other guy. In the picture, notice Hector has a GLO (General Land Office) Visitor badge. He should hold on to that "
Former Eagle Pass Mayor Chad Foster, now chairman of the Texas Border Coalition, expressing his doubts about Tiffany and David Hartley, who were allegedly attacked by Mexican pirates on Falcon Lake last week, in the San Antonio Express-News: "What was the shooters' gain? Why let the wife go? Any domestic discord?"
Gov. Rick Perry's campaign spokesman, Mark Miner, to The Texas Tribune on whether or not he worries about the tweets of the anonymously operated Twitter account @THE_mark_miner: "I'm more worried about what the real Mark Miner says."
Contributors: Julian Aguilar, Reeve Hamilton, Ceryta Holm, David Muto and Morgan Smith
Texas Weekly: Volume 27, Issue 38, 11 October 2010. Ross Ramsey, Editor. Copyright 2010 by The Texas Tribune. 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) 716-8600 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. For news, email email@example.com, or call (512) 716-8611.