Tuesday, July 31, 2012

TX and GA Republican Preview

Originally published in Red Racing Horses.

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Today is runoff day in Texas. Before polls close tonight we will profile the Republican side of the elections; you can see our coverage of the Democratic races here. Be sure to come back for our liveblog of the runoff results (and results from the first round in GA) tonight.

Texas

Senate

This is the most closely watched runoff in the state today, and for good reason. A year ago, former Solicitor General Ted Cruz was never supposed to be the frontrunner for US Senate. This was Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst versus a bunch of upstarts jumping for higher office out of turn. Dewhurst was expected to ride his name recognition from decades in Texas government and personal wealth to an easy victory, but the redistricting brouhaha delayed the primaries as Cruz carefully maneuvered himself into a position as a conservative alternative as other candidates withdrew. He also forged a broad coalition, garnering endorsements from Sarah Palin, Rick Santorum, both Pauls, DeMint, CfG, and FreedomWorks.

Dewhurst still had the edge heading into the primary, but his failure to win 50% allowed Cruz to make this a 1 on 1 battle. Cruz, who saved much of his warchest for the close of the primary and the runoff, expanded his ground game after the primary as Dewhurst has continued to rely upon a top-heavy campaign. Cruz also continued to receive significant support from FreedomWorks on the ground and CfG in the airwars.

Dewhurst still has some advantages. He is ruling the airwaves, thanks to Super PAC support from past allies and his own self-funding of his campaign to the tune of $25 million.  Turnout seems stronger this runoff than past runoffs, a positive for his campaign. Dewhurst's campaign claims it is working on turning out voters who didn't show up for the primary, defying the rule of thumb that the only ones who bother to show up for a runoff voted in the primary. Still, it is hard to envision a scenario where huge numbers of voters show up for the second round and not the first, and the more energized activists who are voting are more natural Cruz supporters.

Dewhurst also has the endorsement of Tom Leppert, the third place finisher who cracked 20% throughout much of DFW. Tarrant, Dallas, and Collin Counties will be battlegrounds for Leppert voters.

PPP sees Cruz with all of the momentum.

PPP's final poll of the Republican Senate runoff in Texas finds Ted Cruz opening up a 52-42 lead, an increase from our survey two weeks ago that found him ahead 49-44.
Places to watch: The Metroplex for Leppert voters. The Rio Grande Valley is a Cruz stronghold. Dewhurst needs to build on his primary wins in metro areas.

TX-14
This is my home district. The 14th is one of only two runoff races where the general election is competitive, with former Rep. Nick Lampson (D) looking to return to Congress. State Rep. Randy Weber, who received 28% in the first round, is the prohibitive frontrunner. Pearland City Councilor Felicia Harris, who secured a runoff berth with 19%, is running a strong campaign as well.
Both candidates are from Brazoria County, but the county actually had the lowest turnout of the district's three and lost a substantial number of voters in the district during redistricting. Jefferson had similarly low turnout, with a growing but still relatively small Republican Party. That leaves Galveston County, which had almost 22,000 voters and near double the turnout of the other two counties combined. Lesser-known candidates Robert Gonzales of the Clear Lake Tea Party and Bill Sargent over-performed here, and both have endorsed Harris. The Clear Lake Tea Party in particular is very active, and its supporters seem to be leaning towards Harris. Further, the Galveston County GOP is largely staying neutral, with a few noteworthy exceptions.

This contest isn't really insider versus outsider; it is much more provincial. Harris has some strong support from nearby Congressmen Ted Poe and Pete Olson. Weber endorsed Olson's primary opponent in 2008, giving him a strong incentive to help out Harris. In contrast. Rep. Paul endorsed Weber; Paul, who opted not to endorse in the first round, has a personal distaste for Harris according to sources close to the family. It doesn't help that Paul and Olson's offices have had tensions in the past.

The big difference between the two is tone. Harris uses her gender to argue she can go toe-to-toe with Pelosi and Debbie Wasserman-Shultz. Weber highlights being rated by one group as the most conservative state legislator his first term, and he peppers his speeches with lots of references to his personal values and Barack Hussein Obama.
Weber has the edge. On top of Rep. Paul, he has endorsements from Governor Perry. State Rep. Larry Taylor (an influential legislator who will soon become State Senator), State Senator Mike Jackson, and a number of local officials. He has run a professional campaign and had the edge walking into the primary, and it is hard to point to anything to undermine that advantage too strongly.

Places to watch: Jefferson County had lower turnout but strong performances from SREC Committeeman Michael Truncale and businessman Jay Old. All of those voters are up for grabs in this race. Weber has consolidated support from Brazoria County, so Harris will have to make up for it with stronger support in Galveston County.

TX-36

Former Rep. Steve Stockman faces financial analyst Steve Takach in the newly created 36th congressional district. The race is missing the man who was the frontrunner in the race up until primary day: State Senator Mike Jackson. Jackson, who received 19.8%, was narrowly edged out of a runoff berth by Stockman with 21.8% and Takach with 22.4%.

Takach and Stockman haven't articulated much difference on polcy issues. Nevertheless, the gap in style is huge. Stockman is running a grassroots-y campaign on the cheap with home-made newspapers and his experience working with the Leadership Institute years ago (LI still uses examples from his two congressional campaigns in their youth leadership schools). Takach, in contrast, is a self-funder who has hired local political talent to run his campaign. Takach has poured hundreds of thousands into the campaign to outspend Stockman ~6:1. Stockman does have some valuable endorsments, including the nearby Rep. Paul, the NRA, and TX Right to Life. This race has been very under-the-radar. I personally predicted Stockman faltering in the first round, so I am not inclined to venture how this race right down the road from me will turn out.

Stockman shocked the world when he upset longtime Rep. Mo Brooks (D) in 1994. Nevertheless, he was defeated two years later, and only a small fraction of that district is in the new 36th.

Places to watch: Stockman once represented East Texas, so he will need to turn out his former constituents in places like Orange County.

Prior RRH coverage of this race here.

TX-25

What sticks out about this race is its fluidity. The first round had a large field of candidates, and in the end TX GOP fundraiser Roger Williams won 25% and Central Texas Tea Party founder Wes Riddle won 16% for the two runoff berths. Notably left out was Michael Williams, the former RRC Chairman who fell back to 5th place with a consultant heavy campaign and no base to build off of.

Riddle and Williams are not very far apart in rhetoric this race, but the two have very different bases. Williams, the former appointed Secretary of State, ran the TX GOP fundraising effort for the 2008 elections and is an insider running against the Washington establishment. Riddle is a Paul supporter who started running for this seat over a year ago, knocking on doors and phonebanking with the support of other activists.

This is a huge district geographically, stretching from the Austin Area to just south of Fort Worth through 11 counties. The seat is largely rural in nature.
Williams was the strongest vote-getter in the first round and had $500k CoH just before the runoff. Riddle, in contrast, raised just $230k this entire race. Williams has the advantage, but with low turnout anticipated GOTV will be everything.

Places to watch: Tarrant County is a stronghold for Texas Paulites. While hardly any of the county is in this seat, the areas just to the south will need to be consolidated by Riddle for him to have a shot. Third place finisher Justin Hewlett overperformed in Johnson and Bosque Counties, as did Dave Garrison in Burnet. Burnt Orange Report has more.

In general, Dewhurst voters will be voting for Williams; the tossup will be Cruz voters, who would be much more inclined to support the anti-establishment Riddle.

Georgia
 
Two competitive Republican congressional primaries are happening in Georgia, both for seats Republicans are even-money or better to win in the fall.

GA-9

The next rep from this blood-red district around Gainesville in the state's northeast corner is very likely to be decided today. Surprisingly, it is a nasty two-person race between two candidates who have been very weak in fundraising: State Rep. Doug Collins and radio host Martha Zoller (One has to think there was a missed opportunity for some rich dude to have an easy ride to Congress).

Collins has taken the social conservative mantle, accusing Zoller of being soft on pro-life issues in several scorching ads, and is close to Gov. Nathan Deal, who represented most of this area before 2010. Zoller has claimed the Tea Party mantle and has high name recognition from a long-running radio talk show, as well as the endorsements of Herman Cain, Newt Gingrich, and Sarah Palin. Third Wheel Roger Fitzgerald has no chance of winning, but might pull enough protest votes from people turned off by both Collins and Zoller to prolong the race into next month's runoff.

GA-12

The race to take on newly vulnerable incumbent John Barrow is a four-way affair. State Rep. Lee Anderson is expected to finish first, due to high name recognition and a smart strategy of targeting votes outside of Richmond County (Many Richmond County Republicans will be crossing over to vote in a hotly contested D primary for Sheriff) but not avoid a runoff August 21.

Anderson's opponent will likely be either self-funding businessman Rick Allen or attorney and veteran Wright McLeod. McLeod started out as the front-runner but has been plagued by missteps, including a controversy where he claimed to have voted for Bill Richardson in the 2008 D primary, but his precinct recorded no votes for that candidate. Fourth candidate Maria Sheffield has been plagued by even more missteps, including allegations that she fabricated an endorsement from 2010 nominee Ray McKinney, and is not expected to be a factor.

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