Author Archives: Jim Ellis

Reyes’ Defeat in TX-16: An Analysis of How it Happened

Former El Paso City Councilman Robert “Beto” O’Rourke defeated eight-term veteran congressman Silvestre Reyes in the Texas Democratic primary on Tuesday night, yet he had only one-third of the incumbent’s campaign budget and spent a comparative fraction of his funds on electronic media.

While Reyes was running ads touting how much money he was bringing back to El Paso for various local projects and detailing negative attacks about O’Rourke that made him appear to be a Republican, the challenger emphasized more positive themes such as the economic opportunity that exists in the local US-Mexico border community. Driving home his optimistic themes, he simultaneously brought inconsistencies in Reyes’ record to light. While the incumbent was running a traditional media campaign, O’Rourke heavily targeted past primary voters and adeptly used the state’s early voting system. O’Rourke led the congressman 51-43 percent in votes cast prior to the May 29 Election Day. When the traditional ballots were added to these totals, O’Rourke’s victory percentage fell to 50-44 percent. This, in an election that featured a voter participation rate of well under 20 percent.

Considering that Reyes had four primary opponents, the worst projection for the incumbent assumed a resulting run-off election. The fact that O’Rourke not only exceeded Reyes’ vote total but still claimed an outright majority is quite a political feat, and his insurgent political tactics should be studied in greater detail.

Reyes becomes the third non-paired incumbent to lose in this primary season; representatives Jean Schmidt (R-OH-2) and Tim Holden (D-PA-17) are the other two. The 527 organization, Campaign for Primary Accountability, was active in all three of these races. Though O’Rourke advertised little in the media, the CPA spent about $100,000 on hard-hitting anti-Reyes television ads that clearly helped influence the outcome of the race. The Reyes defeat means there are now 59 open House seats in the current election cycle.

Dewhurst, Cruz in Run-off; Other Texas Results

The delayed Texas primary was finally held last night and featured a voter participation rate of approximately 20 percent. The vote was originally scheduled for March 6, but had to be twice postponed because of litigation over the state’s redistricting maps.

In the much-anticipated Republican Senate race, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, who began the race as the prohibitive favorite, did in fact place first but fell about four points below the 50 percent threshold necessary to avoid a run-off election. Therefore, he and second-place finisher, former Texas solicitor general Ted Cruz, will square off in a July 31 secondary vote. Placing far behind these two were former Dallas mayor Tom Leppert and ESPN college football analyst Craig James. Leppert and James are eliminated from further competition.

Dewhurst was spending wildly at the end of the race in hopes of attaining the majority plateau in order to make an outright claim upon the nomination. Overall, the lieutenant governor’s primary spending will likely top $20 million, of which $12 million came from the candidate himself in the way of a loan. In contrast, Cruz only spent in the neighborhood of $5 million. Forcing Dewhurst into a run-off was Cruz’s only hope at winning the nomination, since it was never feasible he could top the lieutenant governor for first place. In a one-on-one battle where turnout will be even lower than in the primary leads to a political situation where anything can happen.

On the Democratic side, former state Rep. Paul Sadler and psychologist Grady Yarbrough will head for a second election. The winner becomes the sacrificial lamb to either Dewhurst or Cruz in the general election.

In the district congressional races, it appears, when all of the votes are finally counted and released, that eight-term veteran Rep. Silvestre Reyes (D-TX-16) may have lost the Democratic nomination to former El Paso city councilman Beto O’Rourke. The challenger was hovering around the 51 percent mark, which will be enough to win the nomination outright. Late votes could force a run-off if both fall just below the majority mark. O’Rourke was supported by the Campaign for Primary Accountability, which concentrates on defeating long-term incumbents in both parties. This would be a major upset; Reyes will be the third non-paired incumbent to already lose in his or her own party primary.

In other congressional races, Rep. Ralph Hall (R-TX-4), at 89 the oldest member of the House, stared down two GOP opponents to secure renomination. Hall garnered 59 percent against a pair of opponents. In the Dallas area, Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX-6) easily avoided a run-off by scoring 64 percent of the vote against two opponents. Reps. Kenny Marchant (R-TX-24) and Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX-30) also easily avoided run-offs against opponents who originally appeared to have the wherewithal to organize credible campaigns.

All other incumbents easily won their nomination battles including freshman Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-TX-27) who was a surprise winner in 2010. Because redistricting added 46 percent new voters, most of whom are Republican oriented, Farenthold has a strong chance of keeping this seat the rest of the decade now that he is the bona-fide incumbent in this newly constructed seat. He scored an impressive 80 percent of the vote last night. Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-TX-25), who redistricting placed in the new heavy Hispanic 35th District between Austin and San Antonio defeated two opponents with 71 percent of the vote. He will now go onto an easy re-election campaign in the fall.

In the open seat races, state Rep. Joaquin Castro, who was unopposed for the Democratic nomination in the San Antonio-based 20th District that retiring Rep. Charlie Gonzalez (D) is vacating, took one major step toward winning in the fall as he now becomes the official party standard bearer. He will easily win election in November.

In the new 14th CD, the seat presidential candidate Ron Paul is vacating, Republicans will feature a run-off election between state Rep. Randy Weber and Pearland City Councilwoman Felicia Harris. The winner faces former Rep. Nick Lampson (D) in what will be an interesting general election. The eventual Republican nominee should win here, but Lampson has proven strength in the Beaumont-Galveston area.

Turning to the four new seats that population growth awarded the state, former Secretary of State Roger Williams placed first in a field of 12 GOP candidates and will now face retired Army officer and Tea Party activist Wes Riddle. The winner of the 25th District Republican run-off, probably Williams, will claim the seat in November.

In the new Dallas-Ft. Worth-based 33rd District, as expected, former Dallas city councilman and state representative Domingo Garcia and ex-congressional aide (to then-Rep. Martin Frost, D-TX-24) Marc Veasey will also head to a secondary election, with the latter placing first by more than 10 points.

In the Brownsville area in South Texas, attorney Filemon Vela, the son of former US District Judge Filemon Vela, Sr. and Brownsville Mayor Blanca Sanchez Vela, placed first in the 34th District primary. He will face former Edinburg city manager Ramiro Garza. The run-off winner, very likely Vela, takes the seat in November.

In the new Republican 36th District, a three-way battle is still being finalized among financial advisor Stephen Takach, former US representative Steve Stockman, and state Sen. Mike Jackson. Takach seems poised to finish first. Because of the outstanding vote in Harris County, the only place Jackson showed real strength, he will probably edge the former congressman for second. The run-off winner claims the seat in November.

Turning to the state’s one strong general election challenger race, in the San Antonio-based 23rd District, former Rep. Ciro Rodriguez (D-TX-23) who has won and lost two different House seats, is very close to capturing the outright majority that would clinch yet another party nomination for him. State Rep. Pete Gallego is second hovering in the mid-30s percentile, and he will either lose or barely qualify for a run-off when all ballots are finally counted. The new Democratic nominee will now face freshman Rep. Quico Canseco (R) in the general election. The 23rd is a tight district, so expect a highly competitive race in the fall.

McCotter to Run Write-in; Key Dem Drops Out in Ill.

It’s now official: Michigan Rep. Thaddeus McCotter (R-MI-11) failed to submit the requisite number of petition signatures to qualify for the ballot, and the five-term congressman announced that he will seek the Republican nomination via write-in. Already on the Republican ballot is Tea Party activist Kerry Bentivolio. Two individuals thought to be potential candidates, former congressional contender Andrew “Rocky” Raczkowski and businessman David Trott both say they will not run. Trott is officially backing McCotter. State Sen. Mike Kowall, originally in the race when McCotter announced his presidential campaign, is reportedly considering a write-in effort of his own.

In Illinois, Brad Harriman the 12th Congressional District Democratic nominee, is withdrawing from the race because of a recently diagnosed neurological condition. IL-12 is the state’s southwestern seat represented by the retiring Rep. Jerry Costello (D). Democratic county chairmen in the affected area will caucus and choose a replacement nominee. Republican Jason Plummer, the party’s 2010 lieutenant governor nominee, is the GOP candidate. This seat is competitive and already in the Democratic column, so the special committee of local chairmen will have to quickly recruit and support a strong replacement candidate.

Weekly Redistricting Update

Last week we reviewed the North Carolina congressional political situation, the state where Republicans are best positioned to make multi-seat 2012 election gains. Today, we look at the Democrats’ best potential state – Illinois. Originally designed to swing four or even five seats in the Democrats’ favor, will the map live up to those rather lofty expectations?

ILLINOIS (current delegation: 11R-8D; loses one seat) – Because 2010 was such a Republican year in state legislative races nationally, pressure was on the Democratic legislature and governor to make major gains for their party in redistricting. Illinois is the only big state where Democrats have full control over the process. There is no question that Republicans will take a significant hit in the Land of Lincoln, especially with favorite son Barack Obama again leading the national Democratic ticket, but stretching the swing to five seats may be unrealistic. On the other hand, the Republicans’ limiting their losses to only two is also a major task.

Two-thirds of the 18 seats appear safe for one party or the other, now that the 16th District Republican incumbent pairing has been decided. As you will remember from the March 20 Illinois primary, freshman Rep. Adam Kinzinger defeated 10-term veteran Don Manzullo. Kinzinger has no Democratic general election opposition.

We’ll focus on key districts that are either “toss ups” or “likely” to go to go one way or the other:

District 8: Rep. Joe Walsh (R) – In addition to Reps. Kinzinger and Manzullo getting difficult redistricting draws, freshman Joe Walsh did so, too. Originally paired with Rep. Randy Hultgren (R) in new District 14, Walsh decided his chances of political survival were better by fighting it out in a new Democratic seat than by challenging a fellow Republican for a safe seat. Though one can understand a member wanting to fight against a member of the opposition party rather than his own, Walsh’s task in the new 8th appears daunting.

Facing former Veterans Affairs Assistant Secretary Tammy Duckworth, who easily won the Democratic primary in March, Walsh must be categorized as a decided underdog. Duckworth, a wounded decorated war veteran, came within three points of defeating Chief Deputy Majority Whip Peter Roskam (R) when the much more Republican-leaning 6th District was open in 2006. The outlook here must be rated as: LIKELY DEMOCRATIC

District 10: Rep. Robert Dold (R) – Another freshman Republican incumbent getting a bad draw is Rep. Bob Dold. Though the seat is equal to the previously mentioned 8th District in presidential vote, Mr. Dold at least keeps 61 percent of his current constituency intact. He will face attorney Brad Schneider in the general election. Schneider defeated national liberal activist Ilya Sheyman, who had previously been a moveon.org organizer. The result was a mild surprise as late-race primary polling had projected Sheyman to some rather substantial leads.

Though the numbers craft this seat as a Democratic district, Dold has proven himself to be a very strong candidate and has the ability to win this most difficult race. IL-10 must be rated as a TOSS-UP.

District 11: Rep. Judy Biggert (R) – Seven-term veteran congresswoman Biggert is yet another GOP incumbent with re-election trouble. Though the new 11th CD is Democratic on paper (Obama 61-37 percent), the candidate match-up gives Biggert the advantage in terms of people previously represented. In this race, former 14th District Rep. Bill Foster (D), who was defeated for re-election in 2010, is Biggert’s general election opponent.

While Biggert currently represents 48 percent of the new 11th’s constituents, Foster’s carry-over from his previous seat is only 26 percent. So, while Foster has a clear partisan advantage here, Biggert begins as the more well-known candidate. The 26 percent of the district that is new to both political contestants, the Joliet area, is where this race will be decided. In a presidential year, especially with President Obama on the ticket in Illinois, the partisan advantage is greater than in the mid-term years. Therefore, this race could be categorized as Lean Democratic but, at this point, a TOSS-UP rating is more realistic at least until the general election campaign becomes better defined.

District 12: Rep. Jerry Costello (D) – The retirement of veteran Democratic Rep. Costello gives the GOP an unexpected opening in this southwestern Illinois congressional district. The Obama number here is 55 percent, making it identical with Republican-held District 13, which is discussed below. Ninety-three percent of the territory is consistent with current IL-12 but, without Costello in the race, this Democratic advantage is negated. The Republicans nominated their 2010 lieutenant governor nominee Jason Plummer for this House seat, and the party chieftains believe they have a legitimate chance at converting the open seat and thwarting the Democratic gain potential. The Democratic nominee is St. Clair County former Regional Schools Superintendent Brad Harriman, who has not before run in a multi-county campaign. This race is one to watch as it develops. The seat was drawn to elect a Democrat, but it is clearly the weakest such seat in the state. Right now, the historical voting trends suggest a Democratic victory, but a TOSS-UP is possible should Plummer catch fire.

District 13: Rep. Tim Johnson (R) – Originally, Reps. Johnson and John Shimkus (R-IL-19) were placed together in new District 15, a safe Republican seat that encompasses southeastern Illinois. When Johnson moved instead into marginal District 13, the pairing problem was resolved and everything looked to be cutting the GOP incumbent’s way for victory in November.

After winning the March 20 primary, however, Rep. Johnson surprisingly decided to discontinue his re-election campaign and retire. The party leaders have now chosen former congressional aide and GOP state party executive director Rodney Davis as the replacement nominee. The Democrats, in a primary election so close that it took several weeks to decide as late overseas ballots could have altered the outcome, chose 2010 nominee David Gill, a physician who twice lost to Johnson. The seat is marginal and both candidates are off to a slow start because of the Johnson retirement and the Democratic primary deadlock. Right now, the race appears to be a toss-up, but headed toward the LEAN REPUBLICAN rating due to overall historical election trends. More must develop here before painting a true picture of this race.

District 17: Rep. Bobby Schilling (R) –
Another 2010 upset winner, Republican Bobby Schilling, is also in a difficult re-election situation under the new redistricting map. Though his current western Illinois 17th District went 56-42 percent for President Obama in 2008, the new 17th increases his swing by a net eight points, 60-38 percent. This is principally because the city of Rockford was added to IL-17, bringing it over from the Manzullo-Kinzinger pairing in CD 16. So, what would have been a difficult Schilling re-election scenario under the current lines, is even tougher now.

Rep. Schilling’s general election opponent is East Moline Alderwoman Cherie Bustos, a public relations executive who won an impressive Democratic primary election. With only 46 percent of Schilling’s territory remaining consistent in the new seat, this race will play closer to an open seat than a challenger campaign. With Schilling already proving he can win a tough race with his 2010 upset of Rep. Phil Hare, this race is a difficult one for both sides. This campaign is a pure TOSS-UP.

Rep. McCotter May Not Qualify for Michigan Ballot

Rep. Thaddeus McCotter (R-MI-11) is in danger of being disqualified from the Michigan ballot because he apparently has failed to submit the required number of valid petition signatures as part of the candidate filing process. Under Michigan law, congressional candidates can submit no more than 2,000 petition signatures, at least one thousand of which must be from authentic registered voters of the particular district. Reports, likely to be confirmed today, will show that McCotter is far short of the minimum required number because of significant duplication within his signature base.

Since candidate filing is closed, McCotter’s only recourse would be to run as a write-in candidate in the Aug. 7 Republican primary election. Tea Party activist Kerry Bentivolio is already properly qualified for a GOP ballot position, so McCotter would be forced to overcome the insurgent challenge from the outside. It remains to be seen if the party leaders automatically line-up behind their incumbent now that he has put himself in a less than advantageous position, or if they consider an alternative candidate.

MI-11 should be a relatively safe Republican seat, but mistakes like the one McCotter just made could lead to a highly competitive fall campaign. Dr. Syed Taj is the likely Democratic nominee, originally not expected to be a serious challenger. Should McCotter’s Republican primary write-in attempt fail, however, a Taj-Bentivolio match-up would present the Democrats with a real opportunity for victory.