In the Texas Senate, the local races are predictable
As a part of a series of entries looking at the upcoming races in the 2012 General Election, I’ve been focusing on various areas on the ballot. The last entry was on the US House races in Bexar County, with only one race, the Canseco-Gallego race for the 23rd district, as really in play. This one will focus on the Texas Senate, probably the more stable of the Texas Legislature. But even with a long-time incumbent ousted during the Republican primary the local races are pretty predictable going into November. So I decided to also focus on some of the more hotly contested races around the area.
Just to refresh the approach I’m using, I’m starting with the data visualization tool provided by the data dudes at the Texas Tribune. It allows you to drill down on any district and determine who’s running, what the Texas Weekly Index (TWI) is for the district, and whether this is considered a swing district or not. This time I also looked at the redistricting changes to see how they might have affected the district, something I didn’t do with the congressional races.
I also look at the candidate’s financial reports to see how strong the campaign is to challenge, based on filed reports. Then I factor in whether the candidate is an incumbent or not which usually gives about 4-5% in an election. If there are any other interesting points, I’ll add those in to the discussion. Finally, based on all that, I try to call the race, at this point. Granted, anything can happen between now and November. But if a candidate is really savvy, they’ll avoid problems between now and then.
Looking at the 19th Senate District, this district runs from the western part of Bexar County along the Rio Grande Valley from Eagle Pass westward to Fort Stockton and Alpine. Sen. Carlos Uresti (D-San Antonio) currently represents the district, serving his second term in the office. Uresti enters the race facing Republican challenger Michael Berlanga, running in his first legislative race. Prior to this race Berlanga lost to San Antonio City Councilman Reed Williams in a run-off in 2009. Before the primary race, Uresti filed a lawsuit alleging Berlanga did not meet the residency requirement to run in SD-19. However, District Judge Scott Jenkins ruled that there was insufficient evidence in the case and ruled Berlanga could remain in the ballot.
Looking at the campaign finances of the two candidates, Uresti shows a healthy campaign cash on hand balance of over $86,000 going into the general election. Berlanga will need to do some fundraising if he expects to match Uresti, showing a balance of a little over $470 at the end of the filing period. With Uresti’s contributions coming from a number of PACs, even if Berlanga were to launch a serious fundraising effort, the incumbent senator would most likely be able to meet the challenge many times over.
Looking at the TWI for the district, it is within the marginal range at 7.4% Democratic. However, this is after redistricting which move Bandera County, mostly Republican, out of the district and shifted three strong Democratic counties into the district. With the demographic make-up of the district, the incumbency of Uresti, and the strong financial position, Uresti will win in November and return to the Texas Senate.
Senate District 21 is a district that barely takes in Bexar County in the southeast corner, a shift from the prior boundary that took in most of the eastern section of the county. Currently represented by State Sen. Judith Zaffirini (D-Laredo), she is second highest-ranking Texas state senator, having served 25 years in the Texas Senate. After redistricting, the district now runs from Laredo and the Rio Grande Valley up towards Bexar County just south of IH-35 all the way to Travis County, the later area added to the district. It still runs east to the northern edge of Corpus Christi Bay, taking in San Patricio County.
Zaffirini’s opponents for the November election are Republican candidate Grant Rostig and Libertarian candidate Joseph Morse. Looking at the campaign finances of Zaffirini, she currently has a formidible $1.3 million cash on hand going into the November election. It’s almost hardly worth mentioning Rostig’s $22.80 or Morse’s zero amount, compared with Zaffirini’s war chest. Given the fact that Zaffirini has never had less than 60+% of the vote since 1992, the district and the district scores 14.9 on the TWI, and the large financial advantage of her campaign, Zaffirini will win in November and return to the Texas Senate.
The 25th District poses an interesting situation for voters. In a move to challenge and defeat one of the more moderate senators in the Texas Senate, tea party candidate Donna Campbell found herself in a run-off with Sen. Jeff Wentworth (R-San Antonio) after a hard fought primary election Wentworth survived over Elizabeth Ames-Jones. Thanks to deep pockets from the Texans for Lawsuit Reform PAC, both Ames-Jones and Campbell were able to stage strong campaigns against the incumbent. In the end though, Campbell prevailed over Wentworth, unseating the longtime incumbent by a strong margin.
Going into the November election, Campbell, an emergency room physician, will be facing Democrat John Courage, a teacher and educator from San Antonio. Neither the Libertarian or Green Party has fielded a candidate in this election, leaving the field between the two major parties. Since neither has held a state-level office, there is no political record from either. However, Campbell espouses many of the tea party and social conservative ideas when discussing her candidacy with the media. One key point that Campbell promotes is in the area of education, something Courage could probably have a good discussion with her about.
When I asked Campbell about her views on education while reporting for Plaza de Armas, the Republican candidate said that she did not support school vouchers but preferred “taxpayer savings grants,” an idea she also discussed with Brian Chasnoff of the Express-News. According to Chasnoff “Campbell would slice that number into three, withholding $3,500 while siphoning another $5,000 to ‘the school of the parents’ choice.’ The public school, she says, could keep the remaining $3,000.” With school funding remaining such a big issue going in to the next biennium, you would expect voters wanting a solid discussion of the matter.
However, if Campbell has her way that debate between the candidates will only be a wish and never a reality. Courage has raised the issue with the Campbell campaign, but to no avail. Most likely Campbell is taking a play out of the Rick Perry playbook and avoiding any potential discussion of issues with her challenger. In other parts of the state, this might have proven a dangerous position to take. However, with the 25th, a district that tracks with TWI of 33.8 for Republicans, it’s probably a safe approach for her to take. It does leave voters wondering how much of the position is really voiced by the candidate and how much is being fed to her campaign by outside interests. Driving Campbell to further explain her positions in a debate would give voters the key information they might need in making their assessment.
Financially Campbell is sitting well ahead of Courage in the election. While a better indicator of her financial position will be at the first of October, her July report showed cash on hand of a little over $173,000 with a capacity to raise more, should it be needed, especially from some deep pocketed contributors such as Texans for Lawsuit Reform and large donors in the Houston and Dallas area. Courage, on the other hand, shows only a little over $2,300 cash on hand in his report. In the coming months he will need to convince Democratic donors and committees that his challenge is viable and worth diverting money to over some other high profile elections in the state. While there’s still a lot of time between now and November, unless she has any missteps in her campaign, Campbell will win in November, giving her a first term in the Texas Senate.
Probably one of the safer Democratic districts in the Texas Senate is the 26th, currently held by Sen. Leticia Van de Putte (D-San Antonio). The district is contained within Bexar County and runs through the most Democratic areas of the county, with a TWI of 17.6. Van de Putte has been in the Texas Senate for the past 13 years, securing key leadership positions such as the chair of the Veteran Affairs and Military Installations Committee, a key position for a senator representing Military City USA. She also served as co-chair of the 2008 Democratic National Convention, garnering her strong ties to Democrats across the nation.
A pharmacist when not serving in the Texas Senate, Van de Putte will be facing Libertarian candidate N. Ruben Flores Perez, a common figure at City Council meetings, and Green Party candidate Chris Christal. Looking at her prior elections, the last time she had a Republican challenger in 2004 she still garned 57% of the vote. Her last election against a Libertarian she came in strongly with over 81% of the vote. Looking at her last campaign finance report, she had over $148,000 cash on hand with an ability to easily raise more money if needed compared with her two challengers who have yet to file reports. Based on the strong demographic of the district, her strong showings in prior elections, and strong financial position, Van de Putte will win in November and return to the Texas Senate.
As you can see, barring some unforeseen event, especially in the SD-25 race between Dr. Donna Campbell and John Courage, the races for the Texas Senate locally are pretty predictable. That’s not so in some cases around the state, namely SD-10 (Fort Worth) between incumbent Democrat Wendy Davis and Republican challenger Mark Shelton. Davis’ district was one of the more hotly contested districts during the redistricting battles. Another to watch is SD-20 in the Valley (just east of Zaffirini’s district) where Democratic incumbent Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa is being challenged by Republican Rep. Raul Torres. I plan to look at both of those races and other state races after I’ve completed my assessment of local Texas House races in the next couple of days.