On the Ground in Tx 27

In this diary I will attempt to explain the troubles that Democrats have had in the Northern Section of Tx-27.  

Background of the District

Congressional District 27 is quite an odd district in the state of Texas.  The district is divided into two population centers at the northern most and southern most tips of the district with the King Ranch and Kenedy Ranch in between.   Some of you may have noticed that this was the only district not widely affected by the Delaymander a few years ago.  It would have been simple to draw CD 27 into a Republican district by adding Aransas County in the North and subtracting some of Brownsville out.  Why was the not done?  Tom DeLay was raised in Corpus Christi and one of his family friends growing up was Solomon Ortiz.  Ortiz was there for DeLay on a host of issues in the house anyway so why target him?  Also DeLay’s brother (a lobbyist) nearly worked out of the Ortiz’s office for the Port of Brownsville and other interests in the district.  Politically, the district has trended strongly Republican in the Northern two counties and trended Democrat in the Southern three.  This doesn’t balance out because the Corpus Christi area is where the largest population is in the district by far.

Problems in the Local Democratic Party

Dems in the Northern Part of the district have faced a situation where there has been a lack of direction from the state and local party for 6 years.  Nueces had 2 Democrats (Abel Herrero and Solly Ortiz) in the State Legislature and 1 Republican (Gene Seaman).  4 years ago, Attorney Mikel Watts decided to change the pace in Nueces and recruited Juan Garcia to run against State Rep Gene Seaman.  He won that race by raising hundreds of thousands of dollars from local attorneys including Watts.  In the past, the Ortiz machine had to approve of the candidates that ran for any position (even as far down the ballot as Justice of the Peace)!  Garcia didn’t get recruited by Ortiz.  In fact, he fought against the machine.  This led to a considerable feud in the party where the local Anglos and Progressives sided with Garcia and the rest of the party sided with Ortiz.  What ended up happening was that the Ortiz Machine withdrew all support from Garcia in Nueces and San Patricio Counties.  In 2008, without support from Ortiz anymore, Garcia lost and moved to DC to work for his college friend Barack Obama.  Garcia’s departure from office coincided with a decline in the local party.  Faction warfare ensued.  No fundraising took place in that time so the local party left all campaigning up to the local candidates.  This situation would be remedied by quality candidates.  They were nowhere to be found.  Our congressman hardly ever came to the Coastal Bend (Northern Part of the district) much less campaigned or raised money for anyone but himself or his son Solly Ortiz.  We lost the Sheriff position and the County Judge position as a result.  Finally, we lost control of the Commissioners Court for the first time in 2008.  The Ortiz machine finally realized they were in trouble.  The recruited a Candidate to run for Commissioners Court and for JP but both were defeated in the primary by extremely conservative Democrats.  The local party chair from 2008-2010 didn’t do anything but provide support to her favorite few Democrats and some Republicans (she is now a member of the Texas Republican woman).

Perceived Rebound in the Local Party

In 2010, the Progressives in Nueces County recruited the party chair of another county to run for party chair.  She won that race by a very thin margin.  When she was sworn in in May of 2010, there was $0 in the party bank account.  Even worse was the fact that the Texas Democratic Party State Convention was going to be in Nueces County in July.  Immediately planning for that took place and no rebuilding was accomplished.  Eventually in August, the party was able to raise around $50000 to run a campaign for the first time in years.  With support from activists, the Texas Voter Targeting Software, the Bill White Campaign, and new volunteers every voter in the traditional base precincts was contacted by phone between 2 and 6 times and every door in those precincts was knocked on between 2 and 3 times in the span of one month.  Remember, this was the party doing this and not the candidates.  They also block walked and phone banked, but there is no way to know how much they did.  It looked like things were on the upswing.  

Success in the local Republican Party

In 2006, the Republican Party recruited former Anglo democrats to run for county judge and Sherriff.  They won both by large margins.  In 2008 they recruited former Democratic State Rep Todd Hunter to run against Juan Garica with the promise that if he won he would have the first shot at the newly drawn congressional district.  He was appointed to the Redistricting committee in the State House of Reps.  In 2010, their candidates across the board were almost all former Democrats.  In fact, one of their candidates for judge was a member of Texas Democratic Women and had the audacity to send in her membership dues after announcing her intent to run as a Republican with a note attached saying “Nothing Has Changed.”  As far as fundraising goes, their nominees were flush with cash to say the least.  Farenthold self-funded.  The nominee against State Abel Herrero (a family values conservative who has been married 5 times and was in a scandal for wrecking her Lamborghini on the highway) raised over $750,000 (with 95% of that coming from outside the district).  The nominee against Solly Ortiz raised $200,000 with most of that coming from and insurance PAC.  All told around $1.75 million (with over 90% of that total coming from outside the county) was spent by the Republicans in the district which is an absurd amount for the size of the media market.  With a Congressional nominee who is the Grandson of Progressive Hero Sissy Farenthold, a few Hispanics on the ticket, a lot of former Democrats running on their side, and unlimited financing it was inevitable that they would do well.

What Happened on Election Night

Democrats lost every single race except for District Attorney where we had an Anglo nominee against a Hispanic Republican (where racism and a lot of other factors played into our victory.  Our DA nominee racked 55% of the vote while every other Democrat won around 41%.  Both State Reps lost and every Republican was reelected.  Solomon Ortiz won every county in the district by large margins except Nueces and San Pat where he lost by a 11% margin which was enough to win.

Democrats didn’t turn out our base precincts of Nueces County and Republicans did.  In the strongest Republican Precinct, over 70% turned out and voted around 62% Republican while in the strongest Democratic Precinct only 20% turned out and voted around 96% Democrat.  That speaks in and of itself as to why the local party faces problems down the road.

Looking Forward

Blake will for sure run for Reelection. He will most likely be primaried by State Rep Todd Hunter who will have all of the establishment behind him.  The district will be different in two years and I believe will likely become more Republican.  Democrats don’t have many options here as far as candidates go… but here is a snapshot of some of them that may run.

Fmr State Rep Abel Herrero– Has confirmed he will run for either his old seat, the state senate, or congress next cycle. Abel was rated as the second most progressive member of the Texas House of Reps.

Fmr State Rep Solly Ortiz, Jr– Solly would be running on name recognition.  He is a conservative Democrat who won the NRA and Chamber of Commerce Endorsements Last Cycle and still lost in an extremely blue district.

Asst Secretary of Navy Juan Garcia– Garcia is an appealing candidate who has proven he can win in a very tough district.  He would have the President fully behind him and that means fundraising and perhaps appearances?  

Nueces DA Mark Skurka– The only Democrat who won on election night has massive crossover appeal to Republicans (he won 45% of them who didn’t vote straight ticket).  If Skurka runs and wins the primary (a difficult task because he is not hispanic), he would likely win.  Skurka is up for reelection as DA and most likely won’t run unfortunately.  

State Rep Rene Oliveira– Democrat from Brownsville.  Mainstreme Democrat in the State House with nothing really distinguishing him from amongst the masses.  Likely couldn’t win in a primary as he isn’t from Nueces County

State Rep Todd Hunter
– Hunter is power hungry and has switched parties one time to reclaim it, why not twice?  Hunter was rated as the most liberal Republican in the Texas House so he is a teabag target anyway.

Eddie Lucios– I group them together bc only one would conceivably run.  Both have their ages working against them.  Junior is too old, IIIrd is too young.  Also, they don’t live in the district as it is currently drawn.

By what margin will Bob Shamansky win?

View Results

Loading ... Loading ...

15 thoughts on “On the Ground in Tx 27”

  1. If Hunter is the most liberal Republican in the house, why would he be expected to beat Farenthold in the primary? Also, why would the Reep establishment support him–is it strictly that he’s more electable than Farenthold?

  2. And yes, Juan Garcia does sound like someone the Dems should recruit in 2012.

    Also, the TX Dem Party needs to get their $^&t together.  Even if demographics are trending their way, they can’t afford to be lazy.

  3. is pretty much what I expected. I wasn’t buying into the breathless worries some here had that Texas Hispanics were going Republican. Extremely low turnout in Democratic precincts of Corpus Christi and high turnout in Republican precincts explains it. On top of that Corpus Christi has a fairly large, conservative white population, and a considerable population of “Tejanos”, multi-generation Hispanics. It has a larger demographic of wealthy Hispanics than most areas, and many of them, particularly older Tejanos, have come to lean Republican more, and they are the highest turnout group so far as I can tell. But overall Hispanics are not, even in this district, trending Republican.

    Oritz was a very disliked machine politician who had been around forever and had actually weakened the local party with his incompetence. I’m glad I came across this and did some further studies.  

  4. The GOP can’t change this district too much unless they don’t want DOJ pre-clearance and a court challenge. This is what happened to Bonilla’s district and that’s when parts of the south side of San Antonio were drawn into the district. They can try to draw a hispanic majority GOP voting seat but they now need to protect Quico Canseco as well.

    I can see the lege drawing a new GOP leaning Corpus Christi district that hits the outskirts of San Antonio and goes up to Austin and includes much of Ron Paul’s district.

    The Dems should win back Ortiz and Herrero’s seats in 2012.

  5. like there was at least some effort made at targeting voters and getting out the vote, but not nearly enough. Or maybe their efforts were simply swamped because of what the Republicans were doing in a very Republican year. Can you tell me anything about what the Republicans did right or the Democrats did wrong, or vice versa? What did Bill White’s campaign do?

    I ask because I read some interesting article–if you reallt want to read it, I’ll send it through e-mail or post it here at another time, but I saved it on another computer and don’t remember the site–about how Rick Perry essentially tested the thesis that ads don’t matter nearly as much, if at all, compared to ground game. The result was very good for him and pretty bad for the Democrats, who unlike in 2006 in Dallas, didn’t do that much to focus on getting out the vote. (There’s more detail to it, because races from different years are brought up, but that basically covers it.)

    It seems absolutely puzzling to me that the Democrats would see such success by focusing in ground game in 2006 in Dallas and then not follow the same path in the next election. I get that media consultants are paid based on ads and stuff, but why would the party people let this happen? Are they that dumb?

    So, while we can’t erase the past, we can work to make to win the races or at least make them more competitive if we work as hard at getting our voters out to the polling stations. From the numbers you mentioned above (“only 20% turned out and voted around 96% Democrat”), it sounds like have a lot of room for improvement.

  6. For one, Hunter is alot more electable than Blake.  When he ran this time, both democrats in the CC Delegation who served w/ him supported him.  The people that run the Republican party here are strictly business-friendly republicans.  Loyd Neal (County Judge), Jim Kaelin (Sheriff), James Duerr (Ran Against Farenthold), Al Jones (President of The Chamber of Commerce) are all moderate Republicans who are perhaps more liberal in a lot of ways than some of our democrats.  For example, Kim Curtis (R Party Chair) and Mike Bergsma (R Party Vice-Chair) have come out in support of Speaker Straus.  These people run the party and whomever they support has typically won.  When Farenthold campaigned, no other Republican candidate would attend any of his events.  Hunter, running unopposed, had every single Republican save for Farenthold at his events.  Hunter has hundreds of thousands in his state account that he has been burning through giving to local Repubs and funding their PACs.  So on ideology and on loyalty they will most likely support Hunter

  7. I wouldn’t have guessed that the local R party org would be dominated by moderates given that it’s in Texas. Thanks for taking the trouble to put all this together, I found it very interesting.  

  8. but either today or tomorrow, depending on when I get home from work tonight, I am going to post a link here that describes ground game efforts for Texas Democrats. It’s quite illuminating, and not really in a good way. (I’d post it now, but I saved it on another computer.) If you aren’t already in the state, you’re going to want to fly there and punch these people in their throats for being so stupid. It’s almost as if they didn’t even bother to compete.  

  9. I believe that, at least in South Texas, we had a great ground game in comparison to the Republicans.  The number one thing we have going for us is the Texas VAN, while Repubs have no voter targeting software at all.  It really makes our efforts a lot easier.  I know that even though we produced  by far the most knocks and calls in Nueces Co history… it made no dent whatsoever in our turnout.  I also know that the unions had staffers in Texas… as did OFA.   Like I said, my perspective is from South Texas and from my campaign friends in San Antonio and Austin, though.  I didn’t see a Rick Perry ground game at all because it was nonexistent in South Texas.  Perry wrote off South Texas and worked the vote triangle between Austin, Dallas, and Houston.  To my understanding, while the Perry campaign paid walkers $14 an hour just to be able to hit their targets most Bill White teams had more than enough volunteers to hit our targets.  

  10. targeting software in more detail? What else did the Democrats do? And how is it that it didn’t produce results?

  11. I mean, I always assumed that the GOP had some counterpart to VAN for their side, and I’m pretty sure that they do at a national level. I believe it’s called VoterVault or something?. Am I wrong?

  12. you are at all familiar or not, but the VAN is a record of every voter in the state with their voting history, ethnicity, age, address, DOB, household info, and activist codes (for example, Hillary Precinct Convention Attendee or Carole Keeton Strayhorn petition signer).  The software also tells us when people voted (by mail, E-Day, Early Day 1, Day 2, etc).  This makes it possible for us to update the database daily to ensure that we don’t contact anyone who has already voted.  The software is able to print blockwalk maps with the peoples names on it where our walkers can go only to the homes that we target and avoid those that are hard Republicans or non-voters.  The real beauty of the system is that we collect data when we are at homes like if the people are supporting White or if they are a Dem and then input it back into VAN so that we have real-time info as to how we are doing day by day.  The software also allows for us to set up Virtual Phone Banks similar to how the Obama website allowed.  The TDP had a decision to make earlier this year as they had very little funding; do they spend all the money on VAN to make sure the phone numbers and addresses are up to date, or do they spend the money supporting endangered state reps?  They ended up supporting candidates so the VAN wasn’t kept up to date.  That wasn’t a problem in my county where we continuously update it ourselves, but in others it was a huge problem.  Why didn’t it produce results?  I think it did in 2006 and 2008.  The problem in 2010 was the cycle and lack of funding for the state party (and for that matter our candidates in general).  We face a unique dilemma… we can’t raise money until we have a majority or even one single statewide elected, but we can’t elect a majority or a statewide elected without at least $10 million.

  13. of that, so thanks for telling me.

    From what you’ve just said, it sounds like the Democrats just weren’t prepared, or at least most of them weren’t. But…if you guys could update it yourselves, why couldn’t Democrats in other areas? And how does this factor in new voters? Would they be ignored, since they don’t have a history? Also, is this something the Republicans use. If not, what do they use?

    There’s a lot more that I’d like to ask, but suffice it to say that it seems like are votes that are simply being left on the table because they aren’t being targeted properly and/or the potential voters just aren’t registered. That could be wrong for any number of reasons. As I said in another post, I had a talk today with a friend at work who is an ABD in political science, and he seemed to shoot down some of my comments based on what academic literature said. He seemed skeptical of my hopes of voter registration and ground game making a difference. I agree that the fundamentals determine a lot–or as he said, he would have won that election in 2008 even if he ran against McCain–but unless things are heavily skewed one way or another, it’s essentially even, and then these things can make a difference. I’m trying to remember if he brushed back against my notion of Republicans coming out of the woodwork in Ohio in 2004 for Bush, but assuming it’s not refuted by academic literature, I think it’s a great example of how turnout based on ground game can make all the difference. My memory is telling me that the economy wasn’t particularly strong, but not so bad that it made a Kerry win less likely. (Or maybe the terrorism/national security stuff had more of an effect than I think.) As I said, I could be wrong, but imagine if the Bush team wasn’t as organized, but the Kerry team was. Kerry probably would have won, right? And wouldn’t that prove that ground game can make a big difference?

    Anyway, I’ll try to stop rambling now. Suffice it to say, you describe a pretty frustrating situation. That’s why I’d like them to really focus on party building, unless he’s really fighting for his life, in which case expanding the map is the least of his concerns. But if he’s coming into the election in a somewhat strong positon, or perhaps a very strong position, I’d like him to focus on building up the party in states where Democrats are clearly lacking. I don’t know if it’s possible to share information about voter contact and registration–I’d assume yes, but you never know what the law might say–but if it is, and he’s got the money to spend, imagine how much easier it might be to compete in some of these races.

    It actually becomes more puzzling that they aren’t doing this when you think that the excuse for not competing in certain areas is the cost of advertising on television and so on. But if that’s not nearly as effective as ground game, perhaps we should focus mostly on ground game, unless the cost is usually equal to or surpassing what it would be for ad buys.

    Okay, this response is long enough. Read the article below and tell me what you think: http://www.texasobserver.org/c

Comments are closed.