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.
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.