Negative defeatism pervades everything I have read or heard discussed over drinks in Texas about the latest congressional redistricting maps. But even if the maps survive the Texas legislature, federal courts, and, for the first time since the Voting Rights Act was passed, a Democratic Attorney General, these congressional maps have a fatal flaw. By my rudimentary analysis, Texas Republicans have drawn seven congressional districts that fit the profile of a district that Sen. John McCain won in 2008 but that was also held by a Democratic Member of Congress.
Let’s get a little national perspective here. After the Great Flood of 2010, nine Democrats still held onto McCain districts that ranged from R+3, held by Rep. Collin C. Peterson (MN-7), to +32, held by our client, Rep. Dan Boren in Oklahoma’s 2nd district. Also on that list is our client Rep. Mike McIntyre, who turned back a challenge from a “Jack Bauer Republican” to hold onto a R+5 district in North Carolina.
Before the world went complete, and temporarily, insane in 2010, the list of Democrats holding McCain districts was much longer. It started with Rep. Kathy Dahlkemper in PA-3 that the National Journal rates perplexingly as R+0 all the way up to Rep. Chet Edwards, who held onto a R+35 district, not that anyone in Texas needs reminding. My firm lost a few good congressmen from that list in 2010, including Rep. Allen Boyd, who represented a Tallahassee district that was R+9, and Rep. Lincoln Davis, who served a swath of rural Tennessee that went a scorching R+30 against Barack Obama.
It offends logic to have fought valiantly to re-elect Chet Edwards only to write off districts that vote Republican by exponentially smaller margins. None of the districts I think could be in play for Democrats approach the R+20 mark, much less Chet’s hellish R+35.
One of the first places anyone should look for opportunities is freshman members, because the first re-election is typically the easiest time to replace a sitting Member of Congress. We’ve got two opportunities here: Ciro’s old CD 23 that goes from San Antonio to El Paso (or, From Earth to the Moonscape) and Ortiz’s old CD 27, the Corpus-based district. Everyone knows the 23rd is on the table for the taking. It’s only R+6, and Ciro Rodriguez has announced a campaign to take it back. It’s even more attractive if you rate the district using the election results for State Supreme Court candidate Sam Houston, which makes it a R+1.5 district.
Using the Houston results (hat tip to Kuff for that idea), CD 27, which the cocktail party circuit doesn’t deign to discuss, is almost as good. Republicans knew that Rep. Blake Farenthold needed the redistricting equivalent of gutter bumpers and idiot mittens to hold onto the old CD27. The new one keeps Nueces County, which is the brownest swing county in the country thanks to decades of Democratic infighting, and includes Victoria County before heading toward Austin like the rest of the world does, but stopping in this case in Bastrop County. If you use the Obama-McCain result, this district is a non-starter at R+18.44, but if you use the Houston election, then it’s a manageable R+7.44. If you know an ambitious prosecutor from Victoria County or an Anglo business leader from Nueces County, now’s the time to take them out to coffee and talk about their heretofore unknown yet deeply held ambition. Heck, anyone who’s not Blake Farenthold would probably do well. Blake Farenthold looks like he’s an elaborate prank by The Onion that got out of control, and he voted to privatize Medicare. There’s not a reason in the world we shouldn’t take his district away.
Then there is a short list of Members who require sober focus to really tell them apart: Barton, McCaul, Granger, Sessions, Smith and Carter. Obama got at least 40% in these districts, which means we should at least look. Let’s drop Carter and Granger. No one is especially pissed at them. No wide stances or helicopter rides to their kids’ ballgames. In districts this marginal, you need some wind in your sails, and I don’t feel a breeze. Let’s throw over Smith, too. I know a lot of people don’t like him, but his good working relationship with Rep. Henry Cuellar, who is in the House Democratic Leadership now, makes getting support from Washington for this endeavor a non-starter.
That leaves noted nitwits Joe Barton and Pete Sessions, as well as area man Mike McCaul. Sessions offers many reasons to loathe him, but he earned his battle scars beating Martin Frost. That’s like getting your Ph.D. in politics. Now he’s the chair of the RNCC, which is like having David Dewhurst’s PIN number. I don’t care if he drools and ties his shoes together; he campaigns like LeBron plays basketball, and he has access to all the money in the world. Absent a horrible scandal, he’s not losing an R+12.5 district.
Then there’s Joe Barton. I like Republicans that yield myriad results when you Google their name and “moron.” This is the fellow who apologized to BP because the White House made them pay to clean up their mess. He’s the single greatest reason oil & gas companies still enjoy tax breaks that would embarrass Montgomery Burns. And he said humans should “adapt” to a warming planet by finding shade. Seriously. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z2bM5_Pe-rw&feature=player_embedded) It’s one thing for a Republican to deny climate change, but yet another to tell Texans who are likely to die without A/C that an affordable response is to find shade. His district is R+16.7 for McCain, but it’s “only” R+11.42 when you use the Houston election. Let’s find a white guy who can raise $2 million and say “Medicare.” Democratic Rep. Jim Matheson in noted liberal hotbed Utah got re-elected in a district this conservative in 2010. Chet Edwards’ district was roughly twice as Republican. Joe Barton is a national embarrassment, and he’s actively obstructing the future. Let’s roll.
That brings up Mike McCaul, who holds a district that political ambitious Austinites gaze upon lovingly. The district starts in NW Austin (think Mark Strama territory) and stretches nearly to Houston. It’s R+12.4 (R+11.7 with Houston) and includes two expensive media markets. McCaul is married to an heiress of the Clear Channel fortune, so if you hate mediocre, repetitive music ruining radio, you should really hate this guy. He also voted against expanding CHIP and against raising the minimum wage, but for privatizing Medicare. So if you’re wealthy, he’s your guy. If you work for a living and ever listen to the radio, not so much. Jack Armstrong looked like a good candidate against him but dropped out when the political environment soured against challengers whose party rhymed with Schmectocrat. He’s never had a hard race in the fall, and his district is about a third as Republican as Chet Edwards’ was.
Finally, we’ve got some open or soon-to-be-open seats: CD 25 (which Lloyd Doggett’s not running in), CD 33 (a new Metroplex seat) and CD 36 (which was the Gulf Shrimp district). CD 25 carefuly avoids Strama’s state house district before heading north into counties that don’t root for UT. It’s R+12.4, which makes it less Republican than the one Nick Rahall won in West Virginia in 2010. The Republicans are likely to form a circular firing squad for the primary, which would open the door to a moderate Democrat to take this district. An open seat against a flawed Republican nominee in a state Republicans don’t want to spend a dime is a perfect opportunity for Democrats in Texas.
The recently boomlet about Michael Williams dropping out of the Senate race to run for the open CD 33 in the Metroplex means that we might have an open seat in a district that is marginally more anti-Obama (R+14.7) than it is anti-Democratic (R+12.2 with Houston). How do conservatives in that district feel about having a presumptive nominee who’s a black guy who likes to wear bow ties and Tweet excessively? I dunno.
Which brings us to CD 36. Republicans want to screw us here so badly the courts might not be able to let it happen. According to Greg Wythe, the district includes Beaumont, Lufkin, Crockett, Madisonville, Waller, Tomball, Spring Branch, and a portion of the Houston Heights. You’ve got East Texas Republicans having to play nice with Houston Republicans in a district that no one in Washington would put on the list at R+18. But use the Houston result (R+5) and find me another white guy who can raise $2 million and say “Medicare.” I hear people in East Texas and the Golden Triangle are actually planning on using Medicare.
It’s like Texas Republicans never played Risk. They are maximizing coverage at the expense of electoral security. Yes, they’re obviously politically motivated to maximize Republican representation at the expense of Democrats, particularly minorities. Yes, Hispanics, who provided the bulk of growth in our population is particularly galling. But for all their map-making mayhem, they have drawn several interesting opportunities that we Democrats should not be so quick to write off.
His date might be an 8, but his district's only R+7.44