The spike reflects the intense early interest in Texas’ reemergence as a competitive state.
by Tom Benning, DMN
Texas’ road to battleground relevancy is paved with campaign cash.
More than $39.6 million flowed into U.S. House races in the Lone Star State during the first nine months of this year, marking an eye-popping 44% increase over the $27.6 million gathered there in the same time period last election, according to a Dallas Morning News analysis.
That spike reflects the intense early interest in Texas’ reemergence as a competitive state after decades of GOP dominance, along with continued turnover in its large congressional delegation.
“We are fighting to defend Texas in 2020,” said James Dickey, chairman of the Republican Party of Texas, explaining that Democrats are “pouring money into Texas” to bring their “extremist, leftist” views to the state.
The trend also highlights a stunning turnabout from Texas’ role as a political piggy bank more for the rest of the country than its own native sons and daughters, particularly in a presidential election year when candidates are keen to swoop in to fill up their campaign coffers.
Big chunks of money are now staying home – or coming in from elsewhere – as House contests for the 2020 cycle take off.
Democrats in Texas are raising more money. So, too, are Republicans. The state’s eight most competitive districts are flush with campaign cash. But other districts have also seen an uptick. More candidates this cycle have brought in at least $100,000. Ditto for the $1 million threshold.
All of that enthusiasm for an election that’s more than a year away.
“Texas is no longer the nation’s ATM and is the biggest battleground state in the country,” said Abhi Rahman, spokesman for the Texas Democratic Party, predicting that that Democrats are “poised to win up and down the ballot in 2020.”
The House fundraising bonanza in Texas comes on top of a White House race in which President Donald Trump has relied on the Lone Star State for strong support and in which two Texans, Beto O’Rourke and Julián Castro, have banked on home state backing on the Democratic side.
Then there is also Republican Sen. John Cornyn’s reelection bid, which has drawn a host of Democratic challengers.
The senator has already brought in $7.7 million so far this year, while his rivals have together raised $3.8 million. It’s early, but that total puts them ahead of the pace set in last year’s battle between O’Rourke and Sen. Ted Cruz – the most expensive Senate race in U.S. history.
In truth, the Cruz-O’Rourke clash still ripples through Texas’ political landscape.
The former El Paso congressman rose out of relative obscurity to smash fundraising records and come within three points of toppling Cruz. Along the way, Democrats flipped two U.S. House seats long held by Republicans and gave the GOP a real scare in a half dozen other districts.
That minted the stage for 2020.
Texas Democrats running for the House raised about $15.9 million in the first nine months of this year, up from $9.3 million during that time period in 2017, per campaign finance data. Texas Republicans – who control more House seats – increased their haul to $23.7 million from $18.2 million.
Nearly 65 candidates have so far raised more than $100,000 this cycle, compared to just under 50 at this point last election. Ten candidates have topped $1 million, up from five last time around.
“Beto’s campaign obviously helped change the dynamics across the state,” said Mike Siegel, an Austin civil rights attorney hoping to unseat Rep. Michael McCaul, a senior lawmaker who is the top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
Siegel should know.
He lost last year to McCaul by less than 5 points. But he didn’t even start his campaign that cycle until November 2017. And he found it difficult early on to convince donors that his cause was anything but hopeless, raising only about $100,000 by the primary runoff in May 2018.
“People would say things to me like, ‘Hey Mike, you seem like a really nice guy, but you don’t have a chance in heck of winning,’” said Siegel, who dinged McCaul over immigration and the Republican’s criticism of Democrats’ impeachment inquiry against Trump.
Now the race gets instant recognition, he said, and “folks can see that I can win – or we can win.”
Siegel has seen his fundraising take off this time around, totaling nearly $356,000 so far this year. He’s not alone. Fellow Democrats Shannon Hutcheson and Pritesh Gandhi have also raked in campaign cash, so far raising $535,000 and $528,000, respectively.
“People are disgusted with the people we have in Washington, who are disconnected from the day to day realities,” said Gandhi, a physician.
But Republicans anticipated that push this cycle, with Dickey, the GOP state chairman, saying that “one of the positive results from the tsunami of money that came into Texas from outside of Texas in 2018 to try to flip Texas to Democrat is that people have recognized the threat.”
McCaul, for one, has raised more than $1.2 million to date – about double what he had brought in at this point in the last election.
The Republican’s campaign has geared up early, pledging to knock on tens of thousands of doors in the district and otherwise do what it takes to run a “serious campaign effort to defeat whichever far-left Democrat emerges,” his team has said.
Other districts are likewise active, particularly as politicos recognize the stakes ahead of a once-in-a-decade redistricting process that will begin next year in Texas.
Handicappers, after assessing last year’s election results, have circled McCaul’s seat and seven others as most competitive House races in Texas for 2020. In those mostly suburban districts, fundraising to date has more than doubled from what it was at this point in the last cycle.
Republicans, in a couple instances, are trying to get back on their front foot.
GOP challenger Genevieve Collins, for example, raised more than $477,000 in the third quarter to take on Dallas Rep. Colin Allred, a freshman Democrat who’s brought in more than $1.7 million so far this year after toppling a longtime Republican incumbent in the last election
“Texas Republicans are engaged early and fired up to go back on offense against the socialist agenda of House Democrats in 2020,” said Bob Salera, spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee, the House GOP’s campaign arm.
But Democrats, who reject the GOP’s “socialist” jabs, have targeted at least six pickup opportunities, as the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and others made a point early on to set up shop in Texas amid a spate of retirements by Republicans in the state’s congressional delegation.
“Third quarter fundraising results make clear that Democrats are well-positioned to continue driving deep into historically Republican territory in the Lone Star State,” Michael Beckendorf, DCCC’s southern regional political director, wrote in a memo this week.
One critical battleground resulting from the so-called Texodus is the seat being vacated by Rep. Kenny Marchant, R-Coppell.
Marchant last year carried only a three-point margin in the district – which, like others, is undergoing a substantial demographic shift. That unexpectedly close result came despite his Democratic challenger raising little campaign cash last cycle.
Now both Democrats and Republicans are preparing for an expensive open-seat battle, one that’s likely reflect the national debate over Trump’s presidency.
Former Irving Mayor Beth Van Duyne, a GOPer who worked in the Trump administration, brought in more than $347,000 since she launched her campaign. She attributed that early success to voters being “absolutely frustrated” with the “circus” she said Democrats are creating in D.C.
“You’re seeing a lot of people waste time and money and energy on trying to reverse the 2016 presidency,” she said, referring to the impeachment inquiry against Trump.
But Democrats have also made unusual headway in the historically GOP district.
“The short answer is people are starting to recognize that this a winnable seat,” said Candace Valenzuela, a Carrollton-Farmers Branch school board member who’s so far raised more than $201,000 this year.
Another Democrat, Air Force veteran Kim Olson, is actually setting the pace, bringing in more than $567,000 to date. Still another Democrat, attorney Crystal Fletcher, has so far produced a haul of $122,000.
Olson cited Trump, among things, as a key driver of enthusiasm.
“People want reasonable people in office,” she said, calling Van Duyne a “Trump enabler.” “They want in leaders in office who will do best for everyone else, not this constant drum of fear and absolute disrespect for the Constitution.”