House Outlook for 2008
Will the GOP Swing the Pendulum Back?
Outlook: Leans Republican
In a political environment where alternative energy is quickly becoming one of the hottest topics, it makes sense that wind power executive Michael Skelly would see his campaign heating up. Skelly will gunning for incumbent Republican Rep. John Culberson this fall, undeterred by Bush’s 28 percent margin of victory in the district during the 2004 presidential race.
Skelly’s has been on fire on the fundraising front, burning up the FEC reports with over $400,000 in donations during the second quarter and adding a $200,000 personal donation, leaving him with over $1 million cash on hand, nearly double Culberson’s total. While Skelly has impressed the campaign handicappers with his numbers and fortuitous background, it will take a lot more than that to win over the solidly Republican voters of the 7th District. Skelly’s own February poll showed Culberson with a 52-33 lead, a gap Skelly has likely closed somewhat with his flurry of television ads. Still, in addition to incredible fundraising and a popular job title, Skelly will likely need something just short of a miracle to pull off an upset in the heart of GOP country.
Outlook: Likely Republican
Republican Rep. Michael McCaul’s stiffest electoral challenge yet may be coming from an unexpected place: a television courtroom . Larry Joe Doherty, once the judge of television’s Texas Justice, won the March primary and will face off against McCaul this November. Doherty’s chief asset is probably his money. He has already raised over $550,000, while McCaul only spent $1.1 million last cycle and has raised just $700,000 so far.
The rest of the picture isn’t so bright for Doherty. The district voted 62% for Bush in 2004 and McCaul’s history as a federal prosecutor nullifies any ”law and order” advantage of Doherty’s background. Some years Democrats don’t even file in the district, but when an underfunded Democrat got 40 percent of the vote in 2006 after spending just $65,000, people took notice. The jury is still out, but Doherty and his fellow Dems are optimistic that they can get a friendly verdict from voters this November.
October 23, 2008 Update:
Financially speaking, this race should be leaning Democrat. While Republican candidate Pete Olson has out-raised his opponent this quarter $413,000 to $292,000, the incumbent Nick Lampson still holds a huge financial advantage with 1.1 million left in his campaign fund compared Olson’s $486,000. And while Olson has received help from the Republican party, the cash-strapped NRCC has also cut its ad budget for this district by half, which, for whatever reason, is a dent to their candidate’s finances.
But money may not be able to buy everything for Lampson. For starters, he is a Democrat in a heavily Republican district that he pocketed after the embattled Republican strongman Tom De Lay vacated it. While he has picked up recent conservative endorsements from the Veterans of Foreign Wars and the National Rifle Association, it isn’t clear whether he can do enough to win in a district with such an ideological orientation. His opponent Olson has also proven quite formidable, having been a Navy veteran and a former chief of staff to the popular Texas Republican Sen. John Cornyn. At their only debate on Oct. 21, Olson charged on with numerous attacks, slamming Lampson as a wasteful spender whose rhetoric did not match his record.
The National Republican Congressional Committee has set its eyes firmly on retaking the district, and Olson’s fundraisers have thus featured notables like President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney. The NRCC also insists that its recent funding cuts are part of a national effort to redirect funds from less vulnerable candidates to more vulnerable ones.
What the numbers mean is really anyone’s guess in one of the most competitive races in the country. But one thing’s for sure – this year isn’t going to be another walk in the park for Lampson as it was before.
April 16, 2008 Update:
With apologies to Rolaids, O-L-S-O-N spells ”Relief” for Texas Republicans. In the April 4th Republican primary runoff, former senate staffer Pete Olson prevailed over physician Shelly Sekula Gibbs by an impressive 68.5-31.5 percent margin. If the confrontational and abrasive Gibbs had won, GOP general election prospects would have been dim, but Olson’s nomination means that Republicans have a terrific shot at recapturing the 22nd district from Representative Nick Lampson. More than anyone, the NRCC was in dire need of some good news, and Olson’s victory will force national Democrats to play defense on their gains of 2006.
March 26, 2008 Update:
Shelly Sekula Gibbs and Pete Olson make it out of the Republican free-for-all and advance to the runoff. As expected, the Republican establishment is lining up behind Olson–he has the endorsement of Senator John Cornyn and twelve Texas Congressmen. However, Sekula Gibbs has a strong advantage in name recognition and looks to tie Olson to Washington insiders. If Olson emerges from the runoff, Representative Nick Lampson will be in the fight of his life this November, if Sekula Gibbs is the nominee, Lampson can breathe a bit easier.
Extenuating circumstances placed Representative Nick Lampson back on the Hill in 2006. A botched resignation ploy by former Majority Leader Tom Delay resulted in Lampson’s eventual victory over write-in candidate Shelley Sekula Gibbs. With Lampson at the top of the national GOP’s target list, Republican candidates have flocked to the contest. While the primary field remains cloudy, one thing is certain: the Republican establishment does not want to nominate Sekula Gibbs again. While serving the final two months of Delay’s term, Sekula Gibbs alienated local Republicans when Delay’s congressional staff walked out due to the congresswoman’s abrasive management style.
Sekula Gibbs is running again, but so too are former Sugar Land mayor Dean Hrbacek, ex-Pasadena mayor < b>John Manlove, former Senate aide Pete Olson, and state representative Robert Talton, all of whom are credible candidates. Due to high name recognition Sekula Gibbs is expected to win the March 4th primary, but with well under the fifty percent needed to avoid a runoff. The Republican establishment in this conservative district will likely coalesce around the primary runner-up, to ensure a competitive race in the fall. Short of Sekula Gibbs, no matter who emerges from the Republican primary, Lampson will be in the fight of his life to retain his seat in November.
Outlook: Likely Democratic
June 3, 2008 Update:
Republican nominee Lyle Larson has three problems facing him as he seeks to unseat Ciro Rodriguez in one of the few congressional districts that Republicans view as pickup opportunities. Larson’s first problem is simply one of money. While he showed just $60,000 cash in the bank at the end of the first quarter, Rodriguez avoided a primary clash and banked close to $1 million.
Larson’s second problem: demographics. When Larson defeated primary opponent ”Quico” Canseco, the GOP lost their chance to neutralize Rodriguez’s advantage as the Hispanic candidate in a district in which 65 percent of voters share that trait. In Texas, unlike in Florida, Hispanic and Democratic often conflate and Rodriguez has a clear leg up as a result.
The final problem hampering Larson’s campaign is the partisan ID of the district’s voters. While many have cited Rodriguez as potentially vulnerable because his district voted 57 percent for Bush in 2004, the true number of Republicans is most likely much lower. Many voters in the Texas 23rd district likely cast their ballots on Election Day for their former governor, even thought they might not generally support Republican presidential and congressional candidates. In 2008, without a Texan on the presidential ballot, how will voters cast their votes and can Larson win without coattails?
March 26, 2008 Update:
How much does 38 percent of the vote cost in South Texas? For Francisco ”Quico” Canseco, the price was over $900K and more than a year of campaigning. Despite Canseco’s long head start and significant financial advantage, Bexar county commissioner Lyle Larson won the nomination in a landslide, 62-38 percent and will go on to face Representative Ciro Rodriguez in November. Although Larson can run on his elected experience, national Republicans were privately hoping Canseco could win, given the district’s 55 percent majority of Hispanic voters. Without Canseco, the race slides down Republican target lists, and if Larson is going to beat Rodriguez, he must do it without NRCC help.
After the Supreme Court mandated redrawing of Texas’ 22nd congressional district to include more Hispanic voters, Representative Ciro Rodriguez became the Democratic class of 2006’s thirtieth and final member in a December special election. Now, Rodriguez must fight to retain his seat against two powerful Republican personalities. Bexar county commissioner Lyle Larson and attorney Francisco ”Quico” Canseco are engaged in a heated battle to challenge Rodriguez in the fall. Larson, who represents the largest GOP population center, has the advantages of extensive public service, but Canseco, who has already spent nearly $600K of his own money, has been in the race for over a year and may be able to draw upon substantial Latino support. As the March 4th primary turns dirty, Rodriguez can only hope that whoever emerges is politically damaged and financially weakened. Until Republicans have a definite nominee, this seat remains likely to stay in Democratic hands, but either candidate could pose a threat to Rodriguez in November.