Democrats have been increasingly bullish about their ability to win over suburban, ancestrally Republican House districts that have been trending in their party’s direction over the past decade.
But their party’s latest target shows just how confident Democrats have become. Democrats are eyeing one of the most reliably Republican seats in the heart of Texas — Rep. John Culberson’s suburban Houston district, once held by President Bush’s father — and have a candidate who is causing a stir due to his prolific fundraising.
Businessman Michael Skelly is positioned to be at the top of the Democratic fundraising list for the year’s first quarter, according to a Democratic operative, raising about $750,000 from individual donors without even tapping into his substantial personal wealth. Another Democratic operative said it could be the “best first quarter ever” for any House Democrat in his first filing period.
Texas' 7th District has historically been forbidden territory for Democrats, dating back to the 1960s when the suburban Houston district was first so numbered. It is the old district of former President George H.W. Bush, and was represented by conservative Republican Bill Archer for 30 years prior to the election of its current Republican representative, John Culberson. In other words, this has been a Republican district since the days when Democrats ruled Texas.
The district voted for President Bush by a margin of 64% to 36% in 2004, and sports a PVI of R+15.6. It is actually currently quite a bit more Democratic than it was in the '90s, when it was the third-most Republican district in the nation (this was due to clever gerrymandering by the then-Democratic majority in Texas).
Redistricting and a slight Democratic trend have made the district a bit friendlier to Democrats. Culberson received 59% of the vote in 2006 against an underfunded Democrat, not an especially impressive performance given TX-07's crimson hue. Still, this would be one of the last places where you'd expect an exceptionally strong Democratic challenge.This year, you would be mistaken, as businessman Michael Skelly has managed to raise unprecedented amounts of money in preparation for the first serious run at this district in decades.
Those are the leads, but the real meat is deep within each article. Politico again:
Democrats, though, believe Culberson’s vulnerability stems from his hewing to conservative principles that they believe are out of touch with his district.
“What you’re seeing right now is educated suburban voters leaving the Republican Party because it’s not what they signed up for — and we’re open to give them an opportunity,” said (Skelly campaign manager Bill) Kelly.
Texas Democrats point to a state legislative race within the district, where a Democratic state legislator unseated a two-term Republican by 10 points. And they are encouraged by the roughly 88,000 districtwide Democrats (out of 410,000 registered voters) who participated in the Democratic presidential primary in March, with one Democratic operative calling the voter information a “gold mine.”
“The information we got from the primary, there is no other way we get that information. I can’t even put a financial figure on it,” said the operative.
And back to brownsox at Kos:
Skelly was born in Ireland, and immigrated to the U.S. at the age of two. He graduated from Notre Dame and Harvard Business School, served in the Peace Corps, and subsequently worked in ecotourism in Costa Rica. He made his money in the energy industry, like a lot of Texas millionaires...although Skelly did so as a top executive for a wind energy developer, now the third largest in the United States.
Does he have a shot? TX-07 is still an incredibly difficult district for Democrats to win. Only three redder districts in the country are represented by Democrats (the districts of Gene Taylor in MS-04, Chet Edwards in TX-17, and Jim Matheson in UT-02).
Still, there is some hope. Republican redistricting brought several Houston suburbs into the district which are generally wealthy and fiscally conservative, but not necessarily doctrinaire Republican. This includes Skelly's hometown of West University Place, where Democrat Ellen Cohen defeated Republican incumbent Martha Wong in her 2006 State House race. As previously mentioned, Culberson's margin of victory in 2006 was large, but not overwhelming, and he has shown signs of weakness ...
Bill Kelly ran Ellen Cohen's race, and also Houston city councilman Peter Brown's and mayor Bill Whte's before that. He is as good as they come. The polling numbers are eerily similar to the Cohen-Wong matchup in 2006 at the same stage of the game.
This is my district, my neighborhood. As you can see by the numbers above, my 'hood turned out like never before for the primary voting and both the precinct and Senate district conventions. We're energized and motivated to replace Republicans, particularly Tom DeLay's old cabana boy.
Whatever happens in the presidential contest, this will be a race I am personally invested in, online and off.
Update: Booman adds a point about how this figures into the presidential campaign:
The long and competitive primary on the Democratic side is going to prove extremely valuable for the Get Out the Vote effort this November, and it will also provide a wealth of data on a county-by-county basis for the Democratic nominee. Barack Obama will be able to see exactly where he is strong and weak in every state, while John McCain will be flying blind in most of them.