One hundred days before the Nov. 4 election, Democratic and Republican political insiders are pondering whether Obama can lose states such as Texas and still make a difference in targeted congressional, county and legislative races by inspiring voter turnout.
Obama's campaign manager has listed Texas as a state likely to go to McCain. But the campaign also has promised to put 15 coordinators in the state to help Texas Democrats win the five seats they need for a state House majority and to win in Harris County.
"We're not down here just wasting our money," Democratic National Chairman Howard Dean said recently in Austin. "We're down here, because we know that if Barack Obama wins in Texas, or does well enough in Texas to pick up five House seats in the Texas state House of Representatives, we're going to undo all those evil things Tom DeLay did."
A Democratic majority in the Texas House would help the Democrats control the congressional redistricting process in 2011, when Texas is expected to get three new U.S. House seats due to population growth.
McCain national campaign adviser Charlie Black said he cannot remember a presidential campaign that put resources into a state it expected to lose just to help the local party.
"It's a very ambitious plan," he said.
Let's come back to some of that in a moment. A comment from each side:
A lot of the strategy is about voter excitement. Consultants from both parties admit that Democrats are generally more excited about the presidential race than Republicans. And, they said, down-ballot races may actually help boost turnout in the presidential contest.
Democrats in Texas "are very much energized, pretty much across the state," said Democratic political consultant Dan McClung of Houston. "It's not just national politics. It's state politics and county politics that have Democrats energized."
Texas Republican Party Political Director Hans Klingler said fights over partisan control of Harris and Dallas counties are as exciting for party activists as the presidential contest.
"As important as to what happens at the presidential races at the top of the ticket is what the Republican Party and the Democratic Party are going to do at the bottom-of-the-ticket races at the courthouse level," Klingler said.
This is much more charitable than Klingler usually allows. Hans left the stupid this time to Republican pollster/goombah Mike Baselice:
"There's dumb and real dumb and invading Russia," Baselice said. "If you're a Democrat, you don't want to get caught in a land war in Texas, when you've got all those states in the Midwest to win."
Baselice said the problem for Republicans is not what Obama is going to do but a belief by GOP voters that the nation is on the wrong track.
"Half, if not more than half, the Republicans think the country is off-track. That is more concern to me than Obama sending 15 people to the state," Baselice said.
Well, at least he is correct about that last. Let's also catch a few excerpts from Ratcliffe's composite opinions from "four Democratic and four Republican political consultants and insiders" who chose to remain anonymous in commenting on some of those down-ballot races. I will apend each in blue with my not-anonymous opinion as neither insider nor consultant:
•President: Democratic presumptive presidential nominee Barack Obama has all but conceded Texas to Republican John McCain. But Obama's aides and national Democratic leaders have pledged support for Texas Democrats in hopes of winning a state House majority while looking to a congressional redistricting battle in 2011, when the state is likely to gain three seats in Congress. Texas is McCain's to lose. Nothing to disagree with here.
•U.S. Senate: Republican U.S. Sen. John Cornyn has not been especially strong in the polls, but Democrat Rick Noriega's campaign has yet to bust out in fundraising or inspiring a groundswell of support. Cornyn is favored to win; however, a late Obama surge in Texas could make an upset possible for Noriega. Agree completely. Noriega can still pull it out but time is running short.
•Texas Railroad Commission: Republican Michael Williams should win re-election over little-known Democrat Mark Thompson. Agree, sadly.
Congressional races•CD 22: Democratic U.S. Rep. Nick Lampson has incumbent advantage for re-election in a district once held by former U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay. President Bush and the GOP are dedicated to helping Pete Olson regain the seat for the party. Lampson likely will get $1 million from the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. The district's growing black population may be inspired to vote because of Obama, but the district in the past three elections has given most Republican candidates more than 60 percent of the vote. Lampson won in 2006 with 52 percent of the vote with no Republican on the ballot. Toss-up. Lampson's lurch away from the people who got him elected will cost him his seat in Congress. He's a sure loser.
•CD 23: Democratic U.S. Rep. Ciro Rodriguez of San Antonio is being challenged by Republican County Commissioner Lyle Larson. Rodriguez is better positioned with funds. But the district voted 54 percent Republican in 2004. A big turnout for McCain could help Larson. Rodriguez favored to win. Ciro likewise abandoned the progressives who worked for him in 2004, same as Lampson, but Rodriguez will be re-elected because his district favors a Latino.
•CD 7: Republican U.S. Rep. John Culberson's district tends to vote almost 70 percent Republican, making it seemingly safe for him. But Democrat Michael Skelly is promising to run television ads between now and election day. Skelly says the district needs fresh approaches to energy policy and other issues. Long-shot upset is possible. Culberson is a goner.
•CD 10: Republican U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul has the advantage in this GOP-leaning district that stretches from Harris County to Austin. Democrat Larry Joe Doherty, a former television judge, has a folksy, populist style that may play well in rural areas as well as with Austin Democrats. Long-shot upset is possible. Doherty in the upset, mostly because McCaul has been undistinguished in his terms in Washington.
State Senate seats•SD 17: The field is still forming in this no-primary special election for the seat held by retiring Sen. Kyle Janek, R-Houston. Democrat Chris Bell at present is expected to face three Republicans — Grant Harpold, Joan Huffman and Austen Furse — in the election on the same day as presidential voting. A large Democratic turnout could help Bell eke out a victory on Election Day, but conventional wisdom is that Bell will be in a runoff with a Republican who has been damaged by infighting among the GOP candidates. Special elections normally favor Republican turnout, but the Democrats are expected to be energized this year. Toss-up. Bell goes to the Senate, even if it's a run-off.
•SD 10: The district represented by state Sen. Ken Brimer, R-Arlington, has the largest black population of any state Senate district held by a Republican, and he has two colleges in his district. Former Fort Worth City Councilwoman Wendy Davis is fighting hard. An upset is possible. Say hello to Sen. Wendy Davis.
•SD 11: State Sen. Mike Jackson, R-LaPorte, is being given a look at possible defeat at the hands of Democrat Joe Jaworski. Jackson has not done a good job of keeping his profile up, and Jaworski may be able to capitalize on a general unhappiness with Republicans this year. Leans Republican. Jaworski is in better shape to defeat "Inaction" Jackson even than Bell and Davis are.
Democratic edge?Texas House seats held by Republicans in 2007 that Democrats could win.
•HD 52: Open seat. Republican Robert "Bryan" Daniel against Democrat Diane Maldonado, both of Round Rock. Toss-up. Count it for Maldonado.
•HD 78: Open seat. Republican Dee Margo received 53 percent of the district's vote when he ran for a Senate seat in an overlapping district two years ago. The Democrat in the 2008 race is Joseph Moody, whose father won 60 percent of the district's vote when he ran for statewide judicial office in 2006. Toss-up. Margo also has the cash advantage. Can't see it very close, even as strong a candidate as Moody is.
•HD 96: Rep. Bill Zedler, R-Arlington, is challenged by Democrat Chris Turner of Burleson. Upset possible. Hard-right district represented by hard-right representative. Not even an Obama landslide can pry this one from Zedler's cold, almost-dead fingers.
•HD 101: Open seat. Former Mesquite Mayor Mike Anderson, a Republican, is favored over Democrat Robert Miklos. Leans Republican. Anderson, easily.
•HD 102: Rep. Tony Goolsby, R-Dallas, is challenged by Democrat Carol Kent. Leans Republican. Kent has a real shot, but Goolsby has incumbency and a large lobbyist-funded bankroll. It doesn't look like a leaner to me.
•HD 129: Rep. John Davis, R-Houston, is facing a tough challenge from Democrat Sherrie Matula. Leans Republican. Ethics-scandal-plagued Davis is running behind Matula in fundraising (he's spent too much on cowboy boots, apparently). Matula's organization, particularly her ground game, will push her over the top.
•District 133: Rep. Jim Murphy, R-Houston, challenged by Democrat Kristi Thibaut, who could benefit from a big vote for Obama in the district. Leans Republican. Hard to say that one of my favorite candidates and a brand-new mother is probably going to fall just short once again. A genuine effort by the Obama campaign in Houston could make a real difference in this race.
•District 144: Open seat. Republican Ken Legler versus Democrat Joel Redmond, both of Pasadena. This Republican district is trending Democratic, but it may not get there this year. Leans Republican. Redmond will win in a squeaker due to energized Latino voter turnout in the district, thanks in no small part to Noriega and Linda Yanez above Redmond's name on the ballot.
GOP edge?Texas House seats held by Democrats in 2007 that Republicans could win. •HD 17: Open seat. Republican Tim Kleinschmidt of Lexington against Democrat Donnie Dippel of La Grange. Toss-up. This one is as close as they come.
•HD 32: Rep. Juan Garcia, D-Corpus Christi, is challenged by Democrat-turned-Republican former state Rep. Todd Hunter of Corpus Christi in a GOP-leaning district. Upset of Garcia possible. Garcia will lose, and it's not going to be all that close.
•HD 97: Democratic Rep. Dan Barrett of Fort Worth gave his party hope by winning this Republican district in a special election last year. He will have a hard time holding onto the seat in a challenge from Republican Mark Shelton. Leans Republican. Barrett suffers the same fate as Garcia.
•HD 149: Rep. Hubert Vo, D-Houston, was a shoo-in for re-election until he got hit with a barrage of stories about his ownership of substandard apartments. Now, Vo is damaged goods being challenged by Republican Gregory Meyers. Toss-up. Vo has probably handed this one back to the GOP.
•WD40s: White Democrats over age 40: Reps. Mark Homer of Paris, Chuck Hopson of Jacksonville and Jim McReynolds of Lufkin are targets each election because their rural districts are Republican. A heavy turnout for McCain could allow an opponent to score a bull's-eye. I believe all three will be re-elected. They have managed to do so with a Bush on the ballot, after all...
The experts ignored the Supreme Court races (Yanez will defeat incumbent Phil Johnson but the other two are uncertain) as well as the HD-19 race in east Texas, where Larry Hunter will turn out Republican incumbent "Tuffy" Hamilton. But the Texas House is going to remain a bare GOP majority -- though likely bigger than two years ago -- and Craddick is going to once again be elected Speaker because of Craddickrats like Aaron Pena, Sylvester Turner, and Joe Deshotel.
Our battle to turn Harris County Blue will show some results, but the amount of success depends on the length of Barack Obama's coattails.