Thursday, January 29, 2015

BakerBlog's Bob Stein on the Houston mayoral race

This is worth dissecting.

There are six candidates (former Democratic congressman Chris Bell; councilman Stephen Costello; Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia; former Kemah mayor Bill King; councilman Oliver Pennington; state Rep. Sylvester Turner) who currently hold or recently held elective office. A seventh candidate, Ben Hall, has run recently for mayor and has some additional recognition as a former city attorney. These candidates have a record of electoral success in the city as well as a record of significant campaign fund raising. 

He handicapped them much the same way I did week before last.  With regard to the money end of things, let's overlook the fact that Costello and Hall and King can write themselves a check for whatever they need, which technically isn't 'raising funds'.  And that Turner needs to survive Bell's lawsuit transferring his million bucks from his legislative bank account to a municipal one.  And that Garcia can't move his county coffers around at all.  If you evaluate viability on the basis of how much money somebody has, then you don't have a democracy, you have a plutocracy.  If you begin with the premise that the more money a candidate can spend, the more likely they are to get elected, then you have devalued principle, good governance, and the ideological issues that should be the primary determinant of how one should cast their ballot.  In other words, you simply aren't a fan of republican democracy.

I won't be evaluating mayoral candidates competing for my vote using that measurement.  I want to know what their ideas for managing the city are, not how fat their wallet is.  So while Stein is tossing everybody running who doesn't have electoral experience and putting a star beside the names of those who are profligate fundraisers, where does that leave perhaps the most liberal candidate -- Marty McVey -- who can pay his own way, or the most conservative -- CM Jack Christie -- who can't?  And the rest who meet neither criteria?  Why, on the outside looking in.

Too bad for them... and too bad for those of us who thought the race might turn on the issues, too.

The best financed candidates and those who have effective organizations able to identify and turn out their loyal and likely voters will most likely move forward to the runoff. It also seems unlikely that issues or partisanship will be critical factors in the general election — though this should change in the runoff, depending on which two candidates move forward. I would expect the candidates in the general election to run campaigns directed at frequent and targeted voter contacts, using traditional door-to-door canvassing, extensive social media and very personalized appeals to voters from the candidates. I don’t see a significant incentive for candidates to attack each other in the general election, as this might detract from their efforts to mobilize their base and worse, risk losing supporters in the runoff, should they advance.

Are you enthused yet?  This is going to be a milquetoast election if Stein is right.

Thankfully, he's probably wrong.

From conservatives, it's going to be all about those hellbound transsexuals using the bathrooms where your children will be assaulted (when it's not bitching about potholes in the roads, anyway) and tsk-tsking those hateful bigots from the center-left in response.  There will be plenty of issues, just not the ones we ought to be talking about.  And to Stein's credit, he's at least correct that it won't goose turnout much, if at all.  So then, twenty million dollars-plus spent on campaign advisers, mailers, and tv commercials for a runoff election in December that resets everything.  That's some high-priced sound and fury signifying nothing.

Candidate-wise, Stein has some breakdowns for the six perceived frontrunners, but let's focus on his comments about Adrian Garcia.

Garcia could have broad appeal to several constituencies of likely voters, i.e., Hispanics and Democrats. In addition, he has won two countywide elections for sheriff, winning significant (12 percent) crossover support from Republican voters, although this success appears to be limited to non-city portions of the county. He did not garner a substantial crossover vote in Kingwood, Clear Lake and Westside precincts inside the city.

For Garcia, the key questions are whether he can establish himself as the “Democrat” candidate for mayor and mobilize Hispanic voters. His efforts to establish himself as the prime Democrat in the race maybe thwarted by Bell’s efforts to make the same claim. In addition, Garcia’s only tepid support of the countywide candidates in 2014, most notably Kim Ogg, Democrat for district attorney, may come back to haunt. Moreover, there is evidence that younger Hispanic voters are not motivated by partisan candidate appeals — witness their poor performance for the Democratic ticket in 2014 (i.e., pre- and post-election surveys suggest 45 percent of 18-44 year old Hispanic voters balloted for Greg Abbott while only 34 percent of Hispanic voters over 45 voted for Abbott).

Emphasis mine.  Garcia's success hinges on his ability to turn out all the Latino vote, and depending on that has always been problematic.  If the electorate doesn't agree that it's their time, his campaign is over before it begins.  Anglo Republicans in the 'burbs haven't bought his oddball brand of conservatism previously; no reason to think they will this time around.

Texpatriate's on record with Turner and Pennington making the runoff, which is a fairly conservative bet.  I'm not ready to join him there; I think Bell and Costello and Hall will also have strong efforts.  There's still seven months to the filing deadline; a long time to go before the field settles out.  And this last, with respect to the SCOTUS decision on marriage equality and the HERO trial playing out in the background.

There may be several referenda on the ballot to amend the city charter (e.g., term limits and revenue cap) as well as repeal the recently adopted Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO). A jury trial is underway to determine whether the city erred in rejecting a petition to place the repeal of HERO on the November ballot. Whatever the jury’s decision, it will certainly be appealed. If any of these items are on the November ballot they are certain to change the character and possible outcome of the general election. The HERO amendment has the greater potential for widening the field of candidates with the entry of an anti-HERO candidate. Other candidates, notably Turner, King and Costello, may have trouble with this issue, as many of their core supporters have positions on the ordinance at variance with the candidates’ position.

This is Pennington's primary advantage today: stoking the fear and loathing of the gays among the Republican base.  It could help him in the general election and then backfire on him in the runoff.  We'll just have to watch and see if that is something he -- or someone else -- thinks they can capitalize on.

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