Seven Texas Democratic congressional candidates outraised their rivals in Republican-held districts in the second quarter of the year, including four Democrats who amassed more than $1 million, according to campaign finance reports filed over the weekend, with most becoming available Monday.
“I don’t think that’s happened ever before,” longtime Democratic strategist Matt Angle said. “I’ve been involved in congressional elections in one way or another since 1984, and I’ve never seen a circumstance where we’ve ever seen four challengers raise money at that level.”
Three of the Democrats who raised more than $1 million are running in the most competitive Texas districts in a year in which control of the U.S. House is on the line. They are Gina Ortiz Jones of San Antonio, who is challenging U.S. Rep. Will Hurd, R-Helotes; Lizzie Pannill Fletcher of Houston, up against U.S. Rep. John Culberson, R-Houston; and Colin Allred of Dallas, seeking to unseat U.S. Rep. Pete Sessions, R-Dallas.
But the impressive hauls in all three case include money the Democratic candidates raised to win their May 22 runoffs to secure their party’s nominations, and they all still lag far behind the GOP incumbent in cash on hand.
The fourth million-dollar Democratic candidate is MJ Hegar of Round Rock, whose fundraising surged with the release in June of a campaign video bio recounting her heroism as a search-and-rescue Air Force pilot in Afghanistan.
Her opponent, U.S. Rep. John Carter, R-Round Rock, raised $267,000 and now has $538,000 in the bank, compared with Hegar’s $867,000.
Carter’s lagging fundraising may be attributable to the confidence, or complacency, of a candidate seeking a ninth term who won by 22 points in 2016 and 32 points in 2014.
A wave election?
While Hillary Clinton edged Donald Trump in the districts represented by Hurd, Culberson and Sessions, Trump carried Carter’s district by 12.5 percentage points.
“It’s very tough district,” Angle said. “Hillary (Clinton) got in the low 40s and (2014 Democratic gubernatorial candidate) Wendy (Davis) in the 30s.”
“But if it’s going to be a change election where you’ve got a big wave, you’ve got to have a sail up, you’ve got have a chance to catch that wind, and what you’ve got with MJ and what you’ve got with Joseph Kopser is, they’re giving themselves a chance,” Angle said.
Kopser is running for the open seat in the 21st Congressional District, which extends from Austin to San Antonio and stretches west into the Hill Country and has been represented for three decades by U.S. Rep. Lamar Smith, R-San Antonio, who is not seeking re-election.
Kopser, an Austin tech entrepreneur and a former Army Ranger, is facing Chip Roy, a former top aide to then-Gov. Rick Perry and former chief of staff to U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas. Roy emerged from a fractious 18-person Republican field.
Kopser raised $469,273 in the second quarter to $393,782 for Roy, ending the quarter with twice as much money in the bank. But Roy’s runoff campaign depended heavily on spending by the Club for Growth super PAC, and he can expect a similar outpouring of national Republican money if the race appears in play in the fall.
Julie Oliver of Austin barely outraised U.S. Rep. Roger Williams, R-Austin, but Williams, a prodigious fundraiser when he puts his mind to it, is sitting on $1,217,472 to Oliver’s $78,146.
The seventh Democrat to outraise a Republican incumbent is Siri Preston Kulkarni, who topped U.S. Rep. Pete Olson, R-Sugar Land, but Olson holds a nearly 3-to-1 cash advantage in a safely Republican district.
Hard to predict
Trump, day by day, lends an unusual level of uncertainty to the 2018 midterm elections, which generally are tough on the party in power in Washington, where Republicans now control the White House, the Senate and House of Representatives.
This may help explain why professional prognosticators have come to different conclusions even about which Texas districts are most in play.
University of Virginia political scientist Larry Sabato’s “Crystal Ball” rates Hurd’s district as a toss-up and the Culberson and Sessions districts as “lean Republican.” The Cook Political Report rates Culberson’s and Sessions’ seats as toss-ups, Hurd’s as lean Republican, and the Kopser-Roy and Hegar-Carter races as likely Republican.
Ostensibly, the geographically vast, majority Hispanic 23rd Congressional District — stretching from San Antonio to El Paso — should be, for Democrats, the ripest for the plucking. The seat has seesawed — Democrats winning in higher-turnout presidential years and Republicans in lower-turnout midterms — until Hurd won it in 2014 and 2016.
Hurd has done what he can to separate himself from Trump, particularly on border and immigration issues, and he is now far better known that Jones, a first-time candidate.
“People in the 23rd are voting for Hurd despite the fact that he is a Republican, not because he is a Republican,” said Rice University political scientist Mark Jones, who believes all seven Democratic candidates face tough races.
The state Democratic ticket is topped by Senate candidate U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke, D-El Paso, who is raising more money than Cruz but is still the clear underdog. And the rest of the statewide Republican ticket, starting with Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, will be able to vastly outspend their Democratic challengers in a state that has been solidly red in statewide races for a generation.
Texas congressional fundraising
There were seven Republican-held Texas congressional districts in which Democrats outraised their Republican opponents in the second quarter of the year.
7th Congressional District
U.S. Rep. John Culberson, R-Houston: $484,000 raised, $1,262,877 cash on hand
Lizzie Pannill Fletcher, Democrat: $1,055,351 raised, $797,077 cash on hand
21st Congressional District
Chip Roy, Republican: $393,782 raised, $190,273 cash on hand
Joseph Kopser, Democrat: $469,273 raised, $364,366 cash on hand
22nd Congressional District
U.S. Rep. Pete Olson, R-Sugar Land: $202,012 raised, $253,267 cash on hand
Sri Preston Kulkarni, Democrat: $234,244 raised, $89,434 cash on hand
23rd Congressional District
U.S. Rep. Will Hurd, R-Helotes: $683,739 raised, $2,019,314 cash on hand
Gina Ortiz Jones, Democrat: $1,231,172 raised, $1,150,851 cash on hand
25th Congressional District
U.S. Rep. Roger Williams, R-Austin: $120,078 raised, $1,217,472 cash on hand
Julie Oliver, Democrat: $123,497 raised, $78,146 cash on hand
31st Congressional District
U.S. Rep. John Carter, R-Round Rock: $266,889 raised, $537,561 cash on hand
Mary Jennings (MJ) Hegar, Democrat: $1,171,374 raised, $867,267 cash on hand
32nd Congressional District
U.S. Rep. Pete Sessions, R-Dallas: $695,816 raised, $1,873,742 cash on hand
Colin Allred, Democrat: $1,088,036 raised, $942,639 cash on hand
Source: Federal Election Commission