Katy educator Eliz Markowitz, the lone Democrat in the eight-person field, out-raised the Republican candidates combined, $294K to $122K, from September 27 through October 26, the period covered by the candidates’ newly filed 8-day-out reports. She is comfortably ahead in cash on hand for a prospective runoff, which she appears highly likely to make. Houston anesthesiologist Anna Allred ($66K) and Katy attorney Tricia Krenek ($55K) were the top Republican fundraisers for the period, but both were greatly outspent by Rosenberg real estate investor Gary Gates, who is self-funding his campaign.
Gates spent $555K during the period, which appears on its face to be more than the rest of the candidates combined ($511K), bringing his total spending on the race to $802K, which is also more than the rest of the rest of the candidates combined ($754K). However, Gates reported a $200K loan repayment on his 8-day-out report, reducing his campaign’s spending on itself to $355K for the period and $602K to date.
For the period, Krenek spent $205K, Markowitz spent $190K and Allred spent $104K. Gary Hale raised less than $1K and spent $12K. The reports from Sarah Laningham and Clinton Purnell were not available, but they raised less than $1K combined entering the period covered by those reports.
Overall, Markowitz ($374K) and Allred ($225K) are the leading fundraisers, followed by Krenek ($85K). Gates’s loan principal is over $1M, which has enabled him to spend the most. Markowitz’s largest contributors to date include the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee ($35K), House Democratic Campaign Committee ($25K), National Democratic Redistricting Committee ($25K), Annie’s List ($21K), Future Now Fund ($20K), American Federation of State, County & Municipal Employees PAC ($15K), John and Laura Arnold ($10K), Fair and Square PAC ($10K), Flippable ($10K) and Texans for Insurance Reform PAC ($10K).
Allred’s largest contributors to date include the American Society of Anesthesiologists PAC ($45K), U.S. Anesthesia Partners ($38K), Texas Medical Assoc. PAC ($25K), Texas Society of Anesthesiologists PAC ($25K), Texans for Lawsuit Reform PAC ($15K) and Metropolitan Anesthesia PAC ($10K). Krenek’s largest contributors to date are Associated Republicans of Texas PAC ($25K), Katy highway builder Bob Lanham ($10K), Fulshear retiree David Melanson ($10K), Texans for Lawsuit Reform PAC ($10K), Barker retiree Glen Ginter ($5K) and Katy dentist Raymond Wiggins ($5K).
Nearly 44% of Krenek’s contribution total came from district zip codes at an average donation of $727. About 8% of Markowitz’s contribution total came from district donors ($116 average, though she received multiple contributions from about three dozen donors). Just 1% of Allred’s contribution total came from district zip codes ($269 average). About 46% of Markowitz’s contribution total came from out of state, including $107K from the District of Columbia, $20K from New York and $13K from California. This is indicative of high national Democratic interest in the race, and most Democratic plans for retaking the Texas House include this district.
The race has also drawn interest from Gov. Greg Abbott (R), whose campaign is running digital ads encouraging people to vote Republican, but not for any specific Republican. It could be a signal that Republican strategists are concerned that Markowitz, by being the lone Democrat in the race, could win it outright. The district is growing ever friendlier to Democrats but remains a Republican leaning district during general elections. Special elections are not general elections, and the electorate is more unpredictable.
The precincts currently comprising HD28 have evolved significantly since 2002, when they were 14 points redder than the state as a whole and the average statewide Democratic candidate received just 28% of the vote (measured head-to-head against the Republican). In 2016, the district’s precincts were just 2 points redder than the state as a whole, and the average statewide Democrat topped 40%. Two years later, the average statewide Democrat topped 45% – more than 15 percentage points better than in 2014 – and the district was less than a percent redder than the state.
U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz defeated U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke by 3 points in the district two years ago, a significantly narrower margin than Donald Trump’s 10-point margin in 2016 and well behind Mitt Romney’s 29-point win over President Obama in 2012 and Cruz’s 30-point win over former Rep. Paul Sadler (D-Henderson) in 2012.
These numbers provide strong evidence that Markowitz should make the runoff, likely as the clubhouse leader. The race, then, is among the Republicans to see who will face Markowitz in the runoff election. That race appears to be between Allred, Gates and Krenek. If Markowitz gets at least 40%, then 20% may be all it takes to meet her in the runoff. If the electorate breaks more Republican than in a general election, then the threshold could rise to 30%. It’s likely that the three top Republicans will split most of the Republican vote with the other three candidates pulling in mid- to upper-single digits collectively. A couple hundred votes may be the difference between a runoff and a decision about whether to try again in the 2020 primary.
Krenek has been endorsed by Associated Republicans of Texas PAC, Texas Right to Life PAC and Greater Houston Builders Assoc. HOME-PAC. Her website lists dozens of local endorsements including Rosenberg Mayor Bill Benton and Fort Bend Co. Clerk Laura Richard (R). The Allred and Gates campaigns’ websites do not list endorsements. Texans for Lawsuit Reform PAC has contributed to both Allred and Krenek but has not endorsed either candidate. Krenek thus appears to have the most local support, evidenced by the larger share of contributions coming from district zip codes and her publicly listed endorsements. In a smaller turnout election – which this likely is – those personal touches from local supporters could be advantageous. Allred and Gates may also have strong local support, but it has not been as widely or publicly trumpeted.
On Facebook, Gates said before early voting began that he had knocked on more than 6K doors in the district. This is Gates’s third race for HD28, although it was configured differently for his prior two campaigns. He lost the 2002 Republican runoff (42%) and 2004 Republican primary (39%) to Glenn Hegar Jr., the current comptroller. He lost to Hegar again in a 2006 Republican primary for open SD18. In 2014, he received 34% of the vote in a special election for open SD18, which was won by outright by then-Rep. Lois Kolkhorst (R-Brenham). He narrowly lost the 2016 Republican runoff for RRC to former Rep. Wayne Christian (R-Center) with 49% of the vote statewide. That history plus his significant personal spending on the race could make him the most well-known of the three top Republican contenders. Whether that translates into enough votes to make the runoff remains to be seen.
Allred has raised the most money from individuals and PACs, but nearly all of it is from out of the district. She has not supplemented her campaign contributions with personal cash – Her loan principal is $20K – at the same capacity as Gates ($1.1M loan principal) and Krenek ($210K loan principal). Allred has not publicly shown the same level of local support in the form of endorsements as Krenek. These may not be disadvantages in a low-turnout race, but they are indicators of a bit of a headwind as Election Day nears.
Through Monday, nearly 7K people had voted in person in HD28, and nearly 1K more had returned mail ballots, putting turnout through the first eight days of early voting above 10%. About 80% of the returned mail ballots are from precincts won by former Rep. John Zerwas (R-Richmond) in 2018, but it’s an awfully small sample size for drawing any conclusions.
There is of course a possibility that two Republicans could leapfrog Markowitz and make the runoff, but this seems an order of magnitude less likely than the opposite scenario: Markowitz winning outright.
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