Today we continue our exploration of districts that may be in play in the general election by looking at the contribution totals of the candidates as of their July semiannual (state) and July quarterly (federal) campaign finance reports.

Since 2004, 62 Texas legislative and congressional seats have flipped from one major party to the other during the general election under circumstances analogous to this year’s general election. In this analysis, we are excluding seats that flipped purely because of redistricting, seats that were not seriously contested by both major parties or flips delivered by an incumbent’s switch to the other party.*

Challengers took down incumbents for 53 of these flips (85%). The other nine were open-seat races (15%). For purposes of this analysis, we consider the candidate of the party not holding the seat to be a “challenger.”

Money matters in close races for flippable seats. Just four challengers raising less than 44% the amount raised by the incumbent or nominee of the party holding the seat have managed to flip seats since 2004.

One of those challenges, David McQuade Leibowitz’s ouster of then-Rep. Ken Mercer (R-San Antonio) in 2004, was largely self-funded. Leibowitz raised $152K, less than a third the amount Mercer raised, but he outspent the incumbent, $743K to $394K. The other three were true upsets, at least based on financial disadvantage:

  • Hubert Vo over then-Rep. Talmadge Heflin (R-Houston) in 2004
  • Blake Farenthold over then-U.S. Rep. Solomon Ortiz (R-Corpus Christi) in 2010; and
  • Gilbert Peña over then-Rep. Mary Ann Perez (D-Houston) in 2014.

Those challengers raised 23%, 36% and 14% of the amount raised by their respective opponents during the two-year election cycle.

Only two others – John Otto in 2004 and Jason Isaac in 2010 – were able to flip a seat by raising less half what their incumbent opponents raised. The other 56 challengers who flipped a seat raised at least half as much as the incumbent or candidate they defeated. Half of those actually out-raised their opponent.

These historical figures are based on the total amount the candidates raised for their respective two-year election cycles, so they include contributions received between July 1 and December 31 of their relevant election years. Obviously, this year’s candidates still have that six-month period to go, and we won’t see updated numbers until October. Therefore, today’s exploration of potentially flippable seats looks at the total contributions raised by the general election candidates through the first three quarters of the election cycle: January 1, 2017 through June 30, 2018.

Interestingly, about half of the districts we’ve seen in our past two explorations of districts that may be in play (bluer than state as a whole, 2016 presidential vote) are not on this list, and half of the districts on this list do not appear on either of those lists. This suggests either a disconnect between money and opportunity, or an expansion of opportunity where history suggests it does not exist. Of course, it could also simply be the result of a number of candidates, particularly legislative incumbents, not yet entering “general election mode” yet.

So far this election cycle, five Democratic general election challengers have out-raised their Republican opponents:

  • HD115: Julie Johnson with $467K, 287% more than Rep. Matt Rinaldi’s $162K
  • CD31: M.J. Hegar with $1.61M, 159% more than U.S. Rep. John Carter’s $1.01M
  • CD21 open: Joseph Kopser with $1.37M, 147% more than Chip Roy’s $935K
  • CD7: Lizzie Pannill Fletcher with $2.31M, 139% more than U.S. Rep. John Culberson’s $1.67M
  • CD6 open: Jana Lynne Sanchez with $358K, 114% more than Ron Wright’s $313K

Several other Democrats who lost primary and runoff races also out-raised the Republicans, but those candidates are no longer in play.

SInce 2002, 22 of the 34 challengers to flip a seat raised between 65% and 99% of the amount raised by their opponents. Nine Democratic challengers are in that range relative to their opponents so far this election cycle:

  • HD70: Julie Luton with $31K, 92% as much as Rep. Scott Sanford’s $34K
  • CD23: Gina Ortiz Jones with $1.85M, 88% as much as U.S. Rep. Will Hurd’s $2.10M
  • CD2 open: Todd Litton with $834K, 88% as much as Dan Crenshaw’s $949K
  • HD136: John Bucy with $133K, 84% as much as Rep. Tony Dale’s $158K
  • HD114 open: John Turner with $444K, 82% as much as Lisa Luby Ryan’s $542K
  • SD10: Beverly Powell with $501K, 75% as much as Sen. Konni Burton’s $670K
  • HD129: Alex Karjeker with $60K, 72% as much as Rep. Dennis Paul’s $84K
  • CD32: Colin Allred with $1.85M, 67% as much as U.S. Rep. Pete Sessions’s $2.77M
  • HD15 open: Lorena McGill with $110K, 66% as much as former Rep. Steve Toth’s $167K.

For the first time in our looks at potentially flippable districts**, a Democrat-held district meets the criteria we are using to evaluate Republcan-held districts: HD107, held by Rep. Victoria Neave (D-Dallas). Republican challenger Deanna Metzger has raised 64% of the amount raised so far by Neave.

Half of the remaining 12 seats flipped since 2002 were won by challengers who raised at least half as much as their Republican opponents, but less than 65%:

  • SD16: Nathan Johnson with $592K, 63% as much as Sen. Don Huffines’s $942K
  • HD52 open: James Talarico with $193K, 60% as much as Cynthia Flores’s $324K
  • HD138: Adam Milasincic with $121K, 59% as much as Rep. Dwayne Bohac’s $205K
  • CD36: Dayna Steele with $510K, 57% as much as U.S. Rep. Brian Babin’s $892K
  • HD112: Brandy Chambers with $96K, 51% as much as Rep. Angie Chen Button’s $188K.

Another 13 Democrats and one independent, Neal Katz in HD6, have raised between 25% and 50% of the amount raised by their Republican opponents. This group includes several seats that have appeared in our other two analyses of seats potentially in play:

  • HD45 open: Erin Zwiener with $56K, 41% as much as Ken Strange’s $137K
  • HD108: Joanna Cattanach with $110K, 33% as much as Rep. Morgan Meyer’s $337K; and
  • HD47: Vikki Goodwin with $138K, 27% as much as Rep. Paul Workman’s $509K.

Of the various factors we are exploring in this series, money raised by the candidates is the only one that can change between now and the election. We expect many of the races listed here, plus the ones leading our previous analyses, to attract the most money going forward. As the candidates raise money, the percentage difference between them will change, and some races on this list today will fall off and others will enter.

As a hypothetical example, assume the two candidate in HD47 each raise $500K during the last half of 2018. If that happened, Goodwin would end up raising $638K to Workman’s $1.10M, which works out to 63%, enough to put the race in the third group above.

We will revisit this look at seats potentially in play after the candidates’ file their next campaign finance reports.

* Examples of flipped seats ignored by this analysis:

  • CD25 flipped from Democrat to Republican in 2012 after redistricting dramatically shifted its makeup. The incumbent, U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-Austin), ran in a newly drawn district and won, while his old district number was won by Roger Williams (R-Austin).
  • CD23 flipped from Republican to Democrat in 2006 after special elections were ordered when several districts were struck down by a federal court. Ciro Rodriguez (D-San Antonio) ousted U.S. Rep. Henry Bonilla (R-San Antonio) in a special runoff election.
  • SD18 flipped from Democrat to Republican in 2004 following the retirement of former Sen. Ken Armbrister (D-Victoria). No Democrat sought the seat.
  • HD120 flipped from Independent to Democrat in 2016 as general election voters undid then-Rep. Laura Thompson’s (I-San Antonio) historic triumph in a low-turnout special election. No Republican sought the seat; and
  • HD106 flipped from Republican to Democrat in 2008, and HD43 flipped from Democrat to Republican in 2012, because the incumbents switched parties during their terms, and they held on to their seats.

** We found no Democrat-held districts that were redder than the state as whole or where Trump defeated Clinton. Neave’s district (HD107) is the least blue district currently held by a Democrat but was still 8% bluer than the state as a whole in 2016, and it is the Democrat-held district where Trump came closest to Clinton, losing by 9 points.

©2018 Texas Election Source LLC