We have been exploring seats potentially in play by looking at specific metrics defining not only how a district voted in the most recent election but also how those voting patterns have changed over time. We also looked at fundraising totals and their historic impact on flappable seats. Today, we put all of these metrics together.
Fifty-five legislative and congressional seats currently held by a Republican appeared on at least one of the lists of districts we created for each metric. Some only appeared on one or two, while others consistently appeared on list after list. In this analysis, we ranked districts in each of nine metrics, then totaled up those ranks to arrive at a rough, but telling, ranking of each district’s potential to flip.
Ranking the Vulnerability of Districts to Flipping Based on Several Metrics
* See below for an explanation of each metric.
Four Dallas Co. districts top the list, and two more appear in the top ten. HD115, currently held by Rep. Matt Rinaldi (R-Irving), appeared in the top seven of every metric except one, and it appears at the top of this list. Relative to the state, it is the fourth bluest district represented by a Republican in Texas, and it shifted toward the Democrats more than any other district save one (Rep. Tony Dale’s HD136) between 2002 and 2014. No district experienced a greater relative shift in straight-party voting advantage between 2012 and 2016, and only three districts saw a greater relative decline in straight-party Republican voting. Rinaldi’s opponent, Addison attorney Julie Johnson, has out-raised him nearly 3-to-2, the third highest fundraising ratio seen in these 55 districts this cycle.
HD102, held by Rep. Linda Koop (R-Dallas); HD114 open, for which Lisa Luby Ryan (R) is the nominee after she ousted Rep. Jason Villalba (R-Dallas) in the primary; and SD16, held by Sen. Don Huffines (R-Dallas) come in second, third and fourth, respectively. These districts placed in the top seven in supporting Clinton and in straight-party Republican defections. HD105, held by Rep. Rodney Anderson (R-Grand Prairie), ranks sixth overall, and CD32, held by U.S. Rep. Pete Sessions (R-Dallas) is tied for ninth with CD23, held by U.S. Rep. Will Hurd (R-San Antonio).
The remaining top 10 districts are CD7, held by U.S. Rep. John Culberson (R-Houston), in fifth; HD134, held by Rep. Sarah Davis (R-Houston), in seventh; and HD138, held by Rep. Dwayne Bohac (R-Houston), in eighth. Anderson’s district is the bluest, relative to the state, held by a Republican, and he won it in 2016 despite facing a deficit in straight-party voting. Clinton’s percentage in HD134 was the highest of any Republican-held district in the state. Bohac’s district experienced the third highest relative blue-ward shift in straight-party voting advantage of any Republican-held district.
This ranking system isn’t scientific, and it isn’t necessarily how we might ultimately rank the districts. This ranking gives equal weight to each metric, regardless of its actual contribution toward a district’s flipping, and equal interval to each district within a metric, regardless of the actual gap between them. Yet, this simple rank-ordering of districts by metric provides a way of pulling together disparate, and sometimes contradictory, trends and data points to provide a glimpse into the relative vulnerabilities of the districts.
Probably the most surprising result is how little relation campaign finance has to the other trends. M.J. Hegar, who is challenging U.S. Rep. John Carter (R-Round Rock) in CD31, has out-raised the incumbent by a higher percentage than any other Democratic challenger, including open seat candidates seeking Republican-held seats, yet the district ranks 41st out of the 55 seats analyzed here. Joseph Kopser, the Democrat vying for Republican-held CD21 open, ranks 4th in relative fundraising, but other trends in the district gave it an overall rank of 30. Meanwhile, four Democratic challengers in the top 10 districts rank no higher than 29th in relative fundraising, and a fifth ranks 18th.
This suggests money is not always following opportunity and may instead be chasing dreams. That’s not to say that Hegar will not flip CD31 or Kopser will not flip CD21. However, based on other electoral and demographic trends, Terry Meza has a much better chance of flipping HD105 than Hegar in CD31 or Kopser in CD21, but Meza has only been able to raise a quarter of the amount raised by the incumbent. Nationally, Democrats are pondering this same dilemma as U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-El Paso) shatters fundraising records but remains 6-9 points behind U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R) in the credible polls.
Even if Hegar or Kosper, or O’Rourke for that matter, does not win, that does not mean that their fundraising success was for naught. If Hegar is able to move the needle in CD31, even if she cannot move it far enough, it may be enough to boost John Bucy, who is challenging Dale in HD136 (ranked 8th in this list), and James Talarico, who is running for open HD52 (ranked 17th on this list). If O’Rourke inspires younger voters to turn out in record (for a mid-term, anyway) numbers, then it may benefit Democratic challengers down the ballot even if Cruz is re-elected by mid- to upper single digits.
Obviously, there are no Democrat-held districts on this list. As we have pointed out throughout this election cycle, there just aren’t that many possibilities for Republicans to add to their majorities in either legislative chamber or in Congress. Trump carried no Democrat-held districts. While several Democrat-held districts experienced straight-party voting shifts toward the Republicans, most of these are African-American majority districts where participation declined because Barack Obama was no longer on the ballot. In these districts, Democrats retain large, often overwhelming, advantages.
Republicans have already converted their best opportunity in 2018: the SD19 special election. Sen. Pete Flores’s (R-Pleasanton) victory gives Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick a 21-10 supermajority caucus. The three Democrat-held Senate seats on the ballot in November are all safe.
In the House, Republicans’ best shots are districts they have held at some point in the last two years:
- HD107, held by Rep. Victoria Neave (D-Dallas)
- HD117, held by Rep. Philip Cortez (D-San Antonio)
- HD118 open, where Leo Pacheco ousted Rep. Tomas Uresti (D-San Antonio) in the Democratic primary; and
- HD144, held by Rep. Mary Ann Perez (D-Houston).
Deanna Metzger, the Republican challenger in HD107, is the best funded of the group. She has raised 65% as much as Neave so far this election cycle, which would have ranked 16th in our relative contribution metric had the parties been reversed. Michael Berlanga and former Rep. John Lujan (R-San Antonio), the challengers in HD117 and HD118, have raised less than $10K combined, and Ruben Villarreal, the challenger in HD144, has been out-raised by more than $170K. Those three districts experienced very low turnout in 2014, which contributed to two of them flipping to the Republicans that year. HD118 flipped in an extremely low-turnout 2016 special election.
In Congress, the Republicans challenging Democratic incumbents have raised $173K combined, half of which has been raised by Phillip Aronoff, who is challenging Sen. Sylvia Garcia (D-Houston) for open CD29. That district is 29 points bluer than the state as a whole and trending slightly bluer.
The only metric we may re-examine is relative contributions, because the candidates have one more campaign finance report to file before Election Day. Federal candidates’ pre-general reports are due October 25, and state candidates’ 8-day-out reports are due October 29. Big bets placed in the last few weeks will not affect the overall rankings in this analysis, but they may lift candidates like Meza in HD105 closer to the ratio needed to be truly competitive.
We will release our final race ratings after those reports are filed, and we will issue our race predictions sometime during the final week of early voting.
Explanation of Metrics
Our ranking is scored like golf. Lower numbers indicate a higher ranking.
“Rel. to Texas” is a measure of how much redder or bluer a district was relative to the state in 2016. For example, HD105 was 8.8% bluer than the state as a whole, ranking 1st among these 55 districts. Districts on the list that are redder than the state as a whole ranked near the bottom.
“Midterm Shift” compares how much redder or bluer a district was relative to the state in 2014 to the same precincts in 2002. HD136 went from being 9.7% redder than the state as a whole in 2002 to 4.7% bluer than the state in 2014, a shift of 14.4 percentage points, earning it the top rank. Lower-ranked districts shifted less.
“Clinton %” is the percent of the vote received by 2016 Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton in the district. In HD134, Clinton received 54.7% of the vote, highest of any Republican-held district, so it ranks first. She received a lower share of the vote in lower-ranked districts.
“S-P Shift” measures the shift in straight-party voting advantage between 2012 and 2016. In HD115, Republicans enjoyed a 5,471-vote advantage in straight-party voting. In 2016, Democrats had a 1,835-vote advantage. Straight-party advantage shifted toward the Democrats by 7,306 votes, equivalent to 12.4% of votes cast in 2016, highest of any Republican-held district. To account for differences in size between House, Senate and Congressional districts and different turnout rates, we measured the shift as a percentage of votes cast in 2016.
“Straight R Delta” measures the change in straight-party Republican votes between 2012 and 2016. In HD121, voters cast 4,573 fewer straight-party Republican votes in 2016 than in 2012, which was equal to 5.9% of all votes cast in 2016, earning the district a first-place ranking. Lower-ranked districts saw either a smaller relative decline or an increase in straight-party Republican votes.
“Full-ballot %” is the percent of votes cast in 2016 by full-ballot voters, which are defined as voters who do not cast straight-party votes. It is included here because a higher percent of full-ballot voters indicates a greater pool of “independent” voters who may be willing to choose a Democrat than in districts with higher proportions of straight-party voting. Lower-ranked districts have higher percentages of straight-party voting.
“F-B Needed” is an estimate of the full-ballot vote needed by a Democratic candidate either to protect a straight-party vote advantage or to overcome a straight-party vote disadvantage. We calculated this estimate by applying the straight-party vote shift of “S-P Shift” to the 2014 actual straight-party advantage. For CD23, this calculation determined that Gina Ortiz Jones would need 48% of the full-ballot vote to prevail, which was the lowest such percentage in these districts. In lower-ranked districts, the Democratic candidates would need a higher percentage of the vote.
“Fundraising” is the ratio of the challenger’s total contributions from January 1, 2017 to September 27, 2018 (for state candidates) or September 30, 2018 (for federal candidates) to the incumbent’s total contributions. Hegar raised 214.7% as much as Carter, earning a first-place rank. Lower-ranked districts had challengers with smaller percentages.
“Non-Anglo” is the percent of the voting-age population, as of the 2010 census, comprised of races other than Anglo. The higher the ranking, the higher the percent of the non-Anglo population.
“TOTAL” is the sum of the individual metric ranks.
“RANK” is the ranking of the district based on the TOTAL of the individual ranks.
©2018 Texas Election Source LLC