The general election is eight weeks away, and early voting begins six weeks from today.

Traditionally, we have rated contested elections on a 5-star scale, which one star indicating a very low-interest race with no chance of flipping and five stars indicating a high-interest race with a relatively high likelihood of flipping. Our Crib Sheets still reflect these ratings. In this analysis, we use the more frequently employed seven-point scale that divides seats into strong, likely, leaning and toss up categories.

Of the 215 federal, statewide and legislative seats on the ballot, we rate 156 as either strong Republican (92) or strong Democrat (64). Of those, 16 Republican and 30 Democratic candidates are unopposed, which is lower than in a typical election year. We rate 33 Republican and 3 Democrat-held seats as “likely” to remain with their respective parties. That leaves 22 seats we rate as either “leaning” (13 Republican, 2 Democratic) or “toss up” (7 Republican) on the general election ballot. We also rate next week’s SD19 special runoff election as “toss up.”

Today we look at state and legislative races. Tomorrow, we will look at the U.S. Senate and congressional races.

Statewide Races

Aside from the U.S. Senate race, we rate all other statewide races as “strong Republican” except for Attorney General and Agriculture Commission, which we rate as “likely Republican.” Atty. Gen. Ken Paxton (R) is under criminal indictment – the meandering case shows few signs of forward progress – and Comm. Sid Miller (R) has received several bouts of negative press during his term. Nonetheless, both of those races are much closer to “strong” than they are to “leaning.”

Texas Senate

The chamber’s only “toss up” race is not on the general election ballot. Early voting is underway for the September 18 special runoff election between Pleasanton retired game warden Pete Flores (R) and former Rep. and U.S. Rep. Pete Galleo (D-Alpine). The winner will serve the unexpired term of former Sen. Carlos Uresti (D-San Antonio), which expires in 2020. The district would lean Democratic if it were a general election, but Gov. Greg Abbott (R) called an emergency special election instead of waiting until November. We rate it a “toss up” because of the likely low turnout, especially from Democratic precincts in Bexar Co., and coordinated efforts by Republican leaders to turn out their vote.

We rate SD10, held by Sen. Konni Burton (R-Colleyville), and SD16, held by Sen. Don Huffines (D-Dallas), as “lean Republican.” In SD10, Beverly Powell (D) raised more than $500K as of June 30, which is about three quarters the amount raised by Burton. The district had the smallest straight-party advantage of any Republican-held seat in 2014, and Democrats closed the gap by more than half between 2012 and 2016. Former Sen. Wendy Davis (D-Fort Worth) was re-elected to the seat, as the district is currently configured, in 2012.

Relative to the state as a whole, SD16 has gotten nearly 10% more Democratic since 2002, highest of any Senate district. In 2016, the district was 3% bluer than the state, second only to Burton’s SD10. Democrat Nathan Johnson raised nearly $600K as of June 30, about 63% as much as Huffines, and more than any general election challenger facing an incumbent since Davis in 2008, as of June 30 of their respective election years. SD16 also has several overlapping hot races, including nearly two-thirds of CD32 and large swaths of HD102, HD108, HD114 and HD115.

We rate SD8 open (Angela Paxton), SD17 (Sen. Joan Huffman) and SD25 (Sen. Donna Campbell) as “likely Republican.” SD17 is the closest of these to “lean Republican.” Huffman has a greater edge in fundraising than either Burton or Huffines. The district is growing friendlier to Democrats but has much farther to go to become truly competitive. There is also less overlap of competitive races than in most other “lean” and “toss up” races. SD8 could move toward “lean” territory if Democratic down-ballot challengers show strong fundraising numbers early next month.

Texas House of Representatives

We rate seven Republican-held seats as “lean Republican,” five Republican-held seats as “toss up” and two Democrat-held seats as “lean Democratic.” Eight of these 14 seats are in Dallas Co., which we expect will be the biggest battleground of the election cycle. Three are in Harris Co., two are in Williamson Co. and one is in Travis Co.

We rate three Dallas Co. seats as “toss ups”:

  • HD105, held by Rep. Rodney Anderson (R-Grand Prairie)
  • HD114 open, where Lisa Luby Ryan (R) ousted Rep. Jason Villalba (R-Dallas) in the Republican primary; and
  • HD115, held by Rep. Matt Rinaldi (R-Irving).

Anderson and Rinaldi were among five Texas legislators to win re-election in 2016 despite facing a deficit in straight-party voting.

In 2016, HD105 was nearly 9 points more Democratic than the state as a whole, the highest percentage for any Republican-held seat. More than 3,500 more people voted straight-party Democratic in 2016 than in 2012 while the number of straight-party Republican votes fell by nearly 800. The resulting shift flipped the straight-party advantage toward the Democrats. Anderson needed 62% of the full-ballot vote to make up a 3,344-vote deficit in order to eke out Terry Meza (D) by 56 votes. She is running again this year but lags behind in fundraising.

In HD115, Rinaldi received 57% of the full-ballot vote to overcome an 1,835-vote deficit and prevail by a little over 1K votes. The precincts that comprise the district today have shifted their political views dramatically since 2002, when they were nearly 13 points redder than the state as a whole. By 2016, the district was 6 points bluer than the state as a whole, the second largest blue shift of any Republican-held district (HD136, see below). Rinaldi’s challenger, Addison attorney Julie Johnson, has out-raised Rinaldi nearly 3-to-1 for the election cycle (as of June 30). She is the only state House challenger to out-raise an incumbent in this cycle so far.

HD114 has followed a similar, though less dramatic, partisan arc as HD115, going from 7 points redder than the state in 2002 to 3.5 points bluer in 2016. Villalba outperformed other Republicans on the ticket in his district in 2016, including presidential nominee Donald Trump, who received 8,357 fewer votes than Villalba (Hillary Clinton carried HD114 with 52% of the vote.). However, Villalba is not on the ballot. Dallas attorney John Turner had a $91K advantage in cash on hand as of June 30 and, as of that time, had raised 82% of the amount raised by Ryan.

We rate HD134, held by Rep. Sarah Davis (R-Houston), and HD136, held by Rep. Tony Dale (R-Cedar Park), as “toss up” seats. Davis has proven herself adept at winning support from voters who might otherwise vote Democratic. In 2016, Davis received more votes than any other contested candidate on the ballot in the district except for Justice Eva Guzman (R) and Clinton. We estimate that around one out of every six voters cast ballots for Clinton and Davis. That alone would normally keep her off this list except for the incredible shift in straight-party voting toward the Democrats. Between 2012 and 2016, the number of straight-party Democratic votes increased 49% while straight Republican votes fell 4%. In four years, the Republican straight-party advantage dropped from nearly 12K to just 3K, the largest such swing for a Republican-held House district over that period. Whether the race remains a “toss up” will depend on the next fundraising reports. Houston oil and gas executive Allison Sawyer had raised less than 10% the amount Davis has raised through June 30, a figure well below the historical percentage below which a candidate’s chance of flipping a seat is considered viable.

In rapidly growing Williamson Co., HD136 has likewise seen a significant erosion in the Republican straight-party advantage, dropping from more than 7K in 2012 to 2K in 2016. That year, Dale’s district was the sixth bluest of any seat won by a Republican, ranking below only HD105, HD102 (which we’ll discuss in a moment), HD113 (likewise), HD115 and HD134. Dale was the highest Republican vote-getter for federal or state office on the ballot in a district Clinton won by 2.5 points and most Republicans received less than 50% of the vote. He faces Cedar Park businessman John Bucy, whom he defeated in 2014. Bucy has already raised more this year than during that entire election cycle. It’s worth noting that Libertarian candidates received an average of 7% of the vote in this district when facing a Democrat and a Republican, well above their statewide averages. There was no Libertarian candidate in 2016. This year, Libertarian Zach Parks is on the ballot.

Returning to Dallas Co., we rate four seats as “lean Republican” and one as “lean Democrat”:

  • HD102, held by Rep. Linda Koop (R-Dallas)
  • HD107, held by Rep. Victoria Neave (D-Dallas)
  • HD108, held by Rep. Morgan Meyer (R-Dallas)
  • HD112, held by Rep. Angie Chen Button (R-Garland); and
  • HD113 open, where Garland attorney Jonathan Boos (R) is seeking to hold the seat being vacated by Rep. Cindy Burkett (R-Sunnyvale).

We’ll begin by briefly touching on HD107. It is on the list because it was won by a Republican in 2014 and the freshman incumbent was arrested in June 2017 for driving while intoxicated. She faces Mesquite attorney Deanna Metzger, a conservative endorsed in the Republican primary by Empower Texans PAC, Texas Right to Life PAC and other movement conservative groups. Like several other Dallas Co. districts, it has been trending toward the Democrats over the years, shifting from 5% redder than the state as a whole in 2002 to 8% bluer in 2016. Yet, it remains one of two best pick-up hopes for Republicans.

Koop overcame a straight-ticket voting deficit to keep HD102 in 2016, when it was the second bluest district won by a Republican. Since 2002, the district’s current precincts have shifted from 10% redder than the state to 6% bluer. Like HD105, Democrats flipped the straight-party advantage in 2016, making up nearly 5K votes net against Republicans in that time. The district would have been rated a “toss up” except that Koop’s opponent, Richardson attorney Ana Maria Ramos, lags far behind in fundraising.

That HD108 is on this list is a bit remarkable. Anchored on the Park Cities, HD108 maintains the highest Republican straight-party advantage of the House districts discussed here. In 2016, that advantage was 6K votes, barely half of what it was four years earlier, yet Clinton defeated Trump by 6 points. Meyer faced only Libertarian opposition that year. Women voters could be decisive this time, and Meyer is one of 65 Republican men being challenged by a Democratic woman. University adjunct professor Joanna Cattanach raised about a third the amount Meyer had raised as of June 30.

Democrats nearly erased the Republican straight-party advantage in HD112 in 2016, chopping a nearly 5K-vote advantage to less than 500. Like many other Dallas Co. districts, HD112 is trending bluer, shifting from 7 points redder than the state in 2002 to 4 points bluer in 2016. Harder to track is Button’s performance relative to other Republicans in the district. Other than 2016, she has not faced a Democratic opponent since 2008. In that year, she received 56% to the Democrat’s 40%. In 2016, she defeated Jack Blackshear, 57%-43%. He raised just over $10K for the race. Button’s current Democratic opponent, Garland attorney and mediator Brandy Chambers, raised nearly 10 times that amount as of June 30.

As with the other Dallas Co. districts mentioned here, HD113 has also seen an erosion of Republican straight-party advantage as it shifted from 6% redder than the state as a whole in 2002 to 6% bluer in 2016. Burkett won around 70% of the vote from full-ballot voters – people who do not cast a straight-party vote – to defeat Rowlett community organizer Rhetta Bowers, 55%-45%. Burkett is not on the ballot this year, but Bowers is. She faces Garland attorney Jonathan Boos, an Empower Texans-backed conservative who lost to Burkett in the 2016 Republican primary. Bowers lags behind her 2016 fundraising pace but no longer faces an incumbent with crossover appeal.

Three other state House seats are rated as “lean Republican”:

  • HD47, held by Rep. Paul Workman (R-Austin)
  • HD52 open, where Cynthia Flores (R) is seeking to succeed former Rep. Larry Gonzales (R-Round Rock); and
  • HD138, held by Rep. Dwayne Bohac (R-Houston).

All three are slightly bluer than the state as a whole and are trending toward the Democrats. Workman’s HD47 is the lone Republican district in blue Travis Co., yet Trump carried the district by just 180 votes over Clinton. Workman’s vote total was in line with other Republicans running in the district against an opponent whom he out-raised, $682K to $24K. This year he faces Austin real estate agent Vikki Goodwin, who raised $138K as of June 30. Goodwin still trails Workman in contributions, but women voters could help overcome that gap. As far as straight-party voting goes, Republicans held a 6K-vote advantage in 2016, half of what it was in 2012.

Trump carried HD52 by 1K votes over Clinton while Republicans otherwise carried the district by around 6K votes. More than 7K more people cast straight-party Democratic votes in 2016 than in 2012, outpacing Republican growth by more than 2K votes. Flores, who Gonzales endorsed before the primary, faces Round Rock education nonprofit executive James Talarico, who had raised nearly $200K as of June 30. The district is a battleground for the competitive CD31 seat between longtime U.S. Rep. John Carter (R-Round Rock) and Round Rock nonprofit executive and former military pilot M.J. Hegar.

In HD138, Democrats cut a 7.5K-vote deficit in straight-party voting from 2012 into just a 2.5K-vote deficit in 2016. The number of straight-party Democratic voters increased 37% while the number of straight-party Republican voters fell 3%. As it is currently configured, HD138 has shifted from 13 points redder than the state in 2002 to 3 points bluer in 2016, with a significant amount of that jump occurring in the last couple of election cycles. Clinton won the district by 36 votes over Trump. Four years earlier, Mitt Romney carried the district by 20 points over President Obama. Bohac was unopposed in 2016, but now he faces Houston attorney Adam Milasincic, who raised $121K as of June 30, more than 60% the amount raised by Bohac.

Our final “lean Democratic” seat is HD144, which has changed partisan hands in every election cycle since it was drawn in 2012. Obama carried the district by 3 points in 2012, when Rep. Mary Ann Perez (D-Houston) was first elected, 52%-46%. Two years later, Greg Abbott defeated Wendy Davis by 5 points in the district, and Perez lost to Gilbert Peña by 152 votes. Turnout that year was 22%, one of the lowest in the state. Two years later, in rematch, Perez defeated Peña, 60%-40%, and Clinton carried the district by 19 points. Perez faces Ruben Villarreal, who has raised $25K as of June 30, well short of Perez’s $129K.

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