Our ongoing look at straight-ticket voting trends in competitive or potentially competitive districts today explores HD27 in Fort Bend Co. The district covers most of Missouri City, Stafford and the Fort Bend Co. portion of Houston, plus portions of Arcola, Pearland and Sugar Land. The ethnically diverse district has no majority group. African-Americans comprise 43% of the voting-age population, making them its largest voting bloc.
Because of the demographics, we would not normally classify HD27 as even “potentially competitive,” but extenuating circumstances compelled us to peer into the numbers.
Rep. Ron Reynolds (D-Missouri City) is seeking re-election to a fourth term while appealing misdemeanor convictions of barratry, seeking to reinstate his suspended law license and filing for personal bankruptcy because of a half million-dollar judgment against him stemming from a former law client accusing him of keeping her share of a settlement. He has maintained his innocence throughout.
Negative publicity from these events brought the House Democratic Whip three African-American primary challengers. Reynolds was forced into a runoff – ordinarily a dangerous place for an incumbent – that he won with nearly 60% of the vote.
He faces Richmond attorney and former Fort Bend ISD trustee Ken Bryant, also an African-American, in the general election. No other candidates are in the race. Democratic primary voters already stayed with Reynolds, and so it is highly likely that general election voters – more than a majority of which cast Democratic straight-ticket ballots – will return Reynolds to Austin. He has easily dispatched general election challengers in 2012 with 70% of the vote and two years ago with 67% of the vote.
Bryant unsuccessfully sought the seat in 2006, losing to then-Rep. Dora Olivo (D-Rosenberg), 61%-39%. This time, he is running in a presidential year, when Democratic turnout is considerably higher. In 2006, all Democratic candidates running in the precincts currently comprising HD27 had a roughly 7,300-vote advantage in straight-ticket voting. In the last two presidential elections, that advantage has hovered around 20K.
Estimates of the number of straight-ticket and full-ballot votes cast in the 2008 presidential election and the actual number of those votes in the 2012 presidential election in the precincts currently comprising HD114 are shown below. Data from prior to 2006 were not available.
- Straight Republican – 11,200 33% 33%
- Straight Democratic – 31,400 93% 93%
- Full Ballot – 18,000 53% 53%
Democratic Advantage: ~20,200 votes
- Straight Republican – 14,455 43% 43%
- Straight Democratic – 33,755 100% 100%
- Full Ballot – 13,546 40% 40%
Democratic Advantage: 19,300 votes
African-Americans make up 75% or more of the voting-age population in 11 of the district’s precincts and a majority in six others. In 2012, nearly 80% of the voters in those precincts cast a Democratic straight-ticket vote, and Democrats’ advantage in those 17 precincts was 17,418 votes, or 90% of their overall straight-ticket voting advantage in the district. Reynolds received 94% of the vote in those precincts running against an Anglo challenger.
Although Bryant is African-American, the district’s voters have historically shown no additional favor to African-American Republican candidates. In 2008, a pair of African-Americans were running for re-election to statewide office. Railroad Comm. Michael Williams received 0.09% more of the vote than presidential candidate John McCain. Chief Justice Wallace Jefferson fared slightly better, receiving 1.24% more of the vote than McCain.
Nearly 30% more people cast a Republican straight-ticket vote in 2012 than in 2008, but such voters represent less than a quarter of all votes cast.
What about full-ballot voters, who made up 22% of the 2012 electorate in HD27? Reynolds received 70% of their vote in 2012, and Barack Obama received 67%. Of course, if a majority of voters cast Democratic straight-ticket votes, then there is no mathematical path to victory for any Republican. Voters can of course override their straight-ticket vote for individual races, but few do so.
Bryant has reported no contributions, and his only expenditure is his filing fee. As far as we can tell, his campaign has no website or online presence. He won a single race for Fort Bend ISD trustee in 2004 and lost his re-election bid three years later. As far as we can tell, has not sought office since.
Reynolds’s greatest political challenge in 2016 is behind him. Whatever challenges lie ahead, getting re-elected isn’t going to be one of them.