October 28, 2020

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Spending in Texas’ 12 most competitive U.S. House races has increased 250% from 2016

WASHINGTON – More than $65 million has already been spent in Texas’ most competitive U.S. House races, as a surge in Democratic enthusiasm in the Lone Star State has spurred unprecedented investment at the congressional level.

The barrage of campaign spending isn’t finished, either, as Republicans and Democrats in those 12 targeted districts collectively reported $27.1 million on hand at the end of last month.

Those staggering totals – revealed in third-quarter campaign finance disclosures made public on Thursday – underscore yet again how traditional Republican strongholds in Texas’ suburbs have shifted to the point where Democrats can now mount credible, well-funded challenges.

“It’s an indication that Texas is indeed a battleground,” said Brendan Steinhauser, a Austin-based GOP consultant who’s worked on several congressional campaigns over the years.

By any measure, the crush of congressional campaign cash in Texas is immense.

In Texas’12 most-active U.S. House races, the cash on hand totals at this juncture in the cycle, just a few weeks out from Election Day, is nearly double what it was four years ago. The spending is some 2 ½ times larger. The $89.4 million in fundraising is nearly triple.

While candidates in both parties are raising and spending money at once-unimaginable rates, the trend is most startling on the Democratic side.

Consider that at this point in 2016, the Democratic candidates in those dozen congressional races had collectively brought in just under $2 million. This year, the Democratic contenders in nine of those districts have surpassed that total on their own – and, in some cases, by a lot.

It remains to be seen if those dizzying dollar sums translate to the ballot box, thought it’s notable that Democrats outraised Republicans in the third quarter in 10 of those 12 races.

But even if Democrats don’t win most of those races — or even many of them — the massive surge of spending is likely to reverberate through Texas’ political landscape, in part because those funds are going toward voter outreach in places that may not have seen it in decades.

“These congressional races are turning into statewide get-out-the-vote efforts,” said former state Rep. Domingo Garcia, a Dallas Democrat who serves as national president of the League of United Latin American Citizens.

Texas’ transformation at the congressional level has become clear over the last four years.

That time frame coincides with President Donald Trump’s tenure in the White House. But even though the Republican has upturned the political scene – enthralling his supporters and horrifying his critics – this evolution is not a simple case of presidential cause and effect.

The geography is significant.

While Texas’ rural swaths remain deeply conservative and urban centers like Dallas remain stalwart Democratic turf, the Lone Star State’s suburbs are undergoing significant growth and change, both in terms of demographics and politics.

Take the five hotly-contested House races in North Texas.

Rep. Colin Allred, D-Dallas, is facing Republican Genevieve Collins in the Dallas suburbs. Republican Beth Van Duyne and Democrat Candace Valenzuela are battling in the suburbs between Dallas and Fort Worth. Rep. Van Taylor, R-Plano, is fending off Democrat Lulu Seikaly in the Collin County suburbs. Rep. Ron Wright, R-Arlington, is squaring off against Democrat Stephen Daniels in a suburban-rural district. And Rep. Roger Williams, R-Austin, is competing against Democrat Julie Oliver in a district stretching out from the Fort Worth suburbs.

All of those areas were once so solidly Republican, the November elections there were snooze-inducing affairs that featured little fundraising and campaigning. Even just four years ago, Democrats didn’t field a candidate in the district now represented by Allred.

“It really does feel like the Texas we came to know from the 1990s through the 20-teens doesn’t necessarily exist anymore,” said Nancy Beck Young, chairwoman of the University of Houston history department and a scholar of Texas politics.

Money helps outline the new political map.

The first burst of campaign cash came two years ago, when Democrats flipped two U.S. House seats in Texas as their party won back that chamber. Some Republicans were caught flat-footed by the surge, which saw Democrats erase longstanding fundraising disadvantages.

In the third quarter of 2018, for instance, Democrats in Texas’ 12 most-competitive districts nearly doubled their Republican foes in fundraising.

Nearly all of those conservatives hung on, though all 12 races were decided by 10 points or less. A couple of incumbent Republicans decided to retire this time around. The rest buckled down for the even stiffer challenge that’s played out this election cycle.

“There was a lot of shock and consternation,” Steinhauser said. “From election night and from the day after, the work was starting to prepare for 2020.”

So far, GOPers in those districts have raised $46.8 million and spent $34.6 million. Democrats have raised $42.6 million and spent $30.4 million. Four years ago, Republicans had raised $17.9 million and spent $16.7 million. Democrats had raised $2 million and spent $1.5 million.

The fact that such sums are now required to stay competitive is the ultimate tell.

Indeed, the financial windfalls blowing into Texas have played a role in causing many political handicappers to expand the state’s battleground map beyond an initial group of eight competitive U.S. House races to the full set of 12 that’s now seeing intense activity.

The fact that Democrats, in this year’s third quarter, outraised their GOP rivals in 10 of those races is becoming something a trend. (That tally includes the Allred-Collins battle, in which the Democrat brought in more donations, when considering the $795,000 the Republican loaned her campaign.)

“It’s crazy money,” said Bill Miller, an Austin-based GOP consultant.

Candidates in both parties now have lots of cash to burn. They will have no trouble spending it.

Nearly all of the competitive U.S. House races in Texas are clustered around the state’s major media markets, meaning that it costs lots of money to get TV ads up on air. Both Republicans and Democrats have already started their TV ad blitzes, which are expected to continue.

But the heaping war chests – which have accumulated even amid an economic downtown caused by the coronavirus pandemic – will likely mean more than just time on the tube.

One of the real advantages of a well-funded campaign, experts said, is being able to target the right message to the right voters, as opposed to having to rely more on a one-size-fits-all approach. That’s particularly important as the number of undecided voters starts to shrink.

“You can reach your voters, get your vote out and get your message out,” Garcia said.

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