With the Texas House at Play in 2020 Elections, Dallas-Fort Worth Candidates Draw Big Money

AUSTIN --- Next year’s battle for the Texas House may be won or lost in Dallas-Fort Worth and both sides are pouring large amounts of money into the area, with four of the top five fundraisers for the first half of this year coming out of North Texas. Those numbers show that while Democrats are gunning to take the House for the first time since 2003 in next year’s election, Republicans are doing everything in their power to defend their majority and maintain their two decades of political dominance in the state. “There is an understanding that 2018 showed an unrecognizable Texas from the Republican perspective,” said Cal Jillson, a political science professor at Southern Methodist University. “Republicans are now riveted and doing what they need to do to beat back what will be an impassioned Democratic challenge in 2020.”To do that, Republicans plan on winning back races they considered flukes during a year in which Senate candidate Beto O’Rourke’s popularity at the top of the ticket and President Donald Trump’s unpopularity led to significant tailwinds for down-ballot Democrats. The Dallas-Fort Worth area will be a key battleground in that fight. Seventeen House races were won by 10% of the votes or less in the last election. Twelve of those were in the Metroplex.Those results are motivating some Republican incumbents to start fundraising early, Jillson said. House Speaker Dennis Bonnen, in particular, is making a big push to keep GOP incumbents in power making nearly $20,000 in in-kind donations for polling to many of the most imperiled Republicans in DFW.Democrats saw the big spending as a sign that they will be extremely competitive in this election cycle.“We're seeing unprecedented energy with our state house candidates,” Cliff Walker, deputy executive director for the Texas Democratic Party said in a statement. “Republicans are going to need all of the money they can get. Texans are rejecting Trump Republicans and seeking real solutions on healthcare, wages, education, and more.”Rep. Mayes Middleton, R-Wallisville, was the top fundraiser in the House with $300,105 in contributions for the reporting period, which spanned from Jan. 1 to June 30 - though nearly all of that money came from his own pocket. The second highest fundraiser was Dallas Democrat Shawn Terry who is challenging GOP incumbent Morgan Meyer for the Park Cities-anchored district 108. He raised $235,290.Terry was followed by GOP incumbent Jeff Leach of Plano, who raised $185,579; Republican Luisa Del Rosal, who raised $160,633 for her challenge to Dallas Democrat John Turner; and his opponent, Meyer, who raised $155,595. Rep. Matt Shaheen, R-Plano, eked out a win by 400 votes in the last election. This time, he’s said he’s taking the challenge seriously and has about $200,000 on hand for his re-election campaign. Shaheen raised $34,690 in the reporting period. But those numbers reflect only what the lawmakers raised in about two weeks worth of fundraising that ended June 30. State law imposes a fundraising blackout immediately before, during and after a legislative session. That means that the fundraising numbers reported Monday give challengers an inherent advantage because incumbents are reporting only about two weeks worth of fundraising. Meyer, for example, raised nearly $80,000 less than his opponent, Terry, but raised his total in two weeks compared to Terry’s five months. That race is expected to be one of the most expensive in next year’s cycle and currently has three Democratic candidates vying to go toe-to-toe with Meyer, who is considered one of the most vulnerable incumbents because of Dallas’ shift towards Democrats in the last election. Joanna Cattanach who lost her challenge to Meyer by 200 votes last year virtually never stopped campaigning and is looking to challenge him again. She’s raised $63,565. Thomas Ervin, the third Democrat in that race, raised $41,750. Angie Chen Button, the only other Republican in Dallas County’s House delegation, raised $30,000 but has more than half a million in the bank for an expected rematch against Democrat Brandy Chambers, who came within 1,110 votes of unseating the incumbent last year. Bonnen, who recently created a PAC focused on keeping a GOP majority in the chamber, threw his weight behind the two Dallas County Republicans, who were part of his leadership team in this year’s legislative session. He gave $19,890 from his campaign for in-kind polling donations to both Meyer and Button - which accounted for 65% of Button’s donations. Still, Democrats will be concerned with lackluster fundraising numbers from Chambers, who raised less money in six months - $28,848 - than Button did in two weeks. Chambers has $32,268 in her campaign account. Republicans are also looking to the offensive, targeting traditionally GOP seats that Democrats won last election. High on the list are a Denton County district represented by Michelle Beckley, who raised $15,335 and has less than $30,000 on hand for her re-election campaign, and two Dallas County districts represented by Ana-Maria Ramos and Rhetta Bowers, who raised $7,330 and $3,615, respectively. Another top target will be North Dallas’ district 104, which Democrat John Turner won after center-right Jason Villalba was ousted in a primary by a far-right challenger, Lisa Luby Ryan. Del Rosal, the executive director of the Tower Center at Southern Methodist University, who raised $160,000 and loaned herself $10,000 for her challenge, said her strong haul in two months of campaigning shows the support in her district for a Republican candidate. “For a newcomer, it shows pretty strong support in my community,” she said. Del Rosal is getting support from longtime Republicans, including former state Sen. John Carona, who donated $3,500, and former U.S. ambassador to Mexico Antonio Garza, who donated $1,000. Turner raised $35,000 in about two weeks and has almost $209,000 on hand to defend his seat. Another Democratic flipper, Julie Johnson, who unseated conservative firebrand Matt Rinaldi in a Northwest Dallas County district, raised $78,164 in the last period and had $108,961 on hand. Republicans will also look to take back the Dallas seat held by Victoria Neave, who has won consecutive elections in what was once considered a swing district. The GOP will look to make sure Neave doesn’t solidify Democratic control of that seat, but will have to contend with the Democrat’s strong session in which she received bipartisan praise for passing legislation to end the rape kit backlog in the state. Neave raised $23,020 and had $44,759 on-hand for her re-election campaign. Republicans will also look to maintain Tarrant County as a GOP stronghold. Five of the seats targeted by Democrats are in the traditionally red county. There, too, Bonnen is making a big show of helping GOP incumbents by making the top donation to four of those targeted seats, which include Reps. Matt Krause, Bill Zedler, Tony Tinderholt and Craig Goldman, one of Bonnen’s top lieutenants. He gave each of those incumbents $19,890 in in-kind donations for polling. The fifth targeted seat in Tarrant is that of Rep. Jonathan Stickland of Bedford, who announced last month that he will not seek reelection after failing to gain 50% of the votes in 2018. Republican Jeff Cason has jumped into the race to replace Stickland but will likely face a challenge from a Democratic candidate. Cason raised a little more than $8,500 in the six days between his campaign announcement and the end of the filing period. Bonnen also threw money for polling help to other North Texas incumbents who are Democratic targets, including Leach, Shaheen and Rep. Lynn Stucky of Denton. Jillson, the political scientist, said the big sums of money showed that both sides were taking the election very seriously. “Both sides see 2020 as unpredictable and that means both for Democrats and Republicans, you just run flat out,” he said. “And then you watch the numbers come in because you’re not sure what the climate is going to be.”But he cautioned that this first semi-annual report isn’t the end-all-be-all, so candidates who are far behind should keep plugging away at their campaigns and those who are far ahead should not take their foot off the pedal. “There’s a lot of water under the bridge between now and Election Day,” he said.   Continue reading...

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