by Jonathan Singer, Wed Apr 02, 2008 at 08:06:02 AM EDT
Reading The Politico last night, this really jumped out at me:
Businessman Michael Skelly is positioned to be at the top of the Democratic fundraising list for the year's first quarter, according to a Democratic operative, raising about $750,000 from individual donors without even tapping into his substantial personal wealth. Another Democratic operative said it could be the "best first quarter ever" for any House Democrat in his first filing period.
By contrast, [the incumbent Republican Congressman John] Culberson reported only $82,200 in his campaign account in mid-February but claims to have worked over the past month to quickly refill his coffers. Culberson estimated he raised $250,000 in the past 45 days -- largely in response to Skelly's strong early fundraising and his ability to self-fund. [emphasis added]
Raising $750,000 in a quarter without a personal check is what a decent candidate for the Senate in a smallish-medium state does, not what a Democratic candidate in a very red district does. I was really floored by the numbers and started calling and emailing around. This is what I found out from folks in Texas, as well as Oregon Democratic Congressman Earl Blumenauer:
Texas 7 would be a fun district to play in, let alone to win in -- it was once held by George Herbert Walker Bush and has been in Republican hands ever since. Looking at the topline demographics from the district, one might come away with the conclusion that there's no way a Democrat, Skelly or someone else, could win. According to the Cook Partisan Voting Index, the district tends to lean about 16 points more Republican than the nation as a whole in presidential elections. However, those numbers were weighed against elections in which a Texan, George Walker Bush, headed the GOP ticket, so that number might be a bit lower in reality. Indeed, last fall Culberson won with 59 percent of the vote -- not bad, but not overwhelmingly great, either. The Politico adds a bit more on the demographics:
Texas Democrats point to a state legislative race within the district, where a Democratic state legislator unseated a two-term Republican by 10 points. And they are encouraged by the roughly 88,000 districtwide Democrats (out of 410,000 registered voters) who participated in the Democratic presidential primary in March, with one Democratic operative calling the voter information a "gold mine."
Via Texas über-blogger Charles Kuffner also comes a bit of internal polling (.pdf) from the Skelly team. Skelly, who was largely unknown at the time the poll was taken in January, trailed only 52 percent to 33 percent in a named head-to-head against Culberson. The incumbent's favorable rating stood at just 32 percent, while his approval and re-elect numbers, at 46 percent and 44 percent respectively, weren't much better. The survey also found that the current President's disapproval rating stood at 54 percent in the district.
Taking one more step back, I'd like to pass on some thoughts from my old boss Congressman Earl Blumenauer, who has been keeping an eye on this race and whom I spoke with about Skelly this morning. Blumenauer calls this "one of those intriguing districts," one "that the Republicans can't afford to throw a lot of resources to." While Culberson has "ruffled lots of feathers back home" by "hewing the Tom DeLay line," Skelly is a really attractive candidate. As an entrepreneur, Skelly became a real innovator in the area of wind energy, a sector of the economy that is bringing a lot of growth to the state of Texas. What's more, Skelly isn't yet drawing a whole lot of institutional support, so the remarkable fundraising numbers that he has been posting truly reflect "grassroots support," according to Blumenauer.
I don't think anyone should kid themselves: This is a tough district for the Democrats. Nevertheless, the Democrats already hold one district in the state that's even more red that the 7th (Texas 17, which is home to George W. Bush, is represented by Democrat Chet Edwards), and the nearly neighboring 22nd district now represented by Democrat Nick Lampson (and formerly represented by Tom DeLay) is nearly as Republican-leaning as Culberson's. And with a candidate as strong as Skelly, who knows, maybe this one could jump out of nowhere, a la the race against Richard Pombo last year, and cause real headaches for the GOP.