Could Houston's Present Be Texas's Future
by Matt Glazer, Mon Jun 18, 2007 at 12:25:57 PM EDT
Not often you watch a Saturday, off-cycle runoff with anticipation. This past weekend, Texas bloggers watched intently as the Houston City Council At-Large results came in.
Houston Mayor Bill White has been long rumored to be eyeing a statewide race in 2010, and growing the Democratic base and brand in his own backyard is an important part of preparing for such a run.
Clearly Melissa Noriega, State Rep. and decorated war hero Rick Noriega's wife, was interested in her own race against Republican Roy Morales. Would she be able to win a race so few thought she should run in? A loss surely ended any speculation that her husband could run for statewide office, while a victory would fuel the speculation.
As Saturday's numbers rolled in (slowly but surely) Noriega won handily. She beat Morales by over 11 points and now all eyes turned toward the future. Harris County is home to 1,782,013 voters spread throughout 875 precincts. Texas only has 12,357,887 registered voters in 254 counties or 8,306 precincts. What happens in Houston is a gage of 14% of the Texas electorate.
During the last presidential election an impressive 1,067,968 people voted in Harris County -- 55% turnout of registered voters at the time.
Not only does extending our bench to 8 out of 14 city council members in Houston matter, but Melissa Noriega winning a citywide election in such a crucial state will possibly influence both the primary and general election for another Noriega.
The news gets better in Houston. Houston City Council is now at 8 to 6 majority for Democrats, but if you include influential and ambitious Mayor Bill White and Controller Annise Parker, that means Democrats hold 10 of 16 regionally and citywide elected officials.
Now that we are done with the city elections, we are staring directly at 2008, and Houston has changed the picture.
Did Saturday act as a referendum for Team Noriega? Was it the catalyst needed to produce a primary between Mikal Watts and Rep. Rick Noriega?
The Houston race made a clear statement, the Noriega name is no longer limited to Rick Noriega's State House district. Melissa's victory has both expanded her husband's money base and created a necessary foothold into voter rich Harris County. Without a Melissa Noriega victory this past weekend, Rick Noriega would be far less viable candidate on a statewide ballot.
During the last Presidential election, a seventh of Texas's vote, totaling over 7.4 million votes, came fro Houston. It is not entirely clear what the numbers will look like for the triad of a Presidential year, no Texan on a Presidential ballot, and having a competitive US Senate Race AND Presidential contest at the same time.
Not since 1996 have we a political timeline similar to the one we have now. There are too many recent positive indicators for Texas Democrats for us to ignore the 2008 Senate race. Over the past 2 cycles Democrats have picked up 7 State House Seats, won governing municipal majorities in nearly every major city and won back congressional seats and judicial benches. With Cornyn's poll numbers below 50% and the Texas Governor winning with only 39% of the vote and Bush's numbers even worse than both, anything can happen.
While Rick Noriega isn't officially in the race yet, last Saturdays city council elections makes it both likely and more interesting.