As we get closer and closer to the Election Day on November 8th, I'm getting more frequent questions about what I think is going to happen. In all honesty, your guess is as good as mine, and I'll always defer over to Charles Kuffner if you want a truly educated opinion. I have some observations and thoughts, but I'll be the first to tell you that they are more or less just guesses.
Whenever anybody asks what I think will happen in November, I always say that I think it is going to come down to straight-ticket voting. Predicting how the straight ticket will go, however, is just mere speculation. If it goes Republican, I think that most (if not all) of our judges will be just fine -- which is a good thing. However, I also think that even if Harris County goes Republican that the race for District Attorney (between Devon Anderson and Kim Ogg, on the off chance that you just now wandered into this discussion) will be much closer than any other race. Either outcome would not surprise me.
I know about the University of Houston poll that showed Devon had a one point lead over Kim, but I don't think I would make any big predictions based on that. The margin is too close to call. I do think that it is significant that the margin is smaller than any of the other races, but given several things that have gone on at the D.A.'s Office over the past year or so, that isn't surprising.
So, my bottom line is that if the Republicans get more straight ticket votes than the Dems do, the Republican judges will prevail, but the D.A.'s Office will still be up for grabs. I'll post more about my thoughts on the D.A. race later.
So, here is my amateur analysis of what I think is going to happen in 2016.
To start with, we have to jump back to the 2008 election. Back then, there was a large amount of Democratic turnout that was motivated by Barack Obama being on the ticket. As you know, that turnout swept the majority of local Republicans out of office -- including all but one Criminal District Court Judge. The oddity of the 2008 election was that one of the few surviving Republicans was District Attorney Pat Lykos. Her defeat of Democrat Clarence Bradford was probably mainly attributable to all of the baggage and scandals brought with him from his days as Chief of the Houston Police Department.
For those who thought that the 2008 election was evidence that Harris County had "turned blue" for the Democrats, that clearly proved not to be the case in 2010, as there was a powerful Republican sweep in the non-Presidential year.
The 2012 results were even more interesting. The enthusiasm for voting clearly waned for the Democrats, although it was still a factor. Many of the benches that had been lost in 2008 were recaptured by Republican candidates -- some benches reclaimed by the judges that once held them, while others claimed by rookie judges. While 2008 swept out all Republican judges, with the exception of one, 2012 swept all Republican judges back in -- with three exceptions: Democratic Judges Ruben Guerrero, David Mendoza, and Maria Jackson all survived challenges from Republican opponents. Additionally, Democrat County Attorney Vince Ryan also staved off a challenge from a Republican candidate, as did then-Sheriff Adrian Garcia.
Why these judges survived when others didn't isn't exactly clear. I've heard theories and I've had theories, but they are all just speculation. Whatever the case may be, the powerful enthusiasm behind Obama in 2008 wasn't nearly as strong in 2012. Unsurprisingly, the Republicans swept again in 2014, which send a clear message that if you want job security as an elected official in Harris County, you really need to be running in the non-Presidential years.
So, in trying to guess what is going to happen in 2016, one just has to figure out how National politics are going to affect Harris County.
Personally, I don't see Hillary Clinton, standing alone as a candidate, motivating people to vote. She's too polarizing and doesn't have the charisma that Obama has to duplicate the Harris County turnout that he had in either 2008 or 2012. If Hillary was running against anyone other than Donald Trump, I would tell all the Republican judges to start their celebrating now.
Unfortunately, the Trump factor leaves too much to the unknown.
I predict that there are going to be a lot of people that vote for the first time because they identify with Trump. Whether or not they vote straight ticket or just vote for him and leave, however, is anybody's guess. Conversely, there are going to be plenty of people who aren't all that fired up about Hillary Clinton, but they are more than happy to go to the polls to vote against Trump. Whether they pull straight ticket or not is also anybody's guess.
If I were forced to make a prediction, I would say that I think the Republican judges are going to be okay. I'm skeptical of most polling, but I'm really skeptical of local polling. In the March primaries, 329,768 people showed up to vote in the Republican Primary, as opposed to 227,280 in the Democratic. Now, a large part of that can probably be attributed to Ted Cruz (who got 148,010 of those votes) being on the ballot, but that's still a margin of over 100,000. Maybe that means something, maybe it doesn't.
Somewhere, Kuffner is probably rolling his eyes at my amateur analysis.
The bottom line is that I predict Harris County will stay Republican, but by a much more narrow margin than in 2012, and I think that the D.A.'s Office is very much up for grabs.
With a margin that close, getting your friends and family out to vote could not be more important.