There have been some evident shake-ups in the race to replace Mark Strama. A fundraising leader won't be in the special election, and Republicans get a formidable candidate.
Ramey Ko sent an email shortly after the reporting deadline that thanked supporters for helping him raise more money from donors than any other HD50 candidate. In it, he noted that his financial advantage would be utilized almost entirely for the March primary.
Later, he confirmed the implication to me: Ramey Ko will not be running in the 2013 Special Election to finish Mark Strama's term.
Meanwhile, for those who don't know, it looks like the HD50 race will also get its own self-funding Republican. From a tweet a couple weeks ago:
Add a Republican to the HD-50 race (Strama, D-Austin, resigned): Donald Dean, a campaign op, in and "willing to spend $250k". #txlege
— Ross Ramsey (@rossramsey) July 12, 2013
So, what are the implications of all of this? (And why won't Ramey be in the special election?)
Read below for analysis — the HD50 race is quite different now than it was a month ago!Ramey Ko isn't running in the special election because he does not meet eligibility requirements for the special, but he also doesn't want to play in Rick Perry's party. Ko does not meet legal residency requirements to be elected to represent House District 50 in the special election. Although Ramey's business has been located inside House District 50 for some time now, he only recently moved to a house that's in the district, and is just outside the window of legal residency requirements to be eligible. But Ko also claims that the special election is largely Perry's attempt to give Republicans an extra advantage in the district. In his email to supporters, he claimed that the election would only force Democrats to waste money on finishing an unexpired term that won't include a single legislative session. So he's not going to play along. And as he tells his supporters, “I refuse to spend your resources to help a Republican campaign against my fellow Democratic candidates.”
But this special election is important, and it isn't just symbolic. First of all, there's no telling whether or not there will be a special legislative session in 2014. With Perry not running for reelection, he's bound to be unpredictable — he won't be eyeing March or November of next year in any decisions he makes. There are also issues which might justify a special session, too. Perry's transportation priority is getting little traction at the end of this current legislative session, so Perry could try to bring it back before his term is over. And if any major developments happen in the school finance lawsuits over he next year, a special session on public education can ensue. One special session without representation is already too much for anyone in Texas, and HD50 residents need their elected official. Even if the special election winner never casts a vote, someone ought to be elected to provide constituent services — an important an oft-overlooked duty of legislators.
On the other hand, Ramey Ko's exit from the special election does help Democrats. Celia Israel, Jade Chang Sheppard, and Rico Reyes have all explicitly said that they're running in the special election. With the probable addition of Donald Dean and an assumption that Michael Cargill also runs in the special, that's 3 Democrats and 2 Republicans in one free-for-all election this November. That's a lot better than 4 Democrats and 2 Republicans, because the top two candidates in votes will go into a runoff. Even in the most generous analyses, 4 strong Democrats splitting the vote would greatly put the district in danger of an all-Republican runoff. With 3 Democrats splitting the vote, the danger still exists, but it's much less so. It's now likely that Reyes, Chang Sheppard, or Israel will emerge to face Dean in a runoff. And Democrats can win runoffs coalescing around one candidate.
Donald Dean, however, sounds like a serious threat. There's very little info available as to who Donald Dean is, but anyone willing to spend a quarter million dollars has to be considered a threat. He's much more legitimate than Michael Cargill; that's for sure.
The special election will be all about the field campaign, and the winner will be the favorite in 2014. Special elections are notoriously known for their low turnout, so field generals will be key in this race. No matter the amount of money money spent, boots on the ground getting voters into the polls will decide the race. And it's an important race, too. Unless someone makes a surprise announcement that they only wish to finish Rep. Strama's term, and not run in 2014, then the special election winner will be your 2014 favorite. If a Democrat wins, the power of incumbency will be an immediate edge over Ko's saved-up warchest in a primary. And if Donald Dean somehow wins, despite the district's slight Democratic slant, the same power of incumbency would exist in a general election.
So, where does this race stand now?
First, despite Ramey Ko's monetary advantage, he's unlikely to be the favorite to take over for Mark Strama in 2014. The special election winner will be the favorite, and that can't be him. That won't knock Ko out, though, because his saved-up cash will go a long way. (And also, it appears that at least two of his Democratic opponents will be knocked out by the time March rolls around, because a loss in the special election probably would bode poorly in March.)
Meanwhile, Jade Chang Sheppard has a large monetary advantage over the other Democrats in the race, and while that gives her an advantage, money's no more than context at this point. With the election less than 4 months away, the campaigns have to get moving. Already, the Austin Young Democrats are holding an HD50 forum this Thursday. And the Northeast Travis County Democrats will be holding a forum in just a few weeks, on August 10. Basically, the campaign is already in full-swing.
At different events, especially Democratic forums, the candidates may be tempted to attack each other. After all, they anticipated a race against Democrats — one that would happen this March. And it would be too easy to try and garner a spot in the runoff simply by getting the most votes of hardcore Democratic voters. But this election isn't really Democrats against other Democrats; it's Democrats against Republican money. And HD50 isn't known for its own hardcore Democrats, so the candidates should work to change that. If each of the 3 Democrats simply work on getting the most Democrats possible to show up to vote for them, then a Democrat will probably win (and the best Democrat of the 3, too).
Mark Strama often tells a story about how the Republican he first ran against was outraged at Strama's audacious strategy to win the election: getting more people to vote. Here's hoping our new HD50 Democrats live up to Mark Strama's “radical” legacy.