Austin-area Democrats out­raise foes

Fi­nance re­ports more ev­i­dence of en­thu­si­asm gap in the midterms.

Austin American-Statesman - - FRONT PAGE - ByAsher Price, Lon­don Gib­son and Julie Chang ash­er­price@states­man.com lgib­son@states­man. com jchang@states­man.com

Two years ago, in the midst of a hot-and-heavy pres­i­den­tial race, Demo­crat Mike Clark, run­ning in a con­gres­sional district just north of Austin, raised $1,035 dur­ing the fi­first quar­ter of 2016 on his way to get­ting crushed by in­cum­bent Repub­li­can U.S. Rep. John Carter.

In the fi­first three months of 2018, Demo­crat Mary “MJ” He­gar, run­ning in the same district, raised 200 times that amount, ac­cord­ing to newly fi­filed cam­paign fi­fi­nance re­ports.

In the lat­est sign of Demo­cratic en­thu­si­asm head­ing into 2018 midterm elec­tions, a cou­ple of Cen­tral Texas Democrats com­pet­ing in tra­di­tion­ally con­ser­va­tive con­gres­sional dis­tricts have raised far more money than their Repub­li­can coun­ter­parts in the fi­first quar­ter of the year, ac­cord­ing to an Amer­i­can-States­man re­view of cam­paign fi­fi­nance records.

Cam­paign­ing in the 21st Con­gres­sional District, which runs from West Cam­pus to the north side of San An­to­nio and en­com­passes six Hill Coun­try coun­ties, Demo­crat Joseph Kopser raised about $350,000 the fi­first three months of 2018 — ap­proach­ing dou­ble what the two can­di­dates vy­ing in the Repub­li­can runoffff raised com­bined dur­ing the same

pe­riod.

And in the 31st Con­gres­sional District, which in­cludes Austin’s fast-grow­ing north­ern sub­urbs as well as a por­tion of the area around Fort Hood, He­gar, a for­mer Air Force he­li­copter pilot who won medals for her brav­ery in Afghanistan, raised $200,000 in the first three months of the year. Carter, seek­ing his ninth term, raised about $145,000 dur­ing the same pe­riod.

He­gar will face Cedar Park physi­cian Chris­tine Eady Mann, who raised about $6,500 in the first quar­ter, in the May 22 runoff.

Af­ter un­ex­pected Demo­cratic vic­to­ries in spe­cial elec­tions in Penn­syl­va­nia and Alabama, the fundrais­ing amounts ap­pear to be more ev­i­dence of Demo­cratic ar­dor na­tion­ally ahead of the Novem­ber gen­eral elec­tion.

The heavy fundrais­ing “cer­tainly makes races more com­pet­i­tive,” said Sean The­ri­ault, pro­fes­sor of gov­ern­ment at the Univer­sity of Texas. “You don’t want to put too much faith in what money can do, es­pe­cially for first-time can­di­dates new to pol­i­tics, but it means they’ll have a big­ger mi­cro­phone.”

He said the dis­tricts “are man­u­fac­tured to elect a Repub­li­can.” But when law­mak­ers cre­ated the dis­tricts, “they didn’t want them 80 per­cent Repub­li­can, they wanted them 60 or 62 per­cent Repub­li­cans, so that in nor­mal po­lit­i­cal cir­cum- stances the Repub­li­can will have an easy time to win.”

But since 2016, he said, “we’re not in nor­mal pol­i­tics any­more.”

“It’s go­ing to take the Demo­crat run­ning a re­ally good race, the Repub­li­can not run­ning a good race, and Don­ald Trump be­ing un­pop­u­lar — and still they’ll have a 50-50 chance if ev­ery­thing breaks their way,” said The­ri­ault, au­thor of the book “The Power of the Peo­ple: Con­gres­sional Com­pe­ti­tion, Pub­lic At­ten­tion, and Voter Ret­ri­bu­tion.”

Be­fore they get to the gen­eral elec­tion, these can­di­dates have to se­cure their par­ties’ nom­i­na­tion — and money doesn’t guar­an­tee vic­tory. Kopser, a for­mer Army of­fi­cer and tech en­tre­pre­neur, raised vastly more than his Demo­cratic op­po­nents but still fin­ished sec­ond in the March pri­mary to Austin-area pas­tor Mary Wil­son — who raised more than $30,000 in the first quar­ter.

The two will face each other in the runoff.

Kopser has been an es­pe­cially ef­fec­tive fundraiser: His cam­paign has raised more than $1.1 mil­lion.

Kopser said fundrais­ing to­tals show “we have a mes­sage and we have the ma­chin­ery that is pre­pared to meet vot­ers where they are and to get those peo­ple ex­cited about what we’re do­ing.”

“It’s a re­flec­tion of the times that we live in that we have a can­di­date like me that fits the district well that can­not only ap­peal to pro­gres­sive Democrats who want to see the is­sues they fought for pre­served, but it’s also an in­di­ca­tor that in­de­pen­dents or even some mod­er­ate Repub­li­cans are see­ing that I’m not so out of step with what they’re think­ing and there­fore want to raise that money,” Kopser said.

He said the sub­ur­ban growth of the district sug­gests an open­ing for a Demo­crat. These are “peo­ple who bring in their fam­i­lies, less so their ide­olo­gies,” he said.

“They come in and start busi­nesses as op­posed to start­ing new fac­tions or new tribes, if you will, of ex­treme par­ti­san­ship,” he said. “And those peo­ple just want to see mem­bers of Congress who want to fix prob­lems and move for­ward, and that’s why we’ve had the amount of suc­cess we’ve had.”

Chip Roy and Matt McCall, in the Repub­li­can runoff in the 21st Con­gres­sional District, raised $170,000 and $25,000, re­spec­tively, in the same pe­riod.

Over­all, Roy, a for­mer aide to U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, has raised $543,157.

Vic­to­ria De Francesco Soto, an elec­toral pol­i­tics lec­turer at UT’s LBJ School of Pub­lic Af­fairs, said that for Demo­cratic can­di­dates up and down the bal­lot in Texas, the key will be win­ning “coun­try club Repub­li­cans.”

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