Houston Chronicle

Could Dems score 2 upsets?

Demographi­c changes have party hopeful in 2nd District

- By Jeremy Wallace

AUSTIN — The demographi­c elements that make the 7th Congressio­nal District in Houston one of the hottest midterm elections in the nation also run through a neighborin­g area that has some Democrats dreaming of picking up not one, but two Republican-held congressio­nal seats in Harris County this year.

While the 2nd Congressio­nal District has not received anywhere near the focus of national Republican­s or Democrats as the neighborin­g 7th, the similariti­es in the districts’ changing demographi­cs — particular­ly the growth of nonwhite and college-educated voters — has Democrats optimistic as they anticipate a national wave election that could sweep Democrats back into power on Capitol Hill.

Both districts have slightly more women then men, nearly identical median ages (35) and median household incomes ($72,000). According to U.S. Census data, both have about 98,000 black residents and about 245,000 Hispanic residents.

But one big factor is keeping the 2nd District from becoming a hot race like the battle between Democrat Lizzie Pannell Fletcher and Rep. John Culberson, a Houston Republican, in the 7th District: President Donald Trump.

In 2016, both districts saw less support for Trump than what Republican presidenti­al candidate Mitt Romney received four years earlier. Romney won more than 60 percent of the vote in both districts against President Barack Obama in 2012. But in 2016, Trump won 52 percent in the 2nd Congressio­nal District and

just 47 percent of the vote in the 7th, where Culberson has faced few serious challenger­s in his 17year tenure.

Those 5 percentage points mean everything to national forecaster­s who say Trump’s performanc­e in the 7th revealed a major problem for Republican­s. There are 20 seats in the House held by Republican­s that Clinton won in 2016.

But Democrats say the demographi­c changes and the 2016 results show something is happening in the 2nd District that could make it go blue in a big Democratic wave — if there is one — in 2018.

“We can win the seat,” said Todd Litton, the Democratic nominee who has lived in the shadows of Rice University and the Texas Medical Center for most of the last two decades. “This is a very winnable seat.”

Litton, a director of an education nonprofit, said the higher education levels and growing diversity in the district make it competitiv­e. He said those changes prompted him to run for Congress even before incumbent Rep. Ted Poe announced he would retire and create an open seat in the 2nd, which meanders from west Houston north to Atascocita and Humble.

“District 2 is rapidly changing, and we have a strong candidate in Todd Litton,” said Amanda Sherman, a spokeswoma­n for the Democratic Congressio­nal Campaign Committee, which is beginning to pay more attention to the race.

‘It’s not over’

At the end of March, House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi showed her support for Litton, sending $7,000 through a political action committee and her campaign account.

Even Republican Dan Crenshaw, who easily won the GOP nomination last month, is trying to keep his supporters from becoming complacent.

“It is not time to rest,” Crenshaw warned his supporters on election night.

Days later, he was on Fox News Channel’s popular “Fox & Friends” program, warning viewers from assuming he has the race locked up.

“Of course it’s not over. We still need help going into November,” Crenshaw said.

The Economist was the first major publicatio­n to list the 2nd Congressio­nal District as one of the nation’s toss-up races based on demographi­c trends last week. Other national political forecaster­s, though, say they aren’t sold yet. Dave Wasserman, a political analyst with the Cook Political Report in Washington, D.C., doesn’t have the 2nd on his watchlist at all.

While both districts have similar minority population­s, voter data show that Hispanic voters in southweste­rn sections of the 2nd tend not to vote as much. Wasserman said that is particular­ly important in the 2nd because of strong voting in Kingwood and other sections of northwest Harris County that are more Republican.

Plenty in the bank

Democrats will need more of their voters going to the polls to be competitiv­e, he said.

Another key group will be college graduates. In the 2016 election, the Pew Research Center found college graduates backed Clinton by a 9-point margin (52 percent to 43 percent), while those without a college degree backed Trump 52 percent to 44 percent. According to Pew, it was the widest gap recorded between college graduates and noncollege graduates in exit polls dating back to 1980.

In the 7th, just over 50 percent of the district has a bachelor’s degree — the second-highest percentage in the state. But the 2nd District isn’t far behind, with just over 40 percent of the district with bachelor’s degrees — the sixth-highest in the state. Litton said the high education level in the 2nd District makes him optimistic heading into November.

Litton has also proven he can raise money — a key to any congressio­nal race. While Crenshaw raised about $640,000, he spent most of that trying to win his primary against eight other Republican­s. He entered May with less than $150,000 in his campaign account, according to Federal Election Commission records. Litton raised about $540,000 and still had more than $240,000 in his account after defeating four Democratic primary opponents.

 ??  ?? Republican Dan Crenshaw, left, and Democrat Todd Litton are squaring off in the 2nd Congressio­nal District.
Republican Dan Crenshaw, left, and Democrat Todd Litton are squaring off in the 2nd Congressio­nal District.
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