Congressional Quarterly has changed its evaluation of three Texas congressional races, in the 7th, 10th, and 22nd districts. Two of the three shifts are in the Democrats’ direction: 7th District (Houston) John Culberson, Republican incumbent, vs. Democrat Mike Skelly. Two years ago, in a down Republican year, Culberson won reelection with 59% of the vote. This year will be tougher. Skelly made a fortune in the wind energy business, and he has $1 million in the bank, most of which, according to CQ, is from individual donors; his campaign is among the best-funded in the nation. (Culberson’s web site says he has $550,000, after a slow start.) This district has been represented by the elder George Bush and by former appropriations chairman Bill Archer, but Culberson is not up to this legacy. Culberson sits on the Appropriations committee, and he has secured some funding for the Texas Medical Center, but he is at heart a fiscal conservative who takes credit for voting against some $345 billion in spending. Some elements of the Houston business community are none too pleased with him. The Greater Houston Partnership sent an emissary to Culberson to ask him to arrange for funding for highway beautification. Culberson’s response, according to the emissary (who told me this story), was to pull out a copy of the Constitution and say something along the lines of, “Show me where it says the federal government can buy trees.” While the district remains strongly Republican, Skelly’s camp notes that it includes areas that are more moderate, such as River Oaks. The only poll that I am aware of was taken by IVR in the spring; it showed Culberson with a 57-39 lead. The poll identified candidates by party, which may account for the low number of undecided voters. CQ’s original rating of the race was “Safe Republican”; the change is to “Republican Favored.” If Culberson’s position were to continue to erode, the next steps would be “Leans Republican” and then “No Clear Favorite.” The main reason for this change is Skelly’s advantage in fundraising in an expensive media market. Update: If the business community had issues with Culberson before, you can bet they have more issues since Culberson said, “NASA is a waste of money” in an electronic town hall meeting earlier this month. NASA employs 20,000 people in the Houston area and receives billions of dollars worth of government contracts that benefit the Houston economy. Culberson has apologized for the gaffe, but the remark was revealing. 10th District (northeast Travis County, western Harris county, and the rural counties in between), Michael McCaul, Republican incumbent, vs. Democrat Larry Joe Doherty. As in the 7th district, CQ has revised its rating from “Safe Republican” to “Republican Favored.” CQ Politics cites McCaul’s unimpressive 55% margin in 2006 as a primary reason for the revision. CQ Politics also notes that “… Doherty, a trial lawyer, has had success raising money for his uphill campaign….” In their second quarter filings, McCaul showed $489,054 cash on hand against Doherty’s $259,792. An IVR spring poll showed McCaul ahead by 51%-46%. Doherty is something of an eccentric candidate; he was a celebrity judge on a TV show called “Texas Justice.” He has gotten some criticism from Democrats for having a Republican as his head fundraiser. McCaul’s main problem is that the Travis County portion of the district outvotes the Harris County portion of the district, and Travis County is deep, deep blue. If McCaul is going to have a long career in Congress, he is going to need a friendlier district when redistricting occurs in 2011. 22nd District (mostly eastern Fort Bend county and southern Harris County), incumbent Democrat Nick Lampson vs. Pete Olson. CQ now rates the race as “No Clear Favorite” instead of “Leans Democratic.” Lampson, who won the seat practically by default when Tom DeLay resigned from Congress in 2006, leaving the Republicans with only a write-in campaign. Olson is a tough opponent, a former chief of staff for John Cornyn. CQ cites Olson’s background as a military veteran and his Capitol Hill ties that have helped him raise money, as reasons for the changed rating. CQ notes that Lampson has a much more moderate voting record than he did when he represented Southeast Texas before the 2003 redistricting. Both candidates have raised well over a million dollars, but Olson had to survive a primary and a runoff, leaving him far behind Lampson in cash on hand, $1,148,414 to $261,203.
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