From today’s Chronicle, one day before the start of early voting: Longtime anti-gay activist Dave Wilson, who once led a successful effort to amend the city charter to deny benefits to the partners of gay and lesbian city employees, said he has sent out 35,000 fliers opposing the mayoral candidacy of Annise Parker in part because of her sexual orientation. The front of the flier has a 2004 photo of Parker being sworn into office as city controller while her partner, Kathy Hubbard, looks on, accompanied by the headline: “Is this the image Houston wants to portray?” On the back is written, “Just because Annise Parker is a lesbian doesn’t make her qualified to be mayor of Houston.” Former mayoral wannabe Bill King, a Republican and a Gene Locke supporter, circulated this analysis of the runoff: What will the Republicans Do in the Mayor’s Race? With Democrats breaking largely along racial lines and Latinos showing little interest in the current mayor’s race, white-suburban-Republican-leaning (WSRL) voters will likely to be the deciding factor in the runoff. A KHOU poll released last week showed Locke and Parker in a statistical dead heat. But significantly it showed that Locke, who got very little white vote in the November 3rd contest, is now polling at about 25% of the white vote. This is consistent with the poll from the Locke campaign showing a significant block of the WSRL voters immediately moved to Locke after the November 3 election. As I suggested in my previous post, it seems reasonable to speculate that a great many of these voters are social conservatives for which Parker’s lifestyle is the deciding factor. But that leaves about 25% of the white vote, mostly WSRL, as undecided. Which side this group comes down on will probably decide the election. A number of Parker supporters have been making the case that since Parker came in first or second and Locke came in last in many WSRL precincts, she has the upper hand in winning this vote. However, I think that analysis misreads the November 3rd results. It overlooks that even in the most Republican precincts there are still Democratic voters. For example, Precinct 612 is in the heart of Kingwood and is rock-ribbed Republican. However, in the 2008 election, Obama still got 24% of the vote in that precinct. In the November 3rd City election Parker came in second to Roy Morales [the only self-identified Republican in the mayor’s race] in Precinct 612, getting 25% of the vote. Morales got 48%, Brown 22% and Locke 7%. Because Parker’s vote is virtually identical to Obama’s, it seems likely that the voters that voted for her on election day were not Republicans, but rather the Democratic voters that live in 612. Therefore, Parker’s vote total in Precinct 612 really does not tell us much about how the Republicans in that box will vote in the run-off. In almost no Republican-leaning precincts did Parker’s vote exceed Obama’s percentage in 2008. So the belief that Parker got a lot of Republican-leaning votes in November is probably inaccurate. So what will move the undecided WSRL voters? Personally, I do not think it will be the gay/lesbian issue. The polling seems to indicate that the voters that feel strongly about that issue have already made up their minds. Rather, I believe the balance of the WSRL voters are going to be motivated by two issues: crime and property taxes. Crime continues to poll as the issue with which Houstonian are most concerned. It seems likely this issue will favor Locke. Parker cast a problematic vote against continuing the Gang Task Force while on Council which will be hard to explain. Locke has the backing of the Houston Police and his account of his home being burglarized twice as the motivation for him entering the race has a powerful effect on audiences. I think the property tax issue will also favor Locke. Locke’s biggest advantage is that he has no record. Since he has never served in public office, he has never had to vote on the issue. Parker, on the other hand, has a lengthy record of opposing tax decreases, revenue caps and appraisal caps which the Locke campaign is attempting to exploit. Revenue caps and appraisal caps are heavily favored by Republicans voters. She also chaired a commission that proposed imposing a garbage fee. While an argument can be made that these were the responsible course of action given the City’s deteriorating financial condition, that will be a hard case to make to WSRL voters who live in the areas of the City with the highest property taxes. Probably the best indication that the Republican vote is likely to break in Locke’s direction is the candidates’ comparative Republican endorsements. Locke has stacked up an impressive list, including Robert Eckels, Ned Holmes, Beverly Kaufmann, Mike Sullivan, Jim Murphy, John Davis, and Beverly Woolley. I have it on reasonably reliable information that Locke will receive additional high-profile Republican endorsements before the run-off. In contrast, I am not aware of any Republican elected official that has endorsed Parker. And while the Republican Party is unlikely to get involved officially, Party regulars tell me that Locke is heavily favored among Republican precinct chairs. But here is the real problem for the Parker campaign: There are more African-American voters than white Democratic voters. If both candidates win their bases by similar percentages (which seems likely) Parker will have to make up the difference by winning the Republican vote by a substantial margin. Based on the issues and how the Republican leadership is lining up, that prospect seems increasingly unlikely. * * * * King’s memo indicates that Locke’s strategy is to turn the race into a partisan contest. If Locke is successful — and the anti-gay mailers are a part of that effort — then Locke rates to win. However, it is not easy to turn a nonpartisan race into a partisan one. In a mayor’s race, a lot of things other than party affiliation are at play. Among them are competence, experience, and general image. Parker has the advantage here. She has held the number two position at city hall, that of controller, for some time. Locke has been the attorney for agencies that are affiliated with city and county government, among them the Port of Houston, Metro, and the Harris County-Houston Sports Authority and has made a lot of money while doing it. Parker’s main attack on Locke has been for his potential conflict of interest in representing these clients. The charge doesn’t have a lot of substance, but it does reinforce the image of Locke as a city hall insider who made a lot of money off the city. Not a good image to have in Houston.
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