So, this happened …
Candidate | Absentee | Early | Election | Total
Gene Wu (D) | 508 41.78% | 8,771 65.54% | 6,510 69.06% | 15,789 65.72%
M. J. Khan (R) | 708 58.22% | 4,611 34.46% | 2,916 30.94% | 8,235 34.28%
Cast Votes: | 1,216 95.75% | 13,382 96.16% | 9,426 94.56% | 24,024 95.51%
Registered Voters: 48,003
Ballots Cast: 25,154
I’ll now be on an apology tour of my own since I’ve been far more pessimistic of how HD137 would perform. Check the 2008 math yourself, but the best showing from that year was Linda Yanez’s 62.8%. My notes suggested that precincts that turned out abnormally for Obama in 2008 would not repeat at those levels and that the 2004 results were somewhat instructive as a bit of a floor-level performance. To me, that translated to a floor of 55%, with about eight years of demographic change tacked on for good measure. So for the last three weeks of the campaign, I basically told everyone that we could expect to finish somewhere between 57-59% and if we did 60-62, it would be due to Obama more than anything we did. I have no idea where the heck 65% comes from.
Obviously, getting a draft of the county’s canvassed results will help. But I’m really curious how Gene did compared to the President in our district. Next door to us, Hubert Vo similarly beat expectations that I had, but I can chalk up some of that to a track record of swing voters – both from the Vietnamese community and the Alief business community that Hubert has cultivated. So maybe the results in these two Southwest Houston districts are coincidental of a “new normal” for the Obama years. Or maybe there’s more to the story. The numbers will tell more of this story.
I’ll save the remainder of my frenzied number-crunch festival for other posts. For this, I think there’s one point to put on the story of Gene Wu’s first run for political office. When I first met Gene, I was a bit player at a table full of more important people who talked to Gene about possibly running for office some day. I can’t claim instant inspiration as I was busy making my points that there were a few skills needed for successful campaigning that I felt I hadn’t seen in this brief encounter. I’d seen a number of candidates with great resumes hitting the right point in their life for a political run, who had flamed out in single digits because they lacked several of the basics for being a candidate.
The last time I saw Gene before he was a candidate for State Representative was a different story. A few days after Scott Hochberg announced his retirement, I was told that he’d be stopping by the office pretty late in the day. It turns out that our shop was the second stop on Gene’s post-work schedule. The first involved a meeting where he was asked not to run. Ours involved a much more focused and driven Gene Wu than the first meeting we had with him. Whatever concerns I had then were out the window. This was something he wanted and he was committed to doing well.
With the decision set, all I knew was that there was just no way I could be involved in a State Rep race that included my neck of Southwest Houston without winning. Hard to sound like you know something if you can’t even win your own back yard. Our competition included a candidate backed by a State Rep respected for his campaign savvy. Another candidate was backed by one of the two biggest fundraisers in the county and had a ton of connections due to being the former Executive Director of the Harris County Democratic Party. The last candidate was a woman from the Alief ISD Board of Trustees.
At first glance, one woman in a field of four seemed like a legitimate threat. I figured she was capable of getting 20% with little-to-no effort due to any combination of gender and/or her background on the school board. She finished with 11%. The guy backed by the State Rep won the Chronicle endorsement and had some killer fundraising at the end of the primary to spend on anything he wanted. I figured he’d be a given for the runoff. He finished third with 21.8%. The candidate backed by the big fundraiser, I believe, did an effective job of campaigning in the apartments in the district. He may have benefited some from being the only African-American in the district, but he exceeded the numbers that would have fallen his way due to that in both the Primary and the Runoff.
All we had was an unproven Asian kid in a district that’s less than 12% Asian with a primary electorate that very well could have clocked in at under 6% Asian. As simple as it sounds, Gene was committed to blockwalking. I was happy to cut turf for him to talk to voters directly. I was happy to have a budget to send some mail to voters. I was happy that I got my choice of campaign managers for Gene in Beth Martin. But for all that happiness, there were still no guarantees that I wouldn’t be doing non-political work after the May primary.
Since Gene did manage to earn the nomination, the next step was to go up against a former City Council Member who could write whatever check he wanted to fund his campaign after passing the hat to his just-as-wealthy friends. We knew we’d be out-raised and out-mailed. We were. We knew that MJ Khan was familiar with parts of the district that he represented on City Council. That turned out to be a questionable thesis. We knew we’d be attacked. We were. And we knew that we also had to struggle to get money in the bank just to do some fundamental level of campaigning. All while Gene went off and got married. No problem.
What worked for us despite this time crunch was that Gene got better as a candidate with each passing day. The Gene Wu I first met would be prepping for a new District Attorney as his boss if he hadn’t. By August, Gene had been in fifth gear for quite a while. Still, I figured there would be a few points worth of swing votes that might go MJ’s way. I still pegged the district fundamentals at about 57% Dem. True to form, the attack mail goes out on Gene and is followed by $25,000 worth of cable ads attacking him. We limited our contrast mailer strictly to issue-based items on education and public safety. Gene blockwalked some more. And it was through that that we found out that MJ wasn’t being entirely honest with voters at the door. Gene never shied away from telling anyone he was a Democrat. MJ and his staff were leaving voters with the impression that HE was the Democrat. The more Gene walked, the most MJ Khan signs came out of yards as voters got the facts.
For staffing our three Early Vote locations we needed to worry about, we sent only Gene to one of them. The campaign manager, Beth Martin, did yeoman’s work by begging and pleading for as many E-Day poll workers as possible, knowing there just weren’t enough unemployed friends of Gene to staff all of 22 locations. In short, the final days offered plenty to be paranoid and nervous about.
And in the end, it didn’t matter. We’ll see soon enough how the district performed in other contests. But what makes me happiest is that my little ‘hood is represented well for the next two years. Scott Hochberg is a tough act to follow and there’s no point filling his shoes. Gene’s shoes (and boots) are a little road-worn from the walk lists I handed him this year. But they’ll do just fine.
One coda on worth sharing from the little amount of work that I did on this project ….
A fair amount of the work I did during the Primary and Runoff was air-conditioned campaign work. That’s a luxurious life that I knew wouldn’t cut it in the General. Some of you may be happy to know that I wore out my left knee climbing apartment stairwells. If you see any knee tendons or ligaments somewhere in a Westchase apartment complex … they’re mine. Please return them. I was too busy failing miserably at trying to keep up with a campaign manager who was just a few years past being a college athlete. Physically, I’m sure that I’ll heal from that.