Bud Kennedy

How the FBI’s Clinton decision might swing DFW Texas House races

The Texas House during a recess in 2013.
The Texas House during a recess in 2013. AP

FBI Director James Comey’s Sunday surprise also sent Texas campaigns back to work.

State and local Republicans, breathing easy after an FBI investigation trimmed Democrat Hillary Clinton’s lead, now must work anew to turn out downballot voters in case the presidential election seems decided by Tuesday.

One or two Texas House seats in Dallas County currently held by Republicans might swing to Democratic challengers if Clinton regains any of the momentum she had before Oct. 28. That’s when Comey abruptly announced a review of new evidence in a lingering investigation into whether Clinton or her staff mishandled classified information.

FBI agents completed their review with no change in the investigation, Comey announced Sunday.

State Reps. Rodney Anderson (R-Grand Prairie) and Kenneth Sheets (R-Dallas) are in close races against Democrats Terry Meza and Victoria Neave, respectively, and any shift at the top of the ballot might make the difference, Rice political science professor Mark Jones wrote Sunday.

“Any increase or decrease regardless of how minor in GOP turnout could be the difference,” Jones wrote in response to an email, saying the two races might be decided by as little as 1,000 votes.

The late turn of events won’t swing many Texas races, he wrote, because most partisan voters have already cast their ballots.

“If the number of potential GOP voters demoralized by the news is greater than that [those] infuriated/energized, that could be bad news” for Anderson and Sheets, Jones wrote. Texas Democrats have spent the most money trying to win those two races, along with two San Antonio Republican Texas House seats and one in Houston.

Anderson and Sheets both represent middle-class suburbs and are counting on a strong turnout for Republican nominee Donald J. Trump. Anderson represents Grand Prairie, Sheets Mesquite.

Democrats may pick up “five or six” Texas House seats statewide but Comey’s first letter did more harm than Sunday’s follow-up can ever repair, SMU political science professor Cal Jillson said.

About one-third of votes have been cast and Clinton looks like a winner by about 3 percent, Jillson predicted, with Trump an easy winner in Texas.

Texas has not voted for a Democrat for president in 40 years, but a close race helps Republicans turn out straight-ticket voters downballot.

“Most Republicans have already voted, so they’re blissfully unaffected,” wrote University of Houston professor Brandon Rottinghaus.

But Democratic turnout might spike, he wrote, “as turnout machines emphasize that once again, scrutiny of Clinton didn’t yield any tangible results. A big bump on Election Day for Democrats raises the fortunes of [District 102 Democratic nominee Laura] Irvin, Meza and Neave.”

Irvin is opposing first-term Republican Linda Koop in an Addison and Richardson district seen as vulnerable for the mixture of minority voters and educated suburban women, usually Republican voters but leaning Democratic in this election.

“These races are going to be nail-biters,” Rottinghaus said.

Two scientists said the FBI decision might not be as indicative as the heavy early vote by Latinos.

“Democrats in Texas have been trying for years to awaken the ‘sleeping giant,’ and Trump may have finally done it for them,” wrote Southern Methodist University professor Matthew Wilson” “It won't be enough to cost him the state, but it could take down a few Republican legislators.”

The heavy Latino vote in counties such as El Paso “may be the story of the election,” Texas Christian University professor Emily M. Farris wrote: “I don’t think the latest FBI announcement will do much to move the needle.”

Bud Kennedy: 817-390-7538, bud@star-telegram.com, @BudKennedy. His column appears Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays.