How do voters feel about rail on Richmond?

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The opponents of rail on Richmond made it clear: John Culberson is their man
in Congress. They applauded him at his civic forum, they launched their
website with his press conference, and they put up yard signs saying “Thank
God for John Culberson.”

That makes perfect sense. Culberson has made it clear that he opposes rail
on Richmond. And he has clout: he sits on the committee that approves
federal transit funding. His main opponent in this year’s election, Jim Henley,
would have come into Congress with far less power, and Henley made it clear that
he was not going to block federal funding for METRO, regardless of where
they choose to build a rail line.

The conclusion is pretty clear: if you opposed rail on Richmond, you should
have voted for John Culberson. In fact, the Houston Press’s glowing profile
of Henley noted that he might lose votes because of his rail stance.

So how did the neighborhoods along Richmond vote last week?

Here’s the comparison between Culberson’s vote in 2004 — before the Richmond rail
issue arose — and 2006. Green indicates precincts where he got a smaller
percentage of the vote in 2006 than 2004; blue are those where he got a
larger percent. (Click for a larger version.)

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Culberson lost ground in eight of the ten precincts along Richmond
between Main and the West Loop. Between Main and Shepherd — in the
neighborhood that would be most affected by rail — his support went down
from around 25% to around 18%. Even around Greenway Plaza, in more
Republican neighborhoods, his support dropped a few percentage points. He
gained votes only in two precincts: one Montrose area precinct, he got 20% this year instead of 19% in 2004, and Afton Oaks, the only one of these precincts to vote against rail in 2003.

Obviously, this election was not a referendum on rail (We had that in 2003.
Rail passed.) But it was a useful test of the strength of the opposition. If
there was widespread strong opposition to rail on Richmond we would have
seen it in the results. And, outside of Afton Oaks, we didn’t.

John Culberson based his opposition to rail on Richmond on public opinion:

I believe that public opinion among the Richmond area residents and business owners on this issue is abundantly clear, they do not want rail on Richmond.

The election results simply do not back that up. And the fact that Culberson only got 41% of the votes in the entire corridor shows that a considerable majority of Richmond area residents don’t even want John Culberson speaking for them.

Thnaks to Max Beauregard for the data. Chuck Kuffner of Off the Kuff first suggested this comparison, and I know he’s been working on the numbers as well. I expect Chuck to post soon with more analysis, and I hope he’ll take on the Ellen Cohen – Martha Wong race, where the anti-rail incumbent lost her seat with only 43% of the vote, as well. [update: here's Chuck's post. Well worth reading.]

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