Will Texas be competitive?

Wednesday December 26, 2012

There are two types of politicians in Texas: statewide elected officials and everyone else.

The reason is that being elected statewide in a state of 25 million people with 20 media markets that each have at least one television station and daily newspaper is a tall task.

Democrats, basking in the glow of the 51.5 to 47.5 percent national election victory, including an eight point improvement with Hispanics, now boast that Texas (which Mitt Romney won 57-40) will be in play in 2016.

There is one major problem with that: the Texas Democratic Party.

Since 1998, the Texas Democratic Party is 0-100 in statewide races. You read that right.

They regularly fail to field a full slate of statewide candidates, have major fundraising problems and possess no statewide organization or field operation.

Put simply, they are pitiful.

The consequence of their consistent losing is that Texas Democrats possess a very weak bench to draw from for 2014, when the top statewide offices will be up for grabs.

The four most often mentioned Democratic candidates for statewide office are San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro, State Sen. Wendy Davis of Fort Worth, U.S. Rep.-elect Joaquin Castro of San Antonio and State Rep. Rafael Anchia of Dallas.

Mayor Castro has a bright future and a national platform from his keynote address at the Democratic convention in Charlotte, N.C. He recently passed a tax increase to fund a pre-K program and he is now writing an autobiography. But 2014 may be too soon for him, and he needs greater achievements as mayor -- particularly in transportation, crime and education.

Sen. Davis won a tough reelection to her Fort Worth-area seat and is loved by the left wing of her party for temporarily blocking education cuts last session. She has proven herself a strong fundraiser, but she is likely too far to the left to be elected statewide in Texas.

Congressman-elect Castro and Rep. Anchia are mostly unproven and will need to climb the political ladder.

What about recent Democratic candidates? Former Houston Mayor Bill White, beaten by Gov. Rick Perry in 2010, has essentially disappeared. Former Dallas Mayor Ron Kirk went to the Obama Cabinet as U.S. trade representative and appears done with electoral politics.

The Democratic nominee for U.S. Senate and a serious policy expert, former State Rep. Paul Sadler, ran a campaign that would have been an embarrassment for the state Senate, let alone the U.S. Senate. He didn't raise enough for one statewide television advertisement and lost by 17 points to rising star Sen.-elect Ted Cruz.

In comparison, the Republican Party of Texas is in a strong position. Chairman Steve Munisteri, who has agreed to serve a second two-year term, has turned the party around, recruiting Hispanic candidates, moving to a new headquarters, tirelessly traveling the state and relentlessly raising money to bring the party out of debt and into savings.

Since Texas was not part of the national state-by-state exit polls, we do not have reliable data on how Republicans performed with Hispanics, but previous elections have shown that Republican candidates like George W. Bush and Kay Bailey Hutchison can win 40 to 50 percent of Hispanic votes with the right message, which guarantees statewide victory.

Democrats in Texas need a five to 10 year plan back to relevance.

They should aim to field a full slate of statewide candidates in 2014, with a goal of winning at least one office. They should utilize Mayor Castro for increased national fundraising, tap the Obama organization for fieldwork and effectively pressure Republicans during the legislative session.

To date, we've seen the new chairman, Gilberto Hinojosa, disgustingly claim that Sen.-elect Cruz "denied his heritage" and personally attack future star George P. Bush -- not impressive, constructive or encouraging.

Republicans in Texas have ushered in a period of sustained economic growth, leading the nation in job creation. Perry has clearly been successful -- he is the longest serving governor in Texas history and the longest serving in the nation today.

The future is bright with leaders like Greg Abbott, Ted Cruz and George P. Bush ready to lead.

If Democrats even get their act together in Texas, the state could become competitive. Given current realities, I don't expect this to be before 2018, at the earliest.

Matt Mackowiak is a Washington- and Austin-based Republican consultant and president of Potomac Strategy Group, LLC. Matt can be reached at matt@potomacstrategygroup.com.


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