For all of the buzz that has surrounded Wendy Davis’ candidacy for Governor, eventually Texans are going to have start looking down at the rest of the 2014 ballot. For Democrats, this remains a particularly unsettling task. As Noah M. Horwitz of the Texpatriate blog justly points out, it’s some pretty ‘slim pickins’ thus far.
Todd J. Gillam of the Dallas Morning News voiced the situation appropriately. The root problem for Texas Democrats is that we’re caught in a “chicken vs. egg” scenario. Which comes first… the candidate or the funds to support the candidate? You can’t have one without the other. I’m sure if we had a few mega-rich folks walk up to Trey Martinez-Fischer or Ana Hernandez Luna and say “If you’ll run statewide, I’ll fund every penny”, they’d probably be in with little hesitation. But the problem for Dems right now is we keep asking these people to drink from a dry well. Less than one year ago, former State Rep Paul Sadler decided to walk the plank and run for US Senate, and he did so getting outspent by now Senator Ted Cruz 20 to 1. We see how great a decision THAT turned out to be for the rest of the country, and it all could’ve been prevented with a stronger Democratic apparatus in the state. Did we seriously think Sadler could run a statewide campaign in Texas on less than $1 million dollars?
Part of the reason that Texas is viewed as such a heavily Republican state has much less to do with the low-performing voters, and much more to do with the color of our money. No matter how we may split at the ballot box, our affluent population is deep red. This is the first great hurdle that Texas Democrats face… how to raise enough money to even get close to the Republican coffers. This is why I was pretty sure Wendy Davis would run for Governor after her big June Filibuster. She is the rare exception among Texas Dems that actually has some big-money friends, most notably Ft. Worth oil tycoon Sid Bass. Combine that with a slew of national recognition (and hopefully some national money), and you get a path to viability for Davis’ run. BTW Off the Kuff has done some great writing on this particular subject, so I suggest you check it out.
As mentioned above, the second great hurdle for Texas Democrats is some serious name ID… both inside and outside of the state. You need the outside name ID to generate press attention and money sources. You need the inside name ID so voters will have a clue who to vote for. These are burdens that the GOP side don’t have to bear, as they’ve already got a well-tested apparatus in place. At present, the people possessing this precious resource can all be counted on one hand… Davis, San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro, his twin brother Congressman Joaquin Castro and Houston Mayor Annise Parker (thanks to the whole ‘1st GLBT mayor of a major American city’ thing). They’re the only ones that CNN will bump a story for.
The final great hurdle? You have to have an army of volunteers in every corner of the state. It’s the only way to connect with the “Silent Majority” in the Texas electorate. Everyone knows that the potential voters are here, but they’re probably not registered, and they likely have no clue that there is an election happening in 13 months, and definitely don’t know why they should care about it now.
I know this all sounds like Politics 101, but to be frank, that’s where the Democratic Party in Texas is right now. While I agree with Horwitz’s sentiment and also hope for a “full-slate” of viable candidates to run in 2014, it’s important to take all of these factors into account before getting frustrated at the lack of movement. Democrats in Texas have to build from the ground up. Even if we were to “sweep” the statewide ballot, there still aren’t enough candidates running just in State House and Senate Districts to actually flip power of the state government, and the filing deadline is approaching fast.
But Wendy Davis’ campaign is a start… and a great one at that. Her election as Governor, even with Republican (possibly even TEApublican) majorities in both Houses of the Legislature could still be a big step towards expanding Medicaid, investing more in Texas schools, and protecting the rights of Texas women to make their own health decisions. So even if we’d have to put all the eggs in one 2014 basket, it’s a lot better than no basket at all.