I had the opportunity to have lunch with Democatic gubernatorial candidate Tom Schieffer on Wednesday, along with several of my blogging colleagues (*). This was at his initiative, and I appreciated the opportunity to get to hear him speak. I’ll link to others’ reports as I see them, but the following is my own impressions.
What I wanted to get out of Schieffer was a better understanding of how he approaches the issues. I can say that I came away with a good feeling about it. Schieffer has good instincts, is very passionate about education, the need to fund research and development as economic vehicles, and bridging the digital divide. I did not cringe at any of his answers, nor did I find myself thinking that he was wrong on a specific issue. As someone who interviews a lot of candidates, mostly ones I support, that’s not something I can say about all of them. He was short on details, but that’s okay for now. I need for a candidate’s principles and priorities to be in order first, and I feel like I got that. Policy wonkery can come later, when people are paying more attention.
Schieffer has two basic hurdles to overcome, and to some extent they’re within his control, and to some extent they’re not. First is fundraising. It’s very expensive to run statewide in Texas, and the last truly well-funded candidate we had here was in 2002. Schieffer raised a few bucks last quarter, nothing to get excited about but a decent enough start, all things considered. One certainly hopes that a guy like him has a Rolodex of friends and acquaintances that is sufficiently well-heeled to make dialing for dollars a rewarding experience, but that remains to be seen. The thing is, the question that needs to be answered here is whether or not the big money players on the Democratic side have come to the realization that unless they get off their asses and Do Something, there’s an excellent chance we’re in for four more years of Rick Perry. They don’t have a Strayhorn option with which to delude themselves this time around – either we have a well-funded, credible Democratic candidate, or we hope like hell that KBH’s campaign isn’t as inept as we fear. Six months ago, you could rationalize punting on the Governor’s race on the grounds that at least Kay > Rick. That luxury is gone now, and it’s time for the folks who write the big checks to get in the game.
That doesn’t mean they have to support Schieffer. While I feel better about his potential candidacy now than I did before, I’d still like to see a race of our own on the Governor’s side, among candidates that might have a chance at winning next year. Maybe that includes Ronnie Earle, maybe that includes someone else. Todd Hill thinks maybe it should be John Sharp, though at this point I’d be strongly inclined to vote for Schieffer over Sharp. (If you want to know why, compare and contrast for one example of my disenchantment with Sharp and his substance-free Senate campaign. I’d be happy to see Sharp go for Lite Guv, but beyond that I’m just about done with the man.) What I know is that Schieffer is in the game now, and everyone else is vaporware until proven otherwise.
Anyway. I do believe that by March, we’ll be seeing some real money on the Democratic side. And while we all know not to fear competitive primaries any more, I don’t see the multi-million dollar tussle between Perry and KBH being one that expands their base or generates interest outside of the core audience. And as Schieffer himself pointed out at lunch, they’ll both likely wind up with little cash on hand after the primary, without having spent any of it attacking him or any other Dem. The money advantage they have won’t be quite as great as it appears now. Doesn’t mean the nominee won’t need to raise a boatload of dough, but it does mean we don’t need to freak out too much about it.
The other issue is the Bush issue. I’m not as bothered by it as some other folks. Schieffer says that when people who ask him about this hear him speak, the issue gets forgotten. I believe that – he’s a genuinely likable guy, and as I said before, his instincts are good – but you’re not going to be able to meet enough voters to make that an effective strategy. He needs a good, short answer to that, one that allows him to go into the rest of his spiel without it being a distraction. (Honestly, he needs shorter answers to most of the questions we asked. The stories he told were interesting and responsive to our queries, but went on way too long.) If nothing else, he needs to get past this as quickly as possible to keep the big-check guys from finding someone else to lavish their funds on.
So there it is. I’m satisfied that if Schieffer is our candidate, he’ll do a good job. I’d still like to see another quality contender get in, to raise the profile of the race, provide a contrast to the Republicans, and make whoever the nominee is earn it. I may wind up supporting someone else, but I will support happily support Schieffer if he is the nominee.
(*) For the steak-obsessed, we all paid for our own food. And most of us had burgers. If you have no idea what this is about, don’t worry about it – it’s a silly bit of inside baseball.