If you judge the announcement of a possible candidacy by the amount of attention it receives, then the story of the recruitment of Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez has been a smash success. Here are a few things being written that I thought were worth taking note of.
The ink is still drying on the first reports that Democrats are trying to recruit Ricardo Sanchez, a retired Army lieutenant general and former commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, to run next year for the U.S. Senate seat now held by retiring Republican Kay Bailey Hutchison. But Republicans aren’t wasting any time preparing their opposition files.
Numerous Democrats on Capitol Hill were critical of Sanchez’s role in Iraq, particularly over the Abu Ghraib scandal. According to the Los Angeles Times, he wrote in his 2008 book that one reason he did not get a fourth star was that “Senate Democrats were intentionally putting pressure” on the Bush administration “not to send my nomination forward.”
So if Sanchez runs, it seems Republicans will use Democrats’ past criticisms against him. In fact, on Tuesday, the National Republican Senatorial Committee (headed by our own John Cornyn) sent a six-page Freedom of Information Act request to the Pentagon asking for “any and all correspondence” between Democratic senators and the Pentagon that referenced Sanchez between May 2003 and the end of November 2006.
The first senator from that time period on their list? Yep, that would be Barack Obama.
If that’s the worst they’ve got, I’m not particularly worried. Politically, this is equivalent to a party-switching situation. What was said before by each side is taken in partisan context when everybody changes rhetoric. I’m not saying it can never be effective – ask Arlen Specter about that – but it’s generally discounted. It also goes both ways – I’m sure if anyone bothers to look, one can find Sen. Cornyn saying something nice about Gen. Sanchez. What will be interesting will be to see how they attack him for Abu Ghraib, since that isn’t exactly something Republicans have a track record of being upset about. If they can try to kill Medicare six months after cleaning up in an election where they killed the Democrats over cuts to Medicare, I’m sure they can pull it off.
The last time Democrats in Texas won a major statewide race — president, Senate or governor — was back in 1990 when Ann Richards was elected governor.
Since that time, the party has struggled mightily to even be competitive. The best showing for a Democratic presidential candidate in Texas since 1990 was 43.8 percent for Bill Clinton in 1996.
Obama won 43. 7 percent in 2008, coming up 11 points short of Sen. John McCain.
Given all of that history, what makes Democrats think that 2012 will be any different?
The answer is the continued — and massive — growth of the state’s Hispanic community coupled with Republicans’ inability nationwide to win over that critical voting bloc.
Two thirds of all the population growth in Texas over the past decade came among Latinos and nearly four in every ten residents of the Lonestar State are now Hispanic.
That’s good news for Democrats as Hispanics — even in Texas where they were far more of a swing group than in other states thanks to Bush’s outreach to them — are moving more and more to the Democratic side in recent elections.
In 2010, Bill White carried Hispanics 61 percent to 38 percent over Perry. And in 2008, President Obama won the group by an even wider 63 percent to 35 percent margin.
Those numbers make clear why Democrats are so keen on the idea of Ricardo Sanchez as their nominee. (Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Chair Patty Murray included Texas as one of the six targeted races for the committee in 2012.)
Sanchez is the latest in a series of impressive candidates on paper that Democrats have fielded in hopes of taking advantage of the shifting political dynamic in Texas.
But recent history suggests he will need to overperform most statewide Democrats by seven points in order to win — a tough task for anyone particularly a first time candidate.
Actually, Democrats won seven of fifteen statewide races in 1994, including a couple of judicial races in which they were unopposed. Not that it really affects Cilizza’s point, I just get peeved when supposed experts flub easily checked facts like that.
The question about whether Sanchez, or any Democratic statewide nominee, can win in 2012 largely boils down to the question of what you think the base level of Democratic support will be. As I’ve shown before, Republican statewide vote totals in 2008 were at best equivalent to those from 2004 even though statewide turnout improved by 650,000 votes. If 2012 is to 2008 as 2008 was to 2004, Texas will be close to tossup status before anyone runs an ad. Republican turnout in 2004 was juiced a bit by the presence of George Bush, and Democratic turnout was juiced a bit in 2008 by Barack Obama, though he didn’t spend any money here after the primary. It’s more likely the case that 2012 will not be to 2008 as 2008 was to 2004, but if the Obama campaign and the DSCC actually do put some resources into Texas, who knows? I would expect the baseline to be two or three points better for the Dems, all things being equal. From there, it’s up to the candidates and their campaigns. Speaking to Cilizza’s point about demography, there’s not much driving an increase in the Republican voting pool for 2012. The type of person who votes Republican is already highly likely to vote, and was highly likely to have voted in 2008. There are a lot more potential Democratic voters out there, and their likelihood of voting is more volatile and sensitive to specific conditions. That can be a very bad thing in off years, but it means the ceiling is higher, too. Democratic turnout was the key in 2008, and it will be the key in 2012.
Lots of good stuff here from KT. Go read it, but let me highlight this bit first:
Maybe it’s time to for Texas Democrats to stop searching for nominees based upon this model of “winnability” and instead, search for a nominee based upon our Party’s “values”.
How many more times are we going to ask the Democratic base of this state to trudge out to the polls and “get excited” by our winnable candidates? Seeing as our “winnable” strategy never wins, is there any harm in nominating someone with a strong Democratic identity who runs a campaign centered on our Democratic values? What if we sought out someone who’s more interested in running a multi-million dollar campaign focused on calling out Republicans for their failure of leadership and bankrupting of this state’s treasury and future rather than calling up Republicans to plead for their checks and votes?
Rather then get bogged down in a debate about the merits or demerits of a particular candidate, we should be putting some energy into finding and supporting candidates who seek to energize the Democratic base as a starting point. It’s true that our base isn’t quite as big as theirs, but it’s also true that the strategy of studied distance from the Democratic base as a way of appealing to crossovers hasn’t exactly been a success. Sooner or later there’s going to be a change election in Texas, and it would help to have our high-profile candidates be more forceful advocates of that change. Now, talking about such things is the easy part. Figuring out how to do it, including a way to provide for it financially, then actually doing it, that’s where it gets hard. But first things first.